KOF 2017 - Q2: Rising Dragons 2017 vs Heirs to Legend

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Description: The Rising Dragons and the Heirs to Legends advance from the qualifiers, traveling across the world to a small but elegant chateau in Gay Paree. There, Sakura and Honoka will stare down each other within the Chateau de Colde, a maison in ownership of a minor noble family. While the pair will battle inside, they will have the honor of battling before the true prize of the de Colde family; a famous art piece that stretches across the entire room. There, the two teams will battle for the chance to advance into the semi-finals. The only rule to follow? Don't wreck the interior; that stuff's expensive, and we don't want to test the patience of the insurance companies.

"... The resemblance is uncanny."
The Twilight Star juggler is far from the only person in attendance transfixed by the colorful scene from a long-past time.

Commissioned by the Colde estate in the late eighteenth century, the painting depicts a legendary battle against the forces of evil. As typical of patron-sponsored artwork, the central figure of the artwork is one of the Colde family's own: Charlotte Christine de Colde. Armored in gleaming silver and brandishing a silver epee, Charlotte stands upon a horse-drawn chariot, commanding a group of combatants against a skeletal general and his legion of skulls.

Many in attendance would think that the artwork was, like others of the time, intended as an allegory for the French Revolution, with Charlotte's rebellion battling the spectre of the French monarchy. Indeed, contemporary artworks made heavy use of metaphor in glorifying the Revolution and its impact on society, leading to such well-renowned artworks such as the painting 'Liberty Leading the People' by Eugene Delacroix.

The key difference, though, is in the features.
For one, the skeletal general is bedecked in distinctly Japanese attire, wearing Heian-period robes and red hakama pants, surrounded by stairstepped ofuda wards.
For another, the majority of the warriors supporting Charlotte bear distinctly East Asian heritage, the accuracy of their facial features a testament to the pronounced skill of the artist.
Perhaps most significantly, though: one of the warriors bears a striking similarity to one of the Heirs to Legend.

Honoka stares with amazement at the figure in the painting, practically a mirror of the Ainu woman just beside her. Oil paints capture the likeness of Nakoruru in ways that soul-stealing cameras never could, from her distinctly patterned Ainu robes, to the falcon perched upon her gloved wrist. If anything, the stark constrast between Nakoruru's depiction and those of her weathered companions makes her cherubic features look even more doll-like.

A half-giddy smile crosses Honoka's face at the improbable set of circumstances that allow the modern Ainu-Japanese juggler to fight alongside a warrior maiden born nearly two and a half centuries prior. She turns back towards Nakoruru with a grin.
"They even managed to get your ribbon just right..."
But she is interrupted by a shrill whistle, echoing through the uncluttered halls of the cavernous estate.
Slightly unsettled by the noise, she nonetheless continues her train of thought by glancing over to the friendly falcon. "... A little off on Mamahaha, though."

Heeding the fight officials' call, the Twilight Star juggler retrieves her wands from the small folding table, allowing the cord to unfurl according to the whims of gravity. She announces, "Looks like I'm up first this time. Wish me luck!" Curling two diabolo in her other hand, she begins the short walk away from the Heirs to Legend tent. Her sneakers make hardly any noise, her treads and patterned leggings reflecting upon the polished marble tile. As she approaches the fight locale, she allows the diabolos to slip from her fingertips, tracking along the length of cord. And rather than crack across the marble, they sail upwards in a playful arc, before dropping once again into the well of her control.

Honoka's wearing the same attire as at the qualifying rounds in Rio de Janeiro: a purple scoop-necked t-shirt and dark grey shorts, combined with a partially-unzipped royal blue jacket and brighter violet leggings bearing the star-shaped Twilight Star Circus logo. The sleeves of the jacket are bunched up to the elbow, the shimmery synthetic fabric catching the bright King of Fighters lights as she keeps her diabolos in unceasing orbit. Long locks of fuschia-tipped hair tumble like spun silk across her shoulders as she extends her left wand towards the Rising Dragons. Her coffee-colored eyes flicker between the team members present. The tip of the wand lifts in a beckoning gesture, as her lips curl into an enthusiastic smile, all punctuated by the rhythmic whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the twin diabolos.

"So we meet again, hmmmm?"

COMBATSYS: Honoka has started a fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

Sakura doesn't have the knowledge--artistic, historic, personal, spiritual--to really fully appreciate the surroundings she now finds herself in. She appreciates them for what they are, a beautiful French chateau, and for some truly amazing artwork, even if she doesn't really look too closely at it. Really, she doesn't arrive with enough time to get into it too deeply; the cab she and Ryu took is just trundling off as she enters into the foyer, and then is directed into the hall where the match is to take place.

Already she's tightening her fighting gloves into place, checking her headband--repping Taiyo with her school uniform, as she almost always does, those bright red canvas Converses probably one of her most-recognized trademarks. (Her and Terry Bogard.) She looks around, but it's not hard to find the place, though she does take a moment to whistle at the sheer size and the finery that the hall contains. In fact, she stares long enough for a King of Fighters official to have to go *ahem* to shake her out of it and she bows in apology before heading over to the fighting area.

Honoka is already there, the diabolo-wielding acrobat and fighter looking much like Sakura remembers, just as she must look to Honoka, and with one last check of her headband and gloves, she grins, and brings her hands up, tightening them into fists and beginning to bob back and forth, keeping her weight moving.

"Hi again," is her response, friendly and to the point.

COMBATSYS: Sakura has joined the fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0           Sakura

The trouble with using a mansion as a fight venue is that there is no way that thousands of people are going to fit inside. Which is why the throngs of people are suffering the indignity of watching a live fight via large high-definition displays positioned just outside the estate, seated on bleachers and folding chairs arranged in a wide semicircular array. Only a select few dozen are able to watch Honoka and Sakura up close and personal as they stride up to the central rose emblem.

The diabolos swing about in perfect harmony, as the Ansatsuken Angel bobs back and forth on her toes. Outside, the fight announcers work the crowd outside into a cheering frenzy, providing the two fighters a rare moment of privacy before the fight officials can commence the fight.

"How times have changed, mmm? When we last met we were wearing ridiculous costumes... and now, look at you... "

Honoka slides her right foot back, and her grip on the diabolo wands changes. An instant later, a dramatic flick of her wrist sends one of the diabolos arcing upwards -- and a moment later the gesture is repeated to send the second airborne.

And then her grip changes again to invert the wands, allowing Honoka's fingers to curl as if around a basketball. Indeed, a small flash of energy spills from her fingertips, though the energy begins to adopt the appearance of flower petals, swirling about in a vaguely spherical fashion. It will be as close as Honoka can manage to approximate a Hadouken, considering the diaphanous, illusive nature of her energy-wielding talents.

"... Standing side by side with your inspiration? It must be so exciting."

A moment later, her hands slip past each other, the petals spiralling outwards before fading away entirely. The wands twist around, the cord dancing about to ensnare the diabolos as they fall. In an instant, the diabolos are right back in the mostly-circular orbit they had maintained only moments prior.

Only this time, a fiery blaze erupts within the eyes of the diabolo-wielder. An intensity that suggests playtime is over.

"The whole world is watching -- let's give them the best show we can, shall we?"

Honoka extends her left hand and wand towards Sakura in a warding gesture, moving only to maintain her diabolos' orbit. Her silky hair bobs about with each subtle gesture -- indeed, every fiber in her body is now fully committed to the potential of combat.

The cheering outside builds to deafening volume. Only the announcers -- a young man and woman -- can be heard, shouting in unison.


Sakura isn't really paying attention to the cameras--and the lack of crowds is a little disoncerting, but only because she's just kind of used to that noise. Not having it just feels a little weird. Despite being pretty showy as a fighter--naturally flashy and all--she's not really a -showman-, per se. She doesn't work at it--it just comes naturally to her. Honoka, on the other hand, -is- exactly that, and it probably shows in poise and bearing, and the way she twirls the diabolos, providing visual accompaniment that Sakura simply can't.

The Blooming Flower of Ansatsuken blinks, then smiles at Honoka's reference to Ryu. As always, honest and direct, with her heart out on her sleeve, Sakura nods. "It's been amazing. Amazing! Ryu really is the best."

