KOF 2016 - KOF: The Sifting of Chaos

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Description: A restless night following her team's Semi-Finals victory in KOF leaves Athena Asamiya available for a chance encounter. She hungers for a test of strength, ideals, and resolve, and Kein Heinlein is willing to oblige.

The city of Venice, Italy, is built on one hundred and seventeen small islands, all interconnected by way of over four hundred bridges and over a hundred different canals. During the day on any given normal week, the streets and waterways of the old city are cramped with traffic of all kinds. But this wasn't any old week. This week, Venice was host to the King of Fighters semi-finals event, a venue so significant that out of all the fighting events for the year, it probably only falls second to the upcoming finals match of the massive Team Tournament in the next couple of weeks. The already busy city had exploded with activity with tourists pouring in from all around the world to be a part of the massive media event built around the globe spanning King of Fighters tournament.

With so much activity, one might despair of finding any quiet place at all in the city that isn't locked behind closed doors. Yet at night, Venice becomes another place all together. The streets clear out, the canals quiet down with only the occasional skiff to transport late night travelers, and little by little, Venice falls to sleep.

Travel accommodations for the participating teams are entirely covered by the tournament media budget and when it came to putting up the Psycho Soldiers, no expense was spared. Situated in a hotel directly facing San Marco Square not too far from the bridge where the Semi-Final match played out, the team is centrally located to enjoy famous sights and sounds of Venice before their upcoming flight back to Japan to prepare for the grand finals coming up. From the rooftop suite's balcony, a restless Athena had watched the courtyard slowly empty of traffic as the night wore on.

The only one on her team unable to sleep, she finally slipped out of the hotel into the large, stone courtyard, the location dominated by the picturesque San Macro Basilica itself. At night, the ancient Cathedral is illuminated by golden lights inset in the ground that cast a soft, warm glow over the ornate columns, fancy painted arches, and golden, cross-bearing domes.

Alone at last, Asamiya finds herself standing outside the opulently designed structure, hands clasped behind her back as she enjoys some time alone from the pressures and chaos that the week had provided so far. Clothed in a black blouse with elbow-length sleeves and white cuffs, a black and white floral pattern skirt at her waist, and black nylons, she is the perfect picture of classy casual.

While the courtyard is empty, the city isn't completely asleep. Occasionally, a vehicle will drive by on the adjacent street before its tail lights vanish around a corner. The periodic sound of canal raft bells can be heard from the other direction as others demonstrate that the night provides no repose for them either.

Fascinated by the beautiful basilica, Athena fishes out her phone and starts backing up from it, holding her device up in order to capture the perfect picture of ancient religious beauty.

"Sometimes, a vivid memory, a moment in your mind's eye can be worth a thousand photos." The well-dressed gentleman with the long blonde hair might at first pass for another who's crossed Athena's path lately, but only at a glance. "In touch with the currents the ebb and flow at places such as these, the murmurs of life itself amidst the quiet geometry of civilization." Or veneer thereof. If Asamiya is half as in-tune with that melody as he suspects she is, as is suggested in the amused irony implicit in the wryly lyrical tones, the differences would be immediately apparent as she tapped into that intuition-- if she weren't already aware of him.

Then again, that's not the easiest thing either, perhaps paradoxically. The tall blonde has eyes of the darkest crimson, as if painted with blood, and long, straight hair of luminescent platinum that catches and seems to almost refract the bloom from the streetlamp he leans against in the midst of the courtyard. He's dressed to the nines, as if coming or going from the finest dinner party, clad head to toe in fine Italian cloth tailored to fit his form, the stark, pure white of the jacket and slacks offset by deep royal blue silken grosgrain stitched in crisp, symmetrical lines along the ensemble's borders, along with the shirt mostly concealed behind the buttoned, knee-length jacket.

The long and short of it: He's abundantly noteworthy, and it's simultaneously difficult to say how long he's been there, one shoulder leaning into a lamp post, watching Athena line up her shot. It's as if he merely appeared there; as if the well-dressed man were the shadow cast by the post itself, across the stoney ground. Of course, that's impossible, right? "I don't mean to intrude, Ms. Asamiya. My name is Kain."

The voice is calm, almost soothing, carrying a magnetic energy of its own; or is that emanating from the celestial might seemingly contained or conducted within the man himself, its imprint at once equal parts stellar brilliance, unfathomable heat-- and endless void, the chill absence of life on the farthest edge of the galaxy, beyond the warming reach of those stars. It's almost impossible not to be drawn in once one starts looking, but even for a psychic of her power, the meandering byways in that network of initially contradictory signatures promise some enigma to unravel.

"I wanted to congratulate you-- I'm not surprised to see you lead the Psycho Soldiers to the Finals. Not after what you did to that poor, possessed boy." If seperated from the spirits, would Zappa even live? Kain had his doubts. "What the power within you did to the monster slayer." Kain smiles, perhaps a touch knowingly. "Even Ken Masters was left to look like an addled boy." This seems to please Heinlein, though it's likely at this phase whoever had perservered against the odds set against him would draw that smile.

There's a pause, as those crimson eyes search hers, that all-too-aware gleam still apparent in them. She might be used to psychic contact, even assault-- that's not what this is. It's as if he looks through her, within her, to those very eddies and currents of life that reverberate through them all; the aura of the unseen, the echo of the unspoken. "What are you fighting for? If you win, what does your victory mean?" There's no indication the query is anything but deliberately vague-- no attempt to illucidate exactly /what/ sort of answer he's looking for.

A soft intake of breath marks the moment she becomes aware that she has company in the lonely market square. Moments like this are rare enough as to be all together disorienting, the youthful Asamiya whirling around and taking a step back in the same motion, her heel clacking against the expanse of tile in the process. Only when consciously making an effort can the girl blind herself to the sea of souls present all around her in the world... and when she feels alone enough to let down her guard, approaching her undetected is almost unthinkable.

Prior to the unexpected voice, she had been quietly, passively tracking others - a woman walking down the street behind her, someone shuffling through the dumpsters in the back ally behind a closed restaurant... The hotel she had just left was a sea of identifies, each unique, each an atom forming the whole of the psychic aura surrounding her.

Face to face, the handsome European towers over the rising star from Japan. Looking up at him, she can't possibly fathom why he was not part of that tapestry, a thread that doesn't belong. His attire suggests opulence, importance, yet she doesn't recognize him. A local dignitary? Her hands are still gripped on the edges of her lowered phone as she stares back at him. Her mouth opens slightly then closes, questions easily written into her honest expression.

Feeling sheepish, perhaps, at her startled reaction, a hint of blush hits her cheeks as she finally recovers well enough to realize what he had said when he made his presence known. "Y-yes, well..." She glances over her shoulder briefly toward the cathedral, "It is easy to be lost in the grandeur of the history of places like this."

Her eyes are back on him as he continues, introducing himself while also verifying that he already knows exactly who she is. It isn't unusual for the minor celebrity to be recognized, but even without trying, she can tell that this is no ordinary fan that happened upon her by chance. "No, it's okay," she continues, finally lowering her left hand, cradling her phone as to leave her right hand free. A slight bow of her head comes next, the crimson headband comb she has worn in every public appearance to date easily visible in her hair, "I'm pleased to meet you. I suppose I wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep." she finishes with a smile that comes readily.

One thing that would be easily noticed is that the supercharged aura about the girl in her fight appearances seems to be lacking - that feedback echo chamber of adrenaline, emotion, and human energy given form appears to lie dormant when not tested in the crucible of battle. Even still, she relaxes a degree of her psyche - just enough to be sensitive to emotions. Sometimes it is enough to pick up strong sparks of sudden intent, a useful tool for anyone who is trying to climb the ranks of fighters throughout the world.

But for her attempt she finds herself lost at once to the point that even her violet eyes, usually so lively and sharply fixated, lose their focus for a moment. He speaks of congratulations and she is slow to respond, mind whirling at the unfathomable presence before her. A presence that is felt at times, until she focuses harder only for it to elude the gift Chin Gentsai has tried to hone all these years.

She realizes he is speaking of her fights and finally that focus is back, though there is the slightest buzz persisting in her thoughts, a distraction at the back of her head. She can't identify its source.

The mention of Zappa brings back memories of horror, dread terror in the face of raw, savage animosity beyond anything she had ever been in the presence of before. He would see her flinch - the girl has no poker face to speak of. Of the battle with Hayabusa, he would see a flicker of discomfort. She was declared the victor while the actual conclusion was lost not only to the world but to her. She still has the small talisman with the address left on her person by the Master Shinobi... maybe he is the only one that can answer the frightening question in her mind about the epic conclusion of a heated battle.

And then there's Ken, eyes widening a little as she starts to interrupt for the first time, "A-ah, no, it wasn't like that, he... he was brilliant in combat, and exceptionally skilled. Each moment I felt we were very closely matched..." Her voice fades when she realizes she's defending the American champ even though that isn't really what this mysterious man is here to discuss.

The buzz in her thoughts intensifies - a reaction to something that she can't place, not realizing that as she looks into the platinum blonde's eyes, it grows even more prevalent.

