KOF 2017 - Q3: Team USA vs Team Balance

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Description: After a stunning performance of the other team of ninjas against the returning favorite Team USA, the two teams finally face a showdown to see who will advance, and who will stray. The elegant ninja Kasumi will face off against Ken Masters himself, to decide who will make it into the final four, and who will come home with ten gift cards from Olive Garden. And what better way to show off the ways of the United States than to show down at a nearly-abandoned oil refinery. Ken Masters can promote his nationalist flair to the lovely Kasumi amongst the abandoned junk piles and hissing steam vents amongst the rich aroma of processed sour crude oil. Don't hold your breath in this matchup, unless you are watching from the sidelines!

Team USA's side of the junkyard arena is, straight up, a party. The luxury RV that the team has traveled from fight to luxury jumbo jet to fight in is parked, or more appropriately, 'deployed', surrounded by solar panels that sucked up the juice of the day and now help to fuel an array of high-definition widescreens towering over the battleground.

These screens display a myriad of images related to Ken and Senna, including a recut trailer for the Blu-Ray special being released shortly chronicling their hilarious misadventures in training aboard those posh people carriers, shot in Big Brother style complete with confession cam; and premium unrated web subscription access where sometimes subscribers catch a glimpse of the Blonde Battler's backside or wardrobe malfunctions. And quickly post a hoard of screencaps to Reddit, but that's beside the point. Accompanying this high production value display of fighting and carousing prowess is an entire array of varied electric guitars and basses, several vocalists, and three drumsets: the Team USA Guitar Army. ( https://youtu.be/dSaLPNQez_w )

A miniature concert and ample giving and selling of Masters-branded merchandise from t-shirts to statuettes gives way to some harder rocking as Ken appears from the RV, dressed in his trademark crimson gi with black accents-- sparring gloves, the kind that protect one's hands more than they protect someones's face, a well-earned black belt, and a silken black ribbon tying back his luxurious hair.

Ken takes some time getting to the arena, stopping for a (rather expensive and exclusive) autograph and photo session on his team's approach, as his travelling band jams the hell out. The monitors are now exclusively focused on Ken's techniques and past bouts, showing highlights alongside stunts from his reality show, Ken Masters: Fastest Man Alive. In some of these, Ken escapes the depths of a maze made from a building that's been set on fire, or beats a professional motocross rider up a mountain.

o/ When the road feels too long, I'll still be holdin' on.

Pumping his fist in the air to the riotous adulation of gathered fight fans, Ken turns his attention to the cordoned expanse of mid-junkyard field delineated by towering stacks of scrapped cars and oil barrels, broken only by the periodically hissing vents expunging lingering, malignant breath from the long-derelict refinery. It does nothing to dull the Blonde Battler's spirit; indeed, part of his show tonight is all about a benefit to clean this crap up.

o/ Indestructible, won't let anybody break me down. Nothing's gonna stop me now.

But just now, there's a show to put on. Ken slips out of the light, crimson-and-silver boxer's robe he wore to the proverbial ringside and an aide takes it off his hands. Masters shadow-boxes to the crowd's delight, throws a kick so high in the air it launches him off his feet, and lands with a graceful flourish, tossing a bow and then a thumbs-up towards the Balance side of the arena.

"Now -you- are what I came here for!" the young champion exclaims with abject sincerity and only a -little- of the pervyness Kasumi might be accustomed to at first glance. "A tournament champion.. and one who's not trying to kill and eat me!"

o/ Nothing's gonna break my spirit 'cause it's indestructible.

Ken Masters says, "Let's give the fans what they want!" Ken announces as much to them as to Kasumi, to uproarious applause. "Time to find out if I'm more ninja than ninja..." It's a Zombie joke. Figure it out.

o/ Indestructible; the last man standing!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi has started a fight here.

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Kasumi           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters has joined the fight here.

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Ken Masters      0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Kasumi

Whoever in the extensive King of Fighters staff was responsible for scouting out locations for matches certainly managed to find a memorable if quite unorthodox place to host the Quarter Finals of the largest Team Tournament phenomenon around the globe. The setting sun, normally a picturesque addition to any vista, sinks slowly behind the towering aged steel, casting long shadows across an area that can only be described as 'slightly less debris-filled than most of the area.'

Rare is it that organizers would make their fans flock to a decaying factory for their fighting fix, but perhaps there is an underlying theme of contrasts to this match and the dilapidated locale is actually part of the point.

For an example in contrasts - the sides of the area reserved for the two teams. For Team USA, the fanfare hype escalates to cacophonous levels, masterfully managed by one of the very best in the business. The crowd is ecstatic, the energy palpable. The multimedia fanfare whips things into a frantic intensity that never seems to ebb even as the time goes by.

On the other side is the staging for Team Balance. No monitors, no party rigs, no musicians rocking out. In fact, there stands only two fighters in waiting as the match start time approaches. Of course, there is the audience crowded around that side as well, perhaps out of preference or due to the lack of room on the other side, but it would be safe to say that many of them are wondering what they are missing out on over on the other side.

Another contrast submitted for consideration - the two fighters stepping out into the open bear an inherent attractiveness entirely unlike the rusting ruin all around them.

Women in the fighting community tend to skew toward the more attractive end of the spectrum. The fitness, the self-confidence, and the healthy aura that accompanies those dedicated to the art is often reflected in the beauties that step into the arenas to test their fighting prowess against others. But it's one thing to be attractive, and it's another thing all together to possess the alluring comeliness Ken's opponent demonstrates. Setting a bar by which the best looking female fighters around the globe might be compared to, Kasumi strides away from the quiet empty space reserved for her and the celebrity psychic artist who had stood at her side with quiet elegance becoming of one who is confident in every aspect of her ability to be here.

For this event, she would have it no other way - clothed in a side-tied dress-wrap of expensive royal blue fabric trimmed with pristine white borders. The front of the sideless skirt is embroidered with the image of two swans taking flight, their wings spread wide. White, thigh-high stockings cover most of her legs, ending in white sandals with matching royal blue shin guards. Each forearm is protected by similarly colored azure wristguards, secured with bands of gold. And as she steps forward, the crimson tassels of a wakisazhi sheathed behind her back sway gently. Copper red hair is tied off into a long ponytail worn high with an accenting long blue ribbon. The colors, the sword itself, and the golden embroidery of her name etched into the back of her dress are all symbols, each with meaning known only to the shadow clans.

Even here and now, fighting to entertain, to challenge herself, and to work alongside one of the greatest ninjas that ever lived as a hunted exile, she still considers herself to be of royal blood and deserving of the trappings that accompany such birthright.

Eyes the shade of her hair are set in a idyllically shaped face that is soft, free of blemish or scar, and accompanied by a gentle smile as she regards Ken's greeting with a stoic mien. The belt wrapped around her waist to keep her dress in place shows off a fit figure, slender in the middle and rather shapely up top.

"I stand in equal company, as I understand it." Kasumi answers, her voice projected with quiet confidence, far from mousey or reluctant, but not boisterous either. Her words are for him and not the crowd, though her movement into the open has undoubtedly drawn its fair share of eyes. "Another tournament champion, and a track record to back it up." she continues, the smile ticking up at the edges of her mouth just slightly. Her eyes stray toward the large monitors showcasing Ken's benchmark fighting moments and athletic highlights, before snapping back to Ken. Of course, concerning her, she has rarely done fights the public, mostly disappearing after her phenomenal display at the Dead or Alive championship the previous year. But what little there is to watch regarding her suggests she is more than capable - numbered among the world best her age, certainly.

Her left foot slips forward, left hand raised, right foot slipping back, right arm bent at her side as she adopts a relaxed fighting stance.

Cameras recording, crowd cheering, announcer announcing, everything is in place and it is time for the bout to begin. And when Kasumi moves to engage, it is without the slightest hint of hesitation. She intends to test Ken immediately, his karate against her ninjitsu, to take the measure of this national champion in the opening moments of the fight and plan from there!

Even though her approach started off quickly, it becomes even faster when, from about two meters out, she suddenly leans forward and dashes in what appears to be a single step, leading with her left elbow toward Ken's abdomen then pivoting toward the left, right knee snapping up high toward his chest while her body leans away. The final strike is a swift thrusting of her right leg out of the knee strike into a final kick near the level of the blonde's head, testing his guard at all three levels in dangerously rapid succession.

Unless prevented, the Mist Dancer would recover gracefully rather than leave any opportunity to be caught off balance. Retaliation might have to be swift before she escapes out of range.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters blocks Kasumi's Medium Kick.

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

Every move an opposing fighter makes tells a story, intimates details of their skill, their strength, their style. It was one of Ken's earliest lessons, and he's remembered it. Sometimes, it's just a more pleasant tale to read than others. Eyes of dark, golden amber track Kasumi as she enters the scrapyard ring, even as he speaks his good-natured greeting, and especially as he takes in the respectful return.

Last time he was at the King of Fighters, the woman who took him down was his opposite number, even if she rarely showed it. A born entertainer, with passion and power of the crowds. This year, it's the flip side of a familiar coin, all the poise and grace and self-assuredness; all the lethal skill. Let's call it a... quieter package, familiar with slipping through the dark, operating in near or total isolation.

In fact on cue, the Guitar Army demonstrates the contrast anew, striking up a familiar, driving riff, albeit with a dynamic twist; never quite the same song twice. ( https://youtu.be/etDon1LH1vA ) The battle is joined in tandem with the music, and Ken moves fluidly, eagerly into the violent but beautiful dance.

