KOF 2016 - KOF Stage 2: Psycho Soldiers vs Team USA

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Description: Ah, Venice. The City of Water, the City of Masks. The semi-finals for the lower bracket between Psycho Soldiers and Team USA will take place in Italy, between the respective leads of Kensou against Ken Masters. This match will be a test of agility as well as skill; the fight itself will be settled on bridge, on boat, on canal, with the ring itself stretching over and in one of the canals. As an added bonus, while it isn't the time of year for Carnival, it seems that there is a Masquerade taking place at the same time as the King of Fighters match! So while the leads battle it out, the other teams can mingle with crowds of strangers in masks. Isn't that FUN. <Winner: Psycho Soldiers>

The canals and streets of Venice are packed well beyond their usual capacity -- no small feat in a city more than accustomed to its fair share of tourists. The reason is simple: King of Fighters, with no dearth of controversy, has been scaring up interest even amongst those who wouldn't normally be concerned with such matters. King of Fighters is -the- topic du jour across every news channel, with regular updates about the fighters involved making their way across every news channel, every website, every blog.

Surely, the throngs of people clamoring to catch sight of the teams who succeeded in making it beyond Round One of the international fighting tournament are dense. The number of presences here is incalculable; the possibility of finding any one person who is -not- highlighted by the organizers of the tournament must be incredibly low -- and that's even discounting the fact that a great number of them are -also- wearing masks.

For this... is a Masquerade. The half-masks are simple, as the principle of a masquerade is not necessarily to conceal identity, but to promote relaxation and reduce inhibitions. For fun, in other words. So while one may indeed be recognized by a close friend, the atmosphere of such a festival encourages its participants and visitors to remain blissfully ignorant, and to set their normal concerns aside.

Many of the ladies are wearing fancy dresses. Many of the men are wearing formal tuxedos. In many cities other than Venice, wearing such stifling attire would be tantamount to suicide in the heat of summer, but here in the shade of the buildings, by the calming waters of the Venetian canals, the temperature and humidity are both easily with acceptable tolerances.

One such lady is wearing a frilly lavender dress, low cut and clinging snugly around her bare, creamy white shoulders. Her mask is crimson, trimmed with gold piping, partially concealed by long tendrils of jet black hair, accentuated by pink highlights. The woman wears an aloof smile as casually as anyone else here, always staying within sight of the expected fight locale. An elbow-length lavender glove fits snugly over her right hand, and a scarlet dahlia corsage coils around her left wrist. The voluminous dress, much more suited to a ballroom than the streets of Venice, is trimmed with white lace and descends to just below her knees. Thin white stockings and relatively less-adorned shoes upon her feet.

She also has a masked man upon her arm. Together, the two would be relatively innocuous within the surging masses of people. But to those with a sixth sense for such things, their presence would be slightly easier to spot.

For the two are the ones who lost to Team USA in the last round. And they are most eager to learn of the team's fate against the Psycho Soldiers.

Rhydderch looks around, trying (with difficulty) to not spend the fight staring at Honoka. It's a difficult thing; it is easily the most elegant thing he has ever seen Honoka wear, and it suits her well. Rhydderch is wearing a classic black tuxedo with a deep purple bowtie. A bouttoniere, a black dahlia, sits afixed to the left lapel, and the top half of Rhydderch's face is covered in a mask of deep purple with gold piping and stich work. His hair is combed back and away from the mask, giving the man a somewhat fierce look despite the relaxed posture.

He is also interested in the Psycho Soldiers, for a multitude of reasons. But honestly, he's here because Honoka wanted to be here, and it made him a little curious.

The site of the fight was simple, compared to the masked revelries on the bysides. A white bridge stretches over a canal, large enough for foot traffic both ways, though no where near large enough for cars. The alabaster bridge arches over the canal, and a large banner of 'KING OF FIGHTERS" hangs on both sides of the bridge. On each side of the canal, the masked crowd watches, looking up on the bridge itself.

Below, in the green water of the canal itself, several gondalas float above. While the ones away from the canal are manned, there are several of the boats unmanned and anchored around and underneath the bridge. The archway of the bridge is high enough for one to stand up all the way, and then even jump up and grab the edge of the bridge to pull yourself up on. One side was for the Psycho Soldiers, with a small tent pavillion set up to shield the team from the sun. On the other? Team USA, with a tent, barbaque pit, and fireworks already set up.

Looks someone must have thought this was a SNF or something.

Inside the Psycho Soldiers tent, Sie Kensou was finishing up his preperations. Kenshou had yet to fight in the King Of Fighters tournament, with Athena laboring in each of the fights, with his other teammates facing their opponents. They had beaten the No Brand Heroes, they had beaten Team Ninja. And now, Kensou had to lead the way against Ken Masters of Team USA. This was the semi-finals; they were so close, they could taste the finals.

And now, he had to stop his warm up for the REAL THING.

"AOMPH" He sounds, as he devours another meatbun whole. Kensou was garbbed in his after-school wear: Blue shorts that were too short, showing what was either black boxers underneath, or thigh-wrappings. A white v-neck shirt is on him, with a blue jean jacket over it. The brown-haired bow smacks his lips, as he reaches out for another meatbun. "AAAAAAAOMPH" Was the second sound, as he devours a second meatbun. Swallowing hard, he nods firmly. Just one more for the training, and then one more for the battle. Kensou reaches out for the third one, and devours it. "AAAAAAAAAOM- URK"


Kensou pounds his chest, as he turns blue.


Around the Team USA grill, Ken himself flips burgers and local sausages for presumably loyal, masked afficianados. His staff and the promise of free food do a rather impressive job of keeping everything orderly as any number of the fightgoing fans get an opportunity not only for world champion cooked meat, but legendary selfies and vines of all kinds. Meanwhile, Ken Masters' social media blows up with new followers; a not-inconsequential percentage of them convert to buying merchandise, in addition to the amplification of his substantial personal brand. It's an artform in itself. Quickly approaching is the time to step up to his real passion; his true art.

Ken's barely slowed down since he woke up this morning. Warm ups? Did them out of bed. He's been riding a high of media and fan interaction since, and never underestimate the meditative, martial parallels to manning a grill with the level of precision and showmanship he was working out there.

It's fanservice of a different kind when the Blonde Battler surrenders his chef's jacket to go bare-chested long enough for a pose, and a graceful little move that's halfway to a martial kata as he tugs on a fresh, vibrant red gi top, tightening it around his waist in a well-earned, basic black belt before tying back his hair with a similar, dark band. The show on the other side of the bridge ups its production values one more time as an ensemble of guitars and drum set kick up a driving rock theme to carry Masters to the battlefield.

The performance brings with it cheers, applause from his camp, Ken running down a line of those gathered by the mouth of the bridge and exchanging high-fives-- though he turns down more food before the fight. While he might not /freaking choke on it/, he's seen enough to know how hard these Psycho Soldier kids can /hit/. His smooth is significantly harshed by shit like accidently vomiting all over an opponent and/or the beautiful canal. Ken takes the field by jogging up the narrow stonework railing that normally keeps the people walking over the bridge from falling into the water, graceful steps carrying him with what seems to be innate, effortless balance towards the middle of the arch, where he pauses, most of his weight resting on one foot which is in turn perched atop one of the rail's ornately worked supports.

Ken alternately rocks forward, back, this way, that-- at times looking like he might wobble over the side and then smoothly recovering with a wry grin to whichever section of spectators catches his eye first. For those in attendance, there's the building energy of anticipation, the roar gaining traction amongst the crowd-- for those at home, excited announcers and analysts discussing Ken's remarkable agility and confidence in the face of any odds as a couple of the reasons Team USA could also go all the way.

The party is underway, and seems like the fighters in the match are about the only ones not interested in hiding their identiies for the festivities. Sure, it's a masquerade party, but still seems odd to be surrounded by masked faces.

So maybe that's why Scratch is hanging back inconspicuously with a white hoodie over her head, away from the festivities outside of a paper plate with scraps of a couple burgers left over. Or maybe it's to hide her bandages from the previous fight. Or just trying to lay low enough after being inundated with media attention due to her association with both Mr. Masters and Team USA.

Then again, maybe it's just sensory overload combined with a significant lack of sleep, judging by the two Red Bulls and discarded single packet of Advil on hand. "How the hell did I get convinced to try that tea..." she groans, lifting up her sunglasses to rub her eyes a little." She then looks up at her mugging partner and stares blearily behind the tinted lenses. "And how the hell does he have all that energy? Does he mainline something?" she groans.

Oh well...more attention around Ken means less for Scratch. And she's seriously not in the mood to deal with TMZ again.

This was bad.

"GRAGK" was the sound that Kensou made, as suddenly, he grips at his throat. "GRAGK" He repeats, fighting to get the baozi out of his throat. To no avail. The meatbun was stuck fast, he couldn't get it free. The world was getting dark. Was this how the King Of Fighters would end? Was this how Kensou would end? He was going to die as he lived. Eating baozi, surrounded by his friends.

And suddenly, that wave of inspiration overtakes him.

Yes. His friends. Kensou, lips purple, begins to get a tear in his eye. He had a duty. Yes. He could not let his friends worry about him. They all were counting on him, just as he counted on them. And if they worried... what if Athena worried. Yes, he could not let Athena worry about his well being. The steadily purpler Kensou stops fighting it, and just waves at his companions... as a horn is played. The signal. Kensou swiftly stuffs a Meatbun into his jacket, as he hurries. It was time to battle.

And Kensou was ready.

The Psycho Soldier strides up from the tent, towards the bridge connecting the two sides. His fingers were numb, but he only had the tunnel vision for the arena. Taking his place on one side of the bridge, the blue boy sweeps his arms, one clockwise, the other counterclockwise, before lowering himself into the broad, open stance of his Chinese Kung Fu. All eyes were on him. All eyes were on the Psycho Soldiers. He calls out to his opponent, the sexiest man in Venice right now.


Kensou balls up a hand into a fist, as he turns a deeper and deeper blue.

"GRAGK- Ulp!"

He suddenly coughs loudly.

"I swallowed it!"

A smattering of applause comes in response.

All Kensou sees is the arena, staggering his way to the proverbial starting gate... but lots of people see him. At first, enthusiasm readily infuses the Psycho Soldiers' camp-- but let's be honest, here. Kensou doesn't look good. The guy looks like he's about to keep over. Maybe it's stage fright? Maybe he's suddenly realizing how badly he needs a bio break? Maybe he's having a stroke or a heart attack? About the time medics on the field start realizing they should maybe intervene, Kensou dislodges his obstruction in the opposite direction normally advised, and shares his elation with the crowd; and well, that's good, right?

One more person fixing the bun afficianado with a somewhat dubious look right now is Ken Masters, still perched atop that bridge rail-- though he's stopped doing balancing tricks in the wake of the alarm for the overeager overeater's welfare. "Sie Kensou..." Ken presumes. He's seen tapes of the kid, heard this and that, but none of the this prepared him for, well... this. "You, ah-- you sure you're alright, buddy?"

It's got a shade of smack, sure. Just a dash of 'What the fuck is WRONG with you?'. But to be fair to Ken, he -is- clearly concerned about this schoolkid from Southtown who nearly lived his dream of choking to death on international screens.

"It's cool if you need a minute, is what I'm saying. Or if you want to send in your lovely partner instead." Ken throws a wink to the famed face of the Psycho Soldiers on the sidelines, and now that Kensou isn't dying, goes back to idly varying his stance atop his seemingly unstable perch, alternately balancing on both bare feet.


Kensou turns back to the other Psycho Soldiers, and gives them a thumbs up to his team. "I mean, thank you very much for your concern, Mr. Masters!" Kensou states, turning back to his opponent and bowing. "But I'm feeling great! No need to hold up because of me!" He gives two quick thumbs up, -two- of them, to Ken, before bringing his hands back into their ready position, palms open, stance wide. "I'm ready! I'm 100% ready! And I am totally fine!"

Kensou was in fact less blue than he was before.

The crowd on the Psycho Soldiers side gives another round of applause, hooting and hollering for Kensou. While he was, in fact, about to die on international camera, his energy was not in doubt. "I will say this, Mr. Masters," Kensou begins, as the judge gets into position between them, right in the center of the bridge. "It is an honor to face you! I hope I can impress you with my Kung Fu!" Kensou bounces on his heels, ready, willing.

Ready to launch out of the gate on the call.

COMBATSYS: Kensou has started a fight here.

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

Twice now, Athena Asamiya had taken care of seeing the Psycho Soldier team move on from one round to the next, and twice now, each fight left her more troubled than she had been before it took place. The match against the horde of hate-filled souls compelling the young man back at Howard Arena forward had left the girl contemplative for days, her eyes having been opened to an entire world of mysteries that defied anything she thought she knew.

And then there was the battle against the master ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, where she couldn't even remember how it ended. She could remember the moments leading up to the final exchange of attacks she was consciously aware of... but it is also a matter of record that the fight went another sixty seconds beyond that point. Even the cameras were of no assistance helping jog her memory of how the match resolved, other than to capture the aftermath, the declaration of yielding from her gifted opponent, and the spark that set off a controversy surrounding their presence in this round of the King of Fighters tournament all together. The entire development was troubling she had kept her concerns to herself, easily smiling off the accusations floating around in the fight fanspace.

