NDP Championships - NDP Season 2 Semifinals: Ayame vs Zach

Description: A grudge match a long time in coming, Zach Glen gets a shot at defeating the elusive Ayame but the girl seems to have a different plan in mind. Forced to fight in spite her attempts at blackmail, Ayame discovers Zach knows exactly when to quit -- Never. ( Winner: DKO? )

The crowd this round is larger than the round before. It seems as the NDP tournament advances closer to the final round, interest is picking up, curious fight fans eager to see who the next up and coming fighter is going to be courtesy of the elaborate media campaign Ken Master's company has managed with the Neo Development Project. Ayame waits already on the strange arena staging. She learned from her last experience on it that shoes are more a liability than a help here, hence why she stands barefoot in the sandy middle ground of the arena staging.

She also has no need to hide anything this time around. Her opponent has seen many of her tricks already. Her sheaths are worn openly, strapped to her thighs, and her staff is already in her left hand, in its collapsed, half-foot state, the girl idly tossing it up a few feet then catching it on its way back down as she waits for this shindig to get rolling.

The weather is a bit warmer than the last outting she had where she faced off against another young woman with a penchant for hidden weapons and surprising chi tactics. The sun is high in the sky, bearing almost straight down on the forest-lined beachfront of a stage. Victory in the quarter finals brought her to this arena a second time - 2 more times than she actually wants to be here. It's all together a lot more time dealing with the hassles of organized events and tournaments than she ever wanted, but the carrot on the stick at the end of this tedium is more than she can simply walk away from.

The weapons fighter has a bit of an installed fan base present, it seems; her flashy arts and difficult attitude drawing some to her camp, though the way she lazily yawns implies she couldn't care less about putting on a show for anyone. Over the speakers, NDP-selected music plays, occasionally interrupted by announcements regarding the fight about to begin or brief advertising inserts. But after a short while waiting, the girl twirls her staff, the weapon extending to its full six foot length. Propping one end of it in the sand, she lazily leans against it, crossing her left foot over her right.

The strawberry-blond lifts up her right hand. It looks like she's craddling a modern smart phone in her grip, her thumb brushing over its screen to manipulate some buttons there. Suddenly, the music on the speakers is muted and the girl brings the device to her cheek.

"Ahem." Ayame's voice echoes over the arena sound system. "I'd say that I'm sorry to have wasted everyone's time in coming out to see this match... but that would be a lie. And I certainly wouldn't want a reputation for being dishonest!" The murmur of the crowd has died down, everyone starting to cast puzzled glances at each other - what is going on? NDP officials turn dials on their end, but they don't seem to have much control over their own sound system just now.

"And since I'm being so honest with you all right now, I would add that I don't particularly feel like fighting for your entertainment either." A nervous chuckle is produced by some. Others just looking more confused than before.

"As such, I'm recommending that Zach Glen do himself a favor and forfeit this match." That gets a reaction from the crowd. Sounds of shock and protest seem to be the most noticeable. "If he insists on fighting me then I will be forced to expose... information that I believe he would rather not have be made public." She shrugs her shoulders, her expression becoming apologetic. "If he's smart, he'll take my offer and walk. I sure hope Masters refunds your tickets, yeah? Okay, that was a lie. I don't actually care." She lowers the phone from her cheek and goes back to lazily leaning against her staff, eyes fixed squarely on the other side of the arena.

Zach's eyes narrow as he makes his way out to the arena. Is Ayame... actually trying to blackmail him? Granted, she might just have something juicy enough for that. Well, there's one way to find out. He walks out into the arena. Zach has fought in the Red Arena before, and arrived at a similar solution. He is wearing shorts, t-shirt, and those shoes with the individual toes. He wears the MMA gloves he has taken to wearing, and does not seem to be carrying any weapons.

On the other hand, Zach never really /needed/ any weapons. The look on his face is one of determination. Ayame's... general apathy towards the match is obvious, but Zach knows this woman, just a bit. In his experience, the times she doesn't seem to care at all are paradoxially the times she cares the most. Zach grins a bit, and slowly walks up to the young woman. He has no mic, hasn't requested one for that matter. The things he's about to say are for her and her alone. He gets close enough to hold a conversation, but stays just outside the easy reach of her staff. It's then that Zach does something unexpected...

The psion smiles.

"Why Ayame," Zach says in a polite tone that carries just far enough for the girl to hear, "If I didn't know any better, I think you're trying to avoid this fight completely." He lets out a polite snort. "Then again, I'm betting the whole reason you're in this competition at all is for the easy pickings." Ayame doesn't seem to have a whole lot of pride, but he's guessing what pride she /does/ have is a brittle thing.

By now the stadium crowd has gotten riled up at the thought that they might be denied the match they paid for and set aside time to get through traffic and other Metro hazards to come see. People are making a lot of noises, shouting demands into the air as if that's the way anything gets accomplished, and generally seeming unhappy with Ayame's threat of trying to blackmail her opponent into bowing out all together. The relaxed stance and expression on the girl's face suggests that she couldn't care less what they think. NDP officials are moving about in the stands, assuring the audience that if they just stay calmly seated, there will be a fight, if they just wait patiently for a moment. It seems to help mollify the discontentment just a little bit.

Ayame watches Zach as he strides over the sand toward her. She expected him to at least come out into the open. He wouldn't forfeit that easily. She blinks slowly as he moves to about seven feet away from her but doesn't shift from leaning lazily against her metallic staff. He has to raise his voice enough to be heard over the murmuring of the audience, but it would be safe to assume that as Ayame can only barely make him out, no one outside the two of them can pick up the words being exchanged at the moment.

"Of course I am," she replies to his initial accusation, not shifting from her unprepared seeming posture in the slightest. There's an edge to her voice that suggests that she's enjoying simply having put him in this position at all. "There's nothing rewarding about being punched and kicked around. You should know that well enough... I mean, let's look at your track record, right?" She smirks, "On second thought, let's not. It's depressing." She finally moves, pushing off of her staff and rolling it up to rest over the back of her neck, her arms draped over it on each side by her wrists.

His second question makes her pause for a fleeting moment. She has a track record in the public fighting arena as well. A pretty decent one at that. But their words are just between the two of them, right? She frowns a little, "My matches have been close." she replies, her tone guarded for a moment, but it passes. "I'm confident any review of the rounds I participated in will reinforce that I belong in this league."