Despite not being gifted in the psionic arts, Sakura can see the change in Honoka's eyes, and she matches it with her own, the near-constant grin turning... wolfish? More serious, in any case. "Let's do it!" she proclaims, just after the announcers give the go signal. Never being one to hold back or wait, Sakusaku bursts off the block, so to speak, transitioning from standing to dashing forward in a fraction of a second, her very first instinct to get within the reach of the diabolos and punctuate with a short, sharp right punch aimed for Honoka's solar plexus.

As fun as Saturday Night Fights are, sometimes they're just kind of laden down with gimmicks--it's like fighting on an episode of Takeshi's Castle. Sometimes, Sakura doesn't want a triple strawberries and cream Frappucino with the whipped cream, a shot of raspberry syrup and the sprinkles--sometimes she just wants coffee, black, hot. (That's a lie, she'd always take the frappucino.)

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Sakura's Aggressive Strike.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0           Sakura

The last time the Ainu-Japanese woman was in combat, the stakes were significantly higher. In contrast, Sakura's attitude to the fight is refreshing: a determination to win without the intent to actually kill.

As Sakura closes in, Honoka responds appropriately - a pop of her leading forearm causes one diabolo to sail upwards, arcing well over both of their heads. Momentarily freed of its duty of maintaining the orbit, the limb is now available to intercept Sakura's determined punch. The juggler's forearm absorbs the shock of the knuckles' impact, as she takes a half step backwards to bleed off Sakura's forward inertia.

A stinging blow, but not an unqualified success. The juggler's smile diminishes faintly from the strike -- more a product of getting serious than anything else. Her trailing arm sweeps forward, entrapping the diabolo within the loop of cord. A step and a quarter-turn pivot to the side transform the diabolo from an inertial liability into a spinning meteor hammer, which Honoka now brings to bear.

If the diabolo were to impact Sakura, it would hit her with the force of a brick.
The goal here, though, is not impact -- but entrapment. Honoka aims to whip the diabolo cord around Sakura's extended arm, using the momentum of the diabolo to coil the rope around Sakura's arm before it can be retracted. And if she manages to ensnare the Ansatsuken fighter, she would continue pivoting further in the same smooth gesture, pulling the Taiyo student off-balance. Honoka would then extend her knee to 'catch' her falling opponent -- only to follow through with the spin and sling her down to the marble tilework.

With luck, the diabolo that was sent into the air earlier might not land on Sakura afterwards.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Sakura with Kohumumatki.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0           Sakura

Sakura's impetuousness is, without a doubt, one of the things that distinguishes her from her idol the most, in terms of personality. Ryu's responses are measured, thoughtful; he doesn't just charge into a fight, he looks for the right opportunity. It's something Sakura has yet to learn on an instinctive level, something she hasn't incorporated fully.

And it costs her--and costs her a lot. Out of position, overextended by just that much, she takes the diabolo to the head and Honoka indeed does get to whip her around and fling her into the marble flooring. Fortunately her head is tougher than that, and so is the marble; neither cracks under the impact, although the sound certainly makes it seem like it.

Sakura doesn't have the time to gasp, to grab her head, to do anything; the impetuousness that led her in is replaced by instinctive reaction, Sakura rolling after the impact (and narrowly avoiding a second diabolo to the face), and springing up to her feet. Her teeth are bared, though she isn't quite aware of it, a natural reaction to the in-fight, as she transitions the upward momentum from her rising into a torquing of her body and a launch as she begins to spin around, lashing out with her extended right foot, helicoptering forward through an arc, attempting to push Honoka back and disengage her arm at the same time.

COMBATSYS: Sakura successfully hits Honoka with Shunpuu Kyaku.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|====---\-------\0           Sakura

Honoka's smile turns into a bit more of a smirk as her snare takes effect, particularly at the exact moment that Sakura's form collides with the marble floor. She makes a mental note of the first diabolo as it clacks against the marble a slight distance away from Sakura. The juggler releases one of her wands, tossing it about to untangle the cord, while still maintaining some controlling influence upon the schoolgirl.

Her expression turns back into a pleased smile at the rapidity with which Sakura reasserts herself upright -- even moreso once she catches sight of the bared teeth. Pluck -- that's the kind of determination that sells tickets!

"Good, that's the spirit," agrees Honoka, locking eyes with Sakura for the one moment before they whirl out of view.

It should be a relatively simple matter for the trained acrobat to avoid the spinning schoolgirl, but one advantage that Sakura has here is long legs. That is to say, the Taiyo student's enthusiasm allows a more committed blow than Honoka would expect from a more polished fighter, meaning that Honoka should have hopped back two feet instead of just one. A Converse impacts her in the shoulder, leaving a faint tread pattern on her shiny blue jacket before the revolution scuffs it up -- but lucky Honoka, there's a second footprint to follow immediately thereafter! The diabolo and one of Honoka's wands go flying off, resulting in Sakura breaking free of the entanglement...

Honoka, for her part, staggers backwards, clutching her remaining wand tightly. A pained expression on her face, she reflexively rushes up to brush the dirt and grime off her jacket shoulder in an attempt to downplay the injury. Eyes quickly scan the floor for her other diabolo as she flips the wand around. As soon as she spots the errant diabolo, she digs in her heel and lashes downward with the non-corded end of the diabolo, aiming to strike Sakura right in the thigh as she lands. Should that strike hit home, she'd flick her wrist, snapping the cord down and around Sakura's -other- foot, and then jerk the diabolo cord sharply to the side to send Sakura off-balance a second time.

Here, as well, the diabolos would be a minor threat for Sakura -- in that it'd hurt a lot more to fall on one than on the flat tile floor...

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Sakura with Armed Combo.

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Honoka           1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\>------\1           Sakura

For the second time, Sakura meets the floor. Only this time, it's face-first. Or almost--a quarter-turn at the last possible moment saves her nose and teeth from being directly bashed into the marble flooring. Doesn't make it hurt any less; Sakura can't help the cry of pain as she slams into the floor once more, doing her best to roll away from the direction Honoka was in. She's still game, though--if anything, a blow that would dizzy or concuss another fighter, would at least have them staggering, and she pops up with even more vigor, the light in her eyes practically visible.

No, wait, it -is- visible, not just in her eyes--it's suffusing her upper body, a blue-white glow that contracts into a space between her hands, chi compressed into tangible, visible power, hissing and crackling like lightning as she squeezes it down between her hands. But she can only hold it in that state for so long--maybe not even a second--before it forces its way back out, expanding to a chest-sized sphere of power that she holds for barely another second before she releases it, crackling and roaring, towards Honoka.

Sakura's voice can barely be heard (at least by Honoka) above it, though the shout is more clear to the microphones that pick up the action--she sounds both a little ecstatic and a little otherworldly, an effect of all that power, giving just a touch of echo effect that isn't there normally.


COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

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Honoka           1/----===/=======|-------\-------\0           Sakura

COMBATSYS: Honoka fails to reflect Shinkuu Hadouken from Sakura with Kamui Atemka.

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Honoka           0/-------/----===|-------\-------\0           Sakura

Determination. Grit. These were the attributes most prized by the Scarlet Dahlia -- the qualities most required for a battle for the fate of Earthrealm.

The outcome of a fight slants heavily towards the fighter who has already sacrificed everything -- the fighter who loses nothing from trying their absolute hardest to succeed. Conversely, for a fighter who is demoralized and hesitant to commit oneself to victory, terror takes over and defeat becomes inevitable.

Honoka has kept her eye on Sakura for a long time. She has convinced herself that Sakura in the first category. That with every fall, she will rise again.

These are the attributes most prized by a master manipulator seeking to strengthen the world against its most terrifying adversaries.

The upsurge in chi, by itself, would go unnoticed by the psion. But the azure waves rippling across Sakura's body, distorting the air with their sheer intensity -- she can notice those. A moment is spared snapping her loose wand at the nearest diabolo, jolting it into the air long enough for the corner of the wand to be ensnared by the cord. But the bulk of her attention is spent focusing on the waves of energy emanating from Sakura. An expression of exultant glee spreads across the performer's face.

