Description: The hero of 2016's King of Fighters, Athena Asamiya, has been suspiciously absent from the professional circuit of late... it seems she prefers to pursue her studies and music career, while ignoring the path she is destined to walk. It is my duty to remind the young woman of what her truly worth is, and - if she remains as competent as she once was - ensure she attends the World Warrior tournament at Castle Strolheim.
Justice High: high school for the elite. With a reputation spanning the entire nation of Japan, it was where the parents of the best of the best wanted their children to go. It was where the future hopeful leaders of the country would want their diplomas from. And it was where, somehow, old Chin Gentsai had managed to get his two promising students, Sie Kensou and Athena Asamiya, admitted in their freshmen year. What strings the old geezer had to pull to facilitate their entry one can only imagine. But since then, the two previously unknown Kung Fu Fighters had never let the opportunity go to waste.
Now in her Senior Year, young Asamiya maintains a grueling schedule of study, homework, and tests. It may seem... almost disappointingly mundane compared to the life she lived the previous year.
It was only two years ago that she made a big splash on the fighting scene, plowing through the novice leagues of fighters to rise rapidly up the ranks until she was at last facing off against World Class masters of their arts. From there, her momentum carried her and her teammates into the prestigious team tournament, King of Fighters 2016. And following close fight after close fight, she was finally able to stand with her fellow teammates, the self-proclaimed Psycho Soldiers, as the Champions of KOF 2016.
That was a while ago now, and new opportunities had opened up before her. Athena was well on her way to being a famous name even among the few people in the world that weren't into following the fighting scene. Augmenting her rising fame as a martial artist was her burgeoning fame as a J-Pop Idol, compressing her already stressed time even further. It was no surprise to anyone that she and her team did not make an appearance in King of Fighters 2017 as Athena started giving concerts; initially smaller affairs, but rapidly exploding into phenomenal success over the last year.
Many who had been enthralled with the high school student's climb up through the fighting leagues were understandably disappointed to see her vanish from the fighting scene. Between studies, song writing, concert performances, and even planning for her recent album release, it was safe to assume that the promising rising star had been lured away by the lucrative pop music industry where she was fast becoming a global icon... perhaps her fighting days were well and truly behind her now.
But while her presence in the world of fighting had diminished to nothing, her dedication to school had not. Even with her increasing celebrity status, she still kept up with the demanding pace of a Justice High education, maintaining a solid B average in some of the hardest courses any student could possibly dread. And thus it is that this late Friday afternoon, like any other, she has been attending her classes, doing her necessary post-class follow ups with teachers and peers, and then hurrying off.
Stepping out of the main building of Justice High, Athena Asamiya's pace is swift, with purpose, eyes already toward the gates leading out to the parking lot where a number of expensive looking vehicles were all lined up waiting for the students of wealthy families to come be picked up for their rides home.
She was a pretty girl, moving with vibrant life in spite having just escaped long hours of class lectures and furious coursework. Her hair is long, a dark shade of violet that might almost appear black if not for the bright lights bathing the walkway in an ambient glow that offsets the dark night sky overhead. It is mostly kept out of her face by a simple enough looking headband with a golden star just over her right ear.
Though the Justice High Girls uniform for Winter is not normally considered particularly flattering, she makes it work anyway - an orange colored military style jacket worn over a black, dress shirt with a black tie, coupled with a matching orange skirt at her waist. Black shoes and white socks complete the ensemble that seems deliberately designed to rob anyone of individuality. Indeed, it is through a sea of similarly uniformed students that she moves, a backpack on her back, and a second carrying bag slung over her shoulder.
Here, among the elite, she isn't crowded around in spite being well known throughout the entire school. Flocking around her like a bunch of sheeple is beneath the Justice High student body, and in spite her growing fame, she seems to be treated just like any other student would be. It's the people packed out on the street beyond the thick gates of the school campus that appear eager to crowd around her, however. With a concert coming up this weekend, no small amount of Athena Asamiya fans are out on the sidewalk, trying to get a glimpse of the singing icon. Of course, they know better than to step a single foot on to Justice High itself - the faculty at the school are not known for being gentle with intruders...
Hearing the cries from the sidewalk, Athena does lift her hand to wave, offering a friendly, sincere smile to her fans that seem content to stand out here on a cold winter's night, but as for herself, there is a driver with a black luxury sedan waiting for her to give her a ride home. Her agency insisted. There is simply no way she could walk home like she used to without being crowded around every step of the way, and they had to look out for her well being, right?
She had no regrets for deciding to fully embrace her chance at a music career, but life... certainly was different now.
Laurence Blood - the loyal servant and administrator for the German Noble Herr Krauser - hardly relished the idea of coming to Justice High in order to test a student as a potential candidates for the World Warrior tournament... despite the young woman's impressive record on the official circuit and obvious skill as a fighter, he can't help but feel as though the affair at Castle Strolheim will be a decidedly more brutal affair than even the King of Fighters...
...hardly a place, in his mind, for anyone but the most savage and relentless fighters in the world. Alas, Wolfgang himself insisted that the accomplished warrior and singer Athena Asamiya be tested... and once the word came down from on high, Laurence /knew/ that he could not leave such an affair to the hands of Gato or - even worse - that remorseless, bloodthirsty ninja Eiji. One could only imagine the chaos that either of the other two Strolheim Lieutenants would chaos in the middle of a school.
Far better, Blood decided, for /him/ to be the one to make the approach... he, at least, could be certain to maintain a proper sense of decorum, and keep the bloodshed to the barest minimum required to test Athena's skill and qualifications.
And anyway... he would never dare to second-guess his Master... if Herr Krauser considers her - potentially - worthy of the honour of an invitation, then it is his duty to confirm or deny his suspicions with emperical facts.
As that black sedan comes into sight, she would notice a rather unusual sight - someone with the temerity to be leaned up against the rear bumper of the vehicle... someone intimidating enough - when the mood struck - to frighten the driver into silence when they attempted to shoo him away. Of course, his sword remains held in that loop on his belt, dangling from his right hip as the tip glints in the light of overhead streetlamps.
A long, blood-red cape is looped tightly around his left forearm; tight enough to prevent it from blowing in the breeze, or from moving with the motions of that limb. He is dressed in his usual uniform, sleeveless vest and all - having grown used to the cold winters in the mountains of Germany, the weather of this island nation doesn't seem to bother him in the slightest.
"Miss Asamiya," states the mysterious figure, with all politeness - perhaps Athena might recognize him as an envoy of Wolfgang Krauser - following a slight inclination of his head. The voice of former Matador is smooth, almost musical as he continues, "I was disappointed to see that you did not attend the King of Fighters this year; particularly after your spectacular performance previously."
A small smirk plays across his features then, as one eyebrow is raised up - regarding the young woman with his deep brown eyes for a few moments. Finally, he straightens his stance - no longer leaning on the trunk of the black sedan - and takes a step towards her, as he asks in genuinely inquisitive tones.
"Are you done with the professional circuit? More concerned about your music career and studies, these days?"
Moving with the small crowd of students heading toward the parking lot, Athena's brisk stride slows slightly. She can feel something is off. She has come a long ways over the last couple of years in being able to control that sense of hers. It was Chin who taught her how to build and maintain steadfast mental walls in her mind, to seal herself off entirely...
Or rather, almost entirely. Though she is far more closed off than she had been when younger, there is still a small gap in that wall, that tiny fissure through which a heightened awareness spreads around her. It isn't precise enough to pin point individuals without a marked amount of additional concentration, but it is sufficient to feel that something is off - there is someone in the vicinity far stronger than the students milling about around her.
There weren't many attending the campus that could come close to rivaling that presence. Among the student body, Athena Asamiya was counted alongside the two the greatest prodigies at the school - the swords master, Hyo Imawano, and the young God of Karate, Jin Kazama. Even with her not having demonstrated her prowess in combat for the last year, nearly every other student on campus knew full well they had no business thinking they could take the Asamiya girl in a fair fight.
But this presence she felt was neither of those familiar students. Was it one of the faculty? The strongest fighters among staff were also familiar to her, so that seemed unlikely...
