Mortal Kombat - MK: Test Your Might (Rust)

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Description: The Elder Gods have spoken. The child JAO PUNTASRIMA is to come forth and demonstrate his physical strength to the host of this tenth Mortal Kombat tournament, and those of Outworld who wish to truly gauge the level of strength that Earthrealm has to bear... if any. What results... well...

The procession is eerily quiet. The small gathering Shang Tsung has assembled are composed mostly of his guard and various of the inhuman dignitaries of his procession. As a result, there is very little of the various ill tempers of the Earthrealm contingent present. Theirs--at least in the presence of the master--is a quiet brutality, and nothing else will suit the demon sorcerer, who reclines on his throne, idly finding his way through a bowl of fresh fruit, whose assortment is something of a luxury on the island.

An assembly of stout, short pillars have been erected in front of Tsung, overseen by a great green ornamental dragon made of a jade that shines strangely with the light. A various grouping at a table set up lay with items covered by swaths of velvet, and attended by more of his guard.

"Greetings, all assembled. We have gathered here today to witness a fine exhibition. Amongst all Earthrealm warriors, the gods have selected a child to lead them to victory. Jao will now be offered the grace of Outworld, and an opportunity to TEST HIS MIGHT."

Tsung gestures freely, waving off the idle thought. "At least, so one would think. But it would seem that a guardian of...." he pauses, searching for the right combinations of words, "...a particular and rash conscience has arisen in every opportunity to represent the child in Kombat." He seems rather disappointed at noting this, favoring the edge of a goblet of wine at his other side.

"Of course, it would be expected that tonight shall be no different." He gestures. "Bring forth the child, and we will see."

Of all the kontests that have transpired, the whole of this is nothing short of ridiculous.
Ten times, great warriors were summoned to represent their realm against the greater power that is the Outworld. They marked some of the very best of their respective eras and cultures. Conquerors. Journeymen. Outlaws. Heroes. One by one, all were defeated. Earthrealm's hopes of staving off the tenth consecutive victory that would give the green light to an all-out invasion are, for lack of better words to prune from a thesaurus on short notice... bleak.
The strongest that Earthrealm could offer may have been spent from these years, if the greatest they can offer is this meek young teenage boy. Escorted by no less than six of Tsung's elite guard, he continues to pass worried looks and not make eye contact with much of anyone. He is not bawling for his life, which is a marked improvement in demeanor. He still does not look the part - by any reasonable measure of gauging ability - of an actual warrior. Dressed in the same leftover brown rags he was given upon his summoning, he is put forth before the very sorceror... and those gathered.
The words of the sorcerer of an earlier time - wondering aloud if certain wisdom or humour has been withheld from him when the Elder Gods brought forth children - remain in wait for a satisfying answer one way or the other.
There does not appear to be a sign of that bothersome interloper.

"Jao," Shang Tsung speaks, a small smile creeping across his entirely-too-youthful features. "It's a pleasure to see you here today. You are quite the brave child, to stand before so many without fleeing. They say that bravery is the love of trepidation. If you survive the trials of the Gods for yourself, I have every faith that you will become a great warrior."

At this point, a few members of his concession are forced to suppress their laughter, a shiver of chuckles slithering through the crowd at Tsung's back. Even so, he gestures, in a wordless sign for quiet.

"I have not seen your friend in some time," Shang Tsung comments to the child brought before him, soulless eyes flicking about the chamber coolly. "I am pleased. I have waited a long time to see your performance, you know... one could say I am absolutely dying with anticipation."

He stares for a time.

One last blink, and he declares the beginning of the event. "Bring forth the treasures!!"

Guards administrate this event. Jao is directed to stand in front of the pillars before Tsung, his back to the great shimmering jade dragon. At the table, the velvet is drawn back from the first noble treasure: A pile of slightly weathered and moldy pine boards. Regardless, two guards carry it down the dais and take great ceremony in setting the boards upon the pillar. As this continues, Tsung narrates.

"In this exhibition of skill and talent, the forces of Shao Kahn have wagered power and treasure against the ability of Earthrealm to overpower the various treasured materials of Kombat. In this, a true warrior will take all of his might and break through each treasure, for the glory of his realm. Many men have been crippled doing this... or worse. Because of the Emperor's infinite grace, we will allow you a number of attempts for each treasured material. The first treasure is fine and cultured wood from the reaches of Earthrealm's closest trash dump. A fitting and glorious test for infants and the infirm. Now, if you are ready..."


COMBATSYS: Test Your Might has started a fight here as a sub-boss!

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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In this event, a warrior must prove their strength by breaking consequtively stronger tiers of treasures. There are eight tiers of might, from pine all the way up to diamond, plus a secret tier for those who successfully find it. Power and wealth will be awarded to the warrior depending on how many tiers of might they successfully overcome. The rules are as follows.

<> A warrior may use any melee attack in their art to break the treasures presented to them.

<> Each treasure is successively harder, and requires more accuracy and power to break.

<> Each fighter may use whatever boons, abilities and skills are available to them, but may

only use turn-ending abilities such as charge or focus TWICE total during the test.

<> The test concludes:

... when all treasures or the secret treasure has been broken.

... when the warrior has run out of stamina.

... when the warrior has failed to break with an attack under power level [3] twice in a row.

<> Wealth will be awarded according to the last treasure broken.

<> Disobeying the rules will result in destruction. Good luck.

Jao does not meet the smile with anything other than the deafening undercurrent of mortal terror. They shrink that much more at the beginnings of those derisive chortles. He could be reduced to that same sniveling wreck he was introduced to the Outworld as in an instant. Someone like him, a 'great warrior.' Such is beyond this... champion... picked by the Elder Gods.
His breathing is heavy. Erratic. Loud. Nervousness. Fear. The limits of his composure may have been surpassed the very moment he was addressed by the sorcerer, posture slouching as the pile of pine is presented before him. A fitting and glorious test for infants and the infirm, indeed...
Is he ready to test his might? He doesn't look ready for anything short of wetting himself or otherwise passing out from stress and fear, casting glances all around. His hand - slender, bony, not speaking of a great outer strength - rests atop the boards as if uncertain what he's supposed to do. The metaphorical vertical gauge of yellow light does not ever accumulate - it starts to dip under its predetermined scales, as his face grows paler and paler. Nervous, strained breaths climb as he tries to raise his hand up...
A shadow drops from... somewhere above. Light takes its time to give color and features. Black hair done up in a feminine bun that for some reason seems more purple under a light source. The dominant hues of blue. A toolbelt around the waist full of metallic objects that do not make any sort of sound even when they ought to with the rapid movement. A gloved hand is raised, the sapphire-hued misshapen beads of a bracelet glowing with a dimmer light than the matching gold of the boy's own as they descend upon the pine planks, practically in unison.
Wait, where the hell did that man come from?! It's him...!

COMBATSYS: Rust has joined the fight here in the center.

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                 Rust             0|-------|-------

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COMBATSYS: The pine splinters as it shatters right down the middle, easily broken by Rust!!
- Power fail! -

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                 Rust             0|-------|-------

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For his own part, Shang Tsung is truly a creature with no scruples. For all of his tactful treatment and kind words, there is no doubt that he finds the boy's weakness delectible. Folding an arm over a knee, he leans forward, giving the boy every moment to completely break. There are a million ways he could turn this circumstance to his advantage. If the boy refuses, it could be considered a great insult to his side, and Outworld could declare grievance--

A dark shadow passes over the dragon statue, dropping down on the stacked pine and shatters it into a million pieces!! A piece of moldy pine board bounces off the armrest of Shang Tsung's throne, and splashes unceremoniously into his wine. It floats there momentarily.