She rolls her staff down off her shoulders and bumps the base of it against the inside of her foot. Her eyes are on the sand for a moment before she shifts her focus back to the young psychic. "Don't push me." she warns, her voice has lost any hint of being playful. "We both know what I was talking about." Even without anyone being within earshot, she doesn't go further than that. She's pretty sure she doesn't have to. "Is fighting in this silly little tournament worth it? I know you have big aspirations..."

The NDP officials and ushers have managed to keep the crowd contained for the moment. But pressure is building for /something/ to happen.

Ayame takes a step forward, closing distance with Zach if he doesn't back up to keep the space between them equalized. Her voice is low. Some people in the crowd pipe down, thinking they're about to get the fight they're looking for, but the ambient noise is still enough to keep the two scheduled fighters from being overheard. "The accident, the coverup, the deals and arrangements made..." She tsks, shaking her head, "Oh, no. You're mine, Zach Glen. You shouldn't fight me... it's a loss either way."

Zach does not back up at all. A dangerous gambit, to be sure. Ayame is proficient at pretty much /every/ range. Here is just as good as there, Zach figures. He doesn't take his eyes off of Ayame. Yeeeeaaaaah. He's not sure /how/ she got the info, and realizes just as quickly as the question comes up that it doesn't matter. She knows enough, and that is all he needs to concern himself with.

"So then you know that I turned myself over to the 'tender' mercies of the system. If the government felt that my debt was better paid doing what they see as good over sitting in a jail cell for twenty years," Zach shrugs. The girl knows enough about Zach to likely be able to see that the whole thing still weighs upon him. That despite those two governments saying that his debt to society is paid, that his soul tells him differently. "I'm not nearly qualified to argue against that." Zach frowns a bit.

He decides not to push against Ayame's assertations that she does, in fact, 'belong' here. Both fighters are well aware of the fact that she can easily put on enough of a show. "Besides, in a lot of ways, that situation led me to those... aspirations." Zach opens and closes his hands as they drop to his sides, which is the only warning she's going to get regarding Zach's state of mind. "Shit's expensive, though, so I'm here as much for the money as the experience."

Zach is silent for a moment. Other than that movement of his arms, there is no indicator that Zach is going to make the first move. No shifting of weight, no building of that supernatural energy that is rarely more than a twitch away from being summoned. Zach's not ready to swing yet, but that's partly because Ayame's attitude is becoming even more apparent.

"Oh, I know all about the tender mercies of the system." she replies, no longer creeping closer but rather pausing to stand up straight, looking a touch bemused. She moves her staff - for an instant it may be seem like she's shifting it into position to be able to strike without warning - but she ends up tucking it under her left arm instead. "You see, there was this whole 'kidnapping' incident a while back..." She provides air quotes and rolls her eyes. "You might have heard about it." Uh huh.

She shrugs her shoulders, "Since I helped those delingquents bust in and save their friends, I was able to turn state's evidence, dump the whole blame on that psychobitch in the cave, and got off with nothing more than a severe scolding." She rests her hand over her heart. "Changed me for life, that lesson did." She exhales softly, slouching her shoulders, acting worn down by the ordeal of it all.

The impression fades quickly as she stands back up, right hand going to rest at at her hip. The crowd is getting out of hand again, desperate pleas by stadium ushers not doing enough to sate their need for the show they put on. Ayame simply stands, staring at Zach. "Sure. That may be what got worked out behind the scenes. But will everyone be so understanding if it became public knowledge? That's the difference here." She moves her left hand, pointing at herself with her thumb while keeping her staff tucked under her shoulder, "I don't care what anyone thinks about me. I don't need to appeal to the masses to get what I want. You have a reputation to worry about. I suspect it's worth more than this tournament could ever be. Though I must admit, it would be nice making it clear that you're no better than me..." She muses, as if rethinking something, but shakes her head and continues. "Now... I'm running out of patience."

Her brow furrows slightly, the girl leaning forward again, "Walk away." Her voice carries an all too natural blend of threat and command in one.

It's only when standing back up straight that she becomes aware of another figure in the arena. Given his uniform, he's part of the NDP staff. And given his nervous, uncomfortable posture and reluctant approach, he drew the short straw to come down here and try to resolve this pending Public Relations disaster.

Ayame scowls at the new arrival, which doesn't make him any more eager to close the distance. People in the stands suddenly have something new to focus on and many of them quiet down just a little. Down below, Ayame raises her hands, pleading the 'I'm innocent!' stance. Then leans her head back and releases a big sigh as if she's being horribly put out. A moment later, she hands over the phone she had been using earlier and the official turns to exit the arena in a much more hurried state than he had entered it. It's not long after he exits that the sound system seems to be back in control of the Neo Development Project staff.

Once again, Zach and Ayame are left alone in the sand. "Hmph. Fine." Ayame jumps back from Zach, her feet sinking into the fine grains, leaning forward a little, holding her staff out at her side. "This isn't over between us. But it seems you'll get your fight."

The jeering, loud protests from the audience have been replaced with cheers. The masses are going to get their entertainment afterall!

COMBATSYS: Ayame has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ayame            0/-------/-------|

"You're trying to intimidate me," Zach says. "You should know by now that it won't work." Ayame's comments about those kidnappings that seem like a /lifetime/ ago. He hasn't really forgotten them at all, given that he was one of the people who was kidnapped. But somewhere along the way, he had let it go. Getting mad at this girl for them would be like getting mad at a scorpion for stinging you; many times, you cannot fight what you are.

Besides, even /if/ Ayame were to spill all of the beans, Zach would deal with that. Even if he had to scale back his plans a bit, he would still persue them as best as he was able. He had told Ken as much. "This is something I want to do. So I'm going to do it, one way or the other." It would surprise Zach if Ayame hadn't figured out at least /that/ aspect of Zach's character. Most people with his record... would have likely given up by now.

The NDP official lays down some law, which might be a novel experience for Ayame. Zach keeps his peace, making no comment when she plays at being innocent. Then she makes her statement.

"I'd drop dead from shock if it were," Zach says honestly, sliding into a boxing stance. This is not the sloppy, brawler stance Ayame's seen from the psion. The posture, and the ease of movement, speak of many many hours in a gym. He's worked for this proficiency, earned it. Then the bell rings.

Zach decides to take the initiative, blasting in towards Ayame with a firm step before snapping off a quick left jab at the girl's face. The look on Zach's face is calm. If he bears any anger towards his opponent, he's doing an outstanding job of burying it. Amber Soul Power collects around the fist as it closes in, not exploding on contact but simply reinforcing the practiced punch.

