KOF 2019 - Prelims 1 - Team ARTISTISM vs Team Legacy

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Description: The first round of qualifier matches get under way as The Arts Theatre clash with the Arts Martial in a stunning display of pyrotechnics and skill. Though only one team can emerge victorious, they are both determined to display the true depths of their craft.

The Diamond Dragon Casino is hosting an entry in the King of Fighters tournament for a token entry fee in order to drive foot traffic, so people can go inside and experience the true spirit of the sheep - i.e. get fleeced. But that is why they hosted it.

Team Artistism, however, has chosen to do something more elaborate than the conventional arrival, greeting, and commencement of ROUND 1.

Their side of the field - the right-hand-side, relative to the fixed camera that is being run for both fill in on the inevitable King of Fighter 2019 Perfect Work DVD compilation, and for insurance purposes - has several tents just outside of the boundaries. There have been a lot of young women in shirts with jellyfish logos on them running around inside and out.

At the five minute mark, a girl steps out and begins to clap wooden blocks together. This goes on for about a minute, at which point that girl announces that the INTRODUCTION WILL BEGIN... NOW.

Another girl, this one with an actual megaphone and black stagehand pajamas, steps out and reads off of a clipboard. "Long ago, in the ancient days of China, there was a rebel... Li Zicheng!"

One of the tents suddenly collapses to reveal a stage! On that stage is a tall person in stage-play magisterial robes that look to be extremely plausible if excessively colorful. This tall person stands out, not least because he is the only man present in this cluster of jellyfish-themed teenagers with attitude (plus one teenager-at-heart.) There is also a normal-sized person - MARIA herself - in shackles and stocks. The magister cracks a whip on MARIA, who wails in despair.

"Placed on display for failure to repay loans to an usurious magistrate, Li Zicheng was punished unjustly." ("Oh! It's so hot!" cries out MARIA, who is wearing suspiciously baggy sackcloth.)

"The magistrate, Ai, was so cruel that even his guards defied him..."

Another girl comes out in historical soldiers' gear, carrying a water bottle. She moves to offer it to MARIA - and is struck with the whip! The guard recoils. The wicked magistrate lets out a suitably booming laugh.

"And the people could not endure this sight!"

A half-dozen additional people, still in their jellyifhs T-shirts, lunge forwards and rip apart the stocks containing MARIA/Li Zicheng. She is tossed in the air. One of the stage-hands, carrying a gigantic sword, swings it forth towards Ai, sending a spray of what is probably stage blood up in the air. Ai, of course, perishes of this insult.

"The people acclaimed Li Zicheng as their leader... the Dashing King!"

"But though Li Zicheng would go on to make his mark in history, he was not without error. It is said that in the western year 1641, Li Zicheng's forces would come to the Shaolin monastery... whose elite monks were a threat to his ambitions."

And THIS is where MARIA strides into the ring. MARIA is wearing a silvery tiara and a lush silk top that is probably best described as a tankini, along with slightly sheer flowing trousers and pointed-toed sandals. As befits a bandit king, MARIA is also carrying a pair of long prop swords - which seem to be closer to elongated escrima sticks - as well as massive arm vambraces, whose purpose is unclear. She also has fierce makeup.

"O Shaolin monks!" MARIA bellows, at which point the narrator lowers her megaphone.

"I have no dispute with the Dharma - but I cannot abide a fortress in my backlines. Let's make this clean and easy - send forth your strongest warrior, and let us contend. If I should prevail, may you all go on pilgrimage -- to the southern forests, and away from the middle kingdom, until I should send for your return. OHOHOHOHOHO!"

Several jellyfish pirates set off a screaming pyrotechnic display that has a lot of flashing red and deep bass noises, almost demonic. As if to signal that Li Zicheng is the bad guy here. MARIA does some elaborate figure eights and posturing in her delay, pausing only momentarily to check that her pinned-back hairstyle isn't falling loose once.

COMBATSYS: Maria has started a fight here on the right meter side.

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                                  |-------\-------\0            Maria

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao has joined the fight here.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Maria

In the past, the short trip from Shaolin monastery to local village had always been an exciting experience for the monks who lived there, so much of their lives spent toiling under the assumption that the steam engine had not yet been built. But this? This city? This Casino? This is far too much.
Having spent the vast majority of the day in quiet meditation, Kung Lao now stands a ways off behind and to the left of the fixed camera, sheltering beneath a wide dragon-themed awning with his 2 dark-haired partners. In one sense, the performance of team Artistism is a welcome escape from the noise and lights of the masses that even now fill the air with the insistent roar of conversation. The showing is charmingly simplistic in design. On the other hand, there is something innately sad about it, as if on some instinctive level he knows he is watching the dreams of roughly two dozen parents die a collective death.
"Is this real?" Kung Lao asks aside to his companions, though he really doesn't expect an answer. Instead he watches as the eldest woman of the bunch makes her way back on stage with maybe 65 percent of her clothes on, proclaiming her challenge for all to hear.
Despite himself, Kung Lao can't help but smile,a knife-edge of white teeth gleaming beneath the brim of his hat as he steps out from beneath the awning and makes his way toward the ring with just a hint of confident swagger in his step.
Though he had no idea he would be defending the honor of the Shaolin in some sort of interpretive fight competition, the outfit that Kung Lao now wears is flashy enough that it doesn't clash too badly with Maria's own eccentric tastes. The outfit begins and ends with a wide, flat-brimmed hat of black metal with a gold band around the dome-like crown,its razor-sharp edge trimmed in gleaming silver. The hat is worn low enough to cast his face into deep shadow, showing only the odd glimpse of lips and chin.
Beneath the hat, he wears a midnight blue tunic in the Chinese style, long enough to drape over his upper thighs and trimmed in gold. Golden armlets etched with Chinese dragons circle both upper arms, while an equally ornate golden bracer protects his right forearm. His left is mostly exposed, only the wrist and back of the hand protected by a half bracer of studded iron. Other than that, sandals, light blue pants with leather shin guards, and a vivid crimson sash round out his outfit.
With all the gold he's wearing it'd be hard to mistake him for anything but a champion.
"I was not told this would be an acting competition as well." Kung Lao calls across to Maria in wake of the explosion, stepping up onto the large round platform of glossy wood pressed into service as their ring. "I am Kung Lao, and it is I who will represent the Shaolin in this battle. Come and prove to me, if you dare, why it is we must vacate our home."
Gauntlet thrown, Kung Lao relaxes into an easy martial stance, sliding his left foot forward and bending his knee, right leg back and straight. Twisting his left hand palm up before him he beckons, fingers curling, and drops his right hand low and back in preparation to strike. With his hat angled just so, lips quirked in a confident half smirk, he seems ready enough.

"REAL?" MARIA shouts.

"This is as real as a history," she says, pointing one of her silver-spraypainted 'blades' towards Kung Lao. "As real as a dream. As real as a nation; as real as a word. Perhaps it's all an imaginary vision within the mind of the viewer... but what isn't?"

(She winks at Kung Lao, then.)

