Neo League 0064 - NL#0066: Natsu vs Hotaru

Description: Two Southtown Student Stars battle it out in the shade of the Westminister Abbey as part of the newly rebooted Neo League franchise! (Winner: Hotaru)

Westminister Abbey exists as a stone and glass tapestry of England's grand history. Its medieval architecture has stood the test of time. Its vaulted chambers, sacred tombs, and hallowed reliquaries awe inspiring to behold, serving as a constant reminder that one's soujourn on this world is but a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of humanity's history.
Like many other cathedrals, the cross-shaped main hall could easily accommodate even the most acrobatic of combatants with its huge, open chambers and long halls. But even in this increasingly secular world, no one in the Neo League franchise could ever hope to convince the papestry to allow an exhibition brawl to take place within its walls. The last thing the newly rebooted franchise needed was a bunch of headlines about how one of their matches destroyed some six hundred year old gargoyle.
Still, the fledging entertainment company managed to work out a mutually beneficial deal with the abbey administration - a sequestered courtyard between buildings has been reserved for the match, in exchange, the League camera men would provide a number of quality publicity shots of the site for promotional purposes. Prior to the match itself, the participants were invited on a their own private tour of the Abbey, guided along the grand halls where they would be given opportunity to gaze upon the intricate glasswork illuminating the structure, lead through the cold, dry tombs below, and even escorted up the clock tower to look over the surrounding region from above.
Eager to continue her exploration of the world of fighters, Hotaru Futaba eagerly enlished in the revived Neo League. A trip to England as part of her first match in the new season was a treat to be enjoyed, and the solemnity with which she comports herself throughout the tour does little to hide her excitement at the entire experience.
But the chance to gaze upon history's monument runs its course, the fighters guided to the courtyard that is to be their stage. Anything not bolted down has been cleared out in preparation for the event. The ground is covered with large, heavy stone tiles loosely placed together. Here and there, small fronds of weeds or grass poke up between the cracks. Large square planter basins made of stone break up the space, though the statues that normally adorn their corners have been relocated for now.
The gothic abbey itself towers over the secluded courtyard, casting a dark shadow that cools the already crisp England winter air even further. The sky is a rare shade of blue given the locale's typical conditions, but down on the ground, between the buildings, it feels as dark as oncoming dusk, and were she not already warming up in her own corner of the courtyard, Hotaru would undoubtedly be feeling cold by now.
But her occasional shiver has nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with nerves. Anxious and excited, eager to start, she works on finding that inner confidence she has felt in other fights. The blue and white Chinese-styled outfit she wears and her twin beribboned pig-tails are consistant with the image the young fighter's fans have come to expect as she works on making a bit of a name for herself. Pausing, right foot forward in a deep lunge, right palm extended out over it, fingers flat, Hotaru sucks in her breath. A flex of her muscles has her hand closing in a fist as she suppresses any thoughts of uncertainty.
Even with event staff milling about, the courtyard feels peaceful and when she closes her eyes for a moment, it is easy to imagine that she is all alone with only the echoes of distant voices to keep her company. A faint smile tugs at her lips as she stands up straight and opens her eyes again, the nervousness past.
She's ready for this.

On the other hand, Natsu Ayuhara hadn't known if she's ready or not. The Amazonesque athlete normally is a bit on the laconic side, but she was even quieter along the walking tour of the Abbey. She viewed the exhibits, and was able to ask and answer questions, but by and large, she seemed... distracted.

Anxiety. Her last step into a tournament ended up with her nearly drowning; she'd refrained from going to the pool or beach as much as politeness would allow. And fighting... She's fought since then, and enjoyed it, but the same 'spark' hadn't been there.

Fighting since then has been safe -- she's made specific requests of this. But without some measure of risk, it... wasn't thrilling to her. It didn't pump the adrenaline the same way as her first Neo League fights did, or even the same way that squaring off against opposing schools on a volleyball court does.

That's why she signed up. That's why she took a chance and let other people decide her fight for today. And that's why she didn't really blanch at being stuck on a plane -- she knew she was in it for the excitement, the inherent lack of control that forces her to think differently, and more importantly, to grow.

All throughout the tour, she was paying mind to Hotaru. This... seemingly fragile girl, not unlike one of her teammates... is her opponent. And she knows that the Neo League -- even under new management -- still wants this to be a good fight.

Knowing very little about Hotaru other than who she sees before her, Natsu's just trying to figure out where that fight is. What makes Hotaru tick?

If it weren't for Hotaru stretching, the Gorin athlete would have remained trapped within her reverie, and forgotten to do the same. But then it strikes her, as she drops to perform some lunges to stretch her legs out.

Hotaru's just as nervous as she is.

Chuckling faintly as a pink tinge crosses her cheeks, she attacks her pre-fight warmup routine with renewed vigor. She may not be 'ready' per se -- she might never be.

But as she laces her fingers together, stretching her hands high overhead, she will at least do her best.

Joints creak and pop as she flexes her fingers, turning to tug the zipper of her Gorin duffel, so that she can pull out a volleyball. Shrugging the bag off her shoulder, she flashes a warm smile back at her opponent, and the officials.

"I'm ready," she states.