COMBATSYS: Zach has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Zach             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Ayame

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Zach's Jab Punch.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Zach             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Ayame

"A girl can dream," she replies, expression shifting to a saccharine-sweet smile when he mentions dropping dead, even if that was obviously not his intended meaning. But it seems in spite her efforts, she'll have to see this through the violent way. And she was trying to take such a 'peaceful' way out, too! The girl twirls her staff in her left hand a little, watching Zach with wary eyes. In spite her obvious aversions to actually facing Zach in a fair fight, she's no slouch when it comes to melee combat.

The announcement for the fight to commence is given but she simply stays put for the moment. Zach's fighting style has changed significantly since she last fought him. His stance is tight and controlled. He's not just guessing at how to fight, he seems to know what he's doing now. That he has taken to striking mostly with his fists in pursuit of a more boxing oriented style isn't news to her. She pays attention to these things. But seeing it in person is different than watching it remotely. It will take a moment to reconfigure her mental profile of his fighting proficiency.

Thus it is that he acts first, closing the distance, keeping his guard up, not leaving openings for her to exploit. Her hands slip along her staff, moving the metal shaft with ease as she prepares herself. When he strikes, it is with emphasis on speed rather than strength, but she responds with equal speed, pushing her weapon vertical and to the side to shove his jabbing punch a bit off target. The Soul Power infused strike grazes her shoulder, but she doesn't seem too affected by the impact.

The strike isn't of interest to her. Even the shift in hue of the energy he produces isn't a surprise. It's his expression that stands out to her. Zach was never one for deception. Can he truly be that controlled? "Was that supposed to hurt?" she asks, hands twisting on her staff, ready to spin it into a new direction. The weapon comes to life then, glowing with rich, crimson chi that courses over its reflective surface.

"Let me show you-" She sweeps the low end up, aiming for Zach's torso with the base of it, attempting to collide with his abdomen with staggering force. "-how it's done!" It would be the first of two strikes - the second has Ayame spinning around, following the rebound momentum of her own weapon to bring it up overhead... and then falling down toward the top of Zach's head! Unlike his calm presence, her energy broils as if reflecting anger not visible in the girl's outward demeanor. Should it connect, the chi will explode into a sort splash, small flecks of it flying off and into the sand as if having taken on almost liquid-like properties.

COMBATSYS: Zach blocks Ayame's Power Strike.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Zach             0/-------/-----==|-------\-------\0            Ayame

Zach's arms tuck in, parrying the first two strikes off of his forearms. The psion knows Ayame's fighting style fairly well. His eyes narrow as he ducks his head to his right, catching the overhead strike on crossed forearms. The chi, however, still burns at his skin despite the faint yellow sheen of psychic energy coating them. It draws a wince from the boxer, which shouldn't surprise Ayame at all. Most psychics don't handle chi attacks all that well. He shoves the staff off, using the movement to surge towards Ayame.

"Just a start," Zach admits. He's /not/ one for deception. He plants his lead foot firmly, twisting at the hips even as he drives a left handed strike at Ayame's liver. "Hurting's /easy/," he says. "We do that all the time." Zach's eyes stay sharp, noticing the broiling energy as well as the tightly controlled frustration seething from the young woman.

It is only an effort of iron will that keeps Zach from throwing up. He wonders what had happened to the young woman that would make give birth to that kind of rage.

COMBATSYS: Zach successfully hits Ayame with Liver Blow.

[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Zach             0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0            Ayame

His block is solid against the strike she delivers. She might have been trying to smash him down into the sand with the force she put behind the second strike, but his stance is too sure for that, his cross arm block causing her weapon to bounce off, forced even further by his surge in forward momentum. On a more stable surface, her footing might have been enough to recover in time; Zach is able to slip in quickly, getting on the inside of the staff user's ideal defense radius.

When more practical defenses aren't going to work, it only makes sense to try and trade hits. Rather than move her weapon in the path of his fist, Ayame drives her staff into the sand as if trying to plant a flag. Along its surface, just beneath the glimmering layer of crimson chi that seems to persist, a number of finely etched runes ignite in flashes of dark blue.

She knows full well with the way the boxing oriented fighter is aiming, that it's going to hurt like hell, and to mitigate it slightly, she twists her torso a little to keep it from being as crippling a strike as it might have been otherwise. It still hurts more than enough.

Ayame folds a little, eyes widening as she tries to pull herself together from the hit. He's certainly always packed a punch when he can get his hits in, and that strike is quite the reminder thereof. But landing a punch like that means being in close. /Real/ close. And Ayame isn't about to let him slip away easily if she can help it. Her grip on her staff only tightens from the punch, "Too soon," she growls, her voice weak from the strike, though as to what that could possibly be in response to may seem unclear.

Energy surges down her planted staff, the weapon flaring to life with a brilliant glow before exploding out in a radius from around the shaft. But it isn't a simple explosion of chi, by any means. The flying energy is sharp, edged, spinning in strange ways, like a swarm of angry edged sickles of energy flying out from around her staff. The energy blades that crash into Ayame seem to splash away harmlessly enough. But if Zach finds himself caught up in the small maelstrom, the experience will be anything but harmless!

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Zach with By Meridian's Vain Ambition.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Zach             0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0            Ayame

Zach reacts too late, trying to leap clear of the chi pulse. The blades tear into him, slashing and slicing and staining the white sands a dark red. He still stands, staring at Ayame through pain-sharpened eyes. He figured she was taunting him, which may be his first honest mistake of the fight. He decides, though, to still try the close game.

"Nice," Zach says hoarsely. "Wasn't expecting that one." Zach decides to charge in once more, planting his weight on his back leg while channelling Soul Power through the muscles and bones of the lower body to slam an high kick with the lead leg at Ayame's jaw, before spinning to throw another upward kick with the same leg. More power is channelled through it to drive Ayame skyward.

If he gets the launch, Zach finishes the rotation to hurl a quick bolt of Soul Power at the young kunoichi. Hopefully, those spars with Ken will have paid off.

COMBATSYS: Zach successfully hits Ayame with Charged Combo.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Zach             0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\0            Ayame

The blast of violent chi seemed to take some effort on Ayame's part, the girl leaning hard against her planted staff as if needing to rely on it for a moment of borrowed strength. "Nothing nice about it," she retorts, sounding a touch irritable at the casual compliment paid. The vibrant chi that had been coursing over her staff has faded, as if expended with the explosive attack that she narrowly caught her opponent with.