Stepping out of the gates, she finally sets eyes on the car waiting for her. The driver is standing on the other side of it next to the driver's side door, dressed in a black buttoned up jacket with a black cap to go with the uniform. White gloved hands wave over his head toward Athena as he looks toward the young star with an apologetic expression, one hand pointing toward Blood as soon as the girl makes eye contact.
Attention shifts to Blood then - ah, yes, this is definitely the individual she sensed. Even without her own gifts, any fighter would recognize their own in the well built man armed with the sword. He carried himself with the poise and confidence of a man who knew full well his own strength.
Which leaves the question of who... and why?
Addressed, she musters a quick smile, one corner higher than the other. The arm not holding her bag lifts to wave, though there is a hesitance about her demeanor.
And when he expresses disappointment, her arm falls to her side, eye contact broken immediately as she glances to the side. He was not the only one disappointed... Not just the fans that missed seeing her in action, but even her Shifu had been vocal his disapproval of her head first charge into a life of fame and distraction instead of pushing her training and fighting prowess even further. She was destined for greater things than singing and dancing on a stage, no matter how many people she insisted she was helping through her music!
"Oh..." she murmurs, charismatic eloquence lost in the moment of being caught off guard about a sensitive subject. "Well..." she shuffles her hand back to rest against the strap of her bag, eyes finding Blood again as her waiting car settles, the armed man no longer leaning against it.
Blinking, she shakes her head quickly, "No, I-... I'll get back to it. I just..." Oh jeez, hasn't she been through this argument enough already at home? Chin's disappointment had been devastating, almost enough to dissuade the headstrong girl from her path all together. But then the letters started coming in... and she knew she couldn't back down from what she had started.
Who was this man to bring all that back up though? There is clearly no recognition in her eyes as she sizes him up quickly, eyes tracing over his choice of clothing even in the brisk Winter air.
"I'm sorry," she blinks, brow furrowing slightly with concern, "Who are you exactly?"
If Blood hadn't witnessed the tournament himself, he would likely be surprised that this pensive, unsure individual standing before him was the same woman who carried the Psycho Soldiers to victory in 2016's King of Fighters.
But he had watched the entirety of the tournament, and he was not the only individual who had seen great things within Athena... Herr Krauser had spotted it, as well; not just her current abilities, but what she might be capable of if she were properly challenged - if she learned to hone and sharpen her skills, as Blood himself had under the roof of Castle Strolheim.
And with his experience, he knew full well that the greatest strength often concealed itself in the most unusual places. This would hardly be the first time that such power was hidden within an individual who did not /fully/ embrace it.
"Oh," begins the calm and collected reply to her question, "I'm rather unimportant, myself. It's the man I represent who you might know; Wolfgang Krauser, of the illustrious House Strolheim..."
A pause, then, to look over the student and budding celebrity's face for any hint of recognition at that name. Even though he hasn't had much of a presence on the world stage in the past few years, that name still echoes loudly in the professional fighting circuit - a legend, to be sure.
"But..." says Blood, a hint of mock-hesitation in his voice which is accompanied with a pompous, irritating grin, "If you've no interest in discovering your real potential, then I fear I've wasted my time here today."
One hand comes up, as the Spaniard rests his chin between thumb and index-finger - falling into silence for a few moments while staring over at Athena, as though he were assessing her worth with a mere glare. A solemn shrug of his shoulders seems to dismiss this train of thought, and he offers a half-bow with a sweeping arm towards her.
"And yours as well. My apologies; I /do/ wish you all the best with your albums... until you 'get back to' your /true/ calling."
Even with that said, however, he's not walking away - as though he were simply waiting for some words from Athena, refuting his assessment of the situation... perhaps a warrior's spirit still lurks within this one, after all.
He would hate to return to Castle Strolheim and inform his Master that a fighter of her talent and caliber were simply... not interested in such a rare and meaningful opportunity. The wrath of Herr Krauser when disappointment could be a great and terrible thing to behold, indeed.
Her visitor indicates that he is a man of little importance in the grand scheme of things. An interesting perspective to have, and one that he will find her questioning with sharp, violet eyes that undoubtedly see more than just what there is to see on the surface. Now and then she glances toward the driver who is staying on his side of the car, hands on the roof, a defeated look on his face, and eventually she offers him a faint smile and quiet nod of acknowledgment... this isn't his fault. There is nothing he could do to keep someone like this man away.
It's the name that Blood offers after that which locks Athena's eyes back on him, a soft intake of breath impossible to miss. Immediately, the students around her begin to murmur to each other, a whispered cacophony of rumors swapping what they have heard concerning the legendary House Strolheim.
It's obvious in Asamiya's eyes that she also recognizes the name of Wolfgang Krauser, and after a moment, she breaks eye contact, losing her own focus as she seems briefly lost in thought. What could one of the gods of fighting want to do with her? She had heard about the World Warrior tournament, in passing, but with how busy her life had been, she never really paid close attention.
"Wait," she replies when Blood speaks of having wasted both of their time, her right hand lifting, fingers extended. She draws her hand back slowly, fingers curling as her hand comes to rest against her chest, eyes lowering toward the ground.
To the fight fans around the world, Athena Asamiya's final public match had been the finales of King of Fighters 2016. As far as most of the world is concerned, she has never taken to the stage for anything but music ever since.
The fighting community couldn't know, they wouldn't understand... what happened on that devil's island of the damned: Mortal Kombat, blood shed, lives lost, for the sake of the world. That gauntlet of brutal misery had truly been the last times Asamiya had fought - fought with all her life, for survival, for victory. In the end, it was not her that stood before the demon prince Goro to determine Earth's fate, but she had stood there right before the end, had faced the Scarlet Dahlia who went on to be Earth's Champion, and had born the same scars, loss, and dread fatigue as any of the other brave souls who laid it all on the line so that Outworld could not step foot on this world.
Perhaps it is those thoughts she loses herself to, the memories of death, of narrowly escaping being killed herself, but at great cost. Of possibly killing that man... that creature that fell into the abyss.
Her complexion pales slightly as her eyes slowly lift back up to settle on Blood. Does she truly have no time for fighting anymore? Or has she been running from the living nightmare endured on that hellscape island?
"Miss Asamiya, pleeeeaaase," her driver pleads, no doubt seeing the resolve slowly forming in the young prodigy's expression.
"Please forgive me, sir," Athena states, her voice slowly finding its strength. She can't be ruled by her past. By the incredible discovery about her own nature made there. She knew the truth now - that there was something else inside of her - something powerful. Will she never call upon it again? What of the good she was meant to do as a fighter? As a protector of others?
"If I had known..." she dips her head slightly, eyes closing briefly in the process, before she rises out of the slight bow, "That I would be receiving such a guest, I would have set aside the appropriate time in advance."
Slowly, a smile finds its way back into her face - it isn't quite the vibrant, crowd pleasing smile put on display for her fervent fans at her concerts, but rather a quiet, heavy thing, reflecting solemnity of thought and of a mind hardly free of cause to mourn.
She stands up straighter then, shoulders squaring, "You honor me, sir, to come all this way. Please..." She blinks a couple of times, the words burning to be set free.
"I am still a fighter."
Again the murmurs of students build up around her. Even though the elite Justice High pupils consider open shows of celebration to be beneath them, it is impossible to miss picking up on the energy Athena's declaration has ignited among them. Was their champion to fight again?
The look of recognition in the candidate's eyes - as well as the murmurs that spread throughout the onlooking students - is hardly a surprise to Blood... having served under that illustrious House of German nobles for some time, he's used to the effect which the name of 'Wolfgang Krauser' can have, even in the farthest reaches of the globe. A man who has become a legend in his own lifetime, to say nothing of the proud lineage of Strolheim which was cemented long before he was even conceived.
Taking a moment to scan around the assembled crowd of Justice High students, the dark brown eyes of the Spaniard do a good job of intimidating many of them into silence - even though there is no malice to be found in that gaze. No doubt Athena isn't the only one here who can sense the danger that this man might pose, although he is simply here in a professional capacity; after all, harassing high schoolers would be an act far beneath his proud bearing and sense of etiquette.