The contingent stares, many of them not actually realizing what happened. Many of them are looking around in alarm, a chorus of grunts, surprised growls, and other unearthly uluations boiling up from the monstrous procession. They don't know what happened at all, and it will take them a few minutes to figure it out.

The sorcerer, on the other hand, is pinching the bridge of his nose.

"....ah, finally, our esteemed guest. It is," Tsung continues smoothly, plucking the pine fragment from his wine and flicking it away calmly, "always a pleasure, and a curiosity to see you." He will find a way to override a claim of right of representation. Not in any of the normal ways. That would be simple. In the ways that send this particular Earthrealm representative to the coldest, darkest, most horrific fate he can imagine levied. It's really one of the only reasons he doesn't call the entire affair off immediately.

One of the four armed Shokan seems confused as to whom Tsung is talking to.
Undeterred, the sorcerer continues. "Bring the next treasure!!"

This time, the guards, having cleaned up the prior mess with rather impressive skill, unveil and bring forth another piece of wood, this time in the shape of an old, gnarled log. It has a rather ugly grinning face in it. Tsung peers, imperiously. "This is a stake of walnut, shorn from the posts of an old fortress, and carved by Tarkatan blades into the face of one of their greatest heroes." The gnarled face looks like someone smashed it with a hammer. And that's before they put the nose on sideways.

"They say if you break it, you will gain the strength and wisdom .. heh .. of the Tarkatan race."

The guards set it across the pillars, and stand clear.

In the symphony of the bewildered, it is easy to miss the singular, muted note of the instrument of the voice of an intruder among the gathering. That constant irritant - if vague as to how much of a genuine threat they may represent - to the proceedings of the island.
An element that, in his own ways, belongs just as little as the boy he comes to the aid to. That some shenanigan, some idiocy is bound to occur should cease to be a surprise - and yet, every opportunity, he seems to find a new way to do just that.
"Ow," comes the voice of the overweight handyman ninja (or so he proclaims himself), shaking out his right hand while the child mouths 'father.' Relief gives way for concern, as the elder of the two gingerly rubs at his wrist while his mouth puckers in an exaggerated manner, one eye shut.
He might've done something to that wrist. That could be worthy of a laugh - a non-zero chance he broke his wrist against something a match for 'infants and the infirm.' There is something to be said about not using more force than is actually necessary...
"Hey there!" He turns and waves with his left hand back towards the sorcerer overseeing the whole affair, completely free of the malice and contempt they so righteously deserve from those whose lives, societies, lands, and entire histories he has put an abrupt end to. "Ahh, sorry to drop in like that."
Is he really? ...Moving on, the second treasure is brought forth with the little touch of a history lesson. Jao moves out of the way of the guards, as though his presence would have been ignored by the skilled removal of debris and replacement of a newer, harder target. He might've ended up on the altar himself...
"Oooh. Sweet," the annoyance says, kneeling before the gnarled face, running his left hand over it, "reminds me about a good... thirteen years back. Yep, looks like--"
For once, he may have gotten the hint about what the gathered are truly here for. They're not here for any of his crazy stories of almost assuredly muddled memories that have little to no bearings in fact - or what is transpiring.
"Right. Right. Yep. Got it. Sorry, buddy," he pats the log as he moves to draw a length of pipe from that toolbelt, about his right hip... he leans forward.
There's something in the air that makes it difficult to breathe, difficult to gather one's self into a coherent whole. Jao's own irregular breathing can't be faulted on the child, as odd hums come from the older man's throat...
At last, he draws clean, raising the pipe on up high before swatting it downward in a chopping motion a bit off-center, towards his left.

COMBATSYS: The ominous walnut carving shifts a little as it's struck by Rust, but there is no other reaction.

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                 Rust             0|-------|------=

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Thwok! The carving shudders as Rust gives it a good chop with an iron pipe. The brow might be dented a little, but it's not really like you can make a Tarkatan hero any uglier. It's grinning pretty grimly right now, as if taunting Rust with its firmness. A guard slips in quickly, and re-adjusts the log on the posts, keeping it straight.

The assortment of soldiers and servants at Tsung's fback finally recognize the arrival of Rust just at the time he greets the sorcerer. There is a small cavalcade of boos and jeers, scattered but definitely present. Seems like a few of them wanted to see a child break his hand today.

Not having much patience for the whole story affair, Shang Tsung seems pleased by Rust's performance. Or lack thereof. Staring evenly at the handyman's hand, he gestures. "It is lucky for your realm that our Emperor is pleased to offer grace. Normally, we would have pulled off your head for such a sad failure. .. Is that the piping from our fountains?" He stares coldly, in deep suspicion.

It's hard to tell if he's being disingenuous.

The left shoulder is rolled about the socket as the 'thwok' fails to be a 'smash,' This man is getting up there in years - clearly out of his physical prime, if the weight around his waistline weren't indicative of such a thing! There's good-natured laughter, if a bit tersely so, as he takes a step back to allow the thing to be properly re-aligned.
What just happened is a far cry from the awe-inspiring, shocking entrance this man made. It's as worthy of derision as just about anything about this man as presented out in the open. That falling chop... that had to be nothing more than a jest of the Elder Gods, some silly fate that has lined itself up for a quick laugh.
"Father," Jao murmurs, as though that might be the only word he knows, "they don't like you."
"Ahh, don't worry about it," he plays off the jeering, the jest that his head would be forfeit for such a comically terrible display of might as he holds the pipe level above the head in his left hand - and only his left. No answer is given about the nature of the pipe's origins. By all accounts, it really is just some bit of piping picked up off the ground. Hardly an ideal weapon when considering issues of balance, bulk... but yet, he insists on prolonging such a farce.
What of him /isn't/?
Nodding his head, he goes about the usual odd, vocal breathing as he lifts it up on high before the mocking face of the warrior in walnut...
Down it goes again, a streak of earthy and neutral tones as blurred lines as he swats it down with what could be appreciably additional force, but is now a bit off to the right instead.

COMBATSYS: The ominous walnut carving shifts a little as it's struck by Rust, but there is no other reaction.

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                 Rust             0|-------|----===

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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This is one really gnarly piece of wood. The carving jumps a little as Rust chops into it, but doesn't actually shift from its original position much. A wooden tooth falls out, that's about it, for all of the fearsome left-handed drubbing it's been the recipient of. Wait, no. Did it crack slightly? It looks like it might have cracked.

Shang Tsung peers past the aging ninja to the young child, listening to him. "Of course, if you are feeling tired, or ill at ease by the company we keep.. you could always concede," he notes quietly. More loaded words never spoken. "It would be a disappointment to all, but surely if you cannot perform the task at hand, there's no need to embarrass yourself... especially in front of your son. A shame, so early in the exhibition, but unavoidable."

There's a few things he hears throughout the world.... and particularly here. As if to punctuate his words, he steeples his fingers in some manner of cold satisfaction. He would be drinking wine, but.. well.

"Do you wish to continue?"

