KOF 2017 - KOF Finals: Syndicate Team vs Team Balance

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Description: After a small world war, a gears war, and a nuclear hammer held high over it, the finals of the King of Fighters tournament finally have come. Taking place at the Howard Stadium, the largest fighting arena in Southtown, the arena is filled in spite of all that has happened. Duke of the Syndicate Team will be leading against the mysterious Alma, in a battle for the championship. At this stage, everyone is a winner; but who will be the world champion?

A day that few thought would come has arrived: the finals of the 2017 King of Fighters tournament are being held, and Howard Arena is packed to the rafters with eager spectators. Southtown has survived onslaught and oppression, and the machinations surrounding the King of Fighters are in no small part responsible. Yet if the enthusiasm of the crowd is any indication, the citizens of this recently besieged city are willing to let bygones be bygones.

Perhaps the meaning of the King of Fighters tournament transcends its occasionally (or often) nefarious associations. It is a celebration of strength, of resolve, of fortitude and spirit. It is through all of these that the people of Southtown and its heroes survived and prevailed during the conflict that brought a temporary halt to the tournament. And it is these qualities that its final battle will reveal for the world to see; it is these qualities that the people of Southtown have come here to celebrate.

Alma Towazu, ascending the solemn stone stairs to the center stage, feels this purpose acutely. The roar of the crowd dissovles in his ears into so much white noise. To his psychic sense, the vibrant and thriving auras of the audience, those survivors, all about him similarly blur together into a festive and pulsing amalgamation, a veritable organism unto itself. His features are calm, approaching serenity. He empties himself of conscious thought to allow that wild energy to pass through him.

The journey that has led him here is marked by profound failure. His heroic efforts all came to naught. The Illuminati controls the United Nations and Urien has gone unpunished for his crimes. Alma is little closer to understanding himself or the state of the world, unless a deepening awareness of his own ignorance counts. Yet none of these failures or shortcomings have dampened his spirit. In fact, for the first time that he can recall since he began his psychic training, he truly wants to be strong, to become stronger, to be able to fight and win against any adversary. Before, cultivating the strength of his psychic power was a means to the end of deeper self-understanding through that psychic power. Now--

Slowly, involuntarily, his left hand closes into a fist, the sensation of three fingers curled against his palm reminding him of the absence of one.

Now is another chance to win.

He thrusts that fist into the air, eliciting renewed roars of approval and excitement from the gathered masses, and smiles, casting a happy gaze over those assembled.

Offered such a glorious opportunity, no matter how great the foe or how frequent defeat, Alma cannot be daunted.

Alma was not the only one offered with an opportunity.

The roar of the crowd, the adoration poured upon Alma was energy, pure energy. And with a sweep, a hush crosses over them. Footsteps. One should not be able to hear them in the arena, and yet, they come. Slow, steady, with deliberation. The entourage comes first; men in black suits spreading out, clearing the path up to the arena. A buck-toothed man in a green suit is the first up there, brushing off his clothing before extending out his arm, gesturing onto the arena. The steps rise up, as the looming figure steps into the ring; garbed in velvet red and black, the finest threads in Southtown. Yellow eyes -burn- as the opponent comes.

Duke has arrived.

With the sniveling Hyena acting as his valet, Duke stops at the edge of the ring. He does not need to say anything. Hyena scrambles, as Duke extends his arms. The suit is removed briskly, revealing the black waistcoat underneath. Hyena bows his head in deference, as Duke stares at Alma, taking him in. Yellow eyes transfixed. Confusion rests in his eyes at first. And then, rage. Stroking his salt and pepper beard, the dark skinned man finally rumbles aloud.

"Where are they?"

There is still no applause, only the hushed silence of the crowd, letting Duke's every word carry over through the arena? "Where is Ryu Hayabusa? Where is Kasumi?" Duke asks again, stomping towards Alma slowly. Every step comes with a burst of chi, shockwaves boiling over him even in his inert state. He casts his gaze side to side, watching at the sidelines. "Where are your ninjas, boy? I did not come to fight... this" Duke adjusts his collar, running his fingers on the scars upon his neck. "No matter. I will deal with you quickly, and when they finally come? I may have enough time to sweep away your remains to face the -real- challenger. You are out of your league, young man. You are -weak-... and you are alone." Duke cracks his knuckles, before bringing his fists up before him, easing into his fighting stance.

"Alone with me."

COMBATSYS: Duke has started a fight here.

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Duke             0/-------/-------|

Alma's smile subsides, shifting from radiant to earnest and polite along with the shifting spirits of the crowd, but it does not falter. Not when the crowd falls to a hush, not when his opponent approaches, and not even when he is viciously berated. Though his voice does not carry quite like Duke's, in the ensuing silence, his response is eminently audible.

"My allies are indeed exceptional," he agrees, "and I am honored and humbled to stand among them. With every fight, I have striven to do our partnership justice. However, sir," he continues, "I believe you are under a misconception."

Without batting an eye, he spreads his hands illustratively.

"I am a ninja."

There follows a pause.

"Alma Towazu, student of Rose," he abruptly proclaims, spread hands shifting into a poised and ready posture, a pressure beginning to exude from him as a halo of light forms around his hands and extends down his arms, pink and purple sparkles leaping from his skin as evidence of gathering spirit. "Would you like to--"

His smile widens ever so slightly, glittering Soul Power reflecting in his lively eyes.

"--witness my bloodline arts?"

After their diverting hot springs encounter, Fumiyo, Mai, and Hayabusa would expect nothing less from him.

COMBATSYS: Alma has joined the fight here.

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Duke             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Alma

A student of Rose.

That does gain an eyebrow raise from the crime boss. Duke was aware of Rose; a disciple of the world powerful psychic would not be something to belittle in the ring. Duke had prepared to fight ninjas; and for him to claim he is one? He actually unleashes a smirk, as Alma unveals his powers. "This is your bloodline arts?"

"Glitter and light?"

Duke's smirk fades into a scowl. "I have witnessed, and found wanting." He rumbles, as he strides forward. The judges, looking at both sides, calls for the fight to begin. And the moment the bell rings? Duke picks up speed, throwing himself into a charge. "I have waited too long for this. The championship is mine!" Duke's bellows reaches a peak, as finally, he descends on Alma.

Bringing his leg around.

Sweeping his leg hard into a bone-shattering kick, he hurls the full force of his limb straight for Alma's chest. Already, the sound of bones cracking could be heard before it even connects. The pure muscle power of the crime boss was crushing against his skeleton, the unnatural strength fueling as plumes of violet-red chi burst across his skin. It was almost as if his strength was only barely contained in his mortal shell.

Almost like his power was forced upon him.

COMBATSYS: Alma auto-guards Duke's Medium Kick.

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Duke             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Alma

Not all that which glitters is gold. But every once in a while--

"This light of mine--"

Beneath the glimmer and glamor, true value is to be found.

"--has only begun to shine."

Alma seems to slide forward to meet Duke's bonecrushing kick, propelled in part by a practiced lunge and in part by an unseen force. His opponent's power is utterly unrestrained. There's no attempt whatsoever to disguise the overwhelming violent intent that he exudes, and as such, the psychic can sense when the explosive attack is coming. The only question is if Alma's body can keep up with his senses. In this case--

"You are too quick to judge!"

It doesn't have to. The power gathered around Alma's arms surges suddenly, as if the fire within him is stoked by the audience's glee at the fight commencing. A burst of force radiates out from his right hand as he extends it, light blinding about his fingertips. That telekenetic effect is enough to briefly halt Duke's kick; it seems to slam against an invisible wall inches from Alma's warding arm. That moment is all Alma needs to thrust his hand out toward Duke's chest, aiming to impact against his intimidating adversary's chest with a lance of white spiritual flame streaked with swirls of pink and purple, to test the true will of this confident foe.

COMBATSYS: Duke dodges Alma's Self Expression.

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Duke             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Alma


Duke's expression turns to one of shock for a brief instant, as his reckless offense is stopped cold. The blow comes thundering hard into Alma's own shield, the flood of light forcing his yellow eyes away. Even the shift of momentum nearly breaking Duke's spine. Was this... the ninja's trump card? The look of shock fades as the energy boils up from Alma's limb.

Turning into smoldering contempt.

Duke rips from Alma's grip, the pure strength hurling swiftly in pained recoil as he draws his leg back. The thrusting hand catches just the waistcoat, as Duke pivots. Strength was being used in the form of speed and agility, as Duke forces his body to evade, forces it to redirect and repositioning. As the lance of energy passes him, the crowd bursts into a roar, cheering both for Alma and Duke (but mostly for Alma) as the man defiantly stands fast against Duke's offense. Duke's violent anger surges straight back into Alma. "Then I will snuff out that light!"

He was not done yet.

Duke makes his second step, refusing to break away from the close quarters. Hurling out a massive fist with the right, waves of boil off him as he slams a wild haymaker at Alma's chest. A second punch, reeling from his left, rises up to connect straight for Alma's gut, to knock the wind from him. The assault would end with a third blow, combining the strength of both fists for a staggering hammerblow together, a three-hit combination.

All with a snarl from the towering titan.

COMBATSYS: Alma fails to interrupt Strong Punch from Duke with Divine Intervention EX.

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Duke             0/-------/------=|=======\=------\1             Alma

Alma can predict Duke's intentions. But Duke's capabilities are another matter entirely. It had seemed as though Alma had created an opening, but his hulking opponent's sheer strength and capacity to push his body beyond its already considerable limits are only beginning to surprise the psychic.

When Alma's attack passes narrowly by Duke's body, the young man wills himself to come to a stop, feet planting in preparation for a counterattack. But for a moment he mistakenly expects that Duke's evasion will offer some breathing room. Not so.


The kingpin's control over his own body extends not only to the moment he dodged but to how far he travels afterward. Finding Duke already at dangerously close quarters, Alma's spirit flares up valiantly in response, and he pivots to face his foe. But he is physically incapable of responding to Duke's brutal power. That reckless first punch catches Alma before he can finish pivoting, not only blasting the air from his lungs but knocking his legs askew, footing lost. His limbs go numb with the second strike, eyes widening with shock, and the third double-fisted blow simply blows him away.

The floor of the arena cracks with the force of Alma's impact against it, his body spiraling through the air and away, briefly resembling a leaf fluttering in a torrential wind as he approaches dangerously close to the battlefield's boundary. Yet he recovers mid-flight, thrusting out his legs to skid against the tile and thrusting out his arms as though to grasp hold of some invisible walls. Sure enough, he slows precipitously, exhaling heavily as he regains his footing and, well, most of his limbs' functionality.


With his first breath comes his first word.

"So this is the power of one who would be champion."

His body trembles slightly and then stills as Alma assumes his fighting stance once more, stalwart in the face of an overwhelming strength.

"I'll surpass it!" he declares.

This challenger spirit is what it means to pursue victory!

Duke does not allow him respite.

The relentless momentum of the crime boss was legendary. Even Sagat could barely keep pace, in a near double knock out. Duke's pacing was like a hammer smashing upon your face, hitting again and again and again, battering you with the unstoppable force of the mysterious strength of the Syndicate enforcer. It was a crude technique; even the execution almost would seem in line with the merest of common thugs on the streets of Southtown. The difference?


Duke's raw power snuffs the passions of Alma, as the three-hit combination comes true. Already, as he blows his opponent away, he was prowling down, striding towards him with the unbreakable approach. His body was beginning to fall alight; the pure violence and rage was focusing, directly itself -squarely- at Alma. Kicking aside a cratered piece of the arena, he manages a dark chuckle as he closes in."Hm hm hm. Oh you'll surpass it? Tell me, boy."

"Can you surpass me?"

Duke -slams- his foot down, as a catastrophic shockwave rips across the arena. The very arena shudders at the earthquake, as the blastwave spreads. And there, Duke -explodes- forward, charging straight at Alma with a fourth punch, attempting to carry himself with the shockwave with a singular rushing blow, to keep Alma further off-balanced.

And carry Duke into his destiny.

COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Duke's Seismic Impact EX.

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Duke             0/-------/------=|=======\===----\1             Alma

This time, Alma won't fail.


He summons all the power available to him. The roiling energy of the crowd gone mad. The resolute flame burning deep within his breast. Even the perilous wildfire that is his foe's fighting spirit. All of it inspires him, all of it becomes force at his fingertips.

He can do this!

At the arena's edge, faced with a swift and ferocious assault, Alma thrusts out his palms to catch Duke's punch. As shards of the arena floor fly up behind Duke where he lunges, so does the floor behind Alma erupt upon impact, part of the sturdy battleground's side crumbling away from the sheer aftereffects of the combined shockwaves of launching and collision. The beautiful young man trembles and grits his teeth as the bones in his arms creak and crack, but his hands are suffused with a glowing power, a shield made manifest as an amorphous circle of rose and gold hues. It shakes violently, redirecting as much of the force of Duke's blow as possible into the air and ground and absorbing the rest. That shield shudders and blurs--


--but it holds.

Alma's cry is one of both assent and exultation. As the relentless raving of the audience grows to even greater heights, Alma, with an unconscious flourish, bravely lowers his shield, casting the glowing disc down toward the ruptured floor. In the split second in which he is exposed, he raises his hand to face level, between his and Duke's eyes.

Those eyes of Alma's will flash. That hand will snap its fingers.

And then what the audience has already seen from afar will become all too clear: that glowing disc, which moments before had served as a shield, had not disappeared when Alma cast it downward. It had slid like liquid against the ground, slipping silently under Duke's feet, like a shining target. That circle of light will erupt the moment that Alma snaps his fingers, bursting into a magnificent geyser of swirling iridescent hues, channeling all the spirit that the psychic had used for defense into an all-out attack.

COMBATSYS: Duke interrupts Full Confession from Alma with Swivel Gun EX.

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Duke             1/------=/=======|=======\=------\1             Alma

And the relentless offense does not cease.

Duke brings the incredible pressure upon Alma, the waves of energy blasting again, and again, and again. The unstoppable violence was pouring over Alma, testing him in ways, in impossible ways. Alma's spirits endures, his spirits burns in the barrage from the crime boss, the follow up punch stopped by the barriers of the psionic. The hammer continues. Bam. Bam. Bam. Duke locks his eyes into Alma as that flash comes. This was it; this was the next surge of power.

ANd the momentum sustains.

As the circle of power falls underneath Duke, the crime boss stands fast, already beginning his next attack. That look of rage comes, his jaw tightening as Duke -forces- himself through. There is a cracking sound, as Duke's grimace shows the trickle of blood between his lips. The force was snapping his teeth, crushing his molars from the force. Duke brings back his leg as the geyser begins. And roaring into a bellow, he -throws- his leg ahead.

And the energy erupts.

The pure rage and fury comes with a short jump, as Duke unleashing a kick to send himself and Alma into the air, his chi exploding amongst the flood of light. It was tearing through him, ripping through him. But he was taking it, using it, and turning into power to pour into Alma. The kick was an opener, as the energy floods from his OTHER leg. Bringing his other leg around, he finishes the rise with a skeleton-shatter roundhouse kick, attempting to -spike- Alma across into a ring out. His landing would be unceramonious, collapsing onto one knee, gripping the tatters of his waistcoat.

