SNF 2018.04 - SNF: Damning Memories

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Description: Amongst the nuclear scarred remains of Mt. Fuji, life is just beginning to return. And with the life, comes the annual Mugen Tenshin Orphan drive, where the Mugen Tenshin clan offers gifts and food to orphans who brave the journey to Mt. Fuji. Of course, they even offer shelter to youths showing potential, as well as apprenticeship. Taking place at the foot of the mountain, the event is hosted by Hayate. And a special guest appearance comes from the traitor of the Mugen Tenshin,the KOF Champion, Kasumi. She brings her own offerings to the donation drive, as well as a SNF challenge, to help fundraise for the donation event. But Hayate knows that she is marked for death by his clan. Has Kasumi come back expecting open arms? Or is something more complex afoot?

Across the nation of Japan, cleanup and recovery efforts are still ongoing in the wake of the destructive UN initiated gear invasion. Though the war has gone cold, the munitions no longer firing, and the gear threat apparently eradicated as far as the world can tell, there is still an extensive amount of repair and rebuilding to be done throughout the land.

This is especially true for the shadow clans that have made their secret homes on the forested slopes of Mr. Fuji for hundreds of years. The cataclysmic strike by the living weapon known as Justice changed everything. Forests burned, ancient seals withered and died, and youkai broke through the shattered barriers and ran rampant throughout the region. Things have come a long way since then... the secret clans have had time to clean up the youkai mess, re-establish many of the vital wards, and rebuild devastated villages little by little.

Yet for all the disruption to their prior way of life, certain traditions persist. Case in point, an annual tradition of stepping out of the shadows, however briefly, to do something for the people of Japan. Once per year, each of the clans sheltered on Mt. Fuji sends a representative or two to the base of the mountain where an event is held. It is a time and place where each of the clans donates a portion of their stored up wealth or provisions, dedicating the resources to important causes within the nation they normally serve in absolute secrecy.

It is something of a risky time, when the representatives of each of the villages comes to the established point, moving in the open for one afternoon. But the tradition has held for generations, respected and adhered to even by some of the darker clans. Even the dreaded Black Spiders respect the date - though they send no representatives to the gathering, they have never made a hostile move toward any of the other ninja families on this day each year in spite the opportunity seeming to be ripe for the occasion.

Under the behest of SNF organizers, this year's event will be dedicated to the orphans of Japan, with food drives, donations of funds, and collections for toys and other provisions for needy orphanages can be gathered and then distributed. Partnering with the SNF organizers for marketing and promotion of course carries with it a quid-pro-quo - in exchange for their help in spreading the message about the event wide, there will need to be a few exhibition matches that can be broadcast. Of course, exciting ninja battles will just get more people to tune in, which means more eyes on the charity efforts, which will in turn, hopefully, result in even more donations from viewers around the world for children in need.

The designated area is setup with booths, displays, and little shops established and manned by representatives of the various ninja clans. Of course, all shop proceeds will also go toward the fund raising. Tourists from afar and natives of Japan have turned out in numbers. Fortunately, the grounds for the event are large enough to accommodate a significant number of people without feeling too much like a mob.

That said, with the promise of being able to see and possibly meet /real life/ ninjas, who can blame people for turning out in droves? One just hopes that their generosity mirrors their curiosity.

Hayate of the Wind, the heir to the Mugen Tenshin village has, of course, come out to be the representative of their village. It truly is not surprising that he would be selected, as not only is he the next in line of succession to become the leader of the village, and the master of the Mugen Tenshin, but... he's also a very photogenic face to present to the crowd, whether or not he even acknowledges that fact. He has the looks of a manga hero, handsome and strong, but just pretty enough to not appear rugged. Fresh faced, and with that silky auburn hair, he could have easily been a model or teen heartthrob with those looks, had he not been born into the world of shadows.

Perhaps it is surprising, but where most of the other representative may have dressed up in their most ninja of ninja gears, Hayate has come dressed simply and traditionally. A light yukata, elegantly tailored for him, in shades of blue with a stripped, textured pattern woven into the fabric, and mon patches at either side of his chest, bearing the Tenjinmon crest. A simply black obi is wound about his waist to hold it shut, tied neatly in the back. His feet are clad in pristine white ankle length tabi, with straw waraji sandals. The only ornamentation that he wears comes in the form of a hachigane, an armored headband fashioned out of a steel that carries a blue tint, and bears a partial diamond pattern etched into the surface of it.

Currently, the young jonin lingers near a booth set up by the Mugen Tenshin, where they hand out small, hand crafted mementos to children, and another of the clan gives an arguably fun and interactive lesson on the illustrious history of the clan itself, and its relation with Mt. Fuji. Hayate's role, here? The examination of those who have come to try to pledge themselves to the Mugen Tenshin clan. It's a hard job, truth be told. Hayate's fists might be the things of steel, but in truth, his heart is not. A flaw for one in his position, and a trait that causes him to want to take in every "applicant" orphan that comes his way. Sadly, the village simply cannot accommodate so many, especially in these trying times.

So, here he stands, before a young boy who is earnestly throwing his best off balance kicks and throwing his most powerful punches learned from Super Sentai shows. Hayate wears a bright smile on his face, and even acts fearful when the boy directs those punches in his general direction with a fierce shout and 'warface'. The boy could be no older than six years old. Scrawny. But boisterous. After his display, Hayate squats down to eye level with him, and retrieves a fan from within the inside of his yukata. This, he hands out to the boy, and he says, "This is your welcome to join us. Please present this to the lady with the purple hair and scary eyes, and she will take care of everything. You will be of the Mugen Tenshin ninja from here on. Welcome."

With the child cheering in elated triumph, Hayate rises back to his full height. He casts a wayward stare across the crowd. Despite the cheer, this still feels empty somehow. Hollow. In light of the recent tragedy, and all the hard work still left ahead of them, it is hard to find the joy in life, at times. And then, this is the first time that Hayate remembers attending one of these without his sister by his side, laughing and smiling and dragging him along from stand to stand to check out every other clan's displays. It seems incomplete without her. The circumstances behind her absence only serve to darken the mood further.

This annual event is a unique day out of the year. It is a time of armistice, where members of the shadow clans can step into the open and fear no attack from each other. It is a day honored by the darkest sects that dwell throughout the landeven they send no one to attend, preferring to enjoy the shroud of secrecy unconditionally.

And it is a rare moment in time where even a nukenin can walk among the shadow warriors without fear of reprisal.

So of course the exile chose this day to make her appearance.

It has been a year now since the night she took up the blade of rule from the home of her father and vanished along a shrouded path of vengeance. The man who attacked her village, who injured her half-sister, who put her older brother into a coma... would die. And she would be the one to carry out his death sentence.

Of course her father had forbidden it. With the fate of Hayate uncertain, she was the next in line to rule the clan. It was not her place to take the burden of vengeance upon herself. After all, the Hajinmon existed for just that purpose. They would be dispatched to hunt down Raidou and put an end to him. Surely Genra would see to it.

But headstrong, confident, and hearing only the howl for revenge in her mind, Kasumi had left, taking Mugettoui, the symbol of leadership within the Mugen Tenshin, with her.

And with that decision, she became an outcast, an exile, a non-person to the Mugen Tenshin. Genra presented the scroll but it was her father's name on the parchment, etched in a hand unsteady from age or anguish, that sealed the young kunoichi's fate:

She was to suffer the fate of all traitors - to be tracked down and eliminated.

What has followed has been a year-long cat and mouse chase across the globe. Appearing at the Dead or Alive tournament, she fought her way to a climatic battle with the man who may have taken her brother Hayate from her forever. And for this, in a harrowing battle, she took his life.

Since then, it was hard to place her whereabouts. For a few months, she vanished from the face of the Earth. But then she started to appear in sanctioned fighting events, plying her craft for pay. Life on the run made it difficult to maintain gainful employment. But each time she appeared, she left to quickly to be caught by those who track her, most relentlessly of all her half-sister Ayane.

Time passed before she appeared in the King of Fighters 2017 tournament where the legendary Dragon Ninja himself put on a display of fighting at the young exile's side, a silent show of support for Kasumi, a demonstration that the Hayabusa Clan, at least, did not consider her nukenin. She had nothing to fear from them, even if her own family would show no such mercy.

Anyone who has even paid the slightest attention to fighting events in the last year will know how it ended. In the grand finale of the team tournament, it was Kasumi who battled the monstrous Duke and the cleverly nimble Nagase to secure victory for her team. Perhaps she had never entered the spectacle for the money, maybe it was just to take Hayabusa up on his offer of solidarity... either way, if the publicly declared prizes were truly afforded, the black sheep of the Mugen Tenshin would supposedly be in possession over fifteen million US dollars. Her life of having to fight just to scrape enough money for shelter was over.

Perhaps that is why she felt it was time to focus on her next priority. Perhaps that is why she is here today.

The young champion steps through the crowd with ease. On any normal day in Southtown, the attire she has on would certainly be out of place. But today? Here? It fits in, in a way, though it is no less eye-catching for it.

She moves with quiet confidence and in spite all the legendary techniques the ninja supposedly have for blending in, she does anything but.

Even among a pantheon of martial artists renown for their attractive physique, Kasumi once of the Mugen Tenshin is an anomaly.

Stunningly beautiful, her face bears a certain gentle strength. A long pony tail of silken, coppery red hair sways behind her back, tied off at the top of her neck by a lengthy azure ribbon. That same rich azure is featured throughout her outfit, in fact - a side-tied wrap dress is kept snug around her waist by a wide white band, effectively showing off the curves of a gorgeous young woman. The skirt of her dress - a tabard-like flap in the front and back - features embroidered images of a beautiful pair of swans rising up into the sky. As she walks past people and their heads turn to follow the young woman's path through the crowd, they discover the golden kanji of her name emblazoned on the back of her outfit.

Thigh high white stockings cover much of her legs while doing nothing to conceal their athletic tone, and blue shin guards and forearm guards keep her arms and feet protected. She carries a leather satchel over one shoulder.

When Hayate finishes surveying the crowd and turns his attention back to the waiting line, he will find her standing there, looking back at him, caramel brown eyes pensive but not afraid. He will recognize her outfit - it was a training uniform for the princess of the Mugen Tenshin, its royal blue a symbol that she belonged to the ruling family, the color not permitted to be worn by the rest of the clan.

And of course he would recognize the blade at her back, the heirloom wakizashi - Mugettou - The Shrouded Moon. The long crimson tassles dangling behind her from the end of the weapon's grip belong to none other than the sword of leadership of the Mugen Tenshin. To even lay hands upon it without being afforded that right by Shiden is a great offense.