Fighters collide, elbow to elbow, in that initial pass, and the Blonde Battler offers a toothy, wolfish grin whilst eye to sparkling eye with the lovely lady. "I don't disappoint." Indeed, true to his hubris, Masters matches her alarming speed with ample aplomb, driving the followup knee back downwards with a meaty thwack of resilient flesh, the ironclad forearm meeting her thigh just above that brutal knee bruised but far from battered as Ken flips deftly away in a near-perfect mirror to Kasumi's own swift repositioning.

Either by happenstance or decidedly intuitive reading of her style, the Blonde Battler's step is already in synch with his opponent; with his dance partner. The space between them is filled in an instant, the Ansatsuken expert opening up with a familiar, brilliant blast of blue-white spiritual might, whirling wildly about itself and refracting air and light in a myriad shimmering directions as it courses inexorably towards Kasumi, shoved forth from Ken's opposing palms.


COMBATSYS: Kasumi blocks Ken Masters' Hadouken.

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

Even in striking, she is graceful and in complete control. Her blows are swift, forceful enough to be dangerous even if perhaps lacking the sheer kinetic force of her larger peers. Elbows collide, offense against defense, the two meeting eye to eye in battle as Kasumi nimbly pivots into her follow up knee, clearly testing to see whether the American champion will be perceptive enough to detect the true threat of her combination.

But even more clever plans never survive contact with the opponent, and her combination is cut short by one attack as Ken's elbow drives down against her thigh, preventing her from snapping her leg up into a feasible angle for kicking. His flawless defense isn't a hindrance that keeps her from recovering, however, her right foot pressing down lightly against the ground as she twists back, spinning to end up with her left side facing forward just like before, leaving few if any openings to attack her safely through.

Her ponytail and blue ribbon whip around behind her back as she braces, the space between Ken and the young ninja instantly illuminated, its morning blue glow yet one more contrast against the harsh blacks and rust reds of corroded steel that surround the makeshift arena. Lips pressed together, she leans forward, slamming her left arm forward, the forearm guard being the first point of impact for the incoming world renown chiball. "HA!" she exclaims as the projected power crashes around her, driving her feet back half a foot along the ground before she comes to a stop. She exhales as the last wisps of powerful energy fade into the air around her, her raised left arm trembling, having been used to split and mitigate much of the attack's potential like a rudder through water, a slight crack on her forearm guard indicating the point of impact.

"I can tell," she answers in the aftermath of colliding force, small bits of metal scraps dislodged from the ground still ringing out as they slide along. "Now I know, I can't hold back-"

Even as the words slip from her mouth, she's moving forward, closing the distance created by Ken's evasion and attack in an instant. She flips forward, taking to the air with ease as she aims to plant both her hands on Ken's shoulder, fingers tightening into his signature red gi and, with the momentum of her forward flip, end up in a brief handstand atop the gifted martial artist's shoulders.

The precarious position would be short lived as Kasumi would, in one smooth motion, flip sides and drop down behind Ken, using her grip on his shoulders as leverage to drive both of her feet into his upper back and try to drive him to the ground. Her own dismount would be a backflip away, attempting to plant her feet on solid ground a second later.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Ken Masters with Ibara Otoshi.

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

The dissipating haze of the Hadouken as it shatters against and across Kasumi's guard momentarily shields much of her from Ken's view, tragically-- a burst of steam from below feeding that mystery before the ninja crosses the space to him in a flash. The Blonde Battler is ready, in motion, seeking to roll with the expected follow-up but instead finding himself driven, soundly, into the harsh scrapyard ground amidst packed dirt and pecid grasses, skidding swiftly to a profound stop.

One hand slaps down on his side even as he impacts, however-- and with a forceful shove, the self professed Fastest Man Alive whips about. In the very next, fluid motion, Ken flips to his feet in the half-a-moment after Kasumi's feet leave his back.

"Hit and run-- it's always the quiet ones!" Even in the midst of the rising stakes, Masters is teasing, perhaps even flirting. He comes back up ready to go, launching himself full bore after her, seeking his own grasp on the front of her fetching battle dress. Once more the pair of warriors would come eye to eye, the intensity in Ken's features only redoubled by the sudden pressing of the challenge-- like Kasumi, he senses his opponent's skill, and knows exactly what kind of bout this is to be won.

Should he find purchase in that crossing ascent, the lovely exile would be drug harshly back to earth, serving as the impact point for a momentum-building full somersault in tandem with Ken. One good turn deserves another-- and one more for good measure.

That impactful rotation would be followed through by a classic leg throw as Ken's back hit the ground, kicking Kasumi into a forceful flight at alarming velocity straight towards that tower of past-its-prime American automobile steel. "HAAAH!!" comes the answering kiai.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi full-parries Ken Masters' Jigoku Guruma EX!!

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

He's incredibly fast. Fast enough even to get back to his feet and spring back after the airborne martial artist that tried to leave him behind in the dirt. That he catches up even before her feet touch the ground definitely leads credibility to his claim of being the Fastest Man Alive. Having been bracing for landing, knees bent in preparation for touching down, Kasumi is in no position to deflect Ken's unexpectedly swift retaliation and his hands secure the desired hold of the royal blue fabric of her battle uniform.

For another moment, the two meet eye to eye, as the pace of the broadcast spectacle continues to acceleration, becoming more intense with each passing second. "I assure you," the young exile replies, pressing her hands together and forcing them up between Ken's outstretched arms, then forcing her elbows apart to pry herself free all in the blink of an eye.

She kicks out with her foot, seeking Masters' knee to press off of and flip into a second backward spin through the air toward that very tower she would have been hurled into had all gone according to Ken's plan. Instead of crashing into it haphazardly, the kunoichi plants against it feet first, landing against its crumbling surface with an easy crouch, fingers of her right hand touching it lightly.

"No one is running away."

To the eyes of the audience, the impossibly graceful Mugen Tenshin princess simply vanishes. No blur of blue and white, no whipping of her long ponytail. She simply pressed against the tower, looking back at Ken with focused resolve, then vanished. In her wake is only a swirl of fleeting cherry blossoms that scatter to the wind and a very sizable dent in the curved tower steel where her feet had been planted an instant before.

The next time they'd be privileged to lay eyes on the fetching figure of Kasumi would be as she skids to a stop several feet past Ken's location, leaning into a balanced slide before finally coming to rest, twin ruts carved into the gravel where her feet finally reclaimed traction with the ground.

In that moment, the audience was offered a rare gift indeed - the chance to witness in the flesh the kind of speed one needs to chase down gods and tyrants alike; the kind of speed legends are made of.

A split second later, the audio recording capability of the cameras is briefly overcome as a sonic boom of torn sky explodes out from the arena, its epicenter on the exact spot where Ken Masters was located prior to Kasumi's attack. Its echoes rumble throughout the abandoned plant, the storm unseen as the girl's cloth and hair finally come to rest.

Very few people alive could have possibly seen the truth of the attack for even the HD Cameras mounted around the arena are too slow to capture the phenomenon for what it was. Of those present, only Ken would even have the slightest chance to see or at least sense the way Kasumi bolts into his space, reaching for his arm with her left to wrench it out of the while twisting her body to the left to deliver one hell of an elbow strike into his rib cage.

The target of her strike would be just below his tenth rib where a bone shudderingly fierce elbow strike would be delivered. The magnitude of power behind her blow is unlike the swift, light attacks she demonstrated earlier. This is a potentially fight ending blow, delivered as only those who have been trained to kill since birth can deliver.

To defend against it may require a miracle.
Or maybe... just maybe, her opponent is just that good.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters dodges Kasumi's Oboro Gake EX.

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

"Lucky me." The smooth reply somehow finds the time to be both suggestive and sarcastic in those passing moments of collision and renewed assault. His grasp fleeting, his own technique stymied, Ken comes out of the engagement in a tight aerial somersault even as Kasumi kicks off.

The Blonde Battler lands gracefully in a smooth, shortlived slide, feet slipping wide as his fists are raised before him, re-acquiring a versatile ready stance as the shinobi (who may have missed her calling as kunoichi) moves flawlessly into the next onslaught. Amber eyes narrow, muscles twitch taut, and whether he manages to track her translocative movement visually or not, the other pony-tailed champion is -clearly- ready for it. -Clearly- just that good; though he wouldn't argue it's a little bit of a miracle, either way.

Kasumi finds her purchase on Ken's arm, the Ansatsuken expert's eyes already snapped to hers, sensing before he sees. She twists in close, drives that elbow home, it seems like a done deal-- but in the same instant she twists, he twists, inverting himself and coming about in a forceful flip that corrects the twisting of his arm in the opposite direction, and wrenches free in the same agile motion.

Ken kicks skywards, launching himself clear of danger in a long, high arc, one that brings him back down on stable, sure footing; slipping right back into his ready stance anew whilst grinning at the auburn-haired ninja over one poised fist. "Gotta say, I'm happy to just watch that one from over here." This time, it's respectful, entirely aware of the threat of that technique... and suggestive. Dark brows waggle with deceptively lighthearted amusement.

"Last time I danced with a lady as good as you-- she beat my /ass/." And he didn't even mind. "Guess we'll see what all you've got." Ken winks, grin diminished, but entirely intact. He lives for this-- that Kasumi looks as good as she does doing it, and is as skilled as she is-- just icing.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters cracks his knuckles!

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

Kasumi whirls, white-sandal-clad feet stepping into a quick turn even as she brings her hands back up into her own ready stance. The look she gives Ken in that moment is fleeting but impossible to miss - a flicker of surprise, a tinge of wonder. How many in the world, one must wonder, could have possibly defended themselves in that exact same situation? Even the last ghost of the dead Ryouhara clan could not escape that speed. The appraisal is there and then gone in an instant, resolve renewed, focus back on the work yet to be done.