"This is it -- your moment to shine..." she responds in a half-whisper, barely audible beneath the crackle and roar of energy that sends her fuschia-highlighted hair atumble. Light cascades across her cheeks, her bared teeth, her gleaming eyes, as she takes a step back, coiling herself as if to leap high into the sky. Honoka, too, begins to glow with energy all her own, though hers is of a purple hue and concentrated almost entirely upon her hands.

The Ansatsuken lioness roars. And the air crackles, tinged with the scent of ozone, as a swirling burst of cerulean blue hurtles its way towards the juggler.

She was able to leap out of the way of the last one. This attack merits her full attention -- and a show of -might- and -force-.
When the Shinkuu Hadouken is about to land, Honoka rises up, snapping her loose wand at the projectile with supersonic speed, the cord making a cracking sound loud enough to be heard outside. A burst of kinetic power snaps outward at the extent of its reach. The intent is to deaden the hurtling fireball long enough to rein in its energies -- to capture the momentum, and then sling it back at Sakura.

That does not happen. What -does- happen is that the whip-cracking wand is shoved aside at the last instant, caught up in the disturbed air currents pushed aside by the Shinkuu Hadouken. And the projectile continues steamrolling towards Honoka, with all the force of Honoka's strike knocked harmlessly to the wayside.

Eyes widen. And a moment later, the force slams into Honoka's sternum, hard enough to force a pained cry from her lungs, powerful enough to bring tears to the young woman's eyes, hot enough to singe a ring of soot into her jacket.

Honoka skids backwards as the spinning energy sears through her. The diabolo is slung out of her grasp, clacking to a fair distance away. She spreads her feet apart to maintain balance throughout -- though her treads squeak across the marble as she's forced backwards -- and only after the energy dispels is she allowed to rock forward, planting a soot-covered palm onto the cool marble tile for support. Panting... she pushes herself back to her feet.

And grins.
"That's... That's -exactly- what I was hoping to see. Marvelous!"
The diabolo wand is twirled about, as the juggler begins walking -- slowly, and with some degree of stiffness -- towards the nearer of her two diabolos.
"You've improved much since our last fight, Miss Kasugano... how many more surprises can you show me today?"

Something stays Sakura's hand. Normally, of course, she'd go charging in, because that's her nature--something more like the equally-famous Ken Masters than Ryu. But she's met the floor a little too often. She knows Honoka is both skilled and powerful. Probably stronger than her. But the margin of success isn't zero. The latest exchange proved that.

Be more like Ryu, she tells herself, tightening her fists. Don't just rush in; that is your youthfulness at play. Watch. Analyze. Learn. Try to decipher the language of the opponent... what are they trying to say? And...

And make other preparations as well. Tap into that inner power, that boundless wellspring. Reach deep. Center yourself.

Sakura pulls in a long, measured breath, and exhales just as slowly. A wind starts whipping around her, pulling up motes of dust, spinning around her in a miniature cyclone that rises up from her feet to her knees, laced through with blue slashes, as she sinks down a little, grounding herself.

COMBATSYS: Sakura taps into her inner strength!

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Honoka           0/-------/----===|>>>>---\-------\0           Sakura

The fact of the matter is, Honoka's still hurt. The Shinkuu Hadouken did a lot more to her than the experienced performer is willing to let on to the audience. She can still hear the roar in her ears, can still feel the fire in her veins. Her fingers clasp and release upon the wands in a vain attempt to make the ever-present tingling sensation go away. Her ribcage heaves and her tendrils of hair flutter with each breath.

This... tiny slip of a girl has managed to give Earthrealm's Champion a sense of anxiety.

It would, however, seem that her challenge was not answered. That Sakura would not be goaded into pressing an attack so easily again. That she's...
Oh. So that's why that strategy looks familiar.

Honoka seals away her anxiety within a shroud of confidence, calmly striding over to her diabolo and giving it a light kick with her toe. As it rises, she calmly balances the juggling prop upon the tip of one of her wands, like magic. "You're probably thinking to yourself... "... 'what would Ryu do in this situation?'" The diabolo spins atop its wand for a moment, even as Honoka closes the gap to the cyclone-encircled Kasugano. "You're making an excellent showing. But, no offense... I've been itchin' to rematch him, myself. So, thanks for being the warm-up."

Whether Honoka is stoking the competitive fire within Sakura, or merely trying to get a few good digs in, it's not entirely certain. But what -is- certain is that she doesn't particularly care to go easy on the schoolgirl. The diabolo is shoved upwards, arcing towards Sakura in a high approach. That's more of a distraction than anything else though, for her real strike comes in the form of a pirouetting leap -- top-spinning in mid-leap, she'd come crashing down onto the Ansatsuken fighter with a crushing overhand blow from her wand -- and if it lands, the -other- end of the wand would follow the same trajectory for a second strike!

COMBATSYS: Sakura interrupts Crushing Strike from Honoka with Large Hadouken EX.

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Honoka           0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0           Sakura

'Don't get ahead of yourself'. It's something Sakura's heard... many times, over the years. It happens because she lives her life with enthusiasm--becuase she has a laser focus on things she enjoys, consuming hobbies with an avidity that is nothing short of amazing to those who get to see it. Kei can personally attest to it. Sakura lives the way people say they aspire to. She's proud of what she's already done as a fighter--building a style out of correspondence classes and brief layman's explanations and just... just -figuring things out herself-. She can be proud of that; it's something most people never do.

So to be discarded as 'the warm up' hurts. Especially when she knows it's true. Compared to Ryu, she really -is- 'the warmup'. It's true, but...

But she doesn't have to like it. Or accept it. Certainly she doesn't have to just take it without response. That emotional response speeds her actions; the buildup, the pull, all seems to happen with more fluidity, more ease, than she usually musters. But it still takes time--enough time for that diabolo wand to slam into her. But instead of buckling, instead of losing her focus, she fights through it.

An instant after the wand hits, she thrusts her arms forward, launching a virtual wall of power--not as concentrated as the earlier Hadouken, but certainly impressive in its own way. Will it blow Honoka away? Probably... at least for the moment.

But that moment is the important part, as Sakura announces, proudly, "I am a -fighter-. I am not -the warm up-!" And then she buckles a little, 'cause damn, you wouldn't think a diabolo wand could hurt like that, but the spreading awareness of pain puts the lie to -that-.

Honoka's wand slammed into the Taiyo student as expected -- gaining Honoka some measure of satisfaction. But it would seem that seem that Honoka's gambit of goading Sakura was overly successful -- and may not have been productive to her aims of succeeding in this fight. The diabolo aimed Sakura's way had managed to miss her narrowly, but it's much, -much- harder to miss the surge of cerulean blue energy that is shoved into Honoka's face -- for it's large enough to impact her in the upper torso as well. Indeed, the wave is powerful enough to force her back, the energy searing through her flesh with that familiar and altogether excruciating sensation.

The first time, she'd been able to expect it -- the second time, though?
Honoka Kawamoto loses her frosty facade.

"RRRREEEEAAUGH--AAUGH ow, ow... Nnrgh, that stings like a ..."
Honoka staggers backwards, shaking the numbness out of her hands, legs bowing out to either side as she manages to at least remain standing after such a stinging rebuke. "Alright then..." she resumes, her breath coming out a little ragged. A lash is spared for the diabolo, but rather than get fancy with it, she spins it around into a quick orbit. As the diabolo races around the line, it bleeds out a trail of faint purple energy behind it -- and the diabolo spins faster and faster until it starts to resemble a shield!

"Maybe I ain't been giving you enough credit, and I'm sorry for that. But I just got one more question... How fast -are- you, anyway?!"

Without giving time for the question to settle, she suddenly shoves forward with the "shield", aiming to slam the spinning gyre into Sakura -- and if it catches hold, it would likely blast the schoolgirl backwards, spinning about her own axis!

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Sakura with Tokap Chup Kamui.

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Honoka           1/-----==/=======|=======\=------\1           Sakura

The answer is 'not fast enough'. Because Honoka is, herself, plenty fast and agile, and Sakura is injured and woozy. But these are just excuses; she fails to avoid the spinning, energy-infused diabolo, and it cracks into her, more than a hair too slow to avoid it; it cracks across her body and it does, indeed, send her spinning, twirling about in a most picturesque manner before she hits the marble floor once more.