Finally, his questions - and her reaction is immediate, eyes widening slightly as if being blind sided by a crafty question thrown out by a media reporter. Her right hand lifts, delicate fingers pressing up into her combed hair just in front of her right ear, "Ah..." What was she fighting for? This feels like one of those questions she should have prepared an answer for - something inspirational, something that helps explain the passion that fuels her heart in the heat of battle, something that will look good when quoted or tweeted out to the world.

But her mind is blank at first. She doesn't even challenge why he might be curious, simply accepting that the matter has been asked and the burden is on her to answer. "Well, you see..." she starts. What would their victory mean? What was this journey for?

"To be honest..." As if she was capable of being anything but when studied by the perceptive eyes of Heinlein. "When it comes to this tournament, well, when it came long... my team, ah- my friends... each were struggling with something on their own. I thought that bringing them together to participate in this, to support each other and practice together... it would help each of them with their struggles." The more she speaks, the more momentum she builds, her hand slipping from the side of her head to clench along her side. "One of those bonding exercises, you know. I'm not sure why I thought that this is what they all needed, but I didn't know what else to do and I felt I had to do something rather than letting the problems I saw continue to fester."

She glances to the side, breaking eye contact, not consciously aware that the persistent noise in her thoughts has lowered slightly. "But in the end, I don't think it has helped them like I had hoped. I see Momoko-chan slipping away little by little, and Kensou, he, he couldn't get his head into his fight, he was too distracted by something. At least Haru... he seems to be holding up under the burden of being team captain, which is good, I think he needed the experience." Now that she's talking, she just won't stop.

"But," she glances back up at her questioner, "But for me, even if this adventure hasn't solved everything I had hoped it would, it has allowed me to meet some of the most remarkable people, it has opened my eyes to things I never knew existed, and it is allowing me to discover just how far I can go." She lifts her right hand, arm bent at the elbow, fingers closed in a fist. "What can I do now, and how far more do I have to go. I want to face people stronger than me so that I can learn even more. I-"

She suddenly cuts herself off, violet eyes blinking as if realizing just how much she was talking, arm lowered to her side again, "Sorry, I..." She bows her head briefly. "I guess I got carried away. I apologize if those reasons sound silly, but... it is the truth."

For the majority of Athena's eagerly forthcoming response, Kain just listens. Patiently. Attentively. The statuesque gentleman makes every attempt to brush her hand with a chaste peck in one graceful catch-and-release during that initial introduction and acceptance of the unexpected company, and his observational politesse is broken briefly by her fervent defense of Ken. "Fallaces sunt rerum species, quibus credidimus." He offers in Latin, before clarifying less poetically, "The appearance of things is deceptive; yet we place our trust in it."

It's a very eloquent way of implying that most people are idiots who don't often think beyond what appears to be in front of their faces, in short. Heinlein was already keenly aware that her fight with Masters was not the domination of a beast over a daydreamer-- simply evidence of how sharply and suddenly the rapid currents shift on fighters of their calibre. Athena's adversary was swept away before she was crushed beneath the volatile currents she rode to victory; all of which only makes it more, rather than less impressive to Kain.

A nod encourages her honesty, that forthcoming candour-- it's exactly the kind of insight Heinlein was hoping to glean, several times over. "You brought them into a crucible." Kain observes, once she's finished, rising smoothly and pacing a few steps around her, clearly in no need of the offered apology as it passes utterly ignored in favor of pursuing the line of conversation. "But the struggle towards real self-determination, true understanding of one's own purpose, is not a predictable or comfortable path. In the end it is the will and strength of a soul that determines the impact of any opportunity."

Some circumstances may be easier to grow from, easier to fall from, but always there is another step to take. "Failure is only a failing if it leads to descent; the loss of will and self. All the world's finest blades were once disparate, weak elements, broken down to their most malleable and reforged with purpose into instruments of great impact. So it is with people-- though there is no perfect science to whether the striving will break one inexorably or reforge them into a finely tempered version of their... previous flaws and merits." This seems to momentarily sadden Kain, to some degree, though the flicker of sympathy is nothing if not brief, a ghosting image of a more perfect world; at least in his own mind's eye.

"Few who truly strive avoid utter failure." Heinlein intimates, his own sharing of what he considers a deep secret; even if his own disclosures are substantially less personal than Asamiya's. "Focus on your own struggles and improvement is wise-- while most of your friends' is their own purview, you will only be able to truly help them as your best self." Particularly with the kind of threats she could face-- the tumult of destiny he senses around Athena. Some interpret destiny as a mandate for greatness, but Kain has learned that these nexuses swirl around a spirit far more often than greatness is truly made manifest-- it's a responsibility that few engage, let alone survive engaging.

"Forgive me;" Kain echoes out of politeness more than any sincere regret. "Such threads of philosophy do get me thinking. If you wish to test your strength, I believe I can accomodate that also." There's no hint of intimidation in the offer, no sign of awe. No indication that putting himself forward as a might stronger than her own to test and learn from is any sort of overconfident facade, even with the arrogant certitude therein.

Whenever Kain speaks, he has her rapt attention. Before him is a girl surrounded by so many people yet always hurting for company, to be engaged in meaningful dialogue, to be heard and also spoken to in earnest. Her own sensei is perpetually lost to a haze of alcohol, his insights only surfacing periodically, his guidance offered in the fleeting hours of his waning cognition. Even the relationships with her closest friends blur the line between adoration and worship and for all her outward indicators to the contrary, she is not so oblivious to their obsessions. In any group, her presence is larger than life, impossible to ignore.

He would have noticed it from the very first fight in the famous Howard Arena - that subconscious tug on the minds and emotions of the audience, that feedback loop of mass empathy funneled through the singular, extraordinary individual at the center of it all. Even if her fight performance was less successful than it had been, they still would have been drawn to her. Maybe it is in hoping to prevent the danger she could represent if the wrong path was followed that Master Gentsai took the orphan in in the first place. There is a power there and while Heinlein might rise above it, in such close proximity, the chi seer would undoubtedly see it.

How rare it must be then for her to stand in the presence one both immune to her subconscious influence while also not intimidated by the unusual youth. Is it any wonder she bears her soul to the first person who seems like he will listen?

She nods slightly at the mention of the crucible she brought her three teammates into. This tournament was to be a an anvil for them, a place to test, to strive, to experience victory, and, most likely, to taste defeat. It is within the forge of adversity that she had hoped that their problems, their dross would be consumed, leaving them purified to focus on solving their struggles. It was the best she could think of - the intent is there, even if the experience to truly see it through is understandably lacking. Maybe they have not been tested /enough/?

He steps forward and she pivots on her foot to keep him in sight, not out of any overt wariness, simply out of interest of observing the European aristocrat. He assures her that in the end, the individual is responsible for their improvement - the burden does not rest on her to carry them on her shoulders toward the summit of success.

He speaks of the forging of blades with the comfort of someone who has clearly given such things much thought and Athena's eyes flick to the side as she digests the comparison. When he speaks of how hard it is to avoid failure in the end, her attention snaps back to him - a setback is an opportunity, not an end, unless one allows it to be. He's right, she thinks - her own life is turmoil, stress of being pulled in countless directions, pressure to excel in the harsh academic halls of Justice High, expected to spend the rest of her available time honing her combat skills. How can she help others until she has achieved an equilibrium with her own hopes, interests, and desires?

Like she had, he expresses apology, which she acknowledges with a quick smile and equally brief shake of her head. Her left hand slips her phone into her pocket idly, "Thank you," she expresses, her right hand lifting to rest lightly at the base of her neck. "For sharing those thoughts." There is a lot to consider, much to weigh. Even if the tournament is not the perfect salve for her friends' aches she had hoped, it is still an opportunity and one she must pursue to the end no matter what. "It has put to rest some of the specters of thought that have kept me awake through the night lately."

Her eyes flick to the side, a stray side thought weighed. This man - his appearance suggests youth yet his wisdom betrays the experiences of someone who has lived a life refined by trial, by challenges not shirked. Her own sensei is a shriveled ball of a man who finds endless refuge in his jugs of sake. There is wisdom to be found in him, hidden beneath the crust of age and self-neglect. But the well dressed gentleman before her now is a beacon of insight unweathered and unruined by the ravages of time.

And the offer is made. He would feel the sudden anxiousness blended with excitement that settles in as she realizes what he means. Like so many events throughout the King of Fighters tournament, this is a first - an offer of an impromptu fight - an /offer/, not a demand. Throughout her life, the only times she had plied her growing strength had been in training sessions at home, sanctioned, scheduled public battles, and the few occasions where she found herself under attack by threats who either targeted her specifically or something worth protecting.

Master Gentsai would have scolded her for engaging in a random, unsanctioned fight just on a whim. Her power, her gift is too special to be squandered on such selfish desires. No, he had always insisted that either she train under his direction or challenge herself in the sanctioned arena of the sport of fighting. Her gift was not to be utilized frivolously.

