KOF 2016 - KOF Stage 1: Team Ninja vs Psycho Soldiers

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Description: With match considerations provided by Kain Heinlein, the Psycho Soldiers and Team Ninja face off on Livingston Island, at Mosi-Oa-Tunya in Zambia. With the Zambezi River thundering down a 400-foot-tall drop, it might be easy to miss the fact that an entire platoon of soldiers is lurking just a short distance away... << Winner: Psycho Soldiers >>

It's called "Livingstone Island" but 'island' isn't a particularly apt description. If anything, it's part of the cliff face at Mosi-oa-Tunya's First Gorge that hasn't, and won't, be consumed by the Zambezi River as it tumbles some 400 feet over a particularly scary cliff. There's nothing ON this 'island' except trees; it's too close to the actual falls themselves to really be safe as a regular tourist destination, and you still have to cross the dangerously swift current of the Zambezi to even get to it. The thunderous roar of falling water at the very edge of the strip of greenery and trees that is Livingstone Island is deafening. Great to look at from a distance... probably not the best tourist destination on the average.

This is probably why the KoF organizers chose it. They just seem to have a... knack for picking these ridiculous, improbable, and usually casually lethal destinations for their battles.

Except for a few ventures as part of SNF, Haru Sakuraba has really never left Japan. Even then, he's lived in relatively big cities... Amami, Southtown. It might be a cliche to say that there is something terrible and majestic about the scope and power of a place like Victoria Falls, but as the Justice High student waits for KoF to officially begin, he can't help but... well, gawp at it all like a tourist. He's got his back to the river proper, facing the falls themselves, grey eyes wide with wonder. Before him, the tumultuous spray of the falls creates a sort of permanent rainbow as the sunlight filters through it. The blues and greens of the natural setting are a sharp contrast to Haru himself, who despite the heat is wearing his typical all-black ensemble, gold Justice uniform jacket tied around his waist.

In truth, the ridiculously overpowering sensory input of the falls is a good distraction from the pit-of-the-stomach nervousness Haru is feeling. Compared to Athena and Kensou, he's neither a very experienced fighter, nor particularly well-trained in the use of his powers just yet... and it took a lot of effort on the part of Momoko and Athena to pull out a win in the previous round. But at the same time, after his talk with Athena, Haru himself volunteered to go first, to (thankfully) no objection from his teammates. But he's keenly aware that any other team that made it this far is at least as skilled as his teammates... possibly more.

This might explain the fact that, even though he's staring at the falls in wonderment, one gunmetal-grey yoyo continues to do a constant up/down loop from one hand, a nervous gesture.

Back in her studies of the basics of Iga-ryu ninjutsu, there was a class teaching the arts of recovering during battle. Of course, the first step was first aid -- and Nagase aced that part. The largest and most important part of the course was demonstrating how one could alter the flow of chi to accelerate the body's natural healing processes.
It took Nagase a while to remember that part. It became kind of crucial for her in the wake of a trap gone horribly awry.

Right now, she's as awestruck as Haru -- though she's got a higher viewpoint. A glider allows her to see the wondrous falls from a tremendously high altitude, taking mental stock of the various landmarks she'd done a copious amount of Internet study upon. Knowing her environment inside and out is a big part of the kunoichi's tricks. And, as she wasn't really feeling up to taking a field trip to the Falls prior to the fight -- her bandaged limbs still a bit tender from her recent combat -- the aerial view is a next best thing.

The ninjette's glider sails in a wide loop over the island, coasting to a lower altitude not far from the fight locale. Once the vehicle is close enough, she extends her feet as landing gear, running along with the fast-moving vehicle until it slows to a halt. She lifts the mechanical glider up, popping a switch on the handle, and the wings immediately begin to contract.

The kunoichi is dressed differently than her last appearance for Rumble in the Streets; she's traded her yellow dress for a black one, and streaked her flame orange hair with some red highlights. Her sleeves, rather than being alternating bands of medium and dark grey, are a deep crimson to match her boots.

There are reasons for her change of wardrobe, and they may be related to the flesh-toned band-aid across her cheek and the pristine white bandages wrapped about her shoulders.

"Huh," she states, shoving her folded-up glider at a KOF official, who seems both -really- confused, and yet not so indignant as to throw the device to the ground. The kunoichi tilts her head to the side as she looks back at Haru -- and then around to the arena. She frowns. "Wow, you're here all alone?"
She just flew overhead. She knows the audience is on the other side of the falls, watching with binoculars that were (naturally) offered at a steep premium.

"Damn." She blinks, then covers her mouth with her hands, "I mean, darn." And then she looks up (not down) at the young man. "So, like... did you get separated from your family?" They're way over there."

Meanwhile, her spectacles give her a quick readout on the psychically-gifted youngster before her. She may be dissing him for his age. But she is -not- underestimating the Justice High student.

It's a rainbow. Beautiful! Soothing. Colorful.

Then 98lbs. of sass in a 5lb. bag literally drops out of the sky and it all goes to hell.

Nagase's dramatic entrance is exactly that and, in likelihood, produces the effect she was probably going for exactly: he stumbles (backwards, thankfully, away from the cliff edge) in shock. The two fighters make a sharp visual contrast -- Haru with his decidedly monochromatic outfit versus Nagase's sharp, if eccentric, personal style. The Justice student just sort of gapes at the ninja girl for a moment or two, before he registers the bandages that she's wearing. His face shifts, incongruously, to one of instant concern. "Ah... are you alright? Are you sure you sh--"

Then he seems to process everything she said, as if on time delay, and frowns a little, the idly-looping yoyo suddenly slapping firmly into his palm and staying there. "I'm Haru Sakuraba," he says carefully, re-evaluating his initial impression of the person before him.

She might be... _mean_.

"I'm here representing Psycho Soldiers," he says, almost impossibly deferentially polite. "A pleasure."

If she were someone else, she might find the shy act completely adorable. But she's Nagase, and Haru is so not her type. "Mmmm..." she comments, narrowing her eyes somewhat. Crossing her arms behind her back, she begins pacing off a slow and wide circle around Haru, giving her Battle Disc System a bit more data to work with -- especially since the young man seems to be completely permissive of... darn near everything she's doing.

She says nothing else, for the long circuit around Haru, then stops and turns to face him once she stands in front of him again. Her lips curl into a mild smirk, as a heavily-armored, red-enameled finger nudges her eyeglasses up along the bridge of her nose.

"Well, Mr. Sakuraba, I'm here representing Team Ninja." She does her best to match the young man's pitch and tone of voice. And to match the 'pleasure' he states, she adds: "Mild indifference."

The kunoichi's smirk breaks into a broader grin. If he needed a sign she was picking on him, there it is.

She weaves her fingertips together, stretching them out over her head with a brief yawn. She then takes a few steps back, glancing over the KOF official burdened with her glider -- who hasn't had the cajones to actually throw it down yet. And yet, she tasks him again: "Okay, Mr. Fight Official-san... if you'd like to start us off sometime today, that'd be peachy!"

COMBATSYS: Nagase has started a fight here.

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Nagase           0/-------/-------|

In a weird way, Haru's been quite lucky: he has yet to fight anyone who really ever seemed to... well, actively dislike him. Even his one fight against the girl who was upset with him seemed to be more confused than anything else, and Kensou's aggressiveness just before KoF was clearly blamed on something... else interfering with how he normally is. The closest he's come is being in bleachers during Athena's fight against Zappa, and that was less hate directed 'at him' than just... at the world in general, from whatever the heck it was that was riding the poor man's soul.

So Nagase's needling snark is a new one on him, and despite his best efforts to keep his calm, it is probably all too evident to the Iga girl that she's succeeding; if anything, Haru's visible effort to keep civil and pleasant makes how much it gets to him all the more obvious. Plus there's... something unusual in her aura, something he can't quite place as of yet.

It'll come to him eventually.

The ninja decides that she'd like the fight to get underway, and for a moment, Haru looks at the somewhat confused official with some sympathy. To be honest, he's not quite sure what to make of this situation either. But with a shrug and a nod, the official shouts -- in bizarrely accented English -- "Round wan... Haru! BASUS! Nagase! Redii? GO!"

Then he runs off with the glider backpack, leaving these two to themselves.

"I guess..." Haru says, kicking off the ground and, with a snap of the wrist, whirling one of his yoyos through the air in a head-height horizontal arc, "...I'll start us off!" Hopefully Nagase has a defense up her sleeve, because despite his nervousness, Haru still has the skill to make his chosen weapon sting if it connects!

COMBATSYS: Haru has joined the fight here.

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Nagase           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Haru

COMBATSYS: Nagase blocks Haru's Medium Strike.

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Nagase           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Haru

Nagase doesn't... -actively- dislike Haru. Not personally. She just doesn't find much favor for folks his age, or Kensou's age, or even Athena's age. And definitely not Momoko's age. It's true that Nagase isn't much older than the Justice High students herself, but that's never stopped her from discriminating on the obvious. Or picking on it.

"Heh. You don't get out much, do you, kid?"

The shinobi passes one more glance to the official, squinting her eyes back at the man. Is he speaking Japanese or is he speaking English? Pick one, and do it well! "Tch..." she mutters under her breath, as she twists backwards to avoid the first attack. Her casual scan of the young man didn't suggest any bladed weapons, so she sees no particular need to risk subjecting her prized Battle Disc System to impact damage. So when she realizes that her half-hearted evasion won't suffice against the reach of Sakuraba's yo-yo, she snaps her left hand upwards, interposing her leather-armored palm in the path of the flying object.

Her hand flinches when she realizes how much that yo-yo -can- hurt. "Ow, ow!" For a moment, her face screws up in pain. "That--"

But then she takes a step back, shaking the sting out of her palm. "Look, kid, word of advice..." She starts to reach for one of the two scabbards on her back -- one red to match her armor, one black to match her brooding and totally unique mood. But she decides against it, her right hand instead reaching into her sleeve, withdrawing a pair of shuriken.

"... if you wanna be cool with the ladies, you're gonna need to leave the toys at home!" Brave words from someone who apparently decided that Hot Topic just wasn't hot or topical enough. She leaps backwards, flicking the shurikens at Haru in rapid succession -- one aiming for his shoulder, the other aiming for his knee. He had his opening shot -- now it's time for hers!

COMBATSYS: Haru blocks Nagase's Shooting Star.

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Nagase           0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0             Haru

"The la...?" At least, Haru STARTS saying that, but he doesn't get the entire question out, because someone decided to throw ninja stars at his poor body. Thankfully, he is not without recourse in this situation; as he's pulling the yoyo back from his initial strike, he suddenly whips his arm *up*; the 'toy' snaps upwards like someone twanging a taunt fishing line, and one of the shuriken literally gets knocked right off course, flitting off with a whistle in... well, some direction. Hopefully nobody's going to find a shuriken in their drinking water somewhere well downriver of here.

Sadly, he's only able to get one, the one headed for his knee; the one behind it sails right past this improptu defense and lands with a *thnk!* in his shoulder, causing the grey-eyed fighter to hiss with pain and lurch forward a little bit. It could have been much, much worse... but on the other hand, it still freakin' hurts, and he has to waste precious time pulling the thing out of his shoulder and -- against all logic -- setting it somewhere on the ground, out of the way. Is he for real?

Taking a breath, eyes closed, he re-centers and squares off with Nagase again. "It's not a toy," he says carefully. "Not any more than those shuriken were." Oh lord, he's the serious kind. "And I'm not... here to impress... any 'ladies'," he adds, unable to keep the slight rose tint of a blush from showing, even with his dusky complexion.

Driving for Nagase, he brings up his right hand, which is empty of yoyo; instead, it glows with an opalescent white light. "I'm here to fight!" Swinging his arm forward, Haru opens his closed fist, palm out; the white light becomes, of all things, a blooming lotus flower of light, the burst of Psycho Power visually represented by a swirl of phantasmal petals.

COMBATSYS: Haru successfully hits Nagase with Amethyst Clarity.
- Power hit! -

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Nagase           0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0             Haru

As Haru attempts to square his shoulders with her, Nagase actually starts laughing. She's studied fighting arts since she was old enough to walk -- the tactic is easily seen through, and just as easily countered. It's kind of endearing that the young fighter is taking everything so seriously; she prefers a fighter that's honest and upfront to someone who continually lies and misleads.

But... first things first. She tests whether the recentering was a conscious process by striding three casual steps to her left, gauging his expression to see if he changes his angle to match. When he says that he's not here to impress any ladies, the older (but not necessarily wiser) shinobi can't help but interrupt Haru's good-natured correction with a generous dose of sarcasm: "Good, 'cause I'm not impressed." A catty grin follows the interruption, as the cocky ninja scratches the bridge of her nose with a finger.