Sakura is known primarily for being somewhat unpredictable and somewhat crazy, but she's also known for a dogged refusal to give up in the face of an opponent. That's why she doesn't just... go down. She wobbles on her feet, but the light's not quite gone from her eyes yet. Not yet. Gritting her teeth, she forces herself forward, into the teeth of danger once more, her feet pistoning against the marble--if she were wearing something other than Chucks the sound would be pretty loud--and drives everything she has remaining into a lunging punch, similar to how she opened the fight.

COMBATSYS: Sakura can no longer fight.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Honoka           1/-----==/=======|

And then she falls, as if the reverberations of the insults to her body have come home; she stays posed in a picture-perfect punch for just a moment, then begins to crumple...

COMBATSYS: Honoka instinctively dodges Sakura's Medium Punch.

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Honoka           1/-----==/=======|

Heroes are forged in the cauldron of battle. To the true fighters, this aphorism is more than just a saying -- it is undeniable truth. For while long hours spent practicing are certainly useful for eliminating the slack from an undisciplined lifestyle, nothing can supplant the experience of fighting the keen eyes, the quick reflexes, or the raw explosive power of an expert opponent. The Ainu-Japanese woman's taunt may have seemed cruel and out-of-place in the midst of what was, until then, a mostly mutual respect between the two combatants. But in the mind of the fate-driven manipulator, it seemed to be a necessary catalyst for unlocking the awesome potential of the Taiyo fighter.

Honoka understands that Sakura may hold a grudge against her. But in the end -- that only encourages her to fight harder.
All according to plan.

The Ainu tusukur pulls back from her spinning diabolo, slowing the orbit back to its typical idle speed. The purple haze which suffuses its movement fades in similar measure as Sakura's spinning motion brings her back down to the floor, beneath the oil painting of Charlotte and her companions. Honoka now understands that Sakura's most dynamic performance came from being pushed right to the edge -- it was shown here, just as it was on the troubled island paradise of Zack and Lee Chaolan. And if Honoka continues trying to match Sakura's pace, then she would be easily undone.

Which is why Honoka pauses to inhale deeply, slowing her fevered breaths and rapid heartbeat to a more maintainable pace as she observes the Ansatsuken disciple, finding solace in the regular, rhythmic tension applied to the wands in her hands. By exhibiting control, she can resume control of the fight's pace. So that when Sakura rises, she will be confronted not with the angered, exasperated Honoka, but a calm scion of the Ainu way of life, casually flicking the diabolo along its orbit.

Sakura commits herself fully into an all-out attack, hoping to finish the fight with as dynamic a strike as it began.
And that is when the acrobatic juggler puts her circus training into effect, leaning right into a cartwheeling evasion as Sakura thunders past. The diabolo finds itself spinning as well, so expert is the juggler's control of the juggling prop.

The audience falls silent -- spellstruck by the Ansatsuken Angel's dynamic show of force.

An instant later, Honoka's feet touch down onto the marble.
An instant after that is when Sakura collapses.

Honoka twists about on her feet, squaring her shoulders with Sakura once again -- as if in expectation for her to rise again. When she does not, and the referee begins a count, she remains quiet, maintaining the orbit.

Only after the decision is called out by the pair of announcers -- "KAY OH!" -- does Honoka finally allow herself the moment to lower her guard.

And she bows, respectfully as can be. "Please forgive me, Miss Kasugano. I wanted to see your burning heart again -- and the moment overtook me. You were an excellent opponent."

COMBATSYS: Honoka awaits the next challenger.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Honoka           1/-----==/=======|

Ryu spent some time contemplating the warriors depicted in the painting on display. His travels have taken him very far throughout the globe - and sometimes beyond - but he would be dishonest if he said he never wished he could walk backwards from the direction of the clock, and test those who came and left before himself. Even so, the only way down the path of the champion's road was forward. The odd thoughts aside at rest - like the one above - he had little use for daydreaming.
Sakura and Honoka struck an exciting opening round, indeed, and he holds focus through every movement, every decision, every blow... and every word, that sees him frown slightly. Words that Sakura answers in defiant kind, inspiringly.
"All fights hold great value, no matter its combatants." Such words come from Ryu as he steps forth after Sakura throws her final punch. Throughout the first round, Ryu was a silent, quiet character. He didn't want to disrupt Sakura's focus, or take her out of it through cheers or loud sounds. He moves to help Sakura up with an outstretched hand, and lead her back behind one of the gold pedestals with the exquisite flowerpots in which beautiful roses bloom with a gentle smile. "You fought well."
Allen's walked further off towards the window, speaking with someone who introduces themselves as from some company that starts with the letter 'A.' Whatever they're talking about, Allen looks really excited about it! It's all very rude, but it must be something very nice he's looking forward to. Good for him!
"We meet again." Ryu says, as he adopts his fighting pose. Fists clenching, feet bobbing up and down. The announcer of this particular match calls his name out, as is the tradition. Honoka's name is repeated, as if anyone could ever forget who she is!
He can see it in Honoka's manner, in her movements. Much has happened in the time that has passed in between. The eagerness comes through in his body language. He wants to test himself anew against a legacy and tradition that awed him upon that ship that seems so long ago, now.
"GO!" The announcer goes, and Ryu himself goes, closing in on Honoka as he moves to grab hold of her - a simple, diret attempt to toss Honoka from the hip, to hurl her further down the length of the well-polished checkerboard floor that seems far too elegant to ever even /think/ of suffering any scuffs or scratches at the very idea of juggling the juggler against itself.

COMBATSYS: Ryu has wandered into the fight here on the right meter side.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Ryu's Seoi Nage.

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

As Ryu shares his wisdom, Honoka glances towards him, meeting his stoic gaze with an agreeing nod. "Every one of us has the potential for greatness." She considers adding another statement to that, but instead diverts her attention to the wall housing the massive oil painting, perhaps looking to the mythical heroes for judgment.

As Ryu helps Sakura to her feet, her attention drifts to the skeletal general in Eastern attire. While her mind could have drifted to the legendary significance of the character, the steady rhythm of her oscillating diabolos instead reminds her of the dead island she'd been on not so long ago. Why was this fight so much more difficult for her...? Was it because the stakes were so comparatively low? Losing the tournament would not be so bad for her -- after all, she'd still be alive, as would her Ainu companions. Earthrealm would still be a viable place to live, with all the creature comforts of home.

No, she considers -- she spoke rudely because she -had- wanted to find the passion to fight Ryu again. A selfish desire to plant herself back in the role of underdog, to find the -thrill- of battling against a world champion on the world's stage.

Thrum, thrum, thrum. The satisfying vibration of cord signaling the diabolo whirling about according to its rhythm. She finds herself back in the moment -- and her eyes drift lazilly to the image of the Ainu woman in the painting.

Thrum, thrum, thrum. Eyes shift back to the inhabitants of the Heirs to Legend tent. The psion has a vague sense of everyone's position in the room, though she becomes aware from the awkward glances by the audience that...
She's been kind of standing in place for a few moments, lost in her reverie.

Lips curl into an apologetic smile. Her head bobs in appreciation to those obviously wondering if Sakura had managed to knock a screw loose. ... Maybe she had. But after that moment to collect herself, her task turns to collecting the one remaining diabolo. A toe kick adds the second diabolo to the rotation as she takes another long, deliberate breath to recenter herself to the task at hand.

To the challenge she desires, the World Warrior himself.
We meet again, he says.
"We meet again," she echoes with a respectful bow. Smiling faintly, she adds, "I hope we don't wreck this mansion like we had that poor ship."

Her head is bowed. Her stance is widened. And as the word 'Go' is announced, she bobs in prepared anticipation. Her leading arm would seem to be the target, but she is almost assured that Ryu would have a sturdier attack in mind than the committed punch from his disciple. Whipping her diabolos and wand away from her left hand, she actually provides a slackened wrist to Ryu in offering, perhaps anticipating his follow-through. Indeed, as soon as he seeks to whip her around, she allows herself to be pulled off-balance... or so it seems.

As soon as her Ansatsuken opponent releases her, the acrobat instantly snaps her legs about in mid-air, twisting out of her thrown momentum into a controlled roll, with her diabolo wand snapping out to her right like a feline tail. After a light bump to her hip, she springs back to her feet, jogging the wand to collect her diabolos back into their orbit.

