Description: Heroics in the Subways of Metro City and training between master and student lead to conversations about where to go from the shadows, and what the upcoming King of Fighters Tournament can mean to those who hide from the world.
Straining brakes squeal. Their shrill cry echoes off the walls of the Metro City Underground. The snaking network of steel and concrete that binds all of Metro together. A place where countless people travel. A place where the fashionable, the Avant-garde, and the just plain weird can move with the clerk, the professional and the working class.
Here is a place Clio St. Jeanne finds as homey as any alley or roof of her city. With her hood up, wearing her heavy chain as a fashion piece, she leans against the tile wall by a pay phone hub that hasn't seen use in years. She isn't doing much, just watching, simply being, falling into patterns and observings. And her fingertips jostle her chain.
Not the first one she made to replace her one lost in her bid for escape from the NOL. That one couldn't handle light strain. This one is run number two, more dense, and with better use of hermetic symbology. Though Clio has yet to truly try it out on anyone yet. And without a field test, she never would see if it would hold under her use.
And that, in a way, is why she's out. Though she hasn't hit upon anything yet. Maybe with the Majigen incident moving past, and the lack of any real Mad Gear activity, things are relatively quiet for Metro City. Maybe there wasn't going to be an easy route to testing her limits after all. So she settles, and she considers, listening in and eavesdropping on the people that miss the somewhat short, eared hood wearing girl off to the side. A simple piece of the scenery and for the moment, in the night's underground, that's exactly what Clio wants.
Dozens of people spill out from the traincars. Old and young, businessmen and vagrants. Folks from all walks of life, effortlessly making the transition from the role of passenger to the role of pedestrian, as they doubtless have carried out hundreds, thousands of times before.
Now that the people are free from the oppressive confines of an enclosed space, briefcases and purses can be seen swinging freely. One man, though, carries something close to his chest, curling a light windbreaker around it. It's not really his style, but he's making a point of staying close to the protective shelter of the crowd.
The cry comes out from a young woman, filtering past the first wave of people entering the partially vacated traincar. She wears a toboggan, pulled low to conceal her ears, and unlike pretty much everyone else in the area, she has no purse or any personal belongings.
Which would probably explain why, after a moment of glancing around at the people, she singles out the man with the windbreaker. She starts racing towards him -- "I'm talking to you, asshole! Get back here!"
But in the process, something else happens -- her belt comes undone. Or, rather, it becomes readily apparent that it's not -just- a belt, because belts aren't furry and don't wag about like a jackal's tail.
Snap judgments are made by the crowd. Some sympathize with the situation. Others... are of mixed opinions.
One expresses his opinion by tripping the jackal hybrid as she races to catch up with the purse-snatcher. "Fucking darkstalkers! Get the fuck outta our city!"
The young woman takes a spill, throwing her arms out in a last-second evasion from what would surely be a more painful faceplant on the dingy tile floor. But while she's downed...
... the thief has broken ranks from the crowd. And as he races for the exit, he's not paying even the slightest attention to his surroundings, shoving people aside if necessary. No police officers are around to stop him, for the moment; his only thought is towards getting out of the subway station safely.
Shouts, anger, squealing, sounds of the city. Normally Clio could tune those out. There's so much going on that if a person tries to hear and focus on all of it, they'll just miss it for the din. So when someone calls another person in Metro City an asshole, well, far be it for Clio to leap to attention. They might as well have been sending someone a fine "hello there and how do you do".
But motion, that's something to catch. Her head lifts, she casually runs her fingertips along the chain, all to the heavy clip keeping it attached to her waist. She's not planning anything, at least she doesn't want to give it away, she's just going about her motions. Her attention sharpening now.
Inside of her mind, words echo: In mankind's darkest hour. . .
She isn't with the NOL. She doesn't have authority. She should just let it go. She could walk away and find some other place to loiter.
Who was she kidding with that thought? With a shake of her head, she slips the clip of her chain and starts to wind it up her arm. Half of the work seems to be done by the chain itself as a series of carefully honed and etched symbols spark with latent arcane light. All the while, the methodical motion happens while Clio is watching for the motion different than the rest. She spots it, someone carrying something. A second motion, the woman going down. From here, she doesn't know the details. But it doesn't hurt to act.
The sharp words are drowned out, Clio's acting. The spike plumb hangs. A whirl. A snap of the wrist. Metal spike sailing, it digs hard into the wall across from the stairway leading up to the city proper, hanging as a choke line to cut the thief off from his escape.
"Where you going?" Clio asks in a chipper tone, pulling her hood up to give some obscuring to her face. Licks of violet fire spark along the chain, flare here and there and settle into a glow.
It all happens so fast. The thief finds himself effectively clotheslined by the chain, his boots flying forward even as his windpipe holds him back. Gravity asserts itself, and the thief finds himself slammed back onto the floor, pilfered purse now weighing him down considerably...
The crowd -- a mix of tall and short figures -- slowly starts to filter towards an exit which -isn't- barricaded off by any sort of chain, not wanting to get caught up in any further commotion, darkstalker or otherwise.
The six-foot-six man towers over his victim, wearing a ratty long-sleeved shirt and a baggy pair of jeans. And the young woman, who, as attired, could easily pass for fully human if not for her bushy tail, plucks herself back to her feet, and passes glares back and forth between the two people tag-teaming up to ruin her day. Her tail flits back and forth warily, as she barks back at her tall oppressor. "Tch! Don't you assholes have anything better to do?" The tall man shakes his head, cracking his neck from one side to the other, as he balls his fists. "I'd ask you the same..."
The thief grunts in pain. It'd be tough to answer the question in his current state. Or at least, it would seem that way, as he doubles over with a coughing fit.
But then, with his head ducked low and the purse clutched to his chest, he suddenly charges forward, ducking under the chain as if it were a simple security barricade. And he starts to take the stairs up, two at a time -- showing he has -some- measure of athletic ability, or just a healthy dose of self-preservation and adrenaline.
"Aaagh! He's getting away!" shouts the half-jackal. She flashes a brief, but appreciative look at Clio as she starts to close the distance.
The tallish thug, though? He slams his fists together, every muscle in his body tensing with rage. There... -might- be a connection between him and the thief, and if so, he's not doing much to hide it. "Get back here, I'm not done with y--"
And then, suddenly, the man collapses to the ground, his knees unhinged from under him. Where he stood, now stands a cat, in a baggy overcoat, sweeping his sheathed swords back onto his shoulders. "Nah, yer' done. Naptime."
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus flashes Clio a wily grin. He tips his head towards the thief -- a simple nod to the fact that a hero's work is never done.
Snap! Tile clatters to the ground. Clio's chain rattles and clinks as it winds back up her arm, snapped back with a flick of the wrist. She's a few steps forward, stopping, looking. Her grip tightens around her chain, the chain tightens around her arm. She watches the big man stand over the girl. Clio nearly opens her mouth. Nearly calls down the thunder on the big man. She was nearly speaking the credo.
But she's no longer with the NOL. She's no longer an authority. She's a dead girl. A ghost.
A dark grin comes over Clio when a cat cannonball crashes down atop the big man. Jubei. That makes for a much, much easier decision on where to take this.