But the crowd gathered here to day appears to care nothing for conspiracy theories or accusations of judge bias. The energy coursing through the streets and canals is powerful, a force of human will, chaotic yet shaped toward a common interest in seeing a remarkable match anticipated to take place.

But it is what's playing out prior to the match that has the violet haired psychic's rapt attention at first. No, not Kensou choking on a meatbun at her side, although that is a thing that is happening. Her focus is on the tent of Ken Masters across the bridge. The charisma with which he works the crowd, the excitement and powerful emotions he evokes with the nearly rabid fans all jockeying for position to get near him. The American Martial Artist is a beacon of energy, but she can see from her perspective that it is a two way conduit of potential - he charges up those around him and they in turn charge him.

The hopeful singer can't help but remember her own potential singing career trajectory - the way it felt to share her feelings with a crowd only to have them reciprocate. In seeing Ken's pre-fight showmanship, Athena imagines how much she would love to do something similar. But Master Gentsai's words left no room for doubt - he would not train a foolhardy girl with her head in the clouds, focused more on a career in the limelight than her training. But Ken Masters is doing so much of what she wanted to do, and he's a world renown fighter with a formidable track record. It MUST be possible to train and entertain and keep up with school and stand against injustice and mentor growing psychics all at the same time, right!?

"Ne, Kensou," she has to raise her voice a little, the rock band across the bridge is not holding back when it comes to volume. "Do you think it would be wrong to..." her voice fades out as she glances to the side just in time to notice her best friend staggering away from the tent, stumbling forward like a young man already beaten. "...Kensou?"

Seconds later, he proudly declares that he managed to swallow the life threatening mouthful of food and Asamiya supportively claps along with the smattering of applause generated in response to his moment of success. Ken's wink does not go missed however, even if she didn't catch the words behind it, and Athena glances back and forth as if to try and figure out if it was meant for someone else, only to notice that Momoko was the only one at her side. "Ah hah hah." she laughs lightly, resting her hand on the back of her neck briefly as she waves to Ken with her other hand. It's best to be polite, right? It's what the charismatic American would do! Then why is she blushing just a little?

Kensou's thumbs up is answered with a double thumbs up from Athena, her expression betraying an element of worry in spite her best efforts to look optimistic. Is he going to be okay out there?

There's a bit of a grin on Ken's face even before Kensou starts giving his adamant answer. It's pretty much exactly the response he expects, anything else belongs in a different arena. Plus, who -hasn't- almost choked due to exuberance, right? Right? "That's good man, because 100% is about what you're going to need." Despite the cockiness, there's warmth, excitement rather than malice or derision in his wide grin, carrying to the twinkle in his dark eyes. Nothing insincere about the thumbs up he shoots Kensou.

"Everyone fighting here today's two steps away from earning the title King of Fighters." Granted, that next step? A certifiable doozy, any way you split it. "It's an honor all around. I'll be sure to bring my A-game." This is no time for being a lazy Kyo. Life's perfect balance of partying and pugilism with a dash of professional acumen, that's Ken Masters, Athena's got it sussed. That pendulum never swings out of balance one way or another, nosiree; easy as good intentions.

If Kensou's in, well, in Ken's book-- Kensou's in. When the official overseeing the start of the bout finishes his brief speech about a proud heritage of skilled sportsmen and grand exhibitions or some such, and signals the start, Masters is in motion. Rather than giving the Psycho Soldier the moment to come at him that led to the dynamic start of his fight against Honoka, Ken closes the distance almost in that same moment, disappearing in a flash as he leaps skywards from his perch.

Ken flips a full somersault in the air and accelerates his downwards momentum as surely as his ascent, aligning to overshoot Kensou by a considerable margin and suddenly pirouette as he lands, twisting on one anchoring foot to bring the other up, around, and down in a potent but exploratory axe-kick. What better way to test Kensou's defenses than a harshly applied heel, right? Ansatsuken 101. "KYaaaaah!" There's still just a glimmer of white tooth showing with the half-grin on Ken's intensely focused features.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters has joined the fight here.

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Ken Masters      0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0           Kensou

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kensou with Inazuma Kakato Wari.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ken Masters      0/-------/-----==|>>>>>--\-------\0           Kensou

There's something really...annoying and aggrandizing about Ken's ever-upbeat and accomodating attitude. Or it could be just Scratch being a grumpy grump about it all, especially when she knows how genuine it actually is since this whirlwind tour of hers began. Getting run ragged between training to fight and training to be a celebrity colors that perception just a wee bit.

But regardless of how much the skater does or doesn't hold against the fighting superstar, she's not about to shy away from watching the fight, paparazzi be damned. Finally pulling her hoodie off, red-streaked cyan hair uncharacteristically loose, she leans over closer to the bridge, inching further and further away from the Team USA camp to get a better vantage.

Whether she'll actually say it or not, she knows all that she's getting taught is from Mr. Master's own experience...and sometimes, observation can be the best sort of experience....well, that and it's a lot better than having to watch video 10 times in a row to get the minutiae pointed out.

"Oh, you are gonna get full monty from me, Mr. Masters!"

Kensou's confidence was full on. He was supposed to have his head fully in. And yet... something was passing over him. A realization. He glances an aside gaze towards Athena. Halfway back. She was blushing. She could see her blushing, he remembered that blush. But that blush was... that blush was there BEFORE she was looking at Kensou, to give him the thumbs up. They were cast towards... KEN MASTERS?! And she was -blushing!- AT KEN!?! He turns his attention back on Ken Masters, eyes heading towards a rushing Ken.

"Now just hold on a second-"

Too Late.

Ken was already committing into a heel drop. Kensou was scrambling, already trying to sidestep the dropping heel. But his mind wasn't in the fight just yet. He had taken a detour on 'awkward teen' lane passing by the house of Asamiya, where a strange car was pulled up into, and the blinds were closed. Kensou takes the blow HARD, going down as it hits squarely on his shoulder. Kensou breaks into a tumble with the impact, rolling past Ken's feet, rolling towards the Team USA side. To reposition.

And to make sure Ken wasn't flirting MORE with Athena.

Perking back upright, Kensou was already sweeping his arms again. His shoulder hurt, but he had to press on through. His inner soul energy was coursing over him as he rises. With a snap, he bursts out, as the energy comes to a pinpoint in his center. "YAAH!" He cries out, spreading his arms apart, launching out the violet-blue orb of psionic energy straight for Ken.

A Psycho Ball.

There is something decidedly exciting about masquerade parties. Perhaps it is the sense of mystery, never knowing if the person right beside you is someone you've known all your life or a complete stranger. Perhaps is it the loosening of inhibitions, the establishment of a collective social contract to forget about such worries and enjoy oneself in a manner that might not be considered prudent in normal circumstances, to meet people who would never get so much as a glance in one's day to day affairs.

Under normal circumstances, Momoko would not be in that tent, not for long atleast. The sheer bountiful energy of emotion flowing through the city would be a irresistable call to her free-spirited and outgoing nature, a siren song that drew her into the crowds to share in their bountiful enthusiasm and draw strength from that pure emotional high. It is her special gift, after all, the sharing of emotions. She possesses an empathy that extends far beyond the simple act of commiseration with her fellow man. Emotions are a real and tangible thing to the small girl, a resource to be tapped.

It is, however, a great burden as well, for not all emotions are positive nor uplifting. Along with their joy and their mirth she takes in the sorrow and fear, whatever pain that might ail their minds even when they themselves are not aware of it. It had been a difficult lesson to learn how to block such intense stimuli out with no one skilled in the arts of psychic power there to guide her along the path. She had done what was necessary to survive, overwhelming the influx of negative energy with her youthful optimism and boundless spirit.

That approach has limits. Before she got the chance to finally meet her greatest idol in person, Momoko had never had to deal with anything worse than the drama of teenage life. Intense and volatile to be sure, but it was predictable and she had grown adapt at handling the outpourings of broken hearts and shattered friendships. The things that had taken notice of her since her induction into the Psycho Soldiers, however, were of a different breed entirely.

Darkness, real and unmistakable evil, had descend upon her in what seems like an endless barrage. Those moments had tested her will, pushed her to the edge of cliffs she had never even known existed before and demanded the answer to a simple question - when your life is in danger, what will you do?

The answer had come as quite a shock to Momoko, for in those intense moments of crisis she had reached down deep into a place she did not know existed and drawn upon the darkness residing within her soul to fight back with lethal intent. Each time she had been tested in this way the answer had always been the same.




Another such test had been foisted upon her in the past few days, some twisted monstrosity lurking in the jungles of Africa seeking to steal her very soul. It had not been like the other things that had come for her in the darkness. There was no malevolence, no sinister intent behind its motivations. But it had come for her nonetheless, attacked her, hurt her, and in the end, when life seemed to be fading from her broken and battered body, she had given in to that darkness all the same and destroyed the thing with pure seething hatred. Only a single one of the monstrous entities survived.

Since she had awoken in the hospital, Momoko had been incredibly reserved and withdrawn. She had responded weakly to the concern and affection given to her by her team mates when they came to retrieve her, putting on a brave face to conceal the turmoil within herself, the further scarring of her soul would b evident to anyone who looked hard enough.

How ironic then that she should find herself surrounded by masks of a more literal sort now. Seated upon a small cushioned chair within the tent, Momoko watches the pre-fight proceedings with a quiet resolve. Ken's exuberant charisma and energy draws her attention in the same way that it does Athena's, except instead of starry-eyed wistfulness she displays something closer to jealousy, her eyes narrowing slightly at the sheer outpouring of love and attention he receives.

Her eyes flick up to the face of her friend and mentor noting that her attention is elsewhere. Ofcourse. Kensou's antics are mostly ignored by the small girl as well, but her brooding doesn't stop her from filching a few of the remaining meatbuns after he staggers out to his inevitable doom. Some things don't change.

Her gaze shifts to stare off into the distance as she concentrates on trying to draw something positive out of this experience finding it a strangely difficult task. She's with friends, surrounded by a mob practically radiating upbeat emotional power, and yet something dark still clings to her mind. Not even the warm glow of Athena's presence seems capable of shaking it.

"Good luck," she offers quietly as the battle gets underway.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters dodges Kensou's Choukyuu Dan EX.

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Ken Masters      0/-------/-----==|>>>>>--\-------\0           Kensou

It's a bad time to get distracted. As a wise man once said, women weaken the knees! In those moments of proximity, Ken's already settled into a subtle groove, riding the fight's currents into a rapid collision with Kensou, perfectly punctuating his pubescent panic with a punishing, potentially pulverizing hatchet of a heel. He rides the roiling eddies of Kensou's rather peaked excitement as if he were doing it on purpose, an intuitive grace to the engagement with the psycho-energy empowered opponent-- this tournament's forced him to brush up fast, and the easy metaphor is probably one of a circling matador, well aware that the projections of psionic suffering will be coming fast and ferocious even moments -before- one tries to rip his face off; proverbially.

The Blonde Battler paces Kensou's roll, keeping a polite distance as the young fighter recovers-- and retaliates. It suits his purposes in that it takes Ken's eyes off Athena; unfortunately, Ken's eyes were already only for Kensou, just now. It foils his purposes in that it places Ken's backside squarely in Athena's field of view, bare feet landing lightly in an agile shuffle that rather quickly reverse his direction when that violet eruption rips through reality in the space where he previously occupied.

The Ansatsuken disciple's just scarcely out of dodge-- tumbling and then kicking back to his feet a few strides back the other way, presenting a most flattering profile to either side of the bridge (particularly Athena) as he slides into a wide, ready stance, "Not bad." He offers, with a lupine grin... at about the same instant his hands sweep forward from his sides, the heels of his hands meeting before him as blue-white fire leaps from his palms, surges from Ken's fingertips, and fires in a coalescent swirl of ragged-edged, tearing chi across the space that seperates him from Kensou, the summoned force sending his luxurious ponytail fluttering out behind him, the loose edges of his gi dancing across tensed muscle.

One good turn deserves another-- or maybe Ken just wants to press the idea that he does it better. "HADOUKEN!!!"

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kensou with Hadouken EX.
~~ Alluring Hit! ~~

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Ken Masters      0/-------/-======|=======\====---\1           Kensou

All around the fight was revelry and excitement. Drunken painted clowns chasing after giggling, stumbling noblewomen, plague doctors chatting it up with grim reapers, angels and devils and music playing throughout the town. This night was proving festive, and the fight was just adding to that. Some of the KOF camera crew were picking up the fight, others taking guerilla footage of the celebration around them, perfect for editing footage later! Amidst the corset cleavage and gaudy masks illuminated by the glow of energy chi blasting all around them...there was one figure who did not seem to join in the fun.

