Hotaru - The Road: Roadside Assistance

Description: On her own for years, trying to recreate her mother's style that she only remembers in flashes of recollection, Hotaru Futaba finally receives a helping hand from one who's life has brought him to the other end of the road they travel.

The beating she took at Chao Liu's hands was fierce and decisive. For all her attempts, she was unable to land a single hand on the man before he dismantled, deflected, and destroyed each of her techniques. It was more than just a humbling experience, it left the young fighter utterly awestruck.

Is that the gulf between her and the masters of the world?
More importantly, is that the gulf between her and her brother?

He may not have the decades of fighting experience as the ancient Chinese master, but she knew that he would not have slacked off in his fierce dedication over the last seven years since she had last seen him... Time she had only spent learning alone, thinking up ideas, practicing in makeshift training yards, he no doubt had spent pursuing talented fighters to face, discovering techniques from some great masters around the world, and pushing him to incredible heights. Of this, she had little doubt.

Her mind had fixated on the match after she finally had her senses back. The streaming video was immediately reviewed once she was well enough to see straight and the girl spent hours going over it, frame by frame, looking a master at work. Especially of interest was that she knew full well that he was not just demonstrating a single style of Kung Fu to her that night.

Early on, he had been executing flawless Chuojiao, a style not unfamiliar to her even if her own mishmash of techniques was more of a simulacrum rather than remotely near the real thing. But he had shifted, sometime around where she was embarrasingly sent for a swim in the pond - he became a stone that would not be moved. But the transition was smooth, executed mid-attack, leaving no gap or vulnerability.

She had many long hours to consider the mystery he had revealed - he fought her father, the cruelity of his accusation hurts only because she cannot find the will to deny it in her heart as much as she wanted to. But even more importantly was his comment about being in the area. He would have another match, she knew, since she most certainly failed unseat the impressive fighter with her own fledgling attempt.

She returned to the shrines. It would be five days since their fight. The bruises, both real and imagined had healed. She wanted nothing more than to meet Chao Liu once more. Even if it were to simply talk, or to watch him warm up, or anything at all, just being given a chance to observe him would be enough for her. The shrines on the northern outskirts are well known enough. Some are busy, some are nearly abandoned, relics of a more religious time in bygone years, perhaps. Taking a day off school is made possible - she has certain allowances as a registered fighter not available to many of the students - and thus Hotaru Futaba wandered from shrine to shrine.

As she isn't fighting in an event, her normal Chinese styled Kung Fu outfit is echewed in favor of a short sleeved white blouse with a dark blue-black vest worn over it. A dark green and black plaid skirt at her waist, black stockings, and brown laced up shoes completes her casual wear. She takes her time through each shrine in her search, content to enjoy the sceneray and serene atmopshers. The lest crowded the better, of course... Her family had not grown up with traditional Japanese beliefs given the strong Chinese influence in their history and family styles, so for her the Shinto shrines offer little more than tranquil places to visit and observe with quiet respect.

As promised by the elder master, he has been spending much of his time at the nearby shrine when not attending to his business at G-King; being far from a celebrity, the silver-haired man has similarly watched countless dojos, appraised battles and fights, and even watched some of the occasionally erratic 'Neo League'. It is the first time, despite a life in Japan, Chao Liu has been within the center of the fighting world. It intrigues him, as it always did, but his duty and purpose was in guiding people into this future, as opposed to selfishly taking part in it. Competing against the likes of Sagat, Krauser, and Heihachi... he had no chance of making a permanent impression, but knows he has changed the upbringings of generations firsthand. There are no regrets.
When he's found after all those days, it's in the midst of his own training. His eyes are closed, focus like a laser. He's within one stance, hard and immobile. And then, like a switch, it flows into something else; a shift to balance weight upon the balls of his feet rather than at his center seeming to be the key pivot. Again and again he flows back and forth, like a switch somehow managing to divert a great river of power and experience without losing a single drop in the transition. Managing to imitate something like that in it's entirety might very well be a pipe dream without a decade or more, but...
At length he stops, beginning to perform his own stretches. He's eschewed the somewhat gaudy ying/yang outfit for a simple gray tunic with black embroidery, buttoned up the side with loose sleeves and slacks. Casually gripping his toes, he then tilts his head back in a swish of his long braid. "...Hotaru Futuba? So you finally come to pay this old man a visit. I've only a couple days until my second defense. But I've no intention of losing. This will be my only break... I wish to enjoy it, even if only for a little longer..."

She watches his practice from a distance upon spying the surprisingly tall martial artist. Her pace slows, approaching him just fast enough as to not seem to be staring at him from a ways off, but not so fast as to interrupt him any sooner than she has to. The girl would be content to watch the clear, efficient shifts between stances for a long while if given the chance.

But when he addresses her, she smiles and looks a touch relieved. There were some doubts - maybe he wouldn't remember someone who put up so little challenge for him after all that buildup for the G-King event. Or maybe she had misheard or misunderstood his invitation - it was made when she was nigh delirious with pain afterall. Would he be upset at the intrusion? Even if he only mildly tolerated her for a short while, that would make the effort in finding him worth it all the same.

"Yes, Master Liu," she replies, breaking eye contact just long enough to bow her head out of respect. There's a certain awestruck look to her face as her azure eyes study him once again. At her just over five foot height, he towers over the young martial artist, now clasping her hands behind her back. "I will be watching your fight and cheering for you," she affirms quickly as he mentions the pending bout.