She turns, she tucks the toe of her boot to the ground. Nail strikes the concrete. A scratch, a scrape, and a spark. A plume of chi flame. It crackles a deep indigo. Clio bursts from the line. The woman rockets forward, surging, a shot in the dark. She clears steps fast enough to leave an after image of herself following in her own wake.
With the weight of her arm wrapped in chain, a fist bound and reinforced by shimmering chain. A writhing fire doesn't glow, warping to a shade. The thief might have athleticism, but Clio's a fighter, a former lieutenant with the NOL. She's crushed the heads of demonic darkstalkers. She's fought marines. She's taken on giant goo creatures and fae queens. A bagman isn't going to be something she bats an eye at hurling 100% of herself at.
A hero's work? No, this won't be work as far as Clio St. Jeanne is concerned.
It's surprisingly easy, Jubei has found, to hide in plain sight. No one really questions an old geezer's presence on a subway. And most people just avoid making eye contact when there's nothing of value to be gained. Meaning, yes, a cat with a hooded overcoat can survive just fine on a train car.
That was then. And now that the feline is the center of attention, with the victim of his surprise attack struggling with consciousness beside his furry feet, well... it'd be harder to be -ignored- by the Metro City populace. Gasps and gawking commence -- but no one really has the gumption to speak up against a four-foot-tall cat who just downed a six-foot-something man in the blink of an eye. ... And that brings a confident smirk to the cat's face, as he now has the opportunity to watch Clio at work.
She seems to be the very model of efficiency, at that, earning an appraising nod from the cat. As an extended fist barrels into him, the thief once again finds himself tilted horizontally -- this time, enough to send him into an axial twist. His right shoulder hits the ground first, skipping once, twice, thrice across the tiled floor before friction pulls his body to a halt. Drenched in adrenaline, he starts to kick back to his feet again -- but as he looks up, indigo flame reflecting in his half-believing eyes, he realizes the futility of such.
He rises to his knees, holding both hands up in a sign of surrender. The purse falls into his lap, tumbling over slightly to show an employee ID card -- with a photo of the girl currently making her way up the stairs from the train platform.
"A-ain't you a bit short to be a transit cop, lady? You got a badge number? I-I know my rights...!"
The fire crackles out in the wake of Clio's strike. She rolls her shoulder, the chain wrapped around her arm clinks. She looks down at her kneeling opponent. Her hood up, she shakes her head with a slow and dark grin. A sharp spike in her hand, she points it toward the thief.
"If I ain't a cop, what kinda rights you think you got here?" she asks, rolling her fingers and clinking the chains together, streaks of arcane light run along the chains. "Leave the purse."
The life of the NOL shows through in odd places at times. The training, the self-control, the love of friends. She restrains herself from simply beating the thief until he can't get away. There's a rush, the thrill of these fights. She hasn't had one in a long time she feels. She wants to get in a harsher beating, but she isn't who she was years ago. She won't be tonight.
She adds just one word to her instructions. "Run."
The panicked thief looks back and forth between the spike, the streaks of arcane light, and the intensity of Clio's dark grin. His jaw hangs open, lips parting as if to give a smartaleck response for the brief flicker of time before his brain tells him that'd be a remarkably bad idea.
And then two very clear suggestions are given for him to proceed. Considering those to be remarkably -good- ideas, spares no time in setting the purse down before him, springing back to his feet, and booking it for the nearest exit. No debate, just letting his footfalls do the talking!
"Oh wow," exclaims the tobogganed figure as she crests the stairs, flashing a broad and appreciative smile as she addresses Clio. "Thank you so much!" A few hurried footsteps later, she's crouching to the floor, reaching for her purse: "I had -everything- in here, I don't know what I'd have even -done- without you!"
Almost instantly, she starts rifling around in the retrieved purse. After a moment, she retrieves a small stack of cards, and pulls one green-hued card from the stack. Offering it over to Clio, she asks, "Do you drink coffee? I like to hold onto these just in case, I run into a good samaritan like yourself..."
She brushes her hand across the crown of her toboggan, sparing a glance towards the stairway -- where, from the shifting sounds, it seems like someone particularly intimidating might be making their ascent. "It's... surprising how many times I end up needing to thank people, all things considering..."
Threat removed. He's not a sorcerer. He has no magic items. No formulae. He isn't a darkstalker, nor does he have power. And Clio isn't there to capture anyone, or to eliminate. There's something frustrating about not being able to soldier through this punk. She clinks her chain, the wrap around her arm and through one hand, and connecting to the spike in her grip. A spike held at the thief within stabbing range until the thief takes up Clio's advice and runs into the night.
Clio's already clipping the heavy grip clip at the oversized collar hanging loosely about her neck. A wipe and the fire bleeds out of the metal. It's survived the test of containing her unfocused magic force.
"Hmm?" Clio hums, looking at the woman she ran into. "Oh, no problem," she says, slipping her chain about her waist. "Gotta look out for people. Lotta garbage people out there."
She slips her hands into the front pocket of her hoodie. The card is a surprise. "Don't normally take business cards for this," she says, reaching to take the care and slipping it into her hoodie to look at later. "Course I drink coffee, I breathe it." She's smiling a small bit, feeling good in the end, tugging the front of her hood down a little more over her eyes.
She stills and her head tilts slightly. Half looking toward the sound of shifting movement. "Considering?" she asks, distracted from the conversation as more of her focus and survival instinct slip to steady on the sensation of the intimidating presence.
The thief is long gone by now. If he had any aptitude beyond basic parkour skills, such aptitude was not on display.
The business card identifies her as 'J. Lorelai Reynolds', co-owner of the store, accompanied with line art of a food truck of some sort.
"Oh, gosh, no..." Cheeks darken, as she shakes her head in denial. "No, no, it's not -just- a business card, it'll get you a free drink! If you see our truck topside, feel free to stop in and collect, y'know? As thanks for helping me out."
The young woman's fluffy tail wraps around her waist, as she pulls her purse close to herself. Eyes glance warily back and forth amongst the people. "Y-yeah, considering... the people who think anyone who doesn't look like they do might be out to hurt them." She laughs mirthlessly: "Whereas the fact is, we're just tryin' to live our lives, just like anyone else. Most of the time it's just harassment, people venting their anger. Sometimes... it's more."
There's almost no sound at all as Jubei makes his way up the stairs. A lot of that is because the other traingoers are giving him a particularly wide berth. The one-eyed cat sees no particular reason to hide his nature as he walks -- as it happens, it seems that meeting up with Clio may have been his intention all along. He flashes Clio and her conversational partner an affable grin as he approaches. "Seems things are workin' out alright, yeah?"
J. Lorelai Reynolds. Elaborate name and yet very dull for a Darkstalker. "What's the J stand for?" Clio asks off hand, curious about the source of the first initial. She can't go wrong with a free drink.
A look over the woman and her long fluffy tail. She nods. "There's a lot of people out there like that. Not all of them, though. Not all of them.
When the feeling reveals itself to just be Jubei, Clio visibly relaxes. "Sometimes the monsters aren't the bad guys," she tells Lorelai. "Some of them are things you can trust." She smiles, seeing the one-eyed cat, nodding to him, and looking back to her conversational partner.