Her mouth opens, as if to add further commentary -- but she rapidly decides against it. Diabolo are snapped into midair, approaching Ryu from two different attack arcs -- but the true punishing attack emerges from the palm she forcibly extends outwards to him: a blossom of violet energy not unlike the illusion she had shown Sakura a few minutes prior.

The spectral blossom would rocket towards him with surprising speed. If it slams into Ryu's solar plexus like she intends, the World Warrior might find himself more than a little queasy afterwards.

COMBATSYS: Ryu dodges Honoka's Ishirishina.

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

Compare to Ryu, who himself fell to... terrible influences, and found himself making difficult decisions at the very end. He seems to have found his resolve to keep going, to keep fighting. One battle at a time, he wouldn't lose sight of his goal. He did not need much downtime in which to prepare to re-enter the fight anew. The fight itself was everything Ryu craved.
To go further on that descriptor was patently unnecessary. The worst was, for the time being, behind any of them here. All that was important to anyone's notice was the fight itself - a rematch between two highly skilled combatants. Honoka deals with the hurling with little lasting harm, slyly transitioning towards her counter-offensive.
In so far as words go, they both appear to be of the same mind amongst one another. Their fists would handle conversational duties instead.
As is before, his reflexes and instincts seemed as honed and on-point as ever. The first of the feinting diablo is allowed to go as it will. The other appears to neatly coax him a bit more front, a lot more center, just as she thrust her palm forward in what appeared a sure hit.
Ryu swayed the shoulder facing Honoka further forward with a tilted crouch (which threw off the intended target area but now risked his head), allowing the spectral blossom to just inch by his face as it tickled the tips of the red bandanna that now adorned his head. Ken's old headband, a token of friendship after the two of them reunited within the hellish landscape of Shang Tsung's own island in Outworld.
Flickers of her emotions given power and form danced as sparks before his eyes, which he paid little mind beyond acknolwedging its brief presence in his vision.
As he stood back up, he turned his back towards Honoka as he raised a knee up in front of him - a maneuver she would have keenly remembered prior - having chosen to take advantage of his present positioning to thrust the kick back behind himself with all the same power and approach as before. The one foot still planted on the ground dragged against the floor as the kick carried him forward.
Air compressed around the back of his foot as it came in around head level. The petals of the planted roses a ways off rustled in its wake, all punctuated with a loud kiai.

COMBATSYS: Honoka instinctively blocks Ryu's Joudan Sokutou Geri.

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

While it may have seemed that Honoka missed with those attacks, the truth is somewhat murkier. Against Sakura it was more of a strategy to keep the diabolos airborne, as the diaboloist had assumed that the younger of the Rising Dragons would not have been able to keep track of multiple attack vectors. Against Ryu, though, she could expect that he would have no difficulty assessing threats within his visual arc. Hence -- the diabolos themselves are only a problem for -her- to keep track of. Two clacks resound in quick succession behind him, proving that the Ainu woman has effectively left landmines for him to stumble upon later.

While she had hoped that the third offering of her triple threat would have landed true, she nonetheless flashes a brief smile in acknowledgment of the World Warrior falling prey to her expectation to avoid it. Even as the diabolo wand is recalled to her hand, she's already repositioning herself to close the gap, stepping towards her crouching opponent.

As such, she also places herself in range of the knee as he rises -- a knee which her cheekbone can surely remember as a prelude for a crushing heel kick. Despite having just closed the gap, she reminds herself that discretion is the better part of valor -- and in this case, that means leaping backwards in a strategic withdrawal. The diabolo cord is pulled taut against her index fingers as she draws her forearms back, resulting in both diabolo wands snapping snugly against her forearms; it is that surface which is present to catch the heel as it slams outwards. Kinetic impact is transformed into heat -- dispersed along the rattan of the diabolo wands -- and the motion of a curled-up Honoka being propelled backwards like a cannonball.

Uncurling from her retrograde flight, the treads of her sneakers squeak against the estate floor, leading to a rather hasty reversal of direction. The juggler locks eyes with Ryu for a moment, and for a moment -- perhaps too long of a moment -- her eyes appear to glow with fiery intensity.

Her determination to win the fight appears to have kicked up. Already weary from her earlier fight, she appears to be throwing caution to the wind -- and possibly even taking a page from Sakura's playbook. Eager to regain the ground she lost, she charges forward, straight into the Ansatsuken lion's sphere of influence.

Somehow, she seems faster than before, dropping her head and shoulders down in an attempt to avoid any swinging of that extended foot. The compression of air from the Joudan Sokutou Geri is an effect that will be evidenced in reverse -- the pressure predicating a powerful forward leap that, she hopes, will bring her just inside Ryu's defensive range.

The attack, by itself, looks simple -- a forceful palm thrust to the breadbasket.
It is the psychic turmoil which accompanies such a blow that will do the damage -- nausea, queasiness, and distress. Is it even possible to get seasick so far inland?

COMBATSYS: Ryu endures Honoka's Pon-itak Ki.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Honoka           1/-======/=======|=======\=------\1              Ryu

Ryu doesn't appear to suspect a thing in the arrangement. The World Warrior is a well-rounded package of skill, strength, speed, and stamina alike. Honoka's multi-layered planning might yet prove to be her greatest advantage in finding a chink somewhere within the armor of the Ansatsuken student.
He can only witness her defense against the back kick's power with a glance over his shoulder, but it is met with neither scorn nor smile. For Ryu, it is just another exchange of techniques. To move in the moment, to keep working blow by blow, he starts to retract the outstretched leg to return to a ready position.
Honoka moves in faster than he anticipates, bracing his abdominal muscles for a blow that seems - within that split second - insubstantial as he coaxes himself down into a crouch as though reacting to a blow that actually strikes moments later against his back unguarded.
The disorienting feeling washes over him with clenched teeth, a tightened fist, and a grunt that transforms into a hiss. He doesn't let this interrupt what his next strike was when he seems to resign himself to having been struck by something that actually makes contact moments later than his eyes believe.
"ShinkuUuuU..." He maintains his composure as the palm strike inflicts Honoka's will given power. The unsteadiness of his voice is the rewarding hint of the nauseous feeling making its attempt upon his body and his psyche.
Ryu doesn't let it.
That is the only element of the insidious plan that can stand to go wrong at all - that Honoka's opponent is willing to fight through an off-center, dizzy, nauseous feeling to stay afloat without compromise or delay.
He commits to the next maneuver with a short leap into the air, vertically, as he extends one leg outward. It begins to whirl in place, as Honoka may find the opposing energy to her own - chi - manifesting in a wide circle underneath. The reflection of the checkerboard floor underneath is, somehow, even shinier than the real thing.
It threatens to pull her into a veritable hurricane of a spinning kick that hovers above a gathering swirl of whitish-blue chi energy underneath.

COMBATSYS: Honoka instinctively dodges Ryu's Shinkuu Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku.

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

If you believe in something strongly enough, then perhaps it can come true. The adage holds more true for the psion than most -- her most wishful hope was projected with such intent and clarity to suggest that she had closed the gap when she'd not yet done so. It brings about a moment's hesitation -- which, in the heat of an adrenaline-soaked battle, proved to be long enough for Honoka to leap forward, to close the gap for real, and to funnel her psychic energy into a psychosomatic blow sure to reap dividends as the fight progresses.

As residual shockwaves from her psychic rush -- of greatly diminished magnitude -- continue to pitter-patter over Ryu, Honoka realizes that one solid hit will not be enough to win the battle. The tides of battle insist that she withdraw to a safer range -- that one should never remain -too- close to someone with as raw kinetic impact as Ryu.

Ignorant of the surging upswells of chi, she can only rely on her senses -- and in this case, hearing provides a signal which impels her to a different course of action. Honoka has observed, both in her personal encounters and in review of fight footage, that the word "Shinkuu" usually precedes an incredibly painful attack. All the more reason for her to heed her instincts.

Her eyes widen, adrenaline slowing the passage of time to a manageable crawl...
- His hands are in the wrong place.
- His leg, though, is just now swinging into her peripheral vision range - a momentary advantage provided only by the close proximity.
- In the immediate term, Honoka should lean back and move her cheek to the side.