Bright eyes focus on Natsu across the way, both hands briefly occupied by tugging on the bow in her right pigtail, making sure it's snug, keeping her ebony hair off her neck and shoulders. Any casual glance at the young fighter's prior experiences would make it clear that she practices a Chinese styled martial art, blending risky acrobatics with unexpectedly aggressive rushdown tactics for such a diminutive competitor.
But then something changed six months ago and her style began to become more controlled, more smooth flowing. The bursts of speed and dicey jumps remained, but then there would be moments where the girl was firmly rooted to the ground as if the ebb and flow of the fight moved about her like water.
Of Natsu, the girl knows she is up against a largely improvized style, inspired by a demanding, very physical sport and powered by Natsu's imposing stature. Facing off against each other, the two girls are extremes in height, a fact not lost on the shorter Futaba. She will have quite the reach to contend with in facing the Gorin High student.
The air is still and as the last of the preparations are completed, a certain quiet falls over the courtyard. The Abbey undoubtedly has no history of training in Eastern styles, but it's still easy to imagine the tranquil courtyard playing host to rows of monks engaged in ritual exercise in the quiet break of dawn.
"Me too!" Hotaru exlaims with unrestrained exuberance. "It is an honor, Ayuhara-san!" Either way the match goes, she thinks to herself, viewers around the world will be witness to the combat prowess of the Southtown high schools.
A few steps forward are taken to close the distance, the girl coming to a stop some five meters away. Her fist claps into her open palm as she bows her head and takes one last prepatory breath. Coming out of her bow, her left foot slips forward slightly as she sweeps her arms around her in a single windmill, pivoting to her ready stance, both hands raised to the ready.
"The creativity of your style..." she observes, her tone thoughtful as she holds her pose, "- I'm so glad to see it for myself." Everything about her stance suggests a sense of control, focus, and purpose. There is no doubt in her eyes that she belongs here. The fighter's path - it calls to her now more than ever. A slow exhale has her landing her forward heel as she plants herself on the ground, positioned between two stone planters, each two meters to her left and right.
A brief dip of her chin is acknowledgement enough that the fight begins now.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Hotaru           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Natsu has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Hotaru           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Natsu

Kain says, "For each mode!"

Natsu's close friend Sakura is the one responsible for getting the Gorin student interested in fighting, and it's not a responsibility she takes lightly; indeed, Natsu had been given 'homework' in the form of online videos that she really needs to watch in her off-time.

These videos remain largely unwatched, accessed only when needed as a cure for insomnia. Natsu loves to learn, but simply observing videos of someone else's style... well, that's not -her- style. She gains a lot more knowledge simply from watching Hotaru steel herself for the upcoming melee than she would from the previous fights; without actually having her head in the game, there's no urgency, no sense of -drama- from watching a video. But now... she can sense the fluidity with which Hotaru moves, a peaceful zen that seems at odds with the harsh, deliberate directional shifts of an art such as karate.

Unfortunately, this means that Natsu is taken aback when receiving compliments from Hotaru. It's an... honor? She's... creative? Well... -those- are the words of someone who's done her homework. Again, the pink tinge crosses her cheeks as Natsu falls back on her Japanese upbringing, clamping the volleyball to her hip and bowing at the waist.

"No, no, the honor is all mine!" she insists as she rises back to her full height -- only to see that Hotaru is giving her that look. You know. The LOOK.

Nodding back with a smile and her steel-grey focus, Natsu tosses the volleyball into the air, and with an overhand swing of her right arm, slams the base of her wrist into the ball, lobbing it at Hotaru at high speed.

And then Natsu takes several long, loping strides to close the considerable gap between the two fighters, eager to get the fight underway.

COMBATSYS: Natsu successfully hits Hotaru with Large Thrown Object.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Hotaru           0/-------/---====|-------\-------\0            Natsu

That her opponent is going to put that volley ball to use is no surprise to Hotaru. She actually does study her upcoming fights, trying to understand how she can make her own style work against them - are there any openings? Any particular limb they favor? How do they tend to defend? While she has definitely met her match in fights against opponents she had no hope of studying ahead of time - and learned a lot from them - there's nothing wrong with going in prepared, she's always told herself.
But watching Natsu's on-court-power being used off-court is one thing - being the direct recipient of it is another matter all together. Eyes follow the ascent of the ball, the Futaba girl not entirely certain if the sports equipment is more distraction than attack...
But when the weaponized rubber and leather bullet actually comes flying her way, any question on the matter is immediately made clear. It moves so much faster than she anticipated, and even prepared as she is, she can't escape its surefire trajectory. A pained wheeze escapes her lips as the volleyball crashes into her chest, sending the lithe fighter sliding over the stone tiles, face twisted in a wince.
"...okay..." she murmurs to herself. Those things are serious. She's starting to wonder if maybe incorporating dodgeball into her training might help with reaction times a little-
Sucking in her breath, she aggresses immediately, eager to meet Natsu in closer range combat. She needs to slip inside the reach of the lanky girl in order to connect with her own strikes. The shock from that initial impact is forgotten for a moment as she twists in with fleet but controlled steps, staying grounded right up until she is about a meter out. A short hop, a swift twist of her body, and cascading swings of her arms are aimed to bring two rapid-striking palm blows against the torso of her taller opponent. "YA!"

COMBATSYS: Natsu blocks Hotaru's Enryuu Banda.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Hotaru           0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0            Natsu

Initiative. The lanky captain of the Gorin volleyball team is well-known for her powerful serves - something Hotaru can now attest to first-hand. Natsu winces slightly when she sees how much it has affected her shorter opponent, but takes a moment to remind herself that she -- and Natsu herself -- are both here because they -can- take a few hits.

While Ayuhara continues closing in on Futaba, her volleyball bounces off, rolling its way along the edges of a row of stone tiles before finally nesting next to a protruding tuft of grass, waiting for the next moment to shine.

When Natsu sees Hotaru preparing to make a stand, the volleyballer strafes to the right slightly. With a quick twist she interposes her shoulder into the path. Hotaru's palms will find that the teen's shoulder and upper arm -- trained to withstand point-blank spikes from an opposing team -- can weather the blow much better than their intended target would have.

That said, Natsu still finds her sneakers squeaking out protests as she skids backwards from the first blow. "Nnf.." She steps away with the second strike, moving with the momentum so as not to be jarred back herself.