She's in the process of standing back up straight, pulling her staff out of the ground, when Zach charges again. Her backstep is slow, however, the girl likely having anticipated another swing of his fists rather than the jarringly swift kick. The first strike to her jaw is staggering, Ayame's arm flailing in an attempt to slam her staff down behind her and catch herself. But the second kick uproots her, taking the girl off her feet for the first time in a while against another fighter.

She twists, mid-air, as if already trying to correct for it, but the amber energy he hurls catches her in the side and Ayame's momentary flash of regaining control is lost, the girl landing in a rolling tumble that brings her to rest half in the shallow water, half out of it. Gritting her teeth, she slams her right hand down, her left hand keeping hold of her staff. Back on her feet in an instant, she's dripping in the sand as her right hand slips over near her left wrist.

When she swings her arm out next, it's as if to fling some of the water off her fingers. But what goes flying for Zach is hardly water. Three sharp, small throwing knives are in trajectory toward the psychic boxer. For her own part, Ayame wipes her left arm over her mouth, keeping her staff angled in front of her, rubbing away some of the blood invoked by his combination assault. "Che."

COMBATSYS: Zach overcomes Medium Fling from Ayame with Blast Punch EX.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Zach             0/-------/-======|=======\-------\0            Ayame

"You're telling me," Zach says. "You're not the one bleeding out." The psion doesn't sound happy, so much as he seems to be enjoying the situation for what it is. The fight is a good one so far, and the spars with Ken /have/ paid off.

Zach's eyes, sharpened by the potent combination of Soul Power and adrenaline, catches the glimmer of sharpened metal flying at him. Blood is still pouring from his many wounds as he pulls his right fist back. The boxer takes a deep breath, and throws the fist forward.

A sphere of amber Soul Power rushes forth, scattering Ayame's blades into the beach sands in its wake!

COMBATSYS: Ayame dodges Zach's Blast Punch EX.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Zach             0/-------/=======|=======\-------\0            Ayame

"You'll live." Ayame replies, as concerned about another's well being as always. "Wish we could say the same for everyone you've hit, yeah?" Now she's just being difficult. The official made it clear earlier that if there was no fight, they would both be out of the running for the tournament. Trying to get Zach to forfeit was no longer a means to achiving her goal of obtaining a lavish amount of money just to spend on herself. So of course she isn't going to pursue that... but the verbal jabs come all the same, even though her expression suggests she's she knows full well it won't be enough to get him to lose his composure now.

She unleashes three sharpened edges of steel but Zach sees the attack for what it is, retaliating with a significant sphere of that amber energy of his. The knives are scattered, landing in the sand blade-first in no particular pattern. Having her volley of throwing knives put to waste is annoying but no where nearly as distressing as the Psycho Power flying toward her afterward. Her left foot stomps back, splashing down in the water, before the girl springs into the air in a vertical spin of trailing hair, glinting staff, and plaid skirt.

The Soul Power flies through where she had been an instant before and when she lands, her bare feet touch down on the surface of one of the many rocks in the shallow water. "Nn," she twirls her staff, bringing it to bear in front of her at a defensive angle, hands gripping it tightly. "You've gotten better." There's something to be said for the ordeals he's been through. He's not the fighter he was before. "But now that you're able to control it so well, is it even the threat it used to be?" She must mean his power. It isn't as explosive as it was before, of course.

Energy begins to bleed out from her hands to wash over the girl's staff once more as she resumes channeling chi through the powerful work of engineering. The water around the base of the rock becomes disturbed as energy, visible to all, begins to build, forming an aura of crimson flames with rich blue tips at the top. The aura builds as Ayame concentrates. Pulling together this kind of power from the environment used to be a difficult feat for the girl. Now she performs the action with ease. Teeth grit, she becomes the focus of a small, localized storm of building chi, the water churning more the longer she builds it.

"Your aspirations." she replies, her tone more neutral now. "Why? Is it to be the hero? Is it to make everyone love you? Do you hope to reap the fame and bask in the praise such an endeavor will generate?" Her stance tightens, the girl bracing within the swell of energy she's building, "Do you /deserve/ to?"

COMBATSYS: Ayame gathers her will.

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

Ayame's verbal jabs get as much a rise out of Zach has his opening jab got from her. What Ayame may not realize is that the Soul Power is not explosive because he doesn't /want/ it to be. He grins a bit at the question of control versus danger. "Guess we'll find out," is all he says to the question.

Ayame starts to build up a charge, causing the psion's eyes to narrow. He sets his weight back, relaxed as he watches the young woman. He keeps his right fist next to his jaw while extending his left towards Ayame. He takes a cleansing breath as he channels his power through himself, bolstering his bloodied body and closing the wounds.

"None of those," Zach answers. He's put a ton of thought into this, especially in the wake of the war against China. "I just remember what it was like for me before I earned control of my abilities. The terror that came with not understanding what is I had. The uncertainty of not knowing when or how what control I /did/ have would fall apart. What happened that night was the realization of one of my personal nightmares." Zach has a couple of those, one of which may have been forestalled with the scattering of Shadaloo.

Zach takes another breath. "If I can help someone else work through some of that," he says honestly. He's not so much happy as he is at peace. Not just the calm one can achieve during a fight, but the peace of understanding his place in the world. "Then that is fine by me."

Left to her own devices, Ayame is given plenty of time to gather up the energy she was pulling from the surprisingly lush environment for an arena stage. The audience is tuned out, not because she makes a concerted effort to do so, but rather she cares so little about the thoughts and opinions of those seated all around that she doesn't even have to give them a second thought. The aura she built up fades, not because it has dwindled but because she has drawn that energy into herself, giving her strength to continue fighting beyond what stamina might normally allow for.

"Shhh..." she replies, smirking, "Careful what you say out loud." She ways her right finger before returning her hand to the weapon. Her staff crackles with chi, the energy dancing over her fingers harmlessly though no one else that might come in contact with the weapon would likely fare as well. At his answer, Ayame snorts. "But yeah, right. No one thinks that way." She twirls her staff at her side. "Well, the penance act I'll believe. You seem like someone susceptible to the idea that it makes a difference."