The swinging arm even jerks upwards upon impact, another shock going through the arm.
Jao is tempted to physically hide himself behind his father when Shang Tsung's soulless eyes sweep towards the youth, his ability to tolerate being in the presence of such a hostile crowd long since overcome.
In Earthrealm, this man holds the recognized title of World Champion of the Circuit of Champions. With every passing day, more and more questions arise as to how and why he was ever able to attain it. If such words have made it to Shang Tsung, he, too, might have questions (or some sort of wicked glee that one of the actual so-called champions of Earthrealm by name is proving this ineffectual).
The weight of all this seems... lost, on him, met not with frustration but another short burst of laughter on his part as he brings his right hand up behind his head. He winces and lowers his arm just as fast, shaking out his right hand once again.
"Ahh... I'm fine!" All spoken with unreasonable cheer. His son was chosen by proxy to represent Earthrealm in a test of might. He is not proving that reasonable a substitute... and yet, there's a weightlessness to his gestures and preparations.
The grinning wooden totem might keep most of its winning smile in mockery yet, the facsimile of its proud warrior living up to its cultural importance up against... this mockery of a warrior.
"This is probably one of those riddles, yep." No, it is a mere test of strength. "Got to hit it just right." By hitting it with all your might. "You angle it over in," no, you hit it.
Whatever logic dictates his actions, he does a short leap into the air, a sweeping mid-air kick followed by a thrusting one against the walnut carving that might push him back.
As there probably isn't much precedent for those whose might is being tested to be given much room to maneuver beyond striking, there's a more-than-zero shot of him propelling himself into something painful if he doesn't, like, break an ankle or something.

COMBATSYS: The carving becomes unrecognizable as it breaks with the strength of Rust's attack!!

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                 Rust             0|-------|----===

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Luckily, Shang Tsung has not been appraised of the Circuit of Champions.

The walnut is cracked, wood finally just crumpling under the weight of Rust's attacks. Things actually get a little unbalanced, with Rust's enviable stick-to-it-iveness and levity precluding the ideas of care and caution. The walnut only breaks under the second kick, going out as if it had something personally against Rust. However, when it goes, it goes violently--pieces of walnut Tarkatan everywhere, toppled pillars, the whole nine. This actually causes a little bit of dismay from the audience, and sends the guards into a bit of disarray, as they move in as orderly a fashion as can be conjured to capture all the rolling pieces of wood and right the pillars.

The sound of one set of hands clapping fills the air around them. "Marvelous, a marvelous performance," Tsung lauds. "Now we know that Earthrealm can successfully defeat a rather small tree if pressed sufficiently. I never lost faith even once. As a reward, perhaps you will be pleased with this next item."

The dragon seems to flicker ominously in the light of the next--a huge slab of coal is unveiled, and then set alight, burning brightly. Even as it kindles and burns, the guards seem trained to carry it very, very carefully, as the others set the pillars right again for it to set upon.

"I understand Earthrealm has a taste for the dramatic," Shang Tsung observes. "This should please you, then. This is a carving of rich Edenian coal, taken shortly after the Emperor's visit. They say that when it burns, the acrid scent is exquisite for roasting whole sides of pork, imbuing the meat with a rich flavor not dissimilar to a fresh sage, to remind you of the lush Edenian forests. Unfortunate that there are no wild boar here. Please carry on in haste, lest we have to wait for the room to air out.."

With a lack of grace, the destructive doofus flops onto his back post-kicking while the chaos rolls out for as long as it manages to. Even his son backs away from the splinter showers and the troubling disapproving gazes of the audience. More the latter than the former, all capped off with that singular celebration from the sorcerer as the so-called ninja pulls himself back up after a worrying amount of effort. This allows the next item to be introduced without insipid kommentary by the kontestant.
...At first.
His nostrils flare at the scent of the burning coal, putting the pipe down to rub his hands together. His left goes much faster than his right.
"Wow! You're right. Oh, yeah. Brings me back. My dad would do a barbecue pretty much anywhere. Even in the rain. Middle of a blizzard, too. The food was always great. He'd like this coal."
Howard Rust, Sr. was a great hero in his time. One may have to ask, why wasn't he chosen to represent the Earthrealm in stead of these two? One as storied as himself would be a far finer man to push forth and say, 'hello, Outworld, here's one of the most valid dissenters to your konquest there can ever be!'
All the better for that tenth konsecutive victory, one may surmise. There is wisdom in knowing when to question, and when to simply take the opportunity as presented.
Let's take the example of the idiot standing before the coal right now, blabbering about the unsolicited history lesson as the smoke fills the space, threatening a delay to the proceedings that--
"Oh. Oh! Sorry. You want that done." He coughs once. The pipe's on the ground, he doesn't seem keen to pick it back up for the moment. Rummaging through his toolbelt with his left hand, he seems to settle on...
A crowbar? There's no ceremony or warm-up to this. In apparent acknowledgement of the need to make haste, he waves his right arm around once to clear away some of the smoke prior to raising it up single-handedly in his left, and bring it down upon the coal with the flat side.
Wouldn't it have made more sense to use the wedge to form a crack? Even with an extension to his arm in the form of a weapon, he chances close proximity to the flames and the smoke in his haste to beat it open in one (pathetic?) strike.

COMBATSYS: The flaming coal flares brightly when struck by Rust, but doesn't move.

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                 Rust             0|-------|--=====

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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At this point, Tsung breathes quietly as the smoke begins to gather in low pockets of the ceiling. Due to the open air nature of the ventilation in the upper levels of the tower, there is not much of a risk of suffocation, but it will still leave a terrible scent on the linens if allowed to persist too long.

Clearly, Shang Tsung's patience is at a bit of a low when his fingertips gently trace the elaborate carving of the armrest in exact time to the aging man's story. He says nothing, merely tilting his chin in icy confirmation and burgeon, waiting for Rust to get to his own individual moment of clarity. Hopefully he will either break the slab easily, or die in the attempt.

Of course, Shang Tsung's wishes are not so easily sated.

The slab scatters embers in all directions as it's struck by the crowbar, but there is not a lot of action going, partially due to Rust slapping at it as if beating a rug. To his own credit, the demon sorcerer seems perfectly capable of ignoring the actions of his guard, who spread out to dutifully put out the several fires that Rust starts throughout the room. Tsung just shakes his head.

"Are you sure you don't want your son to take over for you?" he asks, kindly. "We wouldn't want you to hurt yourself," he sneers!!

The guards, in their competence, also have the benefit of having long since learned that this man is trouble in ways that may not have had prior precedent in the many, many human lifetimes between the start of these kontests and now. You have your angry hot-blooded avengers, desperate fighters in despair of the magnitude of the situation, and some of the less dim that would eschew politeness and attempt to go for the throat with... well, we know what sort of fates befell those guys.
Now, for a limited time only, the kontest is host to have this idiot, who yelps as he beats some flame off of his left sleeve with his right forearm clumsily. It may be providence of the Elder Gods that he didn't find some way - unintentional or otherwise - to burn the gathering down.
This being a test of might, such flights of fancy bear little additional dwelling who finds new cause to laugh at himself as Shang Tsung's mocking suggestion goes over his head like the rising smoke.
"You want to break it? Kind of fun watching all the little fires go all without," he asides to Jao.
Jao shakes his head frantically, which is the 100% reasonable reaction to over half of this man's ideas and suggestions to just about anyone regardless of context.
"Ah, it's all ri--" he coughs a few times again. The smoke's getting a little hard to bear. In apparent weakness, he goes to a crouch to pick back up the pipe. What mockery to honed technique and blood-powered might does this man have next up his sleeve--
It turns out that when he dropped the pipe, the tip of it managed to go deep enough between what pillars hold it up. The act of hastily trying to yank it up turns out to be an unconventionally angled attack from /below/, of all things, but perhaps to ultimately the same end.
That or it ends up flipping the coal off what holds it and-- no, let's not tempt the humor of the Elder Gods any further than this farce has gone.

COMBATSYS: Flaming coal fragments scatter everywhere as the slab is broken in two by Rust!!