And spitting the shards of broken teeth from his maw.

It is only now that Alma fully comprehends the stage he has set foot upon. Though he is driven by the purest of motives, the will to power, a will he has newly embraced, has a nature all its own. As Duke stands fast against the torrent of psychic energies that Alma has unleashed, as the terrifying brute pushes his way through the onslaught, as his eyes reappear from admist the variegated geyser, Alma feels the emotion surging through every fiber of Duke's being and at last understands--

This is ambition.

The absolute determination to be the best seems from Alma's perspective to push Duke beyond mortal limits. Every time Alma thinks he is getting a sense of the extent of Duke's power, the man pushes himself one step further. And this next step is upon Alma himself.

Bursting free of the still-surging maelstrom of Soul Power, Duke's first kick carries both him and Alma into the air, breaking open the psychic's weakened guard. Audible gasps can be heard from an abruptly hushed crowd as the second kick blasts Alma away-- and over the edge of the arena.

Once he touches ground, that's it: the fight is over. This vague awareness becomes a certainty that shakes Alma free of his stupor and banishes the pain of his broken ribs and pulverized internal organs. He thrusts out his hands again as he flips in midair, managing to slow his descent somewhat, but it quickly becomes clear that whatever telekinesis Alma is capable of now isn't powerful enough to thrust him back in the direction of the arena. It appears he has only forestalled his demise as he continues to float slowly toward the floor beneath the arena, surrounded by still and expectant silence.


His shout, torn from bruised lungs, pierces that stillness, and with it a blaze is kindled at his fingertips. He thrusts his palm down floorward with explosive force, psychic flame boosting him upward briefly but decisively like a makeshift rocket. That single explosion is unrepeatable. But, swinging his body around, Alma spins with the force, the fire continuing to churn from his hand as he becomes a glittering whirlwind, trailing fantastical sparks. The audience roars at the fabulous technique, soul fire fading with every turn of Alma's battered body yet nonetheless continuing to burn and carry him back toward his monstrous foe.

When Alma reaches Duke's momentarily collapsed form, there will be very little of that resilient fire left, just embers of the spirit. But this does not faze the psychic. Resolutely, with one last spin, Alma descends upon his opponent and thrusts out his glowing fingertips, attempting to send the last shock of power directly into Duke's skull. Hope endures.

COMBATSYS: Duke barely endures Alma's Glimmer of Hope.

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Duke             1/-----==/=======|=======\=------\1             Alma

Pure, wild ambition.

Duke had stood his own against Sagat. He had crushed and humiliated Heihachi's forces. He had driven away Billy, humbling him. And now, here he was in the King Of Fighters. Would he win, his ambitions would take him even further. Wiping the blood from his face, he feels his body regenerating, recovering. And if he lost... even that could not stop his ambitions. It would only slow him down. No matter what.

It would not stop here, no.

The blast to his mind, however, takes startling effect. The crime boss actually rises up for charging Alma, a grimace on his lips as he expects to simply power through. But Duke's unceasing momentum is actually slowed down, as the blast dazes him. Staggered, he lurches hard to the side. A moment of weakness. No, the chi energy was a volcano now; the aura this close was stifling. Duke turns his head back towards Alma, another rough lurch. And his tightens his hand into a fist, letting the energy build into the heart of it. Duke straightens up his back, yellow eyes now actually burning, as smoke rising from them.

"It ends now." Duke rumbles, lifting his palm in the air.

Energy -surges- through him, as violet-red energy -floods- to his hand. Energy begins to pulse around him, as an incredible pressure builds. Waves of crushing gravity burst out from the palm, crushing against the arena floor as it builds. Shards of stone rise up, as the waves build. The power begins to twist his hands, his bones warping and snapping from the power. And yet, he pushes it a mite more... before shutting his palm, the waves ceasing. Recoiling in pain, he holds his wrist, growling in agony. That would have been enough to destroy him. To end his future.

If Alma was even in it...

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Alma with Gravitational Wave.

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Duke             0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Alma

It ends now.

Alma strains to focus his sputtering flame. His desperate aerial recovery and return to the battlefield looked spectacular, but it terms of psychic technique, it was relatively artless. He externalized his power as psychic force from a single narrow point in his body, allowing him to magnify it and propel himself, with outsized and colorful visual effects.

His wounded body is fading fast as he touches down upon the damaged arena floor, his single blow all-too-briefly sending Duke reeling. There is one way that Alma can avoid his opponent's inevitable counterattack, but to do so requires him to internalize all of the energy that he had just been venting outward, to force the straying stream of his consciousness down an entirely different channel. Utterly intent on this goal, Alma appears implacable in the face of Duke's rising hand.

It may look as though Alma doesn't even try to dodge. In fact, his body would not be able to move out of the way of Duke's terrible impact if he had tried, considering its scope and magnitude. There is only a look of intense focus as he is consumed by the violent light.

Beneath the two fighters, the already fractured stage -- despite being built for battles such as this -- crumbles, leaving peaks and valleys where a flat plateau once stood, like a miniature mountain range. Upon one peak remains Duke, surrounded by dust and rubble. And before him, in the wake of his attack--


--remains one slender, spindly pillar, looking as though it will crack down the middle and collapse at any moment, and upon it, a young man who looks little different. Blood is dripping from his mouth and one ear. His left arm is hanging loosely by his side. His legs are quivering, twisted awkwardly yet keeping up upright.

And his right hand--

"Not yet."

--reaches out for his opponent. Given the damage to his body, though he had twisted to protect his right arm at the cost of his left side, Alma may not be able to grasp Duke in time. The lack of room remaining to maneuver and the element of surprise may aid him. But his options are running out. Here, on this shattered side of the arena, he makes his last stand.

COMBATSYS: Alma prepares to take his last stand against Duke!

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Duke             0/-------/------=|>>>>---\-------\0             Alma

COMBATSYS: Duke interrupts Absolution from Alma with Dive Bomber.

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Duke             0/-------/----===|>>>>>>>\-------\1             Alma

At the moment of any physical contact, all of Alma's available psychic power will course into Duke's body, a tide of force that threatens to slow and weaken his limbs and dull the sense of ambition driving his consciousness -- as much as is possible.

The destruction was already overwhelming.

Duke's avatar of ambition was left in the aftermath of his crushing fury. Already, as the waves of energy pummel Alma, squelching the life out of him, the crowd was apprehensive. Duke was hurtling everything into this man, the beautiful Alma. There was no restraint, no mercy. Just pure, boiling hatred. Psychologically, it was toxic, pure poison pouring in. Duke looks at the devastation his waves unleashed, a smirk growing on his lips. He should be broken.

And yet, he persisted.

Duke's snarl boils over his face in outrage. Alma's defiance, his heroic stand against the pure strength of Duke was an insult. And Duke did not abide insults. As the hand comes out, the crime boss makes his move. "No, Alma." Duke rumbles as he rises into the air, leaping into Alma as he reaches out to him. The pure psionic energy floods him, boils through him. His senses are gone, his nervous system was shot. For a moment, Duke was outside of his body, his spiritual essence devoured by the pure heart of Alma. And in it, a single light flickers. Ambition. Hate. Rage.

"It ends."

Duke -stomps- into Alma's face, driving it straight into the rumble of the arena. Duke does not let his foot off, his senses still gone. Coils of energy boil over his body. Breathing hard, he stares down at Alma, drawing in thick, heavy breaths. His eye-sight returns, his hearing, his... soul revitalizes. And slowly, he lowers himself down, his eyes transfixed. His voice was quiet, the baritone rumbling to the bones. "Now stay down, boy." Duke growls. "I turned my back once, and I won't again. You think anyone is here for you? Your ninjas abandoned you. You are alone. This is where Team Balance ends. Not with a roar. But a whimper. You stay down now..." And he shakes his head, as he puts more weight on the foot.

"I can't promise you any pallbearers if you keep struggling, boy."

It's happening again. Once more, Alma has thrown himself against an overwhelming force and been crushed for his efforts. How many times can he continue to do this? How long can one person fight and fail before they accept their limitations -- or suffer the ultimate consequence?

A uneasy hush has fallen over the unsettled crowd. Not long before, the extreme violence exchanged between the two fighters was exciting, even breathtaking, and occasioned an uproarious response. But the sheer hatred emanating from Duke, his posture, his features, his crushing boot, infects the audience. Murmurs of concern begin to spread. It's time to call the fight. Before Alma's face is crushed, before his spirits are crushed, before irreperable damage is done. But there is little time to intervene. Who would have the courage to stand against this terrible man now?

Duke's foot presses down viciously--

Who, indeed?

What follows is the surreal sensation of Duke's foot slipping through what moments before was flesh, as though he is awakening and Alma was only a dream. For a split-second he is leaving grinding his heel against the dusty ground of the lonely pillar on which Alma had stood just before. It cracks under his weight and crumbles, as if it had never been.

And that sound, that piercing crack, is like a sign. A cry rises up from the crowd all at once. Duke will have the barest moment to turn and see that Alma has teleported into the air behind and just above him, that his right hand is still shining, that it is reaching out for his skull, to send one final surge -- the raw manifestation of Alma's enduring hope and conviction -- into Duke's mind.

~ The struggle against the darkness never ends. ~

But Alma's eyes are vacant.

~ No matter how often we fall, to stand and fight-- ~

And where he has appeared, there is no longer a place to stand.

~ --always matters. ~

Body limp, he falls, all power leaving his body. Yet though nothing slows his descent, when he lands upon the rubble-strewn floor beneath the remnants of this corner of the arena, his landing somehow is soft.

COMBATSYS: Alma can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Duke blocks Alma's Absolution EX.

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

What was this trickery?

Duke is actually stunned as the form of Alma fades away. Was it an illusion? His mind was invaded, wasn't it? Duke's rage surges again, as Duke looks up, following the cries. Now, there is no interruption this time. Eyes wide, Duke curls his lips as he crosses his arms. That is all, as Duke braces against the surge into his mind. Once again, his sensations flood, washing away his self. Predictable, yes, but... it was like a hammer, a relentless hammer. This time, it cuts so much deeper uninterrupted.

And for a moment, there is actually peace.

A peacefulness saturates the id of Duke, flooding his base desires away from the greed, the ambition. The warmth of the St. Bernard's, the last legacies of her. Reaching out, patting them on the head. Taking them for walks, as she rides on your shoulders. When you take time out of your work, to read her the story about the Dog of Flanders. It was a good place, a happy place. Duke might even get a smile on his lips.

It takes the embers of hate reignite once more.

How they tricked him. How they took her away, let her die. How he was left with nothing but the very ambitions of power to protect her, to save her. Duke's own eyes seem to come together, as he staggers dazed. The first blast didn't consume him as much; the second.... nearly took him away. For a moment, he had peace. But peace was only an illusion now. Gripping the sides of his temples, he snarls. Eyes burning, he turns at the crunch of the fallen man.

And Duke thunders towards the downed form of Alma.

"I warned you, boy." Was the rumble, as the flames boil over him. The judges hesitate; was Alma KO'd? Was he still going? His enduring spirit leaves in question, as Duke is already over him. "I gave you the warning. You can't bribe me with dreams. I only seek power, wealth, and victory. A man of my position? When I give a warning, you take that warning. You're in debt with me, you see? And Alma?" Duke lunges down, and heaves the broken body of Alma by his throat. Holding him up high, he begins to squeeze, as he draws back a chi-burning fist, winding back a punch

"It's time to collect."

Where, indeed, are Alma's ninjas? Poised to fight for the championship, for the prize that needed to be kept out of the hands of tyrants, the team had split as war broke out over Japan in earnest. To Alma was left the simple message that they were returning to Mt. Fuji, just to check on things. That was the last he had heard from the legendary Ryu Hayabusa, his apprentice Momiji, or the Mugen Tenshin exile Kasumi. A day later, the sacred mountain was targeted by the Gear called Justice and turmoil washed over the island nation.

And now the lone representative, the last man standing of Team Balance, has fallen in fierce battle. Any honorable contest of skill would have ended then and there. Duke had won, Team Balance had no other participants. The match was over, wasn't it? If the single round itself had not been so furiously intense, the audiences, both within the arena and viewing around the world, might feel a little bit ripped off.

Yet for the Immortal Tyrant of the Southtown Syndicate, the thrill of battle, the rate that fuels his unstoppable power, has yet to subside. And his opponent was to pay the price. With the judges hesitating to call the match and audiences beginning to express uncertainty regarding how far the brutal violence is about to go on live broadcast, help for the stalwart psychic warrior may be too little, too late.

If his mind has already been cast into that dark cloud of unconsciousness, he might not feel it - that fast approaching spark of a familiar soul. Too fast for the inexperienced eye to follow, it traverses the exterior gates of the arena, rushing into the underground tunnels that access the ruined, cratered stone platform without slowing.

There is a roar of wind, as if adjacent to Duke a fierce dust devil has formed. Everything happens with speed that would challenge even the cameras to capture, a helix of swirling pink cherry blossoms for a brief instant before a figure in sapphire blue appears at his side. She's already attacking without warning - polite introductions not exactly core to the strategy of the Shadow Dancer. Not when her friend's life is being squeezed between that criminal's powerful fingers.

Both hands reach out for Duke's chi infused arm, attempting to secure enough of a grip to wrist it up, derailing his potential to strike and threatening his own guard at the same time. Either way, in the very act of trying to dislodge his arm, Kasumi would vanish, reappearing three meters away already mid-dash to charge back in on Duke, right shoulder leading as she tries to bury her elbow into the side of his ribs and fold the beast of a man over.

"That's enough!"

Only when the frenzy of motion finally comes to rest does the identity of the interference become clear. Kasumi of Team Balance, dressed in the azure kunoichi attire she had worn in earlier matches - a deep blue wrap dress with white borders and embroidery. However, unlike her previous appearances throughout the tournament, the young fighter from the Shadow Clans looks as if she's already been in quite the battle. All along the edges of her combat outfit of choice are small rips and tears. One sleeve is sliced open up to her shoulder and a thin circle of blood stains the wide white wrap belt worn around her waist. Similar evidence of surface injury are noticeable in the numerous small scratches along her legs, the faint bruise on her right cheek, or the line of blood trickling down her forehead from beneath her dirty strawberry-blond bangs.

Her right hand rests on the grip of a sword worn behind her waist as she leans forward, her blue beribboned ponytail falling into place against her upper back.

"Strike my friend again at your peril."

The young woman leans forward sightly, pivoting so that her left side is toward Duke as she braces herself on a section of shattered stone tile. From this angle, her scraped knee, still fresh with recent blood, is visible through the whole torn in her thigh high white stocking.

"You haven't won yet."

A slow exhale, a bead of perspiration rolling down her temple. Whatever she had pulled away from to make her way here had certainly been no paradise. But Alma's resolve deserved at least this much - someone to stand at his side, to prove he wasn't left alone. They had been a team before the war tore them all off in different directions. Let them be a team once more, if but for a moment.

"Fight me."

COMBATSYS: Kasumi has joined the fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Duke with Senpu.

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

The judges realize, at the last second, that no, Alma wasn't going to wake up for a stunning comeback.

