KOF 2017 - S1: Syndicate Team vs Heirs to Legend

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Description: The chaotic situation with the condemnation of King Of Fighters has not left the world without fighting. And not everyone agrees with the condemnation. One of the world's biggest supporters of King Of Fighters, the SNK Corporation, has offered one of it's Neo*Geo Land locations to promote the tournament. Taking place outside of the Arcade/Media Supercenter, the Syndicate Team brings the techno-ninja Nagase to face the Heirs To Legend's own noble warrior, Zach Glenn for a battle to the finals. Maybe when they are done, they can do a few rounds inside!

Thousands of people -- from the youth of Japan all the way up to the United Nations -- have begun waging protests against a number of Japanese corporations for alleged crimes against the security of the world. The United Nations has stopped just short of calling Japan a rogue state due to its business interests' major indiscretions. V-Gage technology has been employed in school against protest. G Corporation generators have been deployed in parts of the country without official government sanction. And on top of all this, the CEO of Violet Systems has insisted that its technologies are only being used for humanitarian uses -- and further made the bold claim that Japan and its corporate interests will block the United Nations' requests to cease and desist.

And the King of Fighters carries on, with a decidedly less global scale.
With limited time to secure a proper venue for a fight venue on par with those of the Quarterfinal matches, the King of Fighters tournament has secured a city block for exclusive use of the first Semifinal bout. Nearly a thousand people have crowded into the four-way intersection which serves as the home of the SNK Corporation. On the east side are two mostly nondescript office buildings, lit by dim spotlights for dramatic purposes. On the southwest corner of the block towers the skytower housing the Southtown branch of SNK Corporation. Below, a large number of people -- estimated to be well over a thousand in number -- line the streets, cordoned off by wooden barricades and tension barriers. Hundreds more have rested their elbows on the safety barriers of Route 41, dozens of feet above street level. The cheering is deafening -- the excitement is at a fever pitch. And really, if you're in Japan and haven't left by now, let's face it -- you're in for the long haul, until this United Nations business blows over.

The real centerpiece of the battle, though, is the NEO*GEO LAND in the northwest corner of the block. With its brilliant red columns and copious overuse of glitzy lights, the premier arcade location not named Joypolis is sure to make back its advertising investment in the King of Fighters. Fans line the four indoor levels of the arcade, waving homemade banners and signs in hopes that the camera might record a glimpse of their antics.

But where, oh where, are the fighters? Located on the north end of the four-way intersection in the glare of lights from the arcade is a tent with the logo of the Twilight Star Circus. Beneath it are a number of figures -- the most obvious of which is a young woman about twenty years of age. Her black hair glistens in the light as she steps out from the tent -- but what's -most- notable about her are (a) her bright smile and (b) the ring of fire she's whirling about in her left hand, and (c) the ring of fire she's whirling about in her right hand. The Fire Dancer is present -- and what's more, she's here to represent one of the competing teams in this tournament fight, the Heirs to Legend!

The other team doesn't have a tent. They have a stretch limousine. It's black, so it pretty much melts into the pavement in comparison to the overabundant lighting showered upon the northern end of the block. In fact, one might not even realize it were part of the team, if not for a series of firecrackers that suddenly explode upon the roof of the car. Smoke rapidly fills the air, triggering a round of coughing amongst those nearest the car -- who quickly shove their way through the crowd to clear space.

In short: for a moment, no one was looking into the center of the intersection.
And the very next instant, Nagase is there.
The applause is slow to build -- owing to the notable distraction. But once people notice the yellow-garbed ninja and her flame-orange hair, the cheers build to an even louder crescendo.

The smartaleck ninja rises to her feet, one index finger outstretched to scrape across the tip of her nose. Her other extends outwards to the Heirs tent, palm up.
The crowd quiets themselves for a moment.

"C'mon out, Boyscout!" Don't be shy! I promise, I won't make -any- cracks about how dating that circus reject has made your hair turn white!"

Deliberate pause.

"Oops! Silly me!"

COMBATSYS: Nagase has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Nagase           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Nagase           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0       Zach Glenn

The flap to the front of the tent whips clear to allow Zach to make his way into the intersection.

Zach Glenn stride to the center of the makeshift arena, wearing that light grey t-shirt, blue jeans, and MMA gloves he wore in the first round. His hair, just as white as Nagase declared, is spiked up and back on his head. And the man is smiling with almost unrestrained mirth for some reason.

"Come on, Ninja," Zach says, the laugh noticable under the voice, "You can do better than that." He tugs the gloves on a little tighter, sigils of light running along the plates on them. "Let's give the crowd a show, yeah?" Then the referee signals the start of the match.

Zach launches himself forward in that instant before the ringing of the bell dies off, his right hand sweeping out in an overhead strike. Psychic fire sweeps along the monster hunter's arm, carrying as much (if not more) impact than the simple punch!

COMBATSYS: Nagase blocks Zach Glenn's Dragon's Tail.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Nagase           0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0       Zach Glenn

Unrestrained mirth? A -good- attitude to the fight? ... Nagase arches an eyebrow at that, relying on the amber-tinted spectacles to give her an exhaustive readout of Zach's current physical descriptors. And something just seems -off-. Different from the last time the Iga-ryuu ninja encountered the Marine-turned-demonslayer.

The Yellow Ninja shrugs her shoulders, "=I= could do better?? The same could certainly be said for you..." she quips back, flashing a quick wink at her white-haired opponent. "But hey, you do you!"

The amplified announcement echoes off the surrounding buildings.
And Nagase's body flicks from 'casual' to 'go time' in a mere instant. Her right shoulder rocks backwards, allowing her right hand to curl around the panda-hilted sword at her hip. Left hand snaps outward, her yellow-armored palm stretched outward defensively. And her center mass drops about 10cm as she widens her stance to prepare for rapid motion.

When Zach hurtles downwards at her, the ninjette simply hops sideways a half meter. In doing so, she draws her right hand upwards, tracing a sheath of orange flames up the length of her forearm until she reaches her wrist. Her left gauntlet, braced by her right hand, shudders from the blow of Zach's downward strike, while her defensive flames dance about in the wake of the gusty psychic inferno.

"Crowd? What crowd?" answers Nagase with a pained, enduring expression, as she maneuvers to make the best of Zach's committed action. With his hand extended, she hopes to leverage her size and speed -- making a flame-coated grab for Zach's extended wrist. By keeping herself low to the ground, she'd given herself the energy with which to leap in the direction from whence Zach came. The goal would be to bend his arm backwards, beyond his own hip -- using his forward momentum to flip himself over, head over heels! And if she manages to land that, she'd add more injury to insult by stomp-kicking a gout of flame towards the fallen former Marine as she bounds away!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Nagase's Power Throw.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Nagase           0/-------/-------|==-----\-------\0       Zach Glenn

Phyically, there's not much different about Zach to Nagase's equipment. Maybe subtle clues to indicate improvement in a number of different categories. Better balance, better reaction times. Both of which allow the psion to ride the movements of Nagase's attempted throw. The flames still burn, the joints are still wrenched, but Zach lands on his feet instead of his back which negates the worst of the attack. He might appear to weather the damage a little better as well.

The changes in Zach are largely psychological; dying and then returning to life can do strange things to a person. It might also help that Zach is not really in this tournament for himself. If he solves some mystery behind this tournament? Excellent. If the team wins the King of Fighters, even as tainted as it is with the actions of the United Nations and Violet Systems? That's a bonus, as far as he is concerned. He's not really strapped for cash or housing arrangements, so the prize holds little allure for him. The fame would be nice, but actually almost more trouble than the championship he won back from Rust almost six months earlier.

Zach kind of enjoys a good fight, at the end of the day. Nothing beats the adrenaline of it, and he's /good/ at it. His life choices have mainly served to be a positive channel for that, even as it cost him as much as it has. This, here, at the King of Fighters? It's a fight that carries no great weight for him. No innocents to protect, no lives on the line. He's here to enjoy the thing where he can.

Zach whips around, lashing out with a heel kick from the combat boots he is wearing. More of that golden not-fire wreathes the kick aimed at Nagase's midsection!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Nagase with Medium Strike.
- Power hit! -

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Nagase           0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0       Zach Glenn

Her advanced battle AI system is intelligent enough to recognize trends: anything such as 'psychology' can only be expressed in terms of predicting future intent based on prior recorded actions. And Zach Glenn, at least according to publicly-available fight records, has not looked this -happy- in a fight for a while. It's just throwing off all her predictive algorithms!