Moments before the opalescent energy flares, her eyeglass readout begins to flicker. She crosses her eyes at the readout. It's lying. It's -got- to be. "You..."

The tech-ninja is well-accustomed to the leylines of energy that pervade the world. She relies on them being present, implicitly. She can sense any number of things without even trying -- which is what makes the sudden manifestation of Psycho Power such an anomalous thing to occur. She starts to leap backwards.
She doesn't make it. An eruption of prismatic petals erupts outward from the young man's palm, swirling outward in a rapid shockwave that's powerful enough to knock the ninja back and onto her black-and-red duff. "Ngyaaaa!"

The kunoichi rubs her face as she plants her boots flat on the ground, backflipping to her feet. "Okay, okay! You're serious, I get it. Now let's move to phase two -- the part where I kick your ass!"

Nagase leaps forward, though it's more of a burst of speed than anything else. She throws a flurry of three wild fists, though those are little more than bluster to put the young man on edge. The true attack is the followup -- a scything axe kick that is brought to bear at a high angle, and comes crashing down at Sakuraba's shoulder. If it were an average schoolgirl it would hurt for an average amount -- but with Nagase's heavy leg armor, it would probably hurt quite a bit more!

COMBATSYS: Haru endures Nagase's Medium Kick.

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Nagase           0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0             Haru

Other than his powers, as a fighter, Haru has surprisingly little going for him, *physically*. Many people are faster, stronger, tougher, for certain; for his weight class, the Justice student is decidedly average. What he has going for him is planning, perception, and intelligence... things that, in this particular instance, are working for him. His surprise at how effective his attack was is almost as great as Nagase's, but he recovers from it far more quickly, and in the process, he's able to read the ninja's reaction more carefully than she his. For the moment, the jibe at him being unimpressive with the ladies goes unnoticed as he turns laser focus on the situation.

From what he can tell, Nagase was taken unawares by the nature of his abilities... but that means that her reprisal, according to conventional tactics, would seek to immediately balance the scales and regain her footing in the process. Thus, when she snaps out with a series of jabs, some voice in the back of Haru's head says: this is a feint. Sadly, it's a very SWIFT feint, meaning that he won't have time to get out of the way, and whatever's coming after will doubtless be brutal in effect. Thus, there's only one option:

He walks right into it.

Haru only has a split second to steel himself, but it's enough so that rather than forcing him back a step or two, the jabs smack painfully into his stomach without moving him. The axe kick comes and is directed right at his already-injured shoulder, but at the last second Haru pivots so that the kick hits the OPPOSITE shoulder, sending him tumbling toward the ground, on his back rather than on his face.

This is important, because as he falls backwards, he suddenly whips out his arm, yoyo snaking out, looking to snap around Nagase's extended kicking leg. If Haru can make that happen, he uses the movement of his fall to basically sling whip Nagase over his shoulder, back away from the cliff side, toward the nearby tree line. "Maybe," he admits, somewhere in this surprisingly swift exchange, "but not just yet!"

COMBATSYS: Nagase blocks Haru's Medium Throw.

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Nagase           0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0             Haru

The wave of psychic energy hit the young woman -much- harder than it should have, though she -really- doesn't want to express the full extent of said impact. Her eyes cross somewhat as she starts to recover from her attack -- she might be getting just a bit woozy. She -could- have used another week to recover from her last battle, all things considered. But she can't call it quits now -- she owes her teammates that much! The shinobi had started to draw back, but finds her motion impeded. After all, while Haru was down, he's not out -- the yo-yo has snaked around her leg, preventing her ready escape.

"Well, then," she states -- but she's not able to finish as Haru is attempting to sling her about. As she was planning to leap away -anyway-, she decides to leap in the direction she's being suggested to travel.
It's just that she plans to stop suddenly -- instead of being flung under Haru's power, she maintains the bulk of control over her flight. She's able to flip about in mid air, outstretched limbs inhibiting her flight and forcing her back to the ground.

Once there, halting her rotational momentum by dropping to a crouch, the young woman surges forward sharply. She makes a quick grab for the boy's shirt. "Hey, let's go for a spin!"

If she manages to grab hold on the shirt with her left hand, she'd snake her arm around to grab his shirt from beneath his arm. And then she would launch herself skyward, spinning around rapidly. At the apex of her flight, she would invert herself and Haru -- driving him head-first down towards the ground while she casually flips away at the very last instant!

COMBATSYS: Haru counters Nagase Spiral from Nagase with Topaz Vigilance.

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Nagase           0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0             Haru

It's kind of a shame everyone's watching on drone-fed closed-circuit television, because all of this is happening so incredibly fast and -- on both sides -- so skillfully that seeing it at a distance just really isn't the same. There's such relentless followthrough over a quick series of attacks that, on the upside, the video feed's slow motion is going to make much more sensible later on.

Given her size and use of shuriken, Haru has every expectation that Nagase is a very nimble fighter, and her swift mitigating of his attempt to turn her own turn around against her makes his eyes widen in appreciative surprise even as Nagase steps lightly onto the ground. But a healthy respect for her abilities is perhaps all that saves the Psycho Soldier, in the end, when Nagase wastes not a single second diving back into the fray.

She's too fast to evade, his own position far too compromised to properly defend; he's still on the damn ground, AND he fell on his back. But he does have, he realizes at the last second, one last ace he can try: he has a second yoyo.

It's a gamble, but it pays off; just as Nagase's hand is about to grab the front of the Justice student's black shirt, his *other* hand -- the one he landed on -- suddenly snaps up and snags her wrist with the *other* yoyo like slapping on a pair of handcuffs, which he summarily uses to continue, rather than arrest, her sudden forward momentum so that she heads directly into the ground; rising into a crouch -- as far as he can make it -- the orbital path of the yoyo, once disengaged from Nagase's wrist, finishes by coming back at her from above, slamming into the small of her back while she's on the ground, the strike designed to hopefully give him JUST enough time to duck back and away, get on his feet.

When he does so, there's a leaden moment, and then he slumps forward, hands on his knees, taking deep breaths. "That... that was... scary..."

Nagase's brow furrows as, once again, she's unable to do exactly what she wants to do, her forward momentum redirected by one of her own limbs. The damned traitors! Gritting her teeth, she nonetheless whirls about with the motion -- under -much- less control than last time, to her dismay. She's slung into the ground, and just when she's about to whip around, the yo-yo catches her in the back.

She slams face-first into the rocky floor, nose-first. For a moment, she hesitates -- dazed, and trying to recollect where exactly she went wrong in this fight for a shy, unassuming high-school kid to be running roughshod over her so badly.

And as she rolls about like a log on the ground, it will be apparent that she's getting some serious post-nasal bleeding going on. Just a bit embarassing for the kunoichi who already had a major realignment of her place on the ninja pecking order this week.

As Nagase clears to a safer distance, she slams her armored palm into the ground, opening up a crater and sending a torrent of rocks flying in the process. It's not just for show, though -- the irritable Nagase used the momentum to blast her to her feet, unsteady though the stance may be.

The KOF official who started the match scratches the back of his neck, hoping that the Zambian government won't be charging -him- for the destruction of a priceless, world-renowned landmark!

The kunoichi brushes her bloody nose off on her sleeve, before pushing her glasses up along the bridge of her nose once again. Her words are quiet, but if Haru is good at lip- or mind-reading, he'd probably be able to make the words out anyway. "System access: Reactive combat overlay."

The irritable look on Nagase's face is gradually replaced by a cocksure smile. It'd look more badass if her nose weren't steadily dripping blood, but hey, at least it matches her attire.

"Okay, kid gloves are off. Let's dance." Her right hand stays curled close to her face -- but her left hand makes a beckoning gesture familiar to any fan of kung-fu movies.

COMBATSYS: Nagase calculates her next move.

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Nagase           0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0             Haru

A dull rumble breaks through the relative quiet of the arena, the crowd too far away to be more than another layer of background noise among the ever present rush of the falling water as it pours over the side of the cliffs. Something moves in the distance, dark shadows amidst the underbrush, and though the nature of the motion is obscured by the thick jungle trees the heavy sounds of crunching rock and snapping branches echo throughout the empty space as whatever it is makes it way towards the falls.

It does not take long for this mystery to reveal itself. Within a short time the outer edges of the treeline give way to a small convoy of vehicles. A military-grade humvee leads the charge, pushing past the thick underbrush with casual disdain, heavy-duty tires mulching the tangle of weeds and vines beneath their treads without any apparent effort. Unlike many of its kind, the hummer does not possess an open top; instead, thick plates of armor have been shaped into a blocky shell which has rendered the vehicle into a miniature tank. Black tinted windows completely obscure all vision from the outside making it impossible for anyone to get a glimpse of whoever might be leading this unexpected parade.

Behind the command vehicle comes several vehicles of a much larger scale, each about half the size of an eighteen-wheeler, perhaps comparable to a dumptruck or cement mixer, each painted in a dull matte black with no sign of markings or plates that might indentify their owner or purpose. Following the lead of the humvee, they slowly move from the edge of the jungle towards the area sectioned off for the tournament forming a half-circle just beyond the edge of the trees and still well out of range to be a problem for the fighters currently engaged in their match. Six of the large transports, for that appears to be their purpose, file out one after the other and when the last of them has taken its place the entire lot of them simply sit there, silent and unexplained.

At least by the time that Nagase has Gotten Serious (tm Terry Bogard), Haru has managed to stand upright and seem like he's actually a professional fighter and not a kid who lucked into this, even he in fact IS in some respects a Kid Who Lucked Into This. Nagase's impromptu explosive kippup is certainly eye-catching, after all, as is her return to the fight, Haru's stormcloud-colored eyes tracking the ninja's movements as best he can. He's too distracted to notice the sudden and surprising sentence she quietly utters, buuuuut...

5tHer 'sense' is definitely different. Not substantially so; her aura feels generally the same to him as when the fight started, but there's definitely a note that things have changed. Reading auras is difficult even at the best of times and Haru's use of his powers is almost entirely instinctual, sans a little coaching from Athena and Kensou. But he can, you know, feel it.

That said, when Nagase invites him to dance, Haru declines to attack in that particular moment, instead choosing to hang back himself and think carefully about the situation. Tactical analysis is his big advantage, after all, and though she might not show it to the crowd, it's very likely Nagase's as well... he needs to be more than up to the challenge to keep up, because it HAS been good fortune that's helped him so far in this fight, to an extent.

"You know," Haru says conversationally, yoyo absently looping up and down from his left hand, "where that phrase came from? It's about the type of leather, which apparently makes very soft gloves. So 'I'm gonna take off the soft gloves.' But..." Here, he rubs his shoulder, where he yanked a shuriken from not too long ago. "Your gloves aren't... that soft to begin with."

You fucking _nerd_.

COMBATSYS: Haru formulates a plan of attack.

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Nagase           0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0             Haru

Nagase stares back at Haru. For a good few moments, she listens to the didactic tone of her opponent, straining to hear his quiet voice over the roaring of water tumbling over the rocky cliffs.

The kunoichi stares back at Haru, the hand she'd extended outwards to beckon him closer just falling limply by her side. She expected him to meet her challenge. But perhaps she misjudged him so far off the mark that even challenging him to fight -- as a -fighter- -- may not have been the wisest course of action.

"You know," she begins, her tone approaching the weary end of the spectrum, "no one likes a smartassed brat."
Sayeth the smartass brat.

Without any further ado, Nagase slams her palm into the ground again. But rather than another crater, this time the blast that ripples out is a blossom of flame, that bifurcates into a twin helix. It moves quickly, arcing upwards -- and then sinks back down to the ground again, like an inchworm.
In roughly 1.2 seconds, it will clear the distance to Haru -- and with any luck, set him ablaze with the ancient Iga-ryu art of flame.

COMBATSYS: Haru blocks Nagase's Unrelenting Fire.

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Nagase           0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0             Haru

Someone might wonder if, buried underneath all that innocent-seeming facade, that Haru is actually quite calculating, knowing that refusal to engage in Shenanigans would actually possibly goad his opponent into making a mistake, whereas the relatively cool-headed Justice student could capitalize on it. Those who know him well would say the earnest young man is about as likely to do that as he is to sprout a fish tail and swim on out of here down the Zambezi, but they'd be kind enough not to say it out loud.

The truth is just that Haru has good emotional resources for getting picked on. He was that dorky kid that nobody in primary school liked that much... or middle school... or even high school, until one thing: he started fighting. And suddenly, people were nice to him. Even girls!