Duke crushes him, as he stares into Alma. Technically, there were rules to stop Duke from killing himself. Technically, there was a difference between him dying here, or dying a few days from now from a blood clot in the head. Certain rules, certain distinctions. The judges move to call it, to stop the death. But as seconds slow down, it seems too late...

Until his arm is jerked back.

Duke is actually flatfooted as the incredible speed and agility disarms him. Lurching off balanced, he turns to face the disappearing attack. For a moment, he is exposed. As the rushing elbow comes, he actually turns to face it... as it doubles him over. Dropping Alma, Duke groans, gripping his gut. Turning his eyes up, he looks across at the young ninja who had ambushed him.

The rage was piercing.

There was a roar in his own ears, as tinnitus drowns out her words. Duke's own skin begins to rupture and boil, as his jaw trembles. There is audible popping sounds, as his bones barely contain the pure fury. "Young lady." Duke says with the tersest restraint. "You've made a terrible mistake-"

And the judges, finally ring the bell.

Duke ignores it, as he takes a step towards Kasumi. A murmur of panic overtakes the crowd. Has the tournament been derailed? What was happening? What happened to the rules. A single judge from the sidelines stands up. Stepping out into the ring with firm footwork, the suited individual strides out, and steps between Duke and Kasumi. He raises a hand up between each of them. "Stand down. The round is over. Any further attacks will risk disqualification!" Duke actually pauses at this, his burrowing gaze wrenching from Kasumi, and fixating on the singular judge. All the wrath had now shifted from the young ninja, squarely at the one man "What are you threatening me with?" Duke growls.

"She... -attacked- me."

"Are you condoning interferance? Tell me the rules, sir, so I know where to begin. Or is this entire thing -rigged-?!" Duke's furious bellows pour over the head judge. One of the secondary judges pulls away from the table, heading over to a dark corner. The judge between the two fighters stares firmly back at Duke, sweat building on his brow."She was responding to our hesitation on your opponent. It is an illegal interferance on a technical level. In the circumstance, however, I will consider it a penalty interferance. You will recover and compose yourself, she will wait here, until the next round begins. And for her actions, we will give a penalty to their team in points-"

"In points."

Duke's haunting fury bellows like a divine wind through the arena. The judge on the offsides makes a phone call, muttering to someone, his eyes on Duke. The crime boss stares down at the judge... and then, to Kasumi. He doesn't say anything more. Duke turns away, backing down. The judge exhales, and looks at Kasumi. "You will stay put." He warns, as he steps to the offsides, back to the table. Duke reaches his corner, and sits.

He does not break eye contact at Kasumi.

It takes only a minute. Duke slowly rolls his neck, the audible cracking heard across the ring. Duke's silent rage had not ceased, only intensified. Nostrils flaring, the judges, all of them now, are in place. The head judge looks to both sides, and raises a flag.

"Round 2."


And Duke begins to stride forward at Kasumi, murder's hot breath hanging around him.

COMBATSYS: Duke awaits the next challenger.

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

There is no regret in the young shinobi's caramel brown eyes as she glares back at the man who has practically become rage incarnate. There can be no doubt that concerns over tournament regulations are far from her mind, her eyes burning with a quiet ferocity, a shadowed mirror to the open rage manifesting in the powerful Syndicate boss.

Duke takes a step toward her and the young ninja's hand slips from the grip of her blade. The sword at her back was the blade of destiny among the Mugen Tenshin and its edge was not to be sullied in combat for sport. In releasing the unconscious warrior from his life-crushing grip, intentionally or otherwise, and turning his fury toward her, Duke no longer warranted attacking with lethal intent. The Shrouded Moon need not draw blood here.

She speaks nothing of rules or rounds or regulations, bracing as Duke heaves his formidable strength into one menacing step toward her. If anything, the strawberry-blond kunoichi seems as surprised as Duke is annoyed at the appearance of the judge, eyes blinking once before she finally relaxes her own guard and stands up straight, mouth opened partially as she listens to the exchange. In the passing moments, her right hand lifts to rub against her left shoulder tenderly, a silent party to the loud debate over penalties and interference.

She glances toward the judge as he instructs her to stay put though she offers no answer, only glancing away, attention coming to rest on Alma. Eventually she moves, stepping easily over the broken, misshapen tiles of the grand arena platform to draw near to where her teammate had fallen. Dropping to one knee, Kasumi studies the unconscious artist. "You fought with enough heart for an entire team, Alma Towazu... If permitted, I hope my round does you credit." A faint smile plays at her lips before her eyes stray across his maimed hand and she sucks in a breath, teeth grit as her cheeks flush with rage of her own, right hand gripping her sword, ready to draw it from its sheath. Rules be damned, she will repay that man instantly in-

No, wait, the wounds are too old to be from this fight. Someone other than Duke did this... Again her hand slips from her weapon as she crouches lower, eyes closing briefly as she dips her head, "Alma... where did your crusade take you? Who did this to you?"

Slender arms slip beneath the young man's upper back and under his knees as Kasumi stands, hefting the much taller fighter. Lean muscle strains but serves to carry her teammate over to the side of the Howard Arena tablet of stone and set him down so that the event's medical team can take over.

Sighing, she turns toward Duke as his mandated minute advances toward its final seconds. One last glance is offered Alma, then she steps away, back toward the center, squaring off against the powerfully built monster of a man. The heat of his burning aura is palpable even from a distance and the younger fighter doesn't remove her eyes from him for even an instant as the judge raises a flag, a matador before the charging of the bulls. She didn't have to say anything now. She had gotten exactly what she had asked for.

A moment is taken to wipe her left wrist guard against her cheek in an attempt to brush away some of the dirt accumulated from whatever war zone she dashed in from, but all the effort succeeds at doing is smearing the dirt around a little. Exhaling, she adopts her ready stance now. Duke will be on the move soon, and as she opens and closes her hands with anticipation, she knows full well she will close to meeting him the instant she is allowed. Her left foot slides forward, arms raised, palms open. Already at a height disadvantage, the difference between the two appears only further emphasized with the way the youth leans forward slightly, presenting a smaller target and making it easier to defend herself from attack.

The audience seems to collectively hold their breath, hanging on the actions of the judge, forced to watch in anticipation as the unorthodox entrance of Team Balance's second participant finally gets resolved.

The judge's proclamation to begin echoes over the arena's loud speaker system and Kasumi rushes forward to engage. There are no fancy fireballs to be flung, no swaths of vibrant energy to illuminate the arena floor with as the Shinobi in Blue reaches Duke without braking her speed. For her, this is a contest of martial skill, fist and foot against the monstrous opponent who stands strong even after having battled Alma Towazu.

The opening strike comes in the form of attempting to bury her left elbow into Duke's gut, requiring her to get into literally point blank range in the blink of an eye. The forward momentum would carry itself into another step, as she would spin, swinging her left arm out for a softer, probing backhand, then finishing by chopping her right hand forward, targeting just below Duke's rib cage where, in theory, softer tissues guard his vital organs beneath!

COMBATSYS: Duke endures Kasumi's Medium Punch.

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

It may not be obvious what Duke was doing.

As the bell rings, he begins his plodding advance across the broken surface of the arena. If his yellow gaze could melt and destroy, Kasumi would be a pillar of ash. Inhale, and exhale, the breath comes. Fortunately for him, he would not need to take his time. Kasumi would come to him, in a flash, in a blink of an eye. Duke was in mid stride when the attack begins.

And he doesn't stop his step.

Every blow comes with precision, as Duke seems to slowly move into position. Everything was ponderous and slow. Standing fast against the intricate combination of blows, there is a dim understanding beginning to blow. There was no guard up against Kasumi, other than the waves of energy still writhing over him. The elbow drives in hard, knocking an audible grunt out of him as it connects. The probing backhand hints of what is to come, though; a broken rib... that was already there, and snapped again at her touch. Duke swings an arm back. Duke trembles in fury as the final penetrating chop comes, slicing below the rib cage. And then, a realization may begin.

It might be when Kasumi feels the vital organs burst at her fingertips, that she realizes the depth of her opponent.

Duke overburns with raw hate, as he stares down at Kasumi. Blood bursts from his jagged-toothed mouth, already smashed in his encounter with Alma. Kasumi just killed him. That combination could fell a weaker man, crippling and stunning them. But Duke was not responding like a man.

What was he?

And then, in a flash, the fire around him die down. All the energy outside draws in, surging in -hard- as Duke swallows his rage, turning it into a concentrated pellet of power. His drawn back arm -sweeps- hard, slamming in a wide cross angle. Hurling his force in, he was responding to the speed and precision with a riotous counterattack, barely restrained and stumbling. Duke was thundering back, thundering at Kasumi with a building storm. Kasumi might be able to harry and kite Duke.

And Duke was well aware of that.

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Kasumi with Aggressive Strike.

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

Kasumi was used to opponents not being able to defend themselves against her offense. It is obvious from what she has already demonstrated that her striking speed was incredibly fast and it stands to reason she often catches opponents unprepared to guard their body from a fighting style designed to cripple with only a few clean hits.

What she was not accustomed to was an opponent who was intentionally not trying to block or escape the oncoming assault. Digging her elbow into unprotected flesh, she spins into the next two attacks without slowing, even while her mind registers that something is not right in the way the man is putting forth no effort to deflect the strikes.

The pain he should be feeling would rob most fighters of the capacity to continue. The Shadow Dancer did not fight to put on a good show even though displays of her acrobatic, swift aggression tended to be crowd pleasers for more reasons than one. If she could drop an opponent in four quick, decisive hits, she would do just that.

That Duke continues drawing back rather than surrendering to the pain presents her with a new challenge all together. Was he even human? The aura of enmity pulsing around him is beyond human. She thought she just left the wars against youkai behind in making it to this stadium, but as she tries to correct for this unexpected response, she can't help but wonder - is it a man, or an oni, she faces in Howard Arena?

Her arms come up, her feet bracing as she tries to pivot into the attack, but the momentum behind the swing is more than she can withstand in the instant, and Duke's arm bashes into the side of her head having only lost a small degree of its fierce power.

The smaller contender for KOF 2017 champion is bashed sidelong out of Duke's path, head whipped to the side, speckles of blood from her mouth visible in the intensely bright arena lighting. An intake of breath punctuates the recoil, though she doesn't cry out. By all rights, she should have been bowled clean over, but operating on instinct rather than thought, she lowers her center of mass by bending her knees and leans into the slide, fingers of her left hand tracing just over the arena floor as she comes to a stop.

Her right arm wipes across her mouth, leaving a streak of crimson on the back of her marred armguard, caramel brown eyes fixated on Duke.

So. This is the man Alma fought? Just being in the ring with someone like this is beyond most so-called fighters in the world. Sticking with the match to the brutal, painful end? That is why Towazu deserves to be considered a champion.

That is why she must see this through.

Out of the crouch she ended in, Kasumi launches back toward Duke with another direct, frontal attack, showing no sign of hesitation, no hint of fear. Perhaps this time she will better demonstrate the folly of not defending oneself against Mugen Tenshin techniques.

An opening volley of four, knifehanded straight stabbing hand strikes is unleashed in an instant the moment she lunges in close enough to reach. That broken rib she felt before is targeted by her right hand, while her left hand probes at the impact point of her elbow strike. Experienced fighters would recognize the singular aim of Kasumi's attack - exploit weaknesses, and where none exist... create them.

Stepping out of the fourth knife-hand strike, her left foot slams against the ground as she pivots, right leg whipping up, her momentum poured into a single roundhouse over the level of her head, targeting Duke's chin - a staggering attack designed to punish his negligence for defense even further, if possible.

And coming out of the roundhouse, her left foot kicks off, taking the young woman into a spinning leap back out of range of Duke's deadly fists. She saw the peril in remaining too close following her attack last time and clearly has no intention of staying too close now.

Unless prevented, the nimble fighter would land out of her graceful spin on her foot two and a half meters away with no threat to her balance or poise, already prepared to move again.

COMBATSYS: Duke barely endures Kasumi's Renaki Shusui Jin EX.

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

Duke's momentum was surging forward.

Every blow was hammering, carrying him ahead as the hotter and hotter rage boils over. Suffering and pain, he wanted to humble this woman. He wanted to make her feel the pain of her insult, smashed into her again and again. Duke had drawn blood. And his momentum continues to carry him forward, as his temper only roars louder.

And yet, Kasumi still presses the offense.

Duke's fury was meant to intimidate as well as destroy. As the ninja presses her way straight back into Duke, however, Duke already begins his recovery, his forward momentum carrying him. The stabbing hand strikes come, hitting- hitting the broken rib again, feeling the knotted point of a- of a freshly healed bone. Snapping it easily, it is easy enough to carve open the weaknesses. BUt the surgical precision of her own work was before her. The weaknesses of before were closing up.

He was regenerating from them.

Unlike before, as Kasumi closed in, her efforts pay dividends The nicks and cuts and blows finally bring Duke into a stumble, the crime boss losing his footing as the power shifts. His arms draw back... but the roundhouse stops him. Stunned, the kick off comes, and for a moment, Kasumi is free of his damnable reach. He lurches, seemingly... was this what was going to topple him. There is a roar, as Duke forces himself back up, and pounces after Kasumi.

And his flesh explodes with that chi light.

Violet-red flames erupt over him as he smashes his limbs down. Bone and muscle and skin warp as the pure force esclates, exploding into a full rampage. A cataclysmic wave of flames rip across the broken arena ground, tearing it apart as he severs and tears. The eruption boils out to consume Kasumi, to not let her escape from the inevitable. He would destroy her. He would hammer her into the ground.

And he would claim his prize.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi dodges Duke's Sledgehammer.

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

As a rule, trained fighters tend to heal faster than the everyday civilian. With bodies rigorously pushed beyond normal human limits, both in speed, strength, and endurance, it is no surprise that they have also evolved to recover from the injuries sustained in a life dedicated to mastering violence.

But what is happening within the body of Kasumi's opponent is another thing all together. The truth of it becomes instantly clear as her knife-hand strike jabs in with the intent to jostle an already fractured rib only to feel it snap once more beneath her precision touch. Even moving as fast as she is, there is no mistake in her accuracy - her blow landed exactly where she intended. No wonder this man eschews defending his body in favor of unmitigated aggression.

Having disengaged, Kasumi lands out of her spin, arms raised, legs braced, ready to move again in an instant. The look she fixes on Duke now is different than the mien she bore when interrupting his brutal squeezing of her teammate. Then, it was a matter of fervent anger at seeing her ally treated so - she wanted revenge. Now? Now that she's seen Duke walk into her attacks without the slightest concern for his own well being?

Now it was a matter of pride.

She had not dedicated herself to the best training the Mugen Tenshin ninja clan could provide just to see this man - this monster - shrug off her techniques and come after her even faster for her efforts.

Like a living pyre, Duke single handedly illuminates the arena floor even brighter than the intense stadium lighting above, a burning sun of all-consuming flame as he comes crashing down toward his smaller target.