"Probably shouldn't be hanging around here. People don't like it when you break their walls," she says, looking at the spot where her chain took a chunk digging into the plaster and tile. "I'll be on the look out for the truck though." Even if she'll probably be a more sleepy daytime Clio when that happens.
Miss Reynolds leans forward, with a melodramatically conspiratorial expression. "'Jacqueline.' -Original-, right? Ha, ha." The jackal hybrid rolls her eyes afterwards, loking aside. "One of my dad's many so-called 'clever' puns."
As the conversation grows a bit more hopeful, Miss Reynolds nods her head amiably. "Yeah, the good people are the best part of the job. Smiling people are good for the soul!" She looks back to Jubei when Clio does, and nods cheerfully, stepping side to make room for the cat to join the 'circle,' such as it is. "Oh, and thank you, too! Tripping is bad enough when it's accidental, but geez. And this... " She lifts her shin higher so she can rub her hand across it. "Probably bruised. No big deal!"
"S'all in a day's work, ma'am. Glad you're alright." Jubei flashes a wily grin, flattening his larger paws against his sides for a proper Japanese bow.
"Mm-hmm," agrees Lorelai, turning back to Clio. "Yeah, you're probably ri--! Ooh, yeah, I better go give Maddy a break. Anyway, it was nice meeting you...? I hope we get to see you again soon!" Lorelai bows her head in thanks to each of the two -- and she's starting to dash for the exit in due time.
Jubei offers a more Western-style wave as the jackal lady sprints off, before turning up towards Clio. "Well, that was surely more'n I expected for the day. ... Truck, though?"
A very perky jackal lady, it would seem. Offsetting Clio's lidded expression, she smiles while nodding. "Puns aren't bad," she says, she doesn't mind them, they're a good time. and, "Jaqui's a good name."
She tilts her head to look when Jacqueline shows her shin. A look toward Jubei to confirm that's what Jubei was involved with. "The streets are pretty unforgiving," she admits, her own borderline pun on the situation. "But yeah, what the cat said. Glad you're okay."
While Jubei waves, Clio just offers a small V of peace to a departing Jacqueline. Her own parting gesture apart from the others. Even if it his a small wave and barely waist high. Once the other woman is gone, Clio looks down toward Jubei. "Like a ramen cart but it drives itself," she explains. "You'd like them. Good to hit when you're out and don't want to dip into a restaurant or suck it up with fast food." Street meat is a staple of cities like Metro, and Clio is a fan of not relying on dirty water dogs while out looking for fights.
The Jackal was pretty cute, too, Clio had to admit. Maybe she had a thing for tails after all, she thinks.
Jubei nods with understanding, now that the term's been explained to him. "Ahh, yes. Food trucks; I've seen those around here an' there."
Slowly, gradually, the traffic begins to return to normal levels. Sure, there were -probably- people who witnessed the fight, but many of them are already thoroguhly engrossed in their cellphone activities by this point.
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus doesn't particularly mind, at this point. His twin tails swish back and forth quietly. His whiskers twitch, ever so slightly, as he casts his cyclopean gaze about the train station. "It's a shame some people gotta be like that. She seems like a nice enough girl."
He looks up to Clio again, this time with a more neutral expression. "So... y'wanna get outta here? Can't imagine anyone's gonna be in a mood to try somethin' -here- for a spell."
Clio's certain someone or another has taken footage of the, she wouldn't call it a fight really. A threatening, more accurately. She rests her hands back inside of her hoodie pockets, the heavy chain holds down the wide ring of the collar loose and cocked at her neck and shoulders. She expects most of the people who watched and filmed are just more of the same. There's better fights and more surprising things to see over in the parks at this time of day.
"She does look nice," Clio agrees with slightly different wording. "People got hurt by the Majigen. People still are. I've killed demonic darkstalkers that wanted to control my mind." She turns and takes a few steps up the stairs, back to the topside. "But those people down there are too chicken shit to fight real monsters. So they pick on the easy targets."
She snorts. "I like a fight, but I want it to be worth something."
Jubei's mechanical paws shift within their overly baggy sleeves. He nods in full agreement with Clio's points. He keeps pace with Clio, until she gets to the stairs, at which point his shorter leg length does become a bit more of a liability.
"It's true, fear is a powerful motivator," he agrees, one paw snaking up to the handrail to aid in his ascent. "And it becomes worse when resources are limited. Desperation can bring out the best -and- the worst in people. Differences that... weren't so bad before, suddenly become lightning rods of attention."
Jubei squints, when first exposed to the light above ground. "And until then, it... -is- up to us to light the way, I suppose. To show people the best this world has to offer."
The old cat nudges his arm against the chain, instigating a brief clink of metal. "Seems like the chain is doin' its job, at least. You happy with it so far?"
Clio crests the surface, stepping up to the noise and the flow of the life of the city. She stops there and leans her head back, looking over her shoulder to watch and wait up for the cat to make his way up the stairs.
"We're dangerous," she says in a flat tone, "People fear that. I was scared to death of you. Still am. But it's different ways now."
She looks down at the chain when Jubei clinks against it. "So far it's holding up. My formulae are better, I'd bet on it, but I don't have the alloy." She sighs, resigned, shaking her head. "I don't have the skill, or the resources, that the Engineering Corps has access too."
A hand goes up, she runs it along the chain that hangs from her neck. "It's decent, but I'll never know without a better field test."
Jubei's ears flatten, beneath his hood. It's easier to hear up here, above ground. To some degree, he can even hear signs of Lorelai running to meet her co-owner; it's just that that one set of footfalls is deluged under a plethora of other, less interesting sounds. City life.
His eye opens a bit more fully, at the candid acknowledgment that the living weapon still scares Clio. It surprises the mentor side of him, even though the wandering samurai side of him would support the conclusion that -everyone- is a potential threat, somehow.
"A better field test, hmm."
He has thoughts, of course -- it's rare that Jubei -doesn't-. But it'd be arrogant to share them all the time.
Instead, he offers a content smile. "Did you have a particular field test in mind?"
Sounds bleed and mingle, the rhythm of the street, it's heartbeat. Clio feels it. It's natural to her. It's where she feels most at home. For all the peace and solitude the forests of Illyria brought her, it was never where her heart beat. For all the stars she could see, she always felt the pull of where she was from.
She looks over and down at the cat in the coat. Her mentor who, she realizes, may be out of his element. "Where-"
Cut off by the comment, Clio's head tilts as she considers. "I don't," she admits with a sag. She jangles the chain before she puts her hands into her pockets. "I'm not that focused without something to go after. I'd probably get by just clubbing purse snatchers."
It's an admission. She knows what the NOL did for her. She knows she has what it takes to go after things, but she's never been the best planner in the history of the world. And here and now, she might feel the element of being in the heart of a city, she realizes she's a degree of directionless with where to go next.
It only takes the cat a few moments for him to shift gears to accomodate the new sound levels; the uptick in his expression should be clear. Alert, he passes his one-eyed gaze across the cityscape, offering a brief shrug of his shoulders -- and starting to walk.