Ayame leans forward, springing from the rock to land on the sand, bolting across the distance between her and Zach. "But what good will helping anyone else out do?" She's fast, charging across the distance, kicking sand up in her wake, her staff held horizontally in front of her. "Will it help you sleep at night?" She's leaping into a spin from a few yards out. "Because I have the cure for insomina right here!" Her staff will be her medium of striking, so she need not get in too close in the process, as she swings the weapon around, aiming to clobber Zach in the side of the head with another chi-infused blow.

COMBATSYS: Zach blocks Ayame's Medium Strike.

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

COMBATSYS: Zach successfully aids himself with Lay On Hands.

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

Zach smirks as he brings up his right hand, coating it in Soul Power before reaching out to catch the staff in an open hand. "I get it now," Zach says simply as he tightens his grip on the staff. "You're..." Zach considers for a moment. Jealous might not be the right word, but it's /close/. She's /definitely/ angry.

Zach shoves the staff away as he regards the young woman, the miko who wasn't. "You can't stand to see anyone else happy," Zach says simply. There's no taunting, no leering, not even any pity. "It tears at you, angers you. Makes you want to do whatever you can to bring them down to your level."

Zach reaches for that wellspring of psychic energy as he regards Ayame levelly. "You're hurt, so you're doing your level best to hurt everyone you can."

COMBATSYS: Zach gathers his will.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Zach             1/-------/=======|=======\===----\1            Ayame

He catches her staff in hand and Ayame pauses for a split second. This is always one of those moments - some get cheeky and try to pull it away, others try to keep a grip and yank it forward to pull her off balance. She has a number of contingencies for either action. "I doubt that." she replies to his first statement, her tone serious. Zach choses neither, which is probably the wiser course, letting the girl draw her staff back into a defensive angle. She retreats a step, bracing her feet in the sand, expecting an attack, perhaps, and preparing for it every second.

Ayame is quiet at first, looking evenly at Zach from behind her defensive weapon. He's not the first to come to this conclusion. Daniel seemed to think so as well. "Everyone's a psychologist these days," she replies, grinning faintly now. It was fair game though. She had needled him relentlessly, only reasonable that he try to figure her out in return. "I'm not hurt though." Her feet slip further apart, knees bending, she's bracing for something. "I don't have a tragic past. No one wronged me when I was little. There's no big regret, no big travesty I wish I could undo." She twirls her staff once, the energy coursing through it building. "My parents were nice, decent people. I had a nice place to live."

The energy coursing over her weapon begins to concentrate toward one end, congealing and shaping, becoming a flickering blade of chi. "Not everything has a reason." She's smiling now. That's usually a bad sign. "Some things are just the way they are. Like I guess you're just going to be a chump all your life!"

She bolts forward then, the blade on her staff solidifies into the trailing hook of a sharp scythe, and the energy flashes a bright, almost blinding white as Ayame swings the weapon up, attempting to crash through any defense on Zach's part and smash him in the torso. The upswing of her staff is so fierce that sand flies up with it, pulled by the vacuum created in the air, potentially blinding Zach briefly in the process. That doesn't seem unintentional. If she can take him off his feet, she'll do so. If not, it won't stop her from whipping the weapon around for a second strike as violent as the first, springing into the air herself and flipping forward.

The third and final strike would be the most painful of them all as Ayame would use her forward flipping momentum to deliver a solid, crushing blow targeting the top of Zach's head. "Give up!!" With each impact, a shower of blazingly bright, white energy would scatter like ember-hot sparks in the wind.

COMBATSYS: Zach endures Ayame's Harvest's Reaper.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Zach             1/---====/=======|=======\==-----\1            Ayame

*Nice misdirect,* Zach thinks, *But she wasn't a child forever... Not physically at least.* Zach furrows his brow in concentration as Ayame brings out that scythe, causing the psion to let out a low whistle of appreciation. He can't /sense/ the thing like he might a construct of psychic energy. The only clues he really has regarding how much trouble he is about to ask for come from the sheer intensity of the light, and how it kicks up the sand.

Part of Zach wonders just what the hell he is about to do. Helping Ayame, because part of him /wants/ to help this young woman, is not something that can be accomplished just in this one fight. It will take, more than just the time and effort, convincing her right here and now that not only does he /have/ such an intention, but that such intentions are genuine.

He can /not/ back down to Ayame in this situation. Folding under the threat of her blackmail would simply illustrate that he /could/ be folded. /That/ would give her a lever that she could use pretty much at will. This was one chain he would have to do his solid best to sever here and now. Perhaps, with how this fight is handled, at least a beginning could be forged.

Soul Power envelopes Zach like a suit of armor, stopping the sand from blinding him as he steps /into/ the first stroke. He plants his feet, allowing the blade to score the barrier in a spray of red-gold sparks. "There are some things..." Zach says through gritted teeth. The second strike hits the barrier to similar effect, although the barrier is fuzzy. Less pronouced.

And yet, Zach steps into the strike again, keeping his feet through sheer force of will. "...I will..." Ayame takes to the sky, coming down with that overhead blow that looks to spit Zach's head. The psion is already turning, preparing a thunderous right straight His wirst twists a bit. The chi blade slashes Zach not on the head, but across the chest. His shirt falls open in a bloody spray. A new cut runs directly down the middle of his chest, neatly bisecting the small fist-sized scar in the middle of his torso.

Soul Power collects in that chambered punch, starting to rotate and spin wildly on the striking surface of that hand. The speed and rotation serve to elongate the mass of energy, forming it into a blunted drill. "NOT RELENT ON!" Zach throws that corkscrew straight forward, aiming to catch Ayame directly in the chest as she completes her landing.


COMBATSYS: Ayame stops Heartbreak Shot from Zach with Midsummer Fantasy.

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

Of course she would expect him to retreat from the attack she charges in with. The build up of it is warning enough to anyone with any sense that what she has in mind is going to be painful for them. Thus as she charges in, she expects to see Zach retreat, back up, try to brace himself against the onslaught of her most infamous technique. The angles she swings her staff put the scythe-bladed end in maximum contact with her opponent. The energy she imbues into her precision-crafted weapon surges beyond that which she has performed thus far. And the movements of her body serve to place the maximum amount of force behind each of the three swings, culminating with the final crushing blow from above that has incapaciated many an opponent she's faced.

The motions of the wayward girl are fluid, an unsettling blend of brutality and grace as she rises into the air to deliver the final strike. In the past, this combination technique might have been enough to crumple the stalwart psychic. But he didn't even try to defend himself! She should feel his body giving way from the kinetic energy, she should feel the psychic recoiling from the surge of brilliantly white chi she's slashing into him with, but instead Zach doesn't budge in the slightest.