"The proof will be found in the mandate of heaven, which guides me," says 'Li Zicheng.' "My policy is to divide the land equally, and to abolish the grain tax!"

(Yaaaaaay, say the jellyfish pirates. One of them says, in fluent Cantonese, "FUDGE the grain tax")

"Can your strikes overcome my blows???" And at this point MARIA lunges forwards, chop-chop-chopping the air before her before she twirls round in a sudden and more efficient sort of motion - leading the long stick in her left hand as the right comes down, crosswise across her body. Thus, the strike is extended well past her middling-to-short arm -- and a counterstrike would hit wood, not her meal ticket! (Which is in this case the face.)

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao dodges Maria's Introduction.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Maria

The little smirk tugging at the corners of Kung Lao's mouth falters a bit at Maria's shout. As real as history? As real as a dream? A nugget of doubt begins to worm its way into Kung Lao's guts, a cold spot of worry that this entire tournament thing is just one big show. A staged performance, changed since the time that Nakoruru last entered, a pitiful reflection of the true test of strength he seeks.
Those doubts are somewhat assuaged when Maria rushes him. there is a lot of extra flailing and cutting thrown in for the sake of the crowd, but the last 2 strikes are anything but fake. Perhaps this wont be all bad, but still, he needs to check...
Sandals scuff on wood as Kung Lao flows forward around the leading jab, twisting his torso just enough to slip in right along side. the secondary cut is avoided with equal ease, the Shaolin spreading his stance wide, feet sliding over wood, and allowing the painted sword to rush by overhead. Hooking his already upright palm under Maria's leading sword, he tightens his stance and pops back up, attempting to smack one long painted sword up and around into the other. But that's just the distraction. While his hand is busy being annoying, his right foot sweeps around in a quick but solid shin kick, attempting to slam hard into Maria's left and pop her knee up, only for both fingerless-gloved hands to dart in and grab it.
"I really must know." Kung Lao murmurs quietly as he slides in close, twisting his body in beneath her leg even as he pushes up on it, "You are a skilled warrior? I can fight you? This hat is very sharp." But that is all he has time to hurriedly mutter before he has finished the throw, spinning in beneath Maria's upthrust leg and using it as a lever to hurl her over his shoulders and down toward the ground.

COMBATSYS: Maria blocks Kung Lao's Uprooting Step.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0            Maria

The swipe is long - Kung Lau sweeps in and gets his hand underneath the leg of the 'king,' who turns her head to bellow at him, "WHO DARES," and then answer him in a lower tone of voice.

"yes i'm certified in judo and weapon techniques, i'll show you the paper later, if you don't show your best you'll ruin my perforrrrrr--"

That's because she got tipped backwards and then hurled.

Her claims of judo skill seem to be borne out; she rolls with the impact, almost reaching the other side of the designated space, wooden swords clattering. Li Zicheng has fallen... but she kips back up to her feet, baring her teeth then. "Heh! Your arts are powerful, but I won't take you lightly. You see why I can't permit your monastery to remain in my back ranks, as I work to unify the nation!"

Unifying the nation seems to involve a diving lunge with one of the blades, accompanied by a leap up in the air at the last moment - making it something of a dual-purpose stab AND raising strike, possibly hitting him under the chin -- or in his hat!

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao dodges Maria's Fierce Strike.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0            Maria

Though the conversation is brief and Maria technically never has a chance to finish, by the time she has bounced back to her feet the vibe of her opponent has changed completely. Still confident, still light on his feet, the note of hesitant restraint that had been dragging at him is gone, replaced by the confident smirk of someone who just might be a true Shaolin champion.
"You say that you will remove the tax of grain," Kung Lao retorts easily, stance steady and hidden gaze fixed upon the dramatic figure of the King, "And you say that you are the Divine King chosen to unite the nations. But I see only a man."
Having forgotten whether or not this crazy woman was supposed to be playing the Actual Li Zicheng, or some weird gender swapped version, he defaults to the former and hopes his instincts are right. Similarly, when the King comes running at him, sword thrusting forth in a leaping lunge, he allows his instincts to guide him down and away, spinning off to the King's right as he...she?...comes flying in overhead.
Pressing up onto the ball of his forward foot, Kung Lao swings his right heel high into the air, shoulders going low, and transforms his evasive spin into a crushing roundhouse kick aimed squarely for Li Zicheng's ribs. Hit or miss, the monk's poise and balance are great enough to finish the blow with his leg raised and extended, planted foot firm.
"I see a tyrant. one who tears down a nation already starving. If you wish to fight, there is war to the north."
His piece said, the young monk relaxes out of the showy position, swinging his leg back down into his ready stance with a powerful 'fwoosh' of parting air. And, silently, a bit of thanks that he paid attention during all of those long hours of history lessons.

COMBATSYS: Maria blocks Kung Lao's Back Kick.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0            Maria

The sword in MARIA's right hand comes down to intercept that kick.

It helps?

Well, helps is not a question here. It defuses, diffuses, the strike. Spreads it out along the bare side of MARIA, and avoids cracking the ribs of the shockingly glamorous king of yore. She staggers to the side several times, gasping for breath. There is no instant rebuttal to what Kung Lao says, and MARIA has to wriggle her entire torso several times to straighten back up, forcing breath back into her lungs by sheer will--

-- Heh, MARIA thinks to herself: I knew this kind of thing would come up, wouldn't it? oh this hurts ow ow ow --

"There is war here now! Do you declare for yourself the mandate of heaven, o Monk? Will you decide whether or not the victories my bold soldiers shall claim are worth keeping? Even the greatest man must sleep, even the strongest warrior moves his bowels! It is not for the monks of Shaolin Mountain to sit in judgment over the affairs of man!"

She snaps her hand forwards, and tosses one of the swords up in the air. High! High enough to remove it from the area for a moment. Then she reaches out with splayed fingers. The other sword is snapped up in a salute. "Now face the judgment of heaven!"

She whacks the bracer with the prop sword.

And screaming red and violet fireworks snap out of her wrist, with a rippling crackle-pop-scream-POW, the burning motes of light flooding towards the monk! Not chi - not mental energy - straight up pyrotechnics. The wind coming off the bay dissipates the inevitable cloud of gunpowder smoke a moment later... but perhaps a moment too late.