Tools for dealing with being teased and tools for dealing with swiftly oncoming ninja flame are a different story, however. Watching the arc of Nagase's attack carefully, Haru bites his lip. There's precious little time to make a decision, and the unpredictable bounce of the fire makes evasion an unlikely prospect, so he does the only thing he can do: he buckles down and prepares for the worst. At the last second the fire leaps up from the ground like an angry cobra, and splashes onto Haru's crossed arms, bursting in angry red and orange. He hisses with pain, holes charred into the black sleeves of his shirt, but thankfully, he didn't take fire to... oh, the FACE, for example.

Letting out a slow breath, he tries to re-center. That really stung, but if he doesn't get back on the attack, this is all gonna go south fast. "I'll keep that in mind," he says to Nagase, on the subject of sassmouth brattiness, before kicking off the ground and running at her in what seems to be the least-advisable strategic move ever.

When he gets close, however, Haru suddenly twists and leaps to the side, hoping that the last second change of angle will help him as he snaps out a yoyo for whatever of Nagase's limbs is handy: an arm, a leg, anything. If he gets a grip, he slams a foot into the ground to plant his weight, grips the yoyo-wielding hand with his opposite hand, and effectively giant swings Nagase into the distance, those shining white lotus petals of psychic energy pelting her during the entire arc of the swing.

And for the second time, it's clear that his intended trajectory for his victim takes her AWAY from the edge... only this time, to do that, he has to put himself NEAR the edge...

COMBATSYS: Nagase dodges Haru's Amber Grace.

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

Nagase rises back to her full height, flexing her fingers as she brings them back to a defensive stance. It's certainly not the flashiest thing she could have done -- indeed, it's probably one of the most conservative and boring things she could have even thought to do.
That's how much this high-schooler is getting into her head. Either he's just some kid who happens to be stepping on every single one of her triggers by -sheer accident-, or else he's the second most brilliant tactical genius that she has yet encountered. (No offense to Haru, of course -- it will be very difficult indeed to put the ninkougakusha out of her mind for the next few months, at the very least.)

She glances away for a moment, squinting her eyes into the distance. A flicker of activity appears on her iconized warfare display -- and not one she likes. But there's a more pressing issue, as Haru hisses in the front quadrant of her vision. She turns back to him, sticking out the tip of her tongue as his response draws her back into the fight. Perhaps it's a glimmer of self-awareness from the bumblebee girl stuck with her laundry-day-backup outfit.

-This- time, when the yo-yo swings close, she's ready for it. With a light giggle, she twists off into a sideways cartwheel. One foot is so close to being snared, but it swings away just in the nick of time; half an instant later, her arm avoids a similar fate.

She could have used her translocation arts to make this easier. But then she wouldn't have been able to store potential energy from the cartwheel: energy which is unleashed with an explosive burst forwards at the Justice High student.

The Iga-ryu kunoichi has not been blind of the boy's aim to steer her away from the edge. With his positioning, it seems he doesn't want Nagase to fall -- but perhaps he doesn't fear the edge enough for his own safety. Which is why she cuts in at an angle determined to -- well, not push him -over-, but certainly tease him into the danger zone if her grapple connects with his black school shirt. Should she grab hold of him, she would haul him up, her momentum carrying the pair in a wide forward arc. For Haru, the world would spin about in all directions as the pair arcs back to the ground. Nagase would backflip away at the last instant, dropping him onto his head and shoulders deliriously close to the edge of safety.

COMBATSYS: Nagase successfully hits Haru with Hyperdrive Nagase Spiral.

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

Speed-wise, there is no way on earth that Haru would be able to keep up with Nagase, and it shows. Every time the ninja goes on the offensive, many of what seem like effortless defenses have been utter hail marys that have worked out in his favor. This time, though, there's a slight problem: his attempt to not accidentally (or purposefully) fling Nagase over the edge means he's put himself in a very precarious position when she comes for him with that deadly speed.

He has a split second to decide what to do, and thankfully, he has the state of mind to know that what he's about to do isn't likely to work. Taking a breath, he does something unorthodox: he lets his power build *within*, no outward sign of it. His most underutilized, but surprisingly effective, power is the ability to heal... so he lets that power flow idly through his body even as he attempts to swing to the left away from Nagase's grip... and fails.

The result is that he's planted, painfully, onto the cliffside mere inches from the edge, slamming down on his back and yelping in pain. Thankfully, however, he's saved from things being TOO bad, as that healing power knits and mends some of the damage outright even as it happens. Groaning, he struggles to his feet, taking a long breath, glancing at the ninja owlishly. Would she have sent him over the edge?

I guess we'll never know.

There's a moment when he sets a foot back, preparing himself, and his face shifts to very real panic as the scratching of ground and the upsetting of his balance makes it clear that he is very much AT the edge. Thankfully he doesn't pinwheel his arms and anime-fall off to his death, but it does make his next choice of action relatively clear. With an inarticulate yell, he charges forward, yoyos suddenly in both hands, swinging each over and over again at his opponent, left-right-left-right, their angles unpredictable and rapidly changing. He intends to make her give ground... one way or the other.

COMBATSYS: Haru successfully hits Nagase with Obsidian Serenity.

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

The fight continues apace, neither combatant seeming to be aware of the arrival of the small convoy, their minds and focus directed intently upon the other lest their opponent take advantage of a slip in concentration. Other people notice it, however. The tournament judge turns to watch the unmarked black trucks with a look of obvious confusion. There were no trucks scheduled to arrive during the match. The area had been cleared for official use. The man debates fishing the phone out of his pocket to make a call and find out but with the fighters refusing to back down in light of this new development his attention is swiftly forced back to the contest at hand, though his eyes dart to the side towards the convoy every so often.

On the far side of the ravine, many of the spectators have taken notice of the unusual arrival. Several sets of binoculars and even one of the official cameras swivel in the direction of the convoy as it crawls slowly out of the jungle to take up position. A murmur of conversation goes up, no one seeming quite sure what these vehicles could mean. Some kind of surprise addition to the tournament? Martial contests have a history of being quite showy and extravagant and the King of Fighters is no different. Maybe these trucks are hiding a ton of fireworks or a tribe of locals dressed up in their war gear to dance and caper around in the background. Who knows?

As it turns out, it is none of those things, atleast in the case of the leading car. After several long moments of silence the doors to the armored humvee swing open and the world gets its first glimpse of the cargo within. Half a dozen figures climb out of the massive jeep. From head to toe each one of them is covered in black tactical armor, not a single inch of identifying features visible beneath layers of padding and hard plate. Each of them wears a helmet that fully encapsulates their head, a dome of equally dark armor that turns the figures into faceless clones.

Also, quite noticably, each of these soldiers is armed, not with tribal spears or blowguns, but modern tactical assault weaponry and bandoliers of grenades. Wordlessly, the soldiers spread out upon disembarking the jeep, each one moving to take up a position at the rear of one of the large transport trucks and busying themselves with inspecting something there.

As the soldiers move about their purpose, whatever that may be, a final figure slides out of the humvee's protective interior. This last individual is both similar to the others but fundamentally different in her appearance, the first and foremost noticable difference being that her gender is readily apparent. Though Kira is herself adorned in her usual layers of heavy kevlar and ballistic plating, her personalized armor has a few key differences. Instead of sporting the full coverage almost medieval-style plate armor of her subordinates, the mercenary wears only cargo pants and boots below the waist, her knees protected by rounded metal pads that preserve her mobility. The sleeves of her armor are completely gone leaving her pale skin and the intricate weave of jagged tribal tattoos upon it plainly visible save for her elbows which are likely protected by small bits of armor.

The final difference betwen herself and the others is the mask that she wears. Where the soldiers have plain featureless helmets, she sports only a facial plate of ballistic-resistant armor. A pair of three diagonal slits sit stacked upon each other, one on each side of the mask where her eyes would be. Beneath these slits lies the only form of decoration or symbology present among the entire group - a painting maw, gaping wide to reveal rows of jagged teeth amidst the dark black of its whole.

Slinging a shotgun over one shoulder, the masked soldier strides several paces forward to watch the fight unfolding a few dozen yards further down the 'island', snorting in derision at the sight that greets her. "Children," she says, speaking out loud to her soldiers. "They call it the King of Fighters and yet they send children to play at war." She shakes her head, blonde ponytail bobbing back and forth with the motion from behind the mask.

"Well then."

The Black Dragon smiles beneath her painted visage, her teeth flashing in a mirror image of the ferocious maw that conceals them. Though the mask is modelled after local tribal customs, an effigy meant to represent the ferocity and mercilessness of the moniker that she has taken, the expression on her face would be far more disturbing could anyone see it.

"Let's give them a taste of what real war is like."

The flame-haired kunoichi brushes the bridge of her nose with her decidedly-non-kid gloves as she rights herself, heedless of the rushing waters just inches away from her. The simple pull of gravity upon an entire river full of water poses much less of a threat to someone who has been training all their life to ignore them both, after all. Another giggle starts to work its way up from her throat -- but seeing the young man glow with energy causes her to swallow the laugh within her throat, backing away with her hands outraised.
It could just be healing energy.
She isn't going to take that chance.

Fingertips press together, then rotate ninety degrees away from the waters' edge. Her eyes lock onto Haru, her feet creep backwards, and her fingers splay apart, twisting in contrary directions. There's more to the technique -- but there will be no communication of secret Iga-ryu handshakes today as Haru's energy is thusly channeled into two overblown and highly unpredictable bolo swings, forcing her backwards.
Her foot slips, unsteadily. And the handseal is interrupted at a crucial juncture, causing the entire flow of chi distribution to surge in an unhelpful manner.

Haru's yo-yos slam into her from repeated directions, forcing her backwards. She doesn't drop, but she is nonetheless bombarded by a series of strikes that is enough to make her strongly consider it: each one of the strikes neatly bypasses an armored area to hit a fleshy shoulder -- the wounded one, for instance -- or the less-armored thigh, or the side of her head...

Point being, Nagase yields ground, but not as much as she could have. And, while on the defensive from a seemingly endless barrage of strikes, she has a special ally in mind to help her out.
Herself. The Mirage Assault.

Her right hand snaps into a series of handseals on her right, while her left snaps into a series of its own. Both hands erupt in multicolored flames, seemingly from how fast the muscle-memory-fueled movements are taking place. And it's thus that she's able to strike Haru where he least expects an attack from the beleaguered kunoichi:
From behind him.

In an instant, Nagase has flickered out of existence, and is immediately wheeling her knee into the small of Haru's back.
In the next instant, she's in front of him again, her elbow rising into his chin.
The next, she is flanking him, hammering an armor-encapsulated punch into his lower abdomen.

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

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

So it continues -- blow after blow, as the ninja leans hard on a highly specific kata based on her translocation ability, specially adapted to allow her to appear in multiple locations at once, moving quite faster than the typical cameras are able to film. Hopefully the kindly and profit-seeking KOF organizers have equipped their cameramen with high-speed cameras -- and even more hopefully, they have seen fit to keep them staffed as the chaos unfolds nearby.

This... is pretty bad.

Haru can feel it, even as the blows he's swinging out are landing: she's up to something. While his psychic abilities are not exactly the most finely-tuned thing in the world, his fighting style with the yoyo is actually based on a very real martial art using the Chinese meteor hammer, and in THAT, he's trained most of his (admittedly teenaged) life. When someone is able to even partially deflect a blow, or manage it somehow, you can feel it. Plus... let's be real, Nagase is a VERY tricksy combatant with lots of technique up her sleeves. It might pay to be cautious! And when Nagase pulls out... if not all the stops, then a reasonable number of stops, it turns out that caution was warranted.

The kunoichi can definitely tell that genuine anxiety, maybe even fear, register on Haru's face when she produces the kujikiri and then vanishes. He has all of a fraction of a second to turn around, body primed to move, his head twisting on his neck to get a glimpse of Nagase appearing behind him, shouting "Oh m--"

And then, in a burst of lotus petals, he's gone.

"-y god...!" comes the end of that sentence as he REAPPEARS another fraction of a second later, away from his previous position, more toward the center of Livingstone Island, in another burst of spectral flower petals. And unprepared for this, his body still moving on fight instinct, he stumbles forward and then almost pitches onto his face, arms pinwheeling as he gets his balance, and then stands up. "What just..."

And then he looks up and sees, across the vast distance to the stands, across the First Gorge, to see... uh, a lot of LARPers with a big budget and some black trucks, apparently? He can't really tell at this distance, but SOMETHING is going on over there, given the audience reaction, which... he can feel, even from here. Would someone really be interfering with the King of Fighters tournament? Here and now?

This is a lot to take in, and it shows. Haru doesn't make a move for Nagase; instead, he takes a breath and presses his palm to his chest, hand glowing with opalescent white light, trying to take stock. "I just... I kinda don't know what's going on right now," he says to Nagase with a sheepish expression. "Sorry."

The sad part is he probably means it.