"Fair enough. ... But, as I understand it, many vigilantes wear a mask. 'ave you considered a crime-fighting alter-ego?" He flashes an aloof smile, before turning his eye forward again.
"... You want more targets. Which suggests to me that it isn't the difficulty of the challenge, but the -variety- of such. You need to face someone... unfamiliar. There's -options-, of course -- underground fighting rings. Depending on how 'dangerous' suits your fancy. And then there's the 'official' ones. Saturday Night Fight, and whatnot."
He seems to be heading towards a newsstand kisok, but looks to Clio for a moment. "... Come to think of it, would you want a mask for -that-, as well? I don't really have the luxury of a good-enough disguise, so I wouldn't know."
Clio shakes her head. She opens her mouth, and closes it again, rethinking just how she wants to answer this. She hums, quiets and quirks a frown. "They don't remember much if you hit them hard enough," she admits with a half shrug. She never did think much on hiding herself, and the NOL didn't require her to. The notion of hidden identities never much occurred to her. All of her heroes were the knight in shining armor type, not the skulk in the shadows type.
"But I could wear a mask. When those crews were there for Abigail's big fight, I thought I was dead. Thought the NOL would see me for sure. One of the soldiers from here must've remembered me." She shrugs. "But nothing so far."
While Jubei meanders to the old person hub of the newstand, Clio drifts along with him. "You're also a walking nuke," she points out. "I don't think they have too many like your wife to send after you."
A wince, Clio rubs the back of her neck. "Sorry. I just meant you don't need a disguise the way you are."
Jubei holds off on verbal responses for a moment, nodding agreeably as the pair continues to walk in the vague direction of the nearest news stand. He's curious on Clio's thought processes, and what's in her mind, primarily because she -is- in a period of transition. And he'd rather not lead the student down a path she doesn't ultimately want to follow. Time may be eternal, but youth is fleeting.
The old cat runs a pretty even keel, most of the time. Even the comment about him being a walking nuke doesn't faze him. But that word -wife-? That gets Clio a look of his crimson iris -- one which dilates with the onset of what might be an emotion.
It is only a momentary change, though. And Jubei offers a broad smile in response to the apology. "Quite all right," is his quick response, a quick placeholder as he returns his focus to the topics of discussion.
"Maybe the NOL's... playing somethin' of a cold war. Once a fighter gets famous enough, they ain't gonna simply... -disappear- from existence without someone noticin'."
He considers for a moment, then asks, "After that debacle with the water park, I could understand not wanting to leave your fate with random people. And with your fugitive status -- well. Preachin' to the choir there." He laughs softly.
"... So, yeah. Heard word of another tournament startin' up. Didn't much look into it at the time. D'you know anythin' about it?"
Clio isn't aware of the depth of realities out there. She might know a great deal compared to the average person, but it remains a drop in the bucket compared to certain others. She thinks of the paths ahead of her and all she sees is shadow and rolling wheels. She had a place and she had a design. She had a hope and a purpose. She had family. She had her friends.
And now she has Jubei, and she has disparate people that have given her a hand as she's needed it. Abigail, Minal, Edith, Leo. The people that have helped her along when she cut her ties to her old friends. Friends that have held her secret safe. Makoto and Mai, but certainly Noel and Tsubaki would as well.
Clio finds herself staring at the magazines. "Not paid attention to much outside hermetics and metalwork," she admits, pulling a modern fighter magazine from the rack. She thumbs through the glossy pages, blinking and unfocused.
"If I could prove myself at one, maybe I wouldn't drag down Leo's Order."
Jubei has his own friends. But, due to his own circumstances, he has avoided drawing attention to them as much as possible. For their own safety. Because not everyone -wants- to attract the attention of the Novus Orbus Librarium by harboring one of their highest bounties.
And then there is Clio -- a student, and a friend, who happened to be present for one of the most heartrending moments of the feline's life. Clio, attempting bravely to redefine herself after casting off the shackles of a former life.
A large metal claw protrudes from his sleeve, drawing the momentary alarm from the newsstand operator. But once he sees that it's only used to draw out a newspaper from a stack, the poor clerk relaxes.
"It'd be good to get outta the house once in a while, yeah," he offers with some amount of mirth. "And it's difficult to 'drag down' an organization whose purpose is to defend the world, rather than go on the offensive. As long as the world turns, isn't it doing its job?" The cat chuckles, leafing through the paper, leaning against the side of the truck.
He tosses a couple coins onto the counter, just in case the clerk is -still- worried about his claws unsheathing again.
"King of Fighters, it's called. Interesting concept, y'got two teams sending in their fighters for a one-on-one fight."
He leafs through the paper. "Got any friends who might be interested in partnerin' up?"
Clio and Jubei have similar in trajectory reasons for avoiding friends, if not to nearly the same scope. Even though Clio has learned and come to terms with the fact her friends can handle themselves. And maybe in time they'll come to her way of things. How she'd love to have them by her side again.
And that's what hits her when Jubei asks. She thinks. Noellers. Mai. Makoto. All would be wonderful to have alongside her. But she can't ask them. So she shakes her head. "Unless you think the big guy at the garage would, don't think there's many out there."
She puts the magazine back, opting against buying it and getting a rumbling from the clerk. "What about you? I don't actually know where you come from. You have any friends that aren't me?"
The big guy at the garage? From the moment of hesitation, sliding into a smiling recovery, it seems the cat hadn't expected that answer. "If he's open to the possibility, I reckon he'd be great as a teammate. Did... real good in World Warrior."
The cat turns a page through the newspaper that, unfolded, is almost as big as he is. The task is one that really -couldn't- be done if not for the added reach of his mechanical claws.
He considers his response quietly for a moment. "I have made friends along my journeys. Most of the ones would... prefer to remain out of the limelight. Tournament like this would draw too much attention." He considers for a moment, allowing the newspaper to sag momentarily. "... Though... Tao might. She loves getting out into the world."
An eyebrow arches, a playful grin grows. "... She's only half cat. Hope that's okay."
Abigail is a big guy, and Clio thinks there's a lot better of a guy inside than he might admit to it. For a former Mad Gear heaviest of the heavy, he's done a lot better for himself. And that's why Clio frowns and shakes her head.
"Maybe not," Clio says, "He's trying to do good for himself. Tying up with a fugitive and a risk like me wouldn't be good for him." She shrugs and looks down at the cat at hers ide. "He's done a lot by letting me crash there."
She tucks her hands in her hoodie, chain clinking with her steps. "Tao?" she asks, head turning. "Half cat?" Clio's eyes narrow as she looks at Jubei. Her thoughts turn to things she isn't quite willing and able to put to visualization inside of her mind. She adjusts the perspective in her mind and asks the question, "She like Makoto? Or like a werewolf?"
Jubei has been concerned for Clio's welfare for quite some time. And it is good -- at least, for her personal growth -- that she's willing to be seen in public with an S-Class Bounty such as himself. Especially as a former NOL officer who staged her own demise of sorts.
"Heh, sorry 'bout that. I lost track of how many laws I'd broken decades ago. I forget that not everyone's wandered beyond the point of second chances."