She's at the arc of her leap, staff hefted overhead, held almost more like an oversized battleaxe rather than a staff, when she figures it out. He has figured out a new means of defending himself since they last battled. It isn't exactly the same as her own techniques, but she can see the effects now. The force of her strikes is being dampened by his own power. The chi dulled slightly at the points of impact. And his stance far too solid to budge.

The third slash rends his garment but doesn't carve him deep as Ayame descends. His timing was excellent, the power behind it formidable, and he has her dead to rights... But as she descends, the girl seems to blur, dropping from four feet in the air to her heels driving into the sand with a sudden burst of speed that seems impossible without her having had some kind of launching off point. Even her hair trails half a second behind as she slams her left hand out, palm forward, eyes widened.

The collision of forces pushes her to her limits. Amber Soul Power and powerful fist collide against a barrier of rose-hued energy that seems too fragile to withstand the blitzkrieg exploding against it. It seems it won't hold at first, a storm of sand and wind being blasted out on all sides around Ayame while she bunkers down behind her barrier. Teeth grit, she focuses all of her precision chi manipulation into the barrier with one last desperate effort to keep from being blown away. The clash of forces stirs up enough loose sand as to obscure Zach's target from view for a moment. There is a small explosion, a shockwave radiating out from the point of impact. It sends his featherweight opponent sliding backward through the sand, feet leaving behind two long furrows leading to where she comes to a stop several meters away. Her left arm is still extended, palm open, arm trembling, the chi barrier scattered. The black ribbon that adorned her hair moments ago twirls down to land in the water several meters behind her, having been knocked free in the violent turbulence.

Wind dies down, scattered sand comes to rest, and Ayame lowers her hand to join her right in grasping her staff. "So I see," she replies, unusually muted. She slips into a defensive posture, staff held at an angle in front of her, exhaling softly as she gets her breath under control. Her attention seems to be on his chest and the newly revealed scar. "You're a stubborn one, aren't you." Her expression shifts into a bit of a glare, "A shame that it's being wasted in this tournament. It's a sham anyway."

Zach lets out another appreciative whistle after the dust settles. He'd half-expected that to finish it. His eyes narrow, his curiousity clear upon his face. "How'd you manage the landing so quickly?" Zach asks earnestly. He's /clearly/ more impressed by the landing more than the chi barrier. The latter doesn't surprise him in the least; Ayame has always had skills with chi falling somewhere between competent and excellent depending on who you ask. But the landing... Zach wonders if that's a technique he can learn or adapt.

"Can't afford to be anything /less/," Zach says quietly. His breathing is a bit ragged now, and his heaving chest is a mess of blood and tattered cloth. "Well," he says with a good natured chuckle, "I know a bit from sham tournaments. Wouldn't be the first time that something I signed up for wasn't exactly what I signed up for." Like, every fighting tournament he's ever been in. "Nice job with the barrier, by the way." An honest compliment, given to an opponent that, if not /liked/ then at least respected.

Zach charges in, trying to close with Ayame one more time. He plants his feet, and throws out a three-quarters punch. Soul Power ripples, forming into an armored gauntlet. The punch's technique is solid, drilled into him by countless hours of coaching. The punch is, perhaps predictably, aimed at Ayame's head. Should the strike connect, that glove of energy rushes forward with explosive force to hurl Ayame across the beach!

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Zach's Dynamite Punch EX.

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

It takes her a bit to make out his first question, her ears still ringing from the explosive exchange of forces that took place within the reach of her arm. Which is why the girl just squints back at him at first, replaying what she managed to pick up in her mind and matching it against the movement of his lips. "Ah!" She lights up a little when she finally figures it out, standing up straighter. "Well, I can't give away trade secrets, but..." She lifts up her staff and holds it horizontally in front of her, resting atop both of her palms. "Depending on the exact nature of the chi I focus through it, its inertia is not exactly a fixed constant."

She drops back into her stance immediately after, shifting her grip on the weapon to allow her to respond with it defensively or offensively depending on what Zach does next. His response causes her to smirk a little. She knows enough about his path through his life to be well aware that more trials have beset him than many people his age.

But her expression shifts to a brief allowance of surprise when he doesn't seem to upset at the idea that all this - fighting her, facing his other opponents, enduring the season of NDP matches, time and time again, might be for nothing in the end. "You don't care? This tournament is clearly manipulated to make sure a certain person wins. The restrictions in participating are arbitrary, and the leading contender is the same guy that came out on top in the first season. That Johnny Jones character is obviously put into this thing by Masters so that in the end, he doesn't have to pay anything out. That's the only reason he'd leave a previous season champion in for another round, while denying so many other fighters the chance to participate!" Ayame moves away from her spot, pulling her feet out of the grooves they dug when she was knocked backward to start circling around Zach. "But you're going to stick it out anyway, aren't you." She hehs at his compliment. It's rare for anyone to react to her techniques in such a way. A blend of natural gift and practice, they certainly aren't something just anyone can do. But she's almost never left anyone clear headed enough to think about them. "If the world was fair, you'd have every right to go on and fight that guy for the title." she observes.

And with that, he's on the move. Ayame digs her feet in, her back toward the woods now. She knows plenty well by now that he can unleash incredible strength behind his punches. And she can't simply conjure up a barrier to ward off every single one of them without exhausting herself. She has to defend herself with more conventional means!

Her staff is twisted into the path of his fist, her body bending to lend as much strength to the block as possible. A grunt escapes her lips as she slips backward from the force, some of the amber energy washing over her defense and staggering her all the same. "But the world doesn't work that way!"

She steps forward, regaining lost ground. A twist of her wrists in opposite directions and her staff comes apart at the center, becoming two three-foot long segments. "I wonder who," Ayame swings in hard with her right hand, the staff surging with energy that has become rich blue, the shade of a bottomless arctic pool. Her body twists with the swing that travels at roughly the level of Zach's head, spinning on her left heel to come around. "-gave you that scar-" Her left hand jams out with more of a 'stabbing' motion, though the end of the staff if blunt, aiming to jam it squarely into Zach's sternum. "-to remember them by!" Her final stance would keep some distance between them, her left arm extended, the half-staff fragment used to keep Zach at bay unless he manages to avoid the powerful swings.

COMBATSYS: Zach dodges Ayame's Fierce Strike.

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

"One of Ryouhara's inventions," Zach says, eyeing the staff. "Very nice." And that is all he says about that. He doesn't mention the sword he did not bring out; Ayame will either remember the weapon or he won't.