Which is part of the reason for her underestimation of the psion's speed. She frowns as her opponent rolls with the throw, opting to use her l33t n1nj4 sk1llz to boost herself forward instead of landing a finisher for an unfinished combo. "Tch!" Her momentum carries her towards one of the barricades; she wheels about in mid-air, planting the arch of her boot right on the apex of the barricade's frame, forcing out a light groan from the wood.

And just like that, she's vaulting back towards Zach with a wry smirk on her face.
She's -about- to say something smart-alecky.
But it's hard to talk through the sole of a boot -- even moreso when it crunches against her nose.
Which was still healing from her last encounter.

That barricade groans a bit more as it shatters from the impact of Nagase crashing through it. In all actuality, it's the =audience members= who fare the worst in the exchange, though at least the impact is distributed across four people instead of just one.

Staggering back to her feet, Nagase raises her palm to nurture her bloodied nose and mouth. Muffled, she quips out in a nasally voice, "You said give the audience a =show=, right? Not =throw?=" Sashaying sideways, she lifts her left palm in a warding gesture, shaking her head. "Got you halfway confused for the Lady Killer for a moment, sheesh!"

But while she is keeping her distance -- and opting -not- to press an attack -- her Battle Disc System is hard at work, recalibrating her algorithms, and making the appropriate adjustments to her strategy...

COMBATSYS: Nagase calculates her next move.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Nagase           0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0       Zach Glenn

The Lady Killer comment get a bit of a reaction; the smile is still in place, but the eyes narrow ever so slightly. Other than that, he does not rise to it. The words have intent; Nagase is trying to provoke Zach to throw him off his game.

His only response, really, is to settle into a ready stance. He extends his left hand, lightly clenched in a loose fist, before beckoning Nagase forward with his index and middle fingers. That, and the golden flaring of energy around him. There's also that.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn gathers his will.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Nagase           0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0       Zach Glenn

The worst part about fighting people like Zach is how much the energy can continue to sear through her -after- impact. Her muscles feel sore. Her bones feel -broken-. It's -- surely a psychosomatic effect, right? Her battle AI data seems to suggest that, anyway, showing no causal link between her low neurotransmitter levels and her physical condition.

That's the trick, though. She reassures herself, lips quietly moving as she talks herself through the problem, while her eyes continue to focus like lasers onto Zach's face.
... Wait, what was that? The mask of mirth is showing some cracks?

Nagase draws in her breath -- leading to a rather unladylike snort as she drags her hand away from bloodied nose. She looks thoughtful for a moment, raising a finger. "... Come to think of it... Where =is= the detective these days, anyway?"

Her hand drops -- passing by her other hand in the process.
And then she vanishes from view.
Reappearing an instant later, about six feet to Zach's right, and about three feet in the air.

"Have you seen him?" she asks, her yellow dress billowing with a bouquet of flame about as she pitches forward, falling towards the ground.
Just before she ends up re-breaking her nose upon the concrete, her hands slip past each other one more time.
Again, she vanishes.
But this time, when she reappears, the blazing ninja emerges from a spot just beside Zach -- thundering upwards at him with the momentum from her showy ninjutsu! If she is able to wrap her chi-wreathed hands around his stomach, she'd carry him upwards, spinning him around like a model rocket with one misfiring engine! And then she would arc about, inverting in midair with an aim of plowing Zach head-and-shoulders into a wooden crate serving as a barricade for this street fight!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Nagase's Hyperdrive Nagase Spiral.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Nagase           0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Zach Glenn

The grin is gone with the question; perhaps he should have expected it but he really did not. "If he's fortunate, he's dead," Zach says simply. There's not mailce behind it, to his own surprise. Just as certain amount of sadness. He's also telling the truth as best he knows it; he had thought Sergei Dragunov was dead until he ran into the guy before this fight. "I would not wish what happened to him on anyone." Then Nagase is in close. Zach catches her rising tackle, the impact sending a decent shock through his ribs as he does so before bearing down on Nagase to keep both of them on the ground by virtue of strength enhanced by psychic power.

Zach shoves hard on Nagase's shoulders, surprised at the weight of her. Perhaps it's all that gear. It does not stop him from summoning one of those psychic energy swords he tends to favor, an English arming sword in this case, to bring to bear on Nagase's ribcage. It's blunted, slightly, but it's still going to sting a bit.

COMBATSYS: Nagase dodges Zach Glenn's Swift Blade.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Nagase           0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Zach Glenn

"=Dark=, dude."

Adrenaline is finally winning the power struggle against the rest of her endocrine system as she manages to secure a partial hold on Zach -- and even moreso as Zach presses down against her shoulders. Gritting her teeth at the manner in which her =super badass= sneak attack is foiled by a proportionate amount of soul-powered badassery, Nagase knows a losing battle when she sees it: after all, Zach's much stronger than her! He can press back, but there's a point at which Nagase just lets her knees fall limp, clapping her hands together and slipping them across one another, sideways.

"Tch! Spoken like a true murder suspect!"
The voice comes from Zach's other side, just as the energy sword plunges into the spot occupied an instant earlier by her ribcage! Her translocation jutsus are getting overtime pay in this fight -- and she is aiming to capitalize on the momentary confusion as she surges forward, ramming her shoulder into his ribcage from behind. Should she make content, she would pirouette alongside him in a transverse spin, slamming her hip into his to further destablize him.

And then she would hop atop him, like a child expecting a backwards horsie ride.
And then she would bring the full weight of both gauntlets down onto his haunches with a blisteringly fast series of karate chops -- the last of which would be powerful enough to send her springboarding away to safety!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn interrupts Hunting Peach from Nagase with Flashing Blade EX.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Nagase           1/-----==/=======|===----\-------\0       Zach Glenn

"If he's dead, I didn't do it," Zach says simply. Then he staggers from the shoulder check. He rolls with it, however, so that the hip check does not faze him quite as much. He knows, instinctively, where she will appear next. She's looking for a blind spot.

A person's back is the best such example.

Zach lowers his center of gravity, sliding his left foot back as his hands go low by his left hip. Another sword forms, this one a claymore, flickers into waiting hands. Zach grips the sword even as his left foot steps forward. Glenn spins once, slamming the sword into Nagase's side, completing a movement that resembles a heavy swing of a baseball bat as it might a wide swing with a heavy blade.

Nagase doesn't get to have fun this fight.
Nagase just eats a sword to the back -- to the point where she happens to look down at the exact moment that the psycho-powered sword lances straight through her chest, protruding out through the other side.
The attendant chill freezes her bones straight through to the core. If it were a real sword slicing through real ribs, real arteries and veins, real muscles, real vital organs... the brain would not be able to handle it. And even the =suggestion= that a sword were actually capable of doing so is enough to send the nimble kunoichi into low-level panic. Arrested heartbeat. Pale skin. Cold chills.

And as Zach completes his swing, Nagase's body hangs limply off of the projected psi-blade, almost as numbly as if she had actually been cleaved in twain from the advice.

Knees buckle.
She collapses to the pavement.
The =impact= is what it finally takes to reboot her back into full consciousness. Once again, each of her nerve endings begins transmitting again -- with an absolute lack of priority. The sensation of road grit and gravel digging into her cheek bears equal weight with the primal urge to breathe oxygen and channel it to cells via the bloodstream. She stares blankly back at her BDS display screens -- which, accordingly, switch to a decluttered mode to ease her back into wakefulness. Only a single message is centered on her display:

[ W A K E * U P , * N A G A S E ]

"Shit!" she spits, springing into the air spine-first, before her hands and legs have even shaken the numbness out. Wide-eyed, she takes in the scene before her -- a scene which her Battle Disc System assists by planting a crosshairs right on top of Zach. Her left hand raises in a warding stance; her right snaps back towards one of her twin ninjato.
And finally, as she takes a step back, she exhales.
And winks, showing she's fully back on-line.

The system has left decluttered mode -- and all the dials and gauges reappear.

[ Overclocking: Enabled ]

"Ugh. You may be a better fighter than before, but your trash-talking is below Dad-joke grade, man."

Revitalized, she leaps forward in a blossom of flame.
And when the smoke clears, Nagase is gone.