It'd be child's play for the samurai cat to extricate Clio from even the most official arrest from any international power. And even the NOL would have trouble keeping her in custody if his two Dream Blades were to come in play. But a second, or a third person? They'd need to be talented enough -- and nimble enough -- to escape on their own.
Luckily, he has someone in mind. "... Taokaka. Of the Kaka clan." Folding the newspaper, he raises one of his mechanical claws, teasing the blades out of their sockets for a flicker of an instant, to the chagrin of the newsstand clerk. "She wears a jacket like this. And... I s'pose she'd be more like Makoto, in that regard."
He considers the idea of her fighting on a massive stage for a moment, a far-off gleam in his eye. But then, tucking the newspaper under his arm, he gives a brief nod to the clerk, stepping away from the newsstand.
"S'also the possibility of asking some of our Sacred Order buddies. They'd be -immune- to a lot of our NOL concerns."
An S-Class bounty. One that helped see the problems within that system. The lies within it, and the purpose behind some of it. Though there are dangers on it. And there are threats that need containing. It was a train of thought that led to complicated stations. But regardless of the difficulty of the ethics of the situation, Clio has made her decision, and it has sent her down this path of the Wheel of Fate.
"What laws did you break?" Clio asks, looking at Jubei. She is, in some ways, afraid of him. She knows his danger and she has seen it first hand. But despite her fear, she doesn't feel unsafe.
The moment is still, and she groans under her breath, uncertain, uneven. "Never mind. So you think this girl can help? And if she has a jacket like yours, that means she's like you?" Ideas play in Clio's head, wrong ones, but reality hasn't checked in on her just yet. She can imagine and she likes what she imagines.
A shake of her head to dispel the pleasant images of this Tao. "No, no Sacred Order yet. I, I don't feel right with them. Not like I did with my friends from the Academy."
Jubei looks up in thought, trying to delineate just -which- of his countless unlawful acts from decades ago would be worth dredging back up. He's saved by the bell as Clio shifts her focus to Taokaka, and... well, he uses the opportunity of her rumination to explain a bit more full.
"She's more human-like, but yeah, basically. She's still learnin' how to do stuff outside'a the village, so she might be a lil' rough around the edges."
One paw raises to his chin, as his suggestion of the Sacred Order is dismissed as well. He's quiet for a good long moment, musing.
Then, after a few moments, he asks, "Yer okay with Tao, but only -- I'm guessin' -- because she's got my seal of approval. So what about someone else who's already famous?" He flips open the newspaper again, leafing through to an infographic listing fighters from previous tournaments. "Heck, why not single out people who are -also- on the NOL hit list? Just tempt fate right off its rocker." He chuckles, folding up the paper to make it easier to carry while walking. A claw brushes against one name on the list. "See, here's another catgirl, Felicia. Wanted for a whole buncha different things by now, if I recall. Practically everyone on this list's a person o' interest." He hands the newspaper over towards Clio with a grin. "We're a team lookin' for a partner, there's bound to be a partner lookin' for a team."
Clio still hears good things from Jubei in regards to this Taokaka. But she doesn't have a lot of time to consider that, she can see the thinking that the old man is doing after she cuts down another idea and hope.
"Sorry. I'm just not ready to pull them into my trouble. I was invited once, I turned them down. I don't feel right just running to them." Clio knows her logic isn't there, she doesn't have a great deal of rationality. Her thinking entirely on emotions and entirely based on not feeling good enough in herself for that.
But with a new idea, Clio nods. "I could deal with that," she agrees. "Sorry if I'm being hard. I just don't trust much."
She rubs at her neck and looks away from Jubei. "If we do well, I'll go to see Leo again about the Order."
There is a time to talk, and a time to listen. There are a lot of thoughts that Jubei has about this particular arrangement. And through his meandering, roundabout suggestions of alternatives, Clio confirms one concern that he'd had.
After a moment of silence, he concurs, the fabric of his hood buckling for a solemn nod. His voice comes out equally solemn. "Trust... is a valuable currency. And once ya lose it, it's just as tough to get back."
And yet, there is a conundrum, in that Jubei still has reservations about the tournament. He does not make an immediate effort to meet Clio's gaze -- just continues pacing forward for a moment as he collects his thoughts.
"... Trust also means y'gotta put in a considerable time investment. To get familiar with someone else, to the point you know what their story is. And that you don't have to question whether they have your back or not."
The newspaper is folded up, tucked inside his coat. And while his pace hasn't changed, his face once more bears a smile.
"You want a learning experience, right? 'cause... for you to learn somethin', we're gonna need a team of more than just me and you. And the way King of Fighters is set up, we're gonna need to -trust- a third and a fourth. Both of us."
Now, though, is when his crimson eye turns to face Clio again. "All I'm sayin' is... We got some time. Few weeks, easy. Don't stress it too much."
"And I've betrayed before," Clio says. She shakes her head, her chain rattling. "I know I did it for good reasons. That the NOL will target good people too. It's not justice. But it shows I won't stay loyal, not if it doesn't suit me."
She looks toward Jubei, her shoulders slump a hair, she jostles her hands and rattles the chain. To hear the clink, to feel the comfort of the weight bouncing against her. "I just don't want to put crosshairs in front of anyone who doesn't deserve it," she explains. "The NOL isn't a threat to you, and I accept what comes my way. But I won't hurt someone else for it."
"I need something to test this chain, I can't have it break up on me if the Infantry or Intelligence Division comes down on my head. Following your lead on this one, teacher."
Betrayal -- something the one-eyed cat knows all about. Both from what Clio's communicated to him, plus his own litany of personal tragedies. He's said words on the matter before, and as his view's not changed significantly since then, he remains stoic for now.
No -- now is a time to listen. To affirm.
"Perhaps that's for the best."
The cat's monocular gaze conveys his sincerity.
Jubei draws in a breath, gauging his student's shifting state of mind. Simple security may be guaranteed as long as Jubei is awake and present, but the need for independence is a quite different matter.
"Then why don't we put the chain through its paces?" He casts his gaze forward, scouting out possible locations for a brief spar. "I reckon I can stand in for a suitable movin' target, if we can find a place that won't spook the locals."
Clio stops in her paces. She looks at Jubei. She hangs her head. All the same, she grins. "That obvious I need to get it out of me?" she asks with a self effacing little laugh that fades to a tired sigh.
She pulls her hood back and runs her fingertips through her hair, straightening it. "Let's find somewhere to do this. I need it. Even if you're going to win."
She scuffs her boot against the ground. A tap of the nails put through the toe, scratching pavement. "There's always places to go. You just need to figure out the places where people don't care to look."
It takes a moment of thought, and for Clio to look up to the sky. "Kinda wish that guy wasn't smart enough to run," she comments with a shrug. Words and wistfulness in the moment, but it's entirely in the service of buying her thinking time. The places to be, the places people wouldn't be. Her eyes drift to the city around her. The idea comes to her.
"This way," she tells Jubei. A hop-skip to the side, she starts off at a clip. Swift, tilted forward, moving with the clink of her chains. She heads toward parts of the city scoured by the Majigen. She heads to places where she knows people would have strayed away. A construction yard, one started before the incident, one forgotten by time as more and more important things to rebuild became higher priority. A place ignored now. Where people look aside.