The immediate glow in her expression, her mouth disclosing that Kain's offer is granting a long held desire of hers, would be immediately obvious. "You mean..." She glances around at the wide open tile courtyard. No one is around. Her own teammates are asleep. "Here?" she sounds hopeful. "Now?" The questions are not meant to dissuade but merely confirm. How strong is this man? He has clearly seen her battles, yet he offers the chance for her to challenge herself? To test her strength, to find her current limits yet also see the potential that lies ahead? Who is he to make such an offer?

She doesn't dare question, heart racing with anticipation at the implied opportunity. "I mean, I- I would be honored, if so."

On the streets of Southtown, frequently one must fight to defend themselves, or their belongings, or their kindred. Sometimes, one fights simply because there's a fight to be fought. It's a dog eat dog ladder of strength and force of personality: both of which are merits of his nature that Heinlein is eminently confident in. In many ways, their upbringings couldn't be more different. Only a handful of years appear to separate the two warriors, it is indeed a lifetime's gulf of experience-- though Heinlein does a remarkable job of emulating culture, projecting class despite not being born to it.

One could easily guess his family to be old money, the statuesque blonde to have been born to the nobility he exudes. His rough edges have been honed to razor sharpness, all grime and struggle polished from his exterior into a deceptive, mirrored finish. He's been intimidated by the fiercest, manipulated by the most sensuous; Athena's magnetism is remarkable, yes, but rather than swaying his course it's merely tangible in the radius of his own poles. An interplay of force of personality reacting chaotically with its counterpart-- a similar yet altogether different sensation to another Athena already experienced in Venice.

Kain's emotional center is no more mutable than a black hole, however-- its inexorable gravity tangible, incredible, distinctly its own. He hears the song she sings, the melody of the city and its inhabitants more clearly than most-- but his own intrinsic chorus does not alter its rhythmic march to suit that of any other drummer. "When else is there?" His own sensei was a beast of purest violence, a warrior by every definition. A man who taught him that at any moment death could come for him, that to truly direct his destiny meant vigilance and might. A man in decline not because his mind had dulled, though from a certain perspect Grant's vices had, indeed, consumed him-- but because every dark ritual has its price, and even the strongest bodies their eventual, theoretical limits.

Neither anxious nor particularly excited to test himself against Asamiya, as welcome as the chance to see her perform up close may be, Kain simply unbuttons his jacket and takes an almost leisurely, sidelong stance, tucking his right hand into his far pocket, the fingers of the left slowly flexing and releasing, stretching out his joints-- in actuality, focusing that tremendous conduit of power running through him, as crimson eyes intently study Athena.

"The only real question is just how much of a challenge you warrant." Heinlein notes with no trace of baiting or sarcasm; it's matter of fact. Honesty, if a strange sort of reward for the psionic prodigy's own frankness. Not only is this man confident facing her as an equal, rather than a starstruck fan or intimidated lesser fighter... he seems to think himself capable of scaling just -how- fiercely to test -her- abilities.

It's possible he's the most deluded, overconfident fool in Italy-- but Athena's senses are potent, and nothing seems to suggest that conclusion. The man's aura swells with the subtlest beckoning, white-cored, nearly black flame crackling effortlessly to life in that grasping left as he smiles a slight, wry smile towards the girl beside him.

"Don't be blinded by the cheers, fooled by the cameras-- a fight like yours, like mine, is a lifestyle, not an event. How ready for the crucibles still ahead -are- you, Athena Asamiya? What will you sacrifice in those wars?" Heinlein speaks it like musing wonderment-- keenly aware of the elements of tragedy he implies, but comfortable with that reality. Some might call him cynical; Kain would say he simply sees the world as it is, and adjusts his goals and expectations to suit its darkness.

COMBATSYS: Kain has started a fight here on the right meter side.

                                  >  //////////////////////////////]
                                  |-------\-------\0             Kain

COMBATSYS: Athena has joined the fight here.

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

While Athena never outright denies her place of residence, she hardly embraces it, or even seems to reflect it. After a long day of school, negotiating through crowds of Southtown's most wealthy elite, it is back to Chinatown she travels, where she dwells alongside Chin, Kensou, and Bao in a low-rent district run down apartment overlooking a smelly fish market. Never quite ashamed of her place of residence, she also doesn't tend to reflect it in her appearance, demeanor, and confidence. Perhaps with her growing momentum in the world of sports fighting, she can finally make a push for her strange family to move to something better.

His answer is profound as it is simple - when else, indeed - and her exuberance at the potential for a dream fulfilled is easy enough to read. But while she bristles with excitement, she maintains a respectful poise as well. She may not know who this man his or from whence he hails, but she knows she is in the presence of one of the great ones. The buzzing that had occupied her thoughts at first has waned, driven back now by the growing strength of will bubbling to the surface.

Athena stands up straight, her palms pressed together as she bows her head forward - respectful token of appreciation used often with Master Gentsai back when the old man was more inclined to test her growth personally. As she lifts her head from the brief nod, there is a release of tension, the surrendering to an inner conflict that is always keeping the churning fount of psychic potential in her soul contained, restrained, and suppressed.

Now it is released, accessible, and the shockwave of sudden presence radiates out from around her. Not a stray pebble is disturbed as the unseen force expands around the young fighter, but it is most definitely felt. Those in the adjacent hotel that have not quite settled down for the night would pause, thinking to have heard something. The scavenger half a block away freezes, looking up and around him, a paranoid sense of being accompanied by some other presence impossible to shake.

Athena Asamiya slides one foot forward, raising her hands - in a world full of so many elaborate fighting styles, her stance is surprisingly simple and straight forward, a basic Kung Fu state of readiness that is flexible and while also being non-committal enough in any specific direction to allow swift response.

He would see the enthusiasm - her arms just shy of trembling as adrenaline courses through her. Rather than shirk the anticipated difficult ahead, she seems only empowered by it. "I hope that I warrant enough to be worth it," she answers with a mixture of humility and light teasing, "I don't think they're paying me enough to compensate for any damage done to that coat of yours."

Energy comes to life in his hand - not the short but potent bursts she's often witnessed in fights, but rather a steady, calm controlled effusion of flame that appears to drain nothing from its creator. Her eyes flick from his hand to his face, her giddy smile melting away as she becomes more focused by the moment. She's ready for this.

His next words contain advice, caution, and warning all at once. The limelight... it can be deceptive. Even fools have stumbled their way into fame with the right timing and situational luck. That does not make them successful. The battle to the top is not won by such happenchance, but rather fought over a lifetime. In a sentence, he speaks to her own struggles, tests, doubts and hopes.

He asks the questions - they could be rhetorical, merely designed to make her thing, to wonder. "Sometimes, I feel like I have prepared for anything, but trials continue to come that I had never imagined." She closes her forward right hand into a fist, holding her arm out straight. "But I weathered them all the same." I will not be broken, she tells herself. But words like that are pointless to utter out loud - actions are all that matter now. Just in looking at him, she can tell he knows quite well the difference between self-assured words and the actual demonstration of grit.

Pulling her right hand back as if preparing to strike, bent at the elbow, she extends her left hand, palm forward, ready for deflection. The rest of the world slowly fades from her awareness - it is just the man who introduced himself as Kain and herself. He is one of the more inscrutable she has faced. Even the legendary shinobi took a while before he could finally withhold every ounce of intent or emotion from her intense study. But even though she can't form that empathetic link that usually comes so easily, she can still feel the surface level energies at play, read the confidence and self-awareness possessed.

She bolts forward, the sound of her shoes clacking against the ancient tilework upon which they stand, illuminated only by the floodlight surrounding the beautiful basilica and ambient city lights. She moves with aggression, arms out behind her, only to slide to an early stop - the distance is perfected, close enough to make reacting exceptionally challenging, yet far enough to make retaliation potentially risky. Arms sweep from behind, Psycho Power already surging down their lengths, energy that has been begging to be put to use the moment the offer to test herself was made.

Before the cameras, the signature technique's name is regularly called out, but it is playing to the crowd. Here, the only warning will be the split second left to respond as the rose hued sphere of psychic assault rockets across the two meters separating them!

COMBATSYS: Kain instinctively blocks Athena's Psycho Ball.

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Athena           0/-------/-----==|-------\-------\0             Kain

It's a dark mirror to Athena's psychic aura, the maelstrom of chi that's centered on Kain as he gets down to business, allows that cosmic fire within-- or perhaps from somewhere far, far away-- to pour out. Not only does the energy at his fingertips not wink out in short order, the power suffuses him, his aura projected into the visible spectrum as flame. Fires that burn somehow brilliant, blindingly white-hot and unfathomably, impenetrably darkly black. Is it heat coming off the impeccably attired German, or skin-searing chill? At the end of the day, for functional purposes, it matters little in any but the strange and spiritual senses.

The flame neither burns nor chills Heinlein himself, even as it courses up his shoulders, consumes his head and hair, crowns him with its enigmatic glow. He stands at ease still, even smiles in understanding as her fighting spirit is once more unveiled; as though seeing it up close, or perhaps due to the connection she forges, delving deeply into the cosmos of chi in the dark confines of Kain's heart, quietly reveals some truth of Asamiya, herself.