Even now, after all that has happened, the rebellious daughter still has so much pride as to walk into this gathering clothed and armed such. Is it her recent victories that have made her so bold? Or was she always this headstrong?

When she has his attention, Kasumi offers a faint smile, an uptick at the corners of her mouth but she takes no steps forward.

As his own honey brown eyes finally fall to rest upon the breath taking image of his wayward sister, Hayate feels a surge of emotion overcome him. At first, it is elation. A longing in his chest suddenly abated, the feeling of a flower left in the cold and the dark only to have the first rays of the springtime sun warm its petals. Here he was, thinking of how very lonely and wrong this event feels without her smiling face to keep him company. And now she is here. Right there. Standing before him.

But the rest of their circumstances come crashing in from the surrounding edges of his mind. Calamity, as emotions as turbulent as the winds he is associated with wage war on one another like a tempest. Anger. Confusion. Sorrow. Pride. Thankfulness. Disappointment. Love. Coldness. All of these things create a volatile alchemy in the chambers of the young Jonin's heart. All of them, and more. How can he ever hope to deal with all of this?

Outwardly, not a single indication of this internal struggle is on display. No. His winsome features, both elegant, and strong, do not even register a flicker of that violent storm that hides behind the warmth of his golden brown eyes. For her, he only gives a slight curling of the corners of his lips. A secret smile, tinged with a bit of sadness. Nothing more.

However, he does raise a hand, his fingers open, as if waving, though, she would know that it is a signal. Desist. Do not attempt to intercede. This is neither the time, nor the place for hunting the nukenin. He would handle it himself.

Somewhere in the crowd, hidden completely, there is certain to be a kunoichi who feels great anger and disappointment at that.

He approaches, his movements casual, but still carrying within them the languid grace and fluidity of movement of someone trained since birth to be physically superior. A weapon. But he radiates no hint of a threat, even when he nears her within an arm's reach. There, he simply halts, placing his hands around his obi, thumbs hooked underneath it at either side of his hips.


The voice that spills from his soft lips is warm and tender, spoken in a near whisper. "You look..."

His gaze drifts down, drinking her in as if it had been a lifetime since he had seen her. Like an oasis to the desert that had been his heart in her absence. That gentle stare falls, too, to the wakizashi secured to her back.

"... well."

His eyes tick back upwards, meeting hers once again. What else can he say? What else can he do in this trying time? Where was Danny DeVito with an egg to offer? He inhales deeply, his chest rising under the thin, soft fabric of his yukata, revealing more of the tawny flesh on his chest, and just a hint of the black mesh bodysuit that is hidden underneath. He steels his resolve. He must.

"I am hoping that you will turn yourself over to us. Return home and face our father for judgment."

A pause.

"He still loves you. Perhaps there can be mercy..."

Slowly and deliberately, he extends one hand out towards her, near chest level. His open palm turns upwards. Is he indicating to take his hand and come with him?

"Please do hand over Mugettou, at the very least. Do not remain a thief on top of being a traitor."

It was a year since since she took up Mugettou and bolted down her path of single minded vengeance.

It felt like a lifetime ago.

The battles, the death matches, the recruitment by the Illuminati to do their dirty business, the private contracting to earn enough to survive, the Gear invasion... so much and more in so little time. How had it changed her?

He would see in the exile's features the same introspective softness he knew before. But there was something else there now. Hardship had changed his gentle sister. The innocent flower of Mugen Tenshin royalty was no more, having died the day Raidou tore a devastating swath of death and mayhem through their village. In its place was hardened steel. He would see that in her eyes - the way she looks at him with a heartfelt blend of unhidden adoration yet also wary caution of one who has spent a year always looking over her shoulder for the unseen attack.

She can't help but wonder - what was he told, when he finally returned home? How was her choice portrayed among the village she once knew as home? Did they label her a monster, a coward, a traitor to her family and friends? Was she perceived as no better than the demon she left to hunt down? Was there no understanding to be found?

As expected, the heir apparent of the Mugen Tenshin signals for there to be no attack. It would be a betrayal of the accords surrounding the annual event. Yet... the outcast can't help but hope that he would have made the same call any other day of the year. This was her brother, her blood, her example and role model through all her childhood years.

Surely, there was still something there. The look he gives her says as much, as he draws near. No... he would be willing to talk, accords or no. A bold choice, considering the traditions. Yet his station also afforded him such authority.

"Hayate. Brother." she replies. He says she looks well. "I am." A heartbeat. "Now." There is a peacefulness to her tone, but also a confidence. Her voice at a blend of articulated strength with a subdued tenderness that no amount of ordeals could break. Concern for the young man is impossible to mask - the thought of his demise was the catalyst needed to send her down the path she has walked since they last spoke, brother to sister, as family.

"I'm so glad to see you... yourself." There was a time she never expected to see this day. Weeks of being lost to the darkness of Raidou's inflicted coma. If he would ever awake, would he even be able to walk again? How bad was the damage to his spine from that violent assault? Yet here he stands, the perfect image of young health, strength, and vitality. If his ordeal left lasting damage on him, it does not seem to be on his physical body.

Her left arm remains clamped over the strap of the leather satchel worn over her left shoulder leaving her right hand - the hand that would draw that blade at her back were she to do so - free to hang at her side.

He speaks of turning herself in. To put an end to the exhausting chase.

Of course he would not be afraid to be direct. He had the blood of a Mugen Tenshin ruler running through his veins. When she averts her caramel brown eyes, it isn't out of discomfort or aversion to maintaining eye contact, but rather as if taking a moment to think. To take her eyes off him at all only signals the degree of trust felt for the winsome ninja.

Mercy. Was she always counting on that from the day she chose her path? She knew the laws as well as any other. She had been versed not only in the traditions, but in clan politics, subterfuge, deception, infiltration, assassination techniques, combat skills... Like her brother, she had the best of trainers and so much promise as daughter of the clan leader. No effort was spared to mold her into the perfect disciple and potential leader should her brother fall.

There is a slight shake of her head then, eyes returning to look Hayate in the eyes. She as not here to surrender.

"I can't do that." Returning home. Handing over the heirloom blade at her back. "My work is not yet finished." Not while DOATEC continues to exist. Not while the other cartels and conglomerates continue to prey on people - The Mishima Zaibatsu... the NESTS Cartel... Ultratech...

"I came to pay my share of the tribute." She slides the leather satchel off her shoulder with a shrug, lean muscled arm flexing as she now holds the weight in her hand by the strap. Her fingers relax and she lets it fall to the ground with a heavy thump.

Her quiet smile returns, head leaning to the side slightly, her expression at once apologetic yet also bears a touch of glib humor. "Of course, I can't simply contribute the fund raising of a clan I am banished from. Consider it a prize." Her left hand gestures toward the satchel.

"Show me you are as recovered as you appear. If you win, the prize is yours to add to the cause. If I win, you have to accept my tribute?" Wait, isn't that the same outcome either way?

Hayate can clearly see the change that has overcome Kasumi in the time that has passed since she had chosen the path of a nukenin. The soft edges to her spirit have been chipped away, sharpened and made hard. It is admirable, and yet... And yet it still brings a sharp pang in his chest. The pain of sorrow for an innocence lost. Truly, he would give anything he had. His blood, his life, his memories... all of it, if he could but turn back the clock and spare Kasumi the choices she has had to make, and the life that she has had to endure.

If only he could still see that bright smile of a young girl with no care in the world, trapped on the cusp of childhood and the onset of womanhood. But that time has passed, and there is nothing that could take back what has transpired, no matter the wishful musings of a longing older brother.

When she confirms that she is well, that final word strikes him. His head lowers, his gaze hidden by the shadows created by the veil of his thick auburn hair. His lips do, however, curl into the faint vestige of a smile. He knew, of course, the reasons for why she had taken the path of a rogue shinobi. For her love for him. As much as he feels remorse and regret for that very fact, he cannot also help but feel warmed by the thought of it. Her confirmation that his well-being had given her some form of succor in the state that she has had to live grants him some small pleasure. His fingers twitch. An instinctual reaction, borne of the desire to reach out and take her hand within his grasp and assure her that he is well, and that he is safe and strong again. But he cannot. As much authority as he might have as the next in line for succession, even that is not absolute. Should he try creating too many waves, the village would come together to kick him off the boat. Tradition is, unfortunately, a difficult web of chains to break, when it has had centuries to entangle itself within generation after generation of peoples' minds.

"Thank you," he replies, ducking his head just a little further in an conditioned mannerism to bow when giving thanks. "It has been a rough road. I am still not certain of all the details of what has occured, or how it occured. More comes back every day. Thankfully, whatever was done to me has healed my body to perfect efficiency. I feel no pain. Not from the injuries I sustained, at the very least."

Her refusal to come back with him on the other hand... That cuts him deep and it shows in the way his countenance turns up, his expression open and completely unguarded. He knows that there is risk to her returning. Real risk of death. But he was certain that he could ply their father with reassurances of his acceptance of familial duties, and extoll upon him the virtues of keeping his wayward daughter around. After all, her betrayal had come not out of malice, as their uncle's had been, but rather out of a sense of honor, duty, and love for one's family. There is a strong argument to be made there, and if anyone could do it, it would be him. He'd advocate her with his dying breath if need be.

But she refused.

It's his turn to look away now. That warmth in his eyes diminishes, replaced instead with a shimmering cellophane shrink wrap of moisture. The corners of his jaw harden, and some of the boy in that handsome, youthful countenance drains, leaving only a man forged in steel in their place. He gives a singular nod of his head. As much as her denial pained him, he would respect her decision. What else could he do? If she wishes to continue down this path, he only has one question for her.

"When does it end? Your work. Raidou is gone. I am both avenged and restored. So what else is there?"

He pauses just for the span of a single heartbeat, before he adds, "Or were those reasons merely a ruse to hide your true intentions?"

After all, there will always be more. Knock down the Mishima Zaibatsu, and the G Corporation simply takes its place. Take out NESTS, and you find that another shadowy group takes their place to dredge up ghosts from the past. Remove Ultratech? Shadaloo or 'R' will just set about the task of weaponizing cyborgs and monsters. It never ends. As long as there is a world, there will always be those who prey on it.

He turns his attention back, directly, on to her as she settles her satchel on the ground. He looks over it, considering her terms. It's a clever one, but it serves its purpose. He saves face by fighting her, and no matter the outcome, she is able to donate some of her considerable winnings to the cause. He cannot help but give a faint smile, despite the darkness and pain still lingering in the back of his gaze. "Very well."

Hayate of the Wind takes a few steps backwards, away from her, then. He raises one hand overhead, drawing attention to himself, as he calls out over the din of unintelligible voices, "Ladies and gentlemen! We have a special presentation for you now, if I may have your attention for a moment?"