COMBATSYS: Maria successfully hits Kung Lao with TWIST!.
-* WILD HIT! *-

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Kung Lao         0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0            Maria

The King's words cause Kung Lao's smirk to deepen a touch, the monk seeming more than a little amused by the whole idea. Still, he is no fool, and even as the artistic fighter is talking, he is watching, waiting.
The sword goes up.
Kung Lao's eyes go up.
And a sudden rush of fireworks explode out of the scantily-topped woman's bracer.
Caught completely flat footed, Lao throws himself down and to one side, going into a roll that gets him half way out of the path of the explosions before they go off behind him, sending up clouds of splinters in the spot he once stood and knocking him out of his controlled roll and into a wild tumble. However, just before the smoke rolls over him, briefly cutting off both fighter's visual perspective, the Shaolin almost seems to come apart, swirling away into nothingness before the eyes of the crowd.
Probably just a trick of the eye.
Appearing above the cloud of smoke, Kung Lao glances down toward the ring some 20 feet below, turning a casual front flip that causes the surrounding crowd to begin clapping in earnest. spotting what appears to be the ornately pinned hair of his opponent, he dives down from above with a heavy double-footed dropkick, attempting to drive both feet squarely into her chest and carry her backward to earth. Only if he can ground her will he land perched reverse atop the grounded King, head tilted forward to stare down at her face between his knees.
"The view is better from above." He'd state, perhaps in response to the earlier IC comment, perhaps due to what he just did. Either way, what would then follow would be a rapid series of left right punches, his hands pounding into the King's stomach one, two, threefourfivesixSEVENEIGHTNINE15 times in perhaps 2 seconds, followed by a rearing back and a heavy elbow rammed down hard into her guts, the Shaolin staying perched atop her as best as he can.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Maria with Heavy Mountain EX.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/---====|=======\-------\1            Maria

The king looks upwards.

MARIA thinks to herself: Uh oh

A moment later she is smashed into despite attempting to leap back a pace. She feels the crushing impact and bruising residue on her chest of Kung Lao's landing. A moment later he is working her bare abdomen like a speed bag, her eyes bugging out as spit flies out of her mouth. Followed by a single final elbow --

MARIA pulls herself upwards. The elbow hits further south, which is absolutely zero fun, but MARIA did this for a purposeful reason. She has dropped the swords. There is a horrid gleam in her eyes, a look of sheer and naked determination. She speaks despite the pain.

"Perhaps it's time for a SUPPRESSION OF THE MONASTERIES."

Which is when she throws one arm round to try and grasp Kung into a vise-tight chokehold round the neck, grasping her opposing wrists as a weird little smile comes on her otherwise pale face.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao interrupts Hadaka-jime San from Maria with Fist of Shaolin ES.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2            Maria

As Maria shifts, and the elbow that was meant for her gut winds up, elsewhere, the young monk almost feels bad. In fact, he is starting to wonder if maybe he's gone a little too far. Up until now their match has been so friendly. The back and forth banter was actually sort of relaxing.
'Perhaps it's time for a SUPPRESSION OF THE MONASTERIES.'
In hindsight, maybe he doesn't feel as bad about it as he thought.
Having wiggled free enough to lunge up behind Kung Lao and wrap her arms around his body, she goes for his neck, but instead catches his chest and shoulders as he begins to stand. Drug along for the ride by the force of his sudden rise, her arms squeeze tight, body pulled along behind as he lunges into a sudden twist, flinging her legs out behind him. The first spin is followed by a second, wind gusting around them, and then the Monk is whirling like a top, arms folded across his chest and wind whipping up into a brief but fierce Gail. Round and round they go, scattering smoke and debris in all directions, Maria's swords sent sailing off at such velocity that one imbeds itself in a wall,while the other flies off over the heads of the crowd.
Wind still whirling around them, Kung Lao spins one final time and twirls free of Maria's grip. As he rounds on her, one hand swings up, then descends in a savage overhead chop, driving the edge of his palm hard into the older woman's collarbone. it is the hardest he has hit her yet, far harder than those love taps on the ground, and a glance beneath his hat would reveal his lips to be very unsmiling.
Right up until he vanishes.
Coming apart into the wind, Kung Lao disappears, then re-appears behind Maria, that same hand rising and falling for a second and final chop to the back of her neck, leaving the young monk standing with his arm at his side, looking down at her with a mixture of prideful outrage and regret at what he has just done.
"My monastery will not be sacked." Lao states, words coming out quiet but firm as the wind begins to die down. it is unclear whether or not he is still acting at this point.

Later, perhaps, Maria Satake will shake Kung Lao's hand. She may be sore but not in her heart. Right now, though, Li Zicheng (sort of) is who MARIA is presenting. As Kung Lao begins to spin, MARIA clings.

Her legs extend outwards. She bares her teeth even as the Jellyfish 'Pirates' look on with some concern. Finally there is a brutal chopping blow that smashes into her collarbone loud enough to make a huge snap--

Was that the outfit?

Then he disappears. MARIA stands for a moment, as if confused, before Kung Lao vanishes and strikes her in the back of the neck. The blow ripples through her entire body, making her tense up and let out a strangled cry.

Then she pauses.

And sways... staggering away from the man as he speaks his passion.

"hehEHEhehHEHEHEHE," MARIA as Li Ziching husks. Her head turns, raising one hand as if to peek at him from underneath her own armpit. "You speak so proudly... but there is only one thing that you are forgetting, o monk. No matter how hard you should strike your blows against me, we are driven by the same system... you to the hope of the dharma, me to the hope of revolution, to change the order of the worrrrld... but for your might, though profound, I will say that you are weakened!"

MARIA shifts round then, the tiara on her head falling apart! (Was it gimmicked? In this case, no. It was costume gear and the repeated blows to the head area did it.) MARIA's hair spills out as she raises up her arms above her head, crossing them with her palms facing towards Kung Lao.

"Weakennnnned by your concentration! You must spread out - diffuse your teachings! And I'll help you do it!" She lowers her hands then as if to frame her face. She rolls her head back and forth and - wait, did she just grab two little strings in her teeth?

"With this. The great dawning of empire!"

MARIA jerks her head back. THe strings rip out with a smell like a bunch of matches being lit.

Her bracers are now hissing.

MARIA begins to spin then, contorting herself into a crabbed, spinning dance. This crabbed posturing is because she is chanting in rhythm and at intervals there is another burst of those same smashing eruptions of pyrotechnics she'd unleashed before! Like bursting bombs - but she's positioning herself to aim away from the onlookers. Only at Kung Lao do the colorful flames belch and burst.

"Hao! Yao! Suppress the rebels! Ten, ton, a donkey dung! Six ten seven, unequalled under heaven!"

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao dodges Maria's Conclusion ES.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\-------\1            Maria

Kung Lao can feel it. That hard lump of shame clinching in his guts as he realizes that his temper has gotten the better of him, and he might have seriously injured a woman that had, up to now, been fairly easy to talk to. Sure she kept trying to hit him with those fake swords, and is acting like a weird fantasy version of an ancient Chinese rebel, but that's no reason to almost break someone's neck.
Head tilted forward to hide his face beneath the brim of his hat, lips firm, Lao wonders if he should apologize, but even as he thinks it he realizes it's the wrong answer. Even after possibly breaking her collarbone, she is fully committed to the act. An apology now would only insult her ability.
"Great things can come of tragedy." Kung Lao states even as the fuses are pulled and the woman begins a spin of her own, pyrotechnics counting down toward blastoff, "But do not mistake our ingenuity for yours."
Just before the first of the rockets blast into his chest, Kung Lao dissipates once more. Body swirling away in a gust of wind, the explosives tear apart the glossy wood he had stood upon mere moments ago, blasting great chunks out of the solid surface.
Gone, only to appear once more almost directly beneath her. The cool wind of his arrival gusts up her loose pants,causing them to billow and flap even as his arms attempt to close around her thighs from behind, to squeeze them together and drag her into a rising back flip with him that ends with her hurtling toward the ground shoulders-first, and him tumbling through the air over her to land lightly on his feet not but 2 arm spans passed her head.