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                 Rust             0|-------|--=====

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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Perhaps it's with some godly mercy that Rust and his son are not consigned to a slow and agonizing death by fire, because the slab only takes two blows to slice through the slab, even if the comedy continues by Rust simply hitting the slab from underneath, causing the entire thing to simply topple off the pillars and crack along the fractureline caused by the earlier beating, falling apart in two pieces and scattering smouldering coal everywhere.

Shang Tsung stares, as if feeling himself get older by the minute.

An annoyed wave, and the guards begin putting out and hauling away the glowing coal with great care and haste doubly so. As they prepare the next treasure, Shang Tsung engages the exhibitionist. "Spendid, splendid," he commends without a droplet of sincerity. "Disappointing that your son cannot be goaded into acting on his own. I do wonder what the elder gods have seen in him that they have in no other...?"

"I suppose it is not for us to know. Now, as the pine was built from the palisades of a fortress, so too was this brick hewn from the base of a great shadow demon's throne in the nether realm. Come now, my servants are stacking it loosely for you. Surely, performance being as it is thus far, simple brick should present no challenge or danger for you."

It takes a little time for the coughing to subside. Maybe he's choking on further laughter on coming to grips with just how utterly improbable the whole thing was! Jao, much less mirthful in demeanor, is already shielding himself from an exaggerated explosion of coal embers that never comes.
The sorcerer's disappointments do well to keep him shielding himself, for what good those limber, weak-looking arms would ever do against anyone else here choosing to swing a punch, or a blade, or much of anything.
A gentle pat of the shoulder from the adoptive father's right hand - whatever pain involved in doing so disregarded aside from the gentle motion in which he does this - and the boy doesn't sink down any further into the depths of fright and despair.
For now.
Offering no clarity on whatever it is between these two and the Elder Gods - if any of them have an inkling at all to begin with - he does the sorcerer a rare favor for their blood pressure by standing up a little straighter. Adopting a posture that is a bit more in line with the traditional exhibitionists for the ritual to Test Your Might. Breathing in and out with needless grunting. The usual. Maybe they'll even be spared his inane insigh--
"Really?" He seems impressed at the mention of this great shadow demon's throne. "Whoa. This looks neat. Ahh. What a shame."
Only he could see the majesty of this brick, if it isn't just some misplaced importance and reverence for its existence off of what little he must know. All he knows is just what was said right now. Right?
Clearing his throat one last time, he resumes the over-done breathing, grasping the pipe in his left hand again and raising it up...
Only to feint against an object that does not have a brain or the ability to be tricked, moving his arm down the side of the great brick and swinging in an ill-advised backhand, as though deluded into believing that he could bisect the whole thing in two horizontally.

COMBATSYS: Shattering right down the middle when hit by Rust, brick pieces fly everywhere!!

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                 Rust             0|-------|--=====

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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Tsung straightens as Rust finally bears the exhibition the proper decorum, as expected of him, albeit perhaps somewhat shortsightedly. However, the moment is unmercifully short-lived. Shang Tsung's eyes narrow, soulless pools to knife slits.

Most of the smoke is vented out of the room by guards waving it off. Of course, by this time, Rust is already winding up, performing a very impressive head fake on an opponent completely incapable of recognizing it. Then he tries to chop the bricks down, much like a tree. And much like swatting a tree with a pipe, it probably shouldn't do a whole lot. Right up until the entire set of pedestals is upended, sending bricks everywhere. At least one is broken by falling. At least one more is broken by the pipe, somewhat paradoxically.

Tsung's expression is flat. "Perhaps I am mistaken. Maybe it was a lesser demon."

Seeming unwilling to have the rest of the bricks examined, instead Shang Tsung orders them spirited away, preferably before any of his entourage is able to examine them, either. He waves the next trial up.

"Perhaps this will be more familiar to you. The metals of Earthrealm, formed into the shapes of Earthrealm. A copper beam, suitable for building any manner of constructs. I am sad to say that there is no grand story behind this, save the men who died in the pool made to mould it. Perhaps that will make it a little more comfortable for you.."

Leaning forward into a space once occupied by bricks, he brings the pipe around his back and raises his right arm in something that might be considered a cool pose if this were an early nineties arcade game display. That should not have worked. That's not how these things are supposed to be struck.
Even Jao seems kind of incredulous about that. He kneels down to look at one of the bricks out of curiosity, only for it to be spirited away by the guards before he can draw his own conclusion. He looks back up nervously when the copper beam is deposited, thoughts about the story behind this particular beam's manufacture worrying him. (As it should.)
It is, however, metal. Coming up this far, even a buffoon like him could have done in the weaker materials with enough strength and determination. Now, this strange man is in the domain where might can start to be truly measured above and beyond that of an average fighter. One must be mighty to have the power to destroy metal at this level of thickness - no ifs, ands, or buts.
"Aw." The pipe-wielding fool seems saddened by this news, as though something as simple as this beam should be met with any sort of respect in its craftsmanship when it holds a singular, violent, final fate for being. "All right. This one's for them..."
He sets the pipe down to give the girder a good, gentle pat with his left hand, before going down to a crouch anew. There comes that odd, exaggerated breathing noises once again, as he takes hold of... something or another.
A sledgehammer? The crowbar was pushing it in terms of getting it on the toolbelt and having it blend in with the rest of the mess in that toolbelt, but a /sledgehammer/? Ridiculous.
He takes it in both hands and raises it up... but his right hand's not quite 100%. Surprisingly capable as he might be with that length of pipe... for him, the sledgehammer is unconditionally something that requires two-hands to wield, and one of those hands isn't quite up to task at current.
"Whoooooooopsy daisy!" He staggers to the left! To the right! Jao ducks and covers his head, as he spins on his ankle and ends up with his back to the copper beam before the weight of the sledgehammer overtakes him, falling backwards.
The hammer is, coincidentally, at least properly aligned to do some damage to that copper beam if it's going to.

COMBATSYS: The copper warps and finally cracks down the middle, breaking in two from Rust's attack!!
- Power fail! -

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                 Rust             0|-------|--=====

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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The copper beam lays on the ground, the deformed crack running across its length. Only a moment ago, Rust's heft of a seemingly magical sledgehammer drew nothing more than scattered cursing and laughter from the entourage behind the sorcerer. With the bell-like drum and the crash of metal to the ground, the dissonance turned to stunned (perhaps even annoyed?) silence.

Fingertips meeting together only a moment prior dip, the sorcerer faintly nonplussed by the handyman's somewhat inexplicable performance. To his merit, he recovers smoothly, opening a hand quickly. The guards, perhaps sensing Tsung's flagging patience, hasten to remove the debris.

"Very well. An incredible performance thus far. But there's not much left in the earthly realm that a simple tool can break. Please, allow me to introduce the last of the mundane materials. An anvil, used to forge weapons for the Edenian royal guard. Though it may seem simple and worn, do not be mistaken. This metal knows the hammer well, and has forged more than a thousand weapons. Perhaps it itself in arming an entire caste has changed the very course of history."

It takes three men to load a small cart with the anvil, and two stouter men to lift the anvil onto its perch, balanced solidly atop the pillars. Shang Tsung claps once, to banish the guard more quickly. "Now would not be the time to begin a new avenue of failure."