When the noise dies down, and all eyes turn on to the young Jonin, he lowers his hand, indicating towards Kasumi, and turning his gaze on the nukenin once again. "It seems that one of the winners of the King Of Fighters has graced us with her presence today, despite all the signs that should have told her not to come. Here... Here she stands. Kasumi!"

He gives up a moment for the audience to give her the hearty applause that she has earned and deserves for the accomplishments that she has made on her own terms. He, of course, will never deny her those achievements, even if the circumstances of them were regretable. And the crowd does. They lavish her with their adoration. Who wouldn't? She is a champion of one of the most well known tournaments in the world. One of the largest events of the year. With some of the strongest competition that the world had to offer. And she is young, beautiful, and basically was made for the camera. Even if she gets shy, it cannot hide her grace and charisma.

And while they cheer for his sister? Hayate leaps high into the air, leaving a spiraling trail of mist behind him as he corkscrews. Overhead, it seems like he becomes naught but a pinprick of a shadow against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. And then, his yukata robe flutters down to the earth, billowing in the wind.

When he descends back to the earth, he lands in a one knee crouch. The classic superhero landing. It's mostly a show for the children. However, he's now dressed for combat. The upper reaches of his body is clad only in a skin tight layer of mesh that reveals the golden ivory flesh underneath, as well as the sinuous lines of muscle that has been honed to both athletic and aesthetic perfection not by time spent in a gym, but by a true lifetime of hard work and dedication to a lifestyle that requires that body. On his forearms are a pair of dark steel half-kote and tekko, held to black fingerless gloves with lengths of blue silk rope. Similar plates surround his shins, and a pair of baggy, flowing pleated pants cover his legs, held up and affixed to the obi wound around his waist, and revealing a few glimpses of bare flesh at either side of his hips.

Slowly, he rises to back to an erect stand, and points at Kasumi as he says one word. "Prepare!"

There is relief etched in her features as Hayate declares that for whatever trials and ordeals he has endured over the last year, the physical injuries have recovered. It's something of a miracle, considering the condition he was in when she last knelt by his convalescing form. No. More than a miracle. Almost unbelievable. But it is a declaration she will not endeavor to question. Knowing he's well is all the answer she needs.

He asks when it will be finished. Whether there was more to her departure than the surface reasons that have been communicated before.

"I'm sorry," are the next words that come from her mouth. She isn't coming home. Not to face judgment. Not to plead for mercy. Not to... put /him/ in the position where he would have to plead for her before the clan. "I know what you would do." she adds, eyes lowering slightly, her right hand lifting, fingers curling lightly as she rests them near the base of her throat. He would do anything to secure her safety, no matter the personal cost. A cost she is not willing to let him pay, it seems.

When she lifts her eyes, her resolve is redoubled, lips pressed into a thin line with the slightest down ticks at the corners. How rare it is to see a frown cross her features. It must seem so out of place compared to before.

"There are those within who would take advantage..." There is a shift to her voice. A warning, mingled with concern. "Of your feelings, brother." Her frown melts away, her fingers closing a little tighter near her neck. "You must continue to be strong." She leans her head to the side a little, looking up into her brother's eyes. "Now is not the time to speak of this," her voice is softer now. While the conversation was already quiet enough to appear to be just between the two of them, now she speaks barely over a whisper. "Find Hayabusa. Ask him."

Kasumi leans back then, taking a step away, leaving the Mugen Tenshin Jonin to address the crowd gathered at the event. His voice projects well - natural leader indeed - and the young woman at his side turns to face toward those in the vicinity. She clasps her hands behind her back, a gesture of demure shyness that also happens to accentuate her figure, a hint of blush blossoming in her cheeks. One might expect the Azure Exile used to the attention and accolades by now, but then again... did she ever stop to so much as be interviewed in her tournament run? Did she ever linger? Ever meet with fans? Or did she always vanish, leaving no trace by which to be trailed, event after event?

But within, her heart races. How long has it been since they last sparred? Her older brother was always ahead of her in training with her close at his heels as they grew through their teenage years. Just having the chance to stand across from one she had once resigned to never hear speak or see walk again, let alone fight with his mastery of the clan's Tenjinmon Ninjutsu, gives her a rush of vigor.

Bringing her hands from behind her back to clasp them in front of her, Kasumi bows her head forward toward the crowd, a smile warming its way into her features. Yes, set aside everything else for now. Live in this moment as if it were the past, as if it were a warm Spring day in the forests of Mr. Fuji, as if only her brother and she were here, each eager to show off the techniques they had recently honed and improved, proving their father's stern, uncompromising confidence in their abilities.

Coming out of her bow, she takes a step back, pivoting gracefully toward Hayate then, her smile becoming positively radiant as the sorrows and tribulations of the previous year melt from her mind. Maybe she looks more as he remembered her then, his younger sister.

Breathing in, eyes closing, she slides her left foot forward, lowering her center of gravity. For a moment, she leans away toward the right, both hands swaying in that direction with the motion, palms raised, facing each other. Then she leans back to the left into her stance, exhaling softly, the young woman melting into a ready stance. Her eyes snap open, focused on Hayate as if he is the only other person present.

"I am ready."

She leans into a low crouch. He would recognize the stance, the quick windup from which his sister could launch into her dangerous speed. Her striking power may not have been the best in the village, but her speed was unlike anything else.

She bursts into the offense, the words barely having left her lips, closing distance with Hayate in an instant. Her hands seek his forearms as she tries to all but vault herself up, planting her feet against his chest all but tries to vault herself up, planting her vaults up to try and plant her feet against his chest.

If successful, she'd kick off hard, trying to drive Hayate one direction while launching herself into a high angled back flip the other way to come down landing a little ways off in a readied stance.

He would know it to be typical of her hit and run style of engaging and disengaging it. But while he may be familiar with it, actually contending with the swift ninja exile is another matter all together.!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Kasumi           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Hayate has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Kasumi           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Hayate

COMBATSYS: Hayate full-parries Kasumi's Combo Grapple!!

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Kasumi           0/-------/-------|>>-----\-------\0           Hayate

Hurt and a tinge of anger still stir, lingering in his heart at her falsely apologetic response. How could he feel any other way? It is his duty to protect the ones who matter most to him. Yes, she knows what he would do. Why should she deny him that? But, the longer this goes on, the longer she stays away from the village, and whatever fate awaits her there, the harder it might be to bring her back. Even if he takes over the village.

That tempestuous and indignant feeling of rejection only softens when she speaks in that conspiratory whisper, urging him to seek out the legendary super ninja, and his best friend. Admittedly, Hayabusa has been even more obscured than usual, as of late. Hayate has not yet had a chance to catch up with him, either, though, in truth, a part of that is because he is not sure what he should say or do with the Dragon Ninja. After all, Hayabusa made a grandstanding show of solidarity with his sister at the King of Fighters, despite her status as a nukenin. For some within the village, that is taken as a sign of betrayal of the alliance between Mugen Tenshin and his own clan. It is seen as an attempt by Hayabusa to afford himself an opportunity to steal the secrets of Tenjimon style ninjitsu.

Hayate did not believe that, for a second. He could only assume that Ryu sought to protect the sister of his best friend, when no one else would. Perhaps thinking that Hayate would want him to. It isn't far off the mark. He would rather have had Hayabusa return Kasumi home and do what was in his power to help her return safely. But, such things are idle musings, now. Now, he's left only with the question of how to navigate murky waters that tear him between loyalties borne of the heart and those borne of duty.

It isn't an enviable position.

All of these thoughts racing through his head as he announces Kasumi's presence, and she, in her own way, plays to the crowd with her image of demure, girlish diffidence. Even Hayate cannot seem to take his eyes off of her as she bows. For a moment, yes. She is transformed in his eyes, and he is taken back to a time just before Raidou came and tore their lives apart, for what now seems like forever. A bittersweet smile forms on his lips, though his eyes reflect only a silent, mournful resignation. Could he truly bring himself to kill her when next they meet? The very thought of it feels like a metal hook has caught his insides and twists them. How much worse could the reality be when he has his blade held to her throat for the final blow?

He cannot bear to think of that. Nor can he afford to. Not in this moment. The cameras were coming out, and the SNF crews were pushing their way past the throngs of people, who, in turn, are clearing out a wide swath around the sibling fighters. The SNF camera crews never missed a chance to come to these events, hopeful to catch a glimpse of a ninjitsu exhibition match between the various clans that come together here. Today, they were bound to get a show that would stand out from the rest. That much is certain.

Hayate barely pivots and raises his guard by the time Kasumi is rushing upon him. His open hands raise, and she grasps at his wrists to leverage his strength to help hoist her up so she can use him as a spring board. It was a technique that he remembers well, and one of their favorite to practice growing up because it was almost like a game of leapfrog.

"Not fast enough!"

In the fraction of a fraction of a second, just before Kasumi's feet make contact with his chest, and her grip loosens on his wrists, the shinobi of the wind makes good on his name. His feet shuffle, taking a wide, braced stance, and his upper body "rolls" back, shifting his center of gravity and placing his weight on his rear leg. His hands rise up, the palms open and facing her as they collide at the heel of each, one facing up, and the other down. This serves to catch the wayward Kunoichi's foot and redirect her so that she's left off balance instead of gracefully backflipping as intended.

He leaps forward at her, lifting off the ground and bringing his right knee up, only to sweep the lower half of his leg up and around in a kick that is half front kick and half roundhouse. If it lands true, the force channeled through the ball of his foot to the underside of her chin will propel her off of the ground.

That's when he'll follow up, chasing her as his lithesome form spirals with a whirlwind twist, launching with a spinning heel kick to add to her upwards velocity.

But even that only serves the purpose of making the next attack more forceful, as his other leg lifts up, nearly into the splits, and his aerial pirouette helps to bring that last kick spiking down on top of her, smashing her to the floor under his foot, as he lands in a low, crouched stance with that leg extended far before him, and one hand touching fingertips to the earth to help absorb his own descent's impact and maintain balance.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi blocks Hayate's Hisho San Renzan EX.

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Kasumi           0/-------/-----==|>------\-------\0           Hayate

There would be no other day like today in which this spar could take place, a match with no stakes but pride, a bout where the weapons stay sheathed. The reasons for the renegade kunoichi's appearance here today are clearly many. To see her brother whole again. To contribute, indirectly, like she would have if she were still among the Mugen Tenshin. To warn him that there is more to learn. To test herself against him one last time.

She has the money to disappear forever now if she wants. She never needs to surface to fight again for pay and with that much money, she can clearly secure herself a place to live in secrecy, buy new identities to disappear into other countries, to never be heard of again.