Escape seems to be the ninja's first recourse as Kasumi backflips in an instant, touching down in a runner's brace, two meters back from where she had originally landed. Perhaps her mind is centered on kiting the regenerating monster until he exhausts himself. In most cases, it might be the sensible plan, and one she would resort to if her own ego hadn't been pricked. And one that would have gotten her caught up in the inferno that explodes out from Duke's landing - two meters was hardly enough to avoid the rolling calamity.

But the resolved kunoichi doesn't run away at all - instead she's blitzing right back toward Duke the moment he lands, his violet-red fire reflected in her eyes. One step, two, three... straight for the flame. By the fourth, she's twisting hard to the left, her whole body spinning into a half turn. And as the broiling energy washes over her, she vanishes, a swirling helix of blossoms lingering for only an instant before being incinerated.

The resolute ninja comes out on the other end of the destructive tidal wave, smoke parting to reveal her onward dash, raining pieces of tile clattering against the gouged stone all around her. Had she been even a minuscule percentage off in her timing, she would have ended up in the heart of the firestorm itself. Instead, Kasumi continues on her advance, the turbulence of her passing scattering what flames linger between them.

Rather than tiring out, rather than being dazed or slowed by the intensity with which she fights, the Shinobi Princess seems to be getting... faster.

The assault would transpire faster than the cameras could record, her left hand reaching out for Duke's right arm, wrenching it hard enough to prevent any guard - as if he had been trying thus far anyway. If successful, the way would be cleared for a singularly powerful elbow strike, right back into his battered ribcage - if breaking one rib at a time isn't enough to slow the man... what happens if she caves in several in a single strike?

Her forward momentum would be such that unless physically prevented, Kasumi would slide to a stop a few meters beyond Duke, coming out of her dash, body twisting to the right as she starts to recover swiftly.

Even now, there would only be an instant to catch her before she is able to move again.

COMBATSYS: Duke Toughs Out Kasumi's Oboro Gake!

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

It was a gambit.

Every single action of Duke's offense was a gambit. The relentless momemtum, the hurling pacing was coming at the cost of every blow. As the wave of chi comes out, Duke forces a gritted groan. He needed her close to him. He needed her to keep coming at him. And there, for just a moment, she would give him the opportunity. And Duke would rip it open. And yet, as the wave of energy explodes out, the ninja vaults over it. Speed against power, hammering again and again into the titan. Duke was sacrificing more and more.

And eventually, there would be no more to give up.

Duke does not slow himself down as he hurls himself forward. It's too fast for cameras. It's too fast for him. And yet, in that moment, as her speed builds, as she wrenches his arm around, Kasumi would learn the same lesson that Honoka learned too late; the crime boss's vital points weren't weakness. They were traps. As she drives her elbow deep into Duke's sternum, the effect is obvious.

It caves.

There is a horrible sound as the elbow pierces through the ribs, driving hard into the man's chest. Only barely missing the lungs, only just letting the bones pierce the vital organ. There is a choking sound as Duke, in that instance, instictively brings his other arm around, over her head. For a moment, it almost feels like a pained recoil. But that look in his yellow eyes. Wide. Penetrating. -Focused-.

Kasumi may have opened up her own weaknesses.

The grip tightens in the window. Everything moves so slowly, as the full pressure of Duke envelopes. Duke goes to grip the orange hair of the ninja, to seize it hard by the roots, by the neck. To corral her, to contain her. To capture her. It was only an instant.

But an instant was all he needed.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi full-parries Duke's Volcanic Bomb!!

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

He should be dead. Two, three times over, he should be dead. The Exile strikes not with the blunt punches or probing kicks of martial artists trained to treat their talent as a sport. But rather, every strike has aimed to debilitate, to cripple, and to topple even a man like Duke.

Where his power to shrug off mortal injury comes from is a mystery to the young woman attacking him with speed so intense that it only becomes even more incredible when one considers the sheer amount of control she maintains even when engaging with lightning fast movement. These are not the desperate flailings of a panicked civilian, but rather the precision strikes of a trained killer comfortable with her craft.

The elbow blow is made without hesitation and as thin bone beneath Duke's flesh gives way, there is no remorse in the strike. No, she is not out to kill him - if that were the case, her blade would be in her hands already. But she has tested his resilience enough to know that nothing shy of her absolute most dangerous offense will suffice.

But she knows his game too. The man wastes not one iota on defending his body from her assault, and as her strike digs in, she must have anticipated his next move. Perhaps she felt it in his murderous aura, the almost fire-hot rage that seethes around him, a desire to smash and destroy unlike any other. Maybe she intuited his next move on a more primal level than conscious thought, instincts divining the most terrible thing he might try to do the moment she tries to dash past him.

Nothing less could explain the apparent prescience of Duke's smaller opponent as she proactively turns her head, her pony tail whipping just beyond the infamous Immortal's reach. Oh, his fingers do close over something, for certain, as the girl steps into another instant, sharp turn, testing the limits of her ankles and knees to withstand such violent movement, then vanishes in another swirl of drifting sakura petals, a faint perfume of Spring over the heavy scent of molten stone. Flapping in the man's mighty hand would be a ribbon of blue, snatched from the living lightning he sought to grip.

He may not even realize it in time before Kasumi blitzes into him from the opposite side, her long, dark-orange hair swirling out behind her back, a wide curtain of silk tresses no longer bound to the simple pony tail she had worn when she first interrupted Alma's torment. Both hands snap out, seeking purchase on Duke's powerful forearm while perhaps he is still distracted with his target's latest escape. With a firm enough grip, her forward momentum will turn into a series of rapid, step-like stomps right up the side of him, her heel driven into the side of his knee, digging into his quads, then into his liver, rib cage.

And finally the nimble, if brutal shinobi would kick off his towering shoulders into a backflip.

He could hardly be blamed for turning toward her then, perhaps eager to snatch her out of the air even. But then he might miss her vanishing out of the air, he might find he is now facing the wrong way, the only warning the sound of a air bent rent asunder as Kasumi dives knee first down from the side she had last attacked him from, aiming to drive Duke to the arena floor at last, a loud battlecry from the young ninja's lips echoing just behind the thundering rush of air accompanying her savage dive!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Duke with Oboro Zukiyo EX.

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

And she slips from his grasp.

The speed builds, accelerating to greater and greater breakneck agility. Every blow chips, and chips, and chips. Eventually, those chips become something more. As Kasumi flashes to the other side, she drives in -hard-, as the organs finally are overwhelmed. Bones snap and shatter, dig in deap. As the shoulders are kicked off, he immediately reaches for her, his fingers catching nothing but petals. And finally, the finishing blow comes, knocking him straight into the rubble. For a moment, he rises straight back up, turning around to face Kasumi, as the unyielding stride begins.

But collapses, as he falls to a knee.

Breathing hard, struggling, fighting, it seemed that he was not so immortal. Every gambit, every trade, every exchange was paid with blood. He stops. For a moment, he is on the line, between falling over, and continuing. He breathes hard, his rage... his rage boiled off, consumes blindly. His relentless fury had given him ash. ANd now... he could taste it. THe coup de grace. "Why...." He growls, forcing himself back into a stand, only dimly aware of what was coming. The question could lead anywhere. He draws in a heavy breath, the endless momentum ceases, the relentless assault slows to a crawl. A moment of respite. An opening. But only the briefest of moments. That is all Duke needs, as he falls back into his stance, eyes transfixed.

"How can this be?"

COMBATSYS: Duke gains composure.

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

%Out of her dive, Kasumi slides along shattered tile, the sound of broken shale grinding beneath her feet as she spins to an eventual stop in a partial crouch amid a plume of powdered stone. One knee just above the ground, the fingers of her left hand extend out to press lightly against the ground as her eyes lock back on the man. What is it that fuels his regeneration? Is this magic? Is he truly inhuman? Is the thick scar around his muscular neck evidence of some dark necromancy? Or is it pure will? His body knitting back the damage moment by moment simply because he demands that it does, compelling that swirling, burning energy around him to restore his strength and let him go further than any man has a right to expect?

Kasumi's shoulders rise and fall as she affords herself the opportunity to breath following a long gauntlet of alternating offense and evasion without a moment to catch her breath at all. Perspiration rolls down her cheeks as she takes in much needed oxygen through her mouth.

Duke rises. How fast can he heal from that storm of attacks? How fast can he shrug off the damage she has done?

Pushing to her own feet, her hands raise, the young shinobi back at the ready. There will be time to breathe later. For now, she can't relent, can't afford to hesitate, to catch her breath. Ultimately... she can't let /him/ catch his breath. She knows from experience how fast that burning energy fuels his regeneration.

Every second counts.

His questions are almost rhetorical but audible as the audience hangs on every moment of the King of Fighters 2017 final match. Until now, Duke has seemed unstoppable. Can Team Balance's second fighter topple a legend?

"Because you were killing my friend," Kasumi replies.

Fighting monsters like him - is this not what her talents should be dedicated to? Not just competition, but surmounting the power of brutes like this man. It was images of her brother lying in a coma, near death, that gave her the strength to defeat her vile Uncle, Raidou, and claim the life of that monster. And it was the sight of Alma Towazu being crushed beneath Duke's grip that empowered her now.

Her body was a weapon, honed and perfected for moments like this. She could not falter. Not now. Even as the Goliath of a fighter gets back to his feet, she is already in motion, no slower than before.

She has her mind made up to finish it now, to take him to the ground one last time. Weaving in on him, the acrobatic ninja leaps from a meter out, lunging straight for Duke, her arms seeking a hold on his broad shoulders in an attempt to whip herself right around him, a nimble figure vaulting the mountain.

If unopposed, her hands would find his neck, her body twisting mid-flip to allow her to drive her heels into Duke's lower back while she clings to him from behind.

Against opponents her own size, this would normally be enough to tackle them to the ground, to leave the trained killer on their now vulnerable back. Whether she could hope to succeed in the same way against someone with Duke's stature is questionable, but she would position herself on his back all the same - difficult to reach to counter attack, difficult to pry away.

And if Kasumi gets that far, she would cling to him tightly with her left arm while driving her right elbow into the side of his neck. Not once, not twice, but over and over again - sharp, spine jarring blows. No, she wasn't trying to kill him, all appearances to the contrary... But she had come to realize the slightest bit of restraint would render her efforts futile against this man's unstoppable regeneration.

Should the shinobi secure her hold, she would not let up until the man grow's still or she's forced away!

COMBATSYS: Duke fails to interrupt Byakko EX from Kasumi with Minefield.

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Duke             0/-------/---====|=======\-------\1           Kasumi

Because you were killing my friend.

So simple, so elegant. So inexcusable. Duke steadies his feet, uncertain how his ambition could take him against this. Heroes? There were no heroes. Only those who stood in his path. Gasping for air, a building rage comes. Monsters? There were no monsters. Only those who understood their power, and were willing to use it upon the weak. And this ninja, this Kasumi, moves to bring down the greatest fighter in this tournament.

Over something as insignificant as friendship.

As she moves for the coup de grace, Duke unleashes a roar. His body ripples, as chi energy boils from his skin. The ninja slips in, as his body explodes forward, an explosion. The plume of energy explodes from his chest. It would have caught it, it would have stopped the speed. It would have, it would have. But ulimately, all it was?

An eruption on the wrong side.

She is behind him, forcing him down, and the elbow jab comes into his neck, again. And again. And again. And again. And again. His spinal column severs, causing his legs to go limp under him. And yet... and yet as he should be dead, he is not. The legs move again as the relentless assault comes. Desperately, almost feebly, he moves to hurl her off his back... no, not hurl her off.

Merely push her away, as his body begins to weaken.

Was that enough? After all that punishment, has he finally stopped moving? Kasumi winds up, then twists to the left again, bashing her right elbow into his neck with each back swing, a short cry accompanying each strike. It's to the point that her elbow is beginning to ache, a deep throb of bruised bone accompanied by the burn of her arm muscles being forced to continuously swing with everything she had. Only two men had ever stood so strong against all her assaults. The Illuminati adonis that now pays her bills. And the traitor of the Mugen Tenshin, Raidou, a monster able to keep drawing breath in spite the relentless attacks from his niece.

And he was dead now, his fall bringing an end to the journey that sparked her exile in the first place. Perhaps she sees the same monster in the man she perches atop, her elbow strikes beginning to slow, her muscles seizing as she forces herself to strike again, and again in spite the mounting pain.

Teeth grit, breaths hiss through a clenched jaw, but at last the man is starting to move less and less, the impossible perhaps accomplished.

"If you never fight again,"
Perhaps he can hear her whisper in his ear over the roar that must be in his own head.
"It will be justice."

She is no hero. Not like Alma, with those ideals, that vision of a better world. She is a living weapon at best, one that tries to do what seems right, but a hero would draw the line, wouldn't they? Not continue to savagely beat a grounded opponent. If Alma knew the lengths she would go to defeat this man... would he still be able to number the deadly ninja among his friends?

If the judges call it, she will relent, rolling off her opponent with no further violence. She isn't like him... she would not be found attacking an already defeated opponent with intent to kill, driven by temper and rage... would she? If he surrenders, she will stop. But not a moment before then.

At least, that is what she tells herself.

In spite the damage, in spite his lower body going limp, Duke still moves, still fights. With resolve beyond comprehension, his arm finally moves, seeking for a grip on her - enough of a hold to maybe pry her off his back and let his furious rage empower yet another return to fighting condition.

But such a last grasp for survival will not come easily. She sees the movement for what it is - feeble compared to his prior attacks, barely even a threat to one with her skill. And thus she shifts, lunging for his grasping arm, seeking to clench both of her own arms around his wrist as she tries to pivot herself under it, wraps wrapping around the limb.

If the armbar is secured, she will end up with her back against the ground at Duke's side, his arm held against her body with both of her arms wrapped around his, one leg against his ribs - those abused, tormented ribs...

But it's her other foot that begins the assault now, bending her knee up to slam her foot down hard toward Duke's head. The point of impact would be whatever is reachable - his temple, his face, the back of his head. If she has her way, he will not be able to avoid the slams of her strong heel strikes, all he can chose is where they hit.

Just as before, the ruthless shinobi shows no sign of relenting. If she has him solidly, if he can't break free, she will kick again and again, until that arm goes limp in her arms, until the unbreakable monster finally lies still at last.

COMBATSYS: Duke interrupts Sakura Madoi Hoshin from Kasumi with Crack Up EX.

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Duke             0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0           Kasumi

If you never fight again.

The words pierce Duke's skull, slice so neatly as the elbow blows to the back of the neck. Even as the attack fades by the most pathetic of last stands, the effort of an enfeebled old man, the crime boss feels the words repeat inside him, again and again. There is a popping sound, as he clenches his fist. And yet, it was impotent. It was a miracle he was even alive, even able to stay conscious. He was on the rope, and Kasumi just needed to push him.

It will be justice.

The judges do not call it. There is a sinister air now over the ring. The judges wait, and watch, their expressions blank. There was no empathy this time, no concern. Almost a consensus; do not stop, Kasumi. The word has reached their ears. Do not stop, and teach him a lesson. Duke could almost hear their judgement, the same judgement that allowed her to attack him before. Duke does not surrender, only mustering enough to glare at her.

And she makes her move.