Scorpion stood atop a slow drifting boat, a small ferry that would just barely fit beneath the bridge with the combat occuring. His arms were folded across his chest, face hidden behind a black hood and a yellow mask, those white eyes unblinking as they were transfixed on the Ansatsuken fighter. Would Ken notice this figure, now much, much closer to the action? The drunken rabble gave him a wide berth, instinctively knowing he was not there for the free wine.

For their parts, the cameras almost did a double take. But when they spun wildly again...the figure was gone. For now.

The initial exchanges are a whirlwind of attacks between the two fighters. But it's easy enough to see from the sidelines that while Ken Masters comes out the door swinging, Kensou seems to be off to a very rough start by comparison. Standing rather than sitting like her smaller teammate, Athena's left arm is bent at the elbow, her closed fist resting at the base of her neck. Her right arm is similarly situated, only held slightly higher so that the knuckles of her hand are propped against her chin just below her mouth.

Her mind is tumbling through subjects just as fast and intense as the bout playing out in front of her violet eyes. Thoughts about the dream career deferred after the severe lecture from her mentor, musings about the remarkable energy Ken brings to and garners from the crowd that can't seem to get enough of his charisma, worry about the blows Kensou has taken in such a short amount of time, the inkling that there is something severely wrong with the younger girl seated at her side, and last but not least, an intense focus on Masters himself.

The exchange between him and her teammate is the best opportunity to see him in action, to learn how his style works, how he fights, how he responds to attacks coming his way, how he moves. Amid the rest of the thoughts on her mind is a concerted effort to get to understand the man he is. It's possible she will have to face him any minute now.

As the Ansatsuken prodigy's back profile takes prominent view, Athena's right hand unfolds, her fingers moving to rest against her cheek instead, head canting to the side slightly. "Whew. He's really strong, isn't he." she observes to her brooding teammate. It's pretty safe to say that she's not talking about Kensou with how events are currently conspiring for the young man.

A wince immediately follows as the exchange of hyper powered energy projectiles ends decidedly against Kensou's favor.

Let it be known, Scratch thought that Ken was a slavedriver with a happy-go-lucky veneer that somehow made the slavedriving all the more infuriating. Mostly because he made what was hard for Scratch look so effortless.

But despite her subjectively skewed viewpoint about her partner on Team USA?...she knew one truth: he was GOOD. And...well, he DID look good doing it. NOt that she would ever admit that in his presence...or to the cameras that constantly surrounded his presence. She didn't even want to admit it to herself so she could continue to be darkly snarky at him.

And it helps that it means the team is doing well too. the skater leaning in a little more with focused eyes, taking in the entire fight. Even she has to wince a little bit at that exchange.

This was going tough really fast.

Kensou's energy ball is met with... with quite a display. Kensou's eyes go wide as he looks towards Athena past him. A miscalculation; now she could see that firm, well-toned ass. No Kensou. Focus Kensou. Don't let him break your confidence. The thought runs through Kensou as he keeps focused. He wouldn't let Ken break his focus. He had this. HE HAD THIS. He just needed to boost his confidence.

And then Kensou makes his mistake.

In order to boost his confidence, he imagines Ken Masters naked.

Kensou's face felt hot. Now, Ken was fully exposed in the mind's eye. That perfect body, that perfect form. That barely concealed adonis, only bound by the thinnest of gi. And Athena, Athena was getting the full view. Kensou's face was turning bright red. Why was someone like that so handsome? Why couldn't Kensou look like that? Ken was handsome- no. Beautiful. That blonde hair, that flawless shape. And yet, something was missing. Kensou adjusts his imagination, to help boost his confidence further.

For a brief moment, he imagines the form of Ken in a purple wig.

Such fantasies are dashed, as the fireball is unleashed. Kensou snaps out of it, the full form of stupid sexy ken fading away to the concealed form that it was now. Kensou tries to roll under the fireball, try to slip underneath the blast of flame. Instead, it catches him halfway. With that, Kensou feels the opportunity of momentum close around him. Blown backwards, he is stunned, rolling backwards right into an archway. Legs flailing out, he gasps. He looks around warily.


Kensou rises back up, returning back into his wide stance. "I can't give up! I can't give up with my friends counting on me! I just gotta try harder!" Kensou leaps forward... towards the opposite arch. With a flip, he leaps off that one, to his original side of the arch. And there, planting both feet down, he bursts with violet energy. Firing off from the wall, he riots through the air straight for Ken... at a wide angle. He wasn't aiming to drive Ken back.

He was aiming to drive the both of them off the bridge, to the water below.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters just-defends Kensou's Ryuu Sohgeki EX!

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Ken Masters      0/-------/=======|=======\===----\1           Kensou

The revelers may be content to use the fight on the arching bridge, but the masked Twilight Star couple focuses intently upon the King of Fighters challengers. For a time, the Ainu woman had been focusing on Ken Masters, impressed -- much as she had been in the previous fight -- with the Ansatsuken disciple's masterful command of the audience's attention. In Mexico, she did not allow herself to notice while she was attempting a similar but opposite effect -- that is, enchanting the locals with her own dynamic performance. But here, amongst a veritable sea of libidinous urges, she can easily see that Ken Masters is able to rise above it all.

The Ainu woman smiled, at that. Call it professional courtesy.

But then she noticed a darker presence, amidst a field of relatively happy-go-lucky people. The Psycho Soldiers had seen their fair share of shakeups, but as of their last fight, the team was as closely knit as one could hope for. Athena was absent from the spotlight for quite some time, but her fight against Ryu Hayabusa was as heart-pounding -- possibly even moreso -- as her explosive fight against Daigo Kazama. Haru, star of a number of prior Saturday Night Fights, justified his placement on the team in his thrilling battle against the divisive upstart ninja Nagase. Honoka was most surprised to see Kensou turn the corner from a blight of grim Neo League appearances into an altogether different persona altogether, nearly choking to death on a meatbun at the start of the fight. Honoka still can't believe the change, really.

Three members, making a surprising turn for the better. And yet, Honoka had found herself staring back at Momoko. The ebullient star of the Psycho Soldiers' King of Fighters 2016 debut. Where has that girl's cheer gone, anyway? Doesn't she -want- her teammate to win?

"Momoko," spill the syllables from her mouth, a confidence repeated in the mind of Rhydderch beside her. Honoka's lips press together in a firm line, as an idea begins to form.

Said idea is interrupted by a dynamic showing from Ken Masters. The descendant of a line of Ainu shamans is not immune to the spectacular turn -- whether it was the Ansatsuken fighter's intention or not. In one dramatic moment he had earned the attention of the majority of the ladies in the crowd, and the barely-repressed ire of their would-be suitors.

The corners of her lips turn upward. Her cheeks begin a shift towards the red end of the spectrum. Her calculating mind is still in control, though she finds herself unable to tear her eyes away from Team USA's banner-holder.

<< Hope you're taking notes. Textbook examples of how to work a crowd. >>

Luckily, Ken's not psychic, or Kensou's attempt at boosting his confidence that winds up devastating his confidence might undermine Ken's own confidence, in a somewhat complicated flowchart. Confusing things happen when you try to fight imaginary naked people in wigs, okay? It only gets worse when Kensou gets around to returning to reality, though-- see, Ken's not naked, not exposed, and hyper-focused more on kicking ass than anything else to do with its shapely, shapely mass.

It's the timing of Scorpion's cameo, more than Ken's acuity that draws his attention to the lone spectre in the subtly drifting gondola-- it's a glance spared courtesy of Kensou's moment of explosive impact with Hadouken, and for a moment, Masters is eye to eye, albeit at considerable distance, with a vengeance wraith. He just tosses a lazy salute. It's easy to conclude that Ken has no idea what sort of warrior he just traded glances with; in fact that's probably true. It's likely also true that this is basically exactly how Ken would react if knowingly eye-to-eye with a reaper, though.

The next moment, the Blonde Battler's fiery hazel orbs are locked back squarely on Kensou, nodding firm affirmation to his opponent's affirmations. Ken-sou's right, after all. Ken's cooperative right down to the trip off the bridge, but he doesn't go quite as Kensou intended. Instead of being kicked harshly and launched over the railing, he's in almost perfectly synchronized motion with the onslaught, vaulting back over the rail as Sie Kensou seeks to drive him thus, tensed and crossed forearms slamming down and into the incoming energy.

Ken's aura locks with the onslaught in luminescent conflict, the surging psionic power seemingly swallowed within the swirling vortex of elemental fury suffusing the other warrior, where they lick too closely. After a brief moment where the braced blonde seems to somehow literally bodysurf his adversary's rocketing onslaught, driven upwards and away rather than reaved by it, he kicks into a full backflip away from the collision, to land quite purposefully on one of the empty gondolas bordering the bridge for just this purpose.

Kensou's probably not planning to land in the canal, himself-- either way, doesn't matter. Ken does what he can to kick the kid into the drink, launching himself at Kensou's landing zone with a flying knee leading, belt and ponytail trailing fiercely in the breeze created by the abrupt acceleration.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kensou with Hiza Geri.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Ken Masters      1/------=/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1           Kensou

Momoko's attention drifts between the fight and other things. The crowd of masked spectators creates a colorful collage of various colors and shapes, some dressed to show off with others taking a more Victorian era Halloween approach to the event. They're all quite fascinating, each mask revealing as much about the person behind it as what it conceals. She tries picking at a few streams of psychic energy in an attempt to analyze some individual traits from the nearest spectators but the sheer surge of buzzing emotional power whirling around Ken's hammy performance makes that all but impossible.

The girl sighs and leans forward in the chair, propping her chin up on her palms. Athena's comment almost goes unnoticed in the swell of background noise but some subconscious part of her mind latches onto the fact that her idol had spoken and she slowly manages to unravel their meaning through the haze of inattentiveness.

"What? Oh... yeah, it looks like Kensou is having a rough time, huh?"

Understatement of the year. Normally, Momoko would be doing her best to cheer on the plucky member of her team. After all, she knew better than almost anyone the power of emotional support. Today, however, she just sits quietly and watches with an expression of listless boredom, fidgetting every so often by shifting her position in her seat. Not even Ken's impressive showmanship seems to be getting to her!

It was overwhelming, to be so close.

Kensou had expected Ken to fight, to struggle. And yet, he yields, he works with the teenager, letting him guide the man, to carry him over the edge. It did not harm him, but it did not matter. Kensou, a mere boy, now so close in the presence of Ken Masters himself. In spite of the overwhelming strength of Ken Masters, Kensou was held like a baby in those skilled, strong arms. Seconds become hours, as Ken, catching that elbow, was gently carrying down 'How could this... work between us?' He thinks softly to himself, as both himself and Ken lands upon the gondola. In unison. In harmony. Kensou was but the boy, and Ken Masters was the man.

He did, after all, call him Mister Master.

The boat rocks, rolling back and forth, as Kensou's face turns bright red. He forced to rebound, to recoil, back on the boat. He had to keep focused. He had not to be distracted by the full, beautiful, blonde man that was teasing him, toying with him as if he was a My Size Kensou doll. There was barely time to react. Ken's kick comes fast, and Kensou does in fact catch it. But the blow is too strong. Too powerful. Too overwhelming. Kensou groans as he is swiftly kicked backwards, and with flailing arms, he is knocked over the edge of the gondola into the drink.


Followed by a splash.

Fortunately, there was no ring outs. Unfortunately, Kensou's meatbun was probably soggy. Kensou pulls himself out of the water on another gondola, the boat rocking. He doesn't do so gracelessly. Flipping him up, violet-blue energy bursts over him. "You are doing a-a-amazing Mister Masters!" Kensou announces, as he fixes his feet on the other boat, looking across the way. Channeling the pure psionic energy within, Sie Kensou allows his soul energy cascade around him. The green water begins to stir, the pure energy building into a font of power. Kensou slowly brings his arms together, the violet energy around him coming into a singularity. And then, he slams both of his arms apart. A massive ball of psionic energy, almost as big as Kensou himself, is unleashed across the canal, aiming straight for Mister Masters. Pure power. Pure spirit. Pure heart.

Kensou would sink his battleship.

"Athena-san! Momoko-chan!"

Guess who's late.

Much like Athena, Haru doesn't remember much about the outcome of their fight with Team Ninja down in Africa; Hayabusa's first shot put him out pretty hard, given that his battle with Nagase had already used practically every ounce of energy Haru had to give and a few that he probably didn't. He only knows that their team pulled out a very close victory after Athena's parting shot, which is what brought them to Italy in the first place.

The Ryukyu islander had taken to seeing the city a bit before their match, knowing that since Kensou was up first he had a little bit of time, but in wandering the city's old world streets he quickly got both lost and behind schedule. This is why his arrival, thankfully not TOO far after the start of the match, means that the Justice student is breathless and flushed as he runs up behind Athena, looking out over the arena to survey the match. "I, ah, got a little lost... these streets are really twisty and complicated." Brushing off his jacket, he winces a bit as Ken gets a clean hit on his teammate that sends Kensou into the canal, and brings a hand up to his mouth. "Ah, that... that looked like it hurt. But he might still turn this around! ...right?"

Despite the uncertain note in his voice, Haru really does believe in Kensou's ability, and clenching a fist, resolves to broadcast as much of that emotionally as he can in the hopes that his teammate will subconsciously pick up on it.