When standing still, there is a distinct presence of tranquility about the young woman in spite the bursts of frantic speed she has been able to demonstrate. This is someone home in the crucible of combat, an aura of excitement burning around the subdued young woman. At first, it may seem she hadn't heard him at all, in spite her sharp focus on every move the black belt makes.

But finally she exhales, the roar of rent air finally calmed to the final rumbles of distant echo. "Miss Asamiya, yes." she answers, clearly having done her homework prior to the match. Given that it's the Quarterfinals in such a prestigious tournament, who wouldn't? "A phenomenal match, certainly." And one of extremes, to say the least. It's too early to tell if this match will also feature such highs and lows.

Breathing in, she lifts her hands, widening her stance, collecting herself to continue - perhaps even taking advantage of a much needed reprieve after going all in on trying to land her last attack. "But there's no sense dwelling on the past-" Again she's on the offense after determining that Ken wasn't about to attack.

She picks up speed as she advances though no where near rivaling the acceleration of her last attack. Again, her range is deceptive, as she ducks into a lower, sliding dash from seven feet away, closing the last bit of distance in what appears to be a single hazy step, both arms drawn to her right side before they're slamming forward. In the end, it is a double palm press Masters must contend with next, the young woman leaning into the strike, lending leg strength to the blow. Neither fancy or overly flashy, this technique revolves about simple delivery of blunt, crushing force to a single point of contact.

This time, she doesn't slip by, flip over, or try to circumnavigate the Blonde Battler in any way, as if intending to turn this into a closer quarters battle than it has been thus far.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters blocks Kasumi's Aggressive Strike.

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

Let's be honest-- Ken's not the least bit surprised Kasumi knows of the fight. What surprises the illustrious Mr. Masters is when someone -doesn't- know his name, and at least some approximation of a 'top 5' accomplishment list. It's an easy mindset to nurture with his level of fanbase and flamboyance; possibly something to do with the healthy ego.

"Who's dwelling?" Ken quips with a grin, even as the pair of fighters once more collide in ample display of violence and skill, Kasumi's palms driving home against the crux of braced arms, the 'X' they form perfectly aligning its central point with that singularly forceful contact to absorb and nullify much of it.

The Blonde Battler himself is forced back-- but not far. Drops low-- but not for long. It's all part of the plan, the instinctive rhythm that he brings to bear, helped perhaps in no small measure by the hard rocking of his entourage.

"You've got my full attention, promise!" It's certainly a claim that he's doing his damndest to back up in action, in this case, he takes advantage of that proximity-- though one might wonder if he would try to catch her even on a retreat-- and whips about in a singular, reversing twist amidst a short, sharp hop, full of that aforementioned breakneck acceleration.

A single tendril of flame twirls about him in that motion, tracing a brilliant orange-red line from the ground, to the champion shinobi's eye level, as the heel that serves as the superheated center of that meteoric plume whips about seeking substantial impact with Kasumi's skull.

"HYAAAH!!" Ken's blonde ponytail whips out behind him in almost perfect opposition to the kick, speaking volumes of the man's grace and balance. In the teasing, in the pride, there's perhaps at least one obviously unspoken measure beyond the flirtatious: if she didn't have his full focus, he'd -already- be in dire straits.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kasumi with Senpuu Nata Otoshi.
- Power hit! -

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

Dusted pavement is kicked up from the exchange, her hard hitting, singular strike warded off by expert defense. But of course it doesn't end there. Even as her palms are drawn back, she's stepping forward again, clearly intending to close distance and keep the pressure on her opponent. It's easy to imagine how even the intense music accompanying the fight would compel one to rush in aggressively, but surely she's trained to tune out such influences?

She leans forward, hands grasping into the air occupied by Ken only an instant before he has taken to the air in a snappy counter attack. With her forward momentum, the chain becomes understood only in the aftermath, of forcing Ken to sure up his guard then attempting to punish him for succeeding with a fast hold-

But in this exchange, he proves the better, Kasumi's fingers only brushing his lower leg before trying to correct into protecting herself instead. Her right arm draws up, forearm moving to intersect the whirling shin before he connects, but it's too little, too late, and his foot crashes clean through the guard, meeting her forward momentum with a stunning impact to the young woman's head.

Kicked sidelong with no ability to mitigate the violent change of direction, she nearly falls, spinning around on her feet in more of a desperate attempt to recover than any tactical evasion. There is a sharp inhale of breath as she comes out of the brief stumble and suddenly what seems to be falling back becomes new resolve to attack.

He would see the focus in her eyes only briefly as her body finishes its turn and Kasumi whips herself forward into a cartwheeling kick through the air, attempting to return the dazing favor with a crack of her foot against the top of the Firebrand's head. "HA!" She would flip into a second cartwheeling kick, the second likely to catch anyone off guard if they should mistakenly think the first one was her only attack. "HA!"

She comes out of the second kick, if not prevented, with another one of her precision elbow strikes, targeting center of mass after the two higher attacks, in an attempt to drive a crushing blow into Ken's sternum. "YA!"

It would only be after the attempt that she'd even have the chance to take stock of her own condition - the bruising of the heel concealed by her copper tresses, but the black scorch marks visible on her shoulder and side of head are proof enough of the clean strike. So far, at least, it doesn't seem to have slowed her down yet.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters can't buy an interrupt against Tenshu Kaiten So EX from Kasumi with Shoryuken EX.

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Ken Masters      1/-----==/=======|=======\==-----\1           Kasumi

Ken's motion, similarly, links fluidly into another. It's a one-two lineup that's served him well in countless bouts, a formidable pair of strikes that would put almost anyone on the mat-- at least for a moment. He comes down from that graceful rotation with perfect poise, legs once more bent stably beneath him as he drops into a crouch, hurls himself full-on into that renewed impact.

Flame like that torch which suffused his kick surges to life in his clenched right fist, which is brought around and upwards, intent on meeting the cartwheeling Kasumi as that first strike descends-- and thoroughly clobbers him in the temple.

Staggered for just a moment, it's enough for the second strike to knock aside his intended reprisal, enough for the third to drive him out of the crouch and into a backwards slide, feet rushing to keep up with his unintended reversed momentum. There's a grunt of pain amidst the forced exhalation of breath, but like his opponent... the Blonde Battler is hardly ready to give up yet.

Masters turns a half-turn in line with his new velocity, bringing his left side to bear against Kasumi and stepping sidelong as he raises his guard again, spitting blood-traced saliva aside onto the rather dirty ground. It's another parallel to his battle against Asamiya-- but there's little time to ponder it, and less reason for him to give it voice if he realizes it in this moment.

Instead, Ken laughs, a surprised and impressed chuckle of sporting appreciation. "Damn. I was -sure- I had you there." Other fighters would be disheartened, frustrated, perhaps even frightened; Ken seems willing to fight on all the harder for the punishing turnabout. Two flicks of his fingertips beckon the shinobi on, eyes locked on her from over that raised hand.

The entire exchange of attacks was initiated and completed over the matter of seconds, each fighter moving at speeds that would rival nearly anyone participating in the King of Fighters tournament. Back and forth the two strike, the young ninja attacking, the US Champion counter attacking, the ninja retaliating after a flawed defense, and then a final explosive exchange that drives the two apart briefly one more time.

The exile in blue doesn't follow up after her elbow strike - her forward momentum is spent and even though the combination struck true, she knows better than to overly press her advantage. She may have narrowly avoided possibly the most famous uppercut in the world, but that doesn't mean her fellow champion is out of commission.

If anything, she leans back, arms raised, looking more wary than anything, as if fully respecting the fact that an even more dangerous attack could come flying her way in an instant even if it seems as if there's a brief moment of reprieve. Only when it's clear she has a second does her expression relax slightly, becoming a combination of a wince and a half smile, her hand lifting to rest against the side of her head tenderly as she finally allows a slight shake of her head, "You did," a slight pause, "In a way." Her tone subdued, her voice almost lost beneath the sound of the cheering crowd and the music that continues to reign even louder still. In that brief statement is acknowledgement for the trap laid and so very narrowly avoided, the fluid transition from attack to counterattack that could only be the byproduct of relentless training.

She lifts her hands, palms open, stance back to a relaxed ready state as Ken gestures for her to take her best shot - a dangerous thing to encourage from a shadow dancer, but the man clearly knows what he's doing.

He's given a quick nod, a spark of excitement in her eyes, before the battle is engaged anew. Once more, she bursts forward. She no fancy energy blasts to threaten with, and what chi courses through her body is clearly directed to enabling superhuman bursts of speed and the stamina to fuel the grueling demands on her body. No - if she is to take this bout, it will have to be in the arena of close quarters combat, hand to hand, foot to foot. Her previous advances had her coming in lower but this time the young woman hops into a short, low arc, slamming her right foot out at a downward angle to try and catch Masters on the shoulder with her heel. Her left leg would follow the motion second, attempting to deliver a follow up impact near the first and also give her the leverage needed to vault back a few feet before landing.

It is a swift, two in one, delivered at an angle some might find difficult to defend from, and, when properly executed, leaves her almost perfectly situated to defend herself as well!

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters dodges Kasumi's Run Shunpu.

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

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters issues a challenge!!

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

That wary alertness, the amicable respect, they remain mirrored in Kasumi's temporary adversary, who likewise takes the span of instants to gather his breath and center his spirit-- and perhaps ponder just how to handle the elusive champion shinobi. Ken draws a deep inhalation, then a second, as he paces Kasumi sidelong with smooth, light-footed motions. When she renews the assault, the Blonde Battler is ready for it-- at least, as ready as any man can be.