Of course, he knows her well enough to know that will not be the case. That his stubborn sister will continue pursue whatever cause is important to her is an absolute fact. If anything, she'll only be more dangerous with resources to draw upon.

She launches into an offense, eager to close in on Hayate, to begin the intricate exchange of complex strikes, holds, and throws the skilled Mugen Tenshin ninjas are capable of. But he knows the approach all too well.

Airborne already, her foot caught by his hold, she's unable to launch back as desired. Denied the springboard that was to be his sturdy chest, the Shinobi in Blue is forced to defend herself from a difficult angle. Twisting with an almost feline-like nimbleness, she draws her arm into the path of his heel, the impact caught by the sapphire wrist guard, cracking off her forearm with a loud smack.

The airborne exchange continues as the Shinobi of Wind pursues his smaller opponent upward. A second crack announces that what would have been a crushing heel kick is caught by her other arm as Kasumi twists at the waist to guard herself, making sure to not try and weather two of her brother's strikes with the same arm.

Completing her horizontal spin, she tucks her left leg up against her stomach, knee bent, relying on her limber flexibility. Instead of a clean strike to send her crashing down, his final kick crashes against her upper shin, saving her from having the breath knocked from her. It's then that she flexes the muscles of her thigh and calf, pushing back against his foot to finally shove distance between the two.

It leaves him free to land without threat while Kasumi does likewise a few yards away, her own landing closely mirroring his, her left leg stretched out forward, her torso folded forward over it, her right leg bracing. There is a soft exhale - even this early exchange has demanded the best of her speed. And that was just a warm up.

With a straightening of her right leg, she's able to launch back into the offense. Relentless, blisteringly fast pressure is the name of the game when facing the copper-haired prodigy. Hayate would know his defenses would be tested.

Her steps are a blur at first, but from two yards out, she lunges down and forward, as if preemptively weaving under an anticipated counter attack. She's come up almost an instant later adjacent to Hayate, both hands reaching for his right arm. Dismantling defenses and delivering decisive blows in the gaps created was core to the art of Tenjinmon Ninjitsu.

Discover the opponent's weaknesses and exploit them.
Where weaknesses seem not to exist... create them.

If she can wrest Hayate's arm up and back hard enough, it would leave his ribs exposed.

An instant would be long enough. A split second would be all that was needed. In the same moment she would pry his arm up the lightning flash of blue and white would vanish, a violent swirl of pink cherry blossoms left in her wake.

She'd reappear on Hayate's right several steps away, still moving as if she had never stopped at all. The sound of the air breaking before her as she comes crashing in, aiming to deliver a devastating elbow to the Jonin's side, her left hand pressing hard against her right fist to add more force into the final blow, her path taking her right through the still drifting petals.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Hayate with Senpu.

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Kasumi           0/-------/----===|>>>>---\-------\0           Hayate

Hayate knew that Kasumi would be no slouch. If anything, a year of being on the run should have done nothing if not hone her skills to a fine, razor sharp edge. This match, for Hayate, is a matter of reassurance. The Mugen Tenshin is not going to stop sending their soldiers after Kasumi. Hayate needs to have the assurance that his beloved sister has not just the skill, but also the endurance, to deal with the constant attacks, if he is to accept her wish to remain on this path. If she fails... then... well.

Tradition says that he cannot kill her, but if he knocks her out, he can take her home.

But only if she proves to be not up to the standards that he sets. If she cannot present a challenge to him, he who has been comatose, amnesiac, and retrained into a karateka, then she cannot survive. If she can, however, then he will be certain that she can handle anything that the clan sends her way, without fault. So far, as she expertly deflects his launching thrust kick with a bit of agile ingenuity, he feels a measure of relief.

That does not mean that he will go lax, however. No, he continues with the commitment to his kicking assault, and just as deftly it is turned aside and blunted by the uncanny speed of Kasumi's reflexes, and the well timed placement of her defense. It was almost flawless. Almost. But, for now, it is good enough.

The pair land in almost mirror fashion, facing one another a few yards away from one another, with most of those witness to that opening exchange still left wondering what actually just happened. It was all so fast that in the replays later, the SNF crew will have to slow the footage down so that the viewers can take their thrills in such a rapid and perfectly executed exchange. Choreography couldn't do better than that.

Defenses tested, indeed, Hayate finds Kasumi on the move before he has even had the time to truly admire her skill. His lead foot slides back, raising his height until he's in a proper position to defend himself. He draws his hands up, crossing at the wrists as the Kunoichi of Destiny slides forward low to avoid being intercepted by one of Hayate's own techniques. His wrist is seized for her efforts, his arm torqued back to expose the meaty, meshclad goodness of his ribs for her viewing and beating pleasure.

Her elbow catches him firmly, rocking the prodigal son and tipping him off balance. Sidelong, he seems to fall, as if gravity itself had shifted and sent him careening towards the wall of cheering people that surround them to watch intently. He lashes out, his fingertips finding purchase in the earth and digging deep gouges into it until finally, something catches, and he's able to jerk himself to a halt. His svelte form, built for such dynamic athleticism, twists, his knees bending just enough to allow him to land on the tips of his toes, poised in a crouch.

His head snaps up, and those honey-brown eyes smolder like embers in a furnace, alight with pride, and yet, a quiet and stern resolve. So far, she is proving to be up to the task of challenging him. It may be a simple question of endurance. Can she keep up the pace and match him?

From his three point crouch that would have made Spider-Man jealous, the steadfast shinobi launches himself forward, not unlike the tiger leaping for his prey. As he closes the gap, there are small bursts of incredible speed where he seems to vanish, flickering first to the left, and then to the right. A headgame designed to keep her guessing at what angle his inevitable attack might be sprung from.

In the end, at the very last moment, he slide sidesteps directly in front of her, only to leap suddenly into the air.

His hands grasp for the sides of her face, fingertips hard as steel, gripping like the talons of a bird of prey. His feet rise over his head, his body as straight as a wooden plank, until he's poised directly over her. There, his legs part and twist, kicking off a chain reaction that jerks him around in a half spin over top of her, twisting her neck to the side. It is a not so subtle reminder that theirs is a killing art, and without the utmost precision, he would not have even dreamt of performing such a move against her, for fear of snapping her neck.

Provided that she doesn't manage to slip from his grasp in this precise moment where the strength of his deathgrip wanes, Hayate's momentum carries him over her, so that the full weight of his falling body is borne on her back and shoulders, pulling her into a freefall where the inward sweeping curve of her lower back will meet the hard plate of steel that caps his upturned knee. He, in turn, rolls backwards in a somersault, placing just a foot or two between them, but serving to draw him back to his feet and reset himself.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi full-parries Hayate's Kagero Mawari!!

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Kasumi           0/-------/--=====|>>>>---\-------\0           Hayate

Kasumi had come to a stop with the connecting of her dash in elbow strike. Elbow blows were certainly a common element of her style as a whole, adding more striking power while sacrificing some of the safety of reach. It means that when the Azure Exile attacks, it is almost always with one hundred percent commitment, always looking for ways to slip into range knowing full well that to do so, her opponent can put a stop to it with a counter strike if they are fast enough.

And that's often what it comes down to, moment to moment in combat, for the nimble fighter.

Just how fast can she get?
And how long can she maintain that speed?

Based on some of the footage of her matches in the King of Fighters tournament...- she can be pretty damn fast.

Pulling back from her elbow strike, however, is a motion conducted with deliberate control, as if a slow exhale following a burst of exertion. Pushing off with her forward foot, she leans, hands coming apart from in front of her, left arm twisting into a guarding angle, right arm drawn back, bent at the elbow, at her side, primed for striking if necessary.

Now it's her brother's turn to demonstrate to the audience his speed. Even though she's recovered from her dash in strike, Kasumi isn't so prepared as to try and attack again just yet. Hayate is already on the move. Soft, brown eyes flick back and forth as the recovered heir of the Mugen Tenshin rule begins to flicker before her site, becoming the wind itself. To predict the angle of his attack would almost have to be a matter of luck at this point - or instinct.

Resigning herself to him closing in, the kunoichi draws up right, right arm swinging up in order to also be ready to protect her torso or face, hoping her sturdy forearm guards can absorb most of whatever blow might be coming as more proactive defenses may not be an option.

There is an intake of breath as the Jonin flips up in front of her. In the end, there's nothing her arms can do to help her here. If she had never seen this technique before, she would have been completely helpless to defend herself, paralyzed with indecision and lacking in information as to how to even react.

Instead, in that narrowest of moments, Kasumi leans her head forward just slightly. It's all she can do but that minor twitch is the difference between hope and disaster. Instead of his fingers getting the opportunity to dig into the yielding flesh of her cheeks and secure a tight enough hold, they clamp down against the sides of her skull a little ways over her ears. If he had known this was going to be the case, he could have adjusted, going less for pressure and more for sinking fingers into the copper hair of his sister and securing his grip that way.

Instead, just as his legs kick through the air, bringing dangerous momentum to his whole body, his sister lunges forward, forcing his hands to slip free of the sides of her head, the cerulean ribbon in her hair whipping in the wind as she moves.

Slender, powerful legs continue to propel her forward - one step, two, three - gone.

Another swirling helix of scattered blossoms fill the air with the faint fragrance of Spring as the Mist Dancer vanishes once again.

When she appears, it's bolting toward Hayate, this time worlds faster than the last two times she tried to close in on him. She'd be aiming to catch him as he lands, confident in his ability to recover from her sudden escape.

This time she's going for his left, another perfectly executed sequence that she's done tens of thousands of times in training. Both hands going for his left arm, wrenching it aside before releasing and twisting her body into position to deliver a crushingly strong elbow strike to his left flank now.

Rather than stopping with the strike like she did before, she will continue right paste Hayate following the blow designed to crumple him to the ground, moving so fast that there is a crack in the air, the sound barrier itself shattered for an instant before the nukenin would try to halt her formidable momentum with a power slide.

It was her Signature Technique, and a move that had seen her way to victory in countless fights. Many opponents would be felled in a single blow from the Oboro Gake and while her brother was made of tougher stuff than most, even he would be feeling that one if she connects!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Hayate with Oboro Gake EX.

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Kasumi           0/-------/=======|=======\-------\0           Hayate

He knows it when he feels it. He didn't have the grip needed to secure the throw. The world suddenly slows to a crawl, as he passes over her. His neck cranes, as he turns that molten honey stare on to her with a wisdom that extends beyond his years. In that fleeting fraction of a moment, trapped in time, he smiles. He realizes that he wants her to win this fight, more than anything.