Not to say that the fight's over -- she's not about to run away from this one.
No. If Zach doesn't dodge, he'll feel her boot cracking against the back of his head.
Followed by the pommel of her ninjato slamming into his ribcage, HARD.
Followed by a chi-infused palm strike delivered squarely against his jaw.
Followed by an enraged knee slam right to his abdomen.

There seems to be no continuity to her attacks -- it is as if Nagase exists in multiple locations at once, able to deliver a concussive symphony of strikes from all vectors with a rapid-fire cadence approaching simultaneity. And yet, she moves with such alacrity that she's practically =invisible= to the naked eye -- even someone with senses like Zach would have difficulty perceiving her rate of motion.

If she makes it that far, the coup de grace: her ninjato is unsheathed. And rather than stab -- she aims to slice, reaving a just skin-deep slash across his back -- before returning to full visibility with a backwards leap.

COMBATSYS: Nagase successfully hits Zach Glenn with Punishment Mode - Stealth.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Nagase           0/-------/-----==|=======\==-----\1       Zach Glenn

Zach is battered like a ping-pong ball, the ninja just too fast this time for Zach. (This is familiar,) a distant part of his mind thinks. The slash across his back, though, that is kind of new. But he's been cut before. Zach... actually looks wobbly here, and the walls that the psion had let down in his mind start to form back place. He turns to regard Nagase, able to figure out where she is finally.

"Sorry," he rasps; that freaking /hurt/, "Corps didn't offer a class for that. No merit badge, either."

Zach turns, lunging for a grab...

COMBATSYS: Nagase interrupts Fragarach from Zach Glenn with Aerial Spiral.

[                        \\\\\\  <
Zach Glenn       0/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Nagase can no longer fight.

[                        \\\\\\  <
Zach Glenn       0/-------/=======|

Zach grabs the front of Nagase's dress, taking a good grip on the material before pivoting to haul the smaller (but impossibly /heavier/; must be all the tech she is wearing) woman directly up and over his shoulder before slamming her to the floor. Glenn is not done there. After dumping the girl on the floor, his hands are empty but still aimed at Nagase.

That grin is back, though it might be a smirk. "Maybe next time," Zach says barely loud enough for Nagase to hear, let alone be picked up by a microphone.

And then Zach unleashes a burst of psychic energy from both hands at a (hopefully) defenseless Nagase!

As Nagase's blade cuts home, she swings it back, flicking a fine line of crimson across the Southtown pavement, before re-sheathing the now-clean sword within its saya.
Just like in the best samurai ninja movies.

Her nose starts seeping blood again -- all that shutter-speed movement tends to take its toll after a while, after all. But she remains standing, meeting Zach's matter-of-factly response with narrowed and judgmental eyes.

"... Man, I was just kidding about the boy scout nonsense. You actually wore the -sash?-"
One eyebrow raises, along with her lips rising into a smirk.

As Zach lurches forward, she leaps backwards -- but for whatever reason, it's only enough to clear her -body- from peril, not just her attire. Yelping out in surprise, her eyes cast outward. Not to Zach, not to any particular audience member, but to the -Heirs to Legend- tent.
As if to say: C'mon, you're =watching= this, right?!

But as salacious as the instantaneous fantasy may have first appeared, the strain inflicted upon the dress is not intended to tear the garment to shreds. Rather, it's just a prelude to a straight-up aikido (oh, sorry, MCMAP) grab, aimed at slinging her into the ground. Wincing, she slaps her palms together, stirring them around one another.

And instead of her back hitting the pavement...
She disappears.
And an instant later, she emerges, inverted 180 degrees -- and =roars= out of the ground.
She's even shouting, like the fiercest little lioness that could.

The psionic blast is unleashed.
And Nagase tears straight through it with blistering speed, her last jutsu reversing Zach's imparted momentum as a weapon against him. The psychic's energy burns through her, searing nerve endings with the fury of a thousand suns. Her roar becomes a scream, deafening in volume, as she powers through the blazing light, determined to see her jutsu through to completion.

This time, when she aims to lock her arms around, his waist, she will succeed.
She lifts Zach skyward. Up, up, and away, the two thunder upwards in a dizzying spiral.
The audience grows silent as freefall takes over.
And it ends as precipitously as it began, with a flurry of motion. Rather than Nagase hitting the pavement, it's Zach's upper back that will be making the touchdown slam, as an inverted Nagase leaps free to safety.
The audience goes =wild=, throwing their hands up and cheering loudly -- as if shouting was their only salve for the lioness' deafening scream.

And then a moment later.
Nagase lands sideways onto the pavement, completely unconscious.

The announcers -- a man and a woman -- are stunned. They look to one another, and then to the judges' table.
Hesitantly, they reach towards the mic, shouting out in unison.

Zach lands about a half second after the winner's announcement is made, another testament to the HitBit's level of discernment. He lands on his back, smouldering for a second before bringing himself upright. He glances at the medics already moving for Nagase before lurching to his feet. He gives the kunoichi a two-fingered salute; that was a good fight.

He takes another breath as someone brings him a glass of water. He accepts it, sipping at the drink with a frown. Nagase, he knew, would be a challenge.

But she was not the hard part of this match by a long shot.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn awaits the next challenger.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Zach Glenn       0/-------/=======|

No, that was now.

Duke, for his purpose, did not watch Nagase fight with distain. They had worked out this beforehand. While Duke himself had not play arcade games since his heydays (he was quite talented at Galaga, surprisingly enough), he refrained to watch the fight. Staring. Smoldering. Waiting and watching. The swordsman had dispatched his teammate, as he watched the damage pile up... Duke had decided that the match had gone exactly as it should. As the medics move to clear the ninja, Duke emerges. He stops at Nagase, looking down at her with yellow eyes. "Good work." He growled, approvingly. The most praise Nagase would receive for now. He takes his place, crossing his arms, glaring across at Zach, as he finishes his water.

"Stand aside, little man."

Duke rumbles dismissively, the thunder of his baritone rattling the windows of Neo*Geo Land. "You are not the one I am after." The match begins, as round 2 opens. Duke does not hesitate, as he uncrosses his arms. And with that, Duke unleashes a catastrophic stomp, the very asphalt ripping apart by the shockwave of chi. The blast curls the earth, threatening to churn Zach down, and then, away in the eruption of violet flame and broken earth. All while Duke growls with building fury. In the aftermath, he would give one warning of what would soon come.

"It is your woman I am after."

COMBATSYS: Duke has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Duke             0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0       Zach Glenn

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Duke's Seismic Impact.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Duke             0/-------/------=|=======\==-----\1       Zach Glenn

Zach's only response, the only good response really, is to spin up a barrier of psychic force in response to the maelstrom of fire and earth. It catches most of the blast, allowing only one piece of wreckage through right at the end. There is an audible /crunch/ as it connects, staggering Zach for a moment.

"Nah," he grunts. "Not just yet. Let me test a theory, first." He pulls himself upright, letting out a kiai that has nothing to do with rage. Zach is not angry at this man. What is there, though, and Honoka can feel it wash off the man. Despite the fact that these two have never met, Zach knows the man. Fire, rage, insanity. A sword blade through the neck of a crumbling man. Zach is not bracing himself against Duke, but against his memories of a version of that man driven to a brink that most could not contemplate. Of a man who then threw himself over that brink with total abandon, and the hell that it caused in his wake.

Violet energy washes up Zach's frame, turning white hair into a deep purple as the psion hurls himself at Duke. Energy spins around the left fist, which Zach then drives directly at Duke's face with explosive force!

COMBATSYS: Duke interrupts Explosive Strike from Zach Glenn with Dive Bomber EX.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////                          ]
Duke             1/-------/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2       Zach Glenn

Duke does not seem to have patience for theories.

As Zach rises up again, Duke erupts into a tower of flame. "I hope you recover quickly then, for her sake." Eyes dead on, Duke waits for Zach to come to him. As the fist connects to his cheek, Duke rises, face swollen. Exploding upwards, Duke slams the knee hard into Zach's torso. Carrying him up, he rises over him, before slamming his foot down hard, face twisted into a snarl as he -craters- Zach's skull into the broken asphalt. His eyes dart to the edge of the fighting grounds. "Honoka." He rumbles.

"Get out here, Honoka."

Zach lets out a scream of primal pain as Duke abused his already battered frame. He lays there for a moment, and yet the announcers have not called the match. Duke has his back turned, metaphorically speaking, on the psion.