They say it's like a fingerprint, and there's no room to doubt Heinlein feels her draw on that power, senses it connect to his own; he doesn't bother to hide it, nodding approval once with a pensive curiousity on his face; a knowing gleam in his crimson eyes. As the exchange unfolds the initial surge of chi around him is drawn inward, though the leisurely stance remains stable and assured even as Athena closes that distance between them.

"Everyone who strives surmounts the previously insurmountable until the day they cannot, Ms. Asamiya." Heinlein observes in smoothly dulcet tones that bely the power being wielded in this space, at this moment in time. "On those days one can only be lucky enough to walk away-- and so it behooves us to keep them.... "

The eruption of psychic energy is handled mid-sentence, swept aside in that waiting left palm as if to test its sting. For a moment, hand and orb collide, transfixed in a moment of struggle before the psionic energy shatters around the deflection, its sting tasted, tested-- but simultaneously not truly felt. "... few and far between. Do not hesitate to stretch your legs; I have other suits." Not that Athena seems to need the encouragement. It's there nonetheless.

In the same instants that the Psycho Ball is torn aside, Kain's right hand leaves his pocket, the royal blue glove drawing a swift arc from concealment near his waist forwards and upwards. It might have been an uppercut, were he not stepping back as he draws the motion-- were that arc not wreathed in fire, a crescent drawn along the path even as a sudden surge of dark chi riples forth from one brilliant point, twin plumes of black flame corkscrewing about one another on a ravenous path towards Athena, their intensity such that the air behind them, the space surrounding their launch, both burn eerily for several lingering moments.

The blast quite intentionally projects Kain in turn, sending him a short distance back in a graceful, somewhat uncanny glide. "It's one thing to test yourself, to fight to improve. For your friends. If all of that falls away, why then would you fight?" The tone remains remarkably calm, borderline affable, despite the potentially difficult subject matter coupled with painful circumstances. "What would you do with all your power, if the future were yours to write?"

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Kain's Schwarze Flamme.

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

How can a flame burn black? Until seeing the phenomenon for herself, she wouldn't have imagined it could. Not only does he sustain it without seemingly no effort, the flames are stoked, growing more darkly brilliant by the moment. The power that would consume her presents no threat to him that wields it - how long, she wonders, did it take to master such an art? Never before has she seen fire both illuminate yet also cast shadow as it flickers with its unnatural hues. Under different circumstances, she would like to have simply observed it longer - for now, she needs to contest it with all her will.

Her projectile is launched. Even though the forward momentum of her lean and the crossing of her arms to propel it lends itself to a bowing of the head, she has already learned the perils of even an instant of losing sight of her opponent. As such, her violet eyes are still focused on Kain even as his left hand moves to intersect her attack.

His words of warning echo cautions issued by Master Gentsai - not every fight is a sport, and not opponent can be defeated in combat. How tragic it would be for such promise to be cut short, to be lost to the world before its potential to be discovered? Someday she might face another stronger than her, and it might not be by way of cordial invitation either. After having her eyes opened to what nightmares can exist when facing the trice-damned Zappa, she realized how perilous even a sanctioned fight can actually be.

As his fight hand is drawn, the dark glow of vibrant, free energy glimmers against the ground. The night air has become heavy with moisture from off the ocean and in places damp sections of tile shimmer with a reflection of that impossible flame.

One minute ago, it was cool. While she had not bothered to bring a jacket, expecting her journey to be a brief jaunt through the courtyard, an event of no particular import, right now the need for protection against the chill is the farthest thing from her mind.

It happens so fast, her arms still crossed, fingers open, having just barely launched her signature technique an instant ago, and then she is forced on the defensive. Drawing back, shifting her arms up over her face, she braces, the blast crashing over her, pushing her backward. Chi ripples around her, lingering in the air, singing the tips of her long hair - almost black in the night, though those who have seen it by day will invariably notice its dark violet hue.

The threat of his power is abundantly clear, her own aura struggling to ward off the shaped energy dissipating around her. He backs off calmly, forced to reposition by virtue of his own attack. Gritting her teeth, Athena lowers her forearms, no longer having to flex her struggling aura against the painful assault.

His question is easily heard across the distance - the acoustics of the courtyard are something else, and even if they weren't, something tells Athena his voice would carry easily all the same. The slight furrow in her brow betrays concentration, an attempt to think through what he just asked. What would she want history to say of her, if it was up to her to decide?

"I would..." She pauses, correcting, "-will be a champion to those in need. I will make a difference - to fight against the flawed darkness of tyrants and to lift the hearts of the downtrodden." She pivots on her foot, right foot slipping forward, left foot back as she raises her hands again. "It might not sound fair to say, but... it is clear to me that not everyone has the same strength, potential, or power." Her own gift is proof enough of that - it was obvious to her from the time she can remember that she was different than all the rest.

She blinks, closing her eyes for a moment, the glow of his presence lingering in her mind's eye all the same. "The burden is on those who can to shape this world for the better. And, when possible, help others achieve their own potential, discover their path, to help them find their way to contribute in their own, unique way."

She smiles faintly, a wistful expression, eyes open again. "That is what I can do. Growing strong, not just in body but spirit and mind as well, will put me in the position to accomplish just that. I don't know exactly how yet, but I will find the way."

She glances away for a moment, her ties to the man lapsing as her thoughts drift down dangerous paths. "I know they are out there - the tyrants. I must be strong enough." It was the enigmatic Rose who warned her of the anathema called Vega. What other monsters are lurking around the globe? If her gifts aren't for standing against them, then what are they fore? "Someday I believe I will find myself face to face with them. I must be ready."

Eyes snap up, body tensing, the link restored. "I will not let this opportunity go to waste!"

And then she bolts. There is nothing slow about Asamiya's offense, the girl taking to the air this time, a short but steep leap upward, body arched back, arms over her head... until she reaches the apex - Kain has seen it before, she's relied on this bold, almost reckless aggression in all of her fights, her body wreathed in Psycho Power as she dives down at an awkwardly steep angle. The teenaged psychic missile attempts to crash right through Heinlein's defenses, barreling into him with force of will moreso than physical strength.

And unless prevented, she'll slide out into a handspring kick as well, right leg leading, all of her body's muscles and forward momentum coordinated into the singular strike, her black and white floral skirt flaring, her black opaque tights covering the fit legs that aim to knock the platinum blonde back some ways!

COMBATSYS: Kain dodges Athena's Phoenix Arrow.

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

It's next to impossible to say if Athena's answer satisfies Kain or not. He takes it in without initial comment or protest-- but with a distinct lack of surprise. What -does- impress him is the weathering of the flames he summoned forth, a test of her defenses as apt as her blast was of his own. She's back in motion in an instant, and indeed-- this technique is one he's seen performed, live and on video. It's a punishing strike, to be sure, deriving no small part of its potency from that flare of psionic might.

"And how do you recognize the downtrodden, the oppressed in need of Athena Asamiya to win their battles for them?" Heinlein inquires, that same chi-fueled, almost preternatural glide carrying him aside as Athena careens full bore into the space he previously occupied, her psychic shockwave reverberating through the distance between them. "Separate those from the ones which will be weakened by the removal of the necessity, the law of nature that says they find the strength to fight their own battles; win or lose?"

Kain comes to a stop a breath later, on Athena's flank, hands stretching forward towards her, "Which evil souls will step into the shoes of the tyrants you dethrone, come to their power and their warcrimes thanks to the righteousness of Athena Asamiya?" Any other man would be clearly mocking her. Deriding her for what would be perceived as obvious childishness; naivete.

It's true that Kain does not approve of the magnum opus that Athena proposes her life should become, beacon of well-intentioned right and honor or not-- that much becomes abundantly evident. Kain, however, poses the hypotheticals with cool rationale: the world's history is a tale of well-intentioned extremists fighting for right or the greater good. Funny how no one seems to remember it that way.

The space between Asamiya and Heinlein is lit, suddenly filled with a gout of blackened starfire, erupting from Kain's fingertips as his hands rake to his sides. The next moment sees him propelled through that space much like Athena had been a moment before: though his trajectory is horizontal, more or less, it's a fiercely angled, ragged edge of white-cored, purple and black-edged chi that forms the breaking wave which Kain rides, as if shoving the blast along with one shoulder; or perhaps more accurately, riding its alarming intensity forward in the wake of a rocket of his own design.

Should he collide with Asamiya, catch her in that conflagration, she'll be shorn by fire and exploded clear of the volatile firestorm focused on her long before she comes into meaningful contact with the wielder of that cosmic hellfire.

"You cannot fight for the freedom of a generalized other, it cannot be given. Neither can purpose-- and most people don't want either. True freedom takes sacrifice, it takes pain. Instead they'd like a comfortable picture of who's higher or lower in society than they. A selection of networks tailored to reinforce the worldview they already hold. The only freedom the average man wants is the freedom to be comfortable. He doesn't care how, or who's sacrificed a half world away to protect that freedom; he doesn't sweat the statistics, nor crave any test of will. Or will you finally save man from himself? /We/ are the monsters, Ms. Asamiya." One day, perhaps a bright-eyed crusader will strike her down. Should she live long enough to see heroes rise against her violent, important actions.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Athena with Schwarze Panzer.