But the rest of his words draw a shift in expression from the Futaba girl, her eyes softening, her smile fading just slightly. This fighting tour of his was a break? "What... what are you taking a break from, if I might ask?" She shakes her head a little, looking as if she disagrees on some fundamental level. "When I go on my fighting trips, I'm nervous the whole time. I love doing them, but..."

There's more than one reason that Chao Liu chose Hotaru for his first challenge, despite being an underwhelmingly qualified combatant. It was not in an attempt to win the G-King defenses through cherry-picking, despite some accusations of such. She was a Futaba, and she was a fellow adept in Chinese kenpo. On top of it, she was somehow a blend between being new and not... for her age, she should only have been at it seriously for two or three years, but he sensed clearly a dedication that far surpassed it.
"'Master' Liu? I wasn't aware we'd gotten that far." Chao states with a laugh, crossing his arms behind his back; well-built and thickly muscled, especially for someone advanced in years. "But knowing you'll be rooting for me in person is an inspiration. Yes... I've dozens of students back home who will be doing the same. A few have come, hoping that I'll win my 'wish'. A humble one, but enough to tempt me away from guidance a month..." He doesn't seem about to elucidate on what that might be just yet, however. "I hope you do not resent me for not holding back. I believe it was more instructive to see me at my best, than for me to hold false sentiment. The purity of the martial arts is something I hold dear." Two others Hotaru can think of would feel the same -- both males related by blood!
"I have spent my entire life mentoring in a small community of fighters in a remote area. It's many hours away by train, and many hours of walk after that. We live off the land, and both my distinct styles have been united for the first time in a few centuries... it is my solemn goal in life to make sure those that inherit the schools from me will continue this good will. I am hoping to show them the strength of both by winning this tournament, more than anything. But... seeing a young talent such as yourself... it is refreshing. Were you to live in my village, I would consider you proof of Buddha's grace. Although... I believe your style to be inherently flawed and unstable... And, due to how much time you have spent on it, to a degree that cannot be rectified..."

At his remark concernining her use of the honorific, Hotaru immediately blushes, "N-no," she raises her hands in quick protest, "I would n-never presume, it was only used out of deference for your-" she swallows, azure eyes widened in obvious nervousness. "I mean," she averts her gaze to the side quickly. "It just felt that many must call you by that title. It is clearly fitting..."

She only manages to work her focus back to him as he continues, immediately falling quiet out of respect and curiosity, her blush fading a little, her smile warming as he mentions students back home. He mentions the reward for his participation in G-KING and Hotaru quietly answers another question that had been occupying her thoughts. Why did this venerable fighter come into the public eye for this event? What drew him forth? So it is the promise of a wish then...

Of course her mind lights up with questions at what it might be, but she will absolutely not pry into his personal motivation. It would be horribly improper.

He mentions their match and she brings her hand up to rest at the back of her head, a sheepish look on her face, "No, no. I-..." she immediately responds only to fall quiet as he continues regarding the purity of the arts, her bashful look melting away in an instant, her hand dropping down at her side. "Me too..." she murmurs. She would have rather fought him at his strongest any day than see what he was like holding back. In that one fight, an image of what potential could be found down the road was seared into her mind.

He continues to share more about his own life. Teaching students many miles away in what must be a very remote location... it sounds like a quiet place, remote, removed from the daily bustle of the world. She listens quietly as he speaks of his dream, that which he hopes to leave behind in his aging years, nodding slightly as if she could fully understand anything like that in her youth. "It makes me happy to hear how you have unified them," she comments softly.

That faint blush returns at mention of her living in the idyllic village he calls home but when he comments on her style, he has the girl's absolute attention. Her shoulders fall a little. His eye is accurate, of course, her style is comprised of memories of a more pure form, of ideas gleaned by watching others, and of attempts to capture the flow and feel of martial arts millenia in the making all on her own.

"I have not had very much formal training since my mother... seven years ago," she remarks softly. "When I close my eyes, I can still picture her practice routines, and I have tried to replicate as much of them as I can over the last six years." She exhales softly as she considers that her flawed, unstable style might not be fixable. But then glances up, the resignation fading from her fast, "But it could still be improved, could it not?" she asks with no small amount of hope in her voice.

There's a hearty laugh from Chao Liu at Hotaru's humble reaction, holding up both his hands and shaking his head at the girl. "I was just teasing you! I know fully well what you meant. To be honest, I do hear it countless times every day... it makes me a touch nostalgic..."
"Good. You may be a quiet girl, but you do not seem fragile... no, I got that sense. Even when the fight was called, you were trying to get back on your feet. Otherwise, I'd have never attempted to strike you unconscious." Indeed, she was very near eating a head full of his elbow without the slightest bit of defense, although chances are she'd have fully recovered by now either way.
"Bah, I wish I unified them! The old cantankerous farts who used to run the school try to poison them against me. It'd do me a favor if they both had died by now! They are in their early 90's now!" But there's a hint of a smile that shows there's no genuine resentment here. Passion towards the art one holds dear is something he could never truly dislike, and the rivalry of ancient times is what allowed both schools to grow as strong as they were when he forced them to unify. "If anything, I'm the one going against the old ways. There's no internet or television in my community. All they have is the fighting arts. It'll modernize one day or another, but... I am proud to live in one of the last holdouts in this modern era."
"Six years...? Yes. You've fully learned a new style... but the issue is ranged." Suddenly Chao Liu is before Hotaru, a strange and lunging stepping technique. His elbow raised, to show what he means. "Your instinct is to get away, isn't it? That's because... you can't learn melee defense from watching alone. And being constantly on the run is why I handled you so efficiently. Your style is unique. It's incomplete. ...But there's no reason you cannot open the door to the holes in your Chinese kenpo."
He slips his arms behind his back once more. "I could do it. You show me what you remember of your mother, free of any habits or compensations. And I can fill in the gaps. Once you have developed that style... you need only learn to turn it on..." Once more he's in the light stance, hands raised to strike the air. "And off." An elbow strikes out, the air seeming to crack with the force. "And you can survive the flow of any battle...!"