The first kick whips in, and Masters dances into a fuid weave around it, dancing inside the stroke as it passes and deftly ducking its partner, Kasumi's formidable foot lashing through the US Champion's fluttering ponytail, dislodging the black ribbon that held it taut and setting Ken's golden mane fluttering out above and then behind him.

Ken passes -beneath- Kasumi as she seeks to flip clear, intent on coming up close, keeping on the pressure, forging headlong into that close quarters battle fully voluntarily, to say the least. Because what other strategy would Ken have come up with to contend with this test than to go proverbial balls to the metaphorical wall?

"Let's see how you keep up this pace then!!! 'Cause I still might!" Have her right where he wants her; or something like that. In this case, it's not even meant to carry the innuendo that lingers -anyway-, it's a testament to singular fighting fury and little else but that passion for the all-out bout before him.

Ken comes in low, fire already trailing that fist anew, and lashes out hard, launching himself in an uncanny, rocketing uppercut that seems to hurtle him inward and upwards, and if Kasumi isn't very quick, very adaptable, and also possibly very lucky, it's going to launch her skyward in a painful flash-flood of a fiery wave and brutal uppercut, quickly followed by another executed mid-air with a sharp twist and a forceful secondary blast from that ascending fist.


COMBATSYS: Kasumi blocks Ken Masters' Shouryuu Reppa.

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

She lands, correcting for her opponent's evasion without missing a beat, feet touching down in a graceful meeting with the ground and affording Kasumi an almost immediate recovery. And she had to - for this time, Ken had met her aggression with a carefully timed flanking maneuver, placing him at an optimal angle to strike. Of course she's already whirling toward him, hands already raised to the ready, knowing full well that every ounce of speed is going to be necessary as the very air around her ignites with violent potential.

The first flaming uppercut may have gotten stuffed by a combination of timing and luck, but this next effort explodes upward without a hitch. The damndest thing though is how Kasumi not only reacts quickly but even seems to react even faster when the magnitude of danger becomes all too clear. Arms brace against the first bone shuddering impact, her right wrist guard shattering into a thousand shards of burning ember. The force is enough to knock her upward off her feet a little, arms reeling out at her side. All she can muster for what amounts to the third inferno uppercut she's faced is turn her left shoulder into it, absorbing the impact on her upper left arm before being finally driven away at an angle through the air.

She lands on the hood of a rusted automobile with a thud, the rattle of broken glass and loose metal within the husk clanging audibly.

There is a soft exhale as she remains crouched, one knee down, right arm, now bare, reaching over to rub her scorched left arm gingerly, watching Ken. Beads of perspiration roll down her cheeks as she breathes in and out a few times. Accompanying her quiet contemplation is a ready smile, however, the Mugen Tenshin exile nodding back toward Ken. Perhaps admiring his loosely flowing hair, she grins, "That's a good look for you."

Moment taken, she presses off again, returning to engage with Masters after he's come down from his own formidable demonstration. "But now it's my turn-" Another dash, another shadow step wherein she slips through the last bit of distance in an instant, and finally a stabbing motion with her right hand, aiming down, targeting the martial artist's right thigh with a knife-handed strike.

The intent seems to be to draw his guard low, however, as in one smooth motion, she's lunging upward, right arm snapping out to deliver a second knife handed strike against his right shoulder joint, clearly trying to reduce the striking potential of the limb by potentially catching his nerves at a bad angle as well. It isn't flashy, and certainly no where near as explosive as the attack she just barely managed to defend against, but there is a certain ruthless efficiency to the motion all the same.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters blocks Kasumi's Medium Punch.

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

Ken is scarcely shocked at this juncture by his opponent's capable defenses, the paired Rising Dragons wetting their teeth on her resilient guard rather than suppler sections of physique, but it doesn't stop Masters from unloading the full fury of that personalized technique-- nor slow his defense as he drops back to agile footing, a smouldering corona lingering about that dangerous fist.

The US Champion's hair, naturally, arrives moments later, the bulk of it settling about his back and shoulders, face partially obscured by lustrous, errant locks. "It's just good genes." Ken notes, with utterly mock humility.

"Your turn..?" the Blonde Battler queries with a snerk, even as he fluidly defends the two-fer, the first knife-hand driven aside with a perfectly timed rotation of his left arm, driven stingingly aside to glance off his hardened forearm once more, drawing an angry red line in the muscular flesh.

"To look good?" His motions blur, his timing sharpens, his inner chi spikes anew despite the expenditure of moments before-- it's easy to think Ken -could- do this all night. The second strike meets a smacking palm from the right, cleaving into the leather sparring guard he wears, as the young champion lets out a single bark of amusement, "Babe, you jumped the line on that one."

This doesn't forestall him-- indeed, it may encourage Ken-- to seek to extend that contact with the striking limb, that hand snapping closed with a flash, in a viselike grasp as he steps sidelong and twists in alongside her.

His aim is to wrench that arm into a painful twist and simultaneously sweep both legs out from under the deadly ninja-in-exile in one forceful motion, leveraging his hold to flip her soundly and abruptly onto her back, as Ken drops his weight to augment the fall, ideally coming down on one knee beside Kasumi. "HAAAH!!"

COMBATSYS: Kasumi full-parries Ken Masters' Medium Throw!!

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

Locked in close quarters combat once more, Kasumi is silent as she strikes out twice in rapid succession with her right hand, low then high, only to have Ken respond with beyond adept defense, redirecting the momentum of her knife handed strikes cleanly, avoiding harm while also not losing the slightest bit of ground in the process. There is a soft grunt from the young woman's lips, an acknowledgement? Or was that frustration that the American Champ was proving to be every bit her match in speed and reflexes? Considering the lightning movements she brought to the battlefield, it can't possibly be common for her to encounter someone who can keep up for as long as Ken has.

And maybe it's that realization - that no matter how fast she's attacked him, he's managed to keep up every step of the way - that prompts the proud, royal blooded Mugen Tenshin prodigy to respond as she does.

Ken's hand snaps out, grasping for the arm that is well within reach following his expert guard. But upon securing a hold, he would find no leverage there, Kasumi flipping up and over him, twisting through the air, upside down briefly as she aims to land behind the Blonde Battler's back. He would be forced to release his hold or, if he forces the issue, find himself being pressed from behind by her left palm as she would seek to knock him off balance. Either way, he would have a moment to collect himself as the young woman winds up from where she lands, tensing as she slides her left foot forward, right leg bracing back, torso pivoting to the right. A swell of violent potential builds even if no energy rushes into the visible spectrum. That moment would be all the warning he would get before the Azure Ninja once again vanishes.

If the last time she moved at this speed, the audience bore witness to legendary speed, then this next attack is something else entirely.

Divine Speed.
The power to not just chase after the gods but to run alongside them. This is her full potential speed on display like never before captured in public.

The concept of instantaneous becomes relative as the young woman is at Ken's side, left arm sweeping out for that grip on his all too skilled arm in order to force it aside and leave his torso vulnerable. Her whole body moves with the attempt, right elbow coming forward to deliver another bone shuddering strike. Once more, his rib cage is in danger.

The viewers would be treated to a glimpse of the shinobi as she slides to a stop meters beyond Ken before suddenly leaping up into the air in graceful, backward flip, ending upside down, arms folded over her chest as she performs a nearly impossible inverse pirouette, then vanishes again from mid-air.

This time she's in front of Ken, winding up once more, twisting to the right, left elbow forward, left hand cupped in her right as she gathers the full potential every perfectly toned muscle in her body. It would be a brief moment to witness the thrill in her eyes, the excitement of being forced to go all out, to tap into that life of intense, daily tutelage of great shadow warriors before her.

She launches at Ken, a hundred pound blue missile of pure kinetic force, aiming to land a second, stunningly powerful elbow strike directly above the impact point of the previous strike.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Ken Masters with Oka Ranman EX.
- Power hit! -

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

It's not that Ken is unprepared for the veritable onslaught that follows-- just the opposite, really. The Blonde Battler does indeed match Kasumi step for step in the lead-in to that ancient jutsu, unsurprised by her agile defense...or her sharp and sudden reprisal. Indeed, Ken's feet slip the noose at the same instantaneous, impossible instant that the champion shinobi translocates-- they just slip that noose in the decisively -wrong- direction.

One can't blame him, Kasumi's style is virtually unknown and decidedly unconventional, and this time, Masters reads the wrong line of the book. It costs him-- dearly. As mentioned, he actually veers sharply -into- that opening gambit, cuddling right up beside her for the half-second it takes her to /slam/ his ribcage out of place.

That first blow has Ken reeling, but it scarcely ends there. He staggers full on into the follow-up strike, eyes registering his peril but well and thoroughly dizzied; and then blasted to the ground as if struck by a car. The Blonde Battler hits hard on his back, skids harshly into the junk car wall, which shudders under the force from base to peak.

Is this the end of lovable Ken? Has he been thoroughly devastated by this deadly ninja technique?!! ... No, but kind of yes. Nose bloodied, body brutally bruised, Ken shoves himself back to his feet with defiant limbs, spitting a bit more blood to the side as dark amber eyes burn and /fix/ on Kasumi.

"Gonna take--" He coughs, half a laugh, and a good-natured one. The young champion is aware of the absurdity, "More than -that-!!" He's also back on her in a flash, slapping both hands out to clap over both the lovely exile's ears.

It's a disorienting technique, to say the least. It would also culminate in Ken's hands clasping Kasumi's skull, viselike, and yanking her harshly forward as he slams his forehead into her face. Sometimes, the old standbys are king.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kasumi with Combo Grapple.