That's never a good idea.

There is no statement, nothing to get Duke's attention before the working springs to life. The Syndicate enforcer finds himself surrounded by a host of swords, each formed from psychic energy and all of them levelled at various points on Duke's body. They hang there for a dangerous second as Zach forms one last blade, an ancient looking claymore of violet and gold light that he drives directly at Duke's sternum. "Wasn't... done... yet..." The swords surrounding Duke all come screaming towards the larger man, as the weapon in Zach's hand dissolves into the ether. Glenn's eyes roll back, and he collapses into unconsciousness.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn can no longer fight.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Duke             1/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Duke with #Claíomh Solias EX+#.
+ Epic Hit! +

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Duke             1/=======/=======|

Not done yet.

Duke's mistake was to keep his back turn to the psion. Instead of staying down, the psionic suddenly tears into his flanks, as the blade of light pierces his chest. Duke stares down at the impalement, eyes wide. He chokes out a sound, his lungs collapsing. His heart- his heart was at the center, as the blade comes all the way through. Gripping at his chest, Zach falls down in unconsciousness. Duke continues to claw at his body, falling backwards, losing control as the blood boiling from his wound... stops boiling out, as the pressure drops severely.

And Duke falls.

The medical team moves quickly, as the judge holds. He remembers the match in Taj Mahal. He had to wait, and watch. The medical staff are all over Duke, trying to get the vitals of a man who has a fist size hole completely through his chest. Lungs and heart tissue, at least, what's left of them now, are exposed. There is almost a feeble tone as one of the medics sputters out. "I can't get a pulse, I-"

The form of Duke rises.

Body torn open, the towering figure sits upright, knocking away the medical team at his side, except the one with a hand on his wrist. He glares at him, with burning yellow eyes. Looking down at his wrist, he grits his teeth. A fresh spurt of blood shoots out from his chest, as the heart shudders to life. The medic, trembling, mutters aloud. "I... I have a pulse." There is a pause.

"He is fit to continue?"

Sneering is disgust, Duke pulls himself into a stand. Tearing at his body, he strips himself naked to the waist, throwing away the remains of his clothing. Another raking gesture comes, as he tears over his own flesh over the exposed wound. He glowers, eyes burning furious at the silent crowd. His nostrils flare, as his lungs regenerate enough where he can breath. His torso ignites in red-violet chi, as he roars out. His words are the same as before.

"Honoka." He rumbles.

"Get out here, Honoka."

"It's time for your performance."

COMBATSYS: Duke awaits the next challenger.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Duke             1/=======/=======|

Honoka has had a lot on her mind.

The tragedy in Nibutani is, of course, first and foremost. Among all cities -- in Japan, or anywhere in the world -- there is only one city where the population of Ainu descendants outnumbers that of any other ethnic origin. And not long ago, nearly 500 citizens perished, due to the destruction of a dam built by non-Ainu, against the strongly-worded protests of the Ainu.

And for what? For the crime of -permitting- the Japanese to take over, to not only defile the earth, but to cast aside the old ways and customs. To not only desecrate sacred ground, but to wantonly provoke the Gods themselves by -harvesting resources- from it.

Bending fire was not merely an act put on for the benefit of the cheering crowds, starved for entertainment of any kind.
It was an act of meditation. Of control.
The flames glowed brighter, as Zach Glenn delivered a virtuoso performance for the beginning of his battle.
The flames continued to swirl about, even as the embattled techno-ninja managed to transform Zach's inevitable victory into a pyrrhic one.
And the fires reached their peak, blossoming into fiery explosions as Nagase's body hit the pavement, to be drawn out.
But the juggling act never fully ceased. Not even as the fearsome executive emerged from the arcade. Not even as he rent volcanic scars into the pavement and Southtown's infrastructure budget alike. Not even as her own boyfriend screamed, catapulted into the air and then slammed into the street with such force to shake the street signs, and batter the audience into shocked silence.

One sound was ever-present, as constant as a metronome: the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of crimson flames, swirling about mere centimeters from a quite flammable blue jacket.
The only difference was in Honoka's expression. Her eyes took in every minute detail, flicking from one figure to the next. She had started with a smile, but as the fight progressed, her lips pressed more firmly into a determined line.

Duke calls her to action.
The smile returns -- though diminished in magnitude.

The decision had already been discussed beforehand. Accordingly, the words to her partner were simple.
"Wish me luck, sister."

The horizontal circles of flame flare, crimson smearing into brilliant yellow before exploding into a firestorm of yellow cinders, falling to the pavement. Two diabolos remain -- and within an instant, they settle into a vertical orbit, with gravity assisting the juggling props in their transit. The juggler strides forward, as effortlessly and calmly as one who weren't swinging the potentially deadly items around in their course.

A look is spared at the battler's bare chest. His anger burns like a bonfire. To the master manipulator, it makes perfect sense -- the cauterizing fires of Duke's anger are the salve for his wounds, the perfect catalyst for a phoenix-like rebirth.

The instinctive response to a terror like Duke is to tuck tail, to run in fear.
Honoka is in no mood to run.

The announcers can tell that the fourth combatant is in also not in a mood for extended introductions. They shout, again, in unison.

She has no words for Duke -- she has deemed none appropriate for the brutal dynamo. The lights of NEO*GEO LAND reflect in her eyes, upon the shiny finish of her silvered diabolos, as she leaps forward at Duke. As she leaps, she also twists into a pirouette, whirling both diabolos about her like a shield: a shield that pivots from vertical to horizontal in the midst of the spin. And the shield glows with fuschia-colored energy, streaking into a nearly-substantial torus of raw power. At the point of contact, Honoka is swinging the juggling-props-turned-weapons like one might a baseball bat -- one made of both psychic power and a single silver diabolo.

But only that one diabolo remains in the plane of critical attack. The other has become dislodged, veering off towards Duke's legs. In the heat of battle it might be easy to dismiss this trajectory as a mistake -- but Honoka's biggest fans would know the true answer.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has joined the fight here.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Duke             1/=======/=======|======-\-------\0           Honoka

COMBATSYS: Duke blocks Honoka's Kunne Chup Kamui.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Duke             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\1           Honoka

Duke was waiting for this opponent.

Honoka was decided to be the most dangerous opponent. Duke had communed with Nagase before this match; brains meeting brawns, so to speak. Duke had made an execution on how the fight would flow. Nagase had performed to the expected level; Duke himself made the grave error of turning his back on Zach Glenn; a price he was paying dearly now. Right now, he was a font of fury, of rage, of hate.

And yet, when she enters the fighting range, something seemed wrong.

It was difficult to articulate what changes. It was a feel, a presence. Pressure was lifting, but in the wrong way. The plumes of fire on his body die down, suppressing within. As the third round begins, the crushing crime boss stands fast as she hurls herself into a blur of fire, of lights, of psionic, of showmanship. As the blows come cracking, literally cracking upon the arms of the crime boss, Duke staggers backwards, gritting his teeth as he brings his limbs to guard. His rage flares up, as his entire body ignites.

And then he says it.

"No, No, No." Duke rumbles... gently. Shaking his head, he disengages, stepping backwards. It was almost buffonish; it was more likely to be bad acting on behalf of the towering titan. Or maybe it was the fact that Duke, long determined to be a font of unholy, hellish rage, was backing down in the face of a legitimate threat. He ungrits his teeth, shaking his head. He wasn't pressing the offense on Honoka. He was softening it, he was withdrawing. The strange presence continues to endure, as the unbelievable unfolds. And then, the strangest thing of all spreads over Duke's face.

A smile.

"That's all wrong, Honoka." Duke says, with an arrogant purr. "Your positioning is too stiff; your diabolo's are too difficult for the audience at home to see." He gestures at the camera. The strange atmospheres weighs heavier, as the almost surreal display continues. "No, no, this is embarrassing. Let us start over. You need to relax, Honoka, before you can perform adequately!"

And Duke composes himself.

His chest nearly is sealed over in a frightening scab. Every second was another return for the crime boss. The sheer weight of the chi energy was boiling over. Duke draws in a breath, and exhales, as a ripple of -something- shudders under his skin, tearing through it. He seemed calm, but the pure weight could be seen under the surface. The rage that normally shot out in plumes were tearing apart underneath inside him. And yet, Duke tugs his beard, having seemed to got his footing. "Please, try that again, Honoka." Duke adjusts his footwork, recentering his position. There was a feral gleam in his eyes, as he adjusts his footwork, dropping back into his fighting stance. "You don't need to try the same move again, but I'll let you put your weapons in a better position- for the fans at home to see, of course. He nods towards the cameras. "And please, practice a little more self-restraint. You know how my temper can be, Honoka" His yellow eyes cast to the audience.