The idea that the previous masters of the schools were not only still alive but fervently involved in throwing their opinions around regarding the fate and direction of their dojos comes as a surprise to the girl based on the expression she responds with. But she offers no words on the subject of unification, the old ways, or even the antiquated nature of the old master's home town. How few refuges like that must even exist in civilized regions of the world? Visiting it must be like winding back the clock to a different time before this digital age. If her thoughts were not already fixated on anything and everything he had to say regarding her fighting style and future as a martial artist, she might have dwelled on such things further.

Instead, she's taking a step back as if on reflex when the venerable fighter steps in toward her. Even though they aren't in a fight, the mere act of his movement was enough to get the skittish girl to withdraw a step, azure eyes widening slightly. She nods her head rapidly regarding her instincts to get away. She had demonstrated, thus far, almost no particular skills with defending or warding off attacks other than simply trying to scramble out of the way, deftly or otherwise. Even her occasional guards were basic attempts to simply bunker down and weather a strike without any particular technique in deflecting the force away from herself.

She recovers quickly as he continues to explain, her hand lifting to scatch at her cheek in thought. Putting so much effort into trying to escape every attack that comes her way certainly detracts from being able to stay focused on how her opponent is attacking or defending. As he offers the hope of being able to address the holes in her style, the orphaned fighter's eyes light up.

"Okay!" she exclaims, louder than she intended, covering her mouth sheepishly at the outburst before glancing around, not trying to disturb the tranquility of the shrine or disrupt the visit of anyone else that might be about. She takes a few steps back, watching as Chao Liu shifts between two styles seamlessly. Even in his motions, she is reminded of some of the moments from her past. Fleeting images at this point, from the time that she was eight years old - but given her fixation on preparing to follow her brother, such distant memories have stayed fresh in the young fighter's mind.

Closing her eyes then, she brings her hands together, steepling them in front of her chest as in a respectful prayer to bygone memories. Breathing in then exhaling to help focus her mind, the girl turns her body to the side, right arm drawn back, bent at the elbow, left hand forward, lower in front of her, palm slightly forward. It is the loose, swift stance she had adopted against Chao Liu in the arena. Good for staying quick on her feet, lending itself to her evasive tactics, but it doesn't make for the platform to launch the strongest possible strikes either. From her posture, she demonstrates a few of the strikes she remembers, forcing her right hand forward, along with her left, to deliver a sweeping double palm press out in front of her, then planting her feet and then kicking out to the side, left foot remaining grounded, right foot snapping out at a little above the level of her waist as she leans away from the movement as a counterterweight. A few other such swift strikes are demonstrated, many of them quite serviceable but never fully committed to all so that she can make her swift escapes in the heat of battle no doubt.

"That was the foundation I built from," the girl explains softly, her voice reverent now as she reflects on the images from her past. "Because it seemed the most natural to strike and move with. But..."

Slowly, she slides her right foot further and further forward, sinking down on her left foot lower and lower, until her hips are actually below the level of her left knee, the girl demonstrating her remarkable flexibility. Her arms are out at her sides, left hand forward, fingers splayed, her right hand stretched out behind her as a counter balance. Once she has stabilized the stance, she continues, "I remember this well - the stance of the swallow," she murmurs, "And I remember some of the moves she would be able to execute -" One is demonstrated as she pushes up with her left foot, twisting her right hand from behind her back to forward in an open palm press, her reach extended out past where she could normally strike with the way she leans into it so far thanks to her right foot being so far forward. "But it seems so immobilized, I never really explored its potential... fearing I would be a sitting target the whole time."

She settles back up to standing out of the lower posture to demonstrate the final stance she could remember. "I recall this one being unclear to me in its purpose..." she admits, sounding a touch confused. Slipping into her standard side-facing stance, the girl twists her torso away from Chao Liu so that her back is toward him and her left hand is now resting against her right leg just over the knee. Twisting her neck, she manages to just barely look over her shoulder, only able to observe the old master out of her peripheral vision but not really look at him directly. "I could not see the value in turning my back toward my opponents... so I also did not pursue this stance. The best I could muster even when I tried was..." She turns her knees and feet away from him, twisting further to the right, her left hand snapping out in a backhanded chop at shoulder height before she immediately snaps back to the curious back-turned stance and exhales softly. "Once again, it felt... only useful for stretching exercises but little more."

Finally she turns toward Chao Liu, arms resting against her sides once more.