Natsu smiles competitively, nodding back in reply to the exchange. But the expression is shared in the midst of twisting herself into a side kick, as Natsu aims the laces of her sneakers at Hotaru's thigh, so as not to let the opportunity go to waste. "Haa!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru blocks Natsu's Medium Kick.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Hotaru           0/-------/--=====|==-----\-------\0            Natsu

The exchange happens in an instant. Both palm strikes are deflected off of Natsu's strong upper arm but the timely defense doesn't seem to change Hotaru's momentum in the slightest. If anything, she's still moving in on Natsu - as if the first series of palm strikes was merely an attempt to create an opening for her actual attack.
Her feet touch down at the same time as her attack is blocked and already the girl is twisting, right foot snapping forward to slam against the tile, her arms snapping to position, left arm ramrod-straight as she jams it into the path of Ayuhara's shin. A grunt of breath is more than audible to the cameras as Hotaru weathers the impact, but her momentum is not slowed in the slightest as she twists into the side kick. "YA-"
In one continuous motion, the girl has defended against the kick and launched into a counter offensive of her own, right arm sweeping up and then down into another mid-leveled palm strike while her bludgeoned left arm snaps back and begins a second sweep that will follow an instant later "YA-. She's barely airborn, but even an inch off the ground, her body is pivoting, every muscle acting in a coordinated manner as Hotaru twists into her landing and delivers the actual blow she was going for all along-
The girl's small, right palm slams out with unexpectedly tremendous force given her stature, her feet bracing against the ground, her knees bent, her whole body leaning into the attack. "YAAA!"
Her left hand slams out in the opposite direction - a necessary counter balance to keep her from literally stumbling into the taller girl. Her right palm trembles slightly as the muscles in her arm remain tense following the attempted delivery of one of her most well practiced techniques."

COMBATSYS: Natsu just-defends Hotaru's Soushou Shin EX!

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Hotaru           0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0            Natsu

Natsu thought she was being crafty in dashing in -after- her attack, rather than just continuing to wait for Hotaru to shake it off and charge in. But it seems that Natsu's level of thinking ahead is a far cry from her diminutive opponent's -- something realized in the midst of her kick. Natsu's eyes widen ever so slightly at the re-utilization of her attack into a weapon against her. Lips press into a thin line out of concern for what lies in store as she recovers from the kick by stepping backwards, keeping mindful of the stone planters to either side. But while Natsu sees those hands rotating about, something occurs to her: she recalls the motions from prior to the fight. The Amazonesque fighter doesn't have to worry about power: she -has- power. But the Kenpoist does not have that luxury, she has to stay moving, and no motion can be wasted. Which means...

Natsu does not think, she acts on reflex, hopping backwards. Her palms snap in front of her, the momentum of the powerful impact channeled by the volleyballer's hands, up her arms, throughout her frame, and dissipating out by the time it reaches her feet. Which... have left the stone tile, as Natsu is momentarily airborne from the sudden motion.

Invigorated by the realization that she'd done so effectively on instinct, Natsu flashes a bright smile -- as much for herself as for her opponent. Her sneakers thud down upon the tile a moment later, and she steps backwards to add soem distance. "Nice! I'm still shaking from that!" she comments, with a healthy admiration for the strength applied by her opponent. Surely, if her volleyball training hadn't kicked in, Natsu would've been in for a world of pain!

But waiting -too- long is a problem, she realizes. The Gorin volleybrawler realizes her error in stepping away, and aims to rectify that by leaping forward, tucking into one quick tumble on the tiles. She snaps out of the roll right in front of Hotaru, with an aim to slap the kenpoist's legs right out from under her! "Attaaaacku!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru avoids Natsu's Rolling Receive.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Hotaru           0/-------/---====|=------\-------\0            Natsu

Having put so much into the strike, Hotaru does not react immediately, standing, arm trembling, perfect balance made by her left handed counter-strike. If anything, she seems a little bewildered by the exchange. She would have known if she missed entirely. Natsu presents somewhat of a large target, though the Kenpoista would never say as much, but the demands of her athletics suggest she can move fast when she needs to too so a clean evasion would not be entirely unexpected.
But she felt that contact, that confirming skin on skin of a strike delivered... yet there was none of the impact that needed to accompany it in her mind's eye of how that was supposed to play out. The brief uncertainty is visible in her expression. She HAS to understand what just happened. If she can't even keep track of what is going on in a fight, how can she even hope to compete?
Surprise turns to intense focus, blue eyes locked on Natsu, her expression losing its friendly edge for a moment; not to be replaced with hostility, by any means. A few seconds in and she already feels the bond of friendship formed by fighters who put it all on the line in honorable contests of skill. Instead, it's clear that she's thinking, rewinding in her mind what just happened, trying to understand the taller girl's flawless defense of her practiced technique.
The Gorin High athlete calls back to her and snaps her from her brief moment of thought, the mien of concentration replaced with a begrudging grin. "Incredible defense," she admires, the pieces clicking together as she considers Natsu's feet landing on the ground a moment prior. So she dissipated the force by letting herself draw back? But behind that sheepish grin the gears are turning. She hasn't even broken out of her stance, though she has lowered her right hand slightly.
She needs to try another approach. As fast as she is, she can't compete with the velocity of the volley balls Natsu has undoubtedly had coming her way in the court. Such direct attacks relying on speed don't seem like the right approach at all. Only when Ayuhara goes back on the offense that Hotaru finally moves, her steps still as fluid as before, pushing off with her front foot to draw back a full step, pivoting in the process.
The instant her foot lands behind her, however, it serves as the launching off point, the girl finally taking to the air in a full jump. A forward flip has her vaulting over Natsu's lower trajectory. She comes out of the flip with easy grace, arms out at her sides, feet leading the way as the girl comes to a landing behind the taller girl. She's already turned around when she lands, back heel stomping against the stonework to launch her right back into an attack.
Natsu might find herself pressured by the relentlessness of the Kung Fu artist as Hotaru seeks a firm grip on her upper arms in an attempt to pull herself up into a rising series of rapid, stomping kicks. If successful, she'll kick off with a finishing backflip in an attempt to recover with another nimble landing a couple meters away. "Ya, Ya, Ya!"

COMBATSYS: Natsu interrupts Shinjou Tai from Hotaru with Knock It Off!.

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

Training allows an experienced fighter to narrow the gap between thought and reaction. In some circumstances the thought can be bypassed entirely. In others, the thought might not even occur until later, as the body executes flawlessly all on its own. Natsu has a great deal to learn about fighting, and she's taking pages from her nimble opponent; reflexes are -not- everything.