"And we wouldn't want a repeat like your fiasco with Lightning Spangles, do we?"

COMBATSYS: Duke gains composure.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Duke             1/-<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\1           Honoka

It's all wrong?
Her mouth hangs open, aghast.

Certainly, she is tempted to retort. Angrily. Perhaps she'd point out the cameras she'd known to be stationed at the fourth and eighth stories of each of the four surrounding buildings. Perhaps she'd point out the -ninth- camera that was detected in the shadow of a brilliant spotlight, obviously placed there by someone with a wealth of technical know-how.

But it's out of character for the Dancing Flame to speak on-stage.

And what's more, she realizes something else while scrutinizing the sudden change of attitude.
It's out of character for Duke to judge her. It's all wrong. His positioning is too -slack-, his true power too difficult for the audience at home to see. She's seen his temper flare. Heck, she'd seen it -moments ago- as she was getting called out. And the study of human character knows how rare it is for someone of such raw power to change their demeanor so abruptly without some sort of external trigger.

Her mouth hangs open, aghast.
The diabolo droops along its steel-corded line as she looks questioningly back at the crime boss. She casts her eyes warily to the audience, in disbelief. She even stamps her foot, gesturing to the man with her hands, as if to say: just who does this buffoon think he is?! Does Duke freelance as an internet blogger or entertainment pundit in his free time?

It's a stage performance -- an act.
And the Dancing Flame has decided to play along. Mutely.
She narrows her eyes as the man attempts to give her stage direction. She even raises her diabolo wands as offered -- which only results in the diabolo sagging, falling to a stop.
Incredulous, she gestures at the wilted diabolo, flashing a look of desperate frustration to Duke.

She knows how his temper can be, and she wouldn't want a repeat?
... Maybe she's -not- playing around, as her left hand rushes to cover her mouth. Instantly, tears begin to well up, the bright neon lights of Neo*Geo Land reflected in her damp, quivering eyes.

She had already atoned for that sin.
The Twilight Star Circus website had posted a eulogy for Arthur Solomon, complete with a statement from Honoka.
Also, some months ago, the performance industry collectively agreed upon an Arthur Rule -- a set of rider provisions which stated no troupe would engage in pyrotechnics at a locale lacking a certification from the appropriate safety bodies.

But to mention that would be poor drama. The audience has to be on her side.

She wipes away tears with her fingertips, nodding in perfect agreement with Duke.
And then she gestures an open hand towards the gaping hole in the pavement left behind by the Syndicate executive -- a chasm that she is very deliberately planning to avoid. The very asphalt ripped up by his shockwave of chi.
It's hard to work the public safety angle when you're responsible for thousands of dollars worth of property damage.
Both hands fold out to either side, as her eyebrows fold in a similar 'Help me out, here' expression. A little of column A, a little of column B.

She doesn't need to say more. The audience was already unsure what to make of Duke practically -stopping the fight- for a seemingly heartfelt talk. Having his logic thrown right back into his face just brings a round of "BOOOOOOOOO!" Quit stalling! Less talking, more fighting!

And Honoka really has to agree with them.

She impulsively leaps forward, not waiting for Duke's reply. Cartwheeling in mid-air, she sails towards Duke, her hands reaching out for his bared chest. If she manages to dig her fingernails into her prey, her right foot would follow a moment later, slamming into Duke's heavily-scarred abdomen. With her heel as the fulcrum, she would be able to leverage him off his feet and sling him to the beleaguered pavement.

But would it be enough grip? The question would be made moot, as Duke would find that Honoka is also a master of psychokinetic force, much like her boyfriend. For one, he would feel the pressure tightening around his chest like a band of barely-visible energy. For another, he would feel a psychic blade impaling fully through his abdomen. Either way -- the pain would begin well in advance of his encounter with the pavement.

Success or failure, she would do her best to springboard away from the crime boss before he can retaliate for her sudden attack!

COMBATSYS: Duke dodges Honoka's Wakka Pururuse.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Duke             1/-<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\1           Honoka

It was an act.

Duke was a poor actor, to say the least. When you had to rely on Hyena for acting tips, you were doomed to come across as unlikable and deplorable. As the audience turns on him, however, He just snorts a scoff. And then, tightening his fists, a violent eruption of chi around him to silence them Unlike Honoka, he did not care to entertain the audience. He did not feed off their adoration. No, he had only one thing in mind: to win, and crush Honoka. The dancer, the fighter, was already putting on her next show. Honoka was mute, and as she rushes in, Duke had only time for a single response.

Duke spits to the side.

RDuke rarely talked so much in a fight, short of threats and growls. But this was a threat, with the even, crushing tones of a crime boss with a professional specialty in extortion. And yet, for all his bantering, Duke's head awas well into this fight, as he quickly demonstrates in the face of Honoka leaping attack. As she dips in like a predator, Duke slips around the grips of Honoka, the towering crime boss boasting unnatural speed as he moves, eluding Honoka with careful footwork. A flash of fire comes out from his form, daring Honoka to come closer. And yet, she slips away. Duke was already stepping towards her, moving in careful harmony with the dance.

"Don't waste your crocodile tears on me." Duke snarls with contempt.

"You selfish, misbegotten and unnatural young lady." Duke bellows, as he hurls his arms back. "Who uses fire in her performances? The fire dancer, who left the pyrotechnics behind the scenes. Not Lightning Spangles, who has the talent to make her own fire! You smelled the smoke, but you were in dreamland taking tea with your friends. You couldn't be bothered. Every disaster has those truly responsible wipe their tears. But what comes first is the scapegoat. And it could never be you, can it Honoka? You have your career to think of. And what are you without your career?"


Duke slams his arms down, unleashing the cataclysmic wave of chi flame. The wave boils over, ready to catch Honoka on her leap back. It was a test of her acrobatics. The asphalt rips apart again, as the firefield spreads across. Audience members already recoil away as the chi tsunami erupts and burns. Duke growls over the spreading flames. "But of course, I can see why you dumped it all on Lightning Spangles, to ruin her." He narrows his yellow eyes, a snarl on his lips.

"You're jealous of her."

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Honoka with Sledgehammer EX.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Duke             0/-------/-<<<<<<|=======\-------\1           Honoka

The violet eruption of chi lets the master manipulator know that she was right to call his bluff.

But the cheers were enough to motivate the Dancing Flame, giving her the strength to persevere in her attack, even as it became readily obvious that the towering crimelord was going to simply -avoid- her grasp. Feet touch down, and a nimble backflip sets her jacket aflutter -- the brief glimpse of the acrobat's slim muscles snapping into action turning many of those boos into riotous cheers.

As she lands, one of the wands is thrown free from her hand, loosing a thundercrack as it snaps back, bringing the airborne diabolo back under her control. There is another diabolo, of course -- 'carelessly' discarded from her opening gambit.

The flames of contempt -- this is the Duke she knows well. Crocodile tears -- that's a phrase that brings a mild smile to the dancer's face. For while the previous Duke -- the passive sham -- gave her nothing to work with, his -passion- for -loathing- the juggler gives her more than enough fuel to continue in this fight. Selfish, misbegotten and unnatural... those are the words reserved for the grade "A" villains!

Even when Duke begins to harangue her over the choice of career over life, she knows the record is in her favor. After all -- 'career' was one of the first words out of Jezebel's mouth as she found out about the death.

And yet, even though she has no reason to be upset -- nonetheless, she still is. For one of his many ranting statements is, in fact, applicable -- that it was her pyrotechnics that set the flames ablaze.

The Dancing Flame's form is lit from behind with magenta flames -- a conscious reaction to the escalation of flames. She may not be able to sense the impending attack as well as, say, Ryu or Sakura, but she can gauge the man she's fighting well enough, even while jogging the diabolo around its orbit.

She shakes her head -- to say no. No, he's =not= correct. No, she did =not= put her career in front of the life of that child. And no, she is =not= worthless.

Duke's arms crash down.
A cataclysmic wave washes outward, flames that split the asphalt wide open.
And Honoka's magenta flames respond in kind, as she snatches the airborne diabolo out of its orbit, drawing it and the diabolo wands close to her.
To wait out the wave.