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

In the end, Kasumi comes to rest, elbow still out, fist cupped in the opposite palm, body shuddering as she pants for breath while lingering at the completion of the twin brutal strikes. Against a lesser fighter, there would be no doubt that the fight would be ended by such a formidable, precision assault, and the subtle but present delay in recovering is evidence that the demands it places on the youth that just executed it are not something she can dismiss lightly either.

Perhaps that is why she watches Masters with no hidden amount of hope as he comes to rest against the teetering wall of rusting husks. If he can still get up after that, if he still has the same fight in him she faced, the kind of speed, skill, and precision that demanded the best of her every step, then she might have met her match and the fate of her team will have to rest in other hands.

A sheen of perspiration rolls down her cheeks as Kasumi starts to relax out of her tense posture, reclaiming much needed breaths. Maybe this is the end then, one of her most demanding fights to date brought to its conclusion. Now maybe she needs to start thinking of how she can take on another competitor in short order-

Ken pushes himself to his feet, the Gouken-taught prodigy refusing to stay down in spite what he must be going through after that last attack. Kasumi's right hand lifts, brushing her dampened bangs to the side slightly, eyes meeting his and, in an instant, knowing full well that that is not the face of one resigned to defeat. This match has not yet concluded. She answers back with a silent nod of acknowledgement, copper brown eyes narrowing a little as she slides her left foot forward and raises her left arm.

The audience is cheering that the incredible battle has not run its course, that they are to be treated to more examples of seemingly supernatural combat performances. Kasumi's lips part into a bit of a smile, that quiet thrill of a fighter's spirit being tested to its limits burning out from around her, an unseen aura of exhilaration. "I'm glad." she answers, her voice, uttered with complete sincerity, barely audible over the ruckus exploding out all around the wrecked site.

She winds up, tensing, perhaps thinking to intersect Ken on his way back to her only to hesitate at the burst of speed he demonstrates upon closing in.

Unable to predict the snapping of his, however, she is forced to be reactionary. She moves a split second too late in trying to retreat, her ears caught and ringing from the slap of Master's hands, the nimble ninja is caught at last. If she acted on the typical reflexes once has in situations like this, she may have reached up for her ears - after all, that is where the source of pain shooting through her head is coming from, so why not try to pry herself free

But she's been trained better than that - in this instant, the two are locked in combat together, and if she can strike back before the follow up comes, then the opportunity cannot be missed. Both hands slam forward, fingers extended, twin knife-like strikes targeting Ken's throat-


The Mugen Tenshin once-princess reels back from the impact of forehead to face, her attempted counter strike aborted as her left arm snaps out at her side in a desperate bid for balance, and her right hand draws up to her face to cover her nose out of reflex. She stumbles another step, eyes already starting to water as she blinks them repeatedly, a rather surprised expression on her face.

Surprised, but not deterred, Kasumi's knees bend slightly, before she springs into the air, flipping forward into a bit of an arc at Ken before unfolding, snapping out to try and slam both sandal-covered feet squarely into his chest.

A simple enough technique, not a lot of style, but definitely some punch to it. The curious thing, the part that sets the attack apart from the mundane ultra-flipping dropkick your neighborhood bully thinks he can do, is that should there be any impact against him, she would vanish in an instant, leaving behind another twin-helix swirl of lingering blossoms... before diving right out of the air for Ken from another angle, threatening to hit him knee first before sliding to a stop along the ground!

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters dodges Kasumi's Karyuzan EX.

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

It's down to the wire-- it's all on the line. Even many fighters on Ken and Kasumi's level would have been down for the count after the ninja royalty's masterful technique. That Ken's not is something rarer than his skill; that intangible quality of spirit. And perhaps a little bit of pep squad effect.

The two most formidable axe-shredders of the Team USA Guitar Army have stepped to the fore of the modular stage they occupy by the Team's luxurious RV-- and as Ken rises, as the fray is rejoined, they redouble their efforts to close the combat out with a bang, rather than a whimper. ( https://youtu.be/2FfTefp8q-Y )

Ken lay a trap once more-- perhaps more clever than the last. This time, however, Kasumi sees it, she comes in at a perfect angle to forestall the coiled momentum the Blonde Battler brings to bear-- and it makes him smile.

It also makes him adapt. Ken's is a grin that rapidly warps to wolfish, as he steps sidelong, leeaaaans back, and all but slides gracefully around Kasumi as she makes that leaping charge immediately back inside safe strike radius. He doesn't lose much of that space, though-- and with his last gasps of energy, he remains as frenetic as ever.

Also: Flamboyant. Ken raises a tut-ing finger for a moment, then winks as he /points/ at Kasumi in those moments she lands out of her attack, rather on the wrong side of him. He doesn't so much leap at her, unwilling to give her another moment to regain her bearings, as /launch/ into the air, driven by furious, flaming foot.

The first strike is driven in with a perfectly executed, expertly timed three-hundred sixty degree rotation driving all the US Champion's weight behind that reaving rotorblade of a kick, and its corresponding inferno of exploding flame. "HYAAAH!!"

It would scarcely end there, however: stand amidst the maelstrom for even a moment, and the shinobi princess would find herself hammered backwards by a flurry of left and right feet, a hurricane in double time as Ken seeks to kick her soundly and squarely back across their august battlefield amidst a sea of flame.

The same wall of long-derelict cars that he smacked moments become the backdrop for the final moments of battle, one way or another, as Ken aims to catch Kasumi squarely in the rising hurricane kick that closes out the rave, a plume of meteoric heat twisting a perfect corkscrew amidst the vertical column of heat and feet.

"One more for good measure!!!"

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters successfully hits Kasumi with Guren Senpuukyaku EX.
- Power hit! -

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

The realization is immediately visible in her eyes a she glances up from her half-crouched landing, mouth opening to claim desperately needed air. She would have needed only a split second to escape - a hasty retreat, one of her dashes so fast she may very well be teleporting, anything would do.

And she achieves neither of them as the firestorm catches her on the rise, hands coming up in vain effort to defend. The first blow rocks her guard to the side, the second wrist guard - its twin having already been lost to earlier blows - vaporizing under the explosive force.

It's then that she tries to make her escape but the hellfire advance affords no such windows of opportunity and the attempt is cut short by staggering heel to the side of her head, sending her reeling far more than the headbutt only moments prior. But even being flung back is no escape, the Wheel of Fire turning right back into her again and again, battering shoulders, arms, ribs, and head with its relentless energy. That Masters still had something like this in him after all he was put through is nothing shy of incredible.

The teetering rust wall shudders as Kasumi's back impacts the center of it, and shudders again at the next blow to connect. Loose parts rain down from above, too small to be of any threat, scattering against the ground below. The young fighter's world is fire, pain, and blackness that sees to overcome her vision from all sides. Somewhere along the hellride, her azure ribbon was burnt free, leaving her soft but singed red-brown tresses to whip about her head as she is kicked from one way or the other.

Now she has some idea how grass feels beneath the weedwacker. If the weedwacker was also on fire.

His leg swings in again, her defenses long since gone, and this time the crushing, flaming force swishes through empty air.

A glance up would reveal the truth, perhaps in time, the shinobi in scorched blue perched against the front fender of the top car of the tower, the angle equally impossible to explain as it is to deny with one's own eyes.

The lingering flames of his assault reflect in her eyes and behind that burns another flame that refuses to be put out. Blood trickles from her nose, her cheeks bruised and scorched at once, eyes looking as if they would be watering still if the inferno around her hadn't dried the tears out entirely. To look at her one would think she somehow unstoppable - battle torn, she looked as if she intended to keep the bout going on even longer, to rise from these ashes to claw her way to victory. It would take a veteran's eye to know differently, to see the fatigue, the struggle to focus, the tremble in her limbs.

Even still, she dives, launching from the car with enough force to send it sliding off the other side of the wall and out of sight. Her knee leads the way, threatening a knock out hit should she manage to crack it against the top of Ken's head before she vanished. The next blow would come from behind, from what would seem to be an even more impossible angle of completely open air, a second knee strike against Ken's upper back, threatening to slam him into the dent she had occupied an instant before.

She'd be unable to stay airborne after that, hit or miss, risking free fall to the ground below just to secure this final strike.

Seconds later, the explosive sound of the falling car echoes throughout the arena.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi can no longer fight.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  <
Ken Masters      0/-------/---====|

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Ken Masters with Renzuki Hakuro Kyaku.

[                          \\\\  <
Ken Masters      0/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Ken Masters can no longer fight.

Much as the other young champion has made... a good first impression on Ken, when he's being honest in the interviews to come, he'll admit he was really pretty happy to pepper Kasumi with that tsunami of deadly hurricane kicks.

That that was the moment he thought he had his masterful opponent beat-- and then he looked up and saw the Ninja Princess teeteringly poised on the last car in the tower, "Oh f--" Masters, perhaps thankfully, doesn't have time to finish his thought.

He's spinning out of that last vertically rising spinning top o' doom-- trailing fire, looking stylish-- and let's be honest he's a little overextended now. The Blonde Battler's a little tired, finally, after -all- of that. Hi body aches, his muscles scream protests; who can blame him for any of it? Then, Kasumi clocks Ken in the skull.

Abruptly the US Champion's descent is far less poised badass, and far more limp ragdoll. Just in case, bouncing him off that resilient steel helps. It's that secondary impact that brings him down after Kasumi, facedown into the dirt beside her, one leg splayed across hers.

Ken coughs, his eyes flutter open, and for a moment he's puzzled why it's all still dark; then he lifts his head, and spits out some dirt. The announcer counts them down, and for a moment, it looks like the Blonde Battler might, against the odds, climb back to his feet yet -again-.