She was already grabbing the wrist, she was already twisting his arm behind. Duke was conscious, he was -watching- this unfold so smoothly. There should be fear in his heart, watching your own execution as your body is like a ragdoll in another's hand. The words play in his head again. If you never fight again, it will be justice. There is a trembling in the whole of his body, the sensation of a flooded engine trying to restart itself. She was on the ground, as the first fixing foot comes straight into his mangled ribs....

There is the sound of a crack.

A crack, a sudden snap. Everything moves so fast, as it always moved fast. There was the motion, the first kick. But something was changed. As the bone snaps, it hits a landmine. Duke explodes up, the full of his strength boiling out with rage. As the first kick hits, he -rips- Kasumi in front of him, his spine cracking as the -whole- of his body acts in unison, to force the flattened Kasumi on the ground in front of him.. All the weakness from moments before was seemingly gone. A feint? A trick? No, those were no acts of cunning.

It was an act of will.

Duke simply refused to stay down. The entire momentum changed, and with it, Duke hurls out a singular, stunning punch -straight- up to hammer her out of the hold. He was standing, Winding up, the second punch -explodes- foward, smashing straight into Kasumi's own chest, hammering straight towards her heart.

And Duke rises again.

Duke stands again, as uncertainly seizes the audience, the judges, the whole arena. This was meant to be the end. Duke, for all his arrogance and hubris, would meet his defeat at the hands of a young, female ninja. This was where pride would fall. And yet, all his ambition and rage had left him on the barest edge of the fight. Chest heaving, with every breath like knives. Fists balled up, broken and twisted. And his eyes, transfixed into glares. He finally speaks, a pained croak. "I will never. Stop. Fighting... Young lady." He takes a step, and for a moment, he nearly collapses. Merely stumbling, Duke makes it clear where he stands.

Kasumi would have to wrench her justice out his cold, dead hands.

Judging by the first half of the match, one might get the impression that Kasumi's fighting style depends on mobility. Dashing, leaping, engaging and disengaging, and flanking her opponents as she weathers them down blow by blow. The second half of the match has revealed that she is just as dangerous in ruthless, close quarters combat, fighting on her feet or on the ground, as she attempts to bludgeon that last spark of consciousness out of Duke.

Wrenching his arm, twisting into position, using her back as the ground and her deathgrip on his wrist as a brace, Kasumi prepares to jam her heel into Duke's head until he relents. Her arms pull hard, threatening to dislocate the man's shoulder, her other foot slamming into his ribs as she prepares to definitively end this battle. To test just how indestructible this man truly is.

There is a sudden explosion of movement. Never before had she seen anyone come back from the brink of defeat with decisive force, powerful muscles wrenching his limb free from her hold as the nimble kunoichi is caught on her back right in front of the lurching brute. Eyes widen as her hands start to slip free of his wrist. What was this? Where was the ability to continue even coming from? The first hammering blow catches her in the side of the head, slamming her back flat against the pulverized tile. Recoiling on impact, the young woman tries to move again, arms snapping up in a futile effort to guard against the second crushing blow.

Her sternum absorbs the brunt of the impact as the Shinobi Exile gets flattened against the tile, cracks spider-webbing out from behind her back, her arms sprawled at her sides as all the air from her lungs is forced out with a sudden, gasping cough.

Eyes squint at the crushing pain in her chest. Efforts to breathe are unsuccessful at first, as she starts to push herself away, arms moving to plant her hands, feet bracing against the arena floor as she attempts to escape Duke's range. The Unkillable Beast is on his feet again. Beaten down as he might appear, he's still moving, far longer than anyone who endured what he's been through has any right to manage.

No. No, he has to be almost finished. No one can keep going forever like this. She needs to steel her resolve, to attack back, to never relent until he finally stops moving.

The frantic scramble to slip away on her side transitions in an instant to return fire. Kicking off with her feet into a roll into a crouch, she lunges back for Duke. She knows the cost of every second of delay, the knitting bones, the closing wounds. He shouldn't even be able to stand right now - a moment ago, his legs were numb, and now he's on his feet.

Can he even be stopped? Or is he beyond such things? A demon from another world in the guise of a man? Untold horrors were unleashed when the seals on Mt. Fuji, but even before that, the self-proclaimed Storm God was wiping out cities with his unfathomable power. Is Duke one of them? An Immortal that simply cannot be beat?

Gritting her teeth, unable to even respond as her lungs have yet to resume the desperate cycle of breathing, Kasumi lunges back in, answering Duke's declaration with aggression as she flips in on the man, aiming to stride right up the front of him to use his shoulders as a launch pad, to vault herself high up into the air, a graceful flip...

And then she would fall, twisting around, aiming to scissor her knees against the side of Duke's skull from behind as she whips her own body, using every ounce of momentum she can generate to tear the man off his feet and drive his head down against the arena force with the combined strength of every muscle in her body moving in perfectly coordinated timing with the momentum of her own plunge from the sky.

Maybe it is impossible to stop this man from fighting. Maybe he really will just keep going. But she can still fight too. And she will not relent.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Duke with Power Throw.

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

Almost finished.

Duke was on the tethers, hung in the air by the undying resolve of the crime boss. Every injury stacked up, every injury was reversed. But time, time was against Duke now. Kasumi's relentless offense was grinding down, consuming the precious time. If she hestiated once, then it would be over. Duke was already beginning to stand fast on his feet.

And soon, his offense would begin again.

And yet, Kasumi gives him no respite, no opening to carve apart. Already, she was descending on him, already she was vaulting in the air. Duke watches it, as his body twists to respond, twists to account for the precision. His damnable body, already slow, already too weak, already too broken.

He does not escape.

The thighs are around his head, and it is over. Flipped head over heels, Duke is -smashed- into the rubble, spiked straight down. Instictively, he already moves to rise. Move, but not complete. He was on all fours, crawling like a blind man having the legs knocked from under him. Blood was pouring from the cracked skull, his face swelling up from the impact. He gasps for air from swollen lips, his yellow eyes desperately staring for anything, any movement. For a moment, he seems incapable of standing.

And Duke surges forward blindly, attempting to seize Kasumi by her throat.

COMBATSYS: Duke can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Kasumi with Treadmill.
Grazing Hit

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

And Duke wraps his hand around that pretty throat.

There is no words as he locks those eyes into Kasumi's own. There is just raw hate, as he twists the whole of his body. With a furious slam, he -smashes- Kasumi straight down to the ground before him. And with a foot up, he unleashes the bone crushing stomp, aiming squarely... squarely at... at her, as Duke goes down with the stomp. Body too weak. Body too broken. Duke collapses, as the fight escapes him.

He does not rise.

Twisting Duke's head into the ground took everything she had, her body running out of reserves, her oxygen starved lungs burning in her chest. Her hands hit the ground shortly after the Immortal's head does. Getting back to her feet from there is a more laborious process, shoving her way up without any particularly fancy flip, tumble, or roll.

Even in the act of rising, Kasumi is starting to scramble away, to put distance between him and her, to give herself space to act. But the man just won't stay down. Not bothering to climb to his feet at first, he surges after her, moving with hate-driven intensity over the shattered tiles.

So it's true then - he is unstoppable. No amount of pain, no amount of damage to his body, will bring a halt to his ability to fight. The young exile's eyes widen as she tries to shuffle away from his sudden grasping lunge, in no position to defend herself with a direct contest of force. The need to breathe is rapidly becoming all consuming in her thoughts, an almost delirious buzz in her head that simply won't relent but still her lungs won't cooperate.

One last kick of her feet in a desperate attempt to exceed Duke's reach proves insufficient, the man grasping her tightly by the throat and hauling her up in his grip. Both hands snap up to grab hold of his wrist, acting on almost feral instinct to claw away yet another cause of her oxygen deprivation, her feet kicking at empty air beneath her.

But the moment hardly lasts long enough for her to put up a true fight, to muster another surge of resolve as he turns and slams her to the ground, her spin bouncing off the tile once before she comes to rest.

On her back, eyes up at the monster standing over her, she realizes full well what is about to happen. She can't break away in time, she can't block the piston-like stomps about to come her way. Unlike with Alma, there will be no one to intercede should the Syndicate's Monster just keep stomping her into the ground, no shout from the judges could possibly call him off.

More than any other moment, she realizes this fight could in fact be her last, this could be where she dies, the long hunt finally ended. Not at the hands of an assassin as she had always anticipated, but beneath the heel of a demon occupying the flesh of a man.

Yet even in realizing the potential incoming barrage of stomps, of glimpsing, in his hate-filled eyes, the fate he has in store for her, she can't give up, can't surrender.

Hands move swiftly, the distinct ring of metal sliding free, a length of polished steel reflecting the bright overhead lights of the famous Howard Arena. The Shrouded Moon in her grasp, Kasumi pivots the heirloom blade up in front of her, ready to try and carve her way out of the impending assault.

Drawing her sword was never considered an option in a friendly fight. It was an assassin's blade, mastered for one purpose and one alone - to kill. But then, this was never a friendly fight to begin with, was it. With so much on the line, pride, prizes, and fame, could it end any other way but definitively and without question? The scar around his neck suggested she was not the first to consider the only surefire solution was to decapitate the man... but maybe whoever had attempted the deed before just had underestimated the restorative power in his burning soul.

This was a mistake the Ninja in Blue would not make.

Lying on her back, looking up at Duke, Kasumi holds her sword up over her head in both hands, her body unguarded but for the implied threat of the edged weapon as he raises his foot.

But rather than delivering a crushing, fast stomp, he lurches, his footfall coming unsteadily rather than with purpose. Blade still raised over her head, Kasumi rolls to the side just before his heel shatters the tile immediately adjacent to her, missing her by less than an inch. His shadow falls over her a moment later as she rolls again, and the sound of his landing thunders behind her.

Ending up on her knees and elbows, the dim blue glow of her blade nearly invisible beneath the bright arena lights, Kasumi's lungs finally spasm, starting back to life with a deep, heaving breath. She looks to the side, hands still on her sword as she remains nearly prone, violently coughing as oxygen finally rushes into her body and the deep red, near violet flush of her cheeks bleeds away to a more healthy bright red blush of exertion.

Finally, he is still.

Panting, Kasumi slowly pushes off the ground with her hands, moving into a crouch, and from that, slowly rising to her feet, her stolen blade held in her right hand, out to her side as she stares back at Duke, her body trembling with adrenaline.

The urge is there - the desire to end this fight without question, to attack him with her sword while he is down. It would be murder, in every sense of the word. She would never be able to look Alma again in the eyes, she would be barred from ever fighting in a sanctioned competition again, Hayabusa would be disappointed, but maybe he would understand that it had to be done. But above all else, it would be over, she would never have to wonder if the monster called Duke would come after her again.

Mouth pressed tightly into a thin line, she lifts her sword slowly, her expression gone cold in spite the sweat-smeared dust marring her otherwise graceful features.

The sword slides easily back into its sheath at her waist, clicking into place.

The girl bends down on weary legs, fingers extending out to close over a dusty blue ribbon trapped beneath a chunk of rubble. Standing, she turns to walk away from Duke then, reaching up with her hands behind her head to tie off her long, red-auburn hair into a lengthy ponytail with the reclaimed ribbon.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi awaits the next challenger.

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

- - -

Nagase hated watching him fight. Her pilfered tech's remote sensing suite allows her to feel every single joint as they crumble into dust, every muscle fibre as it splits apart from the inside, every growth of cartilage as it wobbles, stretches, and pops out of place, every blood vessel as it blossoms into a sanguine disaster. She despised watching it the first time -- and the second, and the third, and the fourth, until the kunoichi loses track altogether. And what's more -- she can feel the turbulent flow of chi, surging through him in ways that defy logical explanation.

It's not natural -- Duke is an abomination, an affront to everything she knows about how humans operate. And every time she's so much as questioned -why- this man is able to rebuild himself, time and time again, she's shut down with a blistering maelstrom of volcanic fury.

No, for this fight, Nagase will need help to drown out her senses. The shinobi is perched up in the cheap seats. One ankle rests atop the opposite knee. Her foot bobs about at a high frequency. And her fingertips are arrayed in a superbly complicated ninpo technique known as 'air guitar.' The seats around her are completely empty, because no one wants to sit next to the yellow-garbed tech-ninja while her studio monitor headphones are blaring out Dir en Grey at 120dB.

Everyone has their methods.

In truth, Nagase had shut her remote sensing suite off entirely. And it was only when the audience rose to their feet, loosing their voices in a roaring cacophany, that she even deigned to glance down at the ring. And even then, well, the ninja had to get to her -own- feet to see past the crowd.

And then, as Nagase tears off her headphones, she's forced to confront the reality -- once she sees Duke on the ground with her own two eyes.
She draws in her breath.
She pulls back her sleeve, tapping in a few activation codes on her armored vambrace.
Her amber lenses spring to life, providing her an instant replay of the hacked footage from the live KOF feed.

Irritably, she leaps forward.
Her rubber soles land on one portly guy's shoulder, forcing him to howl in agony.
From there, it's only a small hop about four rows down. The guy on that row wasn't as lucky -- he crumples entirely under the weight of Nagase and her armored electronics suite.
"S'cuse me!"
Those assholes bothered her on the way in.
And when they look up, the arrogant tech-ninja has disappeared from view.

- - -

Way down at center stage, there's a few moments of silence and confusion. As with the first round fight, Nagase was nowhere to be found. It wasn't an issue before, as Duke had not lost at that point. But now, without the second fighter for the Syndicate Team reporting in, the two announcers look up to the production booth for guidance, where producers are loudly arguing with each other over how to proceed.

And then the audience is practically -bombarded- with ROOOOOOOARING screams and the electric guitars, as Dir en Grey is piped through the PA system. Both of the announcers clutch their earpieces as they pitch forward, covering their ears.

"Jeez, sorry about that," apologizes Nagase, having materialized from a pool of mist directly behind both of the announcers. A finger stabbing upon her vambrace silences the death metal; the treble trills of virtual pop singer Hatsune Miku singing some tripe about female ninjas in love instantly replaces the rage-filled bass of Japanese death metal.
As the audience's bleeding ears slowly return back to equilibrium, the two announcers pick themselves back off the table, noticing for the first time that Nagase is flashing dual peace-signs into the camera between the pair. "So much for my intro theme. You two gonna announce the third round or what?"

The announcers glance first at Nagase, then each other, then at Kasumi! Sitting bolt upright, they both nod in unison.

Signals are given. Papers are shuffled. And with no further ado...


Nagase vaults over the announcer's table, blurring out of view!


A torus of black mist begins swirling around Kasumi -- starting at 20 meters, then rapidly narrowing in radius. The Mugen-Tenshin ninja would recognize the fast-moving current of chi inside moving at a hyperaccelerated rate.!


At the instant of the announcers' shouts, the hazy mist pops into crystal-clear focus.
A bumblebee ninja explodes outward in a blossom of orange flame, kicking off the third round with a boom.

Nagase's shoulder and forearm will slam towards Kasumi's ribcage -- though the impact is meant to distract, not injure outright. For the Iga-ryuu kunoichi, wreathed in orange flame, will continue thundering around her, contacting the azure-clad ninja with her back, her opposite shoulder, and then her hip in rapid succession.