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

Her transition from plummeting descent into controlled, sliding handstand kick is executed with flawless grace - this is clearly a technique she has executed hundreds of time in her training to be able to execute so precisely. Her feet sweep through space just then vacated by her elusive target before dipping down to crack against the tiles, the girl finally sliding to a controlled stop. Even in the midst of such a daunting, acrobatic technique, his words ring through, his question hanging in the air.

Just how WOULD she figure out who is worth helping? Who is she to even judge that? Shouldn't she give everyone a chance? Even her most idyllic impressions know full well /that/ is impossible. It is a conundrum for which no easy answer exists. Whirling up to standing, she's facing him again, speaking the first words that come to her mind. "I would test them." What other choice is there? She had never thought about it that way, but presented with the questions he posed, what other choice is there?

Arms forward, bent at the elbows, she glances to the side as he speaks of other tyrants appearing to fill the vacuum - the cycle of history, the ever turning wheel of human nature. She has seen the pattern enough in her school studies. "Even still, something has to be done..." she protests, though her tone wavers between stubborn and shaken, eyes snapping back to the mysterious European. He seems a person of means... but Athena's adventures have put her in the company of those born into wealth, those who have known only ease since their youth. This man did not seem like them in the slightest.

She is not caught off guard by his next move, right foot slipping forward as the air around Heinlein begins to burn. She already has a plan in mind - a chance to perhaps catch him off guard, to circumnavigate his next attack and blindside him. His hands move, giving direction to the swath of violet power, the courtyard alive with the dancing of shadows and purple light.

Only when his attack vector launches her direction does she move, anticipating that he will pass into her space. Arms come up, feet press back, and then she's gone. It isn't just moving fast - he would see through that. She has relocated in an instant, a flickering after image caught up in the inferno of dark tidings only to fade. The problem is that where she appears, two meters back from where she had been standing, is also squarely within the path of the firestorm Kain moves along with. What had started as a plan to translocate and immediately counter attack before he could recover goes horribly awry as she finds herself consumed by the cold fusion of precision controlled flames.

Like any person, the only defense against that energy once it has gotten past a preliminary guard is a pure exercise of aura, the body's resistance to combat energies. And that is where a struggle comes into place - other psions know it quite well, their vulnerability to the primal forces many fighters can bring to bear. It is as a price for psychic potential, an exchange for such a gift, to bear stunted development on that front, as if the two energies at play possess innate incompatibility.

The swath of dark flame completely obscures the young fighter as it consumes the air around her, robbing her even air to cry out in surprised pain. She fights back against it even as it knocks her to her back, the girl sliding along the tiles for three meters before coming to a stop, somewhat curled into a defensive ball in a bid to concentrate her own aura in extinguishing the flames as immediately as possible.

In the end, it's enough, the last of the fire clinging to her finally flickering out. Wincing, she moves, worried at first about a potential counter attack, scrambling to her feet in time to notice that she's got a brief reprieve to collect herself as Kain continues right where he had left off as if nothing extraordinary had taken place. The girl is panting back, eyes widened, body still sensitive to the rush of painful sensations she just went through. Evidence of her aura's battle against the flame is evident in that her extremities suffered more than her core, with reddened forearms and scorched holes in her tights along her shins.

Having had a taste of what that power is he wields so casually, she knows she /must/ avoid it going forward. But even as she thinks through the necessity for action, she finds his words sinking in just as before, giving her time to catch her breath and hear him out. His sentiments are cynical, citing that most will content themselves with idle ease over anything that takes effort or drive to pursue. She averts her eyes again, clearly trying to process the idea - it does make sense... the freedom most precious is that which is fought for in blood, for which sacrifices have been paid. Without that... is it even deserved? She closes her eyes, shaking her head, fighting back against the train of thought.

She doesn't interrupt even if she feels she must protest the idea, only for his closing statement to shock her right back into silence, violet eyes blinking as if she's just been stunned. "I-" she tries to respond. He calls them monsters - not just himself, but her as well. Is that what it means to be powerful? To be a monster in the eyes of others? She averts her eyes again - what of the students at school? She has sensed their jealousy, their fear. Many are polite to her on the surface but are unable to hide the resentment for her successes felt beneath. Do they think she's a monster?

The very thought sends chills down her spine and leaves her in stunned silence even as the last trace of lingering smoke drifts off of her left shoulder. Sucking in her breath, she regains her composure quickly, not wanting to come across like an addled girl faced with the horrors of the real world. "Maybe... maybe not everyone can be helped," she admits, "Maybe not everyone CAN be helped..." If people have the freedom to be indifferent already, they hardly need her to sacrifice sweet, blood, and tears on their behalf after all.

"But there has to be some." Still mentally reeling at the idea of being called a monster - he so casually identified himself a such, just who IS this man - she sucks in another breath, trying to steel her own resolve. She returns to her ready stance, arms raised, left hand forward, right hand bent, right foot forward. IT helps her focus, helps her regain her concetration, just as she was taught.

"I have to be able to make a difference. I know I can."

With her left foot, she pushes off, returning to the offense. He gave her time to catch her breath, not to take a nap, she would be lax to not take the moment to attack. It is into the air she travels again, another leap, another ascent into the cloudy sky. It's time to try something Kain /hasn't/ seen before, though at first glance it would seem that she's trying the same attack again.

Flipping forward, she tucks into a ball just like before, and just like before she drives out of the sky toward him, shrouded in Psycho Power - only it is but a projection that plummets for Kain then made of pure Psycho Power. "AAAAH!" And then a second, then a third like it, each of them attempting to crush through his defenses. A fourth falls as well. Finally, from the apex of her leap, Athena finally dives just like before, intending to plow through his hopefully fractured guard!

Unless prevented, she would slide to a stop some meters along the tiles, only briefly vulnerable while trying to recover.

COMBATSYS: Kain just-defends Athena's Phoenix Fang Arrow EX!

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

It's a quandary-- Kain makes no pretense of offering easy answers, if he even thinks there are any, anywhere. "Something's always been done." Heinlein observes, somewhat sympathetically. "Simply seldom with enough clarity or wisdom; any purity of purpose. It feeds itself, emotional gratification, praise. Hero worship." This draws a knowing smile, a nod to Athena. She's seen the same things he has, but more closely-- while this can distort vision, it's something he believes Asamiya can see, today. "Each victory making you feel more righteous-- your crusade more zealous." Everyone knows what Santayana says about zealotry.

The psychic might Asamiya brings to bear has more of his attention than the calm conversation might let on-- there's no lack of respect for her potential, the ability she has to /hurt/ him if Kain's defenses falter even a moment. It's that keen understanding, an intuitive and unusual grasp of this new opponent and her capacity, that gives him the opportunity to make the show of it that he does. The projections of psionic punishment crashing down from on high do not delude him into careless action-- he looks through them, locked on Athena's show of uncanny alacrity, on the girl herself, despite the sustained force.

That force he deals with in several steps, much as it comes in: The first is subsumed with a sweep of a flame-shrouded arm, the projecting imploding onto a single brilliant point, a flicker of all its potential energy dissipating into an inexorable black hole, consumed by that dark fire; drawn into himself nearly as instinctively as the celestial energy courses through his being. The duo following accomplish little more-- each projection leads Kain to a pre-emptive backstep, giving himself more room to skillfully defend against the impact, and after three such steps, three projections of Athena have fueled his fire instead of quenching it, leaving the crimson-eyed man unhurt, eyes still locked on Athena as she descends.

This time, it's a crossed guard shrouded in a wreath of darkfire that meets her rather than the dissipating sweep of one arm or another, Kain's feet momentarily leaving the ground as he's driven-- or projects /himself/ with unnerving ease-- around the shockwave, its force once more not dissipating... but consumed, at least in part. Lost to the vast spiritual expanses within Heinlein's potent reserves.

"In the end, being able to make a difference is not impressive. It's the capacity to make the right kind of difference. Man may be the true monsters-- but in those like us is the capacity to do great and terrible things beyond even the heinous norms of civilization." Something it's clear Heinlein holds some disgust over. In the end, her conclusion that he was isolating her and himself from mankind's horrors as a whole turns out to be both wrong and right. Paradox is a fact of life.

"You cannot eradicate vice, break a yoke that brings the masses comfort and ease. You are half-right: encourage those who can to break their tethers. But the power-mad must be supplanted by the powerful, not simply toppled. All elements of human nature must be understood to be controlled; evolved." His footing mirrors hers, from those several meters distant, fine Italian leather coming down on the cobblestones as he twists to face her sidelong once more.

"The masses idolize the worst and most self-serving in themselves in a culture of personal celebrity. They fear the truly great among them, hate what that light exposes in themselves. They elevate opportunists who prey on fears and prejudices, who tell them it's all someone else's fault. No, Ms. Asamiya, the answer is not to liberate the self-serving masses...." Kain charges her in several suddenly sprinting footfalls, sliding gracefully into the final turn, a forceful readjustment of his momentum that brings his right elbow whipping about, level with Athena's temple as he closes the last span of distance between them, breathes out, "They must be /led/."