As Natsu rolls in, she is somewhat disoriented by her own attack; if not for the shadow darkening her vision, she might have missed the fact that Hotaru had flipped over her. With a ninety-degree pivot, she shifts her kneeling stance from one foot to the other, curling her arms around her as she rises in one steady motion. Brought back to her fighting posture, she's confronted by the smaller fighter gripping onto her baggy athletic jacket.

And that, Natsu finds, is an asset in her favor. The jacket is actually a men's size -- as the local supplier didn't really -make- them in her size. And it's got a little bit of play to it, so when Natsu jerks herself backwards sharply in response to the rising attention, Hotaru will find her grip faltering.

And that's when Natsu remembers how she dealt with bullies back in junior high: By grabbing the wrist of the attacker. Grunts of pain are forced out of her by Hotaru's stomping kicks, but the retreat will be made significantly more difficult for the kenpoista by Natsu's left-handed grip on her left forearm.

It will also be made significantly more -painful- as the taller fighter leverages her height advantage, taking the opportunity to connect with the open-handed slap she couldn't mere moments ago. This time, the slap will land upon Hotaru's cheek. Once that hits, Natsu will keep her close enough for a followup, striking once more with the back of her hand into the smaller fighter's sternum, mercifully releasing her forearm grip to let momentum run its course.

Panting heavily, Natsu rests an open palm on her knee, taking a moment to catch her breath after getting it momentarily kicked out of her. "N-not bad! Keeping me on my toes, here...!"

Even trying to catch Natsu off guard from behind ends up not working out as the Futaba girl had hoped. She realizes the other fighter is onto her when she reverses the group on her forearm, denying her the chance to escape. Committed as she is, there's no choice but to belt out the kicks as fast as possible before she gets stopped rather decisively.
The slap packs the kind of force that can bury volleyballs into the ground and it's more than enough to daze the girl on its own. The backfist into her other cheek followed by the release of her arm sends Hotaru stumbling the other way, reeling as she tries to first catch her balance and second, figure out what direction her opponent is even in.
Wincing, she finally catches herself, whirling around a half circle, arms raised defensively as if to ward off a potential follow up attack she can't possibly know is coming. It takes a moment for her to get her focus back after that jarring hit, eyes blinking a couple of times while she keeps her guard up as a precaution. The sting in her cheeks keeps her alert beyond the distraction. She knows she's taking a bit of a beating, but she's without a doubt still standing and eager to continue.
The third blink has her focus snapping back to Natsu, her look of concentration replaced with a bit of a grin accompanied by reddend cheeks. Every attempt to speed her way through Natsu's defenses haven't worked. The volleyball fighter is undoubtedly tough - without a doubt, the toughest school aged fighter she's faced, Hotaru considers.
"Do you have a name for it?" she finally asks, breaking up the moment. "Your style, that is." she adds a moment later as she sucks in her breath then exhales, forcing herself to control her breathing through conscious effort. The deep inhale of crisp, cool air is invigorating and the girl doesn't wait for long to finally go back on the offense-
It starts as a sprint, but slows to a more controlled approach from a couple meters out, arms whipping up then down as the girl drops into an extremely low lunge, right foot all the way forward, left foot bent at the knee, toes right beneath her hips in a crouch that has the girl's chin almost all the way down to the ground.
It lasts for only an instant though - serving as a moment of transition and momentum building, as she lunges out of the low stance, left hand leading with a solid open palm strike as she straightens her left leg. "HA-" Her whole body lunges forward then, twisting toward the left, right hand slamming from behind her into a crushingly strong follow up strike. If she can't slip through Natsu's defenses with speed, it seems she's going to try and power her way through with force! "HAH!"

COMBATSYS: Natsu dodges Hotaru's Fierce Punch.

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

Once she's satisfied that Hotaru is okay with proceeding, Natsu flashes her opponent an awkward smile and lifts away from her knee. Fingers spread wide in anticipation of a volleyball rather than the palm strikes or kicks she's been fielding thus far in the battle.

And... well. A name. Ayuhara's eyebrows arch for a moment as she considers, and just slowly shakes her head. "I've never been much good at naming things, sorry," she admits in all earnestness, bowing her head lightly to punctuate the statement.

But even with the deference, she keeps her eyes fixed on an opponent, mindful that conversation can, in some cases, be used as an insidious distraction. She's not -quite- as worried about that here, but she still has to be mindful of her opponent's speed.

Natsu is deceptively fast for someone her size, again owing to the fast-paced nature of her favored sport. When Hotaru sprints forward, Natsu believes she has a good read on what comes next, and how long it will take to execute.

Which is why, with a sudden expulsion of breath, she throws herself to her right, tumbling upon her shoulder into a full-on sideways roll. She lands on the ground just as Hotaru's first hand strikes down; when her sneakers hit the floor once again, she springs back to her feet.

And as she rises back to her feet, her hands spread before her defensively. And Ayuhara watches, fixed in place, much as she'd seen Hotaru do just moments before. Blinking, and unmoving, she considers her next action -- for if Hotaru keeps getting faster and faster, she might just lose track of everything altogether.

The gears are, however slowly, turning. "... What do you call yours?"

COMBATSYS: Natsu focuses on her next action.

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

Hotaru's right palm hangs in the air though without the intensity of her earlier attack. It seems she was careful not to over extend this time, pushing back with her left foot to return to a rooted, stable stance, arms snapping back to a readied guard position. Natsu's explanation that she doesn't have a name for it merely prompts a smile. "It doesn't need one," comes her answer easily enough, "It's yours and yours alone."
As the athlete comes out of her evasion, the Futaba girl begins circling her, making small steps, pivoting such that she is always facing the Gorin Star, arms continuously at the ready. "Juukei style Kenpo," she answers at first. There is a catch in her voice as she seems to consider, "Well. Mostly... it includes elements of Tai Chi and Chuojiao as well." She inhales then exhales, focusing on her heart rate for a moment as she considers her options for advancing. "I guess it's mine too." she finally settles, realizing the different influences in her own fighting style that had affected how she grew over the years.
Pushing up onto one foot, left hand raised, elbow to the level of her ear, right hand forward defensively, the girl winds herself up for what will undoubtedly be nother charge, be for finally launching, springing into another blue and white blur to close the distance.
She leaps from two meters out into a forward roll, aiming to tumble right past Natsu and come up immediately on the other girl's left. Rather than strike, she seeks a firm grip on her arm, aiming to use her own forward momentum to twist Natsu's arm up, over, and flip the taller combatant over Hotaru's hip onto her back against the stone. A swift motion - it would seem easy to do to the observer unaware of the exact mechanics of the shoulder throw. "KYA!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Natsu with Quick Throw.