There's a momentary widening of the eyes from Chao Liu, before he lets out a genuine laugh. "Such earnest desire. It is refreshing. Many who come before me are the top of their schools, and not so humble. Only working with the best means they know such to be the case, and it will dampen their growth if they feel arrogant. Honestly, they are little stronger than you... and your style remains incomplete."
The follow-through on Hotaru's style is observed, the elder man slowly walking around her as she performs. Each kick and thrust, every motion, before allowing just a touch of a smile on his lips as if nostalgic. "That is the 'Juukei' arts of Chinese kenpo. Opposite the 'Goukei'. I may not know every technique of your mother's art, but I know the foundations of defense and stance."
The hours then seem to melt away; he has Hotaru take a stance, before carefully adjusting her with nudges of the foot and presses of hand. Applying pressure to her shoulders in such a way that her center of balance is forced into the correct location, and then having her hold it. This is repeated with the other, spending the entire evening simply on the fundamentals. "To walk, one must stand." was what he said, and that does seem to be the case. They would part amiably when the night falls deep, with promises to continue in the next week.
And, Hotaru would have seen, Chao Liu managed another stunning victory against a fighter of no small caliber. Again she bore witness, this time in a longer bout, to the strength of his dual blades. Given his injuries were only from psycho power, of which he has decent resistance, he was back at the shrine that very night. "One more week, and I leave... in that week, the key to your style will finally be opened."
For another two days, it was only how to hold those stances. And then another two days of careful, meticulous shifting between; teaching Hotaru how to go from her natural self-taught one to each of the others. Anyone watching must have thought she was wriggling to some unseen music, but Chao Liu is not easily satisfied here. Grasping her thigh to press a tendon that needs tightened, pressing her stomach inwards to show how to better contract abdominals, every single nuance and correction adds on more and more. Whenever one is corrected, he reveals another that had failed. Before long, what felt like it took a few seconds to 'shift' would happen almost immediately, by the standards of a fight's pace.
The final test of such was to have her shift and block; he purposefully attacked slightly quicker than she was comfortable, and Hotaru would find that such began to come more naturally. By the end of the fourth, and a few dozen hours of work with a true master, she can finally switch between the stances with the surity of breathing in and out.
"Good... the last three days, I will teach you defense. You will discover and remember the attacks yourself in time. What is important is the stance. With the one you neglect... I believe by the time it finishes, you will see the tide of an opponent's attack as water. And you need only divert the tide, not flee from it, unless you wish to...!"

Time flies as the week goes by. Little by little, the speed with which she can adopt the three stances familiar to goes up and her stability in them increases. When she first started, she would have only been able to maintain the Swallow Stance for a few minutes before her legs would get exhausted and her knees begin to buckle. But after enduring the exhausting exercises and routines Chao Liu puts her through, she becomes able to maintain even that difficult posture for long periods of time without collapsing due to muscle cramps.

His match was attended as promised, Hotaru watching him in action. Later on, the replays would be reviewed as well, the young fighter paying especial attention to the fluid transitions of his form throughout the match against the determined but ultimately defeated opponent. She was back to training with him at the shrine the night after, resuming the intense, relentless routines he had been drilling her on throughout the week before. Every effort was made to improve her form, perfect her posture, and improve in switching between the stances as they slowly became as natural to her as standing up normally.

Under his instruction, she even discovered ways to get around in the stances without being completely immobilized. In the Swallow Stance, she could scoot forward or backward very slowly by alternating sliding her right foot forward and twisting her left foot at the heel to keep up or by actually springing forward into a hop only to land right back down in the stance just as perfectly as she had held it before the hop. For her Reverse Stance, a quick hop by pressing down with both feet lets her shift forward a short distance before landing and resuming the curious posture. It will certainly be no where near as evasive as her primary stance, but she is beginning to build a library of options all the same.

The blocking practice took a while to come to her, the girl being shoved easily out of her position with even the lightest strikes at first as she tried to learn exactly how best to balance herself. Gradually it came to her, however, how to learn her body into the block, how to shift her small mass into an angle where her natural leg strength could contribute to bracing against Chao Liu's strikes. When push came to shove, he could still overpower her guard, but her ability to withstand his lighter strikes had come a long way under his gifted instruction.

Now, quietly she stands in her Reverse stance, her hand against her leg as always. She had figured out a few techniques from even this stance to begin identifying its purpose - its nature is to deceive, to lull opponents into thinking her back an easy target... and to that end, the swift yet strong mule kick she was able to launch from that stance might very well be a lesson to someone attempting to take advantage of what seemed a vulnerable position. It wasn't perfect yet, but with time, surely she would be able to improve upon it.

At no point did they discuss her use of chi - that azure energy she had tried to lobe his way during the fight... and yet, she found she didn't find herself missing its use. Some had expected the Futaba girl's future rested upon mastering her chi manipulation, for surely a girl so slight and small could never hope to compete on her physical strengths, but the more and more she trains with Master Liu the more she begins to realize that she will not need to lean on energy attacks to stand on her own. The very nature of her mother's art seems especially well suited to compensating for a lack of raw, brute force. Even her basic strikes seem to be coming out a little swifter, packing a bit more kinetic energy, as she better aligns her body into pouring muscle power into each blow. It will take precision to keep the same techniques up under the pressure of a real battle, but already she begins to appreciate the potential that lies before her thanks to Chao Liu's instruction.

Relaxing out of her Reverse stance, she turns toward him, nodding slowly and attentively as he speaks about defense and how to improve her own. "I think I understand better now... I make the choice my own, rather than being forced to act by my opponent's actions. This will let me decide how and where I will engage them instead of worrying about disengaging swiftly enough to avoid their counter attacks..."