Ayame lays the facts out pretty clearly. They line up neatly, given her worldview. In fact, if he had not talked to Ken between rounds, Zach might have flipped his shit just a little right there. But the facts as Ayame present them line up pretty neatly with the intentions of Ken Masters as well. Just... not to the result she thinks they lead to. If nothing else, Zach is certain Mister Jones is well-paid for the beatings the Funkmaster hands out. They help further Ken's goals, at a very minimum.

That's what makes it click for Zach; Ayame... doesn't trust /anyone/. He's not entirely certain whether this is because of some past event causing her to lose faith in people as a whole, or if this is just her nature. Either way, Zach thinks, it is the core of her troubles.

No time to address it now, he thinks as Ayame bears in on him with that staff. Zach ducks underneath the swing of the staff. "A woman," Zach says as he shoves the second swing aside. "About your age, now that I think about it." He takes a deep breath. "She was messing around with some kind of nasty chi technique. Was strong as hell. Nearly bled out on the Great Wall from it."

Zach steps in as he parries the staff. "The main problem," he says, "Other than the rather... aggressive personality it helped feed, was the fact that it was tearing her arm apart from the inside." Zach throws two quick punches: a left to Ayame's head, and a Soul Powered right to her sterum, seeking to wind her once more. It's /probably/ not too soon /now/.

COMBATSYS: Ayame counters Rapid Combo from Zach with Final Solstice.

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

She swings but he ducks - a good call, for she was about to demonstrate that variable inertia she mentioned with a solid impact against the side of his head given half a chance. By the time she whirls around for the follow up jab, he's in a better position fend it off with his arms, deflecting the strike aside. Ayame holds her stance, however, the one segment held out in front, the other at her side, the chi coursing over the weapon losing its momentary artic blue hue and becoming once again rich crimson.

The byproduct of his training since she last fought him has been demonstrated time and time again. He's tougher, having traded explosive fits of power for more controlled strikes... more obesrvant. Lessons learned, she supposes. Those developments didn't come for free. "Unbelievable." she seems to marvel. He bears far more scars than the fist-sized one in his chest from the path he has endured. Not all of them would be visible. "It seems like whenever the world needs a punching bag-"

She responds to his strikes with brutal speed. With her staff broken into two segments, her ability to defend and attack at the same time seems to become dangerously improved. Her left arm relaxes, letting him push aside the staff fragment with ease in order to close distance with her. Only now her radius of defense is much tighter - getting into a dead zone much less likely - and by the time he swings out with his fist, she's already sweeping her right arm to the side, knocking his forearm hard enough to spare herself the strike. "It knows where to find you!"

Her left arm comes in with a vicious swing, a flare of bright crimson illuminating the space immediately around the duo as she slams her left staff fragment into his side. She uses the moment to kick out hard with her right leg, forcing space between the two of them. It allows her time to spin around the opposite way, this strike going to the side of his head with a hopefully staggering blow. She steps in close then, jamming both staff fragments against his chest. "By now you should know-"

A surge of energy swells, chi gathered earlier finally funneled into her seperated staff fragments. She offers her twisted advice. "- if you don't use your power to claim your cut in this world-" An explosion goes off at the tips of each staff fragment, creating a shockwave of crimson intent on blasting Zach away from her. "- you'll be left with nothing!!"

The attack executed, Ayame exhales, shoulders slouching a little as she presses the ends of her staff together and twists, combining them back into the full lengthed weapon. Her relaxed stance seems to indicate that she believes Zach to be defeated by her punishing combination. The metallic weapon is hefted up to rest over her left shoulder where she taps it a couple of times. The ambient energy that had coated it for much of the match fades though the etched glyphs continue to glimmer softly.

Zach knows, in the instant that the jab is deflected, that he done fucked up. Ayame lays into him, both verbally and physically. He has no time to dodge, no time to block. She doesn't even leave him enough time to work up a hasty barrier. He is /pummelled/ by the staves, battered and tossed across the arena by the chi blast.

Ayame relaxes, thinking the psion beaten. The crowd is going nuts; both fighters have brought an intense display of power and skill to this match. Some people are wondering if this wasn't a full-blown Neo League match instead of the Neo Development Project. All this despite the initial threat of a non-fight.

Zach stares at the sky for a moment. Somewhere in that pain-fogged head of his, he knows that the referee is counting. He knows that Ayame has beaten him, at least physically, far worse than she ever has before. It'd probably be good to... just take a /nap/ right now. It'd feel pretty good.

%*Get up, kiddo* Zach hears in his head. His eyes snap into focus.
*Pops?* Zach thinks. *Don't really have time for this.*
*That's right. You've got half a ten count, in fact. Best get up.*
*Dunno...* Zach's mind, surprised by the impromptu psychic conversation, is still spinning from the beating. *Dunno if this is doable.*
*Of course it is,* the reply comes naturally. *If you were going to just give up, you'd have done it by now. So get up, and finish this thing.*
*Good point,* Zach thinks as he starts to ease himself to his feet. *If you'll excuse me.*

The crowd goes silent as the ref hits nine. Zach is on his feet once more. He's battered, bloodied, and still more than a little wobbly. But he still stands. He lurches towards Ayame, reaching to grab the young woman as the crowd starts to go insane...

COMBATSYS: Zach successfully hits Ayame with Meteor Shoot.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Zach             0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0            Ayame

Zach takes the woman by the back of her blouse. "Who says," Zach says as he hauls Ayame off her feet before doing a single 360 degree spin. "I..." Zach releases, launching Ayame through the air. "Not trying to do that now?"

Zach's weariness cause him to waver dangerously, but he hasn't finished yet. He collects a good-sized sphere, about the size of a bowling ball, of soul power. He flings the mass directly at Ayame before slumping to one knee.

"Just because I'm not doing it like you," Zach wheezes, "Doesn't mean I'm not doing it at /all/."

Yeah, he's done. Ayame taps her staff against her shoulder one more time, idly watching the fallen psion. He's come a long ways. He pushed her further than any of their previous encounters. Or maybe she's slipped, she muses. Perhaps she already hit her peak and her approach to fighting has left her stalled out. She always found concepts like 'fighter's spirit' to be fairly absurd. It didn't matter how much spirit one had if something like Yamazaki exploded through a wall gunning for you. When the killer with no name was slicing her to pieces in the Metro City park, it didn't matter how much never-say-die resolve she had or didn't have. Ayame inhales then exhales slowly. No, she decides, continuing to stare in Zach's diection, there's no denying that he's the one that's improved.