Jubei flashes a mirthful grin back at his student. "Hm? Naw... I'm simply -agreein'- with ya."
Guilt, betrayal -- these are the sorts of things that have gnawed at his soul for decades. He's figured out his own coping mechanisms over the years. The most substantial has been meditation -- but that doesn't work for everyone.
"After all... I always felt that spillin' the answers to all of life's mysteries is cheatin'."
Jubei has, till now, done his fair share of walking about Metro City. He knows -of- suitable places. But he also has shown a flagrant disregard for crimes -- it's unlikely that standard-issue handcuffs would even -work- on wrists of his size, for one.
"Mm. Maybe so... But I'll be aching a lot more'n you, an' for a lot longer I'm sure."
As for their earlier 'friend,' Jubei chuckles mirthlessly. "Wish I'd gotten there soon enough to watch. But I'm sure it's better the way you handled it."
Walking, walking. Normally the cat would rather take breaks, but he's happy to follow Clio's footsteps for now. It lets him detach from the moment, and muse about earlier topics of discussion.
"... T'answer your earlier question... Property damage, mostly. NOL wanted to drag me in for destroyin' NOL facilities. Not to take away from your rap sheet for t'day, but."
The cat gives a light shrug, surveying the construction yard, the barricades strewn here and there, forgotten and half-rotten 2x4s zigging and zagging this way and that.
And before long, he leaps onto a fallen beam, mechanical claws dropping to his sides as he strides up it with classical feline grace.
"Anyway. It ain't about winnin'. It's what we can each learn from this."
The cat spins around to face Clio once again, demonstrating his perfect balance on such a narrow beam. One hand extends, palm-side up. And then the digits of the paw bend upward, towards him.
"Catch me. If you can."
The cat nimbly backflips some eight feet into the air, casually as can be.
A quick walk growing quicker. Clio is familiar with the territory, she's spent much of her youth crawling, running and climbing over it. She knows places that people ignore, that people forget. She always liked to seek them out. And once in a while, she all the reasons in the world to do so.
Crossing streets, down through undergrounds, ducking down narrows, up fire escapes. She isn't using her chain, or pushing herself hard, but still she moves faster than most would with her comfort alone. And past the beams, she pauses enough to listen.
"Property damage? Really?" she's doubtful, but more amused than disdainful of the considered words. She watches the cat, herself perching on a bent I-Beam.
"A chase?" she asks, reaching for her chain, detaching the length from her neck and winding it about her arm. "It's on."
Her free hand traces a winding circle at her ankle, a glow flows through her chain. With a burst of speed fast enough to leave a shady reflection of herself, the chase begins.
Clio's doubt is met with a raised brow, and a confident if lopsided smile. "S'my best guess. Do I look like a cat with a law degree?"
When Clio takes flight, Jubei -- still in the midst of his backflip -- tucks his limbs in snugly, increasing his spin rate. Behind him, a pool of black and white chi begins to spill outward from midair.
The hexagon takes the shape of a black hexagon. The cat suddenly snaps out, powerful legs slamming paw pads into the hexagonal shape. And in the next instant, a Jubei-shaped rocket hurtles towards a similar hexagon which formed just a foot off the ground, below. Clio will be rewarded with the sensation of air rippling back into the void vacated by the departing feline -- a sign of just how close she -was-.
Words float up, echoing off the I-beams and warped geometry of the abandoned site. "Floor is lava..."
And then Jubei bounds off the second hexagon, sailing up high into the air -- rocketing towards a third pool of ebony and ivory chi which forms above him.
"Game ends when one of us touches ground." The gruff voice of a sensei, mixed with the ever-present humor of a grizzled father figure.
The third pool solidifies into a hexagon, and Jubei reorients his feet towards it. The next split second, he bounds off towards a higher section of the aborted construction site.
A feline shaped shot pinballs here and there. Clio is in hot pursuit, hurtling through the air. She cannot make the same chi panels and platforms to keep herself aloft. Instead, she catches beams, perches and leaps to the sky. One beam in turn to another. Leap, perch, leap, rebound.
The chain comes into play to save Clio from dropping to the floor. A snapping roll of her arm, the chain hurtles outward, the weighted plumb clanks around a beam. A swinging roll. A coiling lift. Raising up to the next beam and having to give Jubei a moment of free movement while she corrects for the recovery.
"Keep it up, old man," she taunts, grinning. A leap into the air. Soaring outward, diving downward. She flings the chain out. It catches on a beam. With a long swooping arc she hurtles downward, but what goes down comes up in this case.
Swinging upward, she curls into the air. A burst of arcana, a disc of light iridescence that she kicks off of, sending her higher still, corkscrewing into the air toward the tops of the beams and old scaffold.
Jubei belts out a laugh, audible even in the midst of aerial antics. He thrusts out a paw towards the scaffolding as he sails forward, swinging around the boards on an altered trajectory. As he whips about, the nekomata's twin tails flicker around like miniature stabilizers.
The scaffolding creaks from the duress inflicted upon it, but due to the cat's careful management of momentum, the structure is in no -immediate- danger of falling. Jubei sails upward, rebounding with a sharp kick off one end of the structure.
And in the blink of an eye, this game of 'chase' takes a different turn.
For now Jubei is hurtling like a cannonball towards the airborne Clio. It's not his intention to -collide- with her, per se -- but just enough to test her reactions to a rapid change. Would she defend? Avoid? Or use the cat's sudden proximity as an opportunity to improve her chances in the contest?
Airborne. Rolling in the void between beam and board. There is, in this moment of suspension and speed, peace for Clio St. Jeanne. This 'conflict' being little and the chase being the focus of a world that allows its conflict and ethics to fall away like starlight.
She comes out of her roll. A careening cat cannons toward her. A collision course? Does Jubei really intend to carom off her and clatter her, sending her crashing to the ground?
Not if Clio can help it. She has a moment, she bides it, everything seems to slow to a crawl. She snaps her chain taut in front of her. A shimmering, shining ring of hermetic symbols bursts into being. Solid and not, there and not, a glancing wall of pure arcana willed into existence. Seithr bleeds with ambient chi, hard, and calculating. A defensive wall not just to stop, but one clever enough to feed that momentum back into the caster. A much more sturdy series of spellwork than the one Clio created back in the dark forests of Illyria.
Just because this started as a chase doesn't mean that this exercise can't also serve as combat practice. In fact -- that -was- the goal, to promote use of Clio's chain in ways that brutish thugs and sticky-fingered thieves might not fully appreciate.
Which is to say that Jubei is duly impressed, as Clio transcends beyond the physical in use of her magical focus. The cat senses the familiar pressure of seithr in his immediate trajectory, and reacts accordingly -- snapping out of his cannonball spin with his hind paws extended. Splashes of ivory and ebony ink spill out from his paw pads; insular fluid preventing a more painful intersection between flesh and seithr.
The cat's legs coil, and in the next instant, he springs backwards with a ruffle of fabric. Out of the corner of his crimson eye, he spots Clio rebounding downward, even as he arcs gracefully towards the nearest beam.
A moment later, he lands upon the beam, crouched like a gargoyle as he observes Clio's fall -- and how she deals with it -- with a curious grin.