.. this process aborts before it's really begun, however, and the Ansatsuken disciple flops over to one side, rolling towards Kasumi and draping an arm across her; which really winds up more tousling her hair and stroking a palm over her face somewhat less than elegantly. But hey, he's gentle for a change.

"You're nice." Ken observes in a mutter that's, perhaps, somewhat dazed. "That was nice."

She fell from the sky, landing on her back hard against the ground, right eye blinking and unfocused as she stares up at the air above and sees only remnants of the furnace that finally caught her in a decisive combination. Her left eye has slowly sealed shut from rather unsightly swelling.

The young woman lifts her right hand weakly only to flop it over her stomach when such movement clearly registers as far too difficult. Her hair spread out beneath her head in a wide fan of dirtied copper, she lies breathing, not seeming to even register at first the sound of another crashing down adjacent to her.

But when Ken makes the Herculean effort move closer to his finally downed opponent, she stirs, eye opening a little as his palm brushes a bit awkwardly against her face. A grin cracks its way into her slightly bloodied lips, though it takes her a few more breathes before she can reply. Medics are already moving out from the sidelines as the official beckons their way.

"You're all right."

She closes her eye again, conscious yet still, overcome by the peace of mind only a fighter who was truly pushed to their limits can feel. Lips open once more before the two are suddenly fussed over, adding three more words.

"Pretty good ninja."

Alma exhales slowly.

The tall young man stands on his team's side of the junkyard, the piles of refuse offering an unglamorous stage for the likes of he and his shinobi partner. But the psychic shows no sign of being disconcerted by the filth. Indeed, if anyone had cared to look away from the extraordinary battle that just took place, they would notice that Alma conveyed little emotion whatsoever even at the heights of the gripping conflict. And as the cameras turn to the fighters waiting in the wings, zooming in on their features, an explanation will offer itself:

Alma's eyes have been closed.

The commentators will likely chatter on about this. Though Alma is known as a talented student of Rose, he is most famous for his painting, and the last international fighting spectacle he participated in was against Athena some time ago, where he performed admirably but lost. The sight of him apparently meditating and ignoring the dynamic clash between the two popular fighters will at last prompt some jokes at the expense of Team Balance. Say, that the secret to being calm is not paying attention.

But Alma has been paying attention, and eyes have nothing to do with it. With his deeply honed aura sense, being on the sidelines of this battle was akin to surfing waves of light. With every breath, he took that power into himself, feeling his heart stir with the thrill of the display. At the core was the spirit of the fighters; orbiting around it was the attention of the audience. Alma, quietly, with all his ability, strove to draw that into himself.

And now, he exhales, and as he does, his eyes open. He steps forward, leaving the shade of his team's simple encampment and letting the light fall on his famously androgynous features and simply stylish get-up: a white jumper, tailored blue jeans, polished dress shoes. He strides past scattered debris without hesitation. He might be headed to a party if it weren't for the solemn determination in his expression and the bright alacrity of his eyes.

There are no sign of the injuries he sustained not long ago in a mission that kept him from the first round of the tournament. This, too, is partly thanks to his meditation. Whatever trace of them that remain has been banished by synchronizing with the wavelength of the fighters who came before him. He is ready to begin this battle anew. He need only await his opponent -- and maintain his composure amidst the electrifying attention of the audience.

"What," he then murmurs, a voice deep and quiet belying his fey appearance, "a miraculous energy."

It's almost enough to carry him away with the tide.

COMBATSYS: Alma has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Alma             0/-------/-------|

"Shit. Talk all that big talk, fly around in that fancy plane... get your ass kicked by a fuckin' teenager. Shiiiit." That's Senna, unaware she is hot-mic'ed, after the spectacular double-K.O. between Ken and Kasumi. Of course she wouldn't, doesn't want to, admit that Kasumi would probably have been too much for her. But hey. She's just a failed boxer and sometime street fighter/thug from Metro City. And now...

Now she's got to face off against this -pretty boy-.

Senna spits on the ground. "Goddammit, Masters," she says, but it's pretty half-hearted. She knows, deep down, he did what he could, and now it's up to her. An honest assessment would probably say, well, you've got no chance. And she would agree. But, dammit... she might be a failed ex-boxer and a general roustabout and jerk, but she doesn't like backing down from challenges, otherwise she wouldn't've been a boxer in the first fuckin' place.

Here he comes. Alma Towazu. Of course she's heard his name; she keeps her ears out usually, and especially since Ken recruited her. She was a pretty studious type back in the day... for what interested her. Senna watches Ken get pulled off the field, then draws in a deep breath and lets it out, gustily. Pretty boy vs. ugly-ass woman. This ought to be fun. For a few seconds at least.

The clapping sound of her fists ramming into each other sounds like a shot as she walks out onto the fighting arena, arms already up, wrappings tight, done perfectly, giving her enough bend to move her fingers but encouraging proper technique in making her fists--flat planes for pummeling, as one of her teachers once said.

"A'ight, pretty boy. Lets get this show going," she says, trying out a bit of bravado. Probably he'll see through it, but... it makes for a good show, anyways.

COMBATSYS: Senna has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Alma             0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0            Senna

Alma, in acknowledgment of the ringing impact of Senna's fists, smiles faintly. A slight upturning of his lips, it does not pollute the seriousness of his gaze. However Senna may feel about their relative worthiness or ability, the pretty boy psychic entertains no such thoughts. Having spent the previous minutes taking the spirit of the surroundings into himself, he now ignores it, the chatter of the audience, the thoughts of the crowd. From his opponent, he believes that he can sense hints of fear and derision. But what matters is that he senses her conviction, her willingness to sacrifice, to fight.

Nothing else matters beyond that. And his duty, and his honor, is to live fully in this moment and to face her with every facet of his being that may be harnessed for power.


It's an improbable match-up, this hardcore boxer and this elegant gentleman, but if Alma is aware of that, he doesn't show it. Instead, his smile broadens, by all appearances sincere.


Despite being at too great a distance to make contact, he extends a hand.

"Do your best."

And from his fingertips leaps a bolt of ethereal flame, glimmering with fanciful light, but darting with terrible purpose. It twists and waves through the air, aiming to strike home before Senna can react or close the distance, as Alma adopts a poised open-handed stance.

He knows tragically little about the fighters of this world, having spent all too long away from tournaments, but however mighty this finely honed woman may prove to be, he will respect her will.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Senna with Sacred Wave.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Alma             0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0            Senna

Senna sneers at Alma. Every fiber of her being almost always in this state of... suspicious malcontent. The attitude she had to develop to live in a world she fell into, a far darker and dirtier world than she was once used to occupying. So that open sincerity is a little like acid to her, not burning but stinging, and her obvious, instinctual response is to sneer.

"Get -bent-," is what she says, bringing her arms in in a peekaboo guard. A peekaboo guard that gets blown open by that bolt of power, forcing her back with a pained and angry 'nnnngh' sounding almost subsonically. Goddamn flashy-ass fighters with their 'chi' and their 'psionic powers' and all that bullshit. Whatever happened to just throwing down? That's what she's good at--that's what she does.

She skids to a halt maybe ten yards further away from Alma than she had hoped to be, but her blood's up, now, and she transitions from her curled, defensive block stance into a forward lunge quickly, smoothly, training showing through as she keeps her left arm up to guard and cocks her right fist back; closing in she'll try to fire a pair of hook punches right into Alma's temple, the air whistling with the sharpness of those twin blows, the first precisely timed and aimed to hit and retract for the second, longer follow-through blow.

COMBATSYS: Senna successfully hits Alma with Double Hammer.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Alma             0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0            Senna

Alma's psychic sensitivities attune him to Senna's will: to her frustrations, her intensities, her habitual grooves. But he cannot, from this power alone, judge of what her training makes her capable.

He is able to feel the impact of his dart of flame before he sees it, and with that, he adjusts his posture. He presumes that he will have additional room to defend himself and prepare a counterattack. But the smoothness and certainty of Senna's movements overcome whatever advantage he might have possessed. The beautiful young man leans back as she approaches, but not far enough; her fists have already anticipated whatever evasive motions he might have made. The first blow snaps his head to the side roughly, eliciting a shout of approval from the crowd, and he only barely manages to duck beneath the second, her battle-hardened knuckles ruffling his red-tinged blond hair.

As delicate as he looks, and as powerful as the impact of her punch clearly was, Alma does not appear to hesitate in the aftermath. He is already attacking. His leg rises as though to kick. This may seem an odd choice at first, given her proximity. But his tactic is unusual, born of intuition more than formal training, and this may prove to its benefit. He leans back far enough so that he must place a palm against the ground to brace himself, placing him out of immediate reach of Senna's fists. And his leg does not kick: it wraps around her body, and then, with a pivot, Alma attempts to hurl her with force magnified by telekenesis. His leg blazes up with pearlescent pink and purple fire, and should he manage to capture her, his opponent will be thrown to the ground with a cratering blast, the Soul Power he has summoned erupting in a spectacular plume, the garbage about them rattling, barely heard amidst the din of the crowd.

COMBATSYS: Senna fails to interrupt Sea of Flame from Alma with Jolt Hammer.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Alma             1/-------/=======|======-\-------\0            Senna

"_Fu<bleep>_," is what Senna says, as a very quick-fingered live editor, having been forewarned, has a finger on a particular button. After all, Senna is not knowing for using polite language. At all. Alma isn't letting up. Well... she didn't expect he would. She'd probably be insulted, anyways. But that's no excuse. Senna doesn't like any of this--the long legs, the psionic flame. She tries to, almost simultaneously block Alma's move and punish it with a good, hard punch to the side of the knee--but she wasn't expecting the wraparound. Soooo...