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

Natsu isn't normally the best at keeping a conversation alive, particularly when it relates to fields she doesn't study all that much. She leaves meticulous study of fighting styles to her friends, after all -- friends who will likely be reviewing the recording of this fight and playing it back for the sake of posterity.

"Juukei style Kenpo," repeats the volleybrawler, making a mental note. Tai Chi, she's heard of, but Chuojiao just has too many vowels for her to keep track of. She's sure Sakura will have a full analysis in about a week. That won't help her here.

But Natsu will remember this stance. And she will remember when she tries to swivel and keep up with her opponent, as before -- and will try to raise her arms defensively, only to find that the gesture is, in fact, Futaba's attack vector. Eyes widen and she looses a small yelp as she's twisted forward, her height used against her as she's hip-tossed onto the ground, landing flat upon her back. Eyes screw shut; air hisses through clenched teeth as she reminds herself to move, to do -anything- to get out of the way now that the situation has been reversed upon her. The arch of her back is screaming in agony at being slammed onto the very flat stones, so it makes sure to protest Ayuhara's decision to log-roll to the side, wrenching another low hiss of air out of her as she plants her hands and knees back into the tile. The very hard tile.

"N-not bad..." she admits, realizing that her insistence on blocking everything with her forearms does have its downsides. But when she launches herself forward, like an olympic runner at the sound of the starting pistol, she aims to throw her considerable weight forward. And in this case, she aims to ball both her fists low and bring them up like a wrecking ball into Hotaru's midsection; if it hits, she'd be bumped into the air like a volleyball. "HRAAAAA!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru blocks Natsu's Fierce Punch.

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

The compliment is answered by a quiet smile though Hotaru doesn't respond vocally for now. Her mind is on the fight - reviewing what she's learned, what has worked, what hasn't. Considering her options. Recalling to mind past experiences and trying to figure out how they would apply here. Someday, such thought processes will undoubtedly become instinct as lessons born from hundreds of battles become second nature. But for now, the student fighter is doing everything she can to manage the stress of combat, the pressure of executing her techniques flawlessly, and watching out ofr attacks from the very unorthodox Natsu.
The nature of her throw has Hotaru exiting the motion already in a defensive posture, arms raised, shoulder toward the other girl, feet braced against the ground. It seems her decision to face the other girl's next attack directly was already made and in this instant, she sucks in her breath and attempts to survive the crushing impact. Crouching slightly, she blocks the double fisted swing with both forearms.
In spite all her preparation, the girl is sent staggering back, guard broken by the impact, eyes widened slightly in alarm. But there is no time for that, she reminds herself - it's necessary to try yet another approach for dealing with Natsu's adaptable strengths.
She-... she needs to quit trying to think her way this battle, she tells herself - she needs to just keep moving, trust her training, and tough it out to the end, whatever may come. A certain calm settles into her mind as she finally catches her balance from the backward slide. Breathing in then exhaling, her eyes lock on Natsu as the girl kicks out of her rooted stance to skip back a meter. But even though she seems to be retreating, waiting for her to land would be a mistake - one might catch the flash of brilliant cerulean near the moving girl's right hand. By the time her feet touch down, she's already swinging the limb forward. The bolt of concentrated energy surges from her thrusting hand, forced through the air between the two by force of will and technique. "HAAA!"
A swirling, surging sphere of confusive force hurtles toward Natsu. Lacking any elemental properties, its threat is one of pure striking power. Even as the attack is airborn, Hotaru exhales, her right arm dropping, the young fighter starting to look winded by the relentless pacing she has been maintaining throughout the match.

COMBATSYS: Natsu endures Hotaru's Hakki Shou EX.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Hotaru           1/----<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\1            Natsu

This fight has probably -twice- the conversation of any of Natsu's previous fights, so she isn't terribly distraught when Hotaru wants to focus on the actual combat. Ayuhara, as well, is learning all about the proper etiquette and conduct for these sorts of things, and... well, it's clear that Hotaru knows more about it than she does. With a friendly smile, she resolves to follow Futaba's lead in that regard.

Which is kind of an inversion from how the fight itself is going, naturally. Natsu has a good idea for volleyball strategy: condition your opponent to act one way, and then capitalize on that conditioned response by doing something totally different. She'd realized that she'd been consistently blocking attacks with her arms, keeping her distance and allowing Hotaru to build up momentum for another rushing attack. And even though she's not seen Hotaru manifest that much energy in one attack up till now, she's fought Sakura enough times to know that this... might hurt a bit.

Natsu tucks her head down and rushes into the concentrated bolt of energy. Her jacket ripples from the surging energies of the attack, her forward momentum stunted as if she were trying to plow through an oncoming ocean wave.

And for one hanging moment, it looks like she's questioned this course of action -- her black hair is tousled out in all directions, her face flush with the sting of the attack...

But still Natsu plows forward, a weary smile on her face. Because she's aiming to grab hold of Hotaru's shoulders, and then throw all her weight to the right, slinging the smaller girl around like a giant counterweight. If she's able to conclude the motion she'd be tossing Hotaru further along the stone tiles -- and possibly the stonework planters that have been set up.

It seemed like a good idea at the time she'd started running, at any rate...

COMBATSYS: Hotaru interrupts Power Throw from Natsu with Tenshou Ranki.