She doesn't turn to wave to the crowd. She doesn't hop with excitement or skip around like some damned fool that just won the door prize. The girl simply considers the chore done - they forced this fight, she did her part, and in the end, it will probably be for nothing if her cynicism bears out. Quietly, Ayame turns away and starts to walk toward the edge of the sand covered middle section. She keeps walking when the crowd falls silent. Maybe they're annoyed that the girl who threatened to derail the entire event won. Serves them right, she thinks with a smirk.

But then the cheers break out. Ayame pauses. Something doesn't feel right but she can't quite peg it. She starts to move a split second before the determined psion gets there, her staff whipping off her shoulder, her right hand sweeping out, fingers splayed. Something small lands in the sand, easily missed in the violent action that follows! Grabbed, she can't turn around to retaliate at Zach like she would prefer. But fighting with her favorite weapon does allow her to deal with circumstances just like this as she whirls her imbued staff up over her head and begins to sweep it backward at an angle that would have brought it crashing down on the back of Zach's head if he didn't pull the featherweight off her feet in that instant.

Her free arm flails, her left arm keeping as tight a grip on her staff as she can muster, but try as she might to catch her footing, he sends the girl airborn for the second time this match. She starts to flip mid-air but the recovery effort is obliterated when the concentrated sphere of Soul Power collides with her, sending her into an uncontrolled tumble into the ground.

Ayame comes to a rest with sudden, jarring pain, her back smacking against one of the trees that line the other side of the strip of sand. With the way she slumps, it seems she's close to not being able to get up again. There's no one to encourage her to dig deeper, to try harder. Even her own thoughts echo the sentiment that it's pointless to press on. But when she opens her eyes, taking a moment to refocus her blurry vision on Zach, something stirs in her all the same. Gritting her teeth, she shifts her staff to her side, using it to pull herself out of her seated position back into standing.

"You just don't know when to quit, do you." She leans forward then, her first step unsure, her second step more steady, her third back to running straight. "You can't win /your/ way." Her staff flares to life with its effulgent chi. "The kinds of dreams you have... you can't achieve them simply by being nice enough to deserve them." The girl lifts her right hand, middle finger pressed against her thumb. "Someday, someone is going to show you just how pathetic your own way is!"

She snaps her fingers and near Zach's feet a small flash of bright white explodes up from the sand. It isn't chi nor does it pack enough force to harm him in the slightest, but it might blind him to the incoming attack. Ayame springs, using her forward momentum to carry her the remaining few yards, twisting around mid-air to bring her staff around with crushing force for Zach's side. "It's time to wake up!"

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Zach with The Sunrise Of Broken Dreams.

[                                < >  //////                        ]
Zach             0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0            Ayame

Zach regards Ayame for a moment. "I /do/ know when to quit," Zach replies. "Never." Then there is a bright light. Zach reflexively covers his eyes, knowing that the laspe (as unable as he was to help it) was about to cost him. He cannot see. Ayame comes in fast, too fast. Zach is already trying to fight his way to his feet when Ayame slams that staff down on his head with resounding impact.

Zach falters, but still keeps his eyes on Ayame as a trickle of blood runs between them. "It's not about 'deserve', Ayame," Zach says. "It's /never/ about deserve." Zach finally forces himself to his feet, the weapon still practically imbedded in his head. "Deserving things don't get you /shit/," he spits.

Zach summons up a final surge of Soul Power. His feet take an astride position, not yielding to such vagaries as the angry young woman trying to beat him down. His weight settled, Zach fires off one last three-quarters punch, aimed directly for Ayame's kisser. The detonation of the pent-up energy is just as potent as when he threw the punch earlier in the match, the only thing marring the techinque being his physical condition.

"It's all about what you /earn/," he rasps, before passing out.

COMBATSYS: Zach can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Ayame fails to counter Dynamite Punch from Zach with Requiem For Fallen Blossoms.

COMBATSYS: Ayame can no longer fight.

Her own vision is blurred by pain and exhaustion when she takes to the air for a final, crushing swing against Zach. A split second later, she feels the reverberation course down her weapon - an indication that she connected as solidly as she had intended. Surely that will floor him, surely he'll be done for. She lands, her bare feet touching down in the sand, head bowed as she struggles to fight against the temptation to crumple forward and rest.

But as she hesitates, she hears Zach's voice over the ringing of her ears. He's speaking while still on his feet, she realizes, refusing to collapse even after all she's put him through. Lifting her face, the girl's eyes come to rest on him, widening slightly as he speaks her name. "Then what-" she begins to retort, only to cut herself off as he regains his stance. He's going to attack again? He still has the wherewithall to?

Zach demonstrates that indeed he does, amber energy coursing along his arm, reinforcing the power behind his piston-like punch for her face. She responds just as fast, her staff flaring to life, the energy she channels through it in an instant taking on a soft pink hue. She lifts the weapon horizontally, going for Zach's arm, aiming to crack her weapon against his forearm with potentially breaking force. The sequence has already played out in her head faster than she can execute it - the deflect, the sweep, the spin, crushing strikes one after another, each connecting against vulnerable points - her father's Signature Technique drilled into her via hours of training during what feels like a lifetime ago.

But the practiced dance isn't accomplished, Zach's Soul Power imbued fist cracking the girl hard in the mouth. The clean hit is more than enough to take Ayame clean off her feet, the girl colliding hard against the same tree she had just crashed into from his previous assault. The chi gathered for her counter strike is scattered, shaking loose from her metallic staff, exploding into the air, a countless number of drifting motes.

For a moment it seems like she's going to stay upright, pushing off of the trunk with a staggered step, Zach's parting words echoing in her ears. But as she begins to stumble into what seems likely to be a second step, she falls, twisting around on her way down to land with a thud on her back in the sand, eyes staring up at the sky above and the leafy-green branches of the tree overhead, partially obscurred by the remnants of her sanguine dissipating chi.

Her vision goes bleary and Ayame closes her eyes, squinting them open once again. A tiny smile crosses her lips. For a moment it seems to her the leaves of the tree have become heavy with pink blossoms - a feeling of nostalgia washing over her at the old, familiar sight. Then she closes her eyes and sees only darkness.

Log created on 16:49:41 06/11/2012 by Ayame, and last modified on 09:18:49 06/14/2012.