Were the rules of the konquest set to ten konsecutive victories, just so reality could wait for someone like him to be born? No, that's giving things too much credit. ('Things' would be offended for the thought!!)
The sledgehammer is left forgotten in obscurity among whatever other things he has previously pulled out, offering no insight to any present as to how such a thing could have been obscured on his person in the first place. Jao moves to help his father up. Said father takes a curious amount of time and effort to rise up, as though he were on the ropes following a sound beating while the steel anvil is carried in.
It should be noted that those who bear it, without exception, all look stronger than this man. That overweight gut. Those stringy legs. He's getting up there in years, past his physical prime.
"Keen," oh boy, here we go again, what further inane things does this fool have to say about what's before him as he gently lays his left hand atop it, "would love to make something inside," inside? Scouts have already noted his unusual penchant for incorrect propositions, but...
Worn from the top, it is as the sorcerer says. A great, enviable history commands its respect for its part in whatever great events have transpired about the Outworld.
Drawing his hand back, he has yet to pick up the pipe. Maybe, just like in the beginning, there is hope that he will once again express what is the proper technique for demonstrating might, as has been the case for millennia. As was the case when he /rudely interrupted/. Taking in a breath, making those odd vocalizations, having a goofy smile on his face like this were a fun activity and not an act of utmost importance to prove Earthrealm's might...
Then he tries to kick it with his left leg.
Either his train of logic is 'oh, so it's taken so much from the top but how about the front,' or something just poked him in the leg. No matter the result, his eyes go wide as he dares to convert the toes of his left foot into bloody little stubs in that tourist-like open-toe sandal he wears on it. (That already looks like that hurt in advance!)

COMBATSYS: The anvil develops a huge crack right down the middle, broken by Rust!!

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                 Rust             0|-------|--=====

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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And just like that, the anvil is demolished. Kicked in twain by what is apparently the barest of nicks by the leftmost toe of the aging handyman's left foot, the straight dagger kick scatters the anvil's halves as if it were made of nothing more than foam or dry wood.

At this point, Tsung becomes mildly suspicious.

By now, surprise, shock and dismay have passed entirely from the sorcerer's demeanor, replaced instead by a vague sort of annoyance, held in check by only the steel bands of Tsung's relentless dignity. This time, the guards appear from behind the green dragon statue behind Rust, dragging away the pieces, one guard to each. Tsung leans over in his seat, murmuring something inaudible to his personal attendant. Perhaps something about checking the anvil for any further structural flaws, and potentially having the man who picked out the particular treasure to be brought before him later.

"Well!" Tsung composes himself, smoothing out the folds in his robe. "Your strength and control over energy is admirable. I am most pleased," the demon sorcerer lies coolly. "To think that you were so amply defeated earlier by simple sticks. But now your real challenge begins. BRING THE TIGER."

The pillars are spaced further apart by a pair of guards. Then another pair brings a heavy red tiger statue, cut into a smooth pedestal emulating the open field. The creature, much like the dragon statue, seems to catch the light oddly as it is carried, and set into place. Magnificence defined, the statue stalks through the simulated underbrush, clearly motionless but easily imagined to be something far more.

"This tiger was carved by our greatest mages and artisans to take advantage of every quality," Tsung explains quietly. "They say a thousand men could die in a mine before finding enough exquisite ruby of this breed to make such a luxurious statue. In reality, it is at least six thousand. Truly, it would be a shame to ruin such beauty. But all beauty is a transient state, they say. Good luck.."

The chosen kontestant has destroyed the steel anvil. Those in number who have made it thus far, some here may even remember a number of their faces. Tired, but triumphant. Fist pumps. Shouting towards the heavens, chanting towards whatever gods they wish to thank. Reasonable responses, to proving their strength thus far.
This one?
Howling and bouncing around like a crude piece of moving artwork so popular in Earthrealm, the man of the miniscule measure of time - an hour is being too kind - does not look the part of someone who has just felled the last of the mundane materials, but rather one of the countless fools whom have mangled themselves in pursuit of whatever material boons the Test awards to those found to be with Might.
He seldom appears to ever notice that the anvil halves are being carted off as he kneels down to rub his calf while his lips are puckered to give the appearance of a fish.
Nobody is walking out of this one looking happy with themselves.
His son, less jubilant for the success and much more concerned with his father's well-being, goes through the usual chatter. 'What's wrong?' 'Are you hurt?' That sort of thing.
"Ahh, it's... nothing! I'm fine." He wiggles the toes on his foot, broken up by a wince. He'll have to ice them down later, if such a luxury is to be found on such short notice. "Nothing compared to when--"
He abruptly catches himself with coughing. Jao never seems to think anything of this, but to the perceptive sorcerer, whatever he was going to say... he didn't seem keen on saying it.
What would it matter, in the greater picture? Let us come to the matter of the tiger carved in exquisite ruby.
"Beautiful!" The representative seems taken by it. Perhaps this distraction by its beauty and material worth will stall whatever empowered him thus far, as he claps his hands together. He shakes out his right hand later, so taken by it he forgot that he did that number on it before.
"In Chinese mythology... yep. The dragon and the tiger were fierce rivals, eh? Lots to say about what they symbolise." The yin and the yang, a motif that is ubiquitous about the island - and maybe even beyond. "Boy, would love to see what else is out."
Does he fancy himself a dragon, picking up the pipe? He seems more of... a frog, going by the legs. What good is a frog against a tiger?
He points the pipe towards it - a rather sincere-seeming gesture of priming himself. Could this be, at last, another proper display? Just one more time, like at the start? Please? With a good vertical leap up, this silent prayer among those with serious interest in the traditions may yet be answered as the pipe is thrust up with his left hand...
It impales a stone gargoyle head way above. He pauses looks up...
"Uh oh." He starts to comically wave his legs around, to and fro, like a silly blur. Jao looks up, gasping, as if he were in mortal danger. (Well, they all are, but moreso than usual.)
Fighting through the pain in his right hand, he tries to grasp the pipe in two hands, bringing one foot up against some other surface for leverage to yank it out...
Cracks form. Everyone involved probably knows exactly where this is about to go. The smart among them may clear.
With a final crack, the gargoyle head is beheaded as both he and overly large head are sent careening downward with an androgynous-sounding yell - is that fright from someone realizing this might be how they die, or the yell of a fearless warrior?
The tiger, mythologically, has but one equal in the dragon.
Strip out the 'logically,' as now there is a man descending with a giant stone head stuck on the end of their pipe like some sort of great hammer granted by the Elder Gods.
One of these statues is going to shatter in twain.

COMBATSYS: The ruby tiger flashes with an internal light as it's struck by Rust, but shows no signs of damage.

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                 Rust             1|------=|=======

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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"Mn," is the length and breadth of Tsung's response to Rust as he speaks, reasoning something about dragons and tigers and the like. His tone does not suggest disinterest... but it is Tsung's notice that in this case, it may be deleterious to his credibility if he were to feign a convincing interest in the rampant vacuous buffoonery in his throne room. An imperial air must be maintained, but Tsung is not so gullible so as to believe the words he says.

"On occasion," the sorcerer observes, "it is necessary to sacrifice in service."
It's not clear if he's talking about Rust's leg and fish-faces.

Even so, as Rust brings his pipe to bear--and consequently gets stuck in the ceiling--Tsung's interest hitches, calling the sorcerer to lean back in his chair, lounging with a vaguely self-satisfied, anticipatory smile. To wit, he is not displeased, as Rust shatters the gargoyle over the tiger. While the tiger is not appreciably damaged by the attack, the flash that flickers through the ruby is accompanied with enough disembodied shock to throw Rust bodily across the throne room.

"You seem tired, and in pain. Do you wish to submit?"