COMBATSYS: Maria dodges Kung Lao's Graceful Cat.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////                          ]
Kung Lao         0/-------/-----==|>>>>>>>\-------\1            Maria

The flames and lights fade out, and the duo are hidden in the smoke of the battlefield. MARIA staggers forwards, and one of the Jellyfish Pirates raises up a first aid kit, waggling it. The red cross gives Maria a point of focus.

He disappeared...

And, MARIA thinks, that means he's probably going to...

The wind rustles her leggings.

"FOOL!" MARIA declares, bunny-hopping forwards a step and then leaping upwards. Without even looking; she has to overcome a height disadvantage. Her left arm, still smouldering at the bracer, raises up and then loops round as she aims to lock in a hip throw and then use the after-lingering momentum of that last grasp to hurl the monk of renown to the jagged, smoking floor!

"You can't fight Fate!! UNLESS YOU CAN???"

The announcer Jellyfish gets out her megaphone. "CAN YOU FIGHT FATE? The Dashing King's struggling, but the weight of history lives! Remember, everyone, this is a historical re-enactment, not an actual endorsement of revisionist history!"

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao instinctively dodges Maria's Koshi Guruma.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0            Maria

Something isn't right.
Kung Lao's arms finish closing around nothing as he rises up behind Maria, her still smoldering arm reaching back to hook him around the neck and drag him forward toward her hips. Knowing that he doesn't have the momentum to fight it, the monk instead chooses to leap forward into the throw, rolling neatly across Maria's thrusting hip and reaching out to plant his gloved palms on the shattered ground. Whether through luck or skill he doesn't get a spike through the palm as he turns what could have been a headlong trip into a crater into a flashy forward handspring, long black ponytail slapping into his back as he comes to a graceful landing half turned away from Maria.
"It is all too easy to escape one's destiny. What can not be known is whether or not the new path will be better."
These words are certainly not an act, Maria's finely honed stage instinct likely informing her that the young monk has gone off script, as much as there ever was one, and is now speaking directly from the heart.
Turning to face the King, the once King? Lao pauses for just a moment, body very still, before blurring forward with a single, lightning-fast blow aimed squarely for Maria's left temple. Using the blow as an opener to hopefully draw her guard up and away, he stomps his right foot down hard between Maria's own and unleashes 7 rapid blows so fast that they all blur together, aiming for chest, stomach, ribs, whatever he can reach that the unfortunate woman is unable to protect from. Seven continuous punches who's sounds all run together, barely audible over the roar of the crowd.
That done, the young monk twirls around Maria, right hand coming up to sweep his hat off of his head. A brief glimpse of his face can be seen, dark eyes, Asian features, late teens or early 20s, before the hat has swooped down in a cleaving arc for the side of Maria's calf, attempting to cleave through skin and muscle just deep enough to take her out of action, but not far enough to leave her with any lasting damage after a short hospital trip.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Maria with Chained Fist.
Glancing Blow

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Kung Lao         0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0            Maria

Landing with the light spring of a dancer, MARIA moves swiftly. She raises an arm to block that blow to her head, leaps backwards, lands on her hands. Leaps back -


The hat is what did it.

There is, in fact, blood. Maria hisses deep through her teeth as she comes up near Kung, and she says to him in a quiet, thready voice, "I've moved you, haven't I?"

"Haha... come what may... I know that my theory, my dream... It wasn't all in vain!!"

She reaches out now, with singed hands, as blood runs down the back of her leg. She reaches to take Kung's hand, the one not holding his hat. Her eyes are sparkling with joy despite the pain of being beat down pretty emphatically.

It partially conceals the sweep of her leg and the thrust-back of her hip, aimed to pull Kung down and to the side. Was this even intentional, or was it a drilled-in behavior? Something, perhaps, to debate.

COMBATSYS: Maria can no longer fight.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Kung Lao         0/-------/----===|

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao parries Maria's Yoko Gake!

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Kung Lao         0/-------/----===|

The first punch is deflected, the next 7 abandoned, but Lao can feel it as his hat strikes flesh, its gleaming silver rim coming away from Maria's leg trailing drops of blood. Tossing the hat spinning into the air, he waits for the blood droplets to fly off before catching it on its descent and sweeping it back into place upon his head. The entire sequence takes only moments, completed just in time for him to be confronted by a charred, tired, and worse for ware King.
"You are," Kung Lao says, reaching out to receive what is assumed to be some sort of post match handshake, though the woman appears more Asian than American, "a very worrying woman." He has no further words for the cameras, those few spoken only for Maria.
he last ditch toss doesn't quite catch the monk off guard, too used to the various tricks and showmanship of the woman. As her leg comes in he simply lifts one foot and steps up onto, then over her thigh, dragging her hand around with him in a bid to twirl her more or less gently to the ground.
That done, the Shaolin glances around the trashed stage, unsure of what, exactly is supposed to come next. Stepping a bit away, he moves into the center of the wooden circle and drops into an effortless full lotus, turning his palms over to rest them upon his knees while he waits.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao awaits the next challenger.

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Kung Lao         0/-------/----===|

After all that, what could possibly be next?

"A marvelous performance, Miss MARIA."

His voice is cultured, vaguely European. Most of all, though, it /feels/ old to a degree that is difficult to place. Dressed in the colorful robes of the magister from earlier in Maria's grand introduction, he grips and sheds them with an almost casual flourish of fluttering cloth. He is left, in the aftermath, in rather dapper attire, a suit, white undershirt, and black slacks complemented by the monocle over his left eye, and the cross-shaped cuffs and necktie he wears. But despite the distinctiveness of his attire, this man is not particularly recognizable; not famous, certainly not a notable participant in tournaments such as these of any stripe.

Which might make his unshakable confidence all the more unusual.

"I am much often a spectator of the stage, but I must admit, it is rather fun to indulge as a participant, every now and then. Worry not, Miss MARIA." A pipe rests between his lips (where did that pipe come from??). He adjusts his cross-shaped necktie mildly. "I shall take it from here."

Keen, brown eyes fall upon Kung Lao in his full lotus in quiet assessment as he approaches. Hands lingering at his chest, he tilts his head at a curious angle. "Kung Lao, is it?" muses the man. "An auspicious name indeed. It is an honor, sir."

He bends at the waist, a simple bow of respect. His eyes, however, never leave his opponent.

"Shall we begin?"

And Slayer will wait -- exactly as long as it takes for Kung Lao to rise once more into his fighting stance -- before he -darts- forward.

"Something simple to begin with, I believe!"

Surging forward with surprising speed and a straight, right hook. Simple. But strong.