If you believe it strongly enough...
One hand lashes out behind her. Hips twist in anticipation. Shoulders turn. Products of acrobatic muscle memory, her body extrapolates the demand for rapid rotation. The circus performer's limbs and body twirl in retrograde fashion -- Ryu and Honoka move as if they were the twin beaters of an electrix mixer, linked in speed but never actually touching. The World Warrior's foot swings deliriously close to her cheek, contacting nothing more than the raven-black, fuschia-tipped locks of the Twilight Star performer, and the tumultuous winds themselves.

The second whirlwind only lasts for a blink of an eye, leaving Honoka a good three feet away from Ryu.
Her fluttering locks trail behind her motion; along with the folds of her jacket, they provide the only visual aftereffect of her narrow escape.
The fingertips of her right hand touch to the ground.
And only then does she release the breath she'd been holding, as her eyes stare back up at the unquestioned power of Hurricane Ryu, grateful that her prodigious talent allowed her to escape the wrath of the storm.

The tides of battle surge once again, a seemingly endless cycle of withdrawal and reprise. Her lips curl into an intoxicated smile -- once is not enough. The psion's insatiable thirst to keep the adrenaline rush going throws her back into the heat of battle. As the Shinkuu Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku relents, the tide will turn back onto Ryu. Violet psychic energy flares in wide swaths, shadowing her limbs as she surges forward. The wand in her right hand leads the offensive, cleaving a horizontal swath towards the World Warrior's face. As she withdraws the right, the wand in her left hand follows with a percussive vertical blow. The right-hand wand spins around to carve diagonally downwards from the clavicle. The quick reverse spin that follows would result in a diagonal overhand smash from the left-hand wand, perpendicular to the previous slash. Multiple concussive blows allow the lightweight acrobat to keep pace with the raw power output of her more heavily-built counterpart. She is, accordingly, more than willing to sacrifice a solid hit or two for the sake of battering down the champion's guard, extending the onslaught to a successful conclusion.

And yet, even while she is relying on brute force and momentum for her blows, she is also tacitly mindful of the alternative aspect of her bespoke weapon -- the cord, flapping about without aim. A less-skilled performer stands a good chance of becoming hopelessly entangled in the line, but the talented juggler is able to harness it. As she proceeds into the fifth and sixth successive strikes of her relentless assault -- another downward slash followed by an upswing, she will seek to encircle Ryu's ankle with the loop of cord. And should she manage such a feat, she would then slam her hip into his waist, and utilizing her peculiar hold on his leg, pivot him around into a bodyslam.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Ryu with Urara Kando.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Honoka           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0              Ryu

Honoka's showmanship has few matches, and even fewer superiors. The intricacy of her combination attacks from multiple angles - under cover of the initial appearance of an all-in rush - would find yet even fewer out there who could work their way through the whole of it unscathed.
The feeling of seasickness coincides with the inherent disorienting nature of the souped-up Tatsumaki tips the momentum in Honoka's direction as Ryu comes out of the storming spin, down to a crouch for a split second longer than he would allow in better circumstances. His head tilts upwards just in time to see her smile.
The first shot to the face stands him back up. Ryu finds himself giving up space to avoid one or two parts of the relentless sequence. A forearm raises for a defense against a follow-up attack that does not come where the preceding strike lands. Alone, the striking combinations are impressive to keep the World Warrior on the defensive.
He steps right into the cord loop, exposing the extra dimension to the routine and proving it too late to escape the finishing touch. He doubles over with the hit to his hip, and finds himself slammed into a beautiful reflective checkerboard floor that has still decided it is much, much, much too upper crust to crack and break before the riff-raff hitting it with their bodies at dangerous velocities.
Ryu struggles up to a crouch, choosing not to elect to roll away for distance. The weight of nausea in his gut is yet to lift, its effect aggravated further by Honoka's complex combination attempting to tease the focus of muscle memory and basic fighter instinct in numerous directions an ailing body would rather have a moment to take to sort out.
Calmly, Ryu does not dwell upon the failure to entrap her within one of his more committed techniques or her ensuing disassembly of his defensive reflexes. Keeping the fight within the moment, he brings one hand down to control his stability as he thrusts one leg out from his crouching position.
The leg lashes out, looking to connect the tip of the foot to one of Honoka's ankles as he clenches the fist of the hand not presently charged with maintaining his balance as he leans outwards to put that much more extra reach into the strike as it sweeps against the floor with a dainty squeaking noise.

COMBATSYS: Ryu successfully hits Honoka with Medium Kick.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Honoka           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0              Ryu

The World Warrior's reputation is one of calm resolve -- a fighter remains steadfast throughout even through the most chaotic of martial arts styles. As steady as a lighthouse among a rocky shore in the midst of a hurricane, Ryu has never been known as one who is particularly vulnerable to the passions of emotion.

This, in itself, makes him a most intriguing target for the woman who seeks to fan the flames of emotion at almost every opportunity. But the most glaring fault in her dynamic fighting style may be overcommitment; by altering the pace of combat for a dramatic edge, she leaves herself particularly to one who adamantly refuses to take everything into account.

Case in point -- rather than withdraw as she had previously, she stays in close range of her opponent, long enough to lash one of her diabolos back into her cord's grasp so that she can resume the assault. With one snap, and a clack, the diabolo pops into the air; it is while the diabolo is in mid-air that the Ansatsuken disciple -- far from the point of succumbing to his wounds -- snaps out with a barefooted kick at the juggler's foot.

The master manipulator thought she had accounted properly for Ryu's reach -- but as toes crack into her ankle, she realizes she was mistaken. Already overextended by the diabolo snare, her feet buckle from beneath her, leading the juggler into a particularly rare experience of her own -- a complete face-down fall into the marble tile. The sound of her impact is followed immediately thereafter by the clack of her rattan wands, and soon after that by the diabolo she'd hoped to rein in.

Clouds of anger, punctuated by scintillating color, flood her mind at the sudden shock, blackness encroaching upon her periphery. Her heart feels like it is beating a million times a second, as if to burst through her ribcage. Realization sets in -- that she can still move, that Ryu will be more than willing to end her second continuous fight in the match. Harried fingertips press down onto the tile; the stretch material of her leggings squeaks as she kickflips herself back into a standing position. She rises, one leg continuing to spin around her for stability, as both wands spiral back into her right hand -- with the one diabolo sagging limply from the cord.

Her reddened nose is the only flagrant sign of injury, with her bruises mercifully concealed by form-fitting acrobatic attire. To the World Warrior it would be readily obvious, from the shudders wracking her body as she lowers her foot and from her ragged, unsteady breathing, that Honoka's body is suffering the extended duration of this fight. That if not for her determined mind, her matter would have given out long ago.

Nostrils flare as she breathes out.
She strides backwards once, then a second time.
Her gaze flicks to the torchiere stands oriented throughout the room.

The wands flick upwards. And the diabolo rolls into a steady rhythm. Each time the diabolo whooshes on the downbeat. Each time, she stamps her foot in a preordained rhythm -- a beat she knows well, even if not shared. Her skipping heartbeat is forced into compliance, her pained breaths calmed by the training. And... oddly... that faint smile slips back onto her face, blushed cheeks fading back to a smooth alabaster.

The beat reestablished in a matter of moments, an invigorated Honoka passes another glance up to the candle flames dancing upon the torchiere.
The beat drops.
The candle is cleaved from its post, the wax sheared neatly in half by a whip-crack of her diabolo cord.
And just like that -- the candle is drawn into the performer's vortex along with the diabolo.

It is at this point that she begins tipping the orbit of the diabolo so that it now parallels the floor.
Faster and faster the diabolo and the tip of the candle spin, a whirlwind of incandescent flame.
And as Honoka steps sideways, a second cyclone of flame trails behind the first -- a spectral storm lit by yellow and fuschia.
And Honoka steps sideways further -- a third cyclone of flame erupting as well. While warding Ryu off with her spinning devices, the Flame Dancer invokes her surrogate home, the Twilight Star Circus -- putting her illusions into full effect.
And that smile, made all the more ghastly by the light of the candle flame.