Removing the tyrants, the self-serving maniacs, is scarcely enough. The chaotic, painful ladder of personal growth can never replace the institutions, the ease that people so long for.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Athena with Medium Punch.

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

The ambitious attack leaves Asamiya blind in the visual sense as to what is playing out below her. She has her target, she has her resolve, but once she commits to execution, actually seeing what is going on is significantly harder to do. There are trade offs to such intricate acrobatic airborne approaches. But vision has never been absolutely essential for her to understand what is playing out around her.

She knows her projections are not striking home - there would be enough of a connection to be absolutely certain of that. Yet she also knows that he continues to be in the path of each of her falling Psycho Power bombs - her acuity even allowing her to slightly correct her aim for the later attempts and her own, personal, final descent.

When she plunges from the sky into Heinlein's defenses, the truth of it becomes more clear. Her energy was not merely guarded against, it was eradicated, unmade. It is not entirely unlike the painful, crushing gravity well she found herself assaulted by in her bout against the Master Shinobi. The difference, without a doubt, is the ease with which it is executed.

Siding to a stop against the moist tiles, she pushes back up to standing, whirling around, guard already raised. She has thrown some of her strongest techniques at him only for him to brush them aside, avoid them, and absorb them. Even falling back on something she was confident he would not have seen before failed to get through. And all the while, he speaks, his voice maintaining the calm undercurrents of a man engaging in thought provoking, idle conversation. Her own energies have faded though not vanished, slipping back into reserve rather than being actively projected.

Her idealistic hope is dashed against the cold bulwark of reality, the girl still reeling at being included among the number of monsters this man considers himself to be a part of. He weaves a conclusion of inevitability, a philosophy convincing as it is foreign to her way of thinking. It is a perspective unlike any she had ever heard. But it plants the seed of thought - toppling a tyrant then doing nothing simply leaves a hole to be filled by the next. They have to be /replaced/. The rush of accompanying thoughts is almost overwhelming, eyes flicking to the side for a moment as she wrestles with the profound implications.

With a handful of years of age on her, and a lifetime to study the flawed course of mankind, he is armed with a wealth of thoughts reinforced by experiences that have only confirmed them. She can feel the conviction is words - this is not some flimsy dogma a fairweather politician tosses out in pursuit of votes. Something tells her that he cares very little for the concept of popular elections all together.

He moves in with that same super human speed, a combination of elegant control and unstoppable power, to punctuate his point with a crushing, burning elbow and equally staggering conclusion.

She's fast - out of all the fighters in the world, she numbers among the quickest, her natural speed augmented by a gifted acumen for knowing what is about to come her way. But against the brilliant dark flame shaper she faces now, no insight is offered, no glimpse at what is to come, and it leaves her more flat footed than usual when she tries to escape the twist of his arm.

The crushing force to her temple sends a wave of dizziness over her as she slides meters to the side, nearly about to topple clean off her feet only to catch herself at the last second. Has she become too reliant on that insight? Has she leaned too heavily on her psychic gifts and not pushed her martial potential to the limit? Righting herself, she closes her eyes for a moment, an effort to avoid the dangerously spinning horizon her vision is presenting her with right now.

"Is that your path?" she asks back, eyes opening warily, glad to see things have stabilized slightly. It isn't a challenge but rather an acknowledgement of understanding. "You mean to lead, yes?" He has the strength to topple tyrants - already she has had her eyes opened to the room left to grow. To fight at his level, that must be her goal! Her arms are listed her stance regained, an attempt made to get her breaths back under control with the few seconds afforded to discourse. "I cannot deny your assessment of people." The admission comes slowly, reluctantly. The cynicism is not entirely without merit. To argue against it would be to sound the fool. "The world needs the right leaders. That's how it works. But..." She frowns slightly. "The system... doesn't play nice with those unwilling to abide by its traditions." Rules, mechanisms, legislations put into place to control the flow of power. To buck against such a wall of historical process, how can anyone hope to find a way past that?

There has to be a way through Kain's defenses, her mind considers, shifting focus for an instant. Elusiveness has not worked. But there is another option. She tenses. She found herself in this situation against Hayabusa and responded with crushing force - it's safe to assume she is trying the same thing now.

Another burst of speed, arms out behind her, Psycho Power flaring to life. She seems hellbent on charging straight for the master of the impossible flame. Three meters out, she leaps into a low orbit hop, arms swinging from behind to up over her head, the magnitude of energy exploding along her limbs, rippling her black blouse sleeves, unlike her previous attacks.


And then she's gone in a burst of rose hued sparkling energy. He would have only an instant to realize she's on his right, coming out of her hop from an angle intended to slip by his guard - if his right arm is the slightest bit slow in reacting, she just might get through.

A man-sized churning sphere of Psycho Power is brought down with crushing force as Asamiya attempts to overwhelm all concept of defense once and for all. If she connects, the attack would be sustained, more force of will poured into it, teeth grit, her own body pushed back slightly by the powers in play!

COMBATSYS: Kain blocks Athena's Round Psycho Reflector EX.

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

Miniaturized in Kain, or perhaps held somewhere beyond him, glimpsed through a conduit, are all the functions of sun and space. Energy is created and devoured in a multitude of stellar lights, the gravity of a billion divergent points tugging at a vast, chilling expanse of emptiness; sheer darkness and vacuum. It's into this human-scale cosmos that her psychic onslaught is lost-- not dissipated, not quite, but metabolized into an ecosystem at once part of this world, and entirely separate from it.

It's hard to see Kain's fighting style, the effectiveness it's had against Athena, as an indictment of the psychic's own course-- as integral as her psi-talent is to every move she makes, every defense she mounts, Kain's prodigious chi is as ingrained in his. It's a question of magnitude, as Asamiya correctly surmises-- the ease with which the energies he needs are summoned. The completeness to which that vast, dark power suffuses his very being. It is not a weapon to be wielded, this power, this unique bending of flame: it is part of Kain, as natural as breathing, honed and embraced as dearest passion, core to his nature... essential for his survival.

Every offense, every defense begins and ends with it, in one sense or another. Athena's resolution to avoid that impossible flame might be valid, even wise-- but it's thusly proven utterly unrealistic. The only way to evade its icy burn is to walk away from the fight; something Kain suspects is farther from Athena's repertoire than his own. "I will; I do." Kain agrees, admits, quite readily. Perhaps a touch proudly. "The corruption and selfishness inherent in so many power structures that have formed around the apathetic masses makes them vulnerable to subversion, repurposing." He's started with the grimiest of them all, in fact.

In the blink of an eye, she's in on him again, channeling as much power to that single point as he's felt from her. Heinlein makes the dangerous but daring choice -not- to give ground, this time, instead throwing himself fully against that rapidly forged orb of pulsating psychic might. It burns against his shoulder, stings as bits of it lash across his face, send Kain's luxurious mane fluttering violently backwards, its loose length tousled by the display.

Kain's own inner aura keeps him from being consumed, keeps the lashing energies dammed against that braced arm, shoving back against it defiantly-- or perhaps in sheer abundance of scientific curiousity-- until the last of Asamiya's power is poured forth, driving him backwards. Several hard breaths come to Heinlein, catching up with the fight for perhaps the first time since it began-- a moral victory, if nothing else, for the diligent warrioress. "The crucibles to come will ignite or reveal the spirit to fight in many throughout this world-- draw in those watching from without." There's a distant quality to that awareness, the first moment of subtle awe... or perhaps wise wariness of those otherworldly forces.

"Those with the will to fight, and the strength to lead or strive, will only aid the dissolution of abusive authority around them; as I said, society resents greatness, does everything it can to snuff it out. Conversely, the great seldom feel any great love for the status quo. Tradition is just another word for what has grown familiar. I'll find the right people, help put them in the right places-- and the world can begin to be moved in a direction where the true strengths of mankind are what drives our future."

There's an edge to the plan, to be sure-- the dangers of extremism, of any drastic action. Where others might be narcissistic in their own role in the new order, rampant in their overreach, swearing to rule the world or destroy it-- Heinlein has a more realistic plan, an understanding of the limits of his own power. A staunch refusal to take on enough where his own will might be supplanted, unlike some. It might just make him more dangerous; but perhaps the right kind of dangerous.

Even as Athena exhausts more and more of her capacity to fight, Kain seems to be simply warming up, the moment of winding passing as his will to fight only recovers, rapidly, in the aftermath of the brutal exchange. Dark fires course into his grasp and color his eyes a darker violet than her own as the ceruleans and blacks mix with his blood-red gaze, an alarming crescendo of unseen power issues forth from the orchestra within him, his feet somehow lighter on the ground; the conduit between himself and Athena, that connection that always serves Asamiya so well, somehow also working against her, as if -he- could sense -her- intentions, her emotions, see into her spirit.