Just like that, time pushes on, and Hayate completes his flip without his quarry to show for it, as she darts off like a startled deer, leaving a trailing shower of scented petals in the wake of her passing. His recovery is swift and sure, one arm extended out at his side to aid and preserve his balance as the straw sandals adorning his tabi-encased feet find little traction on the earth, and he slides back with the remnants of his own kinetic energy. The other hand is poised before his face, ring and little fingers lightly curled closed, with his middle and forefingers extended up, aligned with the bridge of his nose so that their tips are centered with his "third eye" chakra point.

She approaches again, and he has a hard time tracking her with his eyes, she's moving so swiftly. The span of time it takes for his sliding halt, less than a second, is all it takes for her to be back on him once again. His balance isn't centered, but still, he lifts his right foot from the earth, pivoting on the ball of his left foot to twist his body to the side. His intention is to spin to the side, and avoid calamity. However, her speed and his lack of grip on the ground affords her the chance she needs to open his guard and send that elbow into his side. Twice now.

He feels the shock of pain as electrical surges race through his nervous system, firing off synapses, and sending an electrochemical alert to the brain, which responds with its own shockwave that floods Hayate's body with calcium and potassium in a storm of electrical signals. Overloaded, the entire system shuts down for a moment, his knees giving out first under his own weight. Sinking to them, he then falls to the side, seemingly boneless.

He's not, however, unconscious, and is already shifting onto his back, curling his knees up to his chest, and rolling onto one shoulder and over, to regain his footing.

Alright. He might want her to win, but he doesn't want to make it too easy on her, either. She might be fast, but he is still Hayate of the Wind. He is going to have to remind her of that fact, one way or another.

When he moves, it is with a speed that rivals, if not matches her own. He dashes in quick, with a burst of windswept mist trailing behind him. He comes in low, ducking and sliding when he breaches her proximity, and slaps the ground with left palm, helping him to redirect his movement with a deceitful twist. Sliding on one knee, he turns, and as he nears the 180 degrees mark, he reaches out with his left arm, attempting to lift her guard, much as she had done to him, and expose her own ribs. His right elbow lashes out, intending to drive itself deep, like a wedge centered into the spaces between the bones, and sending an explosion of pain through her body. It isn't meant to take her down, but it is intended to make her double over and collapse around the blow.

Should that land, then Hayate's turning movement reverses itself, as he spins back to the left, leading with a large, circular sweep of his leg. He cocks his left elbow, and just as it seems he is going to launch the attack, he becomes a blur of ebon and azure, a being made less of flesh and more of sentient, humanoid gale. The elbow will drive deeper still, accompanied by a gust of explosive wind at the point of impact.

And, as she had done just moments before, he passes, seemingly literally right through her, finishing his turn and slide and bringing it to a close with the aid of his fingertips digging into the earth.

"You've grown faster."

He has, in light of all that has happened, involuntarily traded swiftness for power. That is ultimately one price he paid for his time in Germany's Black Forest, training in karate with the ever gentle Hitomi and her honorable father. During his time as Ein, he had gained more muscle, and adopted a mindset of overwhelming force. He learned how to fight like a freight train, rather than the kamaitachi he had been before. The augmentations made to him by Project Epsilon lent themselves well to power over speed. Perhaps that is one reason why the project was not truly successful.

"You're going to need to keep it up, because I'm not going to give up or roll over."

COMBATSYS: Hayate successfully hits Kasumi with Shippu Oboro.
- Power hit! -

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Kasumi           1/---====/=======|=======\-------\1           Hayate

Can she win this fight? She never had when they sparred before. Oh, of course, he'd probably let her win now and then, but it was no secret to her when it happened, the moments provoking laughter in a time when such sounds came more more easily.

But she has spent a year being tested. Pursuing her uncle, participating in exhibition matches to get by, and of course the unprecedented challenge of climbing through the King of Fighters 2017 brackets as a team. Her brother, on the other hand, was in a coma not more than twelve months ago. How long has he been awake? How long did it take for him to remember who he was?

Perhaps she's narrowed the gap. Maybe she's even caught up or surpassed him in the interim. But the duel is undecided, there is still more to be proven, to each other, to themselves.

Kasumi's slide ends with her twisting into it, seeking control over the intense momentum she had generated to deliver so strong a strike. Finally, she comes to rest, leaning forward, her back still toward Hayate for a brief moment. Dust plumes up from the twin grooves carved by her feet before being driven on further past the young woman by a gentle breeze rolling down off the slopes of the mountain.

Just landing the move on her brother feels the Mugen Tenshin princess with quiet pride. How many times had she tried it on him in the past, only for him to catch it and correct her on its proper execution?

The Shinobi in Blue whirls on her feet, bringing her arms up to the ready. He's down but for only a moment, recovering far too quickly for her to slip back in and secure a follow up attack in pursuit of his admission of defeat. No - to dash back in now would be to risk running into some prepared counter strike as the jonin rolls back to his feet.

She grins back at him then. It isn't a taunt and she doesn't look smug for having landed the blow. Rather, the expression is but a byproduct of the elation she's feeling, the sense of being lost to the past she thought she would never experience again. She would thank him then and there just for this opportunity if there were even a split second to spare.

There isn't.

His approach lacks the sudden shifts in location of his previous attack and leans more on technique for slipping in close from an angle difficult to prevent just as she had done to him earlier in the duel.

She has to recognize what's coming. It's time for her brother to show her exactly how the technique is done - or, more accurately, how he's evolved a second step to it to make all that effort pay off more than her singular driven elbow!

But knowing isn't enough to prevent, even as she tries to pull her hands back in a desperate bid to completely disengage with the Shinobi of the Wind. Instead, she's rendered defenseless in an instant. No speed can prevent the smashing elbow into her rib cage and even after all the bouts she's survived, it is impossible to prevent her body from folding into the blow, legs growing weak beneath her.

The second strike comes a terrifying half second later, her eyes sharp enough to perceive the motion on Hayate's part, and perhaps even anticipate it, but there is no chance for her body to respond. The follow up blow makes it easy to forget the first hit all together. It makes it easy to forget a lot of things, her vision going black but for the flashing field of stars, her body going completely limp, all control of her legs shut down as she's driven up off the ground by the power of his perfectly executed combination.

By almost unconscious instinct, her arms fold over her stomach as she crumples, the tops of her feet hitting the ground first, followed by her knees. As she slumps forward from what could be a fight ending strike, she at least has the wherewithal to unfold her arms and catch herself with the palms of her hands.

"Guh," the kunochi gasps, pushing up, slipping her knee up under her, rising out of the dust and pivoting to face him as she stands. She starts to slide her foot forward and raise her arms, returning to a readied stance, only to gasp a second time, arm dropping to press against her side. "Ugh."

Her cheeks have blossomed red from pain and it seems her eyes are watering slightly as well. There might be a broken rib bone or two beneath the blue fabric of her dress. But what goes unbroken is her resolve to continue. She knows he won't hesitate to surge back in. She wouldn't want him to hesitate now. She will power through.

"Experience has been a good teacher," she replies, her voice strained but clear. Adrenaline will dull the pain long enough for her to continue at speed. "But not as good as you were." she completes the thought with a smile.

Once more, she launches forward, the battle of mutual hit and run tactics pressing onward. The eye can follow her movement this time - no apparent teleports, no dashing so fast as to deny sight itself. But rather than slip in low, it is from two yards out that Kasumi launches herself into a forward flip through the air. Another swirl of sakura petals in her wake.

The viewing audience may dismiss the them as some kind of flair for showing off. Hayate would know full well the pink blossoms were manifestations produced when his sister focused her chi into bursts of potential. To attack outwardly with that wellspring of power may not be their way, but to focus it inwardly, to use it to propel them into superhuman feats most definitely is.

She comes out of her forward flip in an attempt to actually land on Hayate's shoulders in a seated position, her thighs catching him by the head, briefly making far too many people envious of the young man.

If the landing is accomplished, she would secure her balance with her left hand pressed against his head while her right hand snaps up over her own head as a counter weight.

The compromising position wouldn't last more than a singular second before Kasumi would whip herself backward, both arms raising over her head as she attempts to wrest Hayate up off his feet, head over heels, and slam his back down into the dirt while she lands seated next to him!

He can be pretty sure he isn't responsible for teaching her that one.

COMBATSYS: Hayate fails to counter Hien Saka Otoshi from Kasumi with Ho O Sen.

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Kasumi           1/--=====/=======|=======\====---\1           Hayate

Hayate takes no pride in having visited such decisive blows against his beloved sister. It is a struggle for him, in light of the current circumstances, to turn off all emotion simply to maintain the fight. Yes, he is proud of her growing skill. Seeing her in motion is a delight. Seeing her smile fills his heart with elation. But, delivering strikes on her? Now that is a chore. Even then, when she gasps, on her hands and knees, Hayate resists the urge to go to her side and help her to her feet, as instinct threatens to take over.

"Are you alright?" he asks, seeing that flush of rose hue color her cheeks, and in turn, he finds himself looking away. Hesitating, despite her not wishing for him to. Her comment about his teaching elicits a small spectral vestige of a smile, though he shakes his head, "I was hardly a teacher. I was just your sparring partner. It was father who taught us everything that we know."

When she comes running, he is certain that he knows what her intention is. He anticipates her movements. Were they truly going to go back and forth with shared techniques. All the old familiar moves and counters? Nostalgia is a bittersweet thing, but it can make for a boring match. Especially if both participants share a style.

Kasumi, in all her glory, proves this theory wrong. She leaps when he expects her to duck. What was this?

As the Azure Exile soars in the heavens in a shower of chi-manifested sakura petals. Soft, warm, honey brown eyes follow her ascent, and though he does not register it outwardly, he is impressed, as well as surprised. Gracefully, the young renegade kunoichi flips. As she plummets towards him, Hayate whips out a hand, attempting to find her ankle and use it as leverage to send them tumbling together so that he can utilize his superior ground game.

He doesn't succeed. Instead, Kasumi's weight lands securely on his shoulders, and Hayate's knees bend under the sudden shift of weight, but they do not break. He's captured, with his head between Kasumi's thighs. Now, it is he who has a rush of color and warmth filling his cheeks. Muffled, he manages to exclaim a simple, "I-Imouto!"

He feels her weight shifting, and then gravity loses its iron grip on him, and he's lifted into a flipping arc. His back crashes to the earth and the skillful shinobi who executed the maneuver is no longer sitting on his face. Hayate's eyes peer up at the sky for a moment, as he lays there, arms spread to have tried to reduce the impact of the fall as much as possible. No. He certainly didn't teach her that one.