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

It feels strange trying to convince herself to stop thinking so much. After all, she doesn't have a raw strength advantage against... well, hardly anyone she will face. And while she's fast, she is by no means the fastest around. So it would stand to reason that she'd need to use her brain to make up the difference. But as she came to realize facing the vesatile Gorin athlete, overthinking things through has its own risks.
Suppressing her conscious thoughts, the girl has allowed instinct to take over. Each movement flowing into the next, each step a byproduct of years of practice in preparing for moments like these. Even in the cold shadow of the Abbey, her cheeks glisten, bangs sticking against her temples as she continues to push herself, not even aware of how increasingly exhausted her body is getting.
Drawing her hand back after hurling her azure projectile, the girl forces herself to continue. The first step feels heavy, lifting her foot and planting it down, then lifting her back foot to repeat the process. Slow, steady steps. One, two, three... each one coming faster as she begins to build momentum. This is her only shot - she needs to make it count. It's the only way she can have no regrets when all is said and done.
Her expression is aglow - there is something about the peace one finds when a decision is made with such absolute, unyielding resolution. No room for doubt, no second guesses, no hesitation. By her fifth step, she's meeting to meet Natsu head on at full speed. She doesn't even know what happened with her projectile - did it hit? Did it splash some fountain? Knock some camera askew? Does it even matter?
It almost seems as if she's got the same idea in mind as Natsu - a full bodied tackle just to see what might happen. It's the surge of chi that explodes around the Futaba girl, the smae shade as her projectile, only far more brilliant, that is the first sign that she has something else in mind entirely.
The two girls collide. With their respective builds, when it comes to pure kinetic force, Hotaru is easily on the losing end of that exchange and if all she meant to do was tackle Natsu to the ground the outcome would easily have been of her tumbling the opposite direction completely out of control. A pained grunt as she leans into the collision, dropping forward into a low crouch that she knows she can't maintain for more than an instant in the exchange. "Tenshou-!"
The aura of chi about the girl explodes, launching Hotaru upward into a full backflipping kick aimed at carrying both of them into the air. "Ranki!" A forward flip has her diving into her opponent. Everything happens too fast for conscious thought as she tackles Natsu to the ground, the two sliding to a stop, Hotaru's kneeds at Ayuhara's sides.
A sphere of chi wells up around the two, answering the diminutive fighter's call, bringing with it a storm of dust and small debris whipping the girls' hair about.
And then it crashes to an end, Hotaru's palms to Natsu's sternum, serving as conduits of all that chi that she blasts into her opponent, aiming it would seem to take her out of the fight in one powerful attack.
The rest of the blast radiates outward, a shockwave made visible only by the wall of dust it drives before it. In the center of the fading storm, Hotaru exhales, leaning forward, pressing down to try and hurry to her feet - the trauma of the fight settling in rapidly as she's running on fumes now.
But maybe it was enough? Will Natsu have anything after that?

Of all the possible responses Natsu could have expected Hotaru to bust out, charging -after- her energy bolt was not one of them. If Natsu weren't already hoping to get a hold of the nimble kenpoist she would have been at a severe disadvantage, but even -with- that foresight, she finds herself incapable of winning the aura tug-of-war. Her eyes go wide; the pressure of the chi forcing its way through her skin is enough to wring a roar of pain from the Gorin schoolgirl. The clouds of dust only make that worse, scratching at Ayuhara's throat and causing her to howl even louder. Common sense might tell one to shut her mouth at this point, but she is still, well, learning. It's only once the reality of the situation sets in, and Natsu finds Hotaru astride her, that Natsu realizes that the torrential storm is ending...

And -wow- does it hurt. When Hotaru rolls off of her, Natsu rolls to the other side, curling into a ball, her ribcage shuddering with a series of wracking coughs.

And yet... one hand presses down. Like Hotaru, she's running on fumes... And like Hotaru, she's hurrying to her feet. One hand hangs down by her knee while her other presses against her chest.

Yes... This is the feeling she's been missing: the spirit of competition. Natsu smiles broadly, as her aura erupts in a fiery blaze around herself.

She takes three steps to the right. And kicks at something on the ground: the volleyball, where it had fallen before, an eternity ago.

Natsu lobs the ball into the air, and with a little hop, she slams the hammer of her wrist into the ball. The sphere distorts into a fiery, oblong pancake as it tears across the space between herself and Hotaru. "Ii-keeeeeeeeeh!" It may hit a -little- harder than intended -- but she did promise to give Hotaru her best, right?

COMBATSYS: Hotaru auto-guards Natsu's Blazing Serve.

[                    \\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Hotaru           0/-------/-----<<|======-\-------\0            Natsu