COMBATSYS: Kensou successfully hits Ken Masters with Shinryuu Choukyuu Dan.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Ken Masters      2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>----\-------\0           Kensou

Rhydderch is watching the fight right now. He notes the exchanges, the techniques. He's not, despite Honoka's suggestion, taking notes. He's too much of a gentleman to discuss what /exactly/ is going through his mind, but no doubt the woman at his arm can pick up on every little bit of it. He takes a deep breath, considering the events in front of him.

<<I've met, at one point or another, every member of both teams except for Haru. But he fits the mold that the team goes for. But Momoko... She's not how I remember her.>> Eyes narrow behind the mask. <<I wonder what happened.>>

Ken would just have to let Kensou down gently in those strong, strong arms and intimate that frankly, buddy, he's a little creeped out. Kensou can reference parallel experiences with Athena, probably. Blissfully unaware of the source of those deep, searching looks Kensou keeps giving him, the Blonde Battler is much-less-blissfully at ground zero for the release of all that pent-up energy and reprisal that's been beaten and blasted into Sie Kensou. It's an impressive well of potential energy Kensou taps, makes manifest in that blink of an eye, projects outwards in a manner that is in no way suggestive or psychosexual.

Ken attempts to weather the storm, to raise his defenses against the outpouring of psychic might and possibly some hormonal frustration, but formidable as his guard may be, it's swiftly swept aside, the Kensou-sized maelstrom all but consuming Ken, and splitting the gondola he stands in amidships; for some moments, Ken vanishes from view, completely obliterated, or more likely knocked overboard.

As the vessel starts to take on water, the middle sections dropping canalwards as fore and aft pitch skyward, and a scratched arm appears over one lopsided rail, muscles tensing as the Blonde Battler drags himself, soaking wet, from the canal. "Hah!" He exclaims-- now they're having fun, right? "Knew you had it in you." Water runs off Ken's freshly torn red gi in torrents given his rapid acceleration-- he vaults up to the side of the sinking gondola and runs up the hull of one half, launching himself off it at the apex.

It's a sudden, aggressive boarding action directed towards Kensou's gondola-- Ken completes the descending arc in a sharp, sudden rotation, his rotorblade of a right foot ripping a path through the air with luminosity and fiery fervor to rival the vibrant sun overhead, an arc of meteoric flame accompanying the attempt to clock Kensou squarely in the skull once more, rivulets of water hissing as they're flash-seared off on contact with the burning chi.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kensou with Senpuu Nata Otoshi EX.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Ken Masters      2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>>-----\1           Kensou

When you are a Psycho Soldier, how else can you be sexual?

The full blast of energy closes a gap that Kensou has been hoping to close this entire fight. After capsizing Ken from his boat, the boy immediately returns back to his stance. He knew he would be rising soon. Ken would be getting up, and when he did? Kensou wanted to be there. Kensou was ready to pounce, to pin, to devour. Kensou was ready.

But Ken was fast.

The agility of Mister Masters was already out of the canal. The sheer aggression... this was a change of pace. Gone was the passive, commanding Ken. And in its place, was a dominating, strong Ken. The man was already upon Kensou. And Kensou stands fast, trying to stay in place. He would let Ken have his way with him. Kensou thought his body could take it.

But it couldn't.

Sie Kensou's body suddenly gives way, the chi energy forcing its way into Kensou's head. Kensou's defensese are penetrated, overwhelmed by the sheer force of Ken Masters. "KIYAAA~" He cries out, knocked into the bottom of the boat. And almost immediately, he springboards off, launching himself straight back into Ken. Twisting in mid flight, the psionic energy from within exposing itself, coming out in full force.The violet energy swirls around him, as Kensou hurls out a trio of three rising kicks, to carry the pair to another boat. And should they both make it? Kensou would land on a handplant on the boat, and fire upwards with a spiraling, upwards kick, burning with energy. And yet, as he begins the counter attack?

His jaw began to hurt, for some reason.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters dodges Kensou's Shinryuu Seioh Rekkyaku.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Ken Masters      2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0           Kensou

Ah, but Kensou could indeed take it-- and dish it out. Where Ken hoped to pin the Psycho Soldier in, put him down for the count, there's instead an upsurge of such renewed fighting spirit and ferocity that the Blonde Battler is all but forced to get the hell out of dodge, instead. Rather than throw himself headlong into the punishing attack, Ken rapidly aborts his plan of attack and hits the /deck/ as his feet touch gondola. Kensou erupts upwards in a punishing release of psychic might, and Ken flattens himself /downward/ like the world limbo champion, sliiiiding under the scant space spared by the angle of ascent of the flurry that threatens to force him to surrender yet another (freshly captured!) vessel, not to mention what it would do to his rather suddenly battered body.

He comes around just on the other side of the rising Kensou, dark eyes narrowing as they track his opponent into the high noon sky. One can almost hear the guitar sting play, in the back of their head-- even if the fight venue weren't still being rocked by music fueling the intense energy. It's a sensation that Masters thrives off of-- and feeds in turn. Spared the release of his own massive reservoir of spiritual, elemental energy, the Blonde Battler continues to ride that wave, his very being giving off emanations of the potential energy, the fighting spirit constrained; no, catalyzed within.

Ken dances from foot to foot, fire in his eyes so fierce his entire aura might as well be sparking-- which to some sights, it might well be. He plots his course, bides his time-- which is to say, waits about 3/4 of a second and then /leaps/, seeking to intercept Kensou somewhere near the height of his trajectory and draw the Justice lad close for a firm embrace.

It's an embrace that would abruptly end with a sharp turn of Ken's upper body and a leveraging of arms, meant to flip Kensou heels over head and then /slam/ him earthward, potentially right through that gondola he was so eager to reach.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kensou with Power Throw.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////                          ]
Ken Masters      2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\1           Kensou

That wasn't good.

Kensou flies into the air, past Ken. Without catching Ken, he could feel.... he could feel the tournament slipping out of his grasp. Was this what he did to his friends? It was failure, and he felt it. As he explodes upwards, he suddenly finds Ken leaping towards him... rising towards him...

And he feels that embrace.

Kensou tries to block. He tries to roll out. But as he feels those firm breasts pressed against him, those powerful pecs, he can't help but close his eyes. He lets out a little squeak. Not a Mignon squeak. But a squeak of a young boy, being taught the ways of a man. And suddenly, he speaks.

"Athena, I-"

No, Kensou, you fool, you don't say the other's name.

Almost immediately, Kensou is hurled away. "AAAAGH!" Was the cry as he is hurled away, sent barreling outward into the other gondola. He lands into it with a smash. The boat snaps in half, and begins to sink, threatening to take a prone Kensou with it. But Kensou rises, as he had risen before. He rises, and he launches in the air once more.

Launching straight towards Ken.

If he lands, he would hurl out fist over fist over fist. Blow after blow after blow. He would pound Ken, just pound at him, as a last gasp of energy. He would pour everything he had into Ken, pour his everything into him. And then, finish with a two-fisted overhead blow... before giving up. The force would leave him. And then, Kensou would just let himself fall.

Face first into Ken's nuturing bosom.

COMBATSYS: Kensou can no longer fight.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ken Masters      2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters just-defends Kensou's Shouryu Renken!

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ken Masters      2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

No, no, Kensou-- it's not Athena, it's Ken Masters, and he's looking to bodyslam you. ... in fairness, in most embraces with Athena, Kensou is probably also about to be bodyslammed, so maybe one can forgive the confusion. The downward force of the throw provides improbable updraft to Ken's own momentum, the momentary suspension lasting through a span of the sudden descent, while the rest is passed, and the time airborne extended, with another graceful tuck and roll, kicking out to guide his momentum.

Masters' descent is inevitable, however, and it's aligned straight with the crippled gondola that cradled the crashed Kensou-- at least until the Psycho Soldier explodes upwards once more. The kid has a good trick up his sleeve there, that's for damn sure. The deceptive aplomb with which the Blonde Battler handles the onslaught only diminish its ferocity in the eyes of the ignorant onlooker (which, to be fair to poor Kensou's social media image, is most of the people watching), the sheer power and skill on display on behalf of both fighters in that final exchange evident to anyone with sense beyond eyes and an overzealous opinion.

Hammering fists drive shockwaves into the air surrounding each impact point, the force of the flurry driving Ken airborne as he executes a pitch perfect defense, palms and deflecting rotations of his forearms meeting every violent stroke, dulling or redirecting the force around his own eminently bruisable body. The barrage drives the already aerial collision to the brink of the bridge, and Ken's feet find that narrow railing once more as Kensou surrenders to relaxation and fatigue, eyes closing, body drifting.... and Masters snatches him back from the brink of falling right back dorn into the drink.

The Blonde Battler supports the half-inert Sie Kensou down to the bridge, even as the announcer officiates the fight round's result, for the record. "Good show man. Nice fight." Ken intimates quietly, just between him and Kensou, and any cameras and microphones sensitive enough to spy; it doesn't matter if the whole world IS watching! "If I'd been any slower-- you could have flattened me." The one good hit he was in the way of proved that... profoundly. And everyone in the fighting circuit knows Sie Kensou isn't the worst the Psycho Soldiers can field. Ken definitely knows it, and he allows himself a wary respect even with the sheer excitement that accompanies that knowledge, and this moment.

After he passes Kensou off to the staff (or friends) on the Psycho Soldiers' side, Ken lifts one sparring gloved fist high in the air, and the crowd roars. He breathes deeply, a fierce and resolute set to his chiseled features for long moments as he surveys the crowd, senses the energy, steels himself for the fight to come-- he's feeling better than he dared hoped, almost as fired up as he possibly could, but wise enough to realize that doesn't make the path ahead any less uphill.

Fiercely sparkling hazel eyes seek out the Psycho Soldiers still waiting in the wings-- and after a moment, they're specifically locked on Athena. Ken may not have a keen conscious grasp of what it might be that elevates Asamiya beyond the mind-rending energies wielded so effectively by the rest of her squad, but there's an intuitive sense of /something/ unique-- dangerous. Perhaps it's that subtle kinship that suggests she's nearly as tapped in to the riotous intensity of the gathered fandom and fighting souls as he is-- perhaps it's that he expects them to be sending her in next to burn out his mind like that poor, poor ninja.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters awaits the next challenger.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ken Masters      1/-----<</<<<<<<<|

From the Psycho Soldier side of the bridge, Athena watches anxiously. From a cursory study of the bout, nearly every contest seems utterly one sided as if the team had decided to field a rookie in the Semi-Finals even if Kensou's previous track record prior to this event would suggest otherwise. Athena can tell that the exchanges were closer than the outcomes would suggest, with Ken's split timing reflexes and world champion level speed having a lot to do with the resolution, but even still, there's no denying that her teammate is not executing his abilities at the best he is capable of.

Maybe it's stage fight? He stumbled out choking, then has alternated between wild flailing and bright as day blushing moment to moment, as every attempt to gain control and momentum slips right out from under him. Wincing and cringing from the cover of the tent awning, Asamiya begins to hear calls from the crowd asking where Haru is - why isn't the bold yo-yo wielding team captain out on the bridge instead of Kensou?

It isn't too long before the outcome is as plain as day and the nervousness about the active bout starts to yield to anticipation of her own moment to take the stage. Hands clench and unclench, the girl stretching her shoulders to try and release pent up nervousness. Heart racing, it's hard to keep from just springing out there, joining the fight, basking in the epicenter of so much energy.

Finally, her violet eyes are meeting Ken's, the corners of her mouth twitching into a fleeting smile. She knew she had to use Kensou's match as a chance to figure out what the American martial artist was capable of, but even still, she senses he's bursting with energy not yet put to use. Like every match before, it will be up to her to see the team through or for their climb through the ranks to finally come to an end. Around the worlds, fans of the team of youths as well as those who have taken the chance to wager money against the U.S. Champion pin their hopes on Asamiya.

Kensou is helped down onto a cot in the back of the tent to recover. Pausing to check on her friend, then glance from Haru to the sullen Momoko, Asamiya strides forward to the entrance. Breathing in, lifting her face, she rests her hands at her neckline as she tries to quell the sense of pressure, the threat of nervousness. She will need everything she's got, knowing full well that the opponent she's about to face is no lessor than the Master of Ninjutsu she somehow beat in the previous round.

Opening her eyes as she exhales, she sucks in her breath, mentally bracing for the wave of euphoria that she knows will come the moment she relaxes even the slightest bit of her emotional walls. And then she rushes out onto the bridge, turning to walk backward and wave toward the side of the crowd most tightly packed in around the Psycho Soldier's tent, her expression bright as the sun. Her fighting attire is the same as worn throughout the tournament - a pristine white sailor-style blouse with crimson collar, necktie, and sleeve cuffs, a matching pleated crimson skirt with white, lacy fringe along the bottom. Black, thigh high stockings and matching crimson shoes complete the outfit.