COMBATSYS: Slayer has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Slayer           0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0         Kung Lao

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao blocks Slayer's Medium Punch.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Slayer           0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao

The smoke from Kung Lao and Maria's performance still hangs thinly above the stage, wafting up from the charred holes blasted here and there into the surface of the smooth wooden circle. The tang of gun smoke flavors the air, lending the scene a dangerous edge, as if it is a brutal battlefield rather than a prestigious fighting tournament.
Face hidden beneath the brim of his hat, Lao sets his quiet gaze upon the newcomer. Like his partner, he is not what the young monk was expecting. He had thought to be fighting more traditional martial artists, testing his skill against fellow champions. Then again, if this well-dressed fellow is anything like his partner, his skills will certainly be tested. One way, or the other.
The mention of his name provokes a slight tilt of the Shaolin's hat as he rises fluidly from the lotus position, unfolding to his feet with an acrobat's grace. He has enough time to press his palms together and return the bow, loose yet respectful, before the surprisingly fast gentlemen is rushing toward him with a strong right hook.
Snapping his left forearm up, Kung Lao twists aggressively into a block and meets the man fist to studded iron bracer, metal thwapping against flesh. It is a fairly good hit, one corner of Lao's lips quirking up as he pushes down against Slayer's briefly extended hand and swings his upper body into the air, left foot scything up in a brief ark toward Slayer's right ear, followed soon by his right swiping up toward the dandy's left. The grace with which he moves is obviously second nature for him, rolling through the air as easily as others might walk across the ground.
"My name is auspicious." the monk agrees mid kick, "But what is yours?"

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Kung Lao's Front Kick.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Slayer           0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao

Knuckles pound against metal-wrapped forearms. The brown-eyed gaze of the strange gentleman sharpen just a bit as he feels the solid strain against his blow.

"Fine reflexes, young man!"

With a push, the pressure behind Slayer's blow is broken; his fist knocked aside, the fighting dandy sweeps backwards, the soles of his polished shoes squeaking across rubble-studded flooring. It would seem, by all accounts, to be a perfect opening. And for anyone untrained, it doubtless would be. In scarcely a second, that left foot lances upward --

-- and a gush of air brushes past Slayer's cheek, just fractions of inches away from making contact with his canted head. The second comes --

"Ah, yes. Forgive my poor manners."


And meets the outstretched palm of the gentleman brawler's left hand, holding fast to the aerial Kung Lao for those brief fractions of moments where gravity is foregone. He feels the faint sting as his hand clenches.

"The excitement of the moment went straight to my head, it would seem."

And between puffs of pipe smoke, Slayer's left arm literally -bulges-.

And swings.

Violet energies suddenly swirling around his enlarged fist like a tiny tempest, Slayer punches with a powerful downward swing, so full-bodied his right leg swings upward with the effort as he attempts to smite Kung Lao into the arena floor with a blowback of pinks and violets.

"... 'Slayer' is the name I have gone by of late, and I see little reason to change it now. There is strength in a name. Wouldn't you agree?"

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao parries Slayer's It's Late!

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Slayer           0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0         Kung Lao

Sandal meets palm with a slap that can be heard throughout the audience, the crowd having fallen silent, breath caught, as the speed of both fighters begins to ratchet up. Far off, slot machines jangle and fortunes are won and lost, but here, now, the entirety of the crowd is focused on the art. Perhaps not the fine art of theatre, but art all the same.
Smoke wafts up between the fighters, wood creaking in Slayer's grip.
All at once, the dandy's arm bulges and his fist pulls away, rising, then rocketing down toward the monk with the clear intent of smashing him out of the air and likely through the wooden platform itself. Forced to think fast, Kung Lao jackknifes forward, hands slapping out to clap down on either side of the defending fist. Pushing off from it, he swings his body down and away to Slayer's left, slipping out from beneath the descending fist and meeting the ground with both feet planted. That done, and hands still hooked around the descending fist, he heaves backward with all his strength, attempting to divert the course of the blow and jerk Slayer off balance, pulling him into a twist that may just end with the dandy swirled into a deep back-bend over the monk's outthrust knee.
% "Well I know the struggle of living up to a name." Kung Lao quips, just the slightest flash of teeth visible beneath his hat.
Only if he can secure his dancing partner will Kung Lao then unleash a furious rain of punches down into the backswept man's face, fists blurring with the meaty 'whapwhapwhapwhapwhap' of leather-clad knuckles on presumably human flesh. Once the monk attempts to prove just how quick his hands can move, one blow blurring into another as he chains them together into a flood of fists that ends with him twisting his torso, motion reversing to drive a lightning-quick elbow toward Slayer's chin, before his back knee is thrust forward to hammer at the dandy's ribs and knock him tumbling away while the monk himself pops naturally back up into stance.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Slayer with Windy Palm EX ES.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|=======\-------\1         Kung Lao

A splendid performance, indeed.

With only barely a handful of a moment in which to react, Kung Lao does so magnificently, and in a way that expertly sets his opponent up for reprisal; hands around his fist, Slayer is hooked towards his left, his footing momentarily destabilized in a shuffle of finely crafted shoes.

His reaction is a surprisingly modest one -- the lift of subtly surprised brows -- but the end result is the same. Slayer is hefted up off his feet --

-- and introduced, abdomen-first, to the knee of his competitor.

The smile that dances briefly across his lips in the seconds before they are assaulted with a blinding flurry of strikes shines with approval, like a wordless assessment:

'Well played.'

Within a moment, knuckles hit flesh that feels surprisingly dense for presumably human flesh; it's only a last-minute, reinforcing rearrangement of internal energies that buffers the blows from being as bad as they -could- be.

That it still hits this hard is a wonderful testament to his opponent's strength.

The crash of elbow to chin. The collision of knee with ribs. Slayer goes upwards through the air with the motion with the faint "hhk!" of exhaling breath, smoke trailing in the aftermath. And as he flips, that cape behind him billows outward inexplicably as if it had a life of its own, red fabric rippling outward --

--until it becomes a cushion the high-class competitor lands on with a soft "hmph!" of impact.

"Very fast," muses Slayer in the aftermath; somehow, despite the rain of blows, his pipe and monocle remain in tact as he rubs his bearded chin. "I'll certainly be feeling that for a while. Hmm..."

Brown eyes narrow in thought. And as he considers his opponent's technique, Slayer gestures with an open palm, and presents, rather than fists...

"Do not feel the urge to stop, young man. But perhaps you could answer something for me."

... a question.

"What is the value of a legacy?"