During most of the fights of this tournament, one would expect the team captain to be readily visible on the sidelines for their allies, prepared to send in the next official competitor or provide support as is needed.

Ryu Hayabusa has been completely missing from the proceedings.

What can be said about the Master Ninja is that, despite his rather explosive exploits that are easily documented, he is every bit as capable at the more historically important portions of the Ninja Arts.

Originally he had only intended to observe the fight between his ally, Nagase, and the first of the team's opponents without proving either a distraction or a boon. Instead he discovered that the battlefield had shifted with the addition of unexpected visitors.

The Singular Super Ninja takes to the thick underbrush of the island like a mythic predator, stalking in utter silence as he observes the new threat with experienced eyes. Every motion, every armament, every individual quirk that marks the soldiers as more than simple clones of each other.

As the squad moves out into position, it only takes a few steps of delay for one of the soldiers to be out of view for a few seconds, and with a surge of motion accompanied by little more noise than a crow taking flight, one of the soldiers disappears into the brush.

Nagase gets so far as to carry out six of her attacks, all on rote muscle memory, every single one of her strikes landing according to the way she'd always practiced them. ... And then she stops in the midst of a swing with the butt of her red ninjato, her blurred form resolving into one singular Nagase.
Her shirt and pigtails bob to a decisive halt. She pants -- that series of attacks is not something she does lightly. And yet -- at the end of it all...

Well, two things. One is the sound of major military-grade hardware -- the source of that anomalous energy reading she had picked up on her Battle Disc System readout a few moments prior. She'd put it out of mind, because, heck, she -did- her flyby survey and it still didn't show up. It -had- to have been malfunctioning.

But before she can resolve that particular train of thought, she hears Haru from behind her, and whirls around, drawing the ninjato fully out of its sheath and raising it at the ready.
The blade, for the record, is not dulled -- the polished edge shines in the light. But neither does the littlest assassin that could plan to actually -strike- with the blade while on camera.

She wonders aloud, not exactly to Haru but to anyone who will hear, "Are they for serious gonna try this shit while we're fighting?"

And then her focus changes more directly to Haru, correcting herself with a fake saccharine smile as she rises, "This -crap-, excuse me."

As for his apology, she slides the straight sword back into its scabbard, belatedly responding, "... Nah, it's cool. I got friends who can take care of this sh--- crap. Show me more of that, it's good stuff."

Guess she doesn't hate him as much as he may have thought.
... Then again, maybe she does: with a motion as casual as taking one step forward, she suddenly closes the gap between herself and Haru. And, though her hands had never quite -stopped- flaring with the spectral glow, they do flare in intensity. With her fiery chi overflowing out of her hands, she delivers a fierce sideways chop aimed at driving the opalescent-petaled Haru backwards -- followed by two chi-infused palm strikes aimed at blasting him backwards. "Hnnnh-- HA! HAAAA!"

COMBATSYS: Haru successfully aids himself with Ruby Warmth.

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

COMBATSYS: Haru endures Nagase's Aggressive Strike.

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

To the surprise of nobody, every time the word 'shit' either leaves or threatens to leave Nagase's mouth, Haru's dusky cheeks color. You _nerd_. Still, it's a surprisingly pleasant little burst of conversation with the ninja, all things considered... and really, Haru IS out of his depth right now. "Y-yeah..." he says, trailing off slightly. "This is, uh..." Dudes in armor with shotguns? Teleporting? This is all way above the Justice student's pay grade, all things considered. For a moment, his eyes lower, and he mutters -- so low that even the cameras don't pick it up, though Nagase's enhanced senses almost certainly will -- "I wish it was one of the others up here."

A tiny part of him just wants to go home.

But here he is, and Nagase is his opponent, and he has to face that, which he does. Her speed continues to be very high, very difficult to deal with, meaning Haru has to think quickly if he doesn't want to get steamrolled in short order. The flow of healing energy has given him a little more margin to work with, but it's only just enough, and he knows first hand that Nagase's fire-imbued attacks HURT. A lot.

Biting his lip, he glances around... and spies, on the ground behind him, a few conveniently close rocks bursting from the ground on the rocky cliff edge. Deciding in an instant, he suddenly lashes out with both yoyos, crossing his arms, the metal toy-weapon hybrids flashing out. To try and snag Nagase?

Nope. They snag the *rocks*. And Nagase's fiery punches slam, one after the other after the other, right into Haru's stomach, making him almost bend double, clearly knocking the wind from him, but tethered as he is to the rocks, he *doesn't move*. Meaning that when her attack is finished, she's in very close proximity... and with a wordless yell of "HaaaaaaAAAAAAAAA...!" he suddenly whips his arms forward AGAIN, the yoyos yanking the rocks out of the ground as he attempts to snap his arms forward crosswise, effetively bolo-ing Nagase in place as the cords wrap around her. But it's a gamble. Will it pay off?

COMBATSYS: Haru successfully hits Nagase with Crystal Ferocity.

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

The rocks smack into each other before they can hit Nagase, basically obliterating themselves into a fine powder, but the damage -- immobilizing Haru's opponent -- has been done at that point. With dexterity that seems like it's unbecoming of the unassuming Justice student, he swiftly unwinds one of the yoyos and uses the other to slingshot Nagase into the air. What follows is a cyclical series of strikes: a burst of lotus-bloom Psycho Power, then a catch and snag with the yoyo, then a physical strike with the opposite yoyo, then a snag, then more psychic power, until the final catch-and-grab redirects Nagase's momentum directly into the ground.

When all is said and done, however, Haru looks *exhausted*, once again taking deep, deep breaths, hands on knees. His tummy is exposed through more burn holes in his shirt, looking clearly on the verge of collapse himself.

A tiny part of Haru may want to go home, but every part of Nagase wants to go home. The fact remains that the tournament is... kind of a side venture for the plucky ninja. And being that the side venture was largely intended to draw out a certain White Ghost who had been giving her clan, and many others, a great deal of trouble. And seeing as she -did- that, and learned so much in the process, well...

It'd be criminally rude to admit it to the Justice High student, but maybe her heart isn't into this fight as much as it could have been. And that... well, he's earned the kunoichi's respect, such as it is.

She doesn't really have much love for commitment as it is anyway; she has much more fun working for a man who calls the shots, doesn't take lip from her, and sends her on trips all around the world to get her out of his salt-and-pepper hair. Looking out for someone other than herself, and trying to be -nice- and -friendly- to people while on -camera-... /Ugh./ Totally cramping her style!

She may have slammed her hands into the young man a bit harder than she'd liked, but she has to give him props for the innovative anchoring technique. The hint of a smile creeps onto her face as she hops back, all set to leap back to a safe distance before beginning another blindingly-fast assault.
But that's when it hits her -- the two rocks, specifically, that wrap around her legs. She starts to tip over, alarm creeping into the flame-haired shinobi's expression as she tilts backwards, like a priceless statue that'd just been tipped over by a kid careening through the museum like he wasn't supposed to. "Uwa...uwaaa-oh!"

If it were -just- that, she'd have time to extricate herself. But she suddenly finds herself slingshotted into the air. And she finds her body contorting in ways that she really hadn't planned on, ratcheted backwards from each successive blossom of Psycho Power. And that's not all -- for a limited time, she also gets to experience a splitting headache at no extra charge, delivered straight to her brain's door by the multitude of nerve fibers all squawking their message of 'halp! pane!' all at once.

Wincing, a terribly fatigued Nagase finds herself falling back to the earth, color draining from her face. Her hands begin to twitch, flattening against one another, and then twisting about in a different gesture than before. The cameras might catch her gritting her teeth, with the dynamic background of a tree being tipped over as a backdrop -- evidence of the advancing troops moving in on her position?!

As far as anyone can tell, especially the alert camera operators trucking down to track her motion: Nagase proceeds to fall right -through- the earth.

And blasts -out- of the ground right underneath Haru, her shoulder careening straight beneath his arm. If she manages to connect, it would not be solely with the intent to shove him -- but rather, to use his ribcage as a fulcrum upon which to flip onto the Justice High youth's back...

COMBATSYS: Nagase can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Nagase successfully hits Haru with Hunting Peach.

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

And ride him like a pony. Uh, backwards. There are better ways to phrase this, just hang on.

Nagase finds her way onto the young man's back, her knees at his sides, and her ankles locking about his breastbone. With the weight of her and her armor combining with the grace of her motion, she ought to be heavy enough to double him over -- especially with her heels pressing into the spot she had struck just moments prior.

"This is nothing personal, okay?" she calls out, while slamming her hands onto his Justice High...

Okay, maybe there -isn't- a good way to phrase that. Step 1: she spun onto his back, step 2: ???, step 3: leapfrogs off with one final double-fisted pound of her fists, catapulting herself to safety.

At which point the lightheaded kunoichi takes a few weak steps forward, before sinking to both knees.
"... Hey, uh..." she stammers, her eyes losing focus. "Sorry about this..."


There is... no way to FULLY encapsulate Haru's response to this. Haru is way too exhausted to handle this properly in terms of COMBAT, let alone anything else. He attempts to lean an arm onto Nagase's to weaken her hold on him, but it really doesn't work, and he was already pitching forward so the ninja girl has no real trouble getting... on...


At least the forces encroaching get a good view of Haru's face as Nagase basically gives him a good spanking. There really is no way around this. And obviously she's a trained fighter and OBVIOUSLY she is not kidding around and OBVIOUSLY this actually hurts KIND OF A LOT believe it or not, more than the fire punches did, but... well.

Haru has inherited the soul of a bodhisattva, and can heal, and apparently teleport. Stylistically, he's quite close to his teammate Athena. But given the expression on his face as a cute girl spanks him, there's apparently JUST enough Kensou in there, too.

(Sorry, Kensou)

As Nagase rolls away, so too does Haru, and it looks to all as if this first match might end up in a draw... but against all odds, the Justice High student slowly, laboriously, gets to his feet. Or something like it. It's enough so that the KoF announcer, ALREADY nervous thanks to contextual goings on, is quick to shout, in that bizarrely accented English, "HARU... OO-IN!"

The crowd cheers. They must, at this point, for the technical skill displayed on BOTH sides of that fight.

COMBATSYS: Haru awaits the next challenger.

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

As Nagase goes down, it would appear that her side of the field is completely devoid of team mates.

Did they go run off to handle some more important matters?

Was Team Ninja placing all of its expectations on Nagase to provide them with a clean sweep?

As much trouble as of a threat as the new arrivals may prove to be, Hayabusa had given his word when he agreed to take up the role of team captain that he would do everything expected of him for the sake of his allies during this tournament unless matters proved extreme. With a message left in the bushes as a warning to the rather overdressed commandos (in the form of an unconscious soldier with every piece of weaponry stripped away and now missing), that matter is no longer the most pressing as Nagase is put out of action.

And thus the Dragon Ninja himself steps out from the shadows in utter silence, walking over to his downed ally and picking her up in both arms with complete ease as he carries her out of the way, carefully lowering her down at the medical waystation.

"I'll handle this from here," Hayabusa says in a completely matter-of-fact tone before producing a small capsule filled with a fine powder that he offers to the young techno ninja. "You may wish to take this for the pain."

With his ally settled, the Singular Super Ninja turns and walks back toward the young high schooler now standing victorious. Dressed in the iconic Black Falcon with the Dragon Sword sheathed on his back, and eyes that seem to pierce straight through the soul, he approaches Haru in utter silence, his demeanor eerily calm despite his intensity.

"I will be your next opponent, stand ready."

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa has joined the fight here.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Haru             0/-------/--=====|-------\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa


Padda dadda padda.

Padda dadda padda.

Lee Chaolan, thousands of miles away from Africa, was watching four different wide screen TV monitors, each the size of a small theater. All while laying face down, as a beautiful Brazillian was patting his naked back in a massage. (naturally, he had a towel on to keep her modesty). In one hand, was a cocktail. In another, a sucker-tipped dart. Looking at the screen, he watches, watches as Miguel, manning through a sonic boom of all sonic booms. And just as Charlie, as a last ditched, aimed to throw him down, Lee tosses the dart at his face.

And to his delight, Miguel goes DOWN.

"Ha ha! Excellent!~" He coos, as he glances to another screen. In one of them, the screen was... blank. In another? Honoka and Ken were just lining up. And in another.... Lee Chaolan's smug smile turns into a frown. "Oh, you got to be-" He sighs. "Isabelle, could you get my cellphone?" After a moment, the back massage stops, and he is given his phone. Idly, he sips his cocktail, and presses one of the hot young blondes on the 'Lee Party Time Line - Unique Tastes!' folder. Holding it up to his ear, he waits. And waits. And finally, gets what he wants.