It is becoming increasingly clear just what kind of instructor Chao Liu is; the sort who simply teaches the basest of fundamentals, encouraging his students to experiment and diverge on their own. All the pieces are presented to the young girl, and she's finding them of her own accord through hints and clues. An exceptional learner; she's likely lacked a master for far too long. It makes him pine for what she could become, were she to come with him to his remote village for some months... but she has her own journey and path to take, and the offer is not made. It would infuriate the tensions of his schools to have an outsider, especially one he favored, and one who was by all accounts growing as strong as them in a fraction of the time...
"Yes." Chao Liu offers, bowing lightly. "You can fight close, you can fight far. Keep the pressure on your opponent. Never let him get used to you. That is your weapon. I have turned your flaw into a boon. There is but one last lesson to teach..." The art of striking.
Within her new stances, Chao Liu begins showing Hotaru how to turn multiple strikes into power. How to press from the ground into a leap, twist her body to amplify the force, the precise way to rotate and contract her muscles. It is all exceptionally high level, and might take weeks or even months of digestion to master and digest, but he believes it the best way. This continues, relentlessly, until the eve of his fight with Lee Chaolan.
"...After my fight, I shall meet you one last time. But I would like a spar; my current opponent is well above me physically. I hope to see with my own body and eyes how far you've grown..." He then flows into his light stance, resting upon it and hefting his hands forward, exhaling a slow breath. Will it be a repeat of before, a few brutal strikes ripping her down? Or will she be able to utilize her new skills for the first time against the man?
"Come, young one. See yourself, the flowering of your evolution...!!"

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu has started a fight here.

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Chao Liu         0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu takes no action.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Chao Liu         0/-------/------=|

A combination of resolve unbroken by years of being alone, a heart that yearns to join her brother in the challenging world of fighters, and untiring attention to detail and repetition once given directions on how to improve have taken Hotaru Futaba a long ways in the two weeks the two have been meeting at the shrine. She knows with each day that slips away into night, and each new dawn that rises that the time is fast approaching that he will be returning home. Whether he wins or loses the match ahead, his tour as part of the G-King enterprise will be coming to an end. Understanding what it is like to have such a gifted master instead of trying to figure things out on her own has been a life changing experience for the aspiring martial artist. The thought of losing him after this is not one easily born, but she never brings up his pending departure.

In so short a time, he has become all at once an inspiring ideal, a grandfatherly figure in the life of the orphaned girl, and an exacting instructor and mentor that has her dreaming of the fighter she will become by continuing in the lessons he has given her. As he helps refine her strikes and even open her eyes to new possible ways to attack out from her stances - fundamental concepts that she will be working to improve upon in the days to come.

He speaks of the match to come and mentions the prowess of his opponent and the girl looks a touch surprised. It's as if she hadn't considered the idea that someone in the world would be stronger than Chao Liu, master of Chinese martial arts! But of course, she realizes, there must be some stronger, some larger, some faster... but how many are so fluid as he, so flexible in their style as to merge two opposing forces into one singular whole? Will it be enough?

He slips into his lighter stance after mentioning evaluating her own progress and Hotaru's eyes widen. The thought that she might help him, even in some small way, prepare for his match ahead...

"You honor me, Master Liu."

The girl sucks in her breath as well before pressing her hands together, offering him a bow similiar to the one she gave when they first met in the G-King arena. The gesture of respect is held for a moment before she slips foot forward, her arms raising to her own light stance.

"More than anyone has ever done in all my life."

She sucks in her breath than exhales. She's already warmed up from the exercises and practice. She's ready to act immediately.

"Thank you."

She pushes off, launching herself toward him in a forward leaning sprint. The burst of speed flows readily into a forward twist of her body, the girl coming out of the low twirling crouch in the Swallow Stance. The transition from sprinting to shifting to the low posture is smooth enough as to be almost bewildering to one who wouldn't be expecting it from the young fighter. Of course she can't hope that he wouldn't be able to read her technique, but that doesn't keep her from trying all the same.

From her low stance, the remaining momentum of her approach is converted into a lunge up, right hand slamming forward, the girl reaching out far for her stature, aiming to drive a single, fairly well executed palm strike into the Chinese master's center. "HAA!" His expert eye would still be able to pick out flaws with it, but her coordination is nothing like when they first met!

COMBATSYS: Hotaru has joined the fight here.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0         Chao Liu

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu dodges Hotaru's Aggressive Strike.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0         Chao Liu

"I have taught you something truly valuable... perfection. With it, even alone, you can spend months training yourself. You know the end goal. I have shown you where to improve. Know this. A single grain of sand might seem like nothing... a small, minute improvement... but enough sand makes a great desert. That is how martial arts should be built. One grain at a time." That seems to be the last piece of guidance to be given, before the pair begin fighting in earnest.
"Although to hear those words... brings me as much joy as it does sorrow. You should have many people to cherish in your life, more than an old man who entered it so brief a time..."
Simply remaining light on his feet, Chao Liu suddenly leans backwards, twisting around as she strikes; it glides against his gi, but a moment later he strikes out with the toe of his foot, a singular crushing strike that slams inwards at her ribcage with enough force to potentially crack them if not at least partially guarded. As before, he is going all out... although...
"You must hide your compression. A readied spring, one can easily see where it will go. Be relaxed... hide the tension within the motion of your body, and when you strike... EXPLODE!!"
Like he just did; hopefully not with painful results!

COMBATSYS: Hotaru blocks Chao Liu's Beng Da.

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Hotaru           0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0         Chao Liu

His evasion segues perfectly into his attack as Hotaru's rising palm strike glances ineffectively along only the surface of his clothing. But she had prepared for this possibiliy, her forward most foot correcting for the miss immediately, pressing back, bringing the girl into a tighter stance as she turns her side toward him at the same time his toe intersects her.