It's only when the purple-haired young woman speaks that Blood's attention finally falls back on her, a slight tilt of his head to one side displaying his interest in the words that are sure to follow.
Laurence allows her to come to her own conclusion on the matter, though as he watches the resolve build within her slight frame there is a visible sign of approval on his own typically neutral features. Yes, this one may have stepped out of the arena for some time... but she never ceased being the very thing she was born to be.
After a moment's pause at the end of her statement, he shows a hint of emotion with a vaguely satisfied twisting of his lips - accompanied by a slight nod, before he replies in his own polite tones.
"Ah. As much as I might have prefered to make an appointment, my schedule has been... /hectic/, as of late."
Hardly an overstatement, either - amongst the men that Wolfgang sent out into the world to seek out worthy candidates, Laurence in particular had been incredibly busy. Some unseen hand of fate had guided numerous mysterious warriors directly into his path; individuals who had not even been on the list of 'potentials', but who proved to be worthy of the honour all the same. Were it possible for him to arrange the time and date of these meetings in advance, there's little doubt that the ever-professional administrator would have done so, simply as a matter of course.
Alas, life rarely allows one the luxury of such things - particularly when he was frequently hunted or approached or ambushed for the prized invitation he carries with him at all times.
"You say you are still a fighter?" he asks, with one raised eyebrow and a vaguely questioning tone in his voice. He does not do so to mock; rather, he is genuinely curious - for all he might have known, she truly /was/ finished with professional fighting.
What a shame that would be, to see such potential squandered on pop albums and schooling... and although Krauser would never admit it, his most loyal and steadfast servant knows that such a thing would be viewed as a small tragedy by the stoic German warrior.
"Then please... do /me/ the honour, of showing me."
Taking a few confident strides away from the black sedan, Laurence takes his right hand and calmly unfurls the crimson cape that is wrapped tightly around his left forearm. The fabric, once loosened, drapes down from his chest to below knee-level, concealing much of his torso as he holds it in front of him; a relic from his days as a Matador, adapted for use as a distraction technique in his own unique fighting style.
Noticeably, the right hand /doesn't/ fall to the hilt of the sword hanging from his belt... but rather, he holds the arm straight towards Athena and curls the fingers towards him in a beckoning gesture. While Eiji or Gato might be the sort to rush into battle immediately, try to catch the young woman unawares, perhaps strike her with a surprise attack...
...such is not the manner of the 'tests' that Laurence Blood carries out. He wishes to see what she is capable of, honestly and fairly. This is no blood match to defeat an opponent, but honourable combat to judge her worth - to see if she is truly capable of standing under the roof of Castle Strolheim, alongside the best this world has to offer.
COMBATSYS: Blood has started a fight here.
COMBATSYS: Athena has joined the fight here.
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Blood 0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0 Athena
There is another dip of the young fighter's head at the mention of Blood's hectic schedule. She might know a thing or two about the trials of travel and timeliness... and that's even with having agents handle a lot of her planning for her now days!
He asks if she is still a fighter and is answered with a sharp nod, not so fast as to be defensive, but not hesitant either as she stands up straighter. Her classmates are completely silent now, hanging on every word of this exchange while Asamiya's assigned driver lowers his head against the hood of the sedan with a look of abject resignation. The ping of his fear at losing his job is not lost on the gifted sensate, but she will happily intervene on his behalf if... more likely when word of this very off-schedule disruption reaches her managers.
There is an eagerness to her. Blood never indicated that he had come here to test her, yet all the same, there seems to be a desire to prove her resolve with more than simple words. And there is no mistake in her mind that the emissary of Wolfang Krauser is a dangerous combatant, rivaling the best Justice High has to offer.
Her hands close at her side as she nods a third time, now in response to his request that she demonstrate her claim with action, just as she was dying to do.
With a shrug of her shoulder, she slips her handbag off her arm, turning to hold it out to a nearby classmate - a black haired girl with a ponytail and thick glasses. Then she slips off her backpack - a pink affair with a wide array of patches from places around the world sewn into it; souvenirs from all her travels, both as a fighter and musician. This, too, she hands off.
Her now freed up hands lift to undo the buttons of her orange, military-style uniform jacket. Though the garment fits comfortably on her, it is not entirely suited to the demands of combat either... and the faculty frown on disrespecting the jacket by getting it damaged in fighting!
Now the Kung Fu practitioner stands across from her visitor, wearing a crisp, black, button up dress blouse with long sleeves, and a dark gray tie at her neck, along with her orange skirt. The jacket is handed to a young man who steps forward long enough to retrieve it from the girl, before he, and the rest of the students back up behind the gate and wrought iron fence to observe without getting in the way.
The cars lined up to pick up students, realizing the telltale signs of a fight about to break out, have also begin moving out of the way, giving Blood and Athena a large section of parking lot, sidewalk, and grass covered sections on this side of the fence to move freely about. The crowd that had been waiving to Athena from behind the campus fence continues to watch from a distance, though phones have been produced in mass for recording by several of the observers.
Athena herself breathes in deeply, eyes closing for a moment, arms at her sides. And then she exhales, a slow, controlled release of breath, head bowing slightly as she does so.
Someone with Blood's veteran experience would feel it then - something unseen but palpable, an invisible shock wave of pressure that ripples out from around the target of his test. Most of the audience is incapable of perceiving it fully, but they will certainly later describe that sense of presence of being in Asamiya's vicinity when she choses to fight - a confusing aura that seems to tug at emotions, accentuating confidence and suppressing doubts.
This presence is no doubt a part of why Athena is so successful as a performer. Even though Blood would be largely immune to this invisible force, it would be easy to understand how most people in the Idol's company would be affected by it if she doesn't keep it suppressed.
Her violet eyes open then, focusing on Blood with an increased intensity. There is life to them, an energy felt, not seen. But there is something else as well - an impression that his own confidence, his own indomitable will, is being reflected in that aura of hers, as if his own personality was somehow shaping the psychic battleground Asamiya has built between them.
Tje girl lifts her hands, palms open, and slides one foot forward, adopting a comfortable Kung Fu ready stance. It has been a year since she did this, but it feels so familiar, so natural to her.
"Thank you, for this opportunity." her smile grows into a grin, teeth bright in the lamps illuminating the parking light. "Here I go!"
Her arms swing back then, vibrant energy of cascading pink and violet hues surges down each limb before the girl steps forward into a hard lean, sweeping each arm forward past each other, the summoned power coursing down past her hands into a large sphere of that vibrant energy.
It explodes toward Blood then, a large sphere of psionic energy capable of piercing the hardiest of defensives with energy that will find his nerves and pressure his mind.
The crowd on the street begins cheering.
COMBATSYS: Blood blocks Athena's Psycho Ball.
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Blood 0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0 Athena
Once it becomes clear that the student intends on fulfilling his request to show him what she is truly capable of, Blood slides into a defensive stance; one foot moves behind the other, as he twists his body to the side in order to present a smaller profile for the young fighter to attack. The flowing material of that long cape remains draped in front of his body, obscuring the exact position and location of his midsection and legs.
His deadly-tipped sword remains hanging from his right hip, with his right arm still extended straight towards Athena in a beckoning gesture. Without even turning his head to look, he is aware - based on his keen senses alone - that the parking lot is beginning to clear out, allowing them more room for the upcoming bout without having to worry about potential property damage.
There is a reason, after all, that Laurence did not accost the young woman in the middle of class; he has little desire in causing unnecessary chaos or harm, simply in seeing if she is still the same warrior that carried her team to victory in last year's major tournament.
That, surely, can be done without causing too much collateral damage, right? Well, he supposed, we shall see. Etiquette demands that he at least /try/ to not cause more of a scene than is strictly necessary.
In the instant she bows her head ever-so slightly, Laurence can feel that unique energy radiating forth from Athena... yes, there can be no mistaking that for anything else. The fabled 'psycho power', so utterly unlike the typical chi energy that most fighters are able to manipulate and work into various techniques. That alone makes her a worthy adversary and a fighter of note, to say nothing of her stellar record within the professional circuit and her own skill and finesse in handling such power.