"Oh! Hello! This is Lee Chaolan!" He coos over the phone. "Congratulations! I am watching you on the television! You look very scary! A little too scary, in fact. Could you... move those soldiers away from my fights? I mean, are you... oh, I can't tell if you are 50 yards away, or 600 yards away. And are those trucks? Did you fly the trucks there, or did you- you know what, nevermind. You don't have to get them away for long, I just don't want them messing up my fights, m'kay? Just move them away until the fights are over, and then you can do whatever you want with them. I don't want to bring this up to Mr. Chin!"

Lee Chaolan pauses a moment.

He suddenly flashes a thumbs up.



As the Dragon Ninja steps up to the plate, the awkwardly voiced fight official steps back up between the two, looking between the two new opponents. "Round taoo... Haru! BASUS! Hayabusa! Redii? GO!"

The moment his words are complete, he awkwardly runs out of the way of the combatants.

And Hayabusa himself acts without an sign of hesitation. Launching forward into a ground roll, the Ninja Master plants his hands on the ground at the last moment, propelling himself up out of the maneuver feet first as he aims a double heeled, rising kick at Haru's jaw.

COMBATSYS: Haru fails to counter Strong Kick from Ryu Hayabusa with Moonstone Tenacity.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Haru can no longer fight.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/------=|

Later, when she looks at the recording of this fight, Nagase may feel a tiny bit of pride in knowing that even though the next round had started, Haru really had basically nothing left. The moment of rest he gets while Hayabusa enters the arena helps a tiny, tiny bit... but honestly, even when the ninja is coming at him with that kick, Haru just looks... exhausted. The only defense he can think of to mount is instinctual, the pearly white glow of Psycho Power suddenly flaring into being around him, but he doesn't have the focus to bridge the gap between "drawing on power" and "shaping it into the barrier he needs to survive" and Hayabusa's handspring kick smacks him right in the jaw. *Hard*.

Hard enough so that when Haru's body stops rolling, it's within a stone's throw of the Zambezi itself, on the western edge of the island. Thankfully, without any real danger that Haru's going to be swept away by the current and over the falls, but the Justice High student is fully, definitively, and absolutely out of the fight. Hopefully the other Psycho Soldiers have an idea of who's up next because their captain is, uh... unconscious.

The announcer, who barely had time to return to his cowering, clears his throat. "HAYABUSA... OO-IN!"

The moment Haru's body comes to a halt, Hayabusa walks up to the downed boy and scoops him up off the ground in much the same way that he had his own team mate. Looking utterly at ease, he carries the Justice High student away from the battlefield and over to the medics for examination.

Without another word, Hayabusa quietly strides back to the portion of the island that had been designated for battle and folds his arms across his chest. His eyes peer across the area, lingering on the military vehicles as if to confirm that nothing has progressed toward trouble, then focus in on the remaining members of the Psycho Soldiers, simply waiting for one to step forward.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa awaits the next challenger.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/------=|

Kira watches as the fight reaches its rather... unsual conclusion, sputtering out an incredulous laugh at the spectacle. "Good gods, they really are kids..."

Not that she cares. By the time she was the age of those two in the arena she had already killed over a hundred men, fighting as a guerrila in a war for survival after having her home bombed to shit because it happened to be politically embarrassing for Russia. These kids were skilled, clearly, but they were still soft. They would make excellent examples.

Lifting her hand into the air, the mercenary queen prepares to give the signal that will unleash a new kind of Hell into the world - well, into the immediate area atleast. Her soldiers respond with practiced discipline, each moving to take their place next to the digital lock that keeps the bay door on the truck assigned to them sealed tightly shut. Glass panels are flipped up, codes punched in, and lights switch from red to green. All they need now is the final order.

"Final check. Report."

Kira's command is met by a staccato series of replies, each soldier confirming their status in turn down the line. However, when it comes time for the last man to chime in she gets nothing. The Dragon blinks, confused for a moment, not quite sure how to process that. "Uh... report?" Maybe there had been a radio malfunction? Again, she gets five responses and then nothing.

"What the actual fu-"

The sharp chime of a cellphone ringing at her waist cuts off the words mid-curse. She looks down at it, her annoyance quickly beginning to grow into anger. Snatching the phone from its pocket, she gestures at the other soldiers with an agitated wave of her hand. "Go find out where the hell he is!"

Bringing the phone to life with a swipe of her thumb, Kira answers the call without bothering to look at the number and says in a sing-song tone that manages to be threatening at the same time. "This better be goOOOod..."

The voice on the other end is not the one she expected. Lee, the only person she had actually liked at their little meeting for the 'council of evil' or whatever they were calling it. Freaking megalomaniacal weirdoes. She exhales some of her anger as she listens to his upbeat tone, patiently waiting while he beats around the bush before finally getting to the point.

"I don't remember agreeing to anything like that," she says, putting a harsh edge in her reply. "This is my turf. My rules. Why should I care what you or 'Mister Chin'," she says the name with a great deal of sarcasm and irreverence, "have to say about it?"

Meanwhile, the remaining soldiers move with military efficiency, spreading out into a line formation as they push into the woods upon discovering that the missing man is no where in sight. It does not take long for one of them to stumble upon his body, finding him unconscious and stripped of weapons but otherwise unharmed.

"Go tell the boss," one of the masked figures say, their voice distorted through speaker in their helmet as they nod at another. "The rest of you, circle up. Someone's fucking with us."

Perhaps the point of the remote, exotic location was intended to take the fighters out of their comfort zone, away from the cities they grew up in, from the climes and locales they were familiar with. Until Haru let the Pyscho Soldiers know about their trip itinerary, Athena Asamiya wasn't even sure she could correctly pick which continent Zambia is a part of. And now, a week later, the team is halfway around the world from home.

Perhaps it is to test the individual members of the teams that Haru and Nagase find themselves on the island alone with only an official to manage the contest of skill, speed, strength, and durability. And what a contest it is.

Situated across the narrowest stretch of water separating the island from the mainland, the rest of Haru's team is forced to watch at a distance, unable to audibly cheer the team captain on. At least the binoculars they were issued were free? It did mean Haru was on his own in every sense of the word during his intense match against the dangerously swift ninja. When he had volunteered to lead the team into this round, Sakuraba was answered with quiet encouragement from Athena. She knew from their discussion that the burden of leadership was not something he took lightly - it rested upon him to decide who would be put at risk of harm by representing the team as a whole in their matches. How better, then, to demonstrate that he was not asking anyone to do what he was unwilling to do himself than to face off against an unknown opponent.

Even though she was too far to hear the words exchanged or even empathize with the emotions felt by her friend, the talented young fighter was able to get a feeling for the intensity of the match simply by the events that played out. Step by step, he was pressured to perform, respond, attack, the exchanges taking place at breakneck, lightning speed. And then... his perfect escape from a dangerous combination of attacks. Binoculars over her eyes, Asamiya's mouth had curled into a quiet, knowing smile. There... would need to be a discussion about that almost definitely unanticipated instantaneous translocation.

But the moment of admiration for Haru's newest discovery becomes one of concern as a new presence rolls into the vicinity. Scanning the black vehicles with her binoculars, the Justice High student murmurs, "That doesn't look like the kind of welcoming party I'd have expected. I hope this tournament has their permits and papers in order. It would be awful if we got cancelled!" She manages to keep the worry out of her voice. But the appearance of dozens of armored, armed men combined with the kind of news stories she's vaguely aware of coming out of Africa does little to improve her comfort with the situation.

The fight itself continues to escalate toward its final exchange of attacks - with Haru falling subject to a rather... compromising assault. But the mystery that had been on the back of her mind concerning the location of the other team is answered immediately when the opposing team's captain shows up immediately upon the collapse of Nagase. "How did he get over there..." Athena wonders out loud.

The second round exchange is violently swift. Haru was already on fumes and a decisive strike takes him down for the count, eliciting a wince from Asamiya. Wishing she could be there to help Haru immediately, she instead gets to watch Ryu Hayabusa help the young man off to the recovery station himself. With their team captain completely knocked out and no prior decision made as to who should follow after him, the three Psycho Soldiers are left to figure it out themselves.

A power boat is on hand, intended to take the next participant across the swiftly moving river once they make up their mind. But Athena has other plans, narrowing her eyes at the bank of the island across the way.

"I can do this."

Hands clench at her side as she sucks in her breath then exhales softly, eyes closed as she bows her head, centering herself, preparing to tap into that powerful fount of Psycho Power that has seen her this far.

Taking several steps back, Asamiya pauses one last time before she sprints forward, leaping into the air out over the river...

Only to vanish at the apex of her leap and reappear over the bank of the island, landing from her teleport-aided jump in a slide, her feet finally digging in to bring her to a stop amid the greenery coating the ground.

Standing up straight, the High School student pivots to face her mysterious looking opponent. For her own part, she hardly looks to have taken to the role of being a fighter. Much like Haru before her, a cursory study of Asamiya suggests that she doesn't fit into this world of violence at all.

Long, violet hair kept in check by a crimson headband rests against her shoulders. A white short sleeved blouse with crimson collar and neck tie leaves her arms bare below the elbow only for her hands to be partially covered in violet, fingerless gloves. A crimson skirt at her waist meets black, thigh high stockings, and each foot is covered by a matching crimson shoe.

"Hayabusa-san, thank you for helping my friend." Athena folds her hands together in front of her, bowing forward, eyes closed. The gesture of respect is held for a heartbeat as the psychic fighter taps into her potential.

He would feel it easily - that impression of something immense being awoken, as the young fighter stands up straight again, violet eyes settling on the Master Ninja. Her expression is radiant, left hand and right foot forward as she prepares herself. There is nothing she would rather be doing than being here right now challenging herself against one of the elite of the world.

"My name is Athena Asamiya. It is an honor to represent the Psycho Soldiers and face you now!"

COMBATSYS: Athena has joined the fight here.

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Athena           0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

As Hayabusa turns to look at the new arrival, his eyes once more seem to piece down to her very soul. Enough had been seen of her fights thus far to prove that she was a capable fighter, but in person there is most definitely something more. What exactly it is eludes the Master Ninja in the moment, hidden either by choice or because it has not yet found its path to manifest.

All that the Dragon Ninja can say for certain is that this is not a simple matter of facing down a child. Despite her youth and upbringing, Athena Asamiya is a serious opponent.

"I am Ryu Hayabusa, I am the Captain of Team Ninja and I will be your opponent," his voice is calm, yet it is as if it holds back all the threat and thunder of the mightiest storm. "While I assure you that no permanent harm will come to you, I would not insult you to offer less than my best."

The shinobi's gaze is answered by an equally incisive focus from his younger opponent. Her stance suggests martial training - and indeed, her broadcast matches have shown the teenager to be adept at fairly direct, simple Kung Fu strikes. Those skills have not been responsible for her meteoric rise through the ranks of fighters in multiple venues around the world, however. Coupled with her martial arts is a gift of speed and phenomenal energy manipulation - both of these talents he can expect to face today.

Her presence is calm as she draws her left hand back, bent at the elbow, and her right arm extends forward over her right foot, palm outward. The stance assumed, she pauses, hardly moving but for the breaths she takes, her hair and clothing disturbed by the wind rushing by. So remarkable a location, if only she could feel the energy of life that must certainly be in abundance in such a place.

Her opponent's words, while no doubt well-intentioned, carry with them a foreboding weight - promising that permanent harm would come to her is, in the same breath, implying that the potential is certainly there. And, armed as he is, should she not assume that is not the case.

"I will bring you nothing shy of my best as well." she answers over the roar of the waterfall. The small army that has appeared to join the audience from the opposite side of the waterfall still refrains from interfering with the match taking place. How long they will continue to passively observe remains to be seen.

"Round Taree... Atena! BASUS! Hayabusa! Rediiiii? GO!"

The official's call is all she needs to act. "Here I go!" The transition from being calm as a forest pond to bursting forward at the speed of lightning is instant. One step against the verdant, damp soil, then a second, and by the third, Asamiya is airborne. Taking to the sky like she belongs there, her ascent is swift and angled on a trajectory that would take her well past her opponent. But it is near the apex of her leap that her intent becomes clear, Athena tucking herself forward into a ball and dropping out of the sky on a new vector that brings her sharply down toward Ryu from above.

The girl's entire body becomes encased in a sheen of vibrant Psycho Power as the teenaged missile attempts to collide with him bodily, attempting to crash through his defenses with a combination of physical force and nerve-fraying Psycho Power. And should she break through, a subsequent handstand kick toward his stomach might be enough to dislodge him all together. Unless prevented, she'd slide to a stop following the exchange, already eager to move into her next attack!

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Ryu Hayabusa with Phoenix Arrow.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Athena           0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

It can be said that Ryu Hayabusa is one of the most dangerous people in the world. The list of accomplishments that can be publicly attributed to him are already impressive, but the complete list of victories the man has obtained is all but unbelievable.