The defense is hardly perfect. He moves so swiftly that she lacks the time to consciously determine the best way to mitigate the power of the old master's attack. Against a peer, perhaps she would be better capable - but he wanted to see if she had progressed any and even as she braces her left upper arm with her right hand only to be knocked back several feet, there's no denying that she's at least able to muster a single defense against his toe.

Staggering, she comes to a stop, whipping her hands back up to the ready, wobbling slightly just from the sheer amount of shock just defending against the blow. There is no question in her mind of the gulf that yet remains between her and the master, but rather than feel discouraged, she feels only more inspired. Potential in combat can come from more than just brute strength. With the right blend of technique and timing, she can someday topple giants - she can someday stand at her brother's side.

Sucking in her breath to bite back the agony in her upper arm, the Kenpo artist steadies herself, azure eyes flashing with purpose.
"Please..." she murmurs.
"Do not feel sorrow for me."
Her smile flashes for a moment.
"The circumstances of my life allow me to appreciate the magnitude of what you have offered me so much more."

She takes two steps forward, regaining lost ground. The third step has her twisting her body, her back toward him, her torso wound up, legs tensing. His advice from before echoes through her mind. Hiding her compression - a difficult ideal, she thinks, given how much she has to wind up to make her attacks count. But what if her compression was used for misdirection...?

When she springs, she takes easily to the air in a small hop, her upper body twisting back out of her wind up, her arms spinning from high to low, left hand first, right hand second - only she would land just shy of him, never having gotten far enough to reach the venerable mentor.

The true nature of her attack becomes clear only after feet have touched the ground, giving the girl a chance to snap her leg out into a swift side kick aimed for his gi-clad stomach, her left foot acting as anchor, her right toe aiming to return kick for kick in the surprisingly swift attack. "KYA!"

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu blocks Hotaru's Enryuu Banda.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Hotaru           0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0         Chao Liu

To be fair to Hotaru, she's already done better than her first foray against the elder man; being able to even react to those lightning fast assaults, striking with such immense force, is no small feat. He followed through completely, leveraging all of his power without any restrictions. Of that much, Hotaru can be certain, given that she's probably not going to be using the blocking limb for major activities in the immediate future.
"No. Do not confuse sorrow with pity. The path we have in life cannot be changed. You have endured much, and it has made you strong. I can only hope I have made you stronger still." And with that, the battle continues. In response he twists as well, also exposing his back; one leg curled up and bent, the other nearly extended. It's only when she unleashes the brutal kick will she see there's no proper vitals to hit; the blow impacts tensed muscle, as if ricocheting off his form. "HNN!!" And then he's launching backwards, aiming to slam his shoulder into Hotaru's upper chest with brutal force.
He was less than half a foot from her when the assault was unleashed, but there's an unbelievable power to it. The ground beneath his feet billows out in a spray of dust and force, sinking within the soil of the temple courtyards. Somehow, he magnified that brief moment into an attempted crippling attack, before she would even be able to recover from the failed kick.
The old Hotaru would crumple like wet tissue paper to him. He is hoping history will not repeat... but he will try to defeat her with the same ruthless speed as before. To do any other will be to taint her ambitions...!

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu successfully hit Hotaru with Cun Ding.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Hotaru           1/---<<<</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0         Chao Liu

That a clean kick to his back would also prove to be as ineffective as nearly any other attack she had tried to land on the master does come as a surprise at first - the epiphany hits her an instant later that the cost of trying to be unpredictable is that she can't pour as much coordinated energy into the real attack. Every tactic seems to have its trade off - at least for now. There must be room to improve; some way to be unpredictable yet not lose momentum or striking force in the process, some way to-

Oh right. The counter attack comes immediately - even faster than thought, the Master seeming to just nudge his back toward her in what could easily be mistaken for nothing more aggressive than a sudden lean if not for the shockwave of force that detonates out from his feet against the ground. The problem is that the angle of her kick leaves her left side the nearest to him - the same side that suffered the bone jarring kick already.

Well aware that she cannot withstand another strike with her left arm, the girl snaps her foot down, pushing off the ground in a desperate bid to escape the short ranged attack.

All the attempt does, however, is leave her even less grounded. The magnitude of power striking the girl that was already attempting to hop out of reach is more than enough to send the Kenpoista flying! The crushing blow to her chest has the air forcefully ejected from her lungs, her body spiraling as she spins completely out of control, landing in a painful tumble over the dirt before coming to a rest several meters away.

She's already on her hands and knees, mouth agape in wide eyed shock at the power behind such a simple, pure gesture. His stance just before was not so different from her own Reverse Stance... maybe she could figure out something similiar? Could she possibly muster anything that would be remotely effective in such short distance though?

A cough escapes her lips as her lungs begin to spasm in a desperate attempt to get back to their biological imperative. She's already pushing herself up at that point, wasting no time to actually take in a clean breath, remembering full well the relentless aggression Master Liu demonstrated in the G-King match. The ache throughout body could be crippling if she stopped long enough to think about it but she does no such thing, allowing adrenaline to dull enough of the pain that she can fight a little longer.

She wasn't satisfied yet.

She would adopt her Reverse Stance in an instant even as another cough wracks her body, before finally lunging off into the ancient fighter. Her trajectory would be similiar to other leaping windmilling strikes, right first, then left, but the instant her toes hit the ground she's springing into a second series of those whirling strikes from the other side.