Jao, having honed his fight-or-flight instincts over the years, is safely out of harm's way thanks to him cowering off to the side when the explosive return of power sends his guardian flying across the room. There's the familiar sound of a human body hitting a wall at a speed of 'ouch.'
"FATHER!" Jao cries, running over to the man who has defied expectations, decorum, and good wholesome Outworld values, the horror about the well-being of his father after having taken the audience by surprise on three consecutive, curiously effortless strikes.
The tiger's survival in the face of tremendous force is a clear signal - miracles may have been involved in the destruction of copper and steel. There is no more place for this. Now, once and for all, might is being tested.
"Hjvcknjnkmlgbr," comes a muttering. It does not match any known tongue that would be understood by the sorcerer's ears, or anyone else's for that matter. Complete gibberish, accented with pain and lisped in breathlessness as a black dust-covered fool is laid out upside-down against a wall. He blinks a few times.
His eyes are rather visible in comparison to the rest of him. He doesn't bear crazy glowing eyes like some. It's just odd that it stands out in the whole of how he appears before the gathered now.
"Father, please," Jao says, pleading, "don't do this any more! It's..."
Rust Jr. flops over onto the ground.
"It... when you hit it," Jao says, "it... it just glowed, and... and you got hurt..."
"Eh?" His interest seems piqued more than worried about his own well-being. He ought to take up the sorcerer's invitation to submit. It takes him some effort to roll back and forth onto his feet, giving further credibility to the sorcerer's observation.
"Father, please," Jao replies, bringing both hands onto his hurt right hand. It's likely not intentionally invoking the way he injured himself making that dramatic entrance, "it'll... it'll just throw it back and you'll get hurt again..."
Wisdom. That was incredible force brought to bear, and it could not dent the mighty ruby tiger. There may not be a single strike that can overcome it among the Earthrealm champions gathered, if that is the single most powerful potential hit available among all of them. (It may not be, but the sheer spectacle of the ordeal sets a very high bar. For once, as it involves him.)

"Really?" Asks the father as he lets his right arm go limp. He takes a few steps forward, back towards where he's supposed to stand before the treasures laid out to be broken. "One sec."
That's a 'no, I'm not yielding.' It will be a treat to watch him fail again.
Musing over the tiger with an... eye, that one is hesitant to call 'keen' in wake of all acts that have led up to this point, his left hand scratches his chin. A little bit of time passes.
A terrible idea forms. Shang Tsung has not met this man prior, but when this man gets ideas... very little good tends to come from them.
"Please stop!" Jao cries.
"Jao, hey," he turns around, putting his left hand on their shoulder, "I've never seen anything like what you've said!" There's pained laughter. "I gotta try it."
"N-No, you don't, you don't," Jao starts to tear up, "I don't want to lo--"
"Shh. You won't. I promise!" How much is this man's word worth, for all the trouble he causes? He flashes a smile, a twitchy thumb up from his right hand. "If I don't see it now. Might never see it again at."
Jao's eyes are wet with tears, but he withdraws as the ninja(?) handyman at last looks back to the ruby tiger that, in its immobilization, is poised to tear out his throat. Somehow.
"Sorry about that!" He says to the sorcerer, to all involved. "Yep! I know what I want to do." He moves up against it, raising a hand. He doesn't rest a hand on it like he has a few of the other treasures. "Science!"
Very little about this man and his actions have been worthy to record in any sort of publication. He laughs, in spite of the pain, as though suddenly very confident. It would be unwarranted, were it not for some of the recent spree of complete madness. Maybe he's at wit's end, knowing his limits...?
It is time to act, and not waste the time of the gathered any further than the oxygen surrounding them all has been.

The idea seems off on a bad foot, because he just swings the pipe about as hard as he can muster from a full spin in a backhand motion. It won't be in force that surpasses - or even matches - the descending drop with the statue head. If it were this strike alone, it would be sheer foolishenss to have not taken up Shang Tsung's venom-tinged invitation to mercy from further harm and humiliation.
No, this man seems to almost enjoy the idea of humiliating himself - and Earthrealm - further.
Except for the part where, moments later, around the point of when the ruby tiger would flash and push him back, he's willfully thrusting forward with a palming attack from his open right hand, about where the disembodied force expels itself.

He must be trying to trigger the shock... and then turn that energy back against the ruby tiger?! Even if that fails, for such a fool to put that much thought into it...! Is he truly that capable in technique, overcoming the physical handicaps brought by age and neglect?!

COMBATSYS: Rust focuses on his next action.

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                 Rust             1|------=|=======

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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COMBATSYS: The ruby tiger flashes brightly, scattering shards everywhere as it breaks from Rust's attack!!

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                 Rust             1|-------|=======

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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"Perhaps you should submit," Shang Tsung finally suggests, a faux care and concern slipping into his nominally relentless composure, adding a patina of mock sincerity to the ongoing trial of patience he's been forced to undergo. He echoes Jao's sentiment when he does so, albeit with only the most rudimentary of actual concern for the aging not-nin's well-being. He gestures forward, opening a hand as he indicates Jao, who looks as if he's about to collapse in fear.

"As you well know, you take your life in your hands here. What would it be if something unfortunate were to happen, leaving Jao on his own? Of course, I am sure we would be quite amiable towards providing for your absence."

The weight of Shang Tsung's generous offer settles on the shoulders like a funeral veil. Even so, Rust is obviously undeterred, spinning his pipe. It would seem that Tsung settles in, waiting for another obvious display of pointlessness with the weapons. But even the demon sorcerer raises an eyebrow as Rust instead thrusts forward with his palm. Of course, it's less the change in technique that gains his attention, and more the fact that Rust was even able to perceive any sort of energy flow at all, let alone target it.

But when he does, it is a great scarlet flash that breaks free from the tiger, almost shattering it to the point of unrecognizability as it bursts, falling away in two halves, and scattering fragments of jewel all the way up to the foot of Tsung's throne.

Tsung looks down, quietly. He seems to have expected this result.

"One supposes that we will have necklaces enough to support the countless concubines we should very well grant you for such an act." Calmly, he lowers his hand, and his guards set to cleaning up. "But you have truly proven yourself. In this, you gain the honor of having the chance to attempt against the most valuable treasure at the disposal of Outworld."

This one is brought up with the velvet over it intact. A stone board is set over the pillars, and the melon-shaped treasure is set upon it like a table. Then, the veil is pulled free.

"The diamond skull of Kantha Barrh, bandit king of the Outworld free reaches long ago. It was said he was invincible, until he was torn limb from limb by a legion of the most foul Tarkatan barbarian host. The Emperor honored it by allowing the criminals of Barrh's troupe to break themselves attempting to win back their freedom. In the end, not a one escaped with limbs -- or souls, intact. They say it is....quite cursed."

The skull grins at Rust malevolently.