Countless monsters and countless men have found their end at his hand, through all manner of weaponry in his effort to complete his duties. Against impossible odds he has triumphed again and again, striking down creatures capable of unbalancing the fate of the entire world.

And yet still, there is no match that he would consider a certainty, let alone against one with such potent power, even if its true potential has not been completely tapped. As Athena flies at him, Hayabusa aims to launch himself out of her path, but even his substantial agility does not leave him prepared for the ferocity of her power. Were it just the kick, perhaps he could have made it, but as the sheathing aura of Psycho Power touches him, his body seizes unwillingly, shaving away his narrow chance of escape and leaving him unable to reaction in time as he's double over by the first hit, then sent soaring by the second.

It's only a last moment twist that allows Ryu to hit the ground on his knees, propping himself up with his left hand as his right clutches at his stomach. Remarkably, despite the pain, he doesn't even let out an audible groan the entire time, silently pushing back to his feet, knees bent, arms out in front of him with his fingers held loose and open rather than the more refined posture of some other fighting styles.

The Ninja Master begins to circle, his eyes drawing over his opponent from every angle as he seeks any possible opening, legs crossing slowly past each other in a seemless motion.

And then with an instantaneous shift, he launches himself forward, closing the open ground between himself at the Psion with a single long stride as his hands move for her shoulders and he plants a foot on her midsection to help propel himself up into the air at the same time as he presses down on her shoulders. Once in the air, he twists about a single forward flip that sees the heel of his foot coming down on the back of the younger fighter's head to press her into the ground.

COMBATSYS: Athena dodges Ryu Hayabusa's Hane Karakuri.

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Athena           0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

By the time she has come to a stop, the vibrant aura that had surrounded the girl has faded to a stop. Landing a single hit is no reason to rest on her laurels, however. She knows full well that she is up against a renown opponent of remarkable talent. If she had been the girl she was when she first started climbing the ranks a year ago, when she collided with the brutal striking power of Lee Chaolan, she might already be half-clobbered by the time several seconds pass in this match.

But one of the many gifts of youth is the ability to learn, to grow, to take in experiences and from them forge new gifts, new talents. The Athena Hayabusa faces is not the eager but all together too naive upstart she was back then. Her movements are fluid, rising out of her crouch to stand, pivoting around at the same time to face the Master, hands snapping back to her ready stance, leaving minimal time where her guard is not prepared.

She turns slowly, keeping her arms raised, starting to trace a counter-circle into the soil as the Psychic Soldier begins to keep pace with Hayabusa's own exploration of her responses. She had started the fight with a beaming smile but now her expression is one of intense focus, lips curled into a warm smile out of habit rather than conscious thought about how excited she is to be testing herself here and now. Attempts are made to read the distance between them - how fast could he close it? What vectors of attack would he take? His style is all together unfamiliar to the increasingly popular fighter - few in the world can claim to practice anything like it, and almost no one would have the audacity to purport they could execute the ninjutsu techniques as masterfully.

"It's nice here." the young fighter observes, breaking the silence at last. This far away from the audience... she doesn't have to put so much effort into walling off her mind as she has at other venues. It leaves her able to focus all that much more on her dangerous opponent.

"It's quiet." A curious observation made over the thundering roar of the massive waterfall.

When he finally attacks, the ghost moves in an instant. Yet - for as fast as he is, he would notice with that legendary perception that his target, this 'child' as the observing warlord might call her, was already responding. It is as if she is reacting to the very idea of closing in on her rather than any visible cue.

She draws back, arms coming up. She's going to fend off the anticipated strike, then she can counter attack- His hands are on her shoulders before she even knows what is happening, the acrobatic prodigy flipping into the air, using Athena as the fulcrum for his ninpo. But it is in that moment of contact that Asamiya makes her escape - a flash of inspiration as she allows him to press her down with his strength, only for her to kick off with her left foot, rolling horizontally to the right through the air just as his heel slices within an inch from her head.

Her airborne body now parallel to the ground, the spinning hopeful idol draws upon that incredible potential a second time. He would have the narrowest of opportunities to react, that flash of rose hued Psycho Power ripping down her slight arms even while she is still spinning.

Her counter attack comes even as her feet first kick up a spray of dark soil in her agile landing, Athena spinning back up to standing, swinging her arms from behind her to forward until they cross each other and give form to a new threat. "Psycho-!"

The entire exchange happens in less than a second, from the moment he burst into motion, through her dicey escape, and finally her precision counter attack. And now he has a churning sphere of shaped Psycho Power coursing through the air at near point blank range. "BALL!"

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa parries Athena's Psycho Ball!

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Athena           0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

Learning quickly is not just a matter of youth (although in actuality, the Master Ninja is barely into his 20s, despite the impression he tends to leave). When you are face to face with the unknown at every corner, fightning not just for your life, but for the safety of the world, it is vital to be able to quick appraise the situation and make changes as they become necessary.

And somehow his opponent is able to respond almost as quickly as he makes his decision to attack.

A picture is beginning to form.

One of the great advantages of the ninja arts is that of deception, to make your opponent believe that you will not act when you will, to make them believe that you will take the opposite coure of action. When they read not your body, but your mind, the battlefield begins to change and there is only one thing that you might hope to rely on.

As Athena takes to the air, Hayabusa takes in every movement, his eyes absorbing details and by-passing all manner of conscious thought to allow his body to react on pure instinct. All the many years of training that he has endured replaced any sense of what Athena may consider a normal youth. From birth there was no doubt as to what he would do with his life, the Dragon Lineage flows through his veins, and with it the responsibility of billions of lives rest upon his shoulder.

And on pure instinct, this weapon honed to defeat the greatest evils that exist is wielded against a target undeserving of this pain in the greater scheme.

As Athena's power begins to take form, Ryu is already responding, the glint of metal as Ryuken is drawn from its sheath. The surge of muscle as the ninja effortlessly follows the arc she takes through the air. Even before the idol has allowed the words to leave her mouth, his blade is already in motion, taking a rising slash, his sword tip narrowly grazing the dirt beneath his feet as it lashes up, catching the ball of psionic energy on its impossibly sharp blade.

The orb cleaves in two, one half instantly striking the ground and digging a small burrow as it's disipated. The other half goes flying into the trees, narrowly grazing the metal plates of one of the military vehicles and leaving a scar on its armor plating as it passes.

All the while the upward swing from the ninja's sword continues, aimed to catch Athena in its final swing, sending the high schooler rocketing up into the air with incredibly force.

And in a flash, much like the idol's early feat reaching the island, Hayabusa vanishes from the ground, suddenly appearing in the air at the peak of Athena's flight, arms wrapping tight around her as the pair begin to fall to earth, taking on a dizzying spin as a vice-like grip positions Athena to hit the ground head-first.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa successfully hits Athena with Izuna Drop EX.

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Athena           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

The advantage of the technique is the speed and threat of pure Psycho Power Athena launches toward the skilled swordsman. Against most opponents, that is enough to force anyone on the defensive, buying her time to make her next move. The disadvantage is that brief instant in time where Asamiya has just thrown her signature attack - arms crossed in front of her, a byproduct of swinging the energy forward into a singular sphere of attack, and her head bowed slightly from the full body motion required to pour her soul into the psionic missile.

In not retreating from but rather striking through the teen fighter's next attack, Hayabusa capitalizes perfectly on the brief window of complete vulnerability in the well versed but completely refined attack. Sometimes, you have to experience the flaw first hand to understand where it might need to be improved.

And what an experience! She doesn't even understand how he did it - how the shinobi moved clean through the space previously occupied by her psychic attack. It would only be upon studying the match at a later date that she would marvel to discover that his sword possesses so keen an edge as to slice through psionic energy.

Sensing the intent but not comprehending the means, all she can do is start to draw backward, violet eyes opened in wide-eyed panic as the swift blade continues its arc to smash into her side. Folded over like so much paper, the featherweight is launched into an uncontrolled flight up into the air, a spinning blur of violet, white, and crimson. Wind already knocked from her, lungs struggling with that whole concept of breathing, she is a helpless rag doll when the Veteran of the Shadows folds his arms around her lithe waist and pulls her into a perilous, head first, spinning dive toward the lush turf so far below.

There is a fleeting, dizzying moment where she tries to break free, fingers clasping over his powerful arms in a vain bid to pry them apart, but the effort is too little to make a difference.

A cloud of of soil erupts around the point of impact. By the time it comes to rest, Asamiya is prone on her side, right arm draped over her torso, her eyes closed - at first glance, it appears to have been a fight deciding hit in a single attack.

It takes more than a couple seconds before she starts, eyes snapping open. Resuming as if on autopilot rather than entirely conscious, hands press down, feet kick off, and Athena rolls to her feet a meter away, dirt falling out of her hair and off her grass stained back in the process. "I'm okay!" she exclaims, right hand going to rest against the back of her head at the same time. It isn't even clear if she's addressing Hayabusa directly or really just trying to convince herself of a very uncertain fact. She goes to turn around, still vaguely aware of the direction of her opponent, only to stagger to the side as she does so. "A-ah... I mean..."

Catching herself from falling clean over, Asamiya finally quiets stumbling around, blinking her eyes and lifting her hands. The near knock-out combination has left her reeling, unsteady, and likely slow on her feet. Awareness of how bad off she is comes eventually, however, and the teen fighter finally plants her feet, clenching her fists at her sides, and bows her head. No immediate attack is forthcoming as, for a brief moment, she diverts her Psychic Potential into stabilizing her mind and forcing away the veil of blackness that threatens to consume her consciousness.

She can get through this, she tells herself.

There is a long pause as Kira waits for her reply and damned if she isn't sure that she hears the sound of that pretty-faced jerk slurping at some freaking martini on the other end of the line. Grinding her teeth, which she hopes is equally as audible to him, she prepares to unleash a string of profanity when motion catches her eye from the side as the scout comes hustling over to deliver their report.

After spending twice as long as she had original planned muttering random curses while stalking angrily back and forth, the mercenary queen turns back to the soldier and leans in close to give orders that can be heard without broadcasting them via radio.

"Go and put him in the jeep. Tell the others to pack it up, we're leaving. Now."

"You know what, nevermind," Kira says into the phone, bringing it back up to her ear. The faint hint of her annoyance is still present but she speaks with control and calm as her mind shifts gears. This is no longer a field trip, someone wants war. Damn if they didn't pick the wrong enemy in this country.

"I will withdraw for now. You OWE me for this and don't think I won't collect."

Killing the connection, she returns the phone to its pocket and shifts her attention back to the battlefield as another school-aged girl faces off against someone whose fashion sense is a few hundred years out of style. She watches them spar for a few moments, somewhat surprised at how adept they both are at martial warfare. Hmm. A teleporting cheerleader and a cosplaying ninja. Could either of them be responsible for interfering with her plans?

The rumble of an engine as the humvee kicks to life is her signal that the men are prepared to leave. Frowning in thought, she turns and makes her way back to the command vehicle, sliding into the shotgun seat and motioning for the driver to take them out. The convoy slowly begins to move turning to circle back the way it came, vanishing into the thick jungle one by one.

Out of sight and within the protective confines of her armored car, Kira flips the ballistic mask from her face and tosses it to the floor as she runs a hand through her sweat-soaked hair. She takes a moment to let out a long exhale, venting as much of her frustration into the air as she can so she can think clearly. The phone is fished out yet again and she dials up a new number, cupping her free hand over her other ear to blot out the noise of the car as it crunches and bounces through the rough terrain.

"...yeah, it's me. No, listen. Things didn't work out like I planned." Kira leans forward and taps a button on the dashboard bringing a small monitor to life as she talks. Her fingers go through a familiar route as she brings up the local television feeds, flipping through the handful of news channels until she finds one broadcasting the tournament. The small display comes into to focus just moments before the the man in black's dramatic reversal of a dangerous situation, cleaving through the shimmering ball of energy as if it were no more of a threat than paper.

"Don't worry about that now," she says, responding to the buzz of worried questions from the person on the other end. The voice is almost entirely monotone but she's known the person it belongs to long enough to recognize the difference. "I have a new job for you."

Kira leans back in her seat, the well-used cushions creaking slightly under her weight. A cigarette finds its way into her mouth and she lights it up with the casual ease of a long-time smoker, not even paying attention to the motions she goes through in the process, her attention entirely on the scene playing out infront of her. Her finger darts out, jabbing the pause button just as the camera zooms in on both of the contestants, capturing their faces in clean detail as Hayabusa bears the unfortunate Athena into the ground. She smiles faintly, wheels turning in her mind as possibilities play out.

"...find out everything you can about these people."