She's taken for a ride, a burning ride that ends with her flat on her back, air forced out of her lungs in a deep, involuntary *WHUFF*. Fortunately she doesn't forget how to breathe, and that begins shortly thereafter, after which she rolls herself out of the crater. Panting, looking, well... not angry, because she already looked angry, but maybe angri*er*. Maybe because that didn't hurt the way it should have.

"Motherf<bleep>er, are you -playing around with me-?" she demands, loudly, as she resumes her boxing stance, lowering her center of gravity just a touch as she begins to sway back and forth, perching on the balls of her feet.

Alma blinks, his resolute expression faltering, at Senna's outraged query. Her shout echoes throughout the dilapidated arena, briefly stilling the crowd. The elfin-faced psychic looks mildly bewildered. In fairness, while Alma often ironically misses social cues in his attentiveness to the subtle emotional variations of auras, Senna did just land hard enough to scar the earth. It takes him a moment to decipher her implication.

"You're strong."

When he does, his response is calm and sincere. Somehow, his matter-of-fact way of speaking makes him seem all the more earnest.

"My Soul Power may appear as flames," he continues, "but its essence is not to burn. It wears away at one's sense of self. That's difficult to resist without mental training. But--"

He regards her practiced stance carefully. It would be imprudent to spend too much time talking.

"Those who can concentrate themselves into a single drive or purpose, and hold fast to it admist confusion, fare better."

Alma chooses to leave this as a general claim and let Senna decide for herself if that description suits her. Needless to say, he was not aware of himself holding back. But perhaps she is right. He has been gathering the collective will of the crowd into himself all this time, letting surging spirits flow through him, preparing his mind and body to channel great power.

"Out of respect, Senna Chaiket," Alma quietly intones, "I'll eliminate any such ambiguity."

It's time to tap these forces.

An invisible weight suddenly bears down on Senna, oppressively settling over her like a shroud. Alma may seem to loom, despite his fastidious appearance, as his will, overpoweringly projected, interferes with the flow of spiritual energy in the vicinity.

"Prepare yourself!"

The psychic lunges, seeming to erupt from the ground. Accelerated by telekinesis employed upon his own body, arms alighting with fire of cherry-blossom pink, Alma unleashes four swift palm strikes. First, a right straight to the lower torso; then, a hooking left strike to the body, aiming to break open her guard; next, an explosive right hooking strike to Senna's head; and last, a fearsome left uppercut strike with the heel of his hand, aiming to snap her head back and blow her away. Should he succeed, he will be left standing in that position for a moment more, fine clothes rippling as the flames dance about him.

Will his opponent overcome this trial?

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Senna with Trial by Fire.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Alma             0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0            Senna

It's true. Senna is strong. It's also true that she could be much stronger. That she's resigned herself to this lot in life--to be the afterthought, the thug, the goon. To not really have pride in anything, not even her fists. It's true.

But pointing that out? That doesn't really humble her, or cause her to reflect on it. She's not ready for that. So she goes the opposite way. Reflection? No, no. No time for that. She goes for outrage. Subconsciously, of course. She isn't sitting there, sweating over a button, deciding to push it. That button was pushed already, from the get-go. That kind of compassion, to her--it's like the sun on a vampire. It just burns.

But she's also caught off-guard--or rather, her guard is broken. It's easy, like snapping a pencil. And the shame of that is almost worse than the searing combination of psionic pain and precise strikes. She's blown backwards, off her feet, tumbling over once, landing not on her feet but on toes and knees and hands. If her hands weren't so tough, she might've broken a couple of knuckles on that landing.

And still she rises. "Goddamn pretty boys. Think you have the answers," she hisses/spits, along with a not-insignificant quantity of blood. She smiles, but it's... not a nice smile. Not quite feral, but it's close enough, dark and unpleasant, a baring of teeth. She gets up, crushed in upon herself a little. And she starts laughing. Ugly laughing.

"That all you got, pretty boy? C'mon..." Pure anger gets her limbs moving, her body flowing, almost like she were uninjured. For the few moments she probably has left in this fight, she darts forward, driving her left fist in a series of jabs, a visual and mental distraction until she can close in--grabbing for Alma by the upper arms. If she gets that far? She'll plant her feet, reverse her momentum, violently, planting her left foot, as she hurls Alma behind her--and turns to give him a punch to the back of the head.

(That last is definitely not Marquis of Queensbury rules.)

COMBATSYS: Alma fails to interrupt Swing Shot from Senna with Divine Intervention EX.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma             0/-------/--=====|=======\====---\1            Senna

Alma exhales slowly as the surge of spiritual energy passes through him, his outstretched palm aloft some moments more before he lowers his arm. Under these circumstances, the challenge in wielding such power is not summoning it so much as avoiding being mentally rent apart oneself. The technique for doing so, if it can be described, is much like what Alma said mere seconds ago: willingly relinquish all aspects of one's consciousness save a single shining conviction. Let all be swept away save that. In this case--

To make contact. To make an impact.

And Alma has done that. Oh, yes.

Alma's brow furrows for a moment. It's just a fleeting expression. But, pretty boy though he may be, it takes a lot to unsettle Alma, and Senna has managed it. It's not her fearful appearance. It's the anger she gives into then, uncovering a well of rage whose depths Alma could not have known.

His spirit flares up immediately, eyes glowing with another surge of power. It is obvious what he must do. He must clash directly with this rage of hers and disperse it, pierce it through. Energy is already gathering in his right arm as Senna closes in. Alma sways his head in response to her feinting jabs, weaving carefully, before attempting to seize the moment and raising his hand, pointing fingertips that appear to blaze white-hot at her sternum.


But Senna has already seized the moment, by seizing that arm. Her movement pulls his hand off-target, a beam of light firing off to the sky, piercing only clouds.


Thrown off-balance, Senna's brutal blow sends Alma crashing to the ground, the crowd erupting (with mixed opinions) at the boxer's ruthlessness. The psychic rolls forward and rises almost immediately, his jumper now stained with dirt, showing that he remains resilient. But his eyes are dazed from the debilitating strike, and he has to take a moment to shake himself off.

Senna's anger is not so easily suppressed.

Senna's anger is a living thing. It's been carefully cultured and nurtured over her twenty-some years of life. At this point it's almost like a fine wine; in a few more years, maybe less, it will start to sour, and she'll perhaps have to discard it for something else. But for now... for now she drinks it in, bathes in it. Revels in the power it has to keep her standing when she clearly shouldn't be. In its ability to wash away pain, reducing it to a distant burning.

Riding that wave, a surf that can't possibly last, she's as much at its mercy as she is using it, propelled forward even as Alma's getting up. Her shout is loud, incoherent, but focused, as she comes in, leading with her right hand cocked back--throwing a right straight, instead of the most commonly used left jab, for a setup. And if that makes contact...

She goes absolutely apeshit for a few moments, pummeling Alma with a series of left jaba and right straights and body blows, an extended heavy bag routine, punctuated, at the very end, by a specific series--left hook, right hook, left hook, and a final right uppercut.

And her battlecry for punch that starts this whole sequence? Well... of course it's:


It's not until after she expends that energy that the anger rush starts to fade; involuntarily, her body starts trembling, on the verge of a rebellion.

COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Senna's Gatling Knuckle.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Alma             1/---====/=======|=------\-------\0            Senna

This time, Alma is ready.

He has no insight into the origin of her rage. He cannot know how long this toxic brew of anger has simmered within her, or what experiences and events have served as its ingredients. His empathic powers only allow him to gauge the height of her emotions. But that is enough to guide his intuitions on how to defend.


Even with the knowledge of what he must do, Alma's body shudders under the strain of keeping up. His open hand manages to deflect her initial punch, but the force of the blow prevents him from repositioning, and he must devote all his focus to guarding against her unrelenting assault. He manages to slap aside the first few strikes that follow, but as she transitions into fierce body blows, the psychic is forced into a more defensive posture, guarding himself fully with his arms and unable to counterattack. He grimaces as the punches rain down, bruising his arms beneath his soiled sleeves.

Alma just barely manages to catch Senna's final uppercut with both palms, one atop the other, protecting his head but sending him sliding back, shoes digging grooves in the dirt. The audience is roaring at this fearsome clash, but he hears them as though at a great distance. All that he can feel is Senna's anger. He feels tossed about as in a storm, the physical pain a pale shadow of the emotional tumult. He must not be consumed. But if he tries to shut it out, these feelings, to which he is irresistably attuned, will inexorably wear away at him.

So he opens his heart.

A great calm befalls him then. He enters the eye of this storm. He does not reject Senna's rage. He does not need to understand it. He will take it all into himself regardless. For he is, he must be, great enough to encompass it, to embrace it, surpass it.

And so is she.

That, of course, is not knowledge, but faith.


The question will come from behind her. For once Alma has skidded to a stop after defending against her final uppercut, his eyes will glow brighter than ever before, his edges of his body will blur suffused by a corona of light, and he will vanish, leaving only glimmers in his wake. And that one word will serve as her best warning, however brief, that he has teleported into her blind spot.

Alma is already reaching out, his eyes fields of light, his power concentrated into a single fingertip which he aims to place at the base of her skull. It is where she punched him before. His is a light touch.

But, should he make contact, what follows is a blinding flash that leaves the both of them as silhouettes in the eyes of the crowd. The psychic assault is one to blow away all pretention, like his finger is a chisel and his will is a hammer behind it, smashing through mental barriers. One who is overwhelmed by this attack may feel, for a moment, their sense of self swept away, as Alma said.

But in that moment, before old habits and ways of being reassert themselves and the fragments of one's identity reform and coalesce, one becomes a stranger to oneself. And it therefore becomes possible to, with equanimity and even an odd serenity, regard and reflect upon what one has become, as the power passes through and washes away the inessential.