As used to he is with such displays, having served in House Strolheim for many years, it still brings a visible sense of appreciation to his features. /This/ is what he lives for, beyond simply handling Herr Krauser's daily business dealings back in the mountains of Germany - the opportunity to move beyond the bullfighting rings of Spain, and to meet opponents who are /truly/ capable of testing his own abilities.
Laurence simply hopes that she has not lost any of her edge in the time since the King of Fighters; it would truly be a shame to leave this place with that invitation still in the inside lining of his vest. Yet, he is not in the habit of charity - particularly not when dealing with an affair as prestigious as the World Warrior tournament - and she /will/ have to earn her place.
"No need for thanks," he states plainly, for it is simply his duty to carry out this task. And besides, it is truly /his/ pleasure to be able to stand apart from a foe as capable and well-respected as her; an honour, in every sense of the word.
Her projectile is fired towards him, and the Spaniard makes no motion to evade the attack - truth be told, he is /curious/ what such energy might feel like, the shockwave of force it would result in... but of course, he has no interest whatsoever in allowing it to strike him undefended. So as the psycho power rushes towards the blood-red material of his cape - moving slightly in the January breeze - the fabric suddenly flares with a bluish chi of his own creation.
When the psycho ball strikes, it seems close to overcoming his own power for a short time; and there is a look of concentration on Blood's face, as the energy begins to run up and down his left arm. It causes a rather unique pain to run through that limb, but his willpower keeps his composure in check - and that expressionless face of his betrays none of the sensations that run through his body.
"Just endeavor to not disappoint," comes his next statement, completing his earlier thought as the bizarre energy disappates into the air around him.
Still holding that cape in front of his torso, his right arm moves behind the fabric and - unseen to Athena - down to his belt... but not to grab his sword, which remains dangling loosely.
When he brings that hand up and out from behind the hanging crimson fabric which covers the majority of his body, he is clutching a dagger in his palm. A quick flick of his wrist sends the sharp-point of that projectile cutting through the air in a straight line towards Athena.
COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Blood's Bloody Shooter.
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Blood 0/-------/------=|====---\-------\0 Athena
The projectile unleashed, Athena pulls back from her forward lean, lingering energy crackling at her finger tips before collapsing into a thousand tiny motes of sparkling potential then fading. She isn't idle, however, her feet already pressing against concrete to burst forward and close the distance between the two, her eyes focused on how the swordsman handles her opening volley.
Even before engaging, she has discerned the edged weapon, the crimson cape, the hint of accent, but even with all the pieces visible before her, she still has no idea how he will actually fight. How does he move? How does he guard himself? And, most importantly, how does he strike?
Preliminary insight is afforded by the way he deals with her signature technique. There's nothing clever about it - just a direct projection of psycho power fired fast enough to pressure the reflexes of even the fastest fighters she has encountered. But the warrior of House Strolheim reacts to the incoming missile with undeniable aplomb, calmly moving his cape into its straight line path, amplifying some form of energy he also commands to mitigate the potential threat.
So, then, the cape is not just for show - it is a very nice looking cape, but also for defense? Good to know, she thinks to herself, as she sprints closer, knowing full well that he managed to resist the majority of what her attack was capable of. No, he is still perfectly fresh.
With her next footfall, she realizes another aspect of this man's fighting style - that cape conceals his actions from her eyes until the last possible moment.
Violet hair trailing behind her, her approach slows just slightly - she doesn't want to charge head first into a sword stab, after all, lured by the cape like an angry bull! And that half step of hesitation ends up saving her as his hand comes out, dagger held then flung with an assassin's precision.
With her feet planted in that brief moment, Asamiya swings her left arm out in a backhanded motion, the ring of struck metal echoing out as she knocks the flying blade aside with a minimal amount of movement, trying not to waste energy so early in the trial by combat. A small gash in the sleeve over her left forearm is proof that it wasn't a clean deflection, but it was certainly better than getting hit straight on.
Regardless of what sting likely courses down her arm, Asamiya won't be deterred, pushing back into her previous charge. Don't disappoint, he says. Don't disappoint him, the legend who sent him, and... herself. "I won't," she answers with words first. She has to know she still has it, that the spark hasn't died - that will to fight with all she has.
With his cloak, so much is concealed - she won't be able to trust in her eyes alone to anticipate his techniques. Intuition, and maybe a sense of intent, will be her only guideline until she can get a better impression of this man's style of combat.
And then she answers with action - from three feet out, Athena lunges, pushing off with her left foot to drive her right leg forward, aiming to deliver a direct knee strike to Blood's chest! The angle is low enough that landing again on her feet will be a fairly safe bet whether or not she manages to strike the man.
COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Blood with Aggressive Strike.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > /////////////////////////// ]
Blood 0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0 Athena
A sharp, brief exclamation of joy leaves the lips of Laurence Blood as his blade is knocked aside with a small, efficient motion of his opponent's hand. In a fraction of a second, his keenly practiced mind notes several things: she did not react with surprise and attempt to throw herself out of the path of the dagger, leaving herself open for a potential follow-up - nor was any movement wasted in dealing with the incoming threat, a simple backhand preserving energy for her own strike.
Gauging such split-second reactions ia the reason he employs these tactics; it is far more difficult to tell the true worth of a fighter with a simple melee brawl - but watching how they deal with unexpected threats tells a far deeper story.
For a true warrior, the mind - and wits - can be as important as the body.
In such close quarters, the Spaniard is unsure of what to expect from his opponent. The psycho power projectiles can be easier to predict and deal with, as they are the signature techniques of her fighting style; he truly was not expecting her to close the distance so early in the match.
Athena reaches striking distance, and Blood makes his guess - moving his left forearm away from his body with a sudden twirling of that red cape, and beginning to lift his right hand up to face-level. Clearly he expects a strike above the chest... but his senses are incorrect, as the student suddenly lunges up with a rising knee that strikes him dead in the chest.
It wouldn't be the first time in the past several weeks that he's been the recipient of such a technique... even with his own impressive physique and quick recovery time between battles, he is still healing from the titanic struggle against that bizarre self-proclaimed 'emperor' in the mountains of Greece.
As the knee impacts his chest, the Matador does not fight the momentum passed along to him by the impact - he moves /with/ it, allowing himself to be knocked several feet backwards, rather than attempting to stand his ground and potentially find himself off-balance.
His feet strike the ground on the asphalt of the parking lot some distance away, his free hand moving up to lightly touch the spot on his chest where Athena had struck him. Not the type to take these matters personally, his face remains calm and collected - those brown eyes remaining fixed on the young woman, even giving her the opportunity to recover her own footing after that attack.
But only for a moment.
Once it seems she won't be taken off-guard by his next attack - exploiting weaknesses is rarely his style, unless facing down some form of dishonourable savage (and there have been /many/ of those since the Qualifiers began, the Matador being forced to do battle with those he truly viewed as beneath him) - Blood moves back to attack.
Two long strides carry him back towards her, before his feet leave the ground /entirely/ - in an instant, the Strolheim Lieutenant's entire body is wreathed in a brilliant blue chi energy that covers his frame from head to foot. Holding both his arms extended in front of him, palms pressed together and pushed forward, he throws his entire weight through the air like a horizontal projectile.
Spinning as he travels above the ground towards Athena, the man seems intent of slamming into her chest with his extended arms - backed by the momentum of his own body and the power of that blazing chi.
COMBATSYS: Blood successfully hits Athena with Bloody Spin.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ////////////////////// ]
Blood 0/-------/---====|=======\=------\1 Athena
Her knee connects, Athena landing easily afterward, especially with the distance and brief reprieve afforded her by the man from Strolheim. She shakes her left hand a little, no doubt working out a bit of stinging numbness settling in from the grazing cut she took with her earlier deflection, but otherwise seems undistracted by it, her eyes never leaving Blood.
With her hopping knee strike connecting, it would be abundantly obvious to him now that her renown as a fighter is probably not due to her physical prowess. Indeed, out of everyone he has tested, the pure kinetic force she can bring to bear is probably the least imposing of them all. Not that she is completely incapable of landing meaningful blows, using her body mass for momentum to augment her striking power a little... but those are certainly not the kinds of strikes that makes one a competitor at the levels she is known to battle in.