The very next, he simply steps off of his beam, letting gravity carry him down. Nothing unpredictable at all about falling like a stone, right...?
Except that when a seemingly distant piling rockets right up next to him, the cat quickly twists sideways, launching off of it. Like a Clio-seeking missile, he thunders forward, leading with the forearm of his sleeved paw. No spins, no artifice aside from the diversionary launch -- just a mere blur of pure, unrefined speed with the hope of testing Clio's defenses even further.
Clio cut her teeth on thugs and Mad Gear layabouts. Having the chance to take on, to push herself against betters. Those in the Academy could appreciate her style, hone it, create more from it. To push her method from wild swinging and flailing to the swift and crushing technique she has now. And the refinement of her arcane abilities has blossomed a new angle to say the least from what she's developed with both the NOL and her feline sensei.
But now comes a new test. He's snapped away from her, darted and danced along his hexagons and left her falling toward the ground. And there she turns back, falls, She rolls herself toward him, and this time she angles herself. And in a that moment, she grins.
The chain tightens, snaps across her chest. The round of arcana. Angled now, to catch Jubei's force, to catch Clio. To burst her up against like a volleyball checked. And it's in that rotation that Clio lets fly her chain. The length of it scores against a crossbeam. And with her own rotation, Clio rolls herself up like a yo-yo until the chain snaps free. And with a graceful twist in the air, the witch alights herself on the crossbar to once more perch and seek out her teacher for the grand chase.
In modern times, samurai have a reputation as being stolid, cautious and defensive -- but this is largely a product of how they've been painted by the media as the contrast to the deceitful, indirect methods of ninja assassins. The fact remains that samurai tactics run a full gamut between passive defensiveness and relentless offensiveness.
It may have become clear that Jubei tends towards the latter. As a feline of diminutive size, his approach vectors are wild and unpredictable. What he lacks in lacquered armor, he makes up with an array of blisteringly sharp weaponry. His weapons may be sheathed in this fight, but his battle tactics maintain their persistent, blisteringly fast tempo.
Until such point that they do not. For as the proud, grinning cat leaps backward, he relents in his assault, jacket fluttering in the breeze as he springs back from the bowstring of Clio's chain. As Clio lashes her chain upon a crossbeam, the cat allows the wind to catch him, drifting him back towards another piece of the building's incomplete skeleton.
Claws scratch across a fine coating of rusted metal. The cat leaps into motion again.
And in the next moment, Jubei lands on the opposite end of the crossbeam. His sleeve-clad arms hang low to either side -- seemingly idle, but able to lash forward with a flick of the master's arm.
The cat takes slow, graceful strides towards Clio. A closed-mouth grin suggests encouragement, tempered by reservation. His arms drape low. His tails flick fervently from one side to the other -- the surest sign among all that the cat is ready to strike, despite his communicated idleness.
Yet he does not, slowly approaching Clio's position on the crossbeam. The pace of the battle has not provided much room for breathing, it's true -- but there is little doubt that the feline's gale-force pressure could resume at any moment.
Clio St. Jeanne is no samurai. Despite her predilection to high spots and fast movement, she is no ninja. She was raised on stories of people like Jeanne D'Arc, her familial namesake. She learned of Arthur. She learned of Robin Hood. She knew of knights and such through stories and tales. She was more interested in those than the reality of their lives. And it was through that that she lived.
She has learned to fight with everything, to not restrain or hold back. And she's always believed in throwing everything you can at a threat. But Jubei, for all his potential and all his shear power, is not something Clio can perceive as a threat in this moment. There's too much to learn, too much to study. And with the feeling of weight on the beam, too little room to breath when either can snap forward at a moment's notice.
But Clio has a grin as she cants her head, looking at Jubei. She clicks her chain, rattles them and settles them into coil about one arm. She doesn't move, but she doesn't drop her coy grin.
The air shifts, light courses along the patterns in the chain. Normally they run along the chain but in the configuration Clio has adjusted, they're created in the coils themselves. And that's when Clio makes two taps at the crossbeam with the spiked end of her chain. And then she points to Jubei.
An upswelling of shade and violet hued magic. It roils into a fiery shape and lashes out toward Jubei. Clio is a fighter, she loves to surge into the thick of things and crash into her opponents. But she knows she can handle magic, and that means calling the powers of beyond to bear. The surging flame shifts into a mimic of a set of slavering jaws. They open to take a heated bite out of a feline's fuzzy hide.
As much as Jubei has heard about the chain, there is still much he has to learn. If it were a plain old kusari-gama, his tactics would be fairly simple and straightforward. But no, it's been infused with magic; the possibilities for attack are virtually endless.
The key to Jubei's defense is that, in this case, the chain's magic is used to attack -- which puts in the martial artists' field of understanding. Attacks form along vectors -- front, sides, above, below, behind, and any variation in between.
Even as his eye focuses upon the coiling chain, his whiskers and tails twitch, his body in attunement with the ebb and flow of chi surrounding him. Light streaks out, and his body reacts reflexively. His legs curl. His twin tails make an "L" brace against the crossbeam. His arms rise to either side. And his smile fades by a degree, lost in focus.
As jaws of flame clamp down onto him, the cat's arms thrust outward with a mechanical shudder. One arm is high, one arm low -- and yet the feline master seems just as stable as before the attack. Miniature shockwaves of force ripple outward from the swift motions, forcing a flutter into the heatwaves.
The action occurs in the blink of an eye.
And in the very next eyeblink, the jaws are pried open further, as Jubei powers forward -- lifted off the crossbeam by his twin tails. One of his feline feet is thrust towards Clio's shin. The second follows, heel scything around to slam into an ankle from the side; a tentative, deliberate test of her balance and defenses.
At the start, it was a bike chain. A thing to swing and easy to find. Something to carry in a pocket. It became a length of heavier chain when she learned she could wrap it around her fist. The NOL introduced her to the Kusari-Fundo. Weights for her fist, capable of channeling and focusing her craft for the burst of force and power she needed to offset her size. They took junk and gave her a weapon. They opened doors and she took to them with reckless abandon.
And she has, in turn, expanded her repertoire to magic. The chain was a single avenue, and one she felt comfortable with, but it bound her as much as anything else. Now, she was using it, filling it and creating with it something beyond her lessons. The lashing jaws are just one example.
And even then, the force that Jubei has at paw are showcased in their simple overwhelming. And tagged with a compliment to boot. A sharp kick, a second, cutting and undercutting at her legs to take the balance out of her. The first blow is obvious, and Clio slams her fist on the beam. The chains around her left arm coil tight, writhing with a life and a crackling force that animates it. The claw blocked, but it's only one thing, not enough to keep stalwart against the cutting sweep.
Clio finds her world up-ending. Damn cat, she thinks with an inward smile, he's fast but so is she. She falls from the beam, gravity pulling her down, turning in the air to position herself just right. A summersault, she lets fly the chain. The weight coils at the beam, and with a snap, Clio arcs underneath and with a wrench of her wrist, hurtles back up at the cat like a cannonball. Closing in, she rolls and opens up, two feet planting, a missile dropkick, sped along by her chain's sudden pull.