"The King of Fighters is only the beginning." It has the ring of a promise, not a threat. But then, the man himself seems threat enough, doesn't he?

COMBATSYS: Kain calculates his next move.

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


This time she can feel the contest. For as large as the orb of coursing energy may be, it is actively being compressed by the girl that created it, forcing an incredible amount of Psycho Power into such a targeted space. Left to explode out on its own, the effect would consume far more than the space of a single man, but then it would lose that potency that such compression creates, wouldn't it?

She continues to pour her will made manifest into the attack, no doubt in hopes that in the end, his defenses would crumble beneath the formidable attack. It isn't spite, it definitely isn't anger - it is teeth gritting resolve that sees the attack last as long as it does. But in the end, even that isn't enough. As if withstanding it to show that he could, it is only near the end of her ability to sustain such a vibrant burst of power that the two are separated, Athena staggering back a step herself, a desperate gasp of air taken in, followed by a second one. Her right arm lifts to wipe across her brow, taking with it a sheen of perspiration.

Even still, weighing heaviest on her mind is not the magnitude of power the man of such noble bearing has demonstrated... but rather the will of what he intends to do with it. He freely called himself a monster. Should she see him as such? The term suggests she should - monsters, a term applied to those society has cast out from their midst. But does every so-called monster deserve the rejection they get or is man to blame as well?

Her breaths are quick. It isn't faltering confidence that gives her pause - if anything, she's being shown the very thing she expressly wished for - but rather consideration of his abilities, his words, his presence. She knew tradition would not contain him. "Behind those traditions are laws, statues, entire government hierarchies." the girl replies, the statement almost meant more for herself. He would take a stand against all that? Right here and now, she believes the answer is an unambiguous 'Yes'. Is this what it is like to stand in the presence of one with the power to shape the world?

And does he truly see her as having the same potential?

"But these crucibles... how many would be lost," she continues, her voice softer now, mind awakening to the implications of how far Heinlein would go. She thinks of even her friends - what would have happened if any one of them had faced the wraith within Zappa at the arena? Would they have been able to keep her out? Are they strong enough for the future fights to come?

The buzzing in the back of her head goes strong again, her own psyche betraying challenged emotions to the one who can see so much through those crimson eyes. Clenching her right hand, she draws it back, left hand extended, palm open. She's still standing. She can still act. There is a divide to be tested, between him and her - she has had a taste of it thus far, but she must ultimately know better its full extent.

"But to do nothing... leaves the world as it is," she continues, her brow furrowed, her mind racked with the impossible conundrum - do nothing and keep the unacceptable status quo, or accept the need for change and embrace the costs that accompany it by necessity. "Have there never been leaders that could lift everyone up rather than only a few?" she asks, imploring for signs of another way forward. Shaking her head, she fixes Kain with her violet eyes. Her thoughts might betray her again as she bolts forward, another swift charge, feet sprinting over the damp tiles.

It is daring to try and get so close. This time there would be no projection, no barrier between him and her. This time, she would dare to reach for him, her smaller hand seeking to clutch his forearm. He has seen the technique before - a grip before she pivots her whole body into hurling her opponent over her head with the kind of force even powerfully built mountains of muscle would be impressed by.

Of course, her hand is simply a guide and a funnel for that powerful telekinetic pressure that might finally take Kain off his feet if for a moment!

COMBATSYS: Kain dodges Athena's Psychic Attack.

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

It's a sting that takes some moments to will from his limbs, for Kain to focus past-- but he is indeed determined, driven towards not one specific goal, but to a philosophy of existence. As he said, a way of life. "One thing at a time, Ms. Asamiya." Kain observes with a small smile. She quickly grasps the scope of the task proposed to create any lasting change-- but overestimates the urgency. "As I've said, elevating the masses is at best a chaotic undertaking. In coalitions of similarly minded, similarly driven individuals, perhaps the scope can expand-- but in the meantime we must content ourselves with walking the path ourselves, with pushing those around us to pursue their passions... attain their fullest potential." It's something he still strives for, despite his apparent acumen in that regard.

That extant expertise is demonstrated again as Asamiya seeks to lay a hand on Kain. That sadly, slightly smiling figure flickers and all but vanishes in the same instant her probing hand grasps towards him. A blurry afterimage of his stature wreathed in darkfire is there for her touch to intangibly pass through, the air itself carrying elements of Kain's chi from his passing. "How many die to maintain the status quo?" Heinlein inquires simply of the cost of his conflicts, his voice at first from around her, and then from her opposite flank, diametrically opposed to the side of her striking arm.

"How many chose that end? I should think for any warrior to fall after a hard-fought battle would be preferable to that. That those who would snuff such promise out deserve what they get." The blood on his hands outstrips his years, that is indeed certain; but his disgust for corruption and tyranny, for the apathy and dispassion of the masses, seems even more palpable. How indeed does one judge who is worthy, and who is not? Even as he speaks, he paces several strides farther around Athena, forcing her to adjust to follow him even past her initial instinct at his reappearance-- then he's upon her in a flash, like a jump scare horror monster indeed, seeking to wrap one hand imbued with viselike strength by the power he wields around her delicate throat.

Should his grip be found, Kain would squeeze tightly, painfully, he would lift Asamiya right up off her feet, and look her in the face as she struggles for just one moment longer, a bonfire of blue-black flame growing around her skull. "Would you not die in battle for your convictions?" Athena would then be hurled clear, launched in an eruption of stellar flame across the finely kept courtyard, back towards the ornate streetlamp he first appeared beneath.

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Kain's Schwarze Schleife.

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

"Please," she responds to his cordial mention of her name, "Athena is fine." The respect from one so refined has been enjoyed, but at the same time, she knows that she is in the presence of a master here, to expect him to continue using formalities for her when only his first name was offered is in poor taste, she decides. And little by little, it becomes clear. His path is not the wild-eyed, reckless ambition of a madman, but something far more dangerous... and far more alluring. He speaks of change that can be accomplished methodically - there would be chaos, no doubt, but chaos of his making and direction.

"Please forgive me for being so bold as to ask..." He speaks of pushing others to pursue their passions, to attain their fullest potential. "Is that what this is?" she asks, her breaths breaking up the cadence of her speech slightly, her mouth curled into an almost self-effacing smile. This was no chance encounter in the night, and the topic that hangs in the air between them is also no accidental meandering of idle philosophies.

She had sought to touch the dark sun with her fingers and instead is graced with another chilling brush with the burning intensity that wreaths his every move, her hand sweeping through space he no longer occupies, a pules of telekinetic power prepared then wasted felt as the girl's resources continue to be exhausted in pursuit of the man.

Whirling around, she gasps for breath again - running on fumes, perhaps, but no less determined to keep going all the same.

He is right though - all around the world, entire societies suffer, wither, and die - often unmourned, unremembered by the rest of the population of humanity. Is the status quo worth fighting for? Defending? She cannot argue the point and indeed, does not even begin to try. His path would put people's feet on the ground, forcing them to stand and fight, to determine their destiny by their own strength and will or... burn to ash upon the funeral pyre of the fallen warriors. Is that not better than to waste away in suffering, to amount to nothing, to see spirits crushed, lives lost under the march of so-called modern stability?

His voice comes from behind her and she whirls, hands raised to the defensive, bracing for impact. Then he is on the other side. She had shown him she had the power to translocate in an instant. Now she finds herself wondering if he possesses the same. Or is he that fast, that capable of moving clear through the blind spots of her mind? And she thought she could lay a hand on him.

She whirls again, keeping him in her sights. He could have attacked in this brief moments in-between, already he has proven faster than her ability to respond with that critical insight that has seen her through other battles.

And then on her last pivot toward his voice, he is already there, making good on the threat his speed implied. It would take only one hand to grip her neck - and indeed, he secures the hold he seeks. Her only saving grace is that she has wedged her left hand beneath his palm, giving her the slightest bit of leverage against him. It hardly seems enough as he lifts her with ease, that poignant question offered face to face where no room for lies or half-truths can be found.

She kicks, she struggles, her right hand tries to pry at his fingers to no avail. Finally, she uses what little leverage she has, her right hand slamming against her left forarm, the force just enough to create the slightest gap in his hold. It takes every iota of her body's strength to take advantage of the brief lapse in the crushing hold to escape just before she would be flung through the air.

Falling onto her feet before him, right hand going to her throat, faint traces of that dark flame clinging to her hair as she staggers back quickly. Violet eyes stay fixed on Kain - but even after all she's realized, all she's heard, it is not with revulsion she views him, but fascination. His philosophy of life, of how the world must change... its allure is addicting, convincing. Even when she tries to think of the dangerous ramifications of such a path, she finds herself challenged to fully appreciate their magnitude.

But the question remains. "Convictions not worth dying for..." She coughs once, lowering her hand from her neck, "...are not worthy of being called convictions. If that is what it took, if that was the only way... if I had done all I could and the last way forward was a final sacrifice." It's a powerful thought, challenged and on the spot, by the master of both chi and discourse.