COMBATSYS: Nagase has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Nagase           0/-------/-------|==-----\-------\0           Kasumi

COMBATSYS: Nagase successfully hits Kasumi with Hunting Peach.
- Power hit! -

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Nagase           0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0           Kasumi

Considering the pace of the previous round, the audience will likely be forgiven for missing the explosive onset of Round Three. At the word 'GO', Kasumi would have been standing in one place. But in the very next instant, Kasumi would be pummeled from one side. And then she would feel herself jacknifed forward. The pain would be pretty sharp; the -only- reasonable position for this hold would see Kasumi on all fours, her knees and palms slammed into the slate tile by the weight of Nagase and her armored electronics.

That is to say: Nagase sits atop Kasumi's back, like a kid riding an elephant with armored ankles locked behind Kasumi's knees -- she's just facing opposite directions from Kasumi.

And the impudent child is slamming her armor-clad palms into Kasumi's derriere with a blistering series of blows.

The whole world is watching -- if they can get past the whiplash of sensory overload.
The attack is calculated for maximum embarassment.
And Nagase's boss is sure to appreciate that, in the wake of his defeat.

Nagase basks in the hoots and hollers of the astounded crowd, craning her head up to listen.
"Hey, I think they like it...!" she chirps.

The staccato rhythm does not last forever though -- in fact, Nagase is sure that the Mugen-Tenshin outcast would break free of the embarassing hold if she maintained it even an instant longer.

Which is why Nagase unlocks her ankles, and delivers one final, two-handed chop to Kasumi's rear, catapulting herself forward with an explosive blossom of chi-borne flame. And as every action demands an equal and opposite reaction, that means Kasumi will be thrust forward, quite possibly bouncing face-first across the shale tile.

A overconfident Nagase lands on her feet, pivoting a quarter turn to face Kasumi.
Once more she scrubs her finger against the bridge of her nose
"So, yeah -- the name's Nagase," she calls out, though it's likely to be drowned out by the crowd. "Nice to meet'cha!"

After the protracted, bloody, savage battle with Duke, it's entirely possible Kasumi had forgotten that there even was another opponent to face. Fighting him with a single-mindedness that brokered no room for any distractions was the only way to survive. And now she stands, on her own too legs, catching her breath before the worldwide audience.

She was not a King of Fighters champion yet, even if thoughts of such accolades were far from her mind. Her heart still beat rapidly, her pulse pounding in her ears as she lifts her right hand clenched over her chest, a distant look to her eyes. The stadium roar is a sea of noise around her, no one voice distinguishable over another. There would be little time to linger, no time to celebrate. The Youkai Wars fought in the forests of Mt. Fuji would need her once more. Already, her mind turns to other things - is Alma okay? What about Hayabusa, back home, holding the front line?

Only when the music roars from the speakers with sufficient volume to drown out the crowd does the distracted shinobi start, whirling around, eyes blinking, still looking off guard and unprepared.

It comes back to her when her opponent makes her appearance behind the announcers, her beaming visage broadcast from the massive monitors mounted for the sake of the nosebleed seats. Kasumi breathes in softly and releases an exhale. That's right, there is one more.

The Kunoichi in Blue raises her hands, becoming guarded as mist begins to swirl around her, closing in little by little. The attack can come from any angle. It's only just dawning on her then that her next opponent is different from Duke in more than just her appearance. She's in for something entirely different now.

Jostled from the side, a soft grunt escapes her lips as she tries to turn into the attack, anticipating a follow up that must be guarded against. But for as swiftly as she can turn, impaired perhaps slightly by what she'd already gone through, she can't keep up with the buzzing drive-by strikes from one who has already built a tremendous amount of momentum preparing to attack.

The final impact is more than she can withstand, her right knee buckling, her torso folding forward at the waist as she slams her palms out to catch herself from eating tile as she lands hard on her hands and knees, a tremendous weight on her back keeping her from simply springing back into a counter attack.

How can some just about her size weight /that much/?! Having an opponent on her back, not unlike how she had managed to pin Duke earlier, albeit in a fair less risque manner, sends a tinge of panic through her nerves. Is her life in mortal danger?r
No, just her dignity.
What follows is a sequence Kasumi will have a hard time living down. Ever. There is no doubt on anyone's mind that the footage of the ninja on ninja spanking opening combination is not making it to the highlight reels for the King of Fighters 2017 finals.

The impacts are jarring if not crippling, in a physical sense, but the realization of what was happening is something else entirely. The damage to pride is undoubtedly critical. She WAS the pampered, always praised prodigy of the Mugen Tenshin ruling family, after all. Corporal punishment of any kind was unlikely to have ever been a part of her life's experience.

"Why you..."

The angry, threatening growl escapes her lips, body tensing. Maybe that sword will come out again after all. Everything about this opposing team is just asking for it at this rate!

But the same moment her left leg tenses, signaling an intent to surge into motion, a final, humiliating explosive smash sends her flying headlong over the arena stage, sliding to a stop face down meters away. Pushing herself up on her forearms, Kasumi shakes her head, spitting pebbles of broken tile from her mouth. Finally, she plants her foot and gets up to her feet, whirling on Nagase, her cheeks bearing a blossoming fire engine-red blush.

Flustered is putting it mildly, and she deliberately makes a conscious effort to not rub at the stinging throbbing left by the attack.

Reading herself at last, she faces down across from Nagase, glaring back at the other girl as her greeting is offered. She'll have to tune out the laughter from the audience, she needs to clear her head. Forcing her breaths to slow slightly, she braces, then rushes forward to close the distance.

"This isn't a playground!"

The opening blow would be one of her signature elbow strikes, this time with her left, stepping into the momentum to swing her left arm back out afterward - the potentially stinging backhand targeting Nagase's cheek is just part of the normal strike sequence. Right?

COMBATSYS: Nagase blocks Kasumi's Medium Punch.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Nagase           0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0           Kasumi

Of the sounds that can be heard, perhaps the laughter is the kinder of the two sounds assaulting the warrior maiden's ears. For the arena staff haven't figured out how to get the electronic mockingbird's song to stop chirping its way across the PA system.
o/~ Skip that dojo training, another bye-bye!
o/~Fifteen years old, still a noob at this ninja stuff!
o/~ Ain't mastered nothing, it makes no sense (yes yes!)

A curtain of meaningless drivel, a tapestry to aggravate and frustrate the azure-garbed kunoichi as she rises back to her feet.

Nagase's asymmetric smile only grows once she sees Kasumi's cherry red cheeks. Nagase looks downward -- visually signalling that she -expected- Kasumi to address the wound -- but she seems to acknowledge Kasumi's restraint therein.

After all, it's only an instant later that the more famous kunoichi is barreling towards her with an elbow -- and Nagase had been spending all her focus on the eventual need to deal with that. She takes a quick hop backwards, giving her the room she needs to spin counter-clockwise about a hundred degrees, nearly squaring her shoulders in some semblance of honor.

Her right arm and right knee pivot upwards in synchronicity; Kasumi's elbow will slam into the hardened armor of her vambrace, sending a shudder throughout the flame-haired kunoichi's slender arm. Though she -had- predicted a kicking attack to follow, she hadn't expected the kunoichi's arm to extend into a backhand. The Mugen-Tenshin fighter's strike is mitigated by the successful block, but her knuckles continue onward, smashing into Nagase's cheek with enough force to force a hobbling sidestep all the same, as that right leg becomes immediately necessary for her balance.

"Doesn't mean we can't have a little fun, princess!"

Before Kasumi can leap too far away, though, Nagase will be making full use of the proximity. As she draws in air through pursed lips, her two fingers trace a quick sigil into the air. She then punches her armored fist through the circular sigil, sending a flame-wreathed punch hurtling its way towards Kasumi's ribcage. The flaming punch would be followed by a spin kick aimed at the small of the embattled kunoichi's back. She may not need -another- trip to the shale tiles, but Nagase won't complain if that happens.

And still the saccharine song plays.
o/~ "Kunoichis can't be girly," mama told me
o/~ With that said, my childhood was never all that fun...

COMBATSYS: Nagase successfully hits Kasumi with Medium Punch.

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

There's really no chance to discern whether Kasumi is particularly satisfied with the successfull backhand to Nagase's cheek as the Iga-ryuu ninja anticipates her attempt to backstep out of the two strike combination to reposition for a better posture for defense.

The chi-seal demands attention, to be certain, and it's already clear from the first moments of the fight that she really has no idea how her current opponent fights. Not that information wouldn't have been available to better prepare for the match, but suffice to say, she's been more than a big distracted and well off the beaten path from the nearest computer to research Nagase's prior appearances for some time now.

Second guessing the seal for an attack all of its own, she turns early, anticipating an attack that comes later, smashing into her ribs, provoking a sharp cry of pain as at least one gives way beneath Nagase's empowered strike.

Already crumpling into the blow, landing the strong kick to her lower back comes with ease and more than enough force to send the already stumbling Tenshin Mugen shinobi toppling over, arms flailing as she rolls into the fall, landing hard in a seated position, a second gasp as the blush inducing sting of the previous assault surges through her nerves a second time.

As she scrambles to her feet, she seems to rush perhaps a little too fast, wincing as she rests one hand against her crushed rib and, no longer conscious of the spectacle being made of the weary fighter, her other hand rubs at her backside. The combination of pain and insult is enough to make her eyes water, jaw set as she snaps her arms up, whirling to find Nagase again.

She can't let herself be run around like this! The noise pounds at her senses and the exhaustion of her prior battle threatens to overwhelm her as she braces her legs and leans into a faster blitz in the Syndicate spy's direction.

The attempted technique is a familiar one - core to her fighting style, a lightning fast dash in, a grip of her opponent's defending arm, wrenching it out of the way, and, pouring all of her forward momentum into the strike, a crushing elbow strike targeting Nagase's side with the same degree of precision she had been using against Duke.

In spite her resolve to strike with all she has, however, there is no denying that she's moving slower than she had before, and even her recovery dash following the strike, if not prevented, lacks some of the elegance of the previous round.

But that doesn't mean she isn't able to strike hard if she finally catches her tricky opponent!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Nagase with Oboro Gake.

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

Kasumi's pain certainly does not escape Nagase's notice, as she lands from her spin kick. It's worth noting that the Iga-ryuu ninja's smirk might not look -as- threatening with her right cheek darkening from the earlier strike, but even still, the bumblebee wouldn't be in such a superior position if not for her nigh-unstoppable employer.

o/~ Then then then, a night's festivity
o/~ Never had I seen a boy as cool as he
o/~ Red, red, red and deep inside of me
o/~ It beat, you see, and started to be free~

Nagase hops backwards, settling back into a ready stance, her armored left hand dropped low while her right hand remains high to strike -- dancing sideways to stay as far into Kasumi's periphery as possible as she's reminded of the pain from the earlier attack. And all the while, she's practically -humming- with the music blaring over the speakers.

"You're taking this fighting thing too seriously, y'know? Settle down with that loser over there. Make a nice life for yourself, mmm?"
Nagase's using the aural chaos to her full advantage, and yet keeping her defenses raised. As long as Kasumi's reactions fall into the expected norms laid out for her by the Battle Disc System's advanced heuristics, this'll be a cakewalk -- the smug confidence is written clearly across the tech-ninja's face.

And that's where Nagase gets sloppy. Kasumi leaps in -- and her hand is raised up defensively. A textbook defense -- and one anticipated by Kasumi. The hand -- and its bulky armor -- are drawn aside, drawing the kunoichi off-balance with a faint yelp of surprise.

And then Nagase gets to feel the -full- impact of an elbow to her ribcage -- an impact hard enough to break bone, even through the web of steel mesh she wears beneath her bespoke yellow dress.

Suffice to say, it wiped the smirk off Nagase's face, as she doubles over with bared teeth.

Still -- one advantage of her armor is that it's also freshly polished, so keeping hold of it may prove difficult -- a fact which Nagase takes advantage of by jerking her arm away. Unwilling to let Kasumi build up any more momentum, she bites back the pain -- even discarding her notions of witty banter! -- and surges forward to drive a quick knee into her opponent's abdomen. If she manages to connect, she'd trace a ninpo seal beneath her foot -- using it as a mid-air step from which to vault upwards into a rapid backflip.

The intent is to snap out of that backflip, bringing both feet crashing down onto Kasumi's shoulders! At least then she might land on her front instead of her bruised derriere...

o/~ I love and want to love, but no, it's not allowed!
Still no luck on the PA system. Whatever the mischievous hacker did, it's looking like they'll have to kill the power to stop it.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi counters Nagase Stomp from Nagase with Sakura Madoi Hoshin EX.

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

Her strike delivered, Kasumi's fingers slip free of her opponent's forearm, leaving the Azure-clad Shinobi to slide sideways into a stop a couple meters past, a breath escaping between her lips. With way she is angled, she only needs to lean the other way, raising her arms to return to her ready stance without having to so much take one step, feet slipping into position as the well trained kunoichi tries to anticipate whatever unpredictable attack vector her technologically advantaged opponent might strike form next.

There is no doubt Nagase's taunt is at least accurate with regards to how seriously Kasumi is taking the fight. It's likely she approaches every battle this way. While not every public appearance is a matter of life or death, it is often the fights that take place in the cover of shadow that determine whether she gets to draw breath another day.

It isn't even like she is fixated on the prize or acknowledgment promised the victors of the match. She fought her way through the brackets of Dead or Alive to get to Raidou. And she fights tonight for Alma's sake, the artist's heartfelt effort to represent the team could not be neglected. And after Nagase's last several remarks, she might have some personal motivation in giving this match everything she has left.

The Iga-ryuu prodigy snaps out with a speedy but precise knee strike, but Kasumi's hands are in position to deflect it, stepping around the other girl's momentum to avoid getting jostled even by the exchange of forces while her left hand guides the knee off angle just slightly.

It isn't enough to prevent Nagase from taking to the air, however, but the moment the nimble hacker's foot steps against the mid-air chi seal, Kasumi glances up... and immediately vanishes, another swirling helix of drifting cherry blossoms left in her wake.

Nagase will never get her chance to dive stomp her opponent in this exchange as a rush of thundering wind heralds Kasumi's sudden appearance right behind her, matching her upward momentum perfectly. Arms snap out, Kasumi finding purchase on Nagase's right arm before wrenching it hard, her feet planting against Nagase's back.

A moment later, the two plunge back to the ground, Kasumi's feet planted on Nagase's upper back, her hands gripping her opponent's arm at a painful angle. It might be Nagase's turn to taste tile as, with a loud cry, Kasumi rides her opponent face first into the tiles, knees driving into Nagase's back. Delivering one last potentially painful wrenching of Nagase's arm, Kasumi backflips off, landing on her feet a couple meters away, breaths coming rapidly as she stares back toward her opponent.

"I'm not interested in your advice!" She wouldn't shout it but for the necessity of doing so over the volume of the speakers pushed to their absolute limits. It's any wonder what the final audio cuts of this match are going to sound like.

o/~ It's not fair! I don't care! Just let me do what I want!
o/~ Stop this! Quit that! You're making me freak out!