It has to have been a lucky guess on his part, some daredevil maneuver that altogether... worked, spurred only by his child's own observations. Vaguely similar technique was demonstrated prior, at least. The very way he adopted a strange stance and slid up against the manifestations of Erika's energies, defeating her with her own power as much as his own in a match that the sorceror had spoken complete confidence in.
For his deficiencies, that he overcame this with (grudging) guile and (true) technique... is he even as much of a buffoon as he has presented himself? Was every antic, every misstep, every maneuver a carefully calculated front to throw everyone off?!
Drawing back his right palm with a shake of his forearm and a happy sigh, the recklessness can't be understated! It was hurt just from breaking the humble pines. If that had failed... he could have been down an arm. The oddly-shaped baubles arranged in a bracelet - a dimly glimmering sapphire shade - are only but protection from death as granted by the Elder Gods. Let's return to this point later.
Jao is not any more relieved at the explosion of ruby tiger shards everywhere that suggest a successful application of SCIENCE, or what passes for it in this crazy man's mind. He ducks, covering his head as the ruby shards fly everywhere. It is providence that he is not pelted or stabbed by any of them.
"Eh?!" The aging man's stride is broken with eyes wide, recoiling with arms up wide as though he were about to catch himself being run over by a war carriage at the idea of-- "I'm married! Oh, no no no." He waves his arms wildly, left more animated than his right.
It takes him some time to regain his composure when Shang Tsung transitions into the introduction of the highest imaginable honor for any who have made it this far. How many have? Does this man realize the weight of what he has accomplished?
Jao seems reasonably enthralled in the lore of it, which is to say that he may understand the deepest depths of what is being implied, accepting of the nature of the dangerous world around himself. In some ways, wiser than the man a little over three decades his senior.
"Ohhhh." The idiot seems entranced, daring (foolishly) to lock eyes against its evil smile. "This is amazing!"
There seems to be a complete failure to communicate the abyss of horror, crushed hopes, and destroyed bodies in the wake of the bandit king - in life, and in death. If the lore is to be taken verbatim, he must walk away.
"Made of diamond. Hardest material on the Mohs scale, back home." Yes, this is likely well-known among the soft, weak masses of Earthrealm and here. Ponderously, he scratches the side of his head with his left hand. "Only thing that can cut it, is another... but brittle... yep."
This line of logic may have been previously brought up by one of its many victims before they were summarily shamed, shattered, and rendered soul-less.
It says something that he lets the pipe down, bringing his hands together. At last, then. A display like when it started. No more tricks. No more jests. Might. For this Earthrealm warrior has earned the right to stand here, it is only appropriate that he close off this chaotic chapter correctly--

He takes in the breaths, channeling in as many low attacks to increase power before hitting the metaphorical block button to strike. The entirety of Outworld could be watching, in spirit, to see what it is that the Elder Gods have in this man brought before them. The same odd breathing, the overt flexing...
He raises up his left hand, opening his fingers for that big, final, decisive chop that either ends his legacy, or that of the legendary bandit king...!
...His hip bumps into the board.
The skull starts to rock.
"Heee... uh oh, hold o--" He brings his right hand towards the skull, daring to even so much as /touch it/, and here... here is where one can start talking about the boon of the Elder Gods given form.
That blue color. A powerful ward unmatched in its ability to protect the blessed. So complete its protection, it denies Shang Tsung a hold of his soul. A hold of whatever skills, memories... everything, that makes this buffoon... him. Secrets withheld, to never be in his grasp...!
"Ahh!" The middle-aged moron looks shocked as an attempt to steady the thing - an ill-advised gesture on anyone's part! - sees it flip up into the air, in which the ward glows brighter with that brief contact.
The skull is now airborne. The kontestant now proceeds to fail to catch it, inadvertedly batting it back up every time to a pained, surprised, or panicked yelp.
It seems that ward is protecting him from /that/ with every contact, too, leading to this laughable juggle as a most precious treasure is turned into the prop to some horrible comic routine, the legacy of a feared outlaw swept into a divine comedy as one Howard Rust, Jr., careens around the throne room trying to catch it and put it back.
Jao is stunned to silence in fear.
It would be unwise for almost anyone else to try and touch that thing in flight, or even at all...
As the almost certain magnum opus for this idiot's meager, temporary existence as a mortal human being, there is an impressive final pirouette as he, at last, manages to catch the thing in an open palm while balancing on the very tip of his left sandal, right leg held up in the air in a match for some sort of ballerina dancing pose as he - with uncharacteristic grace - gently places it back on the platform. His entire right arm is shaking. There's a violent flashing in the bracelet.
"Sorry!" He turns away from it, waving his left hand with a nervous smile. "J-Just so you know, not on purpose! I'm giving it my a--"
He tips over, eyes wide and nearly ready to jump out of his head. His teeth are clenched, a grimace so wide as to nearly peel back all the skin on his face as he - with his right hand - stands to potentialy tip the skull over and, arm still on it, accidentally shove this terrible artifact against the ground, in which the whole idea about diamond being brittle could be put to the test.
No matter who wins in jeweled skull versus numbskull, on some level, everyone loses.
It could just be that the blue color of his ward may instead be a well-meaning message from the Elder Gods to say, 'no, there's little of worth here to take.'

COMBATSYS: Rust focuses on his next action.

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                 Rust             1|-------|=======

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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COMBATSYS: The diamond skull seems to grin malevolently as it isn't even moved by Rust's attack.

                 [                       ||||||| ]
                 Rust             1|=======|=======

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
  [                          |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]

Shang Tsung frowns, distinctly frowns. It is truly fortunate Rust holds Tsung's court today. The emperor Shao Kahn would surely have staved in Rust's own skull by now for sheer impudence. For every one of the thousands of fates that the sanction of the elder gods guards against, Tsung is confident that there are a thousand more that it doesn't. Somewhat painfully, one could add.

His years were hard won, every single one of them.
However, the one or two he could gain by taking Rust's soul are ones he will pass on.

The first thing Rust might determine upon touching the skull is that it seems a lot colder to the touch than any material prior, chilling to the bone upon the slightest brush. That much would be enough for some, but Rust, in the throes of his own personal disaster, seems hell-bent on juggling this night. The crystal skull comes close to ending Rust's life every time it's batted up into the air, and though it seems to be jewel encrusted, on closer inspection--were Rust an observant man which he is most certainly not--it is actually a skull made of diamond, as if cut from one continuous rock through some arcane measure.

Noticeably, many of Tsung's entourage are taking great pains to avoid Rust's potential swath of destruction, many surging around and falling away from his potential trajectories. Even Tsung's personal guard take care with Rust's wild gobo dancing, stepping away from prospective impact points. It seems as if no one wants to test the skull's curse, except Rust.

Who will find that it is most certainly not at all fragile.

There isn't even a shudder from the skull when spiked into the ground. Instead, the thing explodes outward with the cold force and strength of kombat, the litany of ancient curses from the diamond skull that the jester just invoked well more than enough to have prematurely ended the lives of many men who have come prior. But is this the end of lovable handyman???

Shard or no shard, a haunting laughter fills the throne room as Rust tempts the fates.
Even Shang Tsung is interested to see if Rust has lost any limbs in the exchange.

The handyman disappears within the ripples of compressed air, disrupted energies, and frosty fog. The only way to track where he's actually gone is by sound as he is crushed against a wall that, in turn, gives its own flare in the form of a great, rising dust cloud.
Jao's screams are lost to the laughter that echoes through the throne room, and perhaps beyond. A well-earned mockery for a fool who believed them worthy against a history's miseries and glories, all malevolently homed inside the skull of a name none of Outworld would dare forget. He runs over to where his father now rests in peace.
Peacefully spinning his eyes as he lie upside-down anew, mouth agape and twitching with a rather strange spasm in his left cheek seeing him flex his jaw that way. His tongue lolls out his mouth.
"Father, father," Jao seems to have assumed the worst already, shoving him. Prodding him. He pushes him over to his side, in which he is rewarded with a truth.
"Ow." The father mouts out.
He still has his life. How many could claim that?
"You're alive--" Jao's words go into pained blubbering as he starts to bang a fist against his arm. His right arm, which reflexively twitches upwards at the elbow.
"Ow. Ja-- ow." His words are weak, as his shaky right hand tries to rest on the thrashing child's own arm. The pointer finger rises from it. Stomach-curdling popping noises come from every flex of a joint.
...He still has his fingers. Is it because of wearing a glove, minimizing contact between it and flesh? The close proximity of the ward? Just plain, stupid luck?
"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" Jao repeats himself. "Y-You don't have to prove anything! You're strong! You're strong like... like no one else is... you're going to die doing this, you're going t--"
"Ahh, Jao." He gives a pained, patient, fatherly smile even as blood goes down the side of his mouth. "It's a--"
"No! Shut up! It's not all right" Jao snaps, continuing to wail on him to not much effect. He's either that weak, or this man is... that tough? "Don't do this any more! I... if I lose you I'll never forgive you!"
...He still has a son to watch out for.
The two embrace in a hug as the father stands up. His left hand goes behind his back with a wincing, running his hand against a...
Oh. This.
He pulls 'it' out of wherever he stuffed it in the back. A blood-stained saya, of lacquered wood, dark brown and smooth in color. The silk wrapping was once of brilliant hues of sunset, but is now ruined by dried blood.
This is the katana of Aya Hazuki, one of the fallen Earthrealm warriors. Why does he have that? He seems to regard it for a poignant moment before stuffing it back whence it came.
He nods a few times.
"Okay." He limps slowly to where the skull currently rests, Jao in tow, walking before an audience ready to see whether this fool is going to chance his incredible luck one last time. The same fool that struggled with mere wood, who then went on to destroy far more impressive fare by... whatever means one might call his way of things.