For a moment, she is completely consumed by flame -- her presence demonstrated only by the wailing cry of agonizing pain, shrill enough to silence the roaring crowd.

The next moment, she reappears -- dropped to one knee in the wake of the volcanic shockwave, her arms curled around her. The fuschia highlights in her raven-black hair have been charred black, along with her soot-coated skin. Her jacket seems to have weathered the firestorm better, black smudges of soot seared into the synthetic fibers wherever they weren't collected by her curled arms.

But she won't be sitting the rest of this fight out. Not with him continuing to harangue her. Not with the audience finding their voice, cheering her on.

No. She will rise, gathering both of her diabolo wands together -- solid steel with knurled grips, selected precisely for this fight -- and swinging them into the Syndicate crimelord with the fury of a mongoose. Duke may also be aware of a second blur of motion not tied to -either- of the hands she's using to swing the improvised maul into his chin -- her metal diabolo, hurled in the heart of that swing's wind-up.

COMBATSYS: Duke interrupts Random Weapon from Honoka with Minefield.
- Power hit! -

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Duke             0/-------/------=|=======\=------\1           Honoka

Let them cheer.

Duke's flames were pouring in full force, the rioting strength of the crime boss unceasing. And yet, he was not overextending himself. The crime boss was being restrained, the infamous fury quelled. In it's place was the diabolical, brutish cunning of a criminal tyrant. Toying was what children did. Duke was wrenching emotional arms from their sockets. And yet, as she screams, Duke shakes his head. When she finally emerges, surging at him, Duke has only time for a quick line.

"Not a word in your defense, is there Honoka?"

Duke callous remark comes with glaring eyes at the burned girl roaring at him. Duke telegraphs in midattack, the crime boss crossing his arms. Another composure? More stalling? Chi energy around him suddenly dies down, condensing internally. The diablos come in, as Duke tightens his crossed arms. His chest was nearly fully recovered now, only light scars where was once a gaping wound. The crime boss transfixes his gaze, as the muscles in his neck tighten up. Honoka brings the full to bear into the unguarding Duke, his defenses seemingly completely gone. It connects, smashing into his jutting out chin.

And it explodes.

It was like punching a landmine. Duke's flesh tears open at the contact as a fresh volcano of chi energy boils over Honoka, blasting into her point blank. Duke doesn't even flinch, his chin nothing more but ragged flesh and warping, writhing chi. What's more, his beard was gone; Duke's face literally exploded. The crime boss's yellow eyes transfixed on Honoka, a toothy grimlock on his face as the flesh of his cheeks steadily reform again, his presence overwhelming. "Oh, I see." He rumbles softly.

"Your audience is your voice."

Duke doesn't laugh aloud, but the sheer contempt from him spoke volumes. "You are so fixed on putting on a show, you can't even fight properly." Duke snarls, striding heavy steps after Honoka. "I have seen your performances, Honoka. Your dances, your fire shows. Not a peep. Just... pantomime, in stark contrast to Lightning Spangles. Why? Because you are good at silence? Or maybe you can't stand the sound of your voice." Duke yellow eyes burn, as he sneers at Honoka, his steady walk of doom coming.

"Why, I bet you can't even sing, Honoka."

Not a word in her defense?
Agitated, but not quite angry enough to break character and voice her thoughts, she supinates one hand, gesturing to the space before Duke's feet and shaking her head side-to-side.
Loosely translated: If that's what he's putting down, then no.

In her view, responding with words could simply give him more ammunition -- and insofar as the battle of words is going, his statements are missing more than hitting. The simple fact that she'd managed to get him -more- aggravated by saying nothing at all is probably the most encouraging sign that she's chosen the right tack.

Encouraged, she lunges in with her strike. And only when she's about to strike does she realize that the crime boss has manipulated her in a quite different way -- encouraging her to strike in a fashion which he's able to deal with. To her credit, the metal staves shatter the man's jaw, and her diabolo hits him squarely in the hip just as she'd expected, but the dual impact initiates a chain reaction of chi explosions! A screaming Honoka is blasted backwards in a dizzying spin on her sagittal axis -- with the searing heat in her brain, the vision of the world spinning end over end actually comes as a small comfort to the disoriented juggler.

Well, it might have, before she impacts the side of a full-sized STPD van parked on the street with a loud BOOOOOOM! An instant later, the metal cord of her diabolo wands snakes against the van, followed soon after by the percussive CLANK! of her diabolo leaving a small crater. As the truck rocks back and forth from the successive impacts, the juggler and her tools are unceremoniously dumped onto the street. Gratefully, she falls onto her hands and knees rather than allowing her head to crack against the asphalt. Panting, she looks down at the tattered remnants of her jacket sleeves, the alabaster skin of her forearms and hands abraded a raw red in places and left charred black in others. Tearing up from the pain, she draws in her breath, sore and blackened face pulling taut as she fights her hardest to keep from crying out again.

Her audience is her voice. How true that is, she understands. After all -- what is a performer without an audience? Exhaling through ragged lungs, she lifts herself up to her feet. Pieces of her jacket -- the front, and most of the sleeves -- flake off from the motion and disintegrate into cinders to reveal the scoop-necked t-shirt below. Without the preparation of forethought, not even her psychic aura could save the fashion accessory from utter annihilation. Aside from torn leggings, the rest of her outfit remains intact for the next round of assault -- though it remains to be seen how much of an encore the psychic will be able to mete out.

A wry smirk is flashed in response to the insults. Most of them she's heard before -- and she accepts them willingly. By staying quiet in her performance, she's told reporters before, she allows other children to see themselves as her that much more easily. To ascend beyond their mortal limitations, and to fly through the air as she does.

Her smirk fades and her eye winces shut when the crime lord suggests an inability to sing.
Her diabolo drops into the valley between her two staves, swinging back and forth for a moment. Honoka's left shoulder turns towards Duke -- a nominal defensive stance -- as she jogs the diabolo into orbit. Her long legs begin the stride back towards Duke, as the diabolo spins faster and faster -- becoming nothing but a high-speed blur.

Her stride grows faster, as well -- with a lot of distance to clear.
Those closest to her might be able to hear the low, rumbling chuckle in her throat.

And then, about ten meters away, she leaps into the air.
The diabolo is whipped forward.
In the span of two heartbeats, petals of fuschia and rose unfurl from the center of the spun torus. White light radiates outward. And an uninterrupted column of powerful psychic energy roars out from the center, cutting a direct line between herself and the ground directly behind Duke.

An angle that will injure no bystanders.
An angle that makes collateral damage a virtual impossibility.
An angle that will impale Duke straight through his heart and lungs, turning his malice and ill will against him -- possibly even to wrench the cardial organ to a standstill.
A fury that is powerful enough to halt Honoka's forward motion, the recoil shock powerful enough to knock her back a few feet before her sneakers touch the ground once more.

What is the use of singing, when one can share such a visual treat with an audience?

COMBATSYS: Duke endures Honoka's Nochiu-o Kando.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Duke             0/-------/--=====|==-----\-------\0           Honoka

There is something bullies don't like.

Oh, Duke was a bully. He was trying to get a rise out of Honoka, to lure out a mistake, to make her mistep. But the crime boss, for all his power and brutality, lacked finesse. Sure, there was winces, there were twists of the arm. And there were explosive attacks. But there wasn't a full out cry, not even a break of character. It wasn't standing up to a bully, per say. But it was ignoring a bullying.

And there was a method bullies use when they were being ignored.

The sneer turns into a scowl as she continues to say nothing. "Still nothing, Honoka?" Duke growls, his temper building with every step. It looks like his self-control was dwindling. When people stood up to him? They were knocked down. But Honoka was rising up, to the delight of her fans. She wasn't breaking. She was not breaking. Duke erupts in violet energy as his fury takes over. He begins to charge, as Honoka shows her true, inner strength.

And Honoka proves she still had spirit.

The light comes, and Duke does not stop his advance. No, he accelerates. Ripping forward, he actually bodyslams through the attack, smashing through with some significant slowdown. The crime boss breaks through, yes, but his chest pierced once again. The wind is knocked clear out of him again, his face gradually growing back the loss of skull. He was slowed down, yes. But he was charging at Honoka. The moment her sneakers touch the ground, Duke is nearly upon her, to greet her.