As Athena hits the ground, Hayabusa flips away with an ease and lightness that would suggest that none of the fall had any effect on him. Almost without a sound, he glides back along the ground in a similar three-point pose to his recovery from the Idol's initial assault, but this time his feet are under him, the fingers of his left hand barely grazing fine lines in the dirt, and his right hand has extended fully out to the side, the Dragon Sword drawing a clean horizon.

The psionic girl lays in clear pain following Hayabusa's iconic maneuver. It would say nothing poor of the girl to have been overwhelmed by an attack that has taken out any number of opponents in his battles where lives were on the line. The fact that she continues to speak and move in the aftermath, is plenty enough to show that she must be one of the great fighters in the world.

Rising slowly from his crouched position, the Ninja Master glides his blade back into its sheath in a remarkably slow and precise motion that starkly contrasts with its previous release. It provides a great deal of time to study the girl as she herself struggles less gracefully to regain her standing.

And then the flow of energy begins to change.

Far more experienced with the art of chi manipulation, it is more of a struggle for Hayabusa to understand the sensations that come with the manipulation of Psycho Power. In an instant it's possible to sense that the energy is in motion, but its intention and path come more slowly.

But in the face of this opponent's ability to read his mind, Hayabusa has followed the decision to act on his instinct, launching himself into the air as he closes the small distance between himself at Athena in the blink of an eye, twisting his body around as a twisting kick whips in at the side of the girl's head.

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully aids herself with Healing Aura.

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Athena           1/-----==/=======|=======\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

COMBATSYS: Athena interrupts Medium Kick from Ryu Hayabusa with Super Phoenix Infinity EX.

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Athena           0/-------/----===|=======\====---\1     Ryu Hayabusa

It's invisible at first - that torrent of Psycho Power that answers the young fighter's beck and call. Why or how she came to be able to channel energy of that magnitude is a question that cannot be answered in the heat of combat - for the moment, all that would matter for her opponent is that she /can/. Pink-violet energy spins up around Asamiya as she continues to concentrate. Given her range from him, where she stands with feet planted, eyes closed, it would be safe to assume that she is not in the process of executing an attack. After all, it is the first time she's voluntarily stopped moving since the official said to go.

In her mind, the ringing is relentless, the echo of voices, stray thoughts, both her own and of others come in and out of focus. Her mental control is shaken by the impact to her head and if she doesn't get it back under control, her very capacity to fight will be wrecked.

But the roar in her ears gradually subsides, replaced by the thunder of the waterfall. Situational awareness returns, little by little. That's right... he somehow got through her attack and struck her into the air - and then he was there too. Teleportation? Is that how he got around her signature technique? This young man she faces... she can barely grasp at the slightest hints of what he's thinking, of what he intends. His mind is a barrier, letting almost nothing of importance slip loose. And when he attacks... that power!

The Justice High student falters. Can she do this? What chance does she have against a man undoubtedly steeped in a life of killing arts? The panic that threatens to seize hold sparks an immediate reaction.

No, she can do this. Her friends are counting on her. But this isn't just about her team, her friends. She needs to do this for herself - to give it her all. Victory, loss, it doesn't matter here and now. All that matters is that she not give in to fear.

Violet eyes snap open as Hayabusa closes in with his legendary speed, taking to the air with ease. In her mind, the recovery effort took minutes - in reality, seconds have passed.

In an instant, that vibrant aura churning about Athena answers to a new purpose. The time for mending frazzled thoughts is past.

His foot sweeps in with all the menace that even a casual attack from Hayabusa represents, but unlike his previous attacks, this time she doesn't shirk in the slightest. Braving the impending harm, Athena lunges immediately into the Living Legend, shoulder first, her entire body alive with a greater Psychic manifestation than she had demonstrated thus far. The entire area around the duo is bathed in light that seems to continuously shift between violet and pink hues.

Her reckless, full bodied collision is enough to take them both into the air, Athena now a living comet of Psycho Power. It is at the apex of her ascent that they part ways, the Psycho Soldier extending her arms, dropping toward the ground, the power coursing over her limbs trailing off as if in the form of ethereal wings.

It's only when she lands a half second later that the girl shows signs of harm, staggering forward, energy falling to the ground around her only to dissipate now that she no longer extends the will to shape it. "A-ah!" Her right hand goes to the side of her head as she tries to catch herself, palm resting over a bleeding cut above her temple - any more blows like that and the comparatively fragile fighter is going to be too punch drunk to continue!

By the time that Hayabusa can sense the sudden eruption of energy within the idol, it's too late for him to do anything to get out of the way. There is nothing to be done but to pray he'll have an opportunity to recover.

For one able to read the flow of energy like the Master Ninja, it's like suddenly seeing the sun bloom into existance mere moments before the heat and the power consume you. His body and mind scream as the Psycho Power overwhelms his senses. Even for someone so naturally gifted in the art of energy manipulation, the sheer ferocity of her abilities of overwhelming.

There is for more to Athena Asamiya than expected. If this sort of hidden strength were turned to evil, it could be one of the greatest threats that the Dragon Ninja had faced in his life.

A life that feels the threat of being extinguished in a moment as every neuron in the ninja's mind sizzles in a pain far worse than his body, even as it crashes back down to the ground. Even with his remarkable skills, there is no last moment to catch himself to be spared from limply striking the ground.

But despite the fact that pain courses along every nerve in his body, the Dragon Ninja forces his way up to his feet. The determination in his eyes are sharp as the sword that could cut through Psycho Power itself. There are no groans of pain, and even his breathing holds only a moment of rapid fluttering before a single, deep breath brings his body back to complete peace.

His arms raised to his loose fighting posture and his feet cross once more, returning to his previous circling. There is no move of aggression left in his mind, no thought left surfaced, and yet his senses absorb everything. To be trapped in his gaze is to feel as though every aspect of your being is laid bare.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa focuses on his next action.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Athena           0/-------/----===|=======\====---\1     Ryu Hayabusa

She recovers after a moment's reprieve, lowering her hand from the cut on the side of her head, blood streaked across her fingertips. Violet eyes blink as she steadies herself, lifting her left hand out, right arm drawn back at the elbow for striking purposes. Her foot slides forward against the dirt as the steady thunder of the waterfall and a relentless ringing in her head takes over her auditory senses.

But she doesn't need to hear to be successful. At times, she hasn't even needed to see her opponent to navigate the treacherous field of battle. Even the slightest hint of emotion, the ting of intent is enough for Asamiya to act. And how dangerous, indeed, would it be were she to fall into shadow with the power, influence, and potential she has? Was it with that unstated worry in mind that Master Gentsai took the young orphan in five years ago? Perhaps the retired, wizened sensei felt it his burden to make sure that the gifted Psycho Power channeler never let her talents go to her head...

She watches as the legendary Hayabusa scion recovers from her last attack, trying to evaluate how much progress she had made in coming out ahead in this contest. Her distinct, violet hair whips around her shoulders as blood trickles down in a thin bead over her right temple. She just has to see through his next attack, she tells herself, hands clenching and unclenching as she maintains her ready stance, working on keeping her breathing under control as to not exhaust herself too quickly.

But then something changes - she isn't sure when the transition takes place, only that it does. As Hayabusa raises his arms and begins to circle her in that patient, intimidating way, all impressions of his presence simply vanish. No thoughts, no emotion, no indication that he even exists at all except for what her eyes tell her is true. He would catch the hint of surprise in her countenance. For one so used feeling the presence of everyone close around her on some level, the disconnect between what she sees and what her sixth sense tells her is briefly disorienting. The experience is new to the young fighter. While undeniably talented in her combat potential, there is still so much for her to learn, to witness - hers has not been a life of bloodshed and saving the world like the enigma in black that circles her now. Many things can and do continue to surprise her.

The eyes of the Dragon Ninja would detect the bubble of fear that starts to settle in. What is she supposed to do against someone who can so thoroughly cloak himself from her abilities? Does she have the skill necessary to compensate? She remains rooted except to turn just enough to keep him from circling in around behind her in the dangerous dance playing out in the battlefield.

But his incredible perception is capable of digging even deeper still, past the emotions of an uncertain teenaged fighter hesitating on the cusp of decision. There is something else - it thrums of something greater, even more dangerous - something that thrives in battle and grows only stronger under the pressure of challenge. Athena opens and closes her hands again, an unconscious gesture to keep her fingers from cramping under the stress.

A quiet blink, another breath, and her resolve begins to take hold once more, doubts shoved aside, there is no room for them here. In the same transition, that 'something' beneath the surface of her mind withdraws, no longer within the range of perception of the Master Shinobi. It seems it is only Athena Asamiya he faces now, and in this instant, the slight fighter is bolting for him with determination no longer shaken by his shrouded mind.

From meters out, she leaps, taking to the air as she draws her hands up over her head. Once more, Psycho Power answers her call, surging up along her raised arms. A rosy glow illuminates the ground beneath her as the idol fighter comes down to land nearly directly in front of Hayabusa, swinging her hands forward, palms out, bringing a man-sized sphere of churning psychic energy directly into his position. "aaaaaAAAAAH!"

The attack is large enough to blind her, visually, head bowed, body leaning forward, every effort of hers devoted to channeling the attack for as long as she can muster!

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa interrupts Round Psycho Reflector EX from Athena with Art of the Piercing Void EX.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Athena           1/--=====/=======|>>>>>>>\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

When she first realized she was being carried off the battlefield by the most distinguished member of Team Ninja, Nagase was a bit too out of it to really notice much of what was going on. It would certainly not be the -first- time that the plucky upstart has found herself in a mess that required a rescue from her taciturn teammate.

Luckily, the Super Ninja had placed her in a location relatively insulated from the invading Dragoons, propped against a tree trunk and surveiled from multiple directions by the King of Fighters cameras. Nagase might not have known about the clutch arrangement by a certain high-powered executive, but for a few blissful minutes after consuming the capsule she was offered, she was napping.

When the Iga-ryu ninja comes to, she sits up in a proper lotus stance. She's presented with a number of reports from her Battle Disc System, notably, a triage report identifying the injuries she'll probably want to fix first. She would need a canteen and proper first aid equipment for those, and no one seems willing to cross over to the island until the merc forces have pulled out, so she decides to watch for the end of the fight -- opting not to cheer so as not to distract the hardworking Hayabusa. She reviews a brief replay of the troop movements -- a report she'd put out of her mind in the heat of battle.
"Huh. Wonder what the heck that was all about," she mumbles, withdrawing a slender tube from her ankle armor. While the assassin keeps a cautious eye on Athena, she raises the tube to her lips...
And tips it upwards. A moment later, she enjoys the satisfying crunch of trail mix.

When one possesses a truly terrifying power, the sort of power that can change the course of history for good or for ill, there are a great many concerns. Many of these people are rare spots, like Athena, a happenstance of the universe that rise from nothing to something incredible. Others simply train their bodies to a point where years of effort make them rise above their limits.

Ryu Hayabusa is a different matter altogether.

The long line of Hayabusa masters has been gifted with the Dragon Lineage. From birth it is their duty to master their bodies, their minds, and their souls so that they can one day wield the legendary Ryuken. Even in its imperfect form, the Blade has the potential to change the course of history, but Shinryuken, the True Dragon Sword, is capable of altering the flow of history with every slice.

And so it is that his entire life, Ryu Hayabusa has trained. There would be no doubt that his blessing would curse him with the need for isolation. There was no doubt that he would lead a life of violence, taking a great many lives in the service of his duty. To prepare for this life of violence and ensure he would use his powers for good rather than be consumed by them, the Dragon Ninja has had to search for a place of peace within himself that he can hold even in the ugliest of times.

This is how Hayabusa can act as a shadow, burying his intent deep within and drawing it only when needed.

It's merely a matter of waiting until Athena has committed herself to her actions. With the psionic idol in the air, suddenly she senses a great deal of power flowing from what was nothing moments before. Through all of his concentration, the Master Ninja had been building up his strength, keeping it within himself as if building a dam, and now that dam has burst.

Only by guiding it through the careful formula of Ninpo is Hayabusa able to keep it all under control. His hands move through blindly quick motions accompanied by words that claim no understandable tongue. All of this power flows into...


With Athena's own power concealing her view of the Dragon Ninja, suddenly every sense of new energy begins to vanish, as if whirling down the drain.

But then her own Psycho Power begins to vanish into that very same drain. An emptiness cleaving through the center of her blast, drawing in as much of it as it can hungrily consume, allowing only a few lashing streams to flow around it, striking defiantly at the ninja as he continues to press forward.

The sensation of the void overtaking Athena's Psycho Power and reaching her is that of being torn to pieces. Not by claws or blades, but on a level so utterly basic as to be elemental. The gift of creation births stars and solar systems, granting the potential for life, but this is the end of the story, the gift of destruction that all things must endure. It acts without menace or evil intent, it is simply the end of all stories as we know them.