Kneeling down to the floor, he looks the crystal skull in the empty eye sockets, and taps a hand against the ground nearby.
"Ahh, I'm calling it good, buddy," he says to it, "I had fun!"
He seems to mean those words. Too tired and too simple to obfuscate any of that, if he were ever of the mind, a stark contrast to almost any previous kontestant in recent memory.
It would seem that this test of might between the bloody legacy of Kantha Barrh and the ongoing strange tales of Howard Rust, Jr. - both of whom have survived the other - is to end in a stalemate. The question as to whether or not this man was truly mighty enough to win - he did survive that cursed thing! - will go unanswered. A once-in-so-many-others'-lifetimes opportunity is left a dangling loose end.
"That's that!" He says, waving a hand back towards the sorceror as the other draws Jao closer, whom has worn himself out with worry. "I concede," he says as he dips down once more to pick up the dropped tools of his trade.
Come to think of it, for all his bounding around, all those tools on his belt... not one of them made a sound.

COMBATSYS: Rust has left the fight here.

                          TEST YOUR MIGHT                          
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The exchange is almost heart-breaking to see.

Shang Tsung's fingers steeple, interleaving as he watches the young child beat the chest of his father. Though some of his number are sure that they have just witnessed a death, Tsung remains reclined, absently considering the merits of ruined fruit as Jao cries over the living cartoon.

The answer is obvious, of course. Shang Tsung sees much more than even the most astute observers of Outworld. It is partially why he is the arbitration over the tournament--this event, doubly so. Once satisfied, if faintly disappointed of the intact nature of the un-shinobi's limbs, Tsung is perfectly content to wait for Rust to recover. Of course, it may have something to do with the fact that Rust is finally, blissfully, serenely quiet. The braying of his child is a sonnet compared to the indecisive and grueling gibberish the grand tool has been incoherently muttering the whole time.

If the sorcerer has the misfortune of dealing this hand again, he may start with the skull next time.

But then, peace never nobly ends, and soon Tsung is forced to hold audience once more.

Of course, Shang Tsung can, if nothing else, always be relied upon to be a skilled and able host when called upon, even if his interest lay more in the distinctly uncharacteristic saya that Rust produces to break the hug between father and son. Tsung absently considers the merits of having Rust stripped later on, in response to some conjured offense.

The concession is received in momentary silence, Tsung electing not to respond for a length of time long enough to grow faintly awkward. Rolling the idea over in his head, he finally gives order: "For JAO, let it be known that his representative has chosen to concede. How disappointing. Finish them."

It happens fast. A group of guards lower polearms and step up onto the throneroom floor, as if ready to put a swift and unruly end to the two in response to what is regarded as a failure. Blades glint in the light, the monstrous entourage howl in anticipation, and then, with militant bloodlust, a row of guards--

"--ah, excuse me, where are my manners?" Tsung interjects, as if a thought occurred to him. "I meant finish them... with whatever they desire. Deliver the two kontestants to my hospitality, and furnish them with ample riches benefitting their....performance today. Have my servants clean them thuroughly before you deliver them to their new quarters."

Tsung doesn't seem to show any real surprise at the response from his guard, nor the dejection showed by his audience. Calmly he apologizes. "You'll have to forgive my guard," he explains, "in previous competitions, failing even once meant your entrails would be pulled from a small hole made in your stomach. At minimum. And concession counted as failure. Of course, not every one of my servants understand the nuance. How wise the elder gods must be to allow us to test one another's might as many times as is needed during the great tournament. It is my distinct pleasure to honor them by lavishing upon you the riches of your success, now that the goalposts have been lowered for Earthrealm. Such fairness can only be rewarded in one way. Congratulations."

Tsung waves. The guards respond to his wordless command, and begin the process of cleaning up, and removing from Tsung's sight anything that might offend. Rust and his son are definitely included in this list. For the record, they never actually lifted their weapons, and Rust may very well find himself violently pressganged into a hot bath by the sorcerer's servants at this rate...!!

'Finish them.'
The boy's rags are already ratty and brown. He has plausible deniability over what follows on his part as he crowds all around his father in silent fright.
Said father's face is unable to be discerned under the face-full of panicked boy hand as though his own son - far too old to be carried around like an infant! - seems to leap into him. There's an outward twitch of his left arm, hand faced down, and the bend of a knee along with something muffled as the two face a certain, bloody end. In the father's state of wear, they could be assured there is no crazy trump up his sleeve to get them out of th--
'...with whatever they desire,' comes the correction after the repeat. Jao has yet to come down off of his father, so seized up in fear as though his ears have metaphorically vacated their jobs in an attempt to save themselves.
"Oh." Comes Rust Jr.'s long-overdue comprehension of the severity of what lies before them... followed by muffled laughter, because Jao's still obscuring his face. That, and also because he's narrowly staggering away from death's door after having damn rang the doorbell how many times? Thirteen? Just from juggling that skull?
"I get you," a noxious amount of cheer works its way through wheezing and other breath-related signs of physical exhaustion, "ahh, don't worry about it."
Far too forgiving for a horrible end that he has once again been narrowly denied. (Far too forgiving of Jao maybe even starting to suffocate him?) He waves a hand in a friendly manner in a vague direction that Shang Tsung may or may not be. There's something about his voice that just carries... everywhere. So much so, if you don't have line of sight, it's hard to tell from where he speaks.
"C-C'mon," he says, leisurely trying to get Jao to step down and walk al-- nope, being ushered. He can feel a small poke in his back as the escort sees to it that this terrible chapter in the history of Test Your Might can be swiftly ended and washed out with maybe a more... suitable kontestant, later.
There's one last curious quality to this man. He has roamed about the wastes, the forests, pretty much everywhere on the island. The atmosphere is, in many ways, caustic both to the very soul and the body... but he, remarkably, seems largely together. Even the clothes he came in on, while bearing some wear and grime, are largely still wear-able. Some gulf of cognition between him and the situation around him... too comfortable in such an extraordinary situation, with the leisurely way he went about his tests.
There is no further commentary on his part, nor on the son's. This may be a fine enough blessing in return for the hospitality. As Outworld seems ready to celebrate their inevitable tenth consecutive victory in the great kontest of Mortal Kombat, one thing is for certain.
This is probably not the end of the trouble this father-and-son duo will cause.

Log created on 03:57:42 10/21/2016 by Rust, and last modified on 21:47:21 11/02/2016.