With a massive, power punch straight across to her temple.

COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Duke             0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0           Honoka

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Duke's Power Axe.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Duke             0/-------/--=====|==-----\-------\0           Honoka

The torus of energy vanishes, projecting the diabolo a good meter or two into the air. Honoka watches the fading light from her attack -- and sincere alarm flashes across her face. The possibility of the Syndicate executive charging willingly -into- such a powerfully telegraphed attack was left as a mere margin note her strategic notebook, a possibility so remote it hadn't entered into her calculations. Gritting her teeth, she lashes her fingertips outward, snatching her anodized diabolo out of the air. No, Duke -- no words. Just a look of steeled determination -- no different than the silent acknowledgements she'd shared with the World Warrior himself.

Some in the audience are beginning to turn to Duke's side -- mostly out-of-towners who came for a glimpse of the awesome property-destroying fury of the one and only Duke. But the vast majority of the townies are -heavily- in favor of not having to deal with this prime real estate getting torn up -- round-the-clock construction is a real pain in the ass even when it's =not= right outside a youth hotspot!

The acrobat kicks at the air with such concussive force so as to recoil her backwards a second time. The metal cord of her diabolo wands lashes about in the wake of a rapid backflip, oriented such to change her trajectory. Without knowing exactly =how= Duke plans to attack her, she can only prepare for an attack just after her landing...
And it would seem that she guesses correctly, for as Duke slams his hands forward, his knuckles will be intercepted by her two staves, crossed in a perpendicular X pattern. Her bared arms show just how far her muscles are straining to keep the wands from hitting her head -- but even then, there is the audible *thump* of metal hitting cranium, and the backwards trajectory shift that comes with actual contact.

Honoka growls back, her sneakers squealing as she strives to stop her backslide.
... About halfway before stopping, though, she looks up to the fourth floor of the Neo*Geo Land balcony, and her shoes twist sideways.
And the intersection is flooded with light.

Moments earlier, a group of loud, intoxicated crowd members had started a ruckus. And a moment after that, gravity finally managed to get the better of an inebriated couple, pulling them abruptly to the side. Colliding into the aluminum barricade walls. Tipping the walls over. And crashing into the spotlights which had been an instant earlier been focused upon the SNK Corporation logo high above.

Now, though -- the spotlights are swung around by the falling revelers. To reflect across the metal surfaces of the STPD vehicles, parked cars, aluminum signage, and most brilliantly, the -mirrors- of said vehicles. A blindingly bright light, disorienting and quick.

In the chaos that ensues, Honoka has practically disappeared.

Words may never hurt him as badly as sticks and stones.

Her challenge to him is clear: anticipate where the strike will be coming from, and deal with it accordingly.

COMBATSYS: Duke fails to interrupt Niwen Horobi from Honoka with Swivel Gun EX.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Duke             1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0           Honoka

With Duke eclipsing the spotlight's intensity, the slender acrobat has all but disappeared from his view, charred skin and ravenblack hair melding into the black asphalt. She does not aim for his regenerating face, or his renewed chest, but rather drives her doubled-up wands into the pressure point of Duke's left kneecap. With a jangle of her metal diabolo cable against pavement, Honoka leaps upwards from there, using the beleaguered knee as a stepping-stone for her to vault upwards -- with an audible crack all but guaranteed. And only =then= does she strike at Duke's shoulder with a rising elbow, backed by the strength of one of her wands.

An instant later, Duke will have no trouble seeing Honoka's face, as it will be lit up in a blossom of brilliant fuschia energy, the ghastly underlighting setting her teeth into sharp relief. The energy -- and her palm -- are slammed bodily into Duke's chest -- the bulk of the negative emotions Honoka had been harboring all throughout the fight.

All of the words she had meant to say, all the angry rebuttals, all the 'well, actually' clarifications -- come flooding into Duke's heart as a =torrent=, assaulting him at once.

But what about the -other- wand? Duke would feel the weapon's cable wrapping around his ankle, pulling taut just as Honoka's forward momentum is brought to bear on his chest. The entangled weapon slides up against his shin, dragging upwards -- and lodging itself into the pit on the back of his knee, forcing the limb to buckle.

The towering behemoth begins to teeter over.

And just before impact, Honoka surges forward again, accelerating his fall with one final shove.

When his back and head slam into the pavement, that last palm surge will be accompanied with a bolt of lightning, ascending to the heavens.

An offering to Sarak Kamui -- God of River Accidents.

Honoka will leap backwards, as the fight officials struggle to get the spotlights back under control. The tattered remnants of her jacket practically fall off her shoulders from the duress.
But her malicious, spiteful smile --- it has faded away, replaced by the narrowed eyes and determined look from before, as she slowly drags the diabolo wand back across the pavement, its line no longer held taut.

Even a partial hit was staggering.

Duke crushes into Honoka, smashing into her. He says nothing. He has things to say. But the last blow seems to have done unmeasurable damage to his lungs. He was oxygen-starved, ever slowly. The audience was still for Honoka, yes, but Duke? Duke did not need anybody. He was already resposition, preparing his second assault. And the darkness descends.

Duke stands fast, eyes narrowed in the darkness, in the illusion, in the flickers. The crime boss's alertness... wasn't. In a fight, he relied on pure power, and intimidation. A mere bully in some regards; albeit a powerful one. He darts his eyes around, his body's flames failing to provide the necessary illumination. He hears a sound. A crack. And then, he chooses the attack her would commit. Surging with energy, he lifts into the air.

And Duke chooses poorly.

His leg lift in a lifting roundhouse to catch nothing. Hurling into the air, he is exposed to the true attack of Honoka. For a moment, his eyes meet into Honoka own, his lips curled into a glower of pure rage. And there, the lethal dose is administered. The energy floods into his heart, and it stops again. The abuse, the abuse pouring into his most vital organs. Duke's eyes even briefly roll into the back of his head, his heart stopped. When Duke falls, he lands in an unceremonious heap. The judges wait, and watch. It only takes a second.

Duke was not done yet.

Struggling, he fights to rise into a stand, recovering from his mistake. Gripping his chest, he actually forces himself to breath, forces himself with all his strength to restart his heart. Every moment was the purest form of agony, only experienced by the still living stretched into pieces. It was torture. But he was not done. Duke turns to face Honoka again. Gone was the arrogance. In it's place?

A building cataclysm of vengeful rage.

The audience's attention was focused upon the acrobat's battle with the formidable crime boss, the sole anchor of focus amidst an epileptic cacophony of light and shadow. Confusion reigns supreme, as those in the audience murmur back and forth with their friends, attempting to make sense of it all. Black clouds of incinerated tar waft across the battlefield, their cast shadows flickering rapidly as the spotlight is maneuvered back into its earlier position. The acrid, burning odor permeates the air, an omnipresent reminder of the devastation wrought in the moments prior.

Southtown Police officers move the aluminum barricade frames back into position, and cordon the offending revelers back behind the lines. The moment of opportunity has passed; normalcy -- such as it is for a one-time occurrence in the midst of the fighting capital of the world -- is restored.

Most eyes had remained focused upon Duke -- surely, the man who had already experienced one brush with death would have the good sense to stay down the second time. And yet, as the towering, rage-filled man forces himself back to his feet, they are captivated, awestruck. The whispers pass amongst one another.

The sound of scraping metal makes itself heard. The diabolo-wielder's cable brushes against the pavement -- a deliberate gesture to re-establish her role in the Syndicate leader's maladies. Her white-knuckled fingertips loose their diabolo onto the length of the cable, before sweeping up through the lengths of her soot-laden hair.

The diabolo falls into a regular rhythm, the same beat established throughout the fight.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The audience's eyes turn to the underdog, the upstart, as the diabolo is jogged up to speed.

Honoka brushes the strands of hair out of her eyes. A confident half-smile is passed in Duke's direction, matched with a wide contraposto stance that looks more appropriate for cowboy boots than for canvas sneakers.

"It's true. I can't sing, and I ain't no Lightnin' Spangles."
Her rustic Hokkaido accent brooks believability far more than a homogenous Japanese accent would.
"You kept sayin' nice things about her though, and I didn't wanna interrupt."

Gradually, she swings the diabolo into a horizontal arc, raising it higher and higher.
Not unlike a lasso.

"'Cause I respect Lightnin' Spangles and her fans more than you seem to think."