COMBATSYS: Slayer focuses on his next action.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|=======\-------\1         Kung Lao

Muscles humming in readiness to move, nerves alight with the lightning crackle of combat, Kung Lao's hidden gaze tracks Slayer's flight with an antsy sort of anticipation. The flaring out of the cape comes as a bit of a surprise, as does the odd man's lack of movement there after. He has never had someone just, stop fighting mid fight before, but thus far the dandy has been anything but a joke, so there must be some deeper motive behind it.
Reaching up, Kung Lao lifts his hat from his head and lowers it to his side, then flicks it straight up into the air with a casual motion of his wrist. As the headgear rises spinning into the sky it parts the air with a slight whistling hum, razor-rim gleaming in the sunlight. Youthful features contemplative, little smile long since having fled his lips, he gazes toward the lounging dandy with contemplative focus.
"It is all things that one passes down to another." Lao answers, voice firm and assured, words ringing out over the destroyed surface of their ring. A slight breeze stirs the light haze of smoke, lifting Kung Lao's long black ponytail and swaying it against his back. "their honor, their duty, their shame. And in my case," The slight quirk of a smile returns, right hand lifting to catch his descending hat with an authoritative 'smack' of flesh striking metal, fingers and thumb closing around the flat of the blade to stop it from cleaving into his palm. "Their skill."
In one fluid motion, Lao twists his body through a half circle and snaps his arm out straight, sending the razor-edge hat humming through the air toward Slayer like a very stylish buzz saw.

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Kung Lao's Razor Rim.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0         Kung Lao


Hand affixed to his pipe, the fighting dandy wordlessly pulls it free from his lips with quiet consideration for the words offered to him. Smoke streaming out of the meticulously-carved tools opening, Slayer's brows lift just slightly. That sharp stare never strays from Kung Lao specifically, as if more expectant for his answer than his next move; but it would be foolish to assume he -hasn't- notices the gleam of that hat's sharpened edge, or the way it distinctively whistles through the sky.

The answer comes. The hat is caught. From his perch, Slayer's legs tense subtly.

"So then," he breathes out, as Kung Lao makes his semi-circular movement through the casino's warmed over air.

"Would you say that is a strength, young man, or a fetter?"

The hat flies with Lao's accumulated momentum. And Slayer is suddenly on his feet upon the lounger his strange cape has become, lurching backwards. It's graceful, his movement, but strange -- like paint smearing across a canvas.

In the next second, Slayer is -dashing- forward with accumulated momentum of his own. His left hand snaps outward, to catch that hat in mid-air, feel the way the razor edge -grinds- briefly between his fingers, and -hurl- it back to sender; there's only enough force that Slayer is assured the young fighter can catch his own weapon from the skies.

After all -- it's simply a distraction, as Slayer staps a smearing foot into Kung Lao's defenses --

-- and drives one fist upwards in a snap blow towards his opponent's chin.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao blocks Slayer's Dandy Step.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0         Kung Lao

It all happens in a flash. where once there was a lounging gentleman, there was suddenly a standing one, smeary and oddly out of focus. Then followed the ping of Kung Lao's hat being deflected back toward his own chest, and finally, the dandy himself is upon him, foot lashing out toward his gut.
Moving with speed gained from a life of training, a life spent honing himself into the weapon that would take down Goro and regain the honor of the Shaolin, Kung Lao brings his right arm up and around, catching the opening kick on his golden bracer and guiding it past his body. At the same moment, his left hand darts out, reaching over Slayer's shoulder to snag his hat out of the air, the vampire having moved so quickly he beat it to him.
"A ball and chain," Lao begins, arching back away from the oncoming fist and buying himself just enough time to sweep his hat in and catch the blow on its metal crown, "is a burden to the strong."
There is enough force behind the blocked uppercut to topple the monk backward, but rather than collapsing, he rides the momentum into a sharp back bend, right hand dropping away from Slayer's leg to plant palm against ground.
"But in the hands of the strong?"
Thus braced, Lao twists his hips and transfers all of the momentum back up his body, left foot rocketing up from the ground in a vicious sandaled uppercut aimed squarely for his gentile opponent's chin.
"It becomes a weapon."

COMBATSYS: Slayer interrupts Uppercut ES from Kung Lao with Crosswise Heel.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Slayer           0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0         Kung Lao

He sees it, in the space between moments, in between flurries of kinetic violence. Within that small window, Kung Lao once more reacts exactingly, and impeccably.

There is a brief flash of a slightly elongated incisor as the man who calls himself Slayer allows himself a grin.

"A fine answer!"

The following moments happen in an instant that would be hard for any untrained, mortal eye to see. Lao moves with a warrior's training, a legacy's skill, riding the force behind Slayer's assault. The gentleman brawler knows what's coming, the second those hands plant across the wooden surface beneath them.

And much like his opponent, he wastes no time in making his decision. Swiftly, and precisely.

Kung Lao's left foot spears upward in a surge of tense musculature and high velocity. And Slayer moves /with/ the motion, taking the hit to the chin with a bony CRACK at the same time he flips upward.

The reason with becomes clear as those polished shoes swing forward in the motion, colliding with the inverted Kung Lao's back in an upwards sweep to launch him straight into the air not seconds later.

Completing the motion begun by Lao's assault, Slayer ultimately lands in a crouch, a small patch of wet crimson running down the corner of his lip.

"Ah," he breathes, slowly. "A fine answer indeed. I have not had this much of an enjoyable brawl in quite some time."

There are moments during one's life where a course must be committed to. No matter the hardship, no matter the consequences. Kung Lao has shyed away from one such course before, and has no intention of doing so again.
Sandal meets jaw with an impact that can be felt throughout Lao's body, the young warrior committing his all to the kick. it is a maneuver that they both know might come back to haunt him, and in this case, it very clearly does.
Slayer's feet crash into his back with dual explosions of pain, forcing a grunt from the Shaolin even as he is launched heels over head into the air. But Even now, the would-be champion keeps his composure . Tucking his knees up to his chin, he transforms the tumble into a graceful roll, pants and hair flapping as he twists his body over and around so that when his sandals do strike wood, he is once more in stance. Left leg forward and slightly bent, hat in hand, right foot back and hand low in proportion to strike. It doesn't look like the hit has taken too much out of him, but there is a note of caution there that wasn't before, dark eyes sweeping across the gentleman's face, taking note of the blood.
All around them the sound of polite applause fills the air, the crowd of onlookers providing gentle encouragement to their masterful display of blow and counter blow.
"it is not often I trade so many words with my opponents." Kung Lao admits, settling his hat back down atop his head and running one finger lightly along the edge to tilt it down just so. "But you are not without skill yourself."
compliment given, Lao darts forward, sandals tapping lightly over the wood, and opens with a lunging palm strike aimed squarely for the center of the dandy man's chest. Keeping his forward momentum, he translates the opening strike into a hail of whirlwind blows, arms circling into 'oOneTwoThreeFourFive' quick strikes before he pauses for a fraction of a second, breaking the timing, and follows it with four blistering chain punches aimed at the gut. A quick 'OneTwoThreeFour' that emerges with his typical speed and precision, attempting to drive the fancy man back step by step across the busted flooring.

COMBATSYS: Slayer just-defends Kung Lao's Rapid Jabs!!

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Slayer           0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0         Kung Lao

"I find such altercations to be more satisfying when it is as cerebrally stimulating as it is physically demanding." The explanation comes as Slayer rises crisply onto his feet; in true, stylish form, he takes a moment in the intermission to take hold of his unusual tie and straighten it, before ensuring his suit, in turn, is as crisp as it can be.