This means it's that energy of hers, that he has only just tasted, must the source of her climb through the ranks. There's there's a fairly good chance that if she hadn't driven her knee into a place still sensitive from prior trauma, Blood could have even shrugged it off a little.
When he decides to make his move, the speed of his aggression is nothing short of phenomenal. Eyes widen in alarm as Asamiya springs backward, trying to gain ground rather than hold position against the incoming pressure, but even with the speed of her step, she can't escape his trajectory, the chi-empowered torpedoing lunge crashing directly into her.
Caught by the impact, the featherweight fighter is taken off her feet for several yards, breath forced from her lungs as his hands crash into her. But rather than crumple from the sternum stressing impact, the girl digs in, finally getting her feet planted on the ground.
Though Blood did her the service of letting her catch herself before launching his own attack, the resolute younger fighter does no such thing. In the heat of battle, all she wants to do is get right back into it. There will be time to feel the dull ache of the chi-enforced impact later, and given what she's seen of Blood's defenses so far, she'll need to test him aggressively to get through them.
That energy from before sparks into her hands as the girl lunges forward, driving her left hand out with a quick palm strike to test Blood's guard, then follows with a stronger right with more force behind it, each blow infused with that sparkling psycho power, glowing brightly in the cool night.
She'd try to maintain the momentum from there - spinning into mid-level kicks, or weaving low to slam the heel of her palm toward his knee. All together, eight swift, relentless strikes - and if she finds his guard lacking for even an instant, she'll spin into a strong, two handed palm strike, slamming both imbued hands into his chest with enough force to possibly knock the man away before finally having to pause capture her breath!
COMBATSYS: Blood narrowly escapes Athena's Psychic 9!
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////////////////// ]
Blood 0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0 Athena
There is no shout from Blood as he slams into the schoolgirl, both palms driving his entire weight into her less-sturdy frame... nor is there the expected smile of a fighter getting one up on an opponent. Simply the collected and professional facade that he always tends to present during such affairs; the face of a man who finds no joy in harming an adversary who he deems honourable - but who is merely performing his duty, as always, to Herr Krauser.
Once the impact strikes his opponent, Blood flips backwards in the air a few feet away from Athena; that bluish chi burns out before he lands back on the ground, leaving him standing tall, looking for a sign of her next attack... he is caught unprepared by the speed with which she recovers and renews her own assault. A lesser fighter would find themselves crashing to the ground as a result of such a vicious onslaught from the former Matador... but not Athena Asamiya.
Her open-palm strike rushes towards the Strolheim Lieutenant before he has an opportunity to regain his composure after his own attack. For a moment, the crowd watching them falls into a hush as they believe that their fellow student might - in fact - get the drop on the older and more experienced fighter. That is, until his eyes widen sharply as he manages to spin on his heels, out of the path of her hand...
The first blow is so close to striking him, that Laurence can actually feel Athena's strange energy pulsate through the air mere inches from his torso. Operating on sheer instinct to spin away from the assault, there is none of the grace usually exhibited in the Spaniard's movements as he twirls - sloppily but quickly - out of the way.
When he comes to a halt several feet to the side, it's on temporarily unsteady footing - having been utterly unprepared for the speed of the young woman's initial attack... so much so that he staggers before widening his stance to catch himself.
There is little doubt in his mind that Athena has great passion for this battle; perhaps it is due to a desire to prove her worth - not just to Blood, or her fellow students, but to herself... perhaps it is merely school pride that drives her to perform well on the grounds of Justice High... perhaps she truly /wants/ the opportunity to enter Castle Strolheim and reassert herself as a world-class fighter.
Whatever the cause, Laurence knows he has no time to pull back and find better footing, or to reanalyze the situation. He must press the attack; to not do so would be folly, and he would be surrendering the tempo of the match to someone who seems entirely willing to seize it.
So rather than give himself a few seconds of rest, he simply inhales a sharp breath of air and throws himself back into the fray. His motions are noticeably lacking their typical finesse, giving up his generally skilled manuevering for speed - wanting to press the attack, before Athena is able to force him back on the defensive.
Rather than draw that sword - seemingly waiting for the proper opportunity to do so - he instead seems content to once again utilize the long crimson cape around that arm of his. As he closes the short distance between himself and the schoolgirl, his left limb snaps forward - the end of the blood-red fabric aimed to loop around one of Athena's legs...
...if he's able to entangle her in the material of his Matador's cape, he will attempt to yank it back towards himself to unfurl the fabric and - simultaneously - send her tumbling to the asphalt below.
COMBATSYS: Athena interrupts Medium Throw from Blood with Psycho Sword EX.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ////////////////// ]
Blood 1/------=/=======|=======\=------\1 Athena
A grunt breath accompanies each of the girl's determined strikes as she goes after Blood with such an aggressive assault. As he proves fast, she tries to get faster, pushing her body to keep up with the man's lightning reflexes, but he rises to her challenge all the same, eluding every single one of her swift blows. There is resolve there, determination to land a hit, but for all the zeal with which she swing and kicks, there is no hint of malice, no sign she revels in the thought of hurting this man.
This is a test - for herself, one graciously provided by the Emissary. If any thing, there is a impression of gratitude in the soul of this young fighter, an unspoken but heartfelt appreciation that he stepped out of no where to challenge her own current path through life.
At last, she is forced to relent, gasping for breath as she slides to a stop rather than pursue him further. But that vibrant, glowing energy continues to ripple over her forearms, motes of light drifting down toward the pavement, her arms starting to lower as Blood prepares to advance in again.
Her mind remains sharp as she gathers her breath, pressing her hands together briefly to transfer the gathered power into her right arm alone before stretching it out at her side and slightly behind her. The Psychic Idol leans forward then, knees bent, clearly preparing to clash with the swordsman, to engage him head on rather than try to retreat as she had from his previous technique.
The churning sphere of Psycho power over her right arm begins to narrow, stretching out past the reach of her hand, becoming a long, narrow protrusion - a blade of pure, concentrated, psionic energy.
This was her moment, she told herself. Make it or break it. Leave nothing untried. She needed to know - does she still have it in her? The power to face pain head on, to encounter danger with fearlessness? Can she forge that phenomenal power of hers into the weapons she needs? Can she show that not all armaments are made of steel, that her own gift bears the same potential in contests of strength and skill?
She moves an instant before the cape whips out, as if, in that fleeting moment, she knew precisely how and where the attack would be coming in spite not being able to intuit the Matador's style previously. When the Justice High Student moves, it isn't simply that she is closing in on him fast, with the speed and vigor of youth, but rather that she is just suddenly there, in his path, an instantaneous translocation from point A to B.
The close proximity leaves the crimson fabric whip-cracking against her side instead of entangling her, much of the potential harm blunted by getting inside the intended strike range. But the impact is not enough to slow her own counter attack, her right hand sweeping from behind to forward with all the speed of a master swordsman's instant draw.
Her body moves along with the momentum, energy blade slashing clean through Blood, assaulting his will on an entirely new level. It would draw no blood, it would severe no material, but the sensation that it should have would certainly be there as Asamiya leaps into the air, body spinning with the follow through of her all out swing.
She would land some feet away, spinning on her feet to turn back toward Krauser's representative without hesitation. With a moment to spare, her left hand lifts to her neck, adjusting her dark slate grey tie back into position after it got dislodged by Blood's earlier attack.
Just because she's in a fight doesn't mean she can't look civilized, after all.
She breathes in then before releasing a slow, controlled breath, arms raising back to the ready, palms open.
A surge of confidence races through her, echoed and weaving off the emotions of her audience, a feedback loop creating a formidable fighting spirit. Her expression radiates joy at finding that the thrill of combat still resonates in her heart, lips drawn back in a bright smile.
Another cheer for the young fighting idol is heard from the crowd on the street which seems to have grown in size since the fight first started, as other passersby started to join in to see what was going on. Her classmates silently indicate their approval as well, maintaining proper decorum by not making a lot of noise, but a few do quietly pump their fists and give each other knowing nods.
Even as he approaches from some distance away, Laurence can /feel/ the psycho power radiating off of Athena's arm - seemingly igniting the air around it with an energy utterly unlike any that he is familiar with facing. It might be wise for him to back off, to regroup, to compose himself anew and play defense rather than rushing in to face her head-on.