COMBATSYS: Alma issues a challenge!!

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Alma             1/---====/=======|=------\-------\0            Senna

COMBATSYS: Senna parries Alma's Absolution!

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Alma             0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0            Senna

Damn. It felt good, but not -that- good. One of the first things she was taught, that she learned, was the difference between how a punch feels when it's hitting the target and when it's not. So she knows, instinctively, that Alma's guarding even that lightning-fast combination--her worked-on, ultimate technique, in as much as it is. It is a fairly pure expression of boxing--no low blows, no stomps, nothing like that. Despite all her... unsavoriness, in the ring she was always a clean boxer. She always had that.

Now, in -street fights-, she'll use knees, kicks, stomps, eye gouges... but in the ring? Well... there is still something of boxer left in her. She isn't really quite prepared to take on Alma when he's glowing like a goddamn anime hero, reaching out... for what? Who knows? But that 'why' would only get answered... well, if he was able to subsume her anger completely, and then maybe get her good and liquored up, and then get her to talk coherently. Kind of a stiff skill challenge to undertake, and really not one for in the middle of a battle. Of course, he could just _force_ her to face herself.

But not today. The anger's... not gone, but faded, the intensity reduced down to background levels--Alma's Geiger counter isn't giving out a constant stream of clicks and pings. Still.. she just gives him a look. And...

*SMACK* She smacks his hand away. "Keep that glowy sh<bleep> away from me, man, I hate it." That line is delivered casually--the sudden burst of speed, her body's natural ability to recover trained by her boxing coach, nothing superhuman but enough to keep her going... is not so casual. In a second, maybe less, she's jabbing with her left hand, shifting forward, almost in a blur, then snapping her right out in a straight, a one-two punch combination with a lightning-speed step in the middle, and then her left starts up. More jabs, a lot more of them, fired off in an almost random pattern, sharp and snappy, almost cutting the air for a couple of seconds before she fires another right straight, twisting her hips into it.

COMBATSYS: Senna blitzes into action and acts again!

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Alma             0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0            Senna

COMBATSYS: Alma auto-guards Senna's Shift Combination EX.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma             0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0            Senna

COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Senna's Shotgun Driver.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma             0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0            Senna

Alma notices the change too late -- but he notices it.

His fighting spirit rose to great heights as he defended against Senna's powerful combination attack. He channeled it fully into his most focused expression of his psychic abilities. He had sought to blast away Senna's fury, like a mighty gust of wind of extinguishing a wildfire. But it is only as he reaches out that the empath realizes that her anger is already not what it was.

She is controlling it somehow. He does not know how or why. Perhaps, with her attack, she has gotten it out of her system. It does not occur to him that her technique was distinctly more honorable than punching him in the back of the head. All that he knows in that moment is that he has lost the advantage of surprise.

Commentators will argue over whether or not he falters here, thrown off by the shift in her emotions, the target of her aura dancing out of reach. But the truth is that Alma is simply outdone. Senna's speed and training culminate in an extraordinary single, sharp defensive maneuver that redirects the motion of his concentrated attack. It looks casual, almost insolent, like her voice, and the crowd roars in response.

"Away from you?"

Alma's fire may have momentarily faded, but he remains deeply attuned to his opponent, and his intuitions are keen. His defenses are more graceful than before, his palms brushing against the sides of her fists as he moves with her. Pushing hands and swaying movements guide him narrowly out of harm's way, the fervor of the audience only increasing at the expert efforts of both fighters. Alma seems to blur briefly at Senna's last straight punch, leaning in rather than away, bringing his dirt-streaked face, brow beaded with sweat, close to hers.

"I thought you wanted me to give it my all."

He's grinning.

"But if you insist--!"

He attempts to catch her right arm before she can retract it to a defensive position and, continuing with the motion of his previous evasion, turns into a hip throw, aiming to send Senna crashing decisively to the ground. His hands are guided by intuition, his senses heightened by psychic power.

But ... there's no glowy stuff.

COMBATSYS: Senna parries Alma's Medium Throw!

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma             0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0            Senna

Traditionally, boxers are no bueno vs. grapplers... or grapples in general. Yeah, they know how to clinch, and many even use that as an opportunity to attack. Senna does it, too. Had she not been exposed to street fighting, more than likely she would never have known how to deal with this whole thing. Being hiptossed. But she -has- been around the block... so to speak... and so she keeps her composure when Alma picks her up and tries to flip her over. She throws herself _into_ it, adding some kinetic energy into it--so she's almost picturesque when she lands on her feet.

Tartly, she replies, "I don't like it when people try to burn my brain out." She's starting to loosen up some, physically, aches and pains fading away a bit more. From this range--which is to say almost right in his face--Senna takes an in-fighter's approach, and looks to pummel Alma's midsection with a pair of quick uppercuts--not to the chin, but lower, almost body blows but aimed to come up and into Alma's chest just below the pecs--at the top of the ribcage.

Of course, internally, she's kind of rolling his eyes at that cocky smirk and the 'but I thought you wanted me to give it my all?' Is this guy that dense, he can't understand taunting? ... well, looking at him, he probably didn't get that it was sarcasm. Of a sort.

COMBATSYS: Alma interrupts Body Blow EX from Senna with Glimmer of Hope EX.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Alma             0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0            Senna

"I know."

Alma has a bad habit of taking what people say at face value. Truth be told, it's not because he can't tell when people are joking. He's human enough to be able to tell that Senna's snappy retort, after another magnificently acrobatic defense on her part, is meant to mock him. It's just that he also knows that, behind the acrid humor, there's truth to the claim.

For some people, being struck with Alma's psychic power is not categorically any worse than being knocked silly by a punch. But for others, there's something violative about his power. He does not probe or manipulate. He cannot read minds or steal secrets. But losing one's sense of self can be a fearful thing. Alma, to fight to his fullest, must inflict that on others. He knows not everyone finds the process as glorious and inspiring as he.


How can he not fight to his fullest?

"It's worth it."

He said that he wouldn't leave any ambiguity as to his efforts, but this statement he leaves vague. It's worth it to give your all in battle. It's worth it to potentially burn out your brain. It's worth it to face your opponent with everything you've got. It's worth it to face yourself.

These aren't claims anyone can make with certainty. Reaching out can always go wrong. Even a psychic can't clearly see the future. No: these are statements of hope.

And so Alma reaches out again. It's not obvious at first to the viewers what has happened. It may appear as though Senna's first uppercut, pounding into Alma's chest, has caused his arm to jerk upwards from the impact. But all too naturally, his fingertips have found their way to her forehead before she can complete her second punch. A jolting spark emerges there. It is humble compared to the mighty surge that was his previous try at a psychic assault. But it is the same sort of shock to the system that his attempted absolution would have been.

Will she be glad to have fought like a true boxer? Will she regret not fighting dirtier? Will she hate him? Will she hate all of this?

He hopes for more.


That is the sound she makes when Alma pulls that trick. That searing pain in her head. God-dammit-. Clear-eyed for just a moment, she snarls through her teeth, "You goddamn prissy boy." Her body is already starting to crumple, but she hasn't realized it yet. In the second after, just as she's realizing that she has, in fact, lost... she becomes determined. Determined to not just... go out. To not get punked by this bastard.

But she's collapsing. She focuses on two things. Left hand, right hand. She reaches out with her left hand, attempting to grab Alma on the shoulder. Looks almost like a desperate attempt to stay up. And it kind of is... but not to make the fight last too much longer. These aren't ropes she's grabbing to avoid the down. No, once she reaches out, it's to find Alma, and center herself on him--and to begin attempting to just... well... to just crush his ribs with as much power as she can manage in her fading right arm, fist balled up tight, almost by reflex. She manages three, four punches before her strength fails her--and instead of slumping against Alma, she pushes herself away.

She doesn't want to be caught and lowered to the ground by him. That would be the ultimate embarrassment. Better to go out like she were in the ring, knocked out, beaten until she hit the mat.

COMBATSYS: Senna can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Alma endures Senna's Rib Crusher.

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

Alma is not driven by pride. He has never sought the esteem of others, never needed their respect or fear. His performativity, the fact that he puts on shows, is motivated by a sincere wish to awaken intense heights of emotion, to thereby make the world seem a more significant and vibrant place. But this is not all due to having a saintly character. It is also due to luck. Pride develops in those who must fight for their place in the world, who face degradation and dismissal and who cannot -- should not -- tolerate it.

So Alma, though his psychic attunement means that he feels something akin to what Senna feels in this moment, doesn't understand this feeling fully. All that he knows is that her determination is real. Whatever the nature of her conviction, it drives her to continue striving.

Because Alma is not driven by pride, when he stands and allows his struggling adversary to place her hand upon his shoulder as though supporting her, it is not because he wants to flaunt his toughness. Such a notion is utterly foreign. No, as Senna's fist slams brutally against his chest, almost doubling him over by the third impact, the audience quieting into shocked silence, Alma endures because it is the best way he can think of to accept her will and to acknowledge her fully.

It may be simple-minded. It is certainly stupid. When Senna falls backward, seemingly rejecting aid, Alma is left coughing and hacking unglamorously, arm pressed against his battered torso, tears in the corners of his eyes, body trembling. There doesn't seem to have been any point to it.

But when Alma manages to straighten, and applause bursts from the audience, though his face is taut and eyes squinted from pain, he looks satisfied.

And, after treatment like that, certainly not so prissy anymore.

COMBATSYS: Alma has ended the fight here.

Log created on 15:23:23 08/26/2017 by Ken Masters, and last modified on 17:28:56 09/10/2017.