When she got her first opportunities in the fighting circuits, the swift but powerful attack combination she just executed would be the end of her either way - too exhausted to push any further, just holding her ground after such an expenditure of energy was a trial.
Hotaru has come a long way since then - learning pacing, stretching her endurance further with each match, and while her rather unforgettable technique still practically wipes her out, she is able to last a while yet. If anything, being pushed as hard as she has been by the Volleyball Captain has caused her to ignore her own exhertion, set aside thoughts about what her limits are or are not. Slipping back a meter then another to put distance between her and Natsu, there is a zen-like focus in the Futaba girl's expression. The fretting, the worrying, the conscious decision making from earlier in the match has melted away, leaving only a young fighter operating at the peak of her abilities.
If pressed to describe it afterward, she would find it difficult to put to words the way her body just seemed to know what to do when she got her thoughts out of its way. Azure eyes stay focused on Natsu as the other student finds that sense of inner satisfaction in the heat of battle. A quiet smile of her own is reflected in turn though she isn't truly aware of it as she slips her right foot forward, bending her left leg at the knee and sliding it behind her slightly, allowing herself to root down in place.
Here and now, this experience, is this what her brother sought? He spoke of loneliness, but perhaps he found a way to escape it with his own driven pursuit of martial prowess? It registers that Natsu is actually launching a counter offensive when she sweeps her foot against the ground, kicking the primary weapon of her unique style airborn and into the perfect position.
It would be impossible to forget the impact of the first time she nearly got bowled over by that volleyball. Were it not for the serenity she briefly feels in her mind, she wouldn't be able to help but panic at the menace that sports equipment represents as the champion of the courts crushes it with a spike for the ages. It's almost too fast to see and far too fast to consider avoiding - of course, it's too late to think of anything at all.
Hotaru's body shifts, her left arm passing across her face, her right arm over her abdomen. In an instant of powerful exhale, the arms switch place, her left arm dropping, her right arm sweeping upward with full striking force, driving the side of her forearm into the volleymissile. Instead of being crushed beneath it, the flaming ball is deflected less than an inch from smashing into the girl's face. "HAAA!" The shockwave from the impact sends her pig-tails flailing behind her head for a moment before settling back down against her shoulders.
She completes the motion, her left foot slamming down against the stone in front of her, her right arm still raised over the level of her head where it came to rest, the girl frozen in place as a realization of what just happened settles in. The widening of her eyes, the startled expression, the way her mouth opens then closes without a sound more than makes it clear that her defense was entirely subconscious instinct rather than precision calculated timing.
She opens it again a moment later with a blink, lowering her arm and shifting her footing to let her stand up straight. "I-" she starts then stops, clearly at a loss for words to describe the miracle defense she managed to pull off. "I-" she tries again before shaking her head and closing her eyes, bowing her head only briefly, "Nevermind."
Lifting her face, opening her eyes, she swings her arms out into a ready position again, her feet bracing against the ground as she prepares to bolt. "Thank you." She sprints forward. Natsu's talents as a fighter, her resolve to give it her all - that in and of itself provided her with the opportunity to accomplish something she never had before and for that, she can feel nothing but gratitude even if her expression of such may not come across entirely clear.
A leap into the air, a snapping, forward flip, a left knee first drive right toward Natu's shoulder- If she connects, she'll sweep her right foot from behind her into a side kick to the other girl's head before backflipping away in a similiar fashion as she had attempted in her unsuccessful attack earlier. "KYA!"

COMBATSYS: Natsu fails to interrupt Rengeki Shuu from Hotaru with Rival Launcher.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Hotaru           0/-------/-----<<|====---\-------\0            Natsu

COMBATSYS: Natsu keeps on fighting!

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Hotaru           0/-------/-----<<|====---\-------\0            Natsu

All throughout childhood, Natsu's been told all about the things she's not supposed to do. Not supposed to cut her hair, lest she look like a boy. Not supposed to talk back to grownups when they're clearly lost their minds, lest she be disrespectful. Not supposed to fight back against a bully, lest they get angrier. Natsu was willing to take the chances -- she knew it'd be easier to risk the punishment for failure than to cope with the regret of not even trying her best.

That defiant fire still burns within her, the need to push back even against unbelievable odds. Every time she's pushed back, she's learned something, win or lose. And she's determined to make the best out of the situation that presents itself to her now, as her sneakers once more hit the stones.

Her landing... could have been steadier. Her volleyball could have hit its mark, but even that doesn't disappoint her -- the fact that her opponent was insightful enough to find a way to avoid it pleases her in some measure.

The battle's not over, though -- not yet. She hunches back over into her fighting stance, arms hanging at the ready. With a warm smile, she conveys her understanding of the twice-aborted statement Hotaru was trying to make: that she might be having an epiphany of sorts, as well. "The pleasure's all mine."

Natsu sees the resolve in her opponent's approach. Inspired by the channeling of Hotaru's energy, the volleyball captain believes she can accomplish a similar feat, her fiery aura springing up as Hotaru approaches. She drops her shoulder, chambering her knee as she prepares to twist into an upwards kick--

But she misanticipates exactly how -fast- Futaba was able to clear that distance. The knee crashes into her shoulder a split-second before she can unleash her attack. Natsu staggers, her legs unsteady from what seems like an eternity of fighting.

And the followup kick brings a starry galaxy into existence as Natsu finds her world lurching violently to the right. Her mouth clamps shut from the sudden disorientation, though it does little to muffle the groan of pain...

And with the backflip, the Gorin athlete finds her shoulders rocked backwards sharply, sending her flying backwards onto her keister. The flames of her aura begin to flicker in the wind. Her hands flail out for balance -- a feeble afterthought, considering that there's little they can do to stop the momentum.

She props herself up with one arm, another going to her face. Her eyes shut from the sudden g-forces applied to her head.

Blackness, for a few moments... and then it fades, as she forces her eyes open, looking down at her bandaged hand. She'd almost...

Natsu twists to the side, pushing herself back to her feet. She's standing perpendicular for a moment, before turning her head towards Hotaru.

It's not a volleyball stance -- it resembles a kenpo stance, actually, aside from the unrefined nature and the fact that she could tumble over in a light breeze.

Her face is scuffed, her hair still a mess from the earlier exchanges. Her ribcage heaves with each belabored breath. But her eyes are crystal clear. "Saaa.... there'll be plenty of time to rest on the plane ride home." She winks an eye back at her opponent, and starts approaching her nimble opponent at a brisk pace. Not quite as quick as before -- but she has every aim of seeing where this fight ends up.