Nagase knows enough about Team Balance to be glad that Ryu Hayabusa isn't her opponent right now -- she's fought him before, and it was such a humbling experience that her seemingly endless supply of topical humor ran out. But it seems that... making fun of the guy whose injury seems to have initiated Kasumi's murder-death-kill mindset may not have been the wisest course of action for Nagase. But who cares, you only live once, right?

The fact is -- the nimble bumblebee had a 95% certainty that her opponent was capable of some sort of flashy ninjutsu techniques, according to the figures highlighted on her amber lenses. And that's what necessitated the rapid push forward -- the drive to cut Kasumi off before she could complete it.

She just expected it sooner, rather than in the midst of her backflip.
The sudden wrenching pressure applied to her arm educates her otherwise -- not to mention the fact that it adds further stress to her already-fractured ribs. "Nnrgh!" And then the feet planted into her back, as the kunoichi demonstrates a desire to either turn her arm into a recurve bow, or her body into a pogo stick, either one. While it's clear that neither is an ideal use of the ninja's talents, the fact remains that the abrupt shift of wind upon Nagase's flame-styled hair is the least of her concerns as she hurtles to the tile floor.

Flakes of shale tile are blasted upward from Nagase's impact -- surely, more bones will be broken in this exchange, as the future medical bill begins to challenge the bottom line profit from such a high-visibility fight. As Kasumi gets one last wrench in before flitting away, Nagase's released arm falls limp -- shattering even more tile as the armored gauntlet slams down.

It'd be tough to see from the cloud of pulverized dust rising from the impact crater, admittedly... but the tech-ninja... kinda has a headache right now. And it's not -instantly- that she starts to rise.

But even as the announcers rise from their seats, about to shout some words into the mic...

Nagase's heels dig into the tile, shoving her backwards. Her face scrapes against the tile, the shattered shards cutting fresh lines of crimson into the young woman's face. And yet, as she pushes herself out of the crater, she replies with a blood-choked chuckle.

Her lips move -- clearly, it looks like she's -saying- something, but it'd be nigh impossible to hear it through all the noise. But from the flashing lights on Nagase's amber glasses, it's clear some command was authorized. And from the increasingly euphoric smile on her face...
Well, pain's less of an issue now.

"Ohhh," she replies, her eyelids fluttering as Mr. Sandman taps his foot in the distance. "My- my bad. What... what do you wanna talk about?"
Boots slide up next to each other.
And then her boots slam into the ground in unison, creating a -third- crater in the tile ($$$) and catapulting Nagase back into the air.

o/~ Know what isn't cool? It's all these stupid rules!

The airborne form of Nagase flickers, slightly, in the process.
And when her boots hit the ground again...?
The shale doesn't even register a sound.

But by the time the illusion is seen through, it's already too late.
The elusive Nagase -- having translocated -beside- Kasumi instead of retreating -- has already attacked. Her shoulder rams into Kasumi's side, her non-dislocated arm wrapping about her middle. And if she's able to carry her airborne, the tech-ninja will whip herself into an axial spin, binding Kasumi with centrifugal force (shut up nerds it's still a useful concept!) as she guides her around in flight.

And since both these girls like to injure each other's beautiful faces, there'll probably some more of that as well. And for a limited time, as the spinning Izuna Drop lands, there will also be a riotous blossom of flames! It's fun for the whole estranged family!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi instinctively dodges Nagase's Punishment Mode Assault.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Nagase           0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0           Kasumi

Seeing her opponent not launching back to her feet instantly is enough to give Kasumi pause. Unlike the previous round, and in spite a very flustering opening to the final round of the championship match, there simply isn't the degree of animosity for the brilliant combat hacker, no deeply seeded desire to see her bleed. She may be on the same team as that immortal monster she just survived, but so far, at least, she hasn't tried to choke the life out of a friend and ally.

Besides, she'll take the brief reprieve where she can get it, having been forced to the limits of her endurance for this entire time, the chance to breathe, and to rest her hand over the tender scorch mark in her azure combat attire left by Nagase's previous nearly crippling is welcome.

But the Syndicate aligned tech-ninja is back on her feet, right at the limit of the audience's anticipation and the judge's hesitation and the brief respite is over. Pulling her hand from her side, Kasumi resumes her ready stance with almost a reluctant shift back to being prepared - not resigned, but certainly looking eager for a long chance to rest.

At the question shouted her way, one eye narrows, mouth pursed, "Maybe about your taste in music?" Kasumi exhales. Focus, she reminds herself, nothing less than your absolute best will suffice. Ignore the pain, the exhaustion. "And lack of volume constraint!"

The moment taken to prepare herself to continue was not lost on the Mugen Tenshin branded traitor. Control over speakers, an intricate array of technological gear... her opponent truly is a ninja for the modern era. For a moment, Kasumi can't help but muse how antiquated her own traditional shinobi upbringing feels by comparison. Not that she's been left a complete tech-neophyte herself, but compared to what her multi-hue colored hair opponent is clearly capable of, there is so much more she could learn on that front.

At last, the fight is engaged once more, the battle resuming. Sucking in a breath, Kasumi snaps her hands to the ready, eyes sharply following her opponent's movements, her mind racing to anticipate what might come next from the tricky girl's arsenal of options. She has already seen plenty to know that Nagase is armed not just with technological gimmicks... she's shown plenty of legitimate ninjutsu to be concerned about as well.

In the end, though, it isn't cunning insight into her opponent's use of deception that saves her, it isn't a calculated prediction of precisely how she will trip up, embarrass, or otherwise. In a sense, she gets lucky, deciding to move on a plan that just so happens to put her out of the path of what would inevitably been a fight-ending combination.

As Nagase takes to the air, the Azure Kunoichi waits, seemingly intending to defend herself by bracing for impact, a decision that would have left her flat footed for the true threat. But once her opponent reaches the apex of her jump, when it seems almost too late to react otherwise, Kasumi leans forward into a burst of speed, dashing past where Nagase's trajectory is anticipated to take her. It leaves the long haired young woman sprinting out of the attempted grab simply a happy accident.

Fights at this level are won or lost by such moments. No one is /that/ good to chose right every time.

As Nagase appears, it would seem that Kasumi is blitzing away in a full retreat. At least for six steps. On the seventh, she vanishes again, another signature swirl of petals left behind.

The attack comes from behind Nagase, Kasumi dashing in on her, a plume of scattered tile dust in her wake as she seeks to get a hold of Nagase by the shoulders and pull back hard, using her own forward momentum to ascend into a series of stomping kicks - back of the other ninja's shin, into the back of her knee, thigh, the small of her back, until she would use Nagase's shoulders as a launch pad to take to the air...

And teleport a second time, diving down on Nagase from the opposite direction now, a plunging knee faster than gravity alone would afford, attempting to once more drive the one responsible for the auditory terrorism taking place into the tile, her battlecry still completely drown out by the dangerously thundering speakers above.

COMBATSYS: Nagase counters Oboro Zukiyo from Kasumi with Tricky Rounder.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Nagase           0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0           Kasumi

o/~ What to do with you and me to set this feeling free?
o/~ This I think as I watch you from a hole secretly~

Nagase's campaign of sensory bombardment is in full swing -- and it's due to that that she -almost- misses Kasumi's barbed response! And that would be the biggest shame of all...
"Aww, honeybuns, I -was- gonna drop a mixtape on you, but not if you're gonna be all snide about it..."

But that was then -- the flippant exchanges happening concurrently after one another. With these two talented kunoichi, the pace of the battle is decided in the course of mere heartbeats, with the crucial exchanges revealed to the audience at large only by the gratuitous use of high-speed cameras and slowed-down replays. And perhaps Nagase was foolish to think that her quarry would've remained still long enough for her ploy to work -- a thought that goes through the injured bumblebee's head just as she surges upward empty-handed.

"Wh--" she stammers, her brow furrowing as she flies up into the air.
It takes but an instant before she realizes her mistake.
And -- like Kasumi -- se responds entirely on battle-honed reflexes.
She cuts a quick twist in mid-air, slinging her injured arm around in a circle. Pain shoots across her bloodied face, furrowing her brow, as the Battle Disc System screams in bold text across her amber lenses. Her left hand audibly slaps against the inside of her right vambrace, her palm turning red beneath the protective sleeve. But now that her arm's swinging has stabilized, it begins to fall -- and she traces two extended fingertips upwards like a knife's edge.

The furtive gesture is potent enough to carve a fissure through the sky, that swallows Nagase up whole and, an instant later, winks out of existence.

Kasumi's hands will grasp nothing but a vacuum of air. Perhaps the silken cloth will be perturbed -- her ears might even pop from the sudden void of pressure, just before the molecules sweep back in to fill the void.

There is a certainty though -- and it is that Nagase has suddenly and abruptly translocated to a point roughly three meters above Kasumi.

As with the Mugen Tenshin kunoichi's prediction just a moment prior, it was only a wild leap of intuition that brought her to the path of escape -- and only her predictive AI's last-moment calculation that allowed her to compute the correct destination.

Any shorter, and she might have been clipped.
Any longer, and she wouldn't have had the time to reach back and withdraw a ninjato from its sheath. As Nagase descends, she tilts the blade downward like a guillotine, the razor edge slicing through the air with a faint keening whistle.

If Nagase had wanted to draw blood -- there is no doubt that she would have.
Such as it is -- the blade is turned once it reaches its peak velocity.
The flat side of the tempered blade will land like a ball-peen hammer onto Kasumi's shoulder: brute force bludgeoning strength distributed over a small surface area.

"Nin-nin~" she chirps out, almost as an afterthought. The tech-ninja uses the blade as leverage from which to push herself up and over into a twisting kickflip, bringing her body parallel with the ground -- a prodigious anticipation of any potential followup strikes from her Mugen Tenshin opponent.

The ninjato finds its home in midst of the motion, re-seating itself in the saya with an audible *clink*.
A moment later, Nagase's fingertips touch ground, as she bounces into a light handspring.

And only as she lands in a low crouch do the announcers and the crowd shout out in bewildered amazement, realizing that they missed something -awesome- with their poor non-ninja eyes. Video editors hurry to catch up with the footage -- and even then, their efforts might be too late.

And still, the song echoes on -- with Nagase flashing a half-delirious smile up as locks an amber-lensed gaze upon her opponent...

o/~ Can I really hide inside, and under lock and key?

o/~ Ninja girl I am though, fall in love with me!

Denied her human staircase into trampoline, Kasumi never gets any further than her initial grasp at empty air, sliding to a stop, fingers closing over empty air as she gets a taste of dealing with someone just as proficient in vanishing tricks as she is. On the ropes as she is, having survived an encounter with first Duke and having been run around the arena and suffered even more hits from this nimble Auditory Terrorist, the now flagging Mugen Tenshin Exile is caught completely flatfooted for once.

Pulling out from her aggressive lunge slower than she had been moving previously, she spins on one foot, arms raised to guard the front of her, clearly anticipating another one of Nagase's tricky ambush attacks.

Turn around is fair game, after all, when it comes to ninja battles. The weary ninja herself has deployed similar tactics all throughout the rounds.

She doesn't realize the true angle of attack until too late. With no audio cues to work with, Nagase operates with a cloak of what is, effectively, complete sound proofing in a most unorthodox manner. In the end, only a flickering shadow cast by the bright arena lights overhead gives her away, Kasumi glancing up at the last second with a sharp intake of breath.

The hard crack against her left shoulder, with all of Nagase's momentum and gear behind the blunted impact, drives Kasumi to one knee in an instant, a pained cry audible over the thundering speakers. Nagase's subsequent launch from her successful strike forces her down even further, her right hand slamming down to catch herself against the floor in a successful bid to prevent yet another faceplant.

And there she stays for a long moment, teeth grit, left knee on the ground, right hand holding her up. The agony flaring through her shoulder from what is undoubtedly a chipped or fractured collar bone is a fierce, unmistakable reminder that the Syndicate ninja had her dead to rights in that fleeting moment. Sucking in a breath as she tries to bite back the pain, to ignore it without the aid of any form of injected aid, the young woman is forced to discern two indisputable facts.

If Nagase had wanted to land a fight ending blow in that instant, if she had been willing to drive the edge of that sharp ninjato down into her shoulder, she had every opportunity to do so. It sent an unmistakable message, even if never uttered: Gotcha. The moment called to mind mock battles of more peaceful days, of bokken spars with her brother, of playful if valuable training fights with her sharp tongued half-sister using blunted weapons.

Secondly, it proved that for as vexing as the Bumblebee Ninja might be, she wasn't nearly as bad as her teammate. Beneath the obnoxious sass, the flustering nature of her introductory attack, and even her assault by Excruciatingly Loud J-Pop, she was just doing her job - attempting to achieve victory in this match by every reasonable, if perhaps borderline-so, method available to her.

Panting for breath as Kasumi lingers in her half kneeling posture, a trace of a smile forms beneath the smudges of soot and pulverized tile dust covering much of her face. She pushes up off her right hand to standing, her right arm reaching over to rub her left shoulder to inspect the damage. Whether the bone was severely bruised or sporting a hairline fracture, she couldn't entirely tell. Either way, her left arm was numb and would be of no use to her now.

Her right arm draws back, wiping across her forehead, eyes fixed on Nagase across the way. She had to see this through - as far as she could go. There could be no doubt she gave it her all. Sucking in her breath, she shifts, readying herself as she had done several times before, left shoulder forward, left arm hanging down against her side, right arm raised behind her as she braces...

And then she's on her way, sprinting toward Nagase. Even after all she's been put through, she's still incredibly fast, closing the distance in record time. There is no teleport this time, no trick behind direct, unmitigated speed. From two meters out, she lunges across the remaining space, twisting to the left to bring her good arm back into play as she seeks to close it over Nagase's own working forearm - a high risk grab, testing her own intense speed against Nagase's well honed reflex, and if she locks it, she'll use the other ninja girl's arm as a fulcrum to whip herself around to Nagase's back, driving her knees into her lower spine in a bid to force her opponent to the ground, still holding Nagase's arm at a painful angle to force the issue if possible.

If successful, she would release Nagase's arm, draw her right arm up, then deliver a single strong, stunning chop to the back of Nagase's neck. It would not be the unrelenting, hammering blows delivered to Duke's neck with her elbow, but rather a single attempt at taking all fight from the tricky ninja with one last, decisive strike!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Nagase with Byakko.
Grazing Hit

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Nagase           0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0           Kasumi

Nagase rises from her crouch, her eyes locked tightly upon Kasumi. With her strike dropping Kasumi to her knees, the tech-ninja takes advantage of the momentary reprieve, giving the analgesic compound a bit more time to circulate through her beleagured limbs.

But she's not the only one taking a breather; the Hatsune Miku song is in a lyric-free lull for the moment, owing to an interlude in the song. Thus, the older audience members get a break from the high-pitched chirping, and Kasumi is likely able to focus a bit more through soft guitar licks and the rhythmic thumping of bass. Nagase breathes a silent curse that she hadn't queued up another song to keep the pressure on -- but she has a good feeling about this fight all the same...

She catches her opponent's half-smile, a scant moment before the rise to her feet. Her Battle Disc System is quick to inform her of a possible bone fracture in the left shoulder -- good data to know, especially in the following moment when Kasumi -leads- with said shoulder.