But he's made his decision; the rhythm of their battle has been set, and he knows that the slightest opportunity for the young woman to mount a planned offensive of her own could be disastrous for him. He believes his best chance is to keep the pressure on, to utilize his superior stamina in an effort to tire her out, keep her fending off assaults from him until she inevitably falters.
Of course, there is a third option; one which Athena utilizes in the moments that follow... she could meet his charge with one of her own, and let her vast reserves of psionic energy overpower him.
Athena's unique teleportation abilities were something that Blood truly had not accounted for, to his own detriment. As the cape whips through the air towards her leg, the limb is suddenly - simply - not there...
...and Blood's eyes open in surprise, as he no doubt knows precisely what is about to occur - but with absolutely no opportunity to prevent it from playing out.
The 'blade' slices through him, leaving not a physical wound... but, perhaps it could best be described as a mental and emotional one. A pain that he has never before experienced tears through his body, bringing forth a shout of sudden, sharp agony from the lips of the Spaniard - only for a moment, before he finds his will and clamps down on his jaw to silence himself...
It's enough to drop him to one knee, as Athena continues on her path behind him. One of Blood's palms is pressed against the asphalt beneath him, to prevent his body from collapsing face-first to the ground... his eyes are shut tightly, synapses of his mind burning as the energy continues to course throughout his body - the stabbing, ripping pain of the psionic blade very much fresh in every nerve ending as he attempts to struggle past it.
Perhaps if the young woman were a less honourable warrior, she might be able to come up on him from behind and finish this fight then and there... but no follow-up comes, giving Laurence the opportunity to - slowly, and with great effort - regain his composure... using that palm to push himself back up on unsteady feet, he turns back to face Athena...
...and he's smiling, before he speaks - his tone is wavering at first, a testament to the pain that still wracks his body, before it levels out and becomes as calm as it previously was.
"Heh... I see now why my Master insisted I approach you..."
After those words, his right hand finally falls to the hilt of the sword sheathed on his belt. Fingers curl around the handle of the weapon, before it is pulled free and held aloft - tip pointing directly to the sky above, as he keeps his gaze set firmly upon his opponent.
"And I hope /you/ see that your true value is not in the classroom, or standing in front of a microphone... but in the arena of battle. Such /power/ Miss Asamiya, should not be wasted..."
His words are not spoken as meaningless compliments, nor with tones of appeasement - but as a simple, objective fact... to ignore such potential would truly be criminal, in the eyes of Krauser's loyal Lieutenant. If him being here today, being defeated in front of a crowd of onlookers, is what is required to drag this young woman back into the ring where she /belongs/... then he considers it a small price to pay, to deliver such a potent warrior to Castle Strolheim.
"Now... allow me to reply in kind."
Lowering his sword to point it at the ground, Laurence finds the strength - somewhere deep within himself - to push past the agony of that psycho power, and rush back into battle. Keeping his cape draped in front of him to disguise his motions, he veers wildly to the left and right - spinning his body every few strides to make his approach more unpredictable.
As he closes the distance, a few feet away from Athena, the cape is tossed between them - fluttering down through the air and temporarily hiding his form... when it strikes the ground, Laurence is /directly/ behind it... and when he raises that sword, it's suddenly wreathed in blue chi from hilt to tip.
Avoiding any vital organs or major arteries, he nevertheless does not hold back on speed or strength as he lashes out with the weapon - aiming eight individual cuts and stabs up and down Athena's frame, each thrust seemingly filling the Spaniard with a newfound energy, as though the power imbuing his blade were running back throughout the rest of his own body.
COMBATSYS: Blood successfully hits Athena with Bloody Slash.
- Power hit! -
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\ < > /////////// ]
Blood 0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2 Athena
Indeed, the Spanish Swordsman will find no attack coming his way while he pushes himself back up to standing. As long as he needs a moment to get to his feet, the student takes a moment to re-center her own thoughts. It was easy to get caught up in the emotions swirling about the battle. The interest in seeing her prove herself from this visitor, the pressure of her own doubts wrestled with a war in her heart, and the excitement, anticipation, and hopefulness in her classmates and fans out on the street.
All combined, it's enough to create an almost dizzying swirl of feelings in her mind if she doesn't start pushing them back out actively. The moment given to Blood to stand is possibly more important to her than it is for him.
He speaks of his master's wisdom, "It is an honor," she gasps back out between quick breaths, arms raised back to the read in her compact Kung Fu stance. "To be recognized by Wolfgang Krauser."
What kind of man is he? Most who wield the kind of power the his legends speak of tend to be consumed by it, corrupted into tyrants, monsters, and demons. But what of the master of Strolheim Castle? What is his nature? Why does he seek the world's strongest? Questions vie for attention in her mind, but she can hardly afford to give them focus now. There will be time to wonder later, especially if she can earn herself the right to stand on the castle grounds herself.
He draws his sword at last, that blade that has been on her mind since the moment she saw him. The gloves have come off, as the saying goes, but he knows full well he is not fighting an unarmed opponent, but rather one that carries her weapons within.
"Can't I do it all?" she asks when he speaks of the power she is wasting by not focusing it all into one, single-minded pursuit of combat. Though her voice is not pleading, the sentiment is there all the same. Why does she have to choose? This is the same thing Master Gentsai had to say to her... that he would not teach a student who's mind was divided.
Athena exhales, shaking her head. No, she needs to focus, and not to think back on past arguments, or the bitter hurt of having her dream of music thrown into question by the wizened old Chinese sensei.
Blood speaks of a reply, answering sword with sword, and Athena sucks in a breath in anticipation, body tensing. She knew she had yet to see the full magnitude of what this man was capable of. Now, her instincts tell her, she is about to bear witness.
Once more, his cape hides his true intent. She knows his blade is at the ready, but it is impossible to keep an eye on where it might come from next. The girl braces, caught in a split second of indecision. Should she attack back into him, as before? Even without being able to see what is coming next? Or try to escape the impending attack? Or simply weather the storm and-
There's no more time to decide, the cape tossed, drawing her attention upward with its irresistible crimson swirl through the air. There's no way to preemptively attack as she had before, not without being able to see him, to anticipate the vector - it would be a blind guess at best!
When the curtain falls, he is there, immediately before her, his own weapon infused with that cerulean power of his. She draws back, trying to guard her vitals with her arms, but in that moment, his precision strikes aim low.
Two cuts to her thighs draw a gasp of pain as Athena changes her mind and tries to retreat after all, realizing she can't possibly fend off such fast attacks with pure martial prowess.
Dropping her guard to retreat only makes matters worse, however, as her injuries leave her slower on her feet than she should be, and six more slashes all land - consecutively, on a technical level, even if they felt like they all struck simultaneously to their target.
Two slashes on her legs, two at the level of her hips, two on her arms, and two painful piercings in her shoulders leave Athena staggering back. The threat of blood loss is not immediate - these were precision strikes, not violent, flesh rending gouges - but the pain is most certainly felt, dark stains slowly forming between the slashed fabric of her dress shirt.
Hissing as she bites back her pain, her cheeks flush red. A wellspring of emotions swirl up around her, the worry and concern of her classmates, the fervor for the fight in the audience in the street, her own wrestle with the conflict of choice in her mind.
"I understand a little more now," she murmurs, arms hugging against herself for a moment, teeth grit. "The price of indecision."
She braces then, vibrant energy swirling up from the level of her feet, building all around her.
"I hope you'll do me the honor of allowing me to know the name of so capable an instructor, sir."
She ignores the blood seeping down her legs and torso. There will be time enough for mending later. For now, until he says otherwise, she will hoild back nothing.
The aura of power building around her swells further, augmented by the concern of others, and then she surges forward. Psycho Power swirls behind her, becoming almost as if wings trailing off of her arms as she aims to charge her shoulder straight into Blood.
He will have to anticipate it - that moment she goes from sprinting to being suddenly immediately in front of him, colliding with physical force at first, before the swath of power she had built rushes forward, washing over him as a storm!
COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Blood with Super Phoenix Infinity EX.