Jubei's skills have been honed and refined over decades. At his peak, he may have been considered the strongest creature alive. Now, though? He is happy to be in a world where such raw, brute strength is not required -- and where his wisdom is valued instead.
What goes up must come down. As soon as he had whittled past Clio's defenses, he assumed that, no, that would -not- be the end of the battle. It'd be sheer folly to believe that someone with a chain coiled around her arm -wouldn't- be able to recover. And, in a way, he was -counting- on her to make use of the weapon, to put it through its paces as suggested earlier. And as soon as he feels the chain's tug on the crossbeam upon which he stands, he braces himself, widening his stance.
When a missile kick drops in, the beastkin's scabbard interposes itself in the path. Lacquer clatters against seithr-forged steel, held up by a defiant Jubei, a half-narrowed crimson eye gazing up into Clio's irises.
It may have been a successful block.
But he only weighs so much.
Balance suffers at such an angle.
Jubei grins as gravity gets a good grip on his shoulders, teetering him backwards. Many would panic, at what would seem to be a fall to certain doom -- at least within the confines of the test. But not the One-Eyed Twin Lotus, who has only the slightest grin on his face, as he flips over backwards, inverting and slowly righting himself in mid-air.
For Jubei is a cat.
It's said that cats always land on their feet.
Tails flicker. Legs kick out. An overcoat ruffles. And all of them combine in mid-flight to tweak the falling cat's trajectory juuuuust enough.
The overcoat settles, as Jubei crouches low, distributing his weight along the width of a rickety piece of scaffolding. It's barely sturdy enough to support the weight of three grown men -- so long as they aren't jumping around or anything. But it's also lower, and not as stable as the prior crossbeam. Jubei's arms spread wide. The cat allows the scabbard to drape back to its proper spot along his back.
He flashes a grin back to Clio as he rises, curling one paw at his side. A blue-gold energy begins to blossom within his palm. "Pheeeew, that lava's boilin' awful hot, Clio..." The energy swells into an orb, roughly 2/3 the size of Jubei himself! And he hurls it upwards at his student, hoping to keep her from holding the high ground for -too- much longer!
Clio has not had decades to hone her skills. She's only a little over two decades into her entire existence. But she is still young, and coming into her prime. With the destabilizing of Jubei, Clio springboards off his block to perch tight on the newly reclaimed beam. To watch him teeter and turn back toward a proper feline falling pattern.
She looks down below to see the cat on the uneven, uncertain perch in his talent balancing act. She watches, sitting on the beam and letting her feet dangle, only to catch sight of the energy orb that grows and swiftly threatens the very beam she stands on.
"Uh-oh," Clio gulps, hefting up to her feet. She scampers along the beam, easily enough to get away from the charged up ball of not-fun. But the blast takes out the beam itself. Lurching it up, and dropping one side. And while Clio's run nearly up walls before, she isn't ready for this one, and soon finds herself pitching back down toward the ground.
Tumbling, rolling, turning. Clio plummets. She falls among rubble wrenched by the gravity of the situation, and the weight of the broken beam. As it falls, she rights herself and kicks off this and that as it all crumbles around her. And in the end, she makes it with little more than dust and scratches.
But she is standing on the ground.
"Shit," she mutters, looking up, her hood falling back to show her face. "Looks like I'm fried," she comments with a shrug. "You win again."
It's true, Jubei still has a lot to teach her, but in the end, Clio doesn't know if she wants to beat Jubei in these games. There's still a long ways to go, and she has fun with the exercises. They remind her of her extracurriculars at the Academy. Those times with the "Agency" and Mai, Makoto, Noel and others.
As she looks up at the victorious old man, she rests her hands inside of her hood. She clinks the chains wrapped around one arm. She smiles.
Jubei's brother Tomonori was the troublemaker, the instigator, the wild and reckless one of the three. The one who cast caution to the wind and leapt into his very own demise. Jubei had been the voice of moderation, the one willing to go along with -some- of Tomonori's wilder plans. And through Tomonori, he was able to learn that sometimes the careless and impulsive plan may actually have been the -correct- one.
He has also learned that each person must find their own balance in life. Or, as he sees as his concentrated sphere slams into the crossbeam, the lack thereof.
Jubei may be in full control during battle. But now, conflicted, his eye narrows, his grin fades. He reassures himself that Clio is tough enough to take a tumble. And without knowing the full repertoire of her chain of tricks, approaching now could make things -worse-.
Which isn't to say he remains idle -- in fact, as soon as her flight -isn't- altered by a lash of the chain, he's already running along beams to the projected landing site. But by the time she's freed herself from the potentially harmful rubble... well, there's nothing close by to stand on.
He looms at the edge, clasping both paws against one another from a slightly raised vantage point. He sucks in his breath through bared teeth, offering a dull nod of acknowledgement. "I reckon so," he offers in a muted, self-effacing tone.
"Any injuries? And... how d'ja feel about the chain?"
No worse for wear if a little roughed. Happy. Clio pulls her chain arm from its pocket and begins to unwind it. "Not bad," she judges, clipping the connection to the collar about her neck and snaking the length around her waist like a belt. "But I'll need to see it in a full fight before I'm certain."
One hand goes up in supplication to her teacher. "Not that that wasn't a test. I just think everything about it needs tweaking. I'm not an engineer. I'm a soldier." Clarification that lingers in the air long enough for Clio to look away from Jubei. Even after all that time, there were still things that weren't shaken easily.
"I want to see about this King of Fighters thing," she says, "And I'd like you to come with me. It'll be a better test of my skill, and it'll be a good chance to see other people in the world. Maybe find something else out there for me."
She looks with distant eyes to the sky above, chest rising and falling slowly as she thinks on the situation ahead of her, moving forward, moving on. Every time she thinks it's past, she keeps feeling something is off. And maybe she knows what it is, but she is never certain.
"How've you done it this long?" she asks, looking over and up at Jubei.
Jubei stated that the challenge wasn't a 'fight' from the very outset. So he has no -particular- reaction to it being called less than a full fight -- at least, none that would overshadow his relief at Clio being 'not bad' off as a result.
He nods agreeably: "It's like that for every weapon. The time where y'gotta figger out how to rework the things you can rework, and work around the things y'can't." He nods slowly, his crimson gaze casting down to the mechanical claws doubled up before him. And as he wiggles one claw, it begins to squeak in need of oil -- a thought he dismisses with a shrug.
Twin tails lash back and forth, relieved of their necessary duties in balance. The feline's expression grows a bit more ambiguous as the topic returns to King of Fighters. After all, it is a team tournament, and a team of two -- possibly three -- may be in need of bolstering. But that can be decided later, he resolves. A brief nod is given. "Sure, could be fun. Just as good a time as any to reappear on the world stage."
The neutral look is dispelled with a lift of his brow and a world-weary smile. "Aww, it ain't that tough. There's still good in this world that needs doin', I'm just happy to play my part whenever an' wherever I can. Call me stubborn, heck... I jus' keep at it 'cause I ain't ready to roll over yet."
Log created on 02:45:36 05/08/2019 by Clio, and last modified on 11:23:26 05/18/2019.