He rolls backwards, off one shoulder and onto his feet, taking a few shuffling steps back as he tries to recompose himself.

Hitomi waves.

It might have been nice to sit on the ground for a moment, a brief reprieve from the breakneck speed of the match. But when her brother rolls backward out of where he landed, his sister sucks in her breath, bracing herself for the pain she anticipates her next motion will inflict on her side, then does likewise. A tight roll backward, pressing off with her hands to spring up to her feet has her landing facing him.

The dust of the cleared space is starting to catch up with her, brown smudges on her once pristine white stockings or matted against the sides or back of her outfit. Somehow, the dirt, or the hints of perspiration along her brow and temples do absolutely nothing to mar her image of near perfection, only furthering the impression that the young woman is no stranger to battles where far more than just getting a bit dirty hangs in the balance.

There is a trace of a grin at her lips. Had she just been hazing him there? Or was it more about finally coming at him from an angle he wouldn't anticipate, considering the similarities of their shard training history and styles? Deception, trickery, and subverting expectations were all vital tools to those who fought within the shadow of Mt. Fuji and other remote places of the island nation. Trying to figure out the one thing your opponent wouldn't expect was vital in the upper echelons of skill.

Either way, the flicker of bemusement doesn't last for long, melting away as she sucks in much needed air, not ready to burst back into full speed quiet yet.

"How is father?" she finally asks. It's been a year since she saw him. And while much of the last year may be a blank space in her brother's memories, at least he's back among the village now.

"And mother."

The second question comes out with a pained edge to her voice. She had been as close to her parents as any daughter could be. It might not have happened right away, but eventually, perhaps after the howl for vengeance in her mind had been satisfied with Raidou's death, the renegade shinobi had to have recognized the pain she must have inflicted on them for the choice she made.

She doesn't want to pause for long. There is a window where she should be able to move first. But the pain in her side from his last powerful combination is hard to dismiss so easily. Be it pride or resolve, she simply can't stop now. It isn't out of a need to hurt her brother - she strikes without any hint of animosity in her techniques, no thirst for blood in her temperament - but a need to test herself. It was never difficult to notice that she considered her older brother an exemplar of where she needed to improve.

But now, after her year of constant battle at stakes far beyond mere training, and with her brother's severe injury and time spent lost from his clan, has the gap been removed?

She closes her eyes, for only a moment, forcing the thought of her accrued pain from her mind. When she snaps them open a split second later, she pushes off, feet slipping over the ground as the Shinobi in Blue closes in. The need to brace herself for the incoming pain becomes clear as she leans forward, twisting herself into a cartwheel kick powered entirely by the strength of her launch and the forceful pivoting of her torso in spite her cracked ribs, attempting to bring her feet crashing down against Hayate's shoulder or head. Her left foot would only touch the dirt for a split second before she'd spring into a second, equally swift cartwheeling kick before bringing both feet back down to the ground, landing with graceful poise provided her attack is allowed to execute without interference.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Hayate with Medium Kick.
- Power hit! -

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Kasumi           1/=======/=======|=======\=======\1           Hayate

Now, unfortunately, is not the time to rest. Hayate could use a breather, after that last attack. His heart is racing, pounding against his ribcage like it is trying to escape the fleshy prison of his chest. His face still burns with the heat and color that turns his smooth, caramel flesh red. His mind is reeling, and he feels truly embarrassed after having his face in such a place in public.

His eyes avert away from her.

"We are a broken family," he confesses, his voice softening to a level and tone that is intimate, only to be shared between the pair of them. Such things are not for the children, the other clans, or the rolling cameras to hear. "Father does his best to hold himself with dignity, but he is wounded. He is thankful that I have returned, but that doesn't diminish the pain in his heart, or the weight of his duty. Mother..."

Hayate lowers his face, half hidden behind the now sweat soaked locks of chestnut hair that spill like strands of silk from over his headband. "Mother wears her anguish more openly. Even when she smiles, her eyes are so sad. Her heart is broken, but she endures. She has endured much..."

Kasumi is moving as Hayate is still thinking of the sorrow in his mother's smile. It weighs his heart, and that, in turn, weighs down his limbs. As his sister proves agile, cartwheeling at him, in spite of the gift he had left her with courtesy of his devastating elbow strikes, Hayate shifts, but it seems hesitant, and perhaps even a bit sluggish. As a result, her wheeling kicks slam down into his shoulder, and there is a dull, stomach churning, wet snap as the bone dislodges itself from its mooring in the socket. He only acknowledges the sudden flash of intense pain with a stifled grunt from behind closed lips, barely audible to even her.

The second cartwheel catches the black clad shinobi as he is still off balanced from the first, landing solid atop his skull and knocking him into the earth.

With his good arm, he lifts himself from the ground, and stands up. Much like her, the dust that clings to his dark pants, and streaks his face only serve to enhance his image. He looks like the heroic young protagonist of a ninja drama more than a mere fighter. The gossamer sheen of sweat that coats every inch of his tawny skin, glistening over his mesh covered, svelte form. The dark coloration of bruising forming at one corner of his strong, but not chiseled jaw. That fire, borne of pain and sorrow that gives his gaze a steely quality that would do him well if he were starring in an old spaghetti western.

"Please, imout--Kasumi-chan... Come home. I understand if I am not enough to compel you to return. I am nothing more than your brother. But, if not for me, then for mother."

He clutches at the arm that hangs limply, too loose and too long, at his side. His soft, pliant lips become a thin, bloodless line in anticipation for the agony that is to come as he suddenly jerks, snapping bone back into place. Again, despite the excruciating pain of it, he gives little more than a swiftly expelled breath to show it.


He lurches forward, letting his weight lead him as if he might fall down, but his feet know the way and catch him, setting him taking a few shuffling steps to close in to her, until his hip bumps against her own. He sweeps one leg in between hers as he pivots, presenting his back to her, while attempting to slip one arm around her neck. The other hand snakes out, his fingers attempting to grasp her wrist, and then, he shifts his hip back, and bends at the waist, using his body to attempt to wrench her off of her feet with him into a forward flip. If he proves successful, they'll tumble to the ground together, with his weight bearing down on top of her to crush her, while he continues with the roll gracefully, reclaiming his footing and rising to stand.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi fails to interrupt Fast Throw EX from Hayate with Suisei Chu.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Kasumi           1/-======/=======|=======\=======\1           Hayate

His answer cuts deep, giving the nukenin standing across from him pause. Her hands close tightly for a long moment, mouth pressed into a thin line as if taking a preventative measure against an expression that might more fully reveal the hurt his words threaten to bring to the surface.

He speaks of individuals precious to her - their father, their mother, and even himself. Emotions run strong in the blood of the Mugen Tenshin leadership in spite the burden their role places on them. Emotions like agony at betrayal, an unyielding need for vengeance, of rage at seeing each other hurt. Raidou sparked a firestorm that burns hotly even after his demise.

And as Hayate speaks, she can see her own actions have inflicted similar pain on those people most dear to her.

A soft breath, no reply as the young man speaks of their mother, and her cartwheeling kick combination is executed without any further hesitation or holding back.

Kasumi lands, coming out of the circular momentum with a graceful poise before springing back a half step to brace herself for retaliation. She blinks then, caramel brown eyes locking on Hayate's arm, her mouth opening with a soft gasp of alarm, attention flicking to her older brother's face.

To say she would have rather not inflicted that kind of damage on him hardly needs to be said, even if such risks are always a part of martial conflict at the speed and skill the two are executing at. Her heart skips a bit, under a two pronged assault from not only what he is saying, but for the injury inflicted. Emotions well up again, a sickening turmoil of conflicted feelings churning in her gut.

This time no amount of focus can hide the welling of tears in her eyes or the swallow as she fights back against the uttered, powerfully expressed 'Please', punctuating his field repair of his dislocated shoulder.

No. No, the field of combat is no place for emotions. Would hurt feelings have allowed her to triumph over the Southtown Syndicate monster at Howard's Arena? Would she have survived the Ghost of Ryouhara's assassination ambush if she had lost her focus for even instant? The world the shadow clans is unkind to those who let down their guard out of worry.

Eyes close briefly, her hands relaxing, becoming unclenched, her arms still raised at the ready. She's looking back at him again by the time he moves, however. She won't be caught blind or inattentive.

"I can't," she chokes out. "I chose this renegade path."

Going home was all she had thought about for most of her time on the run. But now there is a deeper darkness that must be rooted out. The serpent in the grass. Hayabusa helped her see the truth of it. "I have not seen it to the end yet."

He closes in and she winds up tighter, knees bending, body becoming tense as she pivots her right shoulder toward him, making herself a smaller target primed to counter strike when he gets in range.

The motion of his steps is difficult to predict, looking almost unintentional in its momentum, rendering her normal ability to understand where and how he will attack completely irrelevant. She has to act, though, lunging out of her crouch, the spring sprung. It's unclear what from Kasumi's own counter attack would have taken, as Hayate's leg slips in between her feet, letting him control and redirect his sister's momentum with superior positioning and the strength of his arms.

Fluidly, he dumps the normally nimble girl on her back, kicking up a new small cloud of dust. Grunting as he rolls off of her, she is slower to scramble to her feet, her left hand planting against the ground as her feet slide beneath her, allowing her to launch up to standing a few seconds later. The pain in her ribs flares back up, exacerbated by the landing and weight, and she can't help but rest a hand over the tender area once more.

The gesture is brief before she pulls her hand away quickly, clearly not wanting to communicate just how bad it hurts. While her brother will not fight her like a shark drawn by blood, she continues to treat the spar as if it too were just one more opportunity to train for the life she now leads on the run.

"Please tell them, for me, that I am doing well."

Her hands come up again, the Azure Shinobi breathing in then exhaling, her expression focused and resolved.

"You can," he says, as she clambers back to her feet. Her touch to her side is not lost on him, despite the fact that Hayate is not intentionally or consciously trying to pick apart her weaknesses at this point in time. He feels so tired. The physical exhaustion he feels is nothing when compared to the fatigue brought about by the rollercoaster of emotions that this encounter has taken him on. Elation, and pain, and sorrow, and nostalgia, and pride and anger, all weaving in and out of his being in constant flux.

Now, he's lingering somewhere in the hazy fog that exists in the narrow gap between sorrow and anger. A place of ennui. "You are just being stubborn. You always have been. Think about this, Kasumi. One thing does not exclude the other. We can see it through together. Just..."

The heir to the Mugen Tenshin clan is no longer pushing aside his emotions. His boyishly winsome face is awash with them, his eyes glistening with the tears that threaten to overflow and spill down his cheeks. His nostrils flare and his lips draw taut once more. He knows that she won't relent.