- Power hit! -
[ \\\ < > /////////// ]
Blood 0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>-\-------\0 Athena
'Can't I do it all?'
The question posed to Laurence before he begins his attack brings a small, almost melancholy smile to his lips - and a slow shake of his head from side-to-side. There is no verbal reply forthcoming, but perhaps Athena - with her unique abilities of perception - will sense the man's vague regret. How much easier life would be if a person were truly capable of choosing their own course...
...but, surely, the young woman had tried to step away from the world of warriors, tried to chase her own dreams. And here Laurence was, standing as a reminder of the calling she had tried to ignore, tried to push aside in pursuit of other interests. For the truly great, there is no option to forge their own way in life, no opportunity to step off the beaten path - not without being dragged back towards the place which they are truly valued.
For all the fans of Athena's music career, it surely cannot compare to the heights she is capable of achieving in the arena. How could it? Blood himself was from the bullfighting rings of Spain, and even the deadly sport offered there could not possibly compare to the thrill and satisfaction of a bout between skilled fighters.
If it could, perhaps he would still be with his family back in the Mediterranean, instead of dwelling in the mountains of Germany with his new Master, Wolfgang Krauser. He was destined for something greater, and so too is Athena Asamiya... there can be no denying it, for the young woman; at least not for long.
As each slash digs or slices into the schoolgirl, Blood begins to move quicker and more decisively - the blue chi blazing brighter with each and every individual thrust.
Again, there is no exclamation or expression of pleasure from the Spaniard in response to the injuries he leaves Athena with; it brings him no joy, to cause pain to an individual who has done nothing to deserve such a thing - even though the psychic ache of her unusual energy is still lingering throughout his mind and body. This is no bloodsport between hated rivals; it is merely a test - or, perhaps more accurately, an attempt to draw out the potential of the young woman once again.
To drag her back, by whatever means necessary, to the place she /belongs/. To show her, that she will be truly valued in the halls of Castle Strolheim. That there is true greatness inside of her, just waiting for the opportunity to be unleashed.
Pulling away from his combination of attacks, Laurence puts some fresh distance between himself and Athena - staring, as though he were admiring or, more accurately, assessing the damage caused by his handiwork. The blood - his namesake - draws a raised eyebrow from the Strolheim Lieutenant, and he inclines his head slightly to the side.
Flicking his right wrist, the crimson fluid along the blade of his sword flies off and splatters on the asphalt to his side. Keen eyes watch the surge of fresh power around the young woman, and he shifts his stance to the side once again... before waiting.
Once again, the schoolgirl's teleportation ability makes her approach entirely unpredictable - even for such a keen and practiced eye. The psycho power washes over him as though it were a veritable tsunami of force, along with her shoulder slam... it leaves no physical wounds, but the grievous agony it causes him cannot be stated in words.
Fingers clench tightly along the hilt of his sword to prevent it from dropping out of his grip as he's knocked backwards - less so by the force of Athena's physical attack, but the overwhelming power of her unique energy. Inside his head, a storm of emotions caused by that psionic power - old memories, wounds long since healed, and the /burning/ left by that assault... they combine to leave him defenseless, as both hands come up to grab at his head for a moment. The only thing preventing him from falling to his knees, is the fact that he suddenly drives the tip of his sword down onto the asphalt, leaning heavily onto the weapon as a makeshift crutch.
The Matador's head hangs limply towards the ground... and when he speaks, it is only with a great effort - every word telegraphing the pain that he feels deep inside.
Laurence's words come out through clenched teeth, his entire body still throbbing with an agony that almost knocks him into unconsciousness... the faraway look in his eyes speaks to a man who has long passed his own substantial threshold for pain, and is now operating off instinct and willpower alone.
"Y..ou... have greatness... within you..."
His hand comes up, resting his twisting face in his palm to disguise the look of pain upon it... eyes are shut tightly, sweat dripping from his forehead, mouth curled in agony. His breaths come sharp and ragged - though no physical wounds are visible at a glance, it is clear he is on his last legs. Cut to the core by Athena's potent psycho power, he is barely able to remain on his feet, to say nothing of keeping the fight going.
"Come... to Strolheim..."
At the end of that statement, he pulls his hand away from his face - still twisted in a grimace - and raises his head to the sky above, letting out a sharp, short scream of suffering that echoes out into the January evening - and simultaneously causes the onlookers to fall into silence. And then, the scream is cut short and the grimace slowly twists back into something unexpected from a man who is so clearly in the depths of severe torment.
A smirk, though the effort of that expression seems to drain him even further - his face pale, sweating, eyes trembling in their sockets.
"My name... is Laurence Blood. And it... has been... an /honour/."
Two hesitant steps forward, and he almost collapses from that exertion alone... but something carries him ahead, whether it is simply the thought of failing Herr Krauser, or dishonouring House Strolheim with a poor performance, or his own stubborn, foolish pride... he soon finds himself in a fresh run, directly towards Athena...
The cape forgotten on the ground after his last assault, he has no way to disguise his movements - nor the presence of mind to make any swift manuevers that might hide his true intentions... he simply dashes straight ahead, as though he were some wounded animal making a final attempt to salvage it's own life. As he moves - before he even reaches the schoolgirl - the tip of his sword is slashing the air in a fury of cuts, aiming them all in her general direction as he approaches at great speed.
COMBATSYS: Blood can no longer fight.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\ <
COMBATSYS: Athena instinctively blocks Blood's Bloody Flash.
[ \\\\\\\\\ <
No one can do it all. She'll have to prioritize. What is more important to her? The path of the musician is a social endeavor, her performances are with and to the masses, her emotions shared through song and word. Standing on the stage, she can feel the difference she makes, the spark of light her presence is able into the hearts of those who need a glimmer of hope. She knew she was making a difference and that confidence made the busy life worth it. She wasn't shirking from a challenge, she was pursuing another head on.
The fighter's way, on the other hand, is another matter all together. Painful, exhausting, and at times, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself otherwise, terrifying. To throw herself into harm's way willingly, to grow stronger, to tap into that inner fount of strength and not shy from what it means. The way is grueling, and while the fans are there, she isn't speaking to them directly like she is at her concerts. And sometimes, one must walk the way of the warrior alone.
She can read all that and more in the look Blood gives her. Pursue a dream, by all means, but realize that sacrifice is required.
Moments later, her attack is washing over him, the magnitude of psycho power the young student is able to manifest rivaling some of the most dangerous people in the world. If she were to lose her way, if her ambition to improve was not tempered by a heart sensitive toward others, what tyrant could she become someday?
As the last of her wave of power collapses and vanishes, Athena staggers back, her footing a little less sure than it had been. The injuries from Blood's prior assault were catching up with her - her legs were on fire, and her shoulders still felt like someone was shoving a pike into them. She can only bite back the mounting pain and growing weakness for so long. In a protracted engagement, it is likely the Matador chosen by Wolfgang Krauser would have eventually won as Asamiya's stamina slowly seeped away.
Instead, the fight was brutal, short, and resolved quickly enough that she is at least still standing as she backs up, panting for breath, watching Strolheim's representative from a few yards away. He speaks of the potential he's seen in her in just this short engagement. The Master of House Strolheim has proven his wisdom in these matters once more. The violet haired fighter nods her head slowly, hands clenching and unclenching as she focuses on keeping them from growing numb.
"Thank you," she replies back, her voice soft, somewhat awestruck at the acknowledgment received from one who has no doubt faced powerful, dangerous individuals around the world in his ongoing tour of evaluation.
'Come to Strolheim.' he bids and the girl nods, lips pressed into a fine red line of intense focus.
"I will be there."
She makes the declaration without reservation or second thought. The concerts will be rescheduled or canceled, the tour delayed. Fans of her music will be disappointed, for sure. Hopefully she can make it to them someday... but she would be doing them a disservice if she didn't pursue what her heart was telling her, that she needed to be there. That World Warrior was where she belonged: the next test, the next mile along the Champion's Road.
She knows something of the pain he endures now, she has fought on rare occasion individuals with her type of power. The agony of tormented emotions, of wounds long forgotten, and of nerves on fire... fortunately, it will pass. And, unlike the tainted psionic fire of a certain large chin bearing monster, will leave no lingering effects once the energy has finally bled off entirely.