And coupled with that thought is a surge of power, one final collection of psychic potential summoned to the surface by thoughts given form. Great spheres of dark violet erupt out of the ground around her feet as Asamiya plants herself solidly, arms down at her sides, fists clenched, teeth grit. "I would seal my last testament with my blood if necessary - only then could it never be taken from me, never denied!"

Currents whip violently around her, her own hair whipped about her neck as if she was standing in a windstorm of her own making.

It is from behind a bastion of immense power that she prepares - and the transition to offense happens in an instant. A quick raise of a hand, a compression of all that potential into a single pin point of surging, straining power, and then a swing, point, and launch through the air.

"That is how I would want to be remembered!"

And with that, it is with a cruise missile of Psycho Power that she attacks, as if failing all other attempts to reach him, this alone will serve as witness of her resolve.

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Kain with Shining Crystal Bit+.

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

There's a subtle inclination of his head to acknowledge the shift in address, offered in a beat between motions. The familiarity seems to matter little to Kain-- which name she wishes to be called is of small consequence by any measure except what it says of her own attitudes. The sentiments she feels in response to the things he says. "The tournament, or this fight, Athena?" Heinlein answers with a whisper of bemusement. In the end, it's likely he enigmatically connects the two for his own purposes than out of any actual confusion-- especially since the impact of an answer is quickly rendered meaningless; inconsequential...

"I know my own stake in each. By now, much about those motivations must be clear to you." More, truth be told, than he tends to share with new acquaintances; particularly the charming ones. From his life experience, her charisma and grace work against her, to a degree, even as they support and expand the potential of her strength-- much like his own. It also makes her more difficult to trust, simply out of respect for, understanding of the complexity of her own motivations-- and potential wiles.

Most would say Asamiya is a terrible liar, entirely straightforward, easy to read and forthcoming; but what Heinlein's observed of the young actress' interplay with her friends and fans, what she herself has said here tonight... he's not entirely sure that's fair. One form of cunning is maintenance of an image that seldom suggests it, after all.

Here, now, she surprises him in a different regard. Kain expected that last blast to take Athena out of the fight, to floor her with gentleness that's only relative to the magnitude he's capable of. While he adjusts his expectations adroitly once she lands on her feet, this time the stance of stubborn trial is not enough to weather the onslaught-- even with Heinlein's mighty aura steeled against the test. The missile strikes true, obliterating ground zero in a tremendous shockwave of brilliantly luminescent violet energy.

For a lingering moment, it obscures the well-dressed German, leaves his fate unclear but for the sensation they both have of the impact. His, granted, is far more brutal. The impact tears Kain from his feet, crushes him into the courtyard. He skids several feet back, nearly flattened by the eruption of psionic might, one powerful palm splayed against the ground as gloved hands push him back towards his feet, a sharp shake of his head sending (most) of his mane back over his shoulders.

"I had hoped as much." He replies in the aftermath of her shattering of his illusion of perfect invulnerability. It brings a quiet satisfaction from Kain-- different from sporting excitement, different from the pride of a teacher. Both feet stabilize beneath him as he finishes his rise, once more steeling all his focus on Asamiya. "Make no mistake, Athena..." He intimates it with the weight of an important secret. It even ties back to the rhetorical evasion of moments before; something of a quid pro quo for her own good answer, perhaps.

"The trials are coming, whatever I do. The cycle of death and oppression already near a boiling point-- numerous tyrants stand ready for the tug of war to gather the fractuous pieces to themselves. To remake a world that reflects only brutality and mania. Then there is the very nature of this Realm..." Something he's given substantial thought, after listening intently to the murmurs of strange beings. "Chaos inevitably springs from the conjunction of forces that ply our universe. Conflict is inevitable." He does not seem to rue this, nor does he welcome it. There is no battle lust, no roaring or raging against the dying of the light. He is stalwart, defiant, coldly immovable.

Kain's world is not /theirs/ to re or unmake. "It will take all that and more." His hands come together, fingers flexing, to an oppositional grasp at his side, a swirling conflux of dark fire flaring to a singular, golden point. It's so brilliant as to be blinding to stare directly at, somehow drawing all the light from their surroundings-- the multiple lanterns of each streetlamp, the spotlights on the facade of the basilica, for an instant, it's as if they go dark.

That pinpoint of light expands outwards, coruscates in a spiralling shockwave that erupts as Kain shoves it forward, a coursing golden sphere nearly as tall as he is suddenly forged before him; it's taller, if one includes the volatile eruptions that orbit the miniature star, that cleave violent paths to and from the surface in an endless firestorm. It has a gravitic pull not unlike the fusion heart of a star, its threat radius somewhat expanded past what Athena might expect-- too close, and the searing golden starheart would draw her -in-, and only spit her back out after a truly punishing orbit. It's easy to miscalculate that danger in the scant instants it takes the miniature sun to cross the space between them despite its deceptively gently bobbing, hypnotic flight.

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Kain's Himmlische Seele+.

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

She's paused after hurling the attack, right arm forward, finger still extended, whole body leaning into the gesture that sent the culmination of her surge in power directly toward and through Kain Heinlein. An exhale finally escapes her lips as she stands up straight, arm falling to her side. A minute ago, she thought she had hit her limit, that she couldn't pour anymore energy into her draining attacks. But when pressed, when threatened, when challenged, she dug deeper, pulling from resources she isn't even aware she had.

But it isn't without a price. She's barely standing now, her right hand over her stomach as gasps of air are taken. Her psychic potential may have yet unfound limits, but her physical body can only take so much. In her mind, she knows that she struck him with the hyper compressed bit of Psycho Power - she hoped it was enough for him to remember this fight, that she had made it worth it as he considered when they first began.

But in addition to providing the test, to show her that gulf in potential, he continues to challenge her thoughts, her believes about what is right for the world. She finds herself agreeing with him yet feeling like she shouldn't. She will have to reason through his words when not confronted with his persuasive voice, his compelling presence. Does there exist some flaw in his philosophy? She can't tell Master Gentsai of this encounter to get his perspective, he would scold her for the very idea of it long before she'd get to explaining the perspective she found in the noble bearing of Kain Heinlein.

He warns her of what is to come, sharing insights from the world she knows nothing about. Vega is a name she heard once from a mysterious fortune teller. And other tyrants? Straw men, hypothetical concepts she knows are out there yet understands so little about. But the platinum blonde before her now, shaking off the last remnants of her painful assault, does know. She can tell.

Finally, a demonstration of something more, a glimpse of the power held in reserve. If she has exhausted her limits, he is only just tapping into his own power as he brings the largest manifestation of chi she has ever witnessed to life.

It would be easy to be mesmerized, staring at the golden orb. The world around her is lost in shadow, completely dark to eyes so blinded by the sun created by the hand of a man she sees now.

Her mouth is agape, eyes widened, the searing heat of it felt the instant it came into being and only growing more intense as it moves toward her. There is a certain inevitability in its approach, a sense that there exists no hope of escaping it no matter what she tries. No where to run, no chance to leap free, Asamiya stomps her feet down, slamming her palms out. Already, she finds her feet slipping, her body tugged unavoidably by the gravity well approaching her. The girl's first thought is to contest it - there is power still in that fount she is able to access, and as she dips into it again, he might sense that even though her own resources were exhausted, there existed something still that she could pull from, something deep, hidden, the energy pure and vibrant.

A smaller orb of vibrant pink energy is created before her palms - that she even thinks it will make a difference is almost laughable at first. But when the seer-made star collides with it, there exists a contest of force, the great orb of creation slowing for an instant. This close to it, she feels it burn, the heat ramped up to levels rendering it impossible to even breath, so hot would be the air as to burn her lungs.

Eyes squinting shut, jaw clenched, she struggles against the impossible.

Finally, she is forced to relent, pulling her arms back, covering her face as she bunkers down, the smaller fighter lost from sight as it passes over and through her, before continuing on.

The young fighter is still standing in the aftermath, smoke rising off of her figure, her arms falling limp against her sides. In the morning, she will remember what it means to gaze into a star at point blank range and feel her skin scorched by the experience. It will be hard to explain the very noticeable burn marks to her friends when daylight comes. There will be questions she won't want to answer, and conversations she will avoid.

None of that matters right now though as Athena releases a soft laugh - a short, musical sound of pure euphoria as she drops forward to her knees against the tile. That then is the gulf, the divide between where she is now and one of the greats. He offered her the chance to test where she stood and in doing so, granted divine revelation concerning not only her abilities but also her hopes, dreams, and ideals. Nothing is certain now except for her need to learn so much more.

Chapped lips part, "Thank you, Kain." she whispers, falling forward to catch herself with her hands. The mind is willing to continue, the soul is eager to strive on, but her body, for all her training and all her spirit, is frail by comparison, and it can go no further.

COMBATSYS: Athena takes no action.

                                  >  ///////////////////           ]
                                  |==-----\-------\0             Kain

COMBATSYS: Athena can no longer fight.

                                  >  ///////////////////           ]
                                  |==-----\-------\0             Kain

Log created on 23:28:47 07/08/2016 by Athena, and last modified on 19:27:30 07/11/2016.