The audience response starts with a single person clapping. And then a second, and a third. Before long -- the applause is deafening.

In the midst of the building applause, one diabolo wand is loosed at Duke, its cable forced to orbit around the central axis of the spinning diabolo. The first wand falls short of actually hitting him, but the second would spiral around to smack against him -- hurled at him in the diabolo move called an "excalibur genocide" -- and Honoka would grab the first wand an instant later, with almost no exception.

But the juggling prop is a faint -- and if it hits, it will only be a bonus to her true intent.
For Honoka has propelled herself forward into a lightning-fast and kick directly to the sternum -- aimed at toppling the fearsome Duke once again.

COMBATSYS: Duke endures Honoka's Intercepting Strike.

[                         \\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Duke             1/-----==/=======|===----\-------\0           Honoka

Honoka may someday regret speaking.

Not because the Lightning Spangles would rage at her. Quite the opposite. At that moment, Just My Twilight Life and Lightning Spangles fandoms collided into a marriage. Honoka's peripheral fandoms were devoured by Lightning Spangles, and visa versa. No, Honoka would be getting a fresh wave of new fanmail, new fans asking all kinds of questions about the Ainu, if they were like Native Americans, why are they not Japanese, and the like from eager Lightning Spangles fans. Alongside the mystery fluids and obscene letters that were required as part of the Lightning Spangles fandom. No. That's not why she might regret speaking aloud.

She might regret it because Jezebel was watching.


She was at the Swinging Singles Cruise from Darwin, Australia, to Thailand. She was alone, of course. Not her fault. It just that- well, it looked like mature adults have had a change in tastes since she. Younger adults wanted younger adults, and older adults wanted younger adults, and those without, well, could do better. She wasn't drinking, no, at least not now. And she didn't even need to powder her nose, because nobody wanted to waste any on her. But she was content sitting in her room and.... crying. Screaming at herself in the mirror at how fat and unwanted she was.

It wasn't until Honoka reveals herself that she breaks out of her cycle of self-loathing.

The television was on; the King of Fighters match in process. And Honoka, who never spoke, does so. And she says such beautiful words. Because she stared on the screen, and Honoka speaks. She speaks, and she... and she praises. Jezebel begins to cry again, but not out of self-loathing. Out of joy. And she comes to the screen, touching Honoka so gently as she begins to lasso.

"I love you, Honoka." She says, not thinking clearly. "I love you."

"And you will be my next Spangles friend. Just like Hayley. Just like my fishy friend. You will be my..."

"My Ainu Spangles."

And she kisses on the screen.

And immediately gags, and starts spitting.

"Oh god, why is it sour and salty?!"


Duke's fury could level a city-block. It was time to contain the damage. As Duke rises up, he growls, his body stiffening. Eyes locked into Honoka, as she... as she performs the Lightning Spangles routine. She finally finds her words. And instead of a broken spirit... Something comes over Duke's face. Not the scarred flesh. Was it fear? Pain? Weakness?

It comes back to him.

Carrying her on his shoulders, as she calls him the Hoedown Dillo. Letting her ride on his shoulders, her laughter ringing in his ears. Until she started coughing, and she couldn't stop. Those DVDs, those videos of Lightning Spangles that she watched. That she adored. That she loved, until her final days. It was just a dumb kids show. And yet, as she forces it out, the words, the language from a woman's mouth... It hits a nerve.

You do not hit Duke's nerves.

Duke's jaw snaps as a deeper roar boils out from him. Pure demonic rage is unleashed as he -slams- himself into the kick. He allowed the weak, broken flesh to break. He allowed her to sink into his body, sink into his bloodied organs and chest where his broken sternum was. He allowed her to break through, to hit him in the heart again. Because he hung heavily, glaring down with incredible, demonic fury. His gaze transfixes down, as he slams his arms together, to seize the young ainu starlet.

Heaven help Honoka should he get his grips.

COMBATSYS: Honoka fails to reflect Volcanic Bomb from Duke with Tokap Chup Kamui.
- Power fail! -

[                         \\\\\  <
Duke             0/-------/-----==|

COMBATSYS: Honoka can no longer fight.

[                         \\\\\  <
Duke             0/-------/-----==|

And Duke squeezes hard.

Honoka could feel it now. Not the rage, but the pain. The pain of losing someone you love. Not a demographic, not a people. But a person, a loved one. Loving something for nothing. The fact that Duke could feel pain was all too hot, all too raw, all too present, all too real. This close, it was an overwhelming pressure. The voice, the sound of her voice, the sound of your voice. If Honoka wanted to take something away from this, it was the taste of weakness in a man, a way to strike his heart deeper than any blow.

That was a cold comfort, as he brings the first blow.

Punching Honoka in the face one, twice, he rips her free from his chest. Snarling with bile-fury, he lifts her up, and -slams- her on the asphalt like a rag doll, an eruption of chi boiling out on impact. All his hate and pain was poured into her now, as he slams her upside down against his body, and leaps into the air. Lifting her high, he unleashing a finishing tombstone piledriver, face down, into a cataclysmic blast of chi around them both. He does not release her, as the dust clears.

He wasn't going to turn his back on them again.

Honoka was already filled with sorrow for her dead brothers and sisters. She had kept that pain, that loss, with her all throughout the fight. She had struggled with how to contextualize it for the past few days.

She had visited art museums with Nakoruru. She had noted the correlation between the most significant pieces of artwork and the times in which they were created. More proof was offered to Nakoruru's hypothesis that tragedy tends to bring out the best in people.

So maybe... maybe her heart was no longer in the fight. Maybe she was determined instead upon a mission of bringing hope to the world. And maybe, just maybe... that's why she was thinking of Lightning Spangles.

Or maybe it's just because Duke wouldn't shut up about her. Tough call.

It is with no small amount of alarm that Honoka realizes her foot is actually caving -through- the man's chest. She's broken bones before -- she's -killed- before. But the curious matter of the Syndicate boss' physical constitution continues to defy her definition -- if he is so strong, why does he keep -breaking?-

Charred hair flutters about in the wind of her motion. A hand reaches back, fingertips wrapping around the haft of her wand, just as she'd planned it -- even if the sudden capture of her foot hinders her. Her other foot stamps onto Duke's shoulder in a futile struggle to work herself free.

And when she finds herself thusly lodged, only -then- does the panic start to show upon her face.

Her forelocks rocket forward, obscuring her vision. She grips tightly with her right hand, sharpening the angle of the rotating Excalibur to force the other wand to fly into her left. The diabolo rocks back and forth, a pink energy beginning to spill outward from her hands.

Entrapped, she's forced to sit up to bring that diabolo back under control -- leaving her face within range. Her eyes widen at the fist -- the circumstances being much too chaotic to account for all variables.

WHAM. Her nose -- bloodied again.

WHAM. A second time. Her nose shatters, blood spilling out.

She doesn't even get the mercy of falling before she's snatched out of mid-air and slammed downward. Bones crack, even then -- and a scream is loosed, for Honoka is still -- at that point -- conscious.

But then the world spins. And after way too much of the spinning, her head hits the pavement.

The lights of Neo*Geo Land are on 24-7-365.
For the moment, Honoka sees none of it.
She sees only the silent, judging faces of hundreds of drowned souls.

The audience -- and even the announcers -- remain staring breathlessly at Duke, as the unconscious body of Honoka hangs limply from Duke's grasp.

Duke keeps the pin too long.

He actually couldn't move very well. His body was regenerating too slowly. Taking a blow to the chest was- it was too much. His breath is a death rattle. For the audience, it was a dramatic pause. For him, it was what he needed to recover just enough to stand again. As long as he kept the pin, he could keep the illusion of being in the fight. This fight was built on illusions, bravado. Weakness was not something Duke wears well. Another breath. Another death rattle.

And he releases Honoka.

Rolling to the side into a stand, he doesn't pose for the audience, doesn't work for their cheers. He just touches his chin, to stroke a beard that was not there. He tightens his fist into bone-cracking rage. The judges call it, as the medical staff rushes to Honoka. And Duke doesn't look back. He exits, walking off to the side, away from Neo*Geo Land, through the crowd. The audience parts, as he staggers through, body bleeding. All with a final, warning growl.

"I'll see you in hell, Honoka."

COMBATSYS: Duke has ended the fight here.

Log created on 22:11:41 09/15/2017 by Zach Glenn, and last modified on 12:31:57 09/22/2017.