"We could see it through together... You don't have to bear the burden alone..."

His words fall from his lips so softly that they might have been little more than a whisper carried on the wind. His eyes fall closed, and he inhales deep, his chest expanding visibly under the mesh shirt that clings to it like a second skin. In through his nose. And slowly, out through his lips. He slides his lead foot forward, pointing towards her. The lead hand he holds out, rigid and straight in a knife-hand posture. Defensive. His rear arm is shielded, as he turns his side to her, and this serves him well, as that arm is the one that had been pulled out of socket just moments before. He presses that hand against his stomach, mostly so that it is at rest, but ready to defend, in the event of an emergency.

There is no warning when he comes in. He simply moves with the swiftness of the wind, leaving a puff of mist where he had been moments before. He advances on her, and one might think that he'd favor an attack that would allow his injured arm a rest. One would be wrong.

Reaching out with both arms, Hayate's grip seeks out Kasumi's wrists, attempting to encircle them in a grip that is unyielding like steel. He'll twist and pull, forcing her to spread her arms wide as he pulls her in closer towards him, and releases. With a snap, he jerks his hands back, fingers curled at the first knuckle in a panther claw fist and pressed together. His weight shifts from his back foot to his front, and he lurches his body forward at the same time his thrusts with his arms. Hopefully, this will be enough to punch directly into the center of her chest, and with the added burst of concussive air that stealthily explodes from the strike, should send her careening through the air in the opposite direction of him.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi blocks Hayate's Rasetsu Sho.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Kasumi           1/=======/=======|=======\=======\1           Hayate

She can see the weariness on his face. How much he's been through. Seeing him today, as healthy and strong as she remembered, it's easy to forget that so much of his last year was spent dead to the world... only to come to disoriented and lost. Her path may have been a challenge, but it was one she chose. He didn't elect to suffer as he had, and the costs must be draining.

And standing here and now, facing her in a test of skill, speed, and strength, can't be making it any easier. Is that the weakness of emotions?

Kasumi shakes her head again as he presses for her to return with him. "I can't take that chance." she says, her tone bearing perhaps a touch too much force to it, as if compensating for the longing to say otherwise. The smile at her lips is sad, a forlorn thing that won't go away no matter how much she tries to shove aside her distracting feelings. To hear him speak, to argue for her to come back, is to understand the power of his concern. Perhaps emotions are strength as well.

"I know what you would be forced to do if I returned with you. It isn't time for that yet."

More elusiveness, more dancing around the edges of truth of a secret she simply won't say. "I will need your help when the time comes."

She braces herself, feet planted on the ground, muscles tensing as he makes his move. This time he vanishes from before her eyes, the displaced air rushing in around him, a quiet disturbance in the wind and nothing more to earmark his trajectory.

This is Mugen Tenshin Ninjutsu as her brother practices it. This is the Stormcaller Shinobi.

The young woman's own defenses are put to the test an instant later. There is no hope of deflecting the unseen attack. All she can do is prepare for the worst and react with her own lightning honed reflexes. Her arms, raised in a conservative blocking position adopted when there really is no way see the movement powering his next attack, are caught by the wrists as intended.

In a test of strength, especially in light of the momentum and element of surprise on his side, there is no contest and he might detect the lack of struggle in leanly muscled arms of his sister. Instead, she pulls herself up, left leg rising and folding over the front of her, bent at the knee, providing an entirely less vulnerable target of impact for the crushing blow of his twin strike follow up.

The blow is still solid, sending jarring, numbing pain through her leg, a necessary sacrifice to keep her breath from being crushed from her lungs if she had not blunted his attack so. Even still, it sends her sliding back, reeling as her right foot tries to maintain balance, her arms windmilling for a moment that may almost look clumsy if one were to forget the kind of forces the martial artist is trying to fight against.

Finally, her left foot plants against the ground as she finishes sliding to a stop, her balance regained early enough to prevent her from toppling over all together.

There is a soft gasp of breath as she stands up, putting more weight on her right foot while sliding her left foot forward. Even in the cool Spring air of Mt. Fuji's sloping forests, her skin glistens, perspiration mixing with dust in places, leaving no doubt that she's taken her falls in this battle of furiously fast attacks and difficult to predict combinations.

For a moment, Kasumi hesitates, but it passes quickly, a look of decision on her features. "This has been special. You are doing well, brother. I needed to see that for myself."

She leans forward, muscles tensing, clearly preparing to make another move. "Thank you for this spar. Perhaps I've lingered too long. It's time." Time for one last test. Time to end this, or so she seems to think. Time for her to go. Staying in the open for too long... hers has been a life on the move, and now she's growing anxious to get back to it.

Once more she kicks off from her braced position, closing distance. Her opening attacks don't seem like anything he hasn't seen before - wicked fast, straight, knife-hand style strikes, left then right, toward the level of his face. Their intent is to draw his guard, to make him defensive, certainly.

But then she's kicking off with her left foot, spinning into a hopping spin kick with her right, targeting chest level, potentially getting in under her brother's sturdy guard.

And yet even that is simply to draw the gifted shinobi's focus forward...

Before her left foot graces the ground with a landing, the Azure Exile will simply vanish once more into a swirling spiral of blossoms. She reappears, charging him from behind, her true speed on display as she tries to catch him blindsided.

Her left arm would lead, aiming to hook under his left arm, knocking it out from his side and further dismantling any hope of defense. In the span of less than a quarter second, she has gone from dashing to attempting to plant a crushing right elbow into his left side in what is clearly intended to be a fight deciding strike!

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Hayate with Renzuki Toki Hoshin EX.

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

As Hayate delivers the double barreled shotgun blast of his twin strikes, he feels his foreknuckles crashing against the hardness of Kasumi's leg, rather than the soft, giving flesh of her chest, and he knows that she anticipated the move. Frustrated, he releases a sound half between a grunt and a growl. Not for the sake of the missed strike, but for her continued stubborness. Does she realize just how much damage she has done? Can she truly understand?

Kasumi slides back, and the loyal Mugen Tenshin ninja rights himself, once more dropping into the stance that favors his injured arm, by keeping it farthest from her. As she regains her footing and balance, he waits patiently. Perhaps he should be pursuing her, dogging her every action and never relenting the pressure on her. It certainly seems to be costing him the fight, allowing her the opportunity to recover from every attack he unleashes that upsets her balance. Emotion is both strength and weakness.

"When the time comes..."

He watches her as she stands up, and he draws his own rear foot forward, until he stands facing her directly, lowering his defensive posture. He cannot help but be taken in at the sight of her. She is breath taking to anyone, with her skin glowing from the rush of the fight and her regal bearing. She is the very image of a true Shinobi Princess. He feels his pulse quicken for it.

And he is no less for it, either. His proud stance, despite the injuries that debilitate him, and the dirt that has by now transformed the lower portions of his legs, from the knee down, into a light tan color from the built up dust that slings to his armor and clothing. The sweat beads on his supple flesh, occasionally conjoining into rivulets and rolling down along into the hollows where his lithe musculature dictates, and leaving streaks of clean skin to reveal just how much of that dust clings to him. His hair whips in a sudden, crisp breeze that blows down from the mountain over the pair of them, and he looks to be the picture perfect image of the noble shinobi prince.

"When the time comes, you may find that we are not there to help you, Kasumi..."

The tone of his voice says more than the words themselves. His warning is not spoken out of spite or disdain, but fear. He may not be there to help, because the leadership of the Mugen Tenshin is wounded, a broken family that is in mourning, but unable to move past it as long as it remains unresolved. Enemies encroach upon them from all sides, and with Shiden, Ayame, and Hayate all preoccupied with their troubles, the clan seems more vulnerable than ever before.

"Do you not see what you have done? Kasumi, you made a choice that robbed our parents of not one child, but both. They had already suffered losing me, and you only added to that. For what? For me? My life wasn't worth it, Kasumi. My life wasn't worth yours. My life wasn't worth all of this now. Kasumi, why did you give up your life, and cause so much suffering for our parents over me? I cannot bear to think of it! I was the foolish one, and I paid the price for that! I shouldn't have been avenged! It wasn't worth it! Your life held too much value to be thrown away over your stupid, arrogant brother!!!"

The wellspring of emotions rises again, but she's already throwing herself into the next attack. Hayate faces it head on, standing proud and erect until she closes in on him. Her ridge hand attacks are swatted away with his good arm decisively and methodically, his own rigid chops meeting each one with a clap of flesh on flesh. Her spinning kick collides against the meaty padding of his shoulder and forearm as he curls his right arm to brace against it.

When she vanishes, instinctively, Hayate turns to meet her, knowing she will appear from behind. He manages to present his side to the runaway princess just as she grasps at his arm. The left one. Successfully, she manages to knock it away, as once more there is a loud crack as the joint slips out of socket. Hayate of the Wind doubles over sideways around the bonecracking blow that shatters his exposed, mesh-encased ribcage. The breath expells itself from his lungs in a silent whoosh.

His knees crumple under him, and he's left crashing down onto them. His dislocated arm hangs limp and free at his side, swaying in a manner that seems almost boneless and unnerving. His other hand clutches at his broken ribs, and he wheezes for air.

"You... You were more... important, Kasumi.... You should have stayed... left me to rot..."

He sucks in another breath of air, sounding strained and hollow, and he pushes himself up off of his knees, suddenly leaping over Kasumi. With his one good arm, he lashes out, trying to grab hold of her ponytail as he flips over her head, and drags her backwards, off of her feet. Tucking himself into a ball, the handsome shinobi attempts to plant his feet against the small of the Azure Exile's back, and as he lands, he kicks out with all his might to launch her high into the air.

COMBATSYS: Hayate keeps on fighting!

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Kasumi           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0           Hayate

COMBATSYS: Hayate successfully hits Kasumi with #Raijin#.
Grazing Hit

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

Kasumi is launched in a rocketing trajectory towards the heavens as if she were a member of Team Rocket blasting off again. As she climbs in altitude, the persistent Shinobi of the Wind rolls to his feet and performs a swift set of kujikiri hand gestures. Wind swirls about his form for a brief moment, lifting his auburn hair and whipping it about his scalp. Swirling ribbons of hazy white mist spiral about him, and in a flash, he vanishes.

Reappearing in a burst of that same foggy mist, Hayate chases the Azure Exile in the air, hot on her heels. Just as she reaches the peak of her ascent and starts to arc back towards the earth, he delivers an upwards knife hand swipe with his right (read: good) hand, knocking her about. Immediately, his agile frame tucks and rolls, flipping forward and lashing out with a dropping heel kick to his darling sister's stomach, which in turn rockets her at the ground with more force and velocity.