It's only then that those hands rise up once more, crossed at the wrist over his chest, clenching and unclenching in quiet preparation.

"If we have not learned something about our opponent, or ourselves in turn, we have made no progress."

Lao darts forward, and Slayer's gaze instantly turns down upon him, light glinting off his monocle partially obscuring that intense yet somehow still calm stare. A palm lunges --

"And without progress, we rust in ways most unsightly!"

And is met with a sharp swat of Slayer's hand. And another. And another. That palm feels stronger than steel as each circling strike meets its grasp, time after time. His free hand winds backwards, clenched like a claw.

And as the second succession of blows begins --


-- they find not fists, but fabric in their way, as that red half-cape interposes itself like a shield between its master and his opponent, growing wide and utterly impenetrable as blow after blow hits hard against its unyielding surface...

... creating a perfect veil for Slayer to follow up through as two tremendous hands blow past the curtain, swinging downward in twin, carving strikes that trail violet energies in their wake, forming like the vibrant wings of a bat.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao dodges Slayer's Undertow.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Slayer           0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0         Kung Lao

The sound of Kung Lao's leather-clad knuckles striking Slayer's cape drums out through the makeshift arena, resounding back off of the casino walls as if a crescendo building toward some great climax. A climax that comes as the cape is blown aside, and twin hands come tearing through, scything down in an attempt to catch the monk between them.
Unfortunately, said monk is no longer there.
Having snagged the edge of the cloak at the last possible moment, Kung Lao steals its momentum, using it to fling himself up and over the descending claws. Even with that bit of speed advantage, the warrior is forced to jerk his knees up around his ears, claws swiping in just beneath his feet.
"Fangs," Kung Lao grunts out, uncoiling from his balled up position into a double-footed dropkick aimed squarely for the top of Slayer's chest, "and the claws of a bat."
If he can stagger the dandy man, Kung Lao will drop out of the air and twirl into a low sweep to knock the dandy man's feet out from under him, following it up with a lunge forward to plant his knee onto the larger man's abdomen.
"Should the sun not burn you?"
Question posed with ease and confidence, Lao lets loose another barrage of blisteringly fast punches, leather gloves descending in a stream of one, five, 12, 15 blows almost faster than the eye can follow. it is a familiar technique to the vampire, not only borrowing from his already established style, but one he saw used on Maria not minutes ago. A cascade of knuckles attempting to hammer chest, stomach, and ribs that ends in a rearing back and bringing down of his elbow in a vicious blow aimed for the center of the vampire(?)'s face.

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Kung Lao's Heavy Mountain EX.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Slayer           0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0         Kung Lao

Should the sun not burn you?

A dropkick comes swift and deadly; and Slayer immediately interposes his forearms in a cross over his chest, letting heels pound with much-diluted force against the ostentatious fabric crosses that decorate his cuffs.

"And should crosses not repel me?"

Wth one firm -push- of his forearms, Slayer buys himself a brief moment of time in which to shore up his defenses for the follow up. Blows come and counter-blows are exchanged as the pair all but dance across the damaged battlefield, the dandy man slowly giving up ground until --


That elbow blow makes for his face, only to be caught by the vampire's stinging palm. He knows this technique, and, indeed, what came after.

"Such legends are often a healthy mix of superstitions and truth. But such is the nature of stories, is it not?"

It does not stop him from following through with one firm push of his palm, attempting to unsettle Kung Lao's footing --

-- before following it up with a powerful blow all his own; not a flurry, but a single, swift assault, energies of violet and scarlet swirling behind his fist and billowing like a rocket as he blazes forward with strong momentum in a single, empowered punch aimed for Kung Lao's chest.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao interrupts Pile Bunker from Slayer with Fist of Shaolin EX.
- Power hit! -

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Slayer           1/---====/=======|==-----\-------\0         Kung Lao

unable to sweep the gentleman off of his feet and into proper position, Kung Lao resolves himself to batter through his guard the old fashioned way, driving him back across the arena with blow after blow, lips pressed into a hard line beneath his hat. If nothing else the young monk is showing the depth of his focus, having managed to keep up with an opponent who seems able to weather anything he can throw at him with relative ease.
"I am no Christian." Kung Lao points out as elbow strikes palm, halting his forward momentum and bringing his furious assault to a standstill. "But we all as one walk beneath the sun."
Sent sliding backward from the force of Slayer's push, Lao digs his right sandal into the stage and drags his momentum to a halt, hidden gaze seeming to meet with that of the Dandy. They both know what the monk's plan is. The history of it has played out once before. But what is equally clear is Kung Lao's refusal to back down. Just because it is hard does not mean it is not the correct path. All he must do is trust in himself, trust in his instincts.
A single peal of thunder rumbles through the heavens.
Lunging forward, Kung Lao twists into his first rotation just before the vampire's chi-infused fist would strike him, taking the barest edge of the blow on one hip. Stumbling slightly, nearly losing concentration, he focuses his will and harnesses the extra momentum, whirling his body into a blur of blue, gold and crimson, the wind rising up around them to howl in sympathy with the young monk's rotation.
Slamming shoulder-first into Slayer's chest, the Shaolin rebounds out of his spin and circles around, right hand raising, then falling in a brutal overhead chop aimed squarely for the gentleman's right collarbone. Just as soon as the opening strike lands, the young warrior swirls apart into a cool gust of wind, swirling together with another rotation that places him just off to the larger man's right, hand carving another knifing path around to strike a horizontal blow into the base of his opponent's neck.
As the last strike lands, the gathered wind in the arena rushes outward, carrying with it dust, debris, and the lingering haze of gun smoke. The area is left pure, if damaged, air smelling oddly of fresh rain.

Valor in the face of adversity.

Bravery in the face of challenge.

Kung Lao stays true to his path, and is rewarded by his skill and unyielding will.

And Slayer could not be happier for it.

Thunder claps, somehow clear, throughout the casino's makeshift stadium. The mysterious dandy knows what's coming, and invites it all the same. And what he gets is a swift, violent reprisal. Winds roar; Slayer is not swift enough to recover in time, nor does he try to. Instead, that shoulder cracks clean into his sternum, destabilizing him even from his forceful forward momentum just in time for the follow up to drive into the much older man's shoulder. He lurches forward bodily --

-- and with that final blow to the base of his neck, the resultant winds carry the gentleman vampire -straight- off his feet, tasting the fresh scent of rainfall on the tip of his tongue as he flings backwards like a rock caught in a furious storm.

Eventually, though, all storms must end -- and eventually, Slayer finds his place, hitting ground in a squeal of rubber as gravity takes over one more. He stumbles once, twice -- and ultimately, his backwards drag ends with him in a crouch, inhaling slowly.

Upon the exhale, smoke billows slowly from his pipe.

"Hah," he breathes out, that tone good-natured as he grips a hand to one shoulder and rolls it. He has taken a beating, and it shows in the state of his clothes -- but he is smiling for it, nonetheless.