It's not readily apparent when the illusions cease being a circus trick, and -start- becoming an attack. For one -- her attacks are psychic, and not -immediately- giving off a chi signature. And for another -- the cyclones spin at Ryu in rapid succession: one, two, three. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

All that's really obvious to the -audience- is that at the end of it -- Honoka had moved -with- the cyclones, scything her foot down in a vicious blow directed to the back of Ryu's neck, synchronized with the music playing in her head.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Ryu with Intercepting Strike.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Honoka           1/------=/=======|>>>>>>>\>>-----\1              Ryu

Frame-by-frame review of the footage in instant-replay will show the following...

There are, in actuality, three miniature cyclones visible, side by side, all of them glowing candlelit flame smeared into angry circular patterns. Only the center of these three is "real," with the other two being psionic illusions. Honoka is standing behind the third of the three cyclones, but her hands and wands are weaving the cyclone around the cyclone in the center. When she moves to strike -- all three cyclones appear to move at once, in an erratic and difficult-to-predict manner.

But one thing that -isn't- obvious is that the diabolo in the center of the second cyclone remains fixed in place. And that Honoka has -let go- of the wand, which whistles harmlessly through the illusive cyclones -- to lash outward at Ryu.

In order to accomplish this feat -- also known as an Excalibur Genocide, the juggler must also twist herself into the blow, committing her entire upper body to the attack -- and in effect, leaving herself shielded only by the immaterial threat of her illusions.
But she does not stop there -- for she intends to follow through with an attack considerably more substantial than her diabolo wand. That is to say, she leans forward, twisting upon all three of her axes to leverage each of her 45 kilograms into a punishing overhead kick. As delivered, she would bend her knee upon impact, relying on her rotational momentum and the counterbalance of her diabolo to swing her to a safer range.

Ryu shoots back up to a standing position after retracting his foot, as though anticipating something more direct - more imminent in nature. He does take note of Honoka's slackening pace, but is not about to discount her - as trite a phrase as that may be to inscribe as it concerns Ryu and his dealings with any other fighter.
Her wand flicks, and Honoka allows herself to surrender into rhythm, inviting a dance partner within a flame in which to join her. The rotations increase in speed, a blur of light and movement, and Ryu finds himself watching with his arms raised at the ready.
The first cyclone of flame bears little mention other than the respectful quiet Ryu gives it. He does not flinch, he does not step back, he does not otherwise bend before it.
The second cyclone of flame takes in hues of yellow and fuschia - eye-catching, in their complementary colorations. Each one wants to shred the eye's focus, to pull it towards either hue one's psychology sees more pleasing to cling to as it fades into the opposing color of the spectrum.
Ryu pays it no mind.
Honoka continues her dance around him, to the third, final whirling windy wall of flame, a teasing invitation for the nature of what yet awaits him if he sees it fit to remain a reactive member of the audience rather than an active participant.
All three fly towards him. He sharply turns to face Honoka head on, divorcing his gaze from them as he throws up his forearms to move and catch the descending foot. Were that all to Honoka's deception, it is all for naught.
It is not.
In moving to take this defensive position at what might be the last possible moment in which to transition from a safer defensive into a more certain counter-offensive, Ryu's foot catches over something laid earlier - like something of a landmine - robbing him of balance and throwing his arms open as his positoning is void.
The scything foot catches dead on to his solar plexus instead, a breathy, loud exhale masked by a shout of pain as it drives his upper back against the hard polished floor with a bounce before he flips onto his front, face-down.
In this, Honoka's interception of an otherwise timely defense is flawlessly performed.

Ryu gets back up as soon as he has control of his body's momentum, without ceremony or eccentricity.
It's uncanny - this sort of play tends to demoralize almost anyone else, to scatter about their focus and otherwise leave them prey for the remainder of the showing. Honoka takes the pacing of the battle anew, sweeping the feet off of the previous fighter Sakura and, by appearances, Ryu in turn. What audience there is, by any media, is utterly mesmerized.
Ryu shuts the excess detail out of his mind, even as pain throbs through his upper torso. (Some might argue that in shedding the excess details by his scope of what is most important in a fight is, in fact, how he tripped and took a shot meant for the back of his neck against his solar plexus instead.) It is difficult to take in oxygen, as blood yet flows down one nostril. To be bested by a technique that one may believe themselves above is uneeded arrogance. To ignore the failing of one's own perceptions and surroundings is unwelcome ignorance.
Where the emotional comfort and familiarity of the music within Honoka's head empowers her movements, Ryu grasps inward for the void. He draws his hands back anew, as his inner calm fights back the shock of pain and the disarming sense of surprise in concern of the recent sequence.
It is done. The present moment is what matters.
"Shinkuu," he says again, as he cups the hands over the power that gathers to fill in the vacuum of space. There is no tricks of light or misleading details - Ryu doesn't deal in matters of this nature. A punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, a grab is a grab.
A Shinkuu Hadouken is a Shinkuu Hadouken, in which a great concentration of chi energy threatens to dwarf the space allocated between the palms of his hands.
"HADOOOOUUKEEEEEEEN!!" Comes his call as he thrusts it forward, unleashing the corkscrewing blast of white-ish blue energy spiraling down the air between himself and the master of the Twilight Circus. The call is heedless of any accumulated injury or otherwise mounting fatigue from Honoka's masterfully aligned assaults thus far.
It all builds towards the climax of their rematch!

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Shinkuu Hadouken EX from Ryu with Kamui Atemka.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Honoka           0/-------/--=====|>>-----\-------\0              Ryu

Blood pounds in the psion's adrenaline-addled mind in such a fashion that she can perceive as the thrumming bassline of a song she knows well. Her feet are placed sequentially according to a pre-choreographed dance, her hands sweeping through the melody of a performance that never actually made it to the stage of the Twilight Star Circus, to a song the juggler is, quite literally, humming.

The violin would go quite nicely with the Chateau de Colde's interior.
The synthetic pop accompaniment, perhaps less so.
The pace of her motions is certainly captivating, all the same -- a scything kick that collides with the World Warrior at a crucial juncture.

The diabolo caught under Ryu's foot is flung upwards. And the master juggler, landing from her kick with her back to her opponent, lets her hand drop, allowing the airborne prop to sail directly into her awaiting palm.

She closes her eyes, shutting out the world as she takes two prancing strides forward, continuing the dance without further delay. With her eyes closed, she can focus on the sound of the candle thunking to the marble floor, on the slight tug of her sneakers on the slick surface, on the rising temperatures of her diabolo as she slings it into motion once again.

But most clear of all, she can focus on the curiously -not- demoralized World Warrior rising to his feet behind her. The Rising Dragons team is on the verge of a complete shutout -- surely that must have evoked -some- reaction? And yet, there is nothing. The complete lack of frustration is fascinating to the psion -- and yet, it also leaves her without any clear vectors for assault, any openings to exploit.

The diabolo whirls around -- a vertical orbit, then sweeping around as the Twilight Star performer pirouettes about to face Ryu again. An impenetrable smile -- the smile of someone used to playing to an audience -- faces him.

The diabolo sweeps in a confusing figure eight, accelerating faster and faster. She may not be able to sense the cerulean energy building before her -- but she can see it, hear it roaring over the rhythm pounding in her ears -- and almost feel the dry heat.

And still she smiles.
Confidence is a mandatory requirement for her best performance -- she learned that in the accursed island.
Confidence allows her to stand strong in the face of the big brother of Sakura's earlier Shinkuu Hadouken -- the real McCoy upon which it was based.
Confidence allows her to skip the beat in the song, crossfading it to a different portion of the rhythm.
Forgive her for not keeping up the humming for a moment.

Honoka swings the diabolo in front of her like a shield. The Shinkuu Hadouken's energies slam into the diabolo with an explosion of violet petals, which fan out and envelop the chi projectile, clinging to the surface as if it were static-charged. The juggler pedals backwards, using her psionically-laced influence to bend the path of the hurtling orb downwards, then twist it sideways. More violet plumes of flower petals burst outward, revealing the spiraling trajectory of the Hadouken. The diabolo cord and wands begin to glow with white-hot intensity -- as she backflips into the air, propelling herself out of harm's way.

As she does so, she winds herself up in midair, one leg arcing about like a helicopter's rotor.