Another burst of wind and haze, and Hayate gives chase with an inhumanly fast acceleration after her. His arms are wrapped around his legs, which are bent knee to chest, and he somersaults like a freefalling wrecking ball. At the last moment, he unfurls, whipping about with a final flip to stomp his foot down on the fallen kunoichi. Without a breath of time to give her a chance to recover, he's backflipping in place with a toe kick to her ribs, and landing nimbly on the other foot, before launching into a springing backflip that leaps high into the air. That flip, too, is accompanied with a kick to her ribs.

Sliding to a stop after connecting with her attack, Kasumi's feet slip over the soft dirt with ease, bringing her to rest once more facing her brother. Breaths come quickly now, her body responding to the intense demands placed on it. Even physically fit as she is, the speed that goes into her bursts of motion would be enough to sap the strength of the most vigorous of athletes.

Unlike before, her expression has shifted, a barely perceptible furrow of her brow, a clenching of her jaw that wasn't there before, a hint of exasperation in eyes that have always been so very slow to anger. She sucks in her breath, holding it for a brief moment, trying to find the words that would properly express the spike of emotion piercing her heart after Hayate's last words while also succumbing to the limitations of needing to catch her breath.

The pause gives him time to utter his next declaration which only seems to provoke an even more visible surge of turmoil in the young woman's normally gentle face.

"I can't-" she gasps for air, shaking her head quickly, "You don't-" she tries again. The rise and fall of her shoulders with each cycle of breathing only accentuates the curves of her body that would distract less focused or resolved opponents.

"Who gets to decide that?!" she finally blurts out, her voice raised loud enough to be audible to all viewing the fierce contest of Mugen Tenshin Tenjinmon Ninjutsu performed by two of its most brilliant practitioners. "Who gets to say what one life is worth to another!?" She shakes her head again, expressions of hurt, bewilderment, and transparent concern to hear such words of self recrimination come from the mouth of her older brother.

"I would have done..." Another necessary breath, fingers open and closing as she tries to keep her fists from clenching too tightly. There is a tremor in to her voice now, the future clan leader's words finally cutting through whatever wall she had been building for her year on the run, of carving her own way through life.

"Anything. For. You."

She braces as the Shinobi of the Wind brings the storm directly to her. He takes to the air, vaulting over in one smooth flip over the top of her. Though she moves with the same lightning reflexes she had exhibited throughout the fight, lunging forward and ducking low in anticipation of some strike from above, her lengthy beribboned ponytail trails behind the motion simply by virtue of the physics in play. His fingers close over enough of the soft copper hair to secure a hold, wrenching the elusive exile backward, her arms stretching out to her sides in a vain response to the mind's natural instinct to counter the motion to regain balance.

There is a soft gasp of breath as his feet secure their place at the base of her back before thrusting out to send her flying skyward in an uncontrolled rising tumble. This alone would hardly be enough of an attack on one as comfortable in the air as his younger sister is - a twist, tuck, then flip, and she would end up landing on her feet with ease a moment later hardly any worse for the experience. If he jumped up after her to catch her at the apex of her flight, she would have likely been waiting for him, attacking him back on her more controlled fall.

Instead, it is to the advanced techniques of the family's style he turns, wind rushing in an instant later to fill the vacuum left by the suddenly vanished Hayate.

He gets to her just in time, Kasumi's flailing replaced by more controlled sweeping of her arms and kicking of her legs to regain control at the apex of her ascent. A split second later and he would have been too late - he would have likely found her ready and anticipating his follow up with a counter attack of her own.

The hand strike disrupts her almost regained control entirely with a hard blow to her shoulder.

He would see her in that airborne struggle - a grit of her teeth, a twist of her torso, another attempt to regain control right as his dropping heel smashes into her stomach, slamming her back down toward the earth so far below, pushing her descent well past the falling speed she would have reached 'unassisted'.

Kasumi crashes hard, upper back impacting the dirt before the rest of her body rolls out to a prone position on the ground. Her eyes bat open as Hayate plunges down after her. Reflexes alone are to explain the way her shoulders twist, her left arm pushing off just enough to roll half a turn to avoid the crushing stomp meant for her.

The flinching motion is not enough to escape the kick that follows, however, his toe connecting with the middle of his sister's back, planting against the golden emblem of her name etched with pride into the back of her training dress. The force is enough to send her rolling further, narrowly escaping the final flip kick that might have very well been a fight ending attack.

Kasumi comes to rest a couple yards away on her side. The quick breathing, pained gasps, and trembling movement of her body is proof alone that she has not passed out in spite the punishment inflicted by Hayate's decisive technique - perhaps she had managed to escape just enough to retain consciousness before pain would have overcome her.

She's far slower to roll to her knees now, her hand resting against her side as she pants for breath. Though her cheeks are as red as blooming rose, the emotions in her eyes continue to be tumultuous. "You," she gasps, caramel brown eyes looking back at Hayate, tenderness working its way back into her expression, "Know exactly how far I would go."

Another gasp for breath, a tensing of the muscles in her right leg allowing her to start to push herself up, her hand still against her side. "Because it's-"

She's standing again, though leaning to the side, clearly trying not to stretch likely cracked ribs any further than necessary.

"No less than what you would do for me."

She sucks in her breath, bracing for the worst as she stands up straight, pulling her hand from her side in order to dip her head forward, leaning slightly into a bow.

The posture is maintained for a longer moment than even tradition would dictate before at last her eyes open and the Kunoichi of Destiny opens her eyes to look back at Hayate. Her expression is neutral but her eyes belie her attempt at looking completely in control.

"As ever, you have taught me much, brother. This duel goes to you. It is my honor to leave my donation with you as a prize as agreed upon."

COMBATSYS: Kasumi takes no action.

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

Hayate's Raijin technique is almost legendary for the difficulty of performing the maneuver, and the even greater difficulty of being able to withstand or defend against it. Especially when the Mugen Tenshin shinobi actually puts forth true effort into the attack, rather than simply operating on rote muscle memory. So the fact that she was able to avoid two of the most devastating strikes in the assault is uncanny. Truly remarkable. This match has proven to Hayate beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can never truly rely on rote actions with her. Not anymore.

As the jonin lands from that last springing backflip, it is devoid of the grace and poise that he might otherwise display. He's hanging on by a thread, pushed to his very limits and even beyond. He's operating on sheer willpower, and so, feet touch the ground, and his knees nearly buckle before correcting themselves. He crouches, using his good hand to hold himself up, lest he find the ground too comforting and lose his grip on consciousness.

He looks up, watching Kasumi as she climbs to her knees. Her words still ring in his ears, and he feels the grip of them winding around his heart. He cannot deny the truth of them. There is a very real chance that, had the shoe been on the other foot, and he was placed in the position she had been, he would have made the same decision. Truthfully, he knows for a fact that he would. He would venture into the heart of Yomi and face Izanami herself for her.

As the Azure Exile rises to her feet, Hayate follows suit. She bows, and Hayate approaches her, his steps unsteady, but sure. Reaching her, he dips his hand under her chin, lifting her out of the bow, and letting his amber-brown eyes lock on hers for a long, silent moment. What can he say? What can he do? Hayate is the kind of person who does well because he always seems to have the right answer. He knows all the right moves to pull through and win the objective. It is a small part of why he'll make a good leader for the clan. It is also the leading cause of his arrogance. Knowing that he almost always makes the correct decision is what led to him ignoring the pleas of his companions to use the Torn Sky Blast on Raidou. That trait led directly to all of this.

How can he ever apologize? How can he ever make it up to his parents? How can he ever repay Kasumi for the sacrifices she has made since?

"I am so sorry..."

The words escape him, strained and cracking with emotion. His eyes fall closed in order to deny the searing heat of the tears that want to well up in them. His hand cups Kasumi's cheek, and he leans forward until his forehead rests against hers. There, he'll linger for a few seconds that seem to stretch on for eternity. Quietly, he speaks in the space between them, for only their ears to hear. "You should leave now."

The youthful shinobi sighs, as he raises his head and opens his eyes. Slowly, he takes a few steps, back away from her, clutching the arm that has been dislocated with its opposing hand. If he doesn't break from her now, he'll be too tempted to take actions that he should not take, but would be unable to resist. His lips curl into a small, sad smile and in that moment, Hayate is the very image of their mother.

"It has been good to see you again..."

Her skin is unsurprisingly warm to the touch as his hand cups his sister's chin and lifts her lowered head slightly, allowing the two to see eye to eye for a brief but much needed moment. In her eyes he will find a amalgamation of gentle pleading, fiery pride, and a loving concern that transcends any clan politics, any personal tragedy or loss.

He apologizes and she is slow to respond, simply savoring the moment of being this close to her brother. If there is any accusation concerning the circumstances that landed him in a coma in the first place, he will find no evidence of such. Since the day she left, the exiled Mugen Tenshin princess had never once shifted blame toward another. As rash, and perhaps foolhardy as her decision may have appeared upon reflection, it was her decision, made in full knowledge of the consequences it would cause.

In spite her exhaustion, her lips curl up into a hint of a smile as she looks back at him, lingering even as her eyes close the moment their foreheads touch. Her breaths still come quickly but no where near the heaving gasps of a half minute ago, her vigor recovering quickly from the intense ordeal of facing one of the most skilled ninjas alive.

"I'm sorry too," she replies softly. For her outburst, for the hurt of refusing to come home, for the pain inflicted on their parents, for not even being there the night Raidou assaulted the village and made the worst mistake of his miserable life... This close, the familiar scent of cherry blossoms that always seems to accompany her is blended with the smell of sweat and exertion, an intoxicating presence that lingers even after there is space between them.

He steps back and she mirrors the motion, clasping her hands behind herself as she does likewise.

"Words cannot express..." she starts before her voice fades out. The smile from a moment before lingers - a wistful, melancholy thing - and then she turns, moving with grace that is somehow not tarnished by the aches, pains, and throbs she is undoubtedly feeling from the intense bout.

No words make their way to her lips concerning the idea that they will see each other again. The life of the renegade shinobi she has chosen to walk is too unpredictable to offer such promises or hope.

Looking as striking as she does, the idea that Kasumi, once of the Mugen Tenshin, could escape into a crowd is utterly unthinkable. He would get a glimpse after she passes into the audience, slipping between the gathered people with ease, a flash of her copper ponytail for one brief moment... and then she seemed to simply cease to exist.

There is no trace to be found but for the satchel left with one million US dollars for her donation to the shadow clans' annual charity event.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi has left the fight here.

[                         \\\\\  <
Hayate           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Hayate has ended the fight here.

Log created on 01:17:03 05/01/2018 by Kasumi, and last modified on 10:42:52 05/16/2018.