Still, she can sense his resolve. He will test her further. To do anything less than that would be disrespectful, certainly.
Athena prepares herself. There is no room for tricks now - the cape is gone, and Blood's charge is pure, and straight to the point. There is no hesitation in his aura, no second guessing the course he must take. She could sense the man's purpose was as steel, unbroken even by the trials Krauser's mission had put him through.
Gritting her teeth, Athena braces, her hands pressing together, palms forward, as she leans back on her feet a little while also bending her knees, giving her a solid, rooted stance. A soft cry escapes her lips as she summons up another manifestation of Psycho Power, holding it out in front of her and forcing the swordsman's strikes to pass through the shimmering barrier.
Each strike would feel resisted, as if it was pushing against a magnetic force that pushed harder the closer his sword got to reaching his target. The defensive measure blunts the severity of the attack significantly, though tiny slashes, and small gashes are landed all the same, tearing small rips into the uniform that has already seen its last day in service, but none of them manage to be as fight ending as they could have been.
The barrier falls eventually, Athena's energy exhausted, and for the last moments of bladed frenzy, Asamiya finally retreats out of range, a few last nicks and lacerations left on her forearms for her trouble.
She lands a little way back from Blood then, gasping for breath, hugging her arms around her stomach as she starts to look ready to collapse herself. "Thank you, Mister Blood." She needed this. She needed a call to action, and what could be a greater call to action than an invitation from the legendary Wolfgang Krauser delivered by this noble swordsman?
Classmates start to show signs of hesitantly taking steps forward as if to make sure it's okay for them to crowd in around the girl now, but unless bid otherwise, they will finally accept the challenge has ran its course and surge in around their Justice High champion with a cheer and no small amount of concern about her well being.
At least the school nurse is on duty after hours... there ARE a lot of fighters here after all!
COMBATSYS: Athena has ended the fight here.
As the storm of sword slashes reaches Athena's psionic barrier, the tip is forced back from the shield every time it is thrust towards it... even so, he keeps attempting to break through her guard, until it is obviously completely futile... until his limb refuses to respond to his demands to strike again and again.
At which point, he simply twirls away - one final time - before his body slumps down, shoulders rising and falling with deep breaths that struggle to bring fresh oxygen into his weakened and pained frame. Some attempt to regain his composure, even though the woman's power still burns through every inch of him.
That sword, still gripped tightly in his right hand, is suddenly lifted up and slid into the loop on his belt. The weapon dangles off his hip once more, deadly tip pointed harmlessly towards the ground, as his eyes scan the nearby area for...
...ah, there it is.
He takes a few short steps to one side, then pauses to reach down - an act that almost causes him to collapse to his knees all over again - and snatch his blood-red cape off of the asphalt. Winding it tight around his left forearm so that it remains looped around that limb, he turns his attention back to his former opponent.
Laurence's hand trembles as he begins to reach inside the lining of his vest, before his gaze falls down upon the limb. Narrowing his brown eyes in concentration, he focuses sharply on the pain coursing through his limbs and - through force of will - ceases the shaking of that arm. A deep exhalation of effort leaves his nostrils, accompanied by a momentary closing of his eyes; as though the concentration of remaining composed were a herculean task in it's own right.
The internal, psychic wounds of Athena's power still linger - and likely will for some time... but he has a man far greater than himself to represent here, and he will not allow himself unnecessary shows of weakness. Not in front of this schoolgirl, and certainly not in front of her fellow students.
With his hand steadying out in short order, he continues into his vest pocket to grab an object. Pulling it free, he has a plain white envelope held between his index and middle fingers. Sealed with red wax that bears the sigil of House Strolheim imprinted into it, it's obvious what is inside...
...an invitation to the World Warrior. An item that would be worth untold riches on the black market. An item that is certainly worth more than any sum of money, to a certain person. To a fighter, it represents a rare chance; to prove themselves against the very best, the very strongest, the very fastest on the globe.
A chance to stand before Wolfgang Krauser, a legend in his own time, and look up at him as an equal. A once in a lifetime opportunity, to be sure.
Uncertain legs carry the injured Spaniard forward, one shuffling step at a time - the agony wracking his body robbing him of the smooth grace he usually exhibits in every movement - towards the figure of Athena. Once within range, he extends the invitation in his hand for her to take... there is no imminent threat in the gesture, nothing that might betray a surprise attack planned for when she reaches out.
It's hers. She has earned it. The fight is done. Now, there is a greater battle on the horizon, in her very near future.
"I do not believe I have been defeated so swiftly in quite some time, Miss Asamiya. You've earned this invitation. You've earned the right to stand amongst the greatest this world has to offer."
At the very least, his voice is back to it's smooth tones - no longer the shaking, trembling vocals that it was moments after being struck by Athena's wave of psycho power. Though every breath brings a slight grimace of pain to his expression, clearly still effected by the psionic attacks of the battle - but using his considerable willpower to lessen the obviousness of his injured state.
Those final two words are said with a solemn nod, as though he were urging her to do so. She might turn it down at the last minute, but... Laurence truly does not believe she would. She must know what she truly is, and it is not a pop star - despite whatever her dreams might be. She was born for one thing, above all else.
As her classmates begin to close in around her, some of them murming how she should get to the school nurse's office as soon as possible, others offering to help escort her there, her focus remains on Blood himself. Quietly, she watches, standing so still that one might almost think her to be lost in a daze if not for the unflinching focus her distinctive purple eyes have on the matador dispatched from House Strolheim.
What other dreams did he give up to get to where he is at, she wonders. She saw that look in his eyes earlier. Greatness... is never achieved without a price. For now, his price will be his secret.
Of new interest, however, is the envelope drawn from his pocket. Even without a full appreciation of the true value of such a reward, a bubble of excitement wells up within. Eventually, after things calm down, she might come to understand just how truly valuable it is, and... what others would do to get it. In the end, it is the one that holds the invite that is allowed to step onto the sacrosanct grounds of the ultimate tournament. She had better hope she holds onto hers.
Blood makes the effort to move toward her and Athena stays put, her friends and classmates starting to part from around her and back off a little as the man draws near. She would come to him, to remove the need to force himself to make that walk toward her. But she knows he is resolved to cross the distance himself - to remove that chance from him would be to deny him a chance to save face.
He speaks of having never been defeated in so swift a manner and the psycho powered fighter stands up straighter, raising her shoulders in spite the fresh pain the posture forces into her body, a bit of blush blossoming in her cheeks. She has earned it, he declares, that right to stand alongside the world's best at Strolheim, and her heart begins to race with anticipation.
After this, she will read all about it, learn the details, prepare for the trip, and hopefully get some last minute instruction from Master Gentsai before she is off on her own. None of her friends can join her on this trip... even loyal Momoko, who supported her all the way through the hellish nightmare of Mortal Kombat would not be allowed on the castle grounds. No... only those who have earned their way can stand there.
The Kung Fu first extends both hands to accept the invitation, closing fingers and thumbs over the sides of the envelope, using two hands where one would do, a gesture of additional reverence among the people of this land.
Her fingers stay tightly clasped over the envelope, pressing so tightly that her finger tips become white, her arms trembling as she pulls it back toward her to stare at it in quiet awe.
She breathes in deeply then, then exhales, and at last that tremendous presence melts away. Her shoulders fall then, exhaustion, and maybe a bit of blood loss, beginning to take their toll.
She takes a step back then, body stiff, and bows forward at the waist toward the Spaniard, "Mister Blood..." She wobbles a little, at her limits. Eyes blink, her focus regained, "I am still a fighter." She pauses as a friend moves to try and support her now.
"I will show the world."
Her driver comes back over, wringing his hat in his white gloved hands as he looks over the aftermath of the fight, whining something about how she needed to get cared for immediately, which is undoubtedly true.
The rest of the night will be a blur, shuffled off for help from the nurse, driven home, and allowed to sleep at last.
But at no point will she relinquish her grip on that invitation, or on her vision of what it represents.
Log created on 00:13:17 01/26/2018 by Blood, and last modified on 00:25:20 01/28/2018.