A swath of purple, a streak of blue -- and Honoka lands once more, with the Shinkuu Hadouken twirled about 180 degrees, now facing Ryu.

The diabolo wands are raised in unison, with the diabolo lifting free of its fuschia-laced charge. Now more compact and swifter in petal-encased glory, the redirected Shinkuu Hadouken now hurtles its way towards Ryu.

Honoka inclines her head towards Ryu -- her expression having reduced to one of scientific curiosity as she idly raises one wand towards the airborne diabolo, guiding it back into a parking orbit.
And then, with a light bob of her head, she resumes humming the song, as if her diabolo wands were conducting the symphony itself.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Ryu with Reflected Shinkuu Hadouken EX.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Honoka           0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0              Ryu

Honoka smiles.
Ryu focuses.
One moves in beat to a harmony they surround themselves within, to give further context and direction to the manifestation created in a void. To give it additional form, color, and a completely new direction that is opposite of its original intent.
There are many disciplines out there in the world about turning the strength of one's foes against themselves.
Ryu takes the challenge head-on for what it is.
He closes his eyes momentarily as the swirling mass of purple and blue, of energies in opposition finding a temporary balance in which to remain a coherent manifestation, screams towards him as though an inevitable harbinger of the death of a tournament competitor's hopes and dreams.
Through the mind's eyes...
...he slams an open palm into the swirling mass of their combined energies. Blue light washes over his entire form, a loud clashing noise as he pits one will and one power against two. Flecks of blue
A fraction of a second later, again. A more violent burst of energy is knocked free of the twin knot of inner and outer powers, and Ryu's grimace grows more intense.
Another fraction of a second later - exacting to the milisecond, when the replays go over this - the palm slams into the mass once more. Though his form takes on a blue light, it is the petals that seem to make up the purple lights that make up the character of the shed light.
Three parries later, the power that remains is roughly three-parts Ryu's chi to one part Honoka's psionic strength.
The mind's eye struggles to hold. Each parry of the powerful projectile makes the next one that much more taxing. It is the equivalent of staring into the sun for longer, and longer, and longer yet as each maneuver comes ever closer to overwhelming the senses.
One more, he stares into the blinding abyss of blue and purple in his vision as he strikes the palm into it for a fourth time.
It smoothly cuts into its mass, creating a palm-shaped hole that the unified powers swirl around. Too soft, it cannot stop anything. Too firm, the mass compensates and continues its path past the last line of defense.
The latter is what happens - Ryu overcompensates the fourth deflection, and it all swirls into his upper body and face with a tremendous combination of the power filling a void, and the petals that invite a sickening drowsiness as his back arches backwards. His heels skid across the floor, to be caught by the carpet.
He staggers back one step, then forward onto one knee. The defending hand touches down on the ground, only barely supporting the rest of his body as he slumps forward. His breathing is heavy, eyes shut tight as though his physical eyes were straining as much as the mental one.
The Champion's Road is a long, difficult path to walk. It is never a straight line. Filled with obstructions and detours, no matter how familiar, they will always be something that affects one's journey forward.
Ryu looks up as he pulls in more air, and the Ansatsuken student looks upon the serenity of the juggler whose inner music carries her through the linear path of the song's story towards victory.
"It appears there is still yet more I have to learn from you," Ryu concedes with words that seem good-natured in contrast to the fierce form he casts in fighting. A shadow under the surface stirs, smothered in the otherwordly light of the Twilight Circus master as she advances forward.
For today, this is as far as he can go.
It's over, signals one of the referee figures working away from the sight of the camera.

COMBATSYS: Ryu takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Ryu can no longer fight.

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

Zach had been sitting ringside the entire fight. How he managed to stay still and silent during the thing is beyond such terms as mystery. That changes when Ryu uncorks the Shinku Hadouken, Zach stands so suddenly the chair clatters away from him in six parts worry and half a dozen anticipation.

And then Honoka sends that nearly legendary technique to its sender and ends the match. Once the referee signals the end of the match, Zach is on the stage in front of Honoka. His look is intense, one of pride in her and more than a little desire. "That was well done," he says just loudly enough to be heard.

The perfected Shinkuu Hadouken is an intricately woven work of art, a churning dynamo of raw power -- to even avoid the riotously fast projectile was a feat by itself. But to not only armor it with petals of a contrary energy, but also tow the juggernaut away from its forward path and redirect the missile against its own creator was no small feat.

Honoka stands back, calming her body from the rush of adrenaline. The cerulean and fuschia swirl diminishes in her eyes as it approaches Ryu, but the diaboloist's humming fades away to silence in awe of the spectacle. While the Shinkuu Hadouken itself was amazing in itself, the manner in which Ryu goes about systematically dismantling it is even more impressive to the psion. Only a master of the subtle nuances of energy would know the right pressure points to shatter the fuschia armor plating, and only a disciplined martial artist would have the steadfast tenacity to keep from -fleeing- at the terrifying force. That Ryu is ultimately swept up in the endeavor is a mere sidenote to the analytical mind -- that he reduced its diameter as far as he had was a testament to his talent.

Honoka's brow furrows, her eyes narrow as the attack slams home. The psychic feedback of that last straw snapping is invigorating -- enough to cause the pace of her whirling diabolos to grow more rapid, feverish, in concordance with the rising pitch of her song.

If she had heeded the cautions of her weakening body, she would have collapsed long ago.
Confidence gives her the strength to stand.
Discipline -- just as with Ryu -- allowed her to exert her strength in the proper manners.
It is presence, though -- the ability to project -- that has kept her focused. The spotlight is on her. And the world was watching a circus performer as she stepped into the ring with a World Champion and his biggest fan, much as they had thrilled as the same World Champion had blistered his way through two fighters of their own considerable reputation not so long ago.
And soon after, she will walk out on her own two feet.

The announcer shouts out -- "Kaaaay-ohhhh!" And the crowd outside releases the latches that had until this point contained their feverish hype, their raucous shouts. In the midst of the audience, Ryu and Honoka are in the eye of the storm -- an island of clarity amidst the roiling sea of cheers.

The diabolo sails upwards, as both wands are allowed to settle into her left hand. The right hand sweeps across her body a moment later, snatching the diabolo out of midair.
The smile grows more humble, and somber -- like some farm girl from Hokkaido might bear. Her head inclines downward, suggesting a hint of vulnerability in marked contrast to the confident show of force.
"And I, you," she answers. "It was an honor to fight you both, Rising Dragons. We will meet again, in due time."
Honoka bows humbly at the waist, starting to feel it now that the adrenaline of the fight has begun to fade. She bows a second time in the direction of the tent where Sakura had been taken.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has ended the fight here.

And only then, does she turn to face Zach, Nakoruru, and that guy with the weird form-fitting orange suit in the Heirs to Legend tent. She could sense them all along, of course -- but honor to her opponent is as large a part of her stage presence as anything else.

She walks off the stage -- though she's sure to get pulled back on camera for a post-fight interview. And why -wouldn't- the team get interviewed, with such a magnificent painting in the background?
"Well... sorry to keep you waiting, but I think I'm ready to rest now," she announces with a wide smile on her face.

At some point, someone else will notice the diabolo she'd left on the stage.

"R--Ryu..." Sakura was treated for her potential injuries while Ryu was stepping in; returned to the sidelines, she watches sitting in a chair, a few pressure bandages taped on. Not too badly the worse for wear, really, all things considered. She could've had greenstick fractures, missing teeth... none of that happened.

As Honoka deals with Ryu's Shinkuu Hadouken in the way she wasn't able to versus herself, and Ryu can't evade it, her hands are at her mouth, covering them, her eyes wide. Only to cry out in disappointment when Ryu is overcome. It's... humbling? That's not the word, but she can't really put it into words, the surge of emotion as her idol is defeated. But she bites it down, swallows it, and when Honoka bows... Sakura stands up and bows, too. Her time in the King of Fighters is done, now. But...

She straightens up and thinks. But she can't just go back to Taiyo yet, can she? She got involved there but she has to see what's going on first. Just walking back in like 'sup yo' could be bad. Time to call Kei. Or Hinata.

Log created on 10:21:43 08/21/2017 by Honoka, and last modified on 23:10:31 09/03/2017.