She turns to wave to the other sides as she moves toward the center, violet tresses trailing behind her movements, occasionally coming to rest draped over her shoulder. Finally, she comes to stop facing Ken Masters himself. This close, he would find that blended with his opponent's excitement is a subtle layer of wariness as well. Skilled in combat, gracious in victory, the man radiates charisma with every move yet it seems to come so natural to him, does he even have to put effort into it, she wonders.

Slapping her palms together in front of her, a slight curtsey is offered. "That was quite a show you put on." The sparkle in her eyes and matching hint of blush might be a clue as to which part of the 'show' she enjoyed most. "I think maybe you didn't see my teammate on his best day. I hope that it hasn't lead to you taking us lightly." she warns, finishing with a quick wink in the waning moments of the round transition. Kicking backward, Athena lands three meters away just as the signal to fight rings out over the roar of the ecstatic crowd.

She saw what hesitating for even an instant against Ken would do. She will not make the same mistake. Already she has taken to the air, tucking herself forward into a ball to dive right back down toward him at a severe angle. The teenaged fighter's body is shrouded in a wrath of vibrant energy as she aims to crash bodily into the karate user's chest, aiming to smash though his guard more by projection of will than brute force - but if she gets her opening, her forward momentum would launch the girl into a handstand kick aiming to finish knocking Ken back all together!

COMBATSYS: Athena has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Athena           0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>-----\1      Ken Masters

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Ken Masters with Phoenix Arrow.
- Power hit! -

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Athena           0/-------/----===|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1      Ken Masters

Ken definitely has a more generous view of his bout with Kensou, even... disturbingly distracted Kensou... than the crowd on the sidelines. He's keenly aware how close the bun-loving schoolboy came to blasting his head proverbially off, and Asamiya's reputation is fearsome even discounting anything she's done outside this particular tournament. The crowd may have been profoundly with him in the previous moments, the Psycho Soldier fanbase momentarily demoralized, shattered-- but Athena's appearance, with her determination and eagerness for the bout on full display, quickly send that tide right back. Does she even have to put effort into it, he wonders?

Ken definitely feels that tidal shift, senses on his most intuitive levels the fervor with which Athena's fans are with her-- the excitement and anticipation that her formidable stage presence instills even in many of those who are Masters loyalists. Almost everyone in the crowd feels it, knows it on some level; an insane fight just cranked it up another notch.

Athena's smile draws a similarly anticipatory, graciously sporting grin from Ken-- it only redoubles with her words, or perhaps the blush. "I get that a lot." Ken confides, in some paradoxical space between hubris and humility. He may have just said it to Kensou, but he smoothly reiterates the idea anyway: "On his best day I wouldn't still be standing; kid hits like an exploding truck." The searing agony inflicted on him might have all but faded from his flesh, but Ken's gi still bears the rips and scars of the one psionic blast he was front and center for. "Kept him off-balance long enough to seal the deal, that's all."

Not that he's meaning to diminish the accomplishment-- few could do it. Ken would buff his nails on his gi if there weren't the whole 'clear and present danger' thing to deal with. Once more, his first instinct may indeed be to throw himself fully into the fray-- but here he hesitates, branches that intention into a more cautious consideration of what Athena is capable of, before showing her everything he's got. Ken throws both arms up to deflect the flying assault, but her psychic acceleration throws off his anticipatory timing, catching him in the wave of psionic energy and blasting him painfully backwards.

Speaking of off-balance, Ken reels plenty long enough for the agile Asamiya to execute her deft landing and inversion, and kick him clean away. He lands tumbling in a tight spin around an axis that thankfully does not repeatedly drive his skull into the cobblestones, but it still takes several violent rotations before one palm finds the timing to stop his tumult, and Ken pushes back upwards, first to one knee. At this juncture, he makes a time-out motion. "Let's get another take of that-- I'm going to use a mulligan." He grins broadly; the crowd laughs.

Ken seems equally aware that this is an impossibility; a bad joke. He's wasting no time regaining his bearings, all his attention on Asamiya again, his stance regained along with steady footing, a respectful upnod already earned by his new opponent. Along with a dangerous, deep, instinctual understanding of her potential, her very spirit, for a moment connected directly to the elemental totems catalyzing Ken's soul-- one might say sparks between them quite literally fly, on that metaphysical level.

The grin, the gaze locked on her-- Asamiya might find a more lupine quality to the Blonde Battler's expression, as the metaphorical drum circle around the battlepyre of his heart kicks up the rhythm.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters cracks his knuckles!

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Athena           0/-------/----===|=======\=======\1      Ken Masters

....well. Maybe this explains a little why Ken was so worried about Athena, Scratch realizes. Sure, the previous round seemed like it was a little lopsided. Scratch only just knew enough to know better, but that aside, once the idol steps out into the fray, Scratch sees something that didn't quite properly translate into the video she had bored into her head before.

It's almost like two sides of the same coin in a way, the effortless crowd control hiding danger underneath the surface. She'd never admit it outright, but the skater can't help but creep closer, trying to get a better look at a fight she might not witness again for a while.

Not to mention that she might end up having to play the same part to Athena that Kensou played to Ken. And that makes her even more worried behind those sunglasses.

Lunging out of her handspring kick, Athena is back on her feet in an instant, landing with graceful ease, the vibrant aura that had shrouded her body a moment before already gone, flickering away in the same instant she had stopped concentrating on it. She could tell that her successful attack was not a byproduct of inability on her opponent's part, nor was he taking her lightly. A veteran of more training and more battles than she, she can safely assume he is already figuring out how to correct for it. She knows that's what she would do.

Her left arm snaps out, palm forward, her right arm drawn back, bent at the elbow. Her left foot slips forward a little as she readies herself, anticipating a potential immediate retaliation that doesn't come. Instead, Ken cracks a joke, eliciting a reaction from the crowd and his opponent alike, a soft, short laugh. "I dunno; first take seemed all right to me," she answers, closing the fingers of her left hand except for her pointing finger so that she can wag it back and forth. "No take backs here."

She blinks once, studying him from range for the moment afforded. She can sense the burning potential, the eagerness to answer her last attack with something of his own. But to do that, he's going to have to catch her. She knew from watching Kensou's round that no quarter could be given - the American blonde is only slightly her senior and he's already punched, kicked, and burned his way through multiple events to earn the reputation he has. Similar to Hayabusa's ability, it is something of a marvel to her - it's impossible for the teen to deny that when it comes to martial prowess, she is not on his level. The grace of his kicks, the speed of his defenses... she has a ways to go to catch up to that. For now, only her formidable energy manipulation gives her a shot at coming out standing in this contest.

But try as she might, she can't figure out his next move. The corona of energy and powerful psyche she sees around him is enough to obscure any hint of intent beyond simply giving it all he's got - it is the heart and mind of a champion; do the details simply come in the form of instinct and precision honed reflex then? Her own fighting style had almost always come from instinct as well - even as she pauses, she realizes this is the most thought she's put into her next step in any of her fights. Maybe some of Haru's tactical minded nature is having an influence?

There is a flicker of grin at that, a thought that the team she pulled together has the ability to learn from each other, each similar in some ways yet different enough from the other. She can feel the anticipation in the crowd, those gathered waiting, predicting, and imagining what is about to happen next. "On second thought-"

She bolts forward then, a white, crimson, and violet blur. In spite her stature, she had demonstrated that she was not afraid to mix it up in melee range, to brawl it out with opponents much larger, more physically built than she is. And it seems she's willing to clash with Ken in similar fashion right this moment, arms trailing behind her as she leans into her sprint. "Here's your mulligan!"

The shift in attack comes at the last possible second, from only a couple meters out, feet bracing against the bridge as she swings her arms from behind to forward. She would come to a stop one meter from Masters - the remaining approximate three feet would be covered by a nearly point blank sphere of that same, vibrant, rose hued nerve-fraying energy she's already hit him with once.

"Psycho Ball!"

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters blocks Athena's Psycho Ball EX.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Athena           0/-------/---====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2      Ken Masters

Similarly, when it comes to projecting incredible amounts of explosive energy, Ken's not on the level Athena is-- he's not even sure Ryu is. Luckily, the amplification the martial prowess gives to his raw magnitude can't be discounted. There's a wry chuckle of his own, even in the instants it takes that projection of psychic might to cross the feet to him, a flexed arm thrown elbow-first into the stinging blast as it shatters around, rather than through him, its splintering elements stinging where the psionic shrapnel nicks him. It slows him, it's a painfully slapping impact, but it's still far less punishment than the technique is capable of inflicting-- to put it mildly.

"I don't think that means what you think it means." That alleged mulligan he's being granted. Luckily, Ken's fine with no take-backs, too. He's fine with his instinct being tested, with her skillful evasion of the several traps that might have come from a less measured, even if as potent, response. Instinct, experience branch him through the situation he finds himself in, in a manner that's (sadly for his opponents) seldom as simple as a predictable flowchart.

As the purplish shockwave is dissipating like a brilliant firework, Ken /explodes/ through the space it had occupied, crossing that yard right up into Athena's grill. What was he saying about exploding trucks? The first contact is attempted through flaming Shoryuken: He launches himself from a sudden crouch forward and up with a vibrant plume of fire surging from his punishing fist, seeking to drill Asamiya skyward right along with him.

The second blow he seeks to land is a flaming Shoryuken: Ken scarcely touches ground before he fires upwards a second time in rapid succession, a rocketing ascent even quicker than the first, launching him straight up into the air to extend Athena's flight in rather uncomfortable fashion-- much like a real airline.

You might be sensing a theme that suggests his favorite technique in the repertoire of Goutetsu's Ansatsuken. "SHOURYUUUUU REPPAAAA!!!"

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Ken Masters' Shouryuu Reppa.

[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Athena           1/------=/=======|>>>>>>>\-------\0      Ken Masters

Arms sweep past each other, unleashing the built up energy, launching a projection attack rather than something more melee range as her charge forward might have implied. Anything to throw him off, any chance that he executes his own remarkable skill just a slight bit slower than he had against Kensou. And of course, this time she's learned - when she attempted to attack Hayabusa with her Signature Technique, he had cut throw it and counter attacked while she wasn't even looking. This time, her head is raised, eyes open - she won't be blindsided even if Masters counter strikes in an instant.

And counterstrike he does, holding nothing back as he transforms the momentum of his defense into one of the more spectacular techniques of the tournament. She didn't have to read him to see this coming - she only had to read the flow of the battle itself, a tapestry of forces beyond just physical and mental. He would see her leaning back, bracing against her rear foot, arms raising in front of her, intending to let hard bone weather the storm rather than her face.

She doesn't waste a mental iota on trying to think her way through her gap in understanding the golf slang Ken used so easily. There will be time enough later on to brush up on such things when she isn't facing down such a formidable, burning technique. She presses into his rising strike with her back leg, attempting to create enough distance between them to escape. But his forward momentum is too strong to slow as he surges into a second flaming uppercut with even more spirit and more flame behind it than the first - even through her guard, the blow is enough to take her off her feet, launching her up at an angle even as his fist glances harshly along her now scalded forearms. She can't possibly withstand another - which is exactly what concerns her as her feet leave the ground - what if he executes a third?!

It is with that thought in mind that her body acts, arms drawing back, a resurgence of that vibrant energy ripping down her limbs and coursing over her upper body as she aims to once again give form to such powerful will. There is no time for words when attacks are flying this fast, no time for anything but to swing her hands forward, palms out, jettisoning another sphere of Psycho Power even larger than the last. Even in broad daylight, it is enough to illuminate the bridge as it threatens to completely envelop the Ansatsuken prodigy.

Hopefully that is enough to put a stop to any threat of yet another flaming Shoryuken, right??

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters can't buy an interrupt against Psycho Ball Revolution EX from Athena with Shinryuu Ken+.
- Power fail! -

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Athena           0/-------/-----==|======-\-------\0      Ken Masters

It's definitely not enough to put a stop to any threat of another flaming Shoryuken-- but it DOES wind up being enough to put a stop to that actual flaming Shoryuken. With the skillful deflection, that one-step ahead scarce but skilled defense Ken faces in driving Athena back, for a moment Masters feels like he's the one braving the often insurmountable climb against his own alacrity... like Kensou moments before. How quickly that tide has turned, and rather than finding the new current, it threatens to suck Masters under, to drown him in the sudden ferocity of Athena's style, the all but unheard of levels of energy and might thrown back and forth between the two fighters in pitched battle amidst the enraptured crowd.

It's hard to argue Venice isn't one of the world's more beautiful cities-- that the canals, the sunlight, it's picturesque. As he drops out of the second phase of that particular iteration of the Shouryu Reppa, though, he notices none of it. Masters narrows his eyes through the suddenly flaring second sun instead, all of his attention focused on Athena. It entered his mind when she walked up the bridge-- he could see why this girl distracted Kensou. Maybe all was lost in that moment, unable to curve the tangential rampage of hormones and self-doubt. No doubt if Athena punctuates her sudden and impressive decimation of the US Champion, there will be media outlets spinning it that way, all sorts of schlock journalism postulating about the crush that undid Ken Masters.