If she can find the slightest gap in his defense, she will launch into his chest with a spin kick that takes her off the ground that leads into an aerial heel kick that strikes from above before she would have drop back to the earth herself following her swift combination assault!

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Chao Liu with Tenrenge EX.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Hotaru           0/-------/---<<<<|=======\-------\0         Chao Liu

The muscles in Chao Liu's back are huge and thick; and he made sure that Hotaru's kick struck him in the back of the shoulder, where his flex of tension made it even more difficult to get through. The end result was like a tank shell into armor, simply deflecting off with only minimal damage. That he was going to turn that into a weapon might have come as a surprise... a very painful one. She's so fragile... inwardly, Chao Liu thinks much what her father did. She's simply too small and too frail for this path. But unlike him, he understands that she has a strong reason for this. All it means is that she must work harder to patch up that particular hole.
Already Chao Liu is rushing forward, once more in his light, dancing steps. He twists, throwing out a sharp palm strike as she advances... one that the girl just barely weaves beneath. Eyes widen in surprise, before an attempted block is evaded. Two strikes cause him to grunt, but do not stagger. It is the whirlwind upwards that follows which strikes multiple times, like a chisel taken to a stone. At first he endures it, but when Hotaru repeats it a second time he staggers backwards, defense blown away.
And then the foot finds him in the chin, lifting him a few inches before he lands in an awkward crouch, one knee to the ground. It felt like she was practicing on a stone practice dummy; and instantly, she can sense that all of her power still didn't significantly hurt the man. But...
"You reached me. Bravo." offers Chao Liu, smiling as a line of blood runs down his lip. "I can ask for little else than that. And then he's exploding forward, twisting to get in close. Throwing out three feinting strikes, before one flies over her head... and then he drops it down, trying to slam it with brutal force right atop her skull and spike the slight girl into the ground. Feints; he had never done one of those before, a whole new layer of complexity to the purity of fighting. But one good to introduce... being able to sense when an attack is real or not will also be vital for her future...!

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu successfully hit Hotaru with Cun Tui.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Hotaru           1/------</<<<<<<<|=======\=------\1         Chao Liu

He, more than anyone else, would know that in that brief instant, Hotaru had moved and attacked swifter than she had ever done in her life. Each step flows into the next, each spin a fluid transition as her body pivots from one side to the other without missing a beat. The windmilling strikes are clearly a byproduct of all her training, all her practice, and all her inspiration - they are born from her heart and the kernal of her mother's style. But the sweeping spin kick and follow up airborn axe kick clearly bear the spark of innovation innate to the soul of any spirited fighter.

From the moment any fight starts to when she can move no longer, the small fighter is driven to compensate for the challenges that beset her. Larger, heavier, further reaching opponents line the road she has chosen and with each step she takes, the aspiring rookie must either decide to face them with everything she has or turn away from her dream and never return. Even as she connects with her hits, she can feel the difference between them - his body is stone, his flesh unyielding to her blows. Even the sweeping kicks to which she could lend her leg strength and full body momentum only barely budge him in the end.

But she did budge him. And that alone is enough - if that single opportunity is the sum total of her weeks of instruction from the master martial artist, she will be satisfied. She lands out of her kick softly, her breaths still haggard, one hand hitting the dirt to keep herself up right. Every movement she makes jars something in her chest - a crack in her sternum from his back slam from before, no doubt, and the pain brings fresh blush to her cheeks as constrating sapphire blue eyes flick up to glance toward Chao Liu.

His quiet, simple words of compliment might be the most encouraging statement made in the last half of her life. In spite the weak breaths and the pain, it is a bright smile that crosses her lips, and an unyielding resolve reflected in her eyes.

For her, to hear his praise is more than she could have asked. More than she could have even dreamed. She speaks no words - she doesn't need to, for her gratitude is engraved in her glowing visage as she braces for his unhesitating return.

The ancient master strikes without holding back, just as he had before, and this time she has prepared, switching her lower stance to the other side, right shoulder forward, left foot forward. In order to survive defending against all the fighters she will face, she will need to be creative, proactive, and thinking ahead, rather than purely reacting at the last instant. The way she pivots her right side toward him is evidence of that thinking ahead even before he is upon her once more.

But for all her preparation, she was readying for the wrong thing. The three feints cause her to flinch, the girl bracing her right arm with her left hand. His next blow goes over her head - which is an easy enough feat to do given how low she is sinking now in an effort to center herself to keep from being knocked away yet again and avoid the strike at the same time if possible. But his transition from sweeping his hand over her head to dropping it down against her is as fluid as any other shift in tactics he has demonstrated and by then she is in no position to ward it off.

The blow is clean, driving her the rest of the way down, her stance breaking out from under her as she face plants into the dirt with a smashing thud, a cloud of dust blowing up around her point of impact. Every time she feels like she is getting close to understanding what he is about to do, a new layer of complexity is introduced, forcing the student to rethink everything she thought she knew.

Though such thoughts will have to come later. Right now she's spitting out dirt even as slamming her hands against the ground, knee shuffling beneath her, then her foot, as she springs upward from just below him, a rising bullet of purpose. The attack is similiar to the very first one she attempted on him in their G-King bout, but coming from this angle of being practically at his feet, maybe it won't be nearly as transparent as before, hands reaching for his arms to get a grip, feet already kicking off the ground as she attempts to drive her heels into him in a series of rapid, rising strikes before being able to try and backflip away.