"It would seem I have some unsightly rust all my own to shake off."

Fingertips press into the damaged wooden ground beneath him. And with a single-minded determination, Slayer -pushes- right off his feet, spinning through the air with remarkable mobility to descend rapidly upon where Kung Lao was standing, one heel driven down with artful aplomb towards his shoulder.

COMBATSYS: Slayer successfully hits Kung Lao with Medium Kick.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Slayer           1/--=====/=======|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao

Hand out thrust, the last breath of wind blowing through his long black hair, Kung Lao takes a moment to bask in the silence, to resonate with not only the shock of the crowd, but the inner peace that comes from sticking to ones resolve and seeing it through to the end.
And end that hasn't quite come yet.
"If you are truly as rusty as you say," Lao responds, turning to face his besuited opponent and relaxing back into his stance, left palm up and empty, "I would not be certain of victory at your best." A compliment? A playful insult? Whatever the words are meant to be, they are soon proven premature.
Slayer comes back in with a diving kick not unlike those the Shaolin might use, and Lao twists his body easily to one side, shifting forward as if to dodge just around the blow and return once more to the offensive. Perhaps it is overconfidence, or perhaps the vampire is learning to read his opponent, for the dodge comes too early, allowing the descending man just enough time to correct, sending his heel ploughing into the monk's shoulder.
Letting out a quiet gasp of pain, Lao folds with the blow, following it down into a smooth roll across the uneven flooring that carries him beneath the descending gentleman, long ponytail trailing behind.
A couple of rolls and Kung Lao springs to his feet, having slid his hat free from his head. Rotating his left shoulder to check the motion, he whirls on the spot, taking a short hop forward and swinging his right foot out and around in a quick kick for the side of Slayer's knee. Hoping for a stumble, but expecting little more than a distraction, Lao lands from his hop and brings the edge of his hat swiping up in a vertical cut along the dapper man's body, releasing it at its apex to hum up into the air above. As it hovers there, preparing to fall, he throws 2 quick punches, little more than distracting jabs toward face and body, only to snag the hat out of its descent and twist his entire body into a chest-height cleave, doing his best to force the vampire back only to chase him with another forward hop and spin, sweeping the razor-rimmed hat low across his well-clad shins.
For the moment he seems to be favoring his left arm, jabs a little slower, joint seeming a touch stiff. That last one must have hurt.

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Kung Lao's Iron Broom.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Slayer           1/--=====/=======|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao

It goes without saying, of course, Slayer lands with a classy flourish.

Even when on the ropes, one must never forget to maintain at least a modicum of style.

So with a soft "hup!" does Slayer land, leaping into a backflip that sees him springing comfortably - for a given value of the word - back onto his feet, pivoted sharply at his heel such that his right side is facing Kung Lao, his head tilted to regard the younger fighter curiously.

"Indeed so," he muses, almost to himself, in the aftermath of Lao's words and his assault. Once more does he straighten out his suit, tugging on the cuffs of one sleeve, and then the other, in a quiet sort of contemplation.

If he looks at all relaxed, it is a ruse, one any fighter could see through. Beneath that suit, his every muscle is coiled tight in preparation, his breathing - for all it is simple affectation for a creature like him - the controlled kind of someone on the alert. He cannot let his guard down. Even for a moment.

And this is proven true as Kung Lao -darts- back into the fray with great speed despite his own injuries. Brown eyes widening just slightly, the great proponent of dandyism sees the shape of Kung Lao's assault -- and prepares for it in sharp time, pivoting his prepared heel -just- so to let that initial hopping kick hit wooden ground instead of hardened bone and cartilage. The upwards swipe of that hat is met with the -crack- of Slayer's palm against the monk's forearm, diverting it so that it carves a much more shallow cut along his midsection before going airborne just slightly off trajectory. It's intentional. A deliberate way to keep Kung Lao briefly off his game and readjusting, such that after those combination blows, as Kung Lao grabs his hat --

-- his opponent seeks to grab -him- by the wrists with one hand before the attack can complete itself, planting his other to his midsection and using both of their momentums in an attempt to fluidly -hurl- Kung Lao over his shoulder and towards the earth with hat in tow.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao dodges Slayer's Medium Throw.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Slayer           1/--=====/=======|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao

Blow, counterblow, blow.
The crowd is on their feet now, cheering and booing with every strike. What had once been awed silence is now a riot of emotion, it growing more and more clear that something will have to give eventually. They can see it, the fractional slowing of the monk, while the gentleman he fights seems to be holding steady with perfect poise, pacing him out by degrees.
Wrists caught, hat held at face-height between the 2 fighters, Kung Lao has a split second to decide on his next course of action. So it is that he flicks his wrist, sending his hat humming back into the air just moments before Slayer hurls him up and over his shoulder. It is likely that the dapper man can feel Lao's abs tense through his clothing, muscles coiling as he tucks into the throw and turns a neat flip, sandals slamming heavily onto the wood as he lands in a back to back crouch with the slightly ragged dandy.
No sooner have sandals touched ground than Kung Lao whips around, fist leading the motion in a lightning-fast hook aimed squarely for the side of Slayer's head. Little more than an opening blow, the monk leaps in behind the punch, focusing his chi, and lets loose a flurry of four rapid blows toward the vampire's gut. AT the same moment, the hat that had been so carelessly tossed curves back down, a swirl of wind catching it and accelerating its spin into a whistling hum as it drives down toward the center of the dapper man's shoulder blades. Unless avoided, the hat will impact hard, continuing to spin and saw while Lao flips his fists up into 4 quick punches for Slayer's face, then drops them for another 8 to his gut, each faster than the last, speed and intensity ramping up with every breath. The end of the combination comes as a quick hop past the larger man's right side, right leg snapping out into a heavy side kick that will hopefully send the dandy stumbling away and allow the Shaolin a moment to snag his hat out of the air, breaths coming in quick, panting gasps.

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Kung Lao's Aggressive Tiger.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Slayer           1/-======/=======|====---\-------\0         Kung Lao

He hears the impact -- feels the relative lightness of it. Experience tells him exactly what it means.

Slayer's eyes widen fractionally.


But the compliment doesn't carry out to its completion; it can't, if the dandy man has any hope of reacting in time. Kung Lao curves a fist towards Slayer's head; there is a sudden, powerful -pulse- of energy through the eloquent vampire, muscles bulging and refortifying briefly beneath cloth before they streamline into denser packets of superhuman anatomy just as his empowered palm intercepts Lao's fist in a firm grip that still has the force behind it enough to have him sweeping briefly, but bodily towards his side. Flurrying blows impact against flesh as dense and unyielding as the thickest of bank vaults, but it is not -them- that Slayer is worried about.

It's the hat.

In all things, it is the most elegant of accoutrements that are often the most dangerous.

It's startling, how fast a man who looks so calm can move when the impetus strikes him. Body battered visibly, cuts lining his suit, he still -surges- upwards in a sudden, straight-vertical back flip that has the sole of his shoe COLLIDING harshly with the sawing edge of