Teeth grit, there is no holding back as Asamiya attempts to channel all her formidable willpower into a single, fight-ending assault. The battlefield, the cameras, the audience, the Ninja Master himself are lost from her sight as she holds trembling arms forward, knees bent, body bracing as she demands every ounce of her potential to answer her call. But rather than being consumed by the overwhelming force her attack can do to one's psyche, Asamiya finds her own strength being drawn upon hungrily - a vacuum of power eager to absorb whatever she can throw at it.

To her credit, she certainly tries, squinting her eyes nearly completely closed as she peers into her own psychic projection, trying to understand how one could possibly withstand the magnitude of the attack she is leveling now. Her hair whips about her shoulders, her skirt about her thighs as her feet begin to lose their hold, slipping forward against the soil, tracing tiny divots as her heels dig in. It takes a moment to realize that in this instance, she is not the aggressor as she thought but rather the defender of the exchange.

Try as she might, the power she projects is not enough to overwhelm the esoteric ninpo. While at first, the energies coursing out of her psychic sphere were pushing her back, the currents change now, violet tresses pulled forward over her shoulders, effort put into pulling her arms back instead of forcing them out. But it's too late - no escape exists from the essence of unmaking. "AH!" The startled exclaim escapes her lips but even the sound is lost to the void at the moment of impact.

There is no escape, no strength to contest the forces at play here. It was a fight-deciding attack by one of the most legendary martial artists in the world. Through it all, he would sense the panic of an aura assaulted by something designed to target it at the core, to lay waste to the ability to press forward or fight back. The attack was unlike anything she had experienced before. Fists, she understood. Kicks she had felt aplenty. Even fire, lightning, and other elemental assaults had been weathered over her young career.

Trying to resist the very epitome of elemental forces is impossible. In the end, all she can do is break through it. That's all anyone could hope to do.


Pushed to her limits with unconsciousness threatening to overtake her any moment, an eruption of Psycho Power is her final recourse. It is just in time to scatter the potent, destructive energy as the young fighter becomes enshrouded in an aura of brilliant energy beyond anything she had demonstrated thus far. Her eyes are closed, head bowed, arms forced along her sides, palms directed downward as she calls on that infinite fount of potential within. "AAAAAAAAH!" Her cry continues, sensed by all present - not just audibly but instinctually as if for that moment, all within range have unwittingly become a part of the experience.

As the last traces of the void are finally scattered, Athena is hovering just inches off the ground, her feet pointed downward. Slowly, patiently, as if in no hurry in spite the power she was channeling, she lifts her arms up over her head, crossing them at the wrists, her palms now skyward.

Her head is no longer bowed. Hayabusa would see it for only a split second as the young fighter opens her eyes, focused directly on his form - but something is different. It isn't the resolution of youth that stares back at him now, but something ancient, mouth curled into the faintest of knowing smiles. There is no malevolence, no wrath, simply an overwhelming presence, a sense of satisfaction in facing such a worthy opponent.

An instant later, a massive hemisphere of Psycho Power explodes outward, concealing the two fighters from all others. Were Hayabusa any lessor man, the experience could overwhelm every sense he has, leaving him utterly blind to the cruise missile of Psycho Power rocketing toward him now.

He would have only an instant to act, a moment in time to wrestle the power of divinity intrigued, a narrow window to pierce beyond the veil and save himself.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa just-defends Athena's Shining Crystal Bit+!

[                    \\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Athena           0/-------/---====|>>>>>>>\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

If there had been any doubts in Hayabusa's mind that there was something more to Athena Asamiya than there first appears to be, this would be the moment that spells it out for him. This level of power is like being trapped in a sandstorm, so overwhelmed from all sides that it's almost impossible to make out anything in particular.

And yet he has battles in sandstorms. He has fought in complete darkness. This nearly blinds even his abilities. It's an absolute struggle for Hayabusa to surpass whatever hidden power it is in Athena that has gifted her abilities like this.

But once he does it takes only a moment to realize he has only one option if he's to get through this.

Once more Hayabusa's hand flies to the hilt of the Dragon Sword, gliding it out of its sheath in a clean motion of such haste that if there were anyone able to actually see through the haze of power produced by the idol, they'd assume they had blinked and missed the motion. Focusing in on his center, the Dragon Ninja holds the sword vertically in front of him, bracing the back of the blade with his left hand at its mid-point.

And then his eyes close as he lets out a slow breath, drawing himself into the safety at the eye of the storm. Despite the monsterous Psycho Power bearing down on him, Hayabusa allows his soul to enter a state of absolute tranquility.

As the Psycho Power strikes the blade, it provides no resistance. Every potenty bit of strength flows outward along the line of its cutting edge as the Master Ninja himself remains completely untouched.

To the outside eye, in the period of little more than a few heartbeats, the battlefield between the two is covered with an impenetrable haze, then two hemispheres of Psycho Power erupt outward, one carving a path through the forest while the other disappears out beyond the waterfall itself. As the haze starts to fade away, Hayabusa is charging down on Athena, his sword so low that it's tip is a whisper away from the ground itself. As he nears his opponent, the blade flies upward in an effort to catch Athena with such force that she's sent flying upward and the Dragon Ninja follows, lashing out with two more strikes, each aimed to send the idol further into the sky.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa successfully hits Athena with Phoenix Ascendant.

[                                < >  ////////////                  ]
Athena           1/----===/=======|=======\-------\1     Ryu Hayabusa

He finds her there, at the epicenter of it all. The grass has been flattened, any loose pebbles and stones blasted away from the center of the surge of power. As he carves his way through the daunting presence of something far more than a teen fighter with a knack for fighting. Her physical stature is unchanged - to the unfeeling, soulless camera, he continues to battle against a lithe hopeful upstart in the world of fighters. From the perspective of the audience, drawing the legendary blade to strike down such an opponent may even call his character into question by the less bloodthirsty contingent of the world's viewers.

But from his target, he would find no condemnation for the efficient, ruthless counter strike. Instead, she rushes forward, first taking a step, then another, then literally bolting across the turf as if carried by the winds themselves, hellbent on meeting the Dragon Ninja in combat once more. As they move closer, the obscuring curtain of brilliant, violet power closes back in around them. This exchange, like the one just before it, will be hidden to the eyes of the audience. Three of the drones are even caught within its radius and immediately begin transmitting only static. The best the officials will be able to claim later is technical difficulties, apologizing for missing the final, climatic trade of attacks.

His precision, flawless sword strike finds purchase in the young fighter's side as the two trespass into each other's reach. Whether she was trying to guard against it in any way, or ignoring all pretense of defense hardly matters as the blade cuts deep, launching the featherweight into the sky, a trail of crimson streaking through the air, tracing her ascent, her dirty, white blouse now stained in red. But there seems to be almost no recoil, no reaction to what must be crippling pain - is she too in shock to feel a thing?

Even the next two slashes are met with no resistance and no reaction, as they each in turn carve a new line across her body. It was a decisive, fight-ending strike against anyone, let alone an opponent such as this.

Airborne next to each other, those knowing, piercing violet eyes continue to focus on Hayabusa through the slashing assault. With a smattering splash of blood on her cheek, she smiles just slightly, "Well done-" It is Athena's voice, but the tone is off, the intensity behind the softness beyond mortal, the words uttered to be shared only with the Dragon Ninja.

"You passed."

Her right hand sweeps, seeking Hayabusa's cheek. Or does it? Two realities seem to happen at once, the unconscious Asamiya in freefall toward the island below, but another presence of energy given form is reaching for him now.

Where one trial by fire ends, another might very well begin.

COMBATSYS: Athena can no longer fight.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryu Hayabusa     1/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Ryu Hayabusa with #Psychic Medley 13#.
- Power hit! -

[                                <
Ryu Hayabusa     1/=======/=======|

Even if not for the encompassing veil of Psycho Power, no mundane eyes would have witnessed the scene that plays out solely for the Dragon Ninja. An etheral limb cups the masked cheek of one of the world's most deadly men and from there comes no hope of escape. He is in the presence of a figure of pure energy, mostly formless but for the brightly glowing silhouette. A halo of light surrounds the both of them as the being leans forward, pressing forehead to forehead, mind to mind.

In an instant, he is judged, his life on trial. His battles, his choices, his victories, and his sacrifices reviewed all at once. Raw, infinite will would collide with his own, emotions pure in their appreciation, calm in their victory. "You fought well,"

The impure world around him begins to burn in sacred fire, the entire hemisphere of psychic energy suddenly funneling up from all around directly into left palm of his divine assailant. "You have my gratitude."

The dome is gone, every iota of psychic presence compressed into a single atom of infinite potential hovering just over the hand of the one who shapes it now.

The left arm reaches forward, pressing the divine spark against Hayabusa's other cheek. "Rest now, warrior."

In that instant, his conscious world would be lost to piercing, unyielding white and his brief celestial companion is gone.
The Master Ninja's battles will continue elsewhere.

Athena lands without ceremony below in a small cloud of dust, thudding against her upper back before coming to rest, oblivious to events playing out above. A pained groan escapes her lips as she struggles to continue, sitting up to rest her right hand against the savage wound in her side. She's gasping for breath, eyes wide and alarmed at the sign of the wound, a certain look of confusion about her as she tries to understand what even happened.

It doesn't last long, exhaustion coupled with severe shock quickly taking hold, as moments later Asamiya flops flat on her back and closes her eyes, arm still resting over her injury.

A mistake had been made.

After he was able to withstand her previous assault, Hayabusa had assumed that he'd seen the worst of what Athena Asamiya could unleash upon him, but as he senses the surge of power, he quickly learns that there is something else much greater hidden behind it all.

At first he views it as nothing more than another assault of pure Psycho Power being unleashed at him in a last ditch effort. As he takes the ground once more, he draws the Dragon Sword out before him in a guard position, his blade once more preparing to cleave through the psionic burst as he had before.

But this is no mere attack on his body or his mind, he feels the caress of some entity on his very soul.

And strangest of all, there was no touch of corruption to it. Hayabusa had fought against the taint of Fiendish blood. He had withstood the pain of a curse filled with the hatred of every soul that the Dragon Sword had taken.

This was a mother's soothing kindness. The pride of his father. The ease of a duty fulfilled.

As his body feels the pain of the divine flames, he is unable to fight back any further. The fate of the world does not depend upon him seeking success in this tournament. No lives will be lost if he cannot take to his feet once more.

The only tool he could call on in this moment to fight back against the sensation of peace that blossoms from within him would be the stubborness of ego, the need to win over all costs.

It cannot be found within him.

This tournament had been a ploy to draw out the White Ghost, and it had succeeded. He and his allies had failed to capture the vengeful, living spirit, but continuing along through the path of this tournament would be unlikely to help them find the Ghost once more. It would only force him to inflict more harm on others whose only crime was that they wished to feel the joy of victory in battle.

As Hayabusa's mind comes back to him, he wakes to find himself slumped heavy on the ground, Ryuken stabbed into the dirt as he used it instinctively to prop himself up. Instinctively he knows that his body is on the verge of collapse, but the lingering touch of the divine entity meant he could not truly feel it. He can see the girl in front of him, the wound he had inflicted upon her spilling blood as she loses the struggle against her own body.

Looking down at his sword, her blood still clinging to the blade.

"I yield."

The words are sharp and clean. Even as the referee is struggling to see what has happened, it's impossible to mistake the words as anything else. There is a clear look of confusion on his face as he looks between the still apparently conscious man and his clearly defeated opponent. There is a frantic bit of scrambling as he pulls out his rulebook, seeking any sort of assistance in determining the conclusion.

"Ah ah ah... Winna... ATENA! Bictori... SAIKYO SODIYA!"

There's clear confusion from the crowd as the ruling is made in favor of the girl even as Hayabusa slowly rises to his feet while returning Ryuken to its sheath. There is an odd mixture of cheers from some of the more dedicated fans as well as boos from those disappointed with the unclear finish. Others simply join in with what applause there is to avoid the awkwardness of silence.

Struggling to walk, the Master Ninja still makes his way to the girl. Looking down at her now, it's so difficult to see that divinity that has possessed her, she is every bit a normal high schooler. Even in his current state, it's effortless to lift her from the ground.

As he had done twice before, he carries the unconscious youth to the medical station, silent the entire distance, and stable despite the growing pain that flows through him as that haze of divine peace begins to depart. After lowering her down for the medics, he produces what appears to be a small wooden talisman from somewhere on his person and slips it into one of her pockets.

On the back of the talisman are simple directions to a quaint curio shop beneath Mt. Fuji.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa can no longer fight.

Log created on 20:36:44 06/21/2016 by Nagase, and last modified on 00:09:31 06/26/2016.