Of course, failure to get a hold might have her lunging into empty air without a prayer of defending herself!

COMBATSYS: Chao Liu fails to interrupt Shinjou Tai from Hotaru with Fa Jing Ding.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Hotaru           1/-----<</<<<<<<<|=------\-------\0         Chao Liu

Truly, had Hotaru not segued so flawlessly into her assaults, then Chao Liu would have had time to recover; and then strike back, swatting her from the attack like a bothersome fly. Even every assault put together only averaged a single blow from someone of the Master's level... but it is not a matter of effort or investment, but results. In that moment, she was his equal, and she likely felt it. Her blows found his flesh, and he was finally injured. But the purpose of this is twofold. Her urge to impress, her desire to be praised, should draw out the last bit of potential required to actualize her talent. With that catalyst... he should need to tutor her no longer. No. She has been given a great book of information, clear end results to aim for, and all that is needed is time. Whether he watches her and instructs her further or not... she will get there. That fact alone is a rarity, indeed.
And, given her brutal deposit into the ground, that does not mean he is going anywhere near easy upon the young girl. A shame. Feinting and fighting experience... that is what he has no time to teach her. Hopefully she never fights a deceptive, manipulative man. That would probably end in disaster.
But when she begins to raise up, there's a look within Chao Liu's eyes. He suddenly exhales, twisting his feet. Toes press into the ground, and the flow of force and inner chi can be seen and felt. Time seems to be going in slow motion as his entire body begins to whip, raising up his elbow once more. Teeth peel back, and she manages to grip him... right as it descends.
The wind of the elbow just barely being wriggled past would be felt before the sound, a great CRACK in the air. The ground past Hotaru is buffeted, sending grass, pebbles, and debris flying away violently, as if kicked by an angry child. That could have taken her head clean off, most likely; and then a series of kicks rain down upon him, slowly forcing him backwards before he staggers away, dropping to his stance once more when Hotaru flips off.
"Hahah... you've come so far in such a short time..." he states, smiling warmly. "..." In truth, he had mercy. Hotaru may never know it, but she has already passed. The strike, the one he barely diverted in time from hitting her just now, was his full strength. She has triggered his natural instincts as a fighter, and drawn out his full potential.
She has passed.
"Let us call our spar there... injuring either of us more than we already have is fruitless. I am impressed, Hotaru. And I went into this with high expectations. As promised, after my final defense, I will meet you one last time. To say our goodbyes, and to tell you my dream... one I do not intend to allow the false son of a Mishima to steal away." Another partial bow, before he wipes the blood from his lips. "Continue training both your styles... and your power shall double. I believe soon you will be making your mark on the world, and leaving who you thought were peers far behind..."

She will never have any idea that he pulled the attack, launching up with what, in her mind, was a very clever, swift attack. Everything happens so fast, her rapid strikes, her backflip through the air, her rough landing a few meters away, that she doesn't even comprehend the power of what just narrowly missed until it is all over. The shockwave of sound, the still visible radius of the blast driven outward from the master, a rippling swath of dust, twigs, and small stones jettisoned away.

The awe in her eyes as she glances to the side then back toward the wisened insightful teacher is plain to read. Carefully, she pushes herself up to standing, lifting her arms rather than nursing the ache in her sternum. She's ready to keep on fighting until she can't or the once remarkable young prodigy turned venerable mentor says otherwise.

When he starts speaking, the girl staggers forward a step, wincing as she sucks in her breath, finally having regained some semblence of control over her lungs. Yet even still, a soft laugh of exhiliration escapes her lips. The old man's helping handa long her chosen path of trials and tribulations has not just been inspiring, it has been life changing. She remains ready all the same, until he continues. Only with his permission to stop does she finally slump forward to her knees in the dirt, hands going to her chest, cheeks flush with pain.

"Ah hah. I feel you give me too much credit, Sensei."
The only one at risk of real injury here is obvious. But his words remain kind and it's beyond obvious that she enjoys hearing them all the same.

She is quiet as he continues regarding his upcoming fight and their final meeting to come, her expression falling a little at the reminder that this wonderful time has been merely an ephmeral couple of weeks that will pass like any other and then he will be gone. But she doesn't want him to witness the heartache thoughts of his vanishing inflict, bowing her head quickly as if just focusing on recovering her breath and her ability to stand.

But when he bows, she feels the urgency to respond, forcing herself to her feet with a soft grunt, pressing her hands together, lifting her face with a stern, resolved expression. She will not waste what he has given her - a gift, a strengthining of her dream, a chance to succeed where perhaps it only slimly existed before. The ache of knowing he will be going home soon is pressed aside now, her mouth curled into a quiet hint of a smile in spite how she is feeling.

"Thank you, Master Liu. I look forward to when we can speak again."

She lowers her arms against her sides. "I will be supporting you once again in your match." She has seen what the Silver Haired Demon is capable of in some of his streamed matches... that Chao Liu is facing one of at least his caliber if not greater is beyond any doubt to her.

"Please... be careful," she finally murmurs. One more bow is offered, hands at her sides this time, before whirling on her feet to hurry away. As soon as her chest stops hurting, she can't wait to try out some new ideas even that brief, brutal exchange taught her!

COMBATSYS: Hotaru has left the fight here.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Chao Liu         0/-------/------=|

Log created on 00:27:26 01/19/2015 by Hotaru, and last modified on 20:14:24 01/24/2015.