Once more, ground zero, the fight itself tells a different story: He's been in step with her from the first moments, aware of the threat she represents, focused on doing whatever he can to surmount it. It's just that she's had the power and foresight to weather or shut down each of those efforts in turn-- a half-step ahead. Ken tries to go /through/ this eruption of Psycho Power even more proactively than the first, but the violet flare that suddenly obscures his vision of Asamiya rips his intentions of summoning the Rising Dragon again in short order asunder.

Instead of tearing through the center of that plume of psionic fervor, he's blasted backwards by it, torn from his footing entirely and launched into a skid on his back, his head crashing into the rail on the opposite side of the bridge from Athena with enough for to shatter one of the little stonework supports and leave him dangling head and shoulders out over the canal. He spits out rock dust, blinks it out of his eyes, and glances aside to see the water and the sky.

"Huh." It's that moment of dazed confusion where that just... doesn't seem quite right, before Ken makes sense of where he is and drags himself out of the side of the bridge with two flexing arms on adjacent, non-shattered little columns. "What.. was I just saying... about you crazy kids?" One wrong step and he'd be flattened-- to remind those just tuning in at home. There's another cough and expectoration, a mix of blood and spit and little pieces of rock, but if Athena wanted polite company she wouldn't put a man's head through hard objects.

But Ken's not done yet, cracking his neck before he rises moments after his eyes manage the path back to hers, forcing objecting legs right back underneath himself as he slams his gloved fists together and shakes more rockdust from his drying hair. Even if he had stayed down, the amount of psychic punishment Ken's tanked tonight is getting alarming-- but the Ansatsuken disciple is back on his feet (after a bit of effort), and by all appearances ready and eager to continue the battle. Dribbles of blood running down his face or not.

Anything less would be a betrayal of the unspoken yet deafening intensity of this fight-- a strange synergy of showmanship.. and then shocking psychic power. It's a reason to fight on, a kinship that dwarfs even the lofty title to which they both aspire, in Ken's book. Even if right now that will to battle is reduced to managing to find his stance again and append a heartfelt, "/Damn/, girl."

She senses it - that psychosomatic feedback loop created by being so intensely focused on someone with such unending volume of energy. She can't see him through her large globe of glowing, shaped Psycho Power, but she can feel his attempt, that thought that comes before the body can pump the accompanying adrenaline into his system. She's fortunate that what she created in this case was just enough - if he had broken through, she would have been defenseless in that instant. As it stands, she continues her backward flying arc, arms still held out in front of her as she drops right out of the sky.

Perhaps overcome by the exchange or maybe having not even put thought into how she would recover from her hasty, split second mid-air counter strike, she lands on her back with a grunt, sliding a few meters before coming to rest, arms crossed in front of her as she winces. She was lucky to be spared the world famous flaming uppercut, and also fortunate to come to a rest before her upper body hit the stone railing of the bridge, but it does take her a moment to get to her feet all the same, exhaling a breath that was held throughout the last few seconds of violent attacks and counter attacks.

Violet eyes find Ken's form amid the cloud of pulverized stone and for a fleeting moment, there is that spike of concern. There is no denying the risks inherent in the sport at which the two fighters ply their skills. Lasting injuries are extremely rare. But behind every fall, every misstep, every failed defense, the chance is always there. A half-step forward is taken, to better see the martial artist on the verge of falling headlong into the water below, when he starts splitting out the white dust and the moment of alarm passes as suddenly as it had appeared.

That he has to pull himself up affords the Psycho Soldier the chance to catch her breath, a much needed reprieve after all that. Instead, she gets the opportunity to watch Ken put those sculpted arms to use in extricating himself from the wall. At the comment about crazy kids, however, Athena huffs, standing up straight, hands to hips, "Hey, we're not that far apart in age!" It sounds very important to her.

The girl's protest might not get heard over the coughing and spitting and she's already lifting her arms, slipping back into her ready stance - practiced for hour after hour under the relentlessly unforgiving eye of Chin Gentsai - when he's awake that is. Circling back to it reminds her about the fight itself, keeps her from getting distracted with thoughts of the crowd, thoughts of the blond heartthrob she's up against, and thoughts of the tournament. Right now, she's up against someone who is still every bit capable of turning this match around on her - to consider him anything less would be to deny him the respect his talent deserves.

But then he addresses her again, summing up his take on her fighting potential with two well timed words, and Athena is distracted for a moment, blinking, left hand drawing back to rest on her cheek, "W-well, that was one of my strongest attacks," she qualifies, as if suddenly self-conscious about being perceived as something beyond human. She's just an enthusiastic fighter like everyone else here!

Speaking of strong attacks, Masters is about to get another one coming his way, the chance for both fighters to catch their breath coming to an end as Asamiya springs into action, her shoes pounding against the bridgework, her hair trailing out behind, long legs pumping to give her every iota of speed possible. Once more she taps into that fount of psychic energy that seems nigh endless, rose-hued power answering her call. Once more into melee range as she springs forward from two meters away, once more to thrust her hands out, forcing a large, churning sphere of energy right into Ken's space - it's as large as the one she just hurled at him from the sky. Yet to make maters worse, Asamiya continues to channel the crushingly strong attack, hair blown back, clothing whipped by the currents at play in and around the shaped Psycho Power assault!


COMBATSYS: Ken Masters can't buy an interrupt against Round Psycho Reflector from Athena with Shoryuken EX.

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

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters can no longer fight.

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

You'd think Ken would learn-- going through the tumultuous energies that Athena summons up is bad. Go /around/ them, dummy. Don't eat them to the chest or face. But Ken is stubborn, and Ken is bold, and Ken is determined to oppose that inexorable force if it kills him. Which let's be fair, it's the kind of attitude that one day might. In the moment, though, it makes Masters' defeat an incredible lightshow. The elemental fire within him pours outwards, roaring from his right fist, swirling around him in a brilliant tendril as he twists into the projection of power, once more opposes the other warrior's psychic ability with the might of the Rising Dragon-- and once more, he falls short where he might have otherwise truly punished her despite her part in said impressive lightshow.

It's a collision that comes with a resounding crash, crimson and violet energies reverberating against one another as Ken literally punches through the blast-- sadly, for him, that eats all the power in the assault... or perhaps just rends the last fight out of him as the painful wave washes through him unabated, his attempts to shatter it and surf through once more coming to naught but the proverbial surfer's decidedly dramatic wipeout. All that will to fight, potential energy that might have continued the effort to turn things around, crackles subtly into the air around them as the last of Ken's body's willingness to cooperate is blasted away.

As the projection fades, and his footing falters, Ken's closed the distance into the maelstrom so as to be nearly point blank with Athena. Breathing labored, muscles pained, gi torn and bloody, for a moment she might think he was going to give it another go-- then, Ken laughs, a rich and amused thing, despite the surprise. "Hah. It was... a compliment." At least one of his bare feet gives out beneath him, and he collapses to a knee before her, wobbling forward to catch himself either on her, or with a palm to the bridge, depending on Athena's reaction-- and positioning.

Either way, his dark eyes are still sparking-- or perhaps the term now would be more twinkling-- as he raises them to hers, making no effort to rise. "Quite the show you put on." He rather intentionally echoes with a wry smirk. "Next time... you're mine." He offers in a low murmur, along with a wink, maximizing the double-meaning alongside the challenge.

All throughout the fight, the masked Ainu woman's focus has shifted from one impressive fighter to the next.

Naturally, she has been most responsive to the energies directed to one another on the grand stage. But to one who can sense the depressions in the fabric of human personalities, the particularly atypical cloud hovering over young Momoko has been most intriguing. << Yes. We will need to find out. It... has little to do with this tournament, I fear... >>

Kensou performed well -- much better than Honoka had anticipated, in the face of the US Martial Arts Champion. She shall have to keep her eyes upon the young baozi fanatic in the future, as well as the yo-yo techniques of the late arrival, Haru.

Every time she attempts to get a better look at the Psycho Soldiers -now-, another shimmering clash of energies from the forefront of battle draws her eyes. Ken Masters, as it would turn out, is as vulnerable a human as Honoka discovered him to be. A formidable threat, to be sure -- but fraught with the limitations of the human body.

"Rest well for now, Champion."

Could the true purpose of the King of Fighters to show who among the fighting world is the further superior, the better-able to transcend the limitations placed upon the upper echelons of human performance? If Ken's sparring partner, Ryu, were placed in a similar crucible, would even he achieve the feat of defeating Kensou and Athena in such rapid succession?

The question weighs upon the analytical Ainu woman's mind each time her eyes turn back to the unknowable, unfathomable wellspring of psychic energy contained within the purple-haired goddess on display. Even with the heat of her partner standing a hair's breadth away from her, currently locked within her arm's grasp, Honoka feels a cold sweat come over her. A chilling fear; the knowledge that challenging the Psycho Soldiers involves dealing with not only one of them.
%tBut all of them.

It may be premature to be concerned, however. The masquerading circus star turns her gaze towards one who she had been neglecting to follow, more due to the awkward positioning of herself relative to the Team USA tent. But now that she gets a better look at the CGA-paletted rollerblader who had given her compatriot Oboro such trouble, she asks Rhydderch, with some amusement to her voice: "I wonder if she can repeat her feat from last round..."

Rhydderch's gaze does not leave the fighters once the melee engages for true. His posture is still relaxed despite the adrenaline, among other hormones, running through his system. "She's as strong as I remember," he comments, something about the way he says it denoting which set of memories he is referring to. "I would not bet against Athena right now."

Honoka might get the impression that there are only two things keeping the couple at the event: the fact that Honoka wanted to see the fight, and that the emotions he /wants/ to act on would require him to break character. Among other things.

"-aaaaaaAAAHHH... hah-" Athena gasps, her attack finally faltering, the sphere expanding outward as it fades then quickly dissipates; wayward Psycho Power no longer constrained by Asamiya's will. When their attacks collided, she found herself with no choice but to pour even more spirit into the massive ball, sustaining it longer than intended - anything less would have been all the Blonde Battler needed to break through with his formidable attack.

In the end, it was just enough, her attack collapsing at the same time as his ability to move forward has reached its final limit. She's frozen, both arms extended, palms forward, left leg bent at the knee, her foot bracing behind her, right foot forward to support her stance. It's a moment of complete defenselessness, her attack having exhausted itself and her, she's slow to even pull her arms back to try and guard an anticipated counter strike - does he have even more uppercuts in him?!

It takes a quick read of the situation to realize that attack isn't coming, a thought reinforced more by instinct than conscious realization. Thus it is that as the American Champ slumps, Asamiya makes no attempt to rebuff him catching himself on her shoulder. If anything, she's completely forgotten the fight in that instant, violet eyes widening, "Oh!" she starts in surprise, still trying to mentally shift gears. Maybe it's a good thing Kensou is recuperating on the cot back in the tent as the two attractive, sweaty, battle tested fighters exchange words.

Ken's words about the show elicit a short, soft, out-of-breath laugh. There's something sincerely heartfelt about it, as if the complement was interpreted as way more than just having been a capable fighter in an intense match. The greatest showman she'd ever seen in person called it a /show/. Together, they provided the masses gathered with entertainment, distraction from whatever might trouble them on any other day of the week, a time to cheer, shout, boo, and share in the excitement of an intense challenge between two fighters testing each other at every step. See? Master Gentsai just doesn't understand what it's all about! It's not his fault. He's very old. And very drunk.

Getting stars in her eyes as dreams of her singing career start to fill her head again, Athena is pulled back to the present by Ken's next words, her eyes meeting his as she's caught completely off guard by a different direction. "Oh-" she starts, the girl seeming to be answering out of reflex before she's even digested what he said. It's obvious when it clicks, her cheeks turning pink again, heart racing for more than one reason now, "Yeah. Yeah! I'm looking forward to it." she expresses a bit too giddily. "A-ah, next time, that is." Uh oh, she's starting to second guess what she's saying. What is she saying? Does it sound dumb? It sounded dumb, didn't it. "When we fight again." she adds as the officials move in to claim Ken, whether he's capable of walking out on his own or not. No. That didn't sound better at all. "I mean." she swallows. "That was an incredible match!"

Her right arm is raised high in front of her, hand waving rapidly after Ken, before she whirls around, both hands coming up to her cheeks as she walks back toward the other side of the bridge. She has to get her mind back on the match. There is another component to Team USA she has yet to face!

COMBATSYS: Athena awaits the next challenger.

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

Throughout the match, Momoko remains mostly quiet and restless, her fidgetting taking various forms as she casts her attention inwards in an introspective attempt to quell the unease that has been slowly growing stronger ever since her first fateful encounter with true evil. She would have been lost then, overwhelmed by something far beyond her ken or ability to withstand, if not for the timely intervention of the current star of the Psycho Soldier team.

When the pain and the shock had worn off, it seemed like a dream come true. Athena Asamiya! In person! It was almost a story book tale of the white knight swooping in to save the poor helpless damsel. It wasn't often that Momoko considered herself 'helpless' but there was no getting around the fact that the crazed psychopath that had ambushed her was in a league she'd never even known existed. And, if she's being entirely honest, getting saved by her idol felt amazingly exciting. Ofcourse, she'd be crazy to /want/ something that awful to happen but in retrospect it was a turning point in her life.