A graceful backflipping arc comes to an end with Hotaru's feet landing dead center on one of the heavy stone tiles. Her arms out at her sides, her head leaning forward, she stands on her toes as tall as she can for a fleeting moment before planting her heels and twisting her left shoulder forward, arms raised, feet ready to respond to the next attack.
She had felt the impact of her dive even if she wasn't in a position to witness the outcome visually until after she's landed. An immediate gasp of breath upon touching down is the first outward sign of how far she's pushing herself. Maintaining the aggressive, ever moving style she's demonstrated from the moment the match began is taking it's toll on the fledgling fighter, but as long as she can stand, she'll continue to fight. Her left hand drops to rest against her side, perhaps nursing a bruise from before, or realizing just how painfully winded she actually is, each deep, fast breath attempting to let the girl catch up on much needed oxygen.
"Yeah," she laughs back regarding the promised respite of the flight home. "You got that right!" Pushing themselves this far for their sport, their passion... nothing left in the tank, no room for regrets. Sucking in one more breath, Hotaru moves forward to meet Natsu. She, too, has lost some speed. Pains, aches, and just the stresses on her body have seen to that. But even still, by normal standards, she is by no means slow. It is when two meters remain between them - the distance that many of her attacks seem to launch from - that the Kung Fu artist makes her move. Another leap, a twist of her body, hips swinging up, feet snapping out as she flips herself into a horizontal cartwheel, sweeping her feet for Natsu's torso and upper shoulders.
Unless prevented, she'd touch down and, with a grunt that betrays how much this is wearing on her, spring into a second, follow up horizontal cartwheel of light but effective battering kicks before finally swinging down to land in a staggering step on the other side.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Natsu with Medium Kick.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Hotaru           0/-------/----<<<|=======\-------\0            Natsu

As she approaches, a smiling Natsu is momentarily spellbound by Hotaru's graceful motions. The volleyballer is envious of the way Hotaru moves about, seemingly mocking gravity with every flip, every turn, and begins to wonder if maybe she shouldn't pick up an actual martial art. Would she even be able to learn something so dynamically different from her own skillset, without putting her athletic career at risk? Perhaps...

Like resting, that sort of pondering would also be better left to the plane ride home, because the quick little firefly is flitting right up in her path again. At the time Natsu decided to close the gap, it had seemed like a good idea to hasten the timetable; the volleyballer could handle a hopping kick, or some form of energy, maybe. But a whirling cartwheel? The Gorin athlete's determined expression falls, replaced by a momentary mask of panic as she abruptly drops to one knee, to halt her forward momentum. Belatedly, she begins to raise her arm, perplexed: there's nothing to grab hold of, nothing to brace against except the attack itself.

And that's when it hits her: the feet, that is. The Amazonesque fighter begins to topple over like a bewildered tenpin, holding her arms out unsteadily...

And then comes round two, knocking the wind out of the lanky teenager and toppling her to the ground with a thud. Her forehead is knitted in pain at the multiple impacts, both from Futaba's flying feet and from her shoulders' encounter with the heavy stone tiles.

Natsu's ribcage rises and falls for a few moments; her eyes remain pinched shut as she alternately draws air in and hisses it right back out. It... well, she looks -mad-.

But rather than a scream or a howl, her next utterance is a simple peal of laughter. Her eyes open slowly, as her head tilts towards Futaba. "Okay, okay... I... I think I'm done for now, haha... That was amazing!"

COMBATSYS: Natsu takes no action.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  <
Hotaru           0/-------/----<<<|

COMBATSYS: Natsu can no longer fight.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  <
Hotaru           0/-------/----<<<|

As graceful as Hotaru's movements were through much of the fight, the landing following her last attack calls a bit of that into question with the rough stumble of her landing. The momentum of her spin works against her search for balance as she ends up with one clumsy step, then another, finally whirling around on the back of her left heel, arms out at her sides in a desperate bid to regain control, before she finally flops down in a seated position herself, hands planted behind her back.
Facing Natsu, Hotaru hesitates, body tense. If the other girl makes a move, she'll need to bolt, and right now, her body is suggesting such a rapid movement might be out of the question. She doesn't even realize she's holding her breath until the Gorin athlete releases a laugh and with that the final moments of tension are washed away. Hotaru exhales, looking relieved, face aglow with that giddiness that ushered in by a small success and the natural high of such an intense workout. Shifting one of her feet beneath her in order to begrudgingly push herself to her feet, she takes one careful step forward, wiping her forehead with her left arm as she draws nearer to Natsu.
"It-" she gasps, "It really was! It's been a real treat meeting the most dangerous woman in the world with a volleyball." A hand is offered, "But the real honor is enjoying this experience with a fellow student from Southtown. I'm so glad to have met you, Ayuhara-san."

COMBATSYS: Hotaru has ended the fight here.

It's been a while since Natsu's gotten into a fight. It's been even longer since she's had a battle so intense that her body just refused to obey the demands placed upon it. She smiles placidly for a few moments, until she finds herself wincing at the fight referee's loud proclamations about Hotaru Futaba being the champion of this contest...

Natsu accepts Hotaru's offer of assistance, taking her hand and pulling up to a standing position. She's wobbly, to be sure, and her eyes aren't -quite- as lucid as at the start of the fight, but she's not in immediate danger of falling over. Probably.

She bows her head with a grateful smile. "No, no... thank -you-, Futaba-san, for introducing me to your style of Kenpo. There's... so much to learn out there... " She wobbles slightly, adding, "and I'm glad to have a guide like yourself...!"

Somehow she manages to keep from falling over for now. But it's probably a good thing medical staff are right next to her, just in case!

Hotaru smiles warmly as Natsu manages to stay on her feet, her own breaths still coming quickly while her heart rate begins to return to normal. At the bowed head and offer of thanks, she nods quickly in reply, expression still friendly. When the mention of being a guide comes, however, the girl blinks, caught off guard at the very idea.
"Oh. I- ah hah. I mean, I-" she stammers nervously, cheeks turning a bit more pink by the moment, "That's really-" She sucks in her breath, realizing that she's babbling rather incoherently at the moment, clasping her hands behind her back.
"I am just learning, myself, but if you would ever like to, ah, like, practice together or anything, I'd be happy to do so!" Lifting her hand to brush her hair back a little, she laughs again, not sure if she sounds a bit too desperate for a friend that actually enjoys the very idea of being a fighter. The average student at Seijyun would be more likely to turn her nose up at such a prospect, and many of the girls who actually do have martial prowess tend to be too elite to mingle with the orphaned Futaba girl.
Bowing again, quicker now, trying to recover more gracefully, she backs up a step, still grinning sheepishly as she waves her hand, "I hope to see you around. And please, call me Hotaru!" And with that, the girl makes her escape from the courtyard!

Log created on 15:05:54 11/22/2015 by Hotaru, and last modified on 18:08:37 11/25/2015.