Nagase tilts her head to the left with a feverish grin.
And draws her hand close to her mouth.
She breathes a quiet whistle into her two extended fingers.
And then she sweeps her fingers in a wide arc from right to center.
Pools of black mist begin to appear a meter away from her, the true form hazy and indistinct.

Even with that momentary preparation, Kasumi's on top of her in an instant. With a look of mild panic, Nagase leaps to her right, bringing her left forearm up defensively, curling her fist lightly.

Was it what she planned? No.. not exactly -- especially as the defensive gesture seems to have given Kasumi exactly what she -needed-.
Nagase grits her teeth as her arm is wrenched backwards by the Mugen-Tenshin exile, no longer a defensive asset, but rather a -liability- and the vehicle for Kasumi to leverage herself around to her back.

And yet, Nagase doesn't shout in pain, or agony.
She whistles.
And the mist resolves into the form of four circular seals.
In an instant, the seals are as dense as iron painted directly into the air.

With Nagase's shoulder wrenched backward, escape would be difficult or impossible so far from ground cover.
But the ninpo seals change that condition.
Kasumi uses Nagase's arm as an anchor, sailing around her counter-clockwise.

And as Kasumi's knees land upon her back, there -is- a gust of air expelled from Nagase's lungs -- but otherwise, the impact is not as satisfying as it -should- have been.
For while Kasumi was doing that, Nagase had leapt onto the first seal, gaining air.
With a step on the second seal, she twisted into a nearly horizontal whirl.
And leaping off the third seal allows her to complete a half-circle

And that is how Nagase disentangles herself from Kasumi's grasp, with Kasumi's own rotational momentum causing the grip to fall slack.

And now, the Iga-ryuu ninja allows herself to smirk, as she bursts forward. Her feet slam down onto the fourth seal, propelling her into Kasumi with a vengeance.

While Kasumi's motion was all about rotational momentum, Nagase's launching forward in nearly a straight line, hoping to hook her left arm about Kasumi's middle.

"This song got old fast, didn't it?"

And if she latches on, -then- she will leap off the ground with her prize. She will leap off the solid shale tile -- this time twisting herself and Kasumi into a midair spiral.

At the apex, Nagase will invert herself and her opponent.
And then plunge Kasumi into the tiles, head and shoulders first!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi full-parries Nagase's Nagase Spiral!!

[                        \\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Nagase           0/-------/-----==|======-\-------\0           Kasumi

As she dashes toward Nagase, somewhere in her increasingly foggy thoughts, Kasumi realizes she should know more about what it is her ninja opponent is doing with that whistle, those gestures and seals. Of course she has been exposed to a wide variety of ninjutsu in her training. But to every flavor of the mystical arts of the Shadow Clans, each individual imbues the details with aspects of their own personality, their unique quirks and talents.

Perhaps Hayabusa would be able to interpret the nuances at a glance and adjust accordingly, his own incredible skill reinforced by more experience than anyone should possibly have at his age. But Kasumi simply pushes forward, lungs and muscles burning having been forced well past the exhaustion point any other combat engagement had ever taken her.

Her mind feels numb, drained by pain and fatigue. There is no more time for clever plans, conscious anticipation of her opponent's next moves. Little by little, she lets her thoughts take a back seat, allowing instincts take hold as she lunges into her desperate struggle to hang in there, if just a moment longer.

Nagase's ingenious escape from what was about to be a decisive pin to the arena floor ends up leaving the youngest member of Team Balance briefly confused. The second whistle is heard during the instrumental interlude of the match's pounding soundtrack, but still Kasumi can't fathom the implications of it. It isn't until she tries to sink the knee first landing that she knows the gifted Mist Dancer has an escape plan already in progress.

The use of the solidified seals gives Nagase all the force necessary to completely overpower the hold Kasumi had on her arm, breaking free from her grip in a way that the runaway ninja had never encountered before.

Her own landing against the tile is rough - a split second scramble to get her feet beneath her rather than smashing her kneecaps into the thoroughly devastated arena floor. Rising out of her half crouch with a pained grunt, she knows in an instant she lacks the reserves of motion necessary to escape Nagase's masterful maneuvering through the use of the seals.

There is a hint of panic to the shinobi's eyes, her mind trying to skip across several gears from flying, acrobatic aggressor to flat-footed defender. Her last ditch turn so that her right shoulder faces toward the incoming lunge may look like a failed attempt at evasion as the tech-ninja hooks her good arm around Kasumi's waist. But she ends up caught on the side rather than across her stomach, creating a somewhat less sure hold than the skilled close-quarters grappler was undoubtedly going for.

The realization happens in an instant - out of all of Nagase's tactics, this one bears a striking familiarity with a technique Kasumi is well acquainted with - a dizzying, spiraling dive into the ground head first is what awaits her if all goes according to her opponent's plan. She will not be getting up from that landing.

Kasumi murmurs during the ascent, her voice distant but projected well beyond the point of a whisper.
"I hardly noticed it." she lies.

It's at the apex that she acts, just as Nagase is in the process of shoving the control stick of Ninja Airlines into a violent nosedive. Pure training takes over, Kasumi's mind too dazed to consciously think her way through the desperate escape. Bracing the back of her right bicep against the side of Nagase's neck, and with a sudden cry born of exertion and the agony the jarring movement inflicts on her ribs and shoulder, Kasumi twists her torso away to the right, while shoving back hard with her arm, providing a burst of combined force just strong enough to break herself free from the one-armed hold and send herself spinning into the air.

For an eye blink, it may seem her intent is pure disengagement, one last attempt to reset the playing field and force another urgently needed respite.

But even in the act of breaking out, Kasumi is counter attacking. The commentators have given up trying to explain what is happening, and even most of the audience has to be staring in wide-eyed amazement and no small amount of confusion as the two elite ninjitsu practitioners, each with their own personalized styles, exchange attacks in an ever escalating, fierce battle where each instant has the power to be decisive.

As she slips away into her spin, Kasumi's right leg snaps back out, attempting to drive Nagase away with a fierce heel to the stomach, no doubt hoping to convert the Iga-ryuu expert's momentum into a careening fall from the sky.

And should she succeed, Kasumi would complete her own blurring rotation, vanishing from the air. She would reappear meters below a moment later, already in a fiercely fast dash along the arena floor, attempting to slam into the falling Bumblebee Ninja with a thunderingly fast palm strike with her right hand!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Nagase with Tenrai Kyaku Chifu EX.
Grazing Hit

[                           \\\  < >  ///                           ]
Nagase           0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0           Kasumi

Going into this fight, Nagase had one thing in mind: Kasumi must be exhausted. And while the tech-ninja had hoped the Mugen Tenshin Exile would be an easy pick-off, she knew that defeating anyone that could take down the walking volcano she calls 'Boss' was bound to be an uphill battle.

And here she is -- run right out to the margin, in a similar boat as Kasumi was at the start of the battle. Kasumi, though, is holding up much better than Nagase would under similar circumstances, particularly due to not needing to lug around the heavy battle armor that comprises her Battle Disc System.

She was disappointed to find Kasumi shifting her grip just enough. Fingertips prod around at Kasumi's torso as she tries to regain a better grip in the midst of flight, but alas, the hand motions are just another odd mystery for video analyzing fans to figure out, as if there wasn't -enough- vicarious pleasure to be gleaned from the fast-paced ninja battle. But when the grip is broken, and Kasumi shoves back at her -- that's enough for Nagase to realize that her Nagase Spiral jutsu is not an albatross she wants to carry through to completion.

Nagase shoves Kasumi away with her palm in roughly the same motion -- and if it weren't for that motion moving her upper shoulders way, the heel would have hit her in the less-protected abdomen. But as it is, Kasumi's heel slams into her ribcage and the muscles along her side. A pained gasp escapes through barely-parted teeth, the percussion of the impact causing a reverberation effect to her voice as she spins away.

And yet -- Nagase is still falling.
She curls up, managing to grit her teeth shut as she makes a quick assessment of the situation.
A hand wraps around the site of the injury.
Fingers probe at what's sure to be broken ribs.
And then her BDS reports that Kasumi has engaged her own jutsu -- a motion repeated often enough for her combat heuristics to assign a specific label to the task at hand.

"You're a terrible liar," she hisses under her breath, as her left hand traces through a particular pattern -- then swings roughly perpendicular to the ground.

Mist swirls around the falling Iga-ryuu kunoichi, enveloping her whole in a rapidly spinning whirlwind.

Kasumi will reappear. And she will strike. And she will feel her dashing palm strike connect with a limb of some sort -- but it will be a fleeting strike that hits a leg just as it whips out of reach.

Kasumi will be alone on the battlefield for the briefest of instants.

And then a kick will scythe down at her shoulder, from behind.
Almost instantly afterwards, a second kick will slam into Kasumi's side.
And then a kick will piston into the back of Kasumi's knee.

In front of her, Kasumi will be able to see Nagase -- but blurred out, only present -half- of the time. The other half of the time, the blurred Nagase will appear behind Kasumi's last known position, delivering kick after merciless kick into the Azure Kunoichi. Each strike would be abbreviated, and not a fully committed attack, but the effect is cumulative -- death by a thousand rapid-fire kicks, delivered at an incalculably diverse array of angles and attack vectors.

Should a majority of those hit like she intends, Nagase will lean into a backflip, toe-kicking her opponent upward. The second backflip will be from the alternate location -- and then, with one final transition, Nagase will complete her backflip.

Regardless of outcome -- a fully reconstituted Nagase would be unable to stand afterwards, much less fight. There's only so much the analgesic compound swimming through her veins could manage to do.

COMBATSYS: Nagase can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Kasumi dodges Nagase's Punishment Mode - Mirage Assault.

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

Though her aerial kick did not land as soundly as she was aiming, there is no reason for Kasumi to not complete the intended combination: knock Nagase into an uncontrolled fall toward the ground with a stunning blow, then teleporting in from another angle to plant a full momentum palm strike. The two in one might be enough to finally push the tenacious ninja past the point of being able to fight any longer.

It isn't so much a plan so much as a subconscious combat routine Kasumi is executing. Her mind pushed to the limit of pain endurance, her body beyond exhausted, the experienced kunoichi is fighting almost on autopilot. If her brain had a chance to catch up with what she had been through, what she had endured, and what she was trying to push herself into doing still, it would almost definitely have the good sense to call an end to this insanity outright!

From out of her teleport, Kasumi dashes in, torso pivoting, body leaning into the palm strike. Instead of a decisive body blow, however, she impacts the bone of a shin that was already spinning away from the strike, diminishing its potential for harm measurably. Instead of a crippling blow, it's most likely to just add one more small bruise to the pile.

Teeth grit, lips drawn back slightly, Kasumi maintains her striking pose for far longer than any other attack she had demonstrated throughout the event, her arm extended, forward knee bent, her body seemingly frozen in the last stance that she had the wherewithal to force it into.

This was to be it then, she muses, as Nagase finishes her spin and outright vanishes from before the Azure Shinobi's eyes. There simply isn't the ability to go any further. This last attack has jarred her damaged ribs and her side feels like like someone is actively stabbing it with a sword, attempting to deliver the assassin's strike her own father commissioned for her just a little over a year ago.

Her arm lowers, her legs trembling. It was a good fight. She can stop now. If she falls over, maybe her relentless opponent would strike her a few times just to make sure, but she isn't like Duke. It wouldn't go beyond that, would it?

Alma will know that his own attacker was defeated. And Hayabusa... well, he'll know she put her all into this fight. And her family... Her family... would call her a loser. They would cite falling here and now, before the Iga-ryuu prodigy, as just one more piece of evidence that she was never fit to rule the Mugen Tenshin, that she was not just a traitor, she was a disappointment as well, an embarrassment, a black mark on the clan's proud lineage.

"Tch," Kasumi sucks in a breath, eyes watering with the fresh hell of pain the effort inflicts.


No, she wasn't going to give her father the satisfaction. She wasn't going to arm Ayane with even more ammunition to unleash from her sharp tongue when they inevitably meet again. She wasn't going to stand before Urien and be insulted for being a weak disappointment.

Not while her heart continued to beat, her lungs drew breath, and her eyes remained open.

The kick slashes through the air and Kasumi twists out of its way. Without looking, she sweeps her right arm at her side in a circling motion, deflecting just in time another rib threatening heel. She steps forward then, whirling around, avoiding a crippling blow to her knee. Nagase is behind her. No, she's in front of her. Wait-

Rather than try to predict the attack, Kasumi steps into spin, her form twisting until it vanishes, leaving behind a fresh plume of drifting blossoms and a scent of Spring mingled with the powdered stone scent in the air.

She reappears six meters to the side, only for Nagase's form to manifest adjacent and take another swing with her foot. Bracing, Kasumi weathers the strike against her arm guard and then, without hesitating, backsteps into another spin and vanish.

Again, the Bumblebee Ninja hunts her down, reappearing in front of her, already spinning into a swift kick. Kasumi twists out of the way, a pained hiss escaping her lips at the movement, before leaning forward to dash past Nagase and vanish again.

She appears six feet in the air, suddenly forced to raise her right arm and brace it against her head against a dropping heel from the nimblest member of Team Syndicate. Falling backward out of her hasty block, Kasumi draws her arm tightly against her side, spinning once again into another teleport in a desperate bid to escape the persistent Nagase.

Again and again, Kasumi appears at locations throughout the stage, and each time, the translocating ninja is immediately assailed from another kick from another, unexpected direction. Some strikes are barely blocked, others narrowly avoided, and a few do land before she can escape their precise aim. The movement is happening faster than the audience can hope to follow, flashes of motion appearing at different points along the shattered tile stage or in the air above it.

At her limits, Kasumi appears from amid a hilix of swirling petals back on the arena floor. There will be no more vanishing - in spite appearances to the contrary, there is an end to her endurance.

And it is ther that Nagase confronts her one last time, appearing in front, shifting into a jaw crunching backflipping toe-kick, intended to launch Kasumi into two more aerial follow ups to settle this match once and for all.

It's all the harried hope of Team Balance can do to lean backward, right arm flailing, left arm still hanging numb at her side, and not-so-gracefully fall out of the path of Nagase's foot into a seated position on the ground.

And there she sits, Nagase finally exhausting her own formidable reserves, the dangerous technique coming to an end, the modern ninja's ability to stay standing afterward completely spent.

Sitting, eyes staring forward without focus, appearing as if lost in a daze, Kasumi's shoulders rise and fall with each deep inhale and exhale, breathing through her mouth. Perspiration rolls along any of her visible skin as her body tries to cope with the shock of what her muscles were put through.

And then, rather unadroitly, as if not conscious of what she was doing, Kasumi pushes down with her right hand, shifting to one knee, and then slowly, rises up to stand.

With caramel eyes blinking, still lacking focus, leaning forward a little at the waist, her right hand resting over her side, and her body continuing to be wracked with deep, desperate breaths, every muscle on fire and already beginning to seize up in protest over the thought of single step...

Kasumi has earned Team Balance victory in the phenomenal King of Fighters 2017.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi has ended the fight here.

Log created on 22:35:59 01/10/2018 by Duke, and last modified on 00:04:24 01/26/2018.