That change, however, had come with several downsides which she had not been able to understand until much later. The Psycho Soldiers were celebrities on the outside but their true purpose, behind the dazzle and public shows, was to combat things that most people never even heard about. Unlike the stories in movies and comics, that kind of evil had proven to be quite proactive in its attempts to engage with the members of this hero team, and as its newest member, Momoko was no exception despite having no where near the skill and preparation necessary to deal with it.

All was not lost, though, for each time she had been beset by evil the warm protective presence of Athena had been there to protect her from the worst of it. In the face of her special gifts it would seem that even creatures from nightmare and legend were no match. She was a shield, an aegis against the darkness.

And that is the problem, isn't it? Every time she has been called upon to stand firm as a member of the team, Momoko has fallen short of the bar, needing rescue and protection. Her jaw tightens slightly, muscles going rigid as this thought sends a wave of tension through her body. The turbulent psychic energy radiating from the small girl grows a little darker for a moment as she lets her mind run wild with possibilities.

"Am I just a burden...?"

She whispers the words under her breath. Haru's presence is largely ignored, her mind too distracted to take note of the young boy's arrival, but the sound of her worry is drowned out by the great clamor of the battle raging on outside the tent. Her confrontation with the soul bee queen had only further reinforced something that had been nagging at her for quite a while. Alone, she was barely capable of even defending herself. Driven to the edge, she never failed to fall prey to the fear that she might lose everything and tapped into her power in a way that caused as much damage to herself as it did to the things she turned it upon.

But, it worked. Each time she had reached for that reserve of energy, lowered the barriers against her negative emotions, she had drawn out power unlike anything she could do so normally. Perhaps that was the key to her success. Perhaps, instead of waiting until her life was on the line and she had only desperation to fuel her strength she could feed that emotional loop from the very start, use her anger and fear as a weapon against the darkness.

Her gaze shifts back to the fore as this thought plays through her mind and she watches as Athena's terrible might lays low one of the world's greatest champions with seeming effortless ease. What she wouldn't give to be that strong, to prove to Athena that she's more than just some helpless damsel hiding behind her shining visage.

The exchange between the two combatants that takes place afterwards causes her eyes to narrow, her lips pressing together into a thin line. The looks on each of their faces makes her gut clench in terrible jealousy. Here are two warriors, skilled and confident, sharing a moment that only those with such power can experience; a meeting of equals who are both aware that their great clash was nothing more than a casual display of competative talent. Though she can't hear the words exchanged, Momoko watches the blush creep into Athena's face and feels the wave of embarassment flow around her in a dizzying swirl.

Her fingers clench, digging into the fabric of her loose pants until she has two fistfuls of the soft cloth. Unlike Kensou, who would likely have made something of an issue with this were he awake, the small girl simply sits there and glowers at Ken as he retreats to his side of the bridge, her aura flickering angrily like a candle in the wind.


Those are the two words that cross Scratch's face, her thoughts clear without having to open her mouth and say a single thing. The expression is enough to nearly drop those expensive sunglasses off her face. Swallowing a little, the skater pulls them off and folds them back onto the table she was sitting at. "It's ok...it's fine. You did this once before..." Scratch finally says, if only to herself, pulling off her hoodie...

And revealing that her arm stockings of her usual outfit were completely replaced with bandages, and making it clearer to see that her face still bore healing scars from her fight with Oboro. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself off her chair, rolling away from the team's camp and making her way toward the center of the bridge.

"Figures I'd have to clean up somehow," she intones in her best impassive, snarky voice. It rings hollow for anyone who knows better, but she's been taught to try and play the crowd a bit more.

Tying her hair back up into her usual high, palm tree-like ponytail, the skater looked on toward Athena, another deep calming breath. "So...yeah. Good luck and all that," she says, still projecting her usual attitude while pacing back and forth on her skates and waiting for the official's signal.

Once the signal goes off and the round officially starts, she breaks into her usual dash....not toward Athena, but toward the railings of the bridge. Clicking in, she takes a quick grind along, just enough to reach the exact center...before leaping off straight toward Athena. Arm chambered back, a faint cyan glow of energy forms on her hand before trying to palm the idol's face with a strike....

And then get the hell away. HIt and run, hit and run....

COMBATSYS: Scratch has joined the fight here.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Athena           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0          Scratch

COMBATSYS: Athena dodges Scratch's Taggin' It.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Athena           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0          Scratch

The downtime between fighters gives Asamiya much needed time to catch her breath. The crowd is still going wild over the round that just finished, and knowing that Scratch is not one to be discounted outright, the tensions and enthusiasm grow even stronger than before. Walking slowly back toward her side, the teen fighter focuses on getting her thoughts in order, pulling her head out of the clouds, and mentally preparing to push herself a second time to give it all she's got.

While the audience is as exuberant as ever, especially as everyone continues yelling to each other about their favorite moments of the match so far, Asamiya finds herself feeling calmer now. The mania of Kensou's bout, the intensity of Ken's challenge are behind her. She has another opponent before her now - one she is unfamiliar with in every way. A glance up is cast toward the Psycho Soldier tent, a tentative smile offered as if to assure them that she's doing okay and is ready to go at this all over again.

But in the calmer chambers of her mind, she has the chance to notice things she should have picked up on sooner. A flicker of concern washes over her as her attention strays over Momoko. She had noticed it earlier, but it was just one of hundreds of things on her mind at the time. This time it rises up toward the top of her thoughts - but there are others that catch her attention. Eyes sweep the crowd but recognizing no one behind the sea of masks that stare back at her. She and her allies are not the only in attendance in tune with the powerful potential of the psychic mind.

It is a stray thought and not one she presses further on. She still has a fight ahead and an opponent with an unorthodox style she isn't sure how to read or respond to.

As Scratch skates onto the bridge, 'pacing' back and forth in anticipation for her own moment on the grandest stage in the world, Athena whirls around to face her. "Thank you," she replies back, head nodded in acknowledgement of her opponent.

The signal is given, and the next round is underway. Lifting her hands to the ready position, the girl begins to bounce lightly, her movements slow, controlled, and patient. The time for speed will be soon enough.

She pivots on her feet to keep tabs on the other girl. They are roughly the same age but beyond gender, they seem to be almost nothing alike. Athena gets the impression that her rough looking challenger would die before being caught in anything too frilly.

Her own reflexes are put to the test an instant later, Scratch launching off of the railing, arm primed for delivering a nose-bruising palm slam. The angle is awkward, putting Athena on the defensive but not quite sure how to read the unorthodox movement Scratch employs - a move to the right or left might very well be moving her face into striking range while the other direction will be safe.

Athena steps to the left - a choice made at random between two equal looking options - and in doing so escapes getting her face busted in! But the step isn't pure evasion, there's momentum to attack as well, as Athena hops into the air, spinning hard to the left, slamming her right foot out to try and catch her opponent in the rib cage as she passes. "Interesting style!" she allows in the brief window afforded her. She has definitely not fought anyone on skates before.

COMBATSYS: Scratch blocks Athena's Medium Kick.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Athena           0/-------/=======|>------\-------\0          Scratch

Forced to recover and regroup after her flying palm strike is side-stepped Scratch tries to get herself some room to maneuver and get away for another pass on Athena...at least until the hopping spin kick cuts her off. Eyes widen, relfexes forced to pull her arms in and catch the kick. Knocked a good deal awayfrom the extra momentum thanks to her skates, the skater drops to a three point stance, catching herself with her hand.

Gritting her teeth, she realizes this is a totally different beast than what she went through with Oboro. She should have something snarky regarding Athena's comment, but nothing comes to mind, already feeling cornered.

Pushed back upright, Scratch charges in for another dash, looking like she's going for the railing again....but this time just before she reaches the railing, there's a sudden spark upon her skates, and she rapidly double-backs in Athena's direction. Head turning, she suddenly pivots, trying to hook her arm into the Psycho Soldier's and pull her hard toward the railing on the other side.

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Scratch's Rewind Whip.

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

Behind her mask, Honoka finds herself once again following into the comfortable pattern of simply observing the fight. It's easy to get drawn the dramatic interplay between two such dynamic fighters. There are so many nuances to pay attention to -- the shifting emotions, the subtle machinations that would reveal why a fighter would choose the steps they do, milliseconds before they actually follow through with the motions. It's remarkably compelling, and... it gives even more insight into why Scratch was able to bring Oboro right to the edge, now.

Honoka finds herself looking back in the direction of Ken Masters. Even if she can't see him, she can still sense his exuberance. A lesser-disciplined fighter would be angry at defeat; in contrast, his champion's heart beats loudly enough to her attuned senses to be heard over the dull roar of the revelers.

Momoko's doubt rings in her mind, almost as clearly -- and surely, it must to Rhydderch as well. She turns to him, her concerned look turning into a warm smile.
So he -does- remember Athena from the other time.

"No," she says, in response to the notion of betting against Athena. "Not even if we were the ones fighting them here. Perhaps... another time, though."

For now, she contents herself with holding the man's arm close to her. It may not be everyone's idea of a great date night. But it does seem to be hers.

Rebounding off the kick, Athena is once again on her feet. She's got a lot to learn about the different styles of the world. She has had a lot of experience against fairly conventional fighting style. Even though each of them is as unique as the person executing it, there are still things she can learn to expect and anticipate... But this? She has no idea what to expect from Scratch, and Scratch has seen her fight at least one solid round now. Are there still surprises in store?

Athena finds herself being circled by the agile, swift fighter, forced to keep turning in place to keep tabs on someone as mobile as the skater. If this keeps up, she's liable to dizzy herself in the process of keeping her eye on the girl! She manages to turn just in time to notice the instant shift in direction as Scratch puts the forces of momentum to the test and aims to use them against Athena.

She tries digging in with her feet, perhaps anticipating a more direct strike, only to find herself hooked and dragged backward, on a crash course for the bridge railing - and, if she hits it hard enough, a trip right over it! "You're fast," she remarks as she's being yanked back, struggling to secure her footing before realizing that she is going to have to take another vector all together.

With the railing coming up quickly and her own physical contest against Scratch's built up momentum failing to accomplish much, the girl has to fall back on that potently effective power of hers. Scratch would have only a split second to react as Athena reaches over with her other hand, attempting to plant her palm against the skater's upper back.

Just a touch would be enough before Scratch would find herself subjected to an intense, sudden pull backward as forces unseen but most definitely felt would seek to completely reverse her momentum and then send her flying right back the way she came! "YA!"

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Scratch with Psychic Bit.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Athena           1/-----==/=======|=======\-------\1          Scratch

Athena is a hard person to forget, though it is hard to explain /why/ to someone who has not experienced it up close and personal. Rhydderch watches the fight for a moment. "Actually," he murmurs, "Scratch might have a chance at this. Athena, at the end of the day, is /kind/. She'll give Scratch a chance to prove herself. It will depend on how well Scratch can take advantage of that."

The man known as Rhydderch is more than agree about whether or not this makes for a great date.

Scratch may be fast...but it's clear that she's even more of a neophyte regarding the styles of the fighting world than Athena is. The skater has speed, and she has the aggression, but when she's unable to completely pull Athena over with that rapid reversal, it gives the idol enough time to pull out something that the Metro Citizen truly isn't prepared for.

The touch on her back, and the sudden unknown force yanking her back is completely alien to Scratch, and the lack of reaction time results in her being thrown to a heap on the bridge, groaning at the awkward landing utterly unhelped by the healing tissue underneath her bandages. "What the hell was that?" she groans before finally rewindng to some of the video she was forced through watching. Now it's coming back...but then again, video doesn't quite translate how strange it is to feel first thing.

Pulling herself back up to her feet, moemtnum completely thrown off, the skater glares at Athena. She's not about to let this go without throwing down as much as she can.

Without the speed of before, she turns around, leaping for the railing again. She clicks on, but then immediately bounds off. As she twists back to face the psychic, she backflips, one leg flashing outward with a thin flash of cyan following her wheels. Her other leg is pulled and chambered back by her hand, before it snaps forward as well in a follow up strike. Scratch knows what her advantages are...she just needs to use them.

COMBATSYS: Scratch successfully hits Athena with Method Slicer EX.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Athena           1/--=====/=======|=======\-------\1          Scratch

"A good question," Athena responds to Scratch's exclamation with a surprisingly calm yet unhelpful answer. The way she says it makes it almost sound like she finds herself often wondering the same thing. Haru had asked her that question in perhaps a less confrontational moment, and the answer she gave that day was not much more helpful than the one her opponent gets now.

She doesn't aggress as Scratch gets back into the fight. It seems she's still feeling the other girl out, not entirely sure what to make of her. When it comes to the degree of energy they can manipulate, she's suspecting that she has the advantage there. But when it comes to physical, martial combat, and pure acrobatic speed? She's not entirely sure who has the upper hand.

The question is put to the test again as the other girl uses the bridge railings with the kind of comfort a normal person would use a sidewalk. Again Athena has to keep turning to keep the swift girl in sight, her mind racing as she tries to think about contending with whatever unorthodox attack might come her way next.

The backflip is just the kind of tricks it takes to get through her defenses as Athena tries to slip out of the way only to take a set of chi-infused wheels to the side of her head for her trouble. Reeling, she tries to catch herself and snap back quickly, only to have the second strike hit her right in the forehead. The twin blows are enough to knock the featherweight off her feet though she recovers even before hitting the ground, rolling into a crouch that leaves her facing the resolved girl.

Now that she's been hit cleanly, she has a better idea of where they're at with respect to each other. The impacts stung and her forehead is going to bruise from that for sure. But she's now more aware of where the other teen is in her path as a fighter and it gives her a moment's pause. In all of her matches, Athena was always challenging herself, regularly facing some of the greats around the world, trying to work through her fears, her trepidations, and truly discovering what it means to /fight/.

This is the first time she finds herself dealing with something the complete opposite. But she does know... a little bit what it's like. She stood on the other side of the equation once herself, early on, when her string of successes pit her against the enigmatic Lee Chaolan. The match had been brutal, short, as in two crushing blows he nearly took her out, all the while chirping away with idle banter of one unafraid of his opponent's potential. It had been a ruthless, crushing experience. And yet... it had awoken her to the truth of fighting, the contest, the challenge, the thrill of putting everything on the line.

"You're doing quite well," she remarks, lifting her hands as she returns to her ready stance. Who is she to deny Scratch the same opportunity? "It would be wrong for me to hold back." she continues, violet eyes blinking once. "You are giving it your all..." The girl closes her eyes for only a fleeting moment - but it is definitely not a window of vulnerability but rather the beginning of something the exact opposite. "My honor as a fighter requires me to do likewise."

Her eyes flick open as Athena leans forward slightly. "Now put your speed to the test - but whatever happens..." A faint smile, a flicker of nostalgia at a stray thought. "Know you can always do even better. Don't stop here."

And with that, she is gone, a swirling whirlwind of Psycho Power left in her wake. She would be nearly impossible to track, even harder to see as she glides in on Scratches right with an elbow strike to her side. Turning to defend against a follow up strike would be a mistake, as now she's on the left, executing a swift, light palm strike to Scratch's upper arm. Again she's there at a new angle, attacking with a knee. Then a kick. Then her shoulder as each strike begins to blur into the next. Eight attacks, none of them devastating on their own, but the culminating damage could add up fast.

It is the ninth the skater needs worry about the most, however, a sweep of Athena's arm from left back out to right, a sliver of Psycho Power at the tip of her fingers as she aims to slice the last will and capacity to fight from her opponent in one decisive combination.

This is no spar, this is a fight, and both she and her opponent are here for nothing less. One man's predictions of Athena's disposition in battle may not account for the new lifetime of experiences that have brought her to this very moment in time. There is no kind reprieve for her opponent to have a chance for even an instant!

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Scratch with Psychic 9.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Athena           0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Scratch

Landing after the Method Slicer finally got her a clean hit in, Scratch dropped to a crouch, clearly not as mobile as she was earlier in the fight. Wincing as she pushed herself forward via her hands to get a boost, she tried to get some speed going again and keep up her momentum.

Unfortunately, if she was fast, then either Athena was supersonic, or just knew how to teleport. Scratch doesn't know which, and honestly, it functionally doesn't matter once the elbow clips her in the side. "AGH!" she cries out, trying to bring her arms up to catch any other hit only to be caught from the left instead, hitting her hard enough on the arm that a stitch comes undone and leaves a thin mark of red for later.

The onslaught is overwhelming, and it chips away at her guard and her awareness enough that the final, Psycho Powered strike slices clean through her and sends her skyward, landing in a heap.

Gritting her teeth, the skater pops up a lot faster than one miht expect. Adrenalne is a remarkable thing like that. But even the most determined and optimistic would know this is more like the last gasp of a cornered rat. But even a cornered rat can be dangerous when its pushed to fight. And young and inexperienced as she is, Scratch is damn sure prepared to make her mark.

using that desperate burst of energy burning through her, the skater starts a rapid wind around Athena. She uses the rails again, but only to keep up that momentum as she circles. Finally, with enough force built up, she leaps again...and soon, the cyan-haired girl is nothing but a mess of limbs and light trails surrounding her, corkscrewing wild in the air with legs extended in a furious ball of kinetic energy trying to overwhelm Athena.

COMBATSYS: Scratch successfully hits Athena with McTwister.

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

Truth be told, Athena was certain that unless Scratch had been holding back on her potential, she would not be fast enough to defend herself from the series of strikes - each one following the one before with such speed that it almost all seems to happen at once up until the final attack where the girl struck right when she knew her opponent's defenses would be at their worst.

As confident as she was that her opponent would be unable to defend against her incredibly fast attack, she was also certain it would be a fight deciding attack. In that matter, she had completely underestimated the stubborn grit of Ken's younger partner. As the girl ends up on her feet nearly instantly, Asamiya pauses, blinking once, then allowing a slow smile to work its way into her expression. She should have known better to discount someone Ken Masters had chosen for his teammate in this tournament. No doubt he saw something there - maybe he even anticipated moments like this, where Scratch is on her feet, moving with not just the same speed as before but even greater speed. Cornered, perhaps, but not defeated, not crushed.

In an instant, Asamiya is forced to defend herself from an onslaught of limbs and lights. Bracing, she brings up her arms the same way she had guarded against a pair of those famous flaming uppercuts in the round before. But this time the attack vectors are coming from too many angles at once rather than trying to power through her in a more straight forward manner.

The first kicks that would have hit are in fact rebuffed, Athena's guard buffeted. But then a chi-laced skate catches her on the side of her head and she tries to adjust. Only she finds herself suddenly in the same dilemma as she had put Scratch in a moment ago. Every time she tries to correct her guard she gets battered from a new direction! Finally her ability to even tell which way the attacks are coming from is shattered and she's subjected to the rest of the whirlwind of strikes before finally collapsing to the bridge much worse for the wear.

Shaking her head, Athena glances back and forth, trying to get a bead on Scratch so that she can get up to her feet without getting struck again. Her arms are bruised and scratched, her left cheek has a new welt it didn't a moment before, and blood is trickling down her hairline right above her right temple. Gritting her teeth, she pushes back to standing, whirling around while lifting her arms to protect herself from another strike like that.

Finally, she speaks, laughter on her voice in spite the pummeling she just took. "Hah!" She shakes her head again to clear her vision, finally locking her gaze on her opponent. "Now that was... that was fast." It was almost as fast as she had been, actually, and certainly faster than she could reliably defend herself against.

Sucking in her breath, Athena prepares to charge again. She doesn't have the energy to pull off another combination like before, but that doesn't mean she's thrown her last attack either. If she can catch Scratch before she gets back up to full speed, great. If she has to literally run her down with the advantage her skates give her, then... well, she'll do her best at that too. Either way, she's aiming to get in close enough, not to strike, but to grip Scratch's arm with her own delicate seeming hand.

If successful, she'll heft the other girl clean up over her head by the arm and fling her some meters away along the bridge. "HAAH!"

Of course, the fact that the effort is largely executed by a surge of telekinetic force rather than brute arm strength will be obvious to her opponent, but maybe not so much to the audience?

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Scratch with Psychic Attack.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /                             ]
Athena           1/---====/=======|>>>>>>>\>------\1          Scratch

The wild storm of limbs that Scratch sends toward Athena is intimidating...but the problem with it is that it's...not easy to land from. Sure, her adrenaline would make it easier to recover from a hard crash, but this late, and this worn down, any moment is enough to kill.

And unfortunately for Scratch, that moment comes at the worst time as possible, yardsale-ing and sprawling on the bridge, struggling to pull herself up. With that recovery time, it's just enough for Athena to grab her...and then fling her away with the effort that most pro wrestlers would be envious of, regardless of the method.

Crashing hard, Scratch groans, shuddering and realizing she's not about to last through this one. Pushing herself up, she feels the last vestiges of her adrenaline willing her up. "NOt....going....to..." she groans...before literally shoving herself into the air. Twisting parallel to the ground, her leg extends out as she nears Athena, that last light of chi lighting her skate up again and cutting like an axe from above....

Before crashing hard again. Literally throwing herself with no regard for her safety catches up to her, a pained groan all she can muster, the official already throwing his hands up to indicate she's out.

COMBATSYS: Scratch can no longer fight.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Athena           1/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Scratch successfully hits Athena with Bio Slash.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  <
Athena           2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

Hurling Scratch back along the bridge, Athena is forced to pause again. It's been a grueling couple of rounds and the effort is starting to catch up with her. Maybe if she was fresh out of the tent, she could have figured out a way to defend against Scratch's lightning fast assault. But even then, she wouldn't be sure. Sucking in her breath, perspiration rolling down her cheeks, she brings her smile back as she notices Scratch getting up for another round of it.

That's the kind of determination that she's come to recognize after the previous recovery and speedy assault. Panting for breath, she's speechless for a moment, realizing only that she will have to defend herself again as the skating fighter simply isn't going to give up that easy.

Once again, she is forced to defend herself, arms lifting in attempt to brush off the incoming attack, and once again, the attack crashes right through her abused, bruised limbs as if she hadn't even tried, clobbering the girl right on the crown of her head, causing her to stagger forward and ultimately drop to her hands and knees against the stonework.

Vision blurred, head ringing, she knows she can at least standup again even if she can't really take another hit like that. Sucking in her teeth, steeling her resolve, Athena lunges forward and way from where she last saw Scratch, as if anticipating that she might be about to get attacked again.

It's only when she's upright and whirling around, arms raised to offer some attempt at a defense, that she realizes no more attacks will be coming, her opponent is down for the count. Exhaling, Asamiya leans forward, propping herself up with her hands against her knees for a moment as she gazes along the bridge toward her fallen opponent.

Finally, she sucks in her breath, lifts her face high, and musters a quick and snappy V-sign salute to her forehead for the masses. Grinning, the gesture is dropped after a moment, the girl turning to clasp her hands together, bowing toward the Team USA tent, though the gesture is making her feel a little woozy.

Standing up straight, she retreats toward her team's tent, eager to finally rest after the gauntlet she just went through. It's shocking to think, she considers, that her motely team is going on to the finals of the worldwide King of Fighters tournament, a journey that started months ago, as no journey ever should, in Kensou's dorm room.

Whirling around one more time, she casts her attention toward the other team's camp, maybe hoping for one last fleeting sight of her charming, blonde opponent, before finally ducking out of sight to celebrate with her teammates. The ones that are conscious anyway. And not brooding sullenly. Basically, she celebrates with Haru for a moment.

COMBATSYS: Athena has ended the fight here.

For a while, there is darkness.

Kensou was fished out, was brought to the medical table, was brought under the proper care. He was not -badly- mangled by Ken; it was a routine post-fight diagnostics. Kensou was on a makeshift medical table, fluids being returned in him, bruises being treated. Kensou was fast sleep, unaware of the fight that ad continued without him.

But Kensou was dreaming.

Kensou could feel himself floating through an ether, he's naked. Gossamer strips of sheer white fabric dance around him, as he sinks through them. From the sea of cloth, two cherubs fly past him. One looked surprisingly like Haru, the other looked less surprisingly like Momoko. They each grab an edge of a great curtain, and fluttering, they pull it apart.

Revealing Ken Masters, on a velvet couch.

The well-oiled, muscled body of Ken Masters was in full view. He was an adonis, a perfect form of a man. He is naked as well, with only a tastefully placed blanket concealing his most intimate parts. He has a single finger out. And he was beckoning, eagerly luring in Kensou, inviting him to come and taste his Shoryuken. But Ken was not alone, oh no, it was never so simple.

On another, seperate couch, Athena reclines.

Athena is dressed in a red bikini. At the foot of the couch is a shield and sword. Bangles and a singular red glove in on her right hand, going all the way up to her elbow. She wears a black eyemask, she keeps on upon a stick. She inspects Kensou eagerly, the haughtiness of a queen pouring from her presence. Two couches. Two choices.

"Well, Kensou, who do you choose?"

That is the question from Athena, as she adjusts to rest on her belly upon the couch. Ken himself runs a hand upon his naked, muscled chest, and continues the most pressing question. "Mmmm... yes Kensou. Who do you choose? Will you choose your Master?" "Or will you choose your goddess?" "Your Master?" "Your Goddess?" Kensou looks between the two, he could feel a cold sweat. "Your Master?" "Your Goddess?" The question repeats itself. "I choose..." Kensou responds in the dream. "I choose......"


Kensou sits up with a start, on the medical table, the words blurting from his lips. He breaths hard, as a nurse places a hand on his chest, pushing him back into lying down. Kensou looks around nervously. What happened. Did he lose? Did he ruin everything for his team. He turns his head. He could see... the Psycho Soldiers celebrating? A smile crosses Kensou's lips. No. No he didn't ruin everything. He looks straight up into the sky, closing his eyes again to return into dreams. And softly, he speaks.


Log created on 13:39:55 07/02/2016 by Kensou, and last modified on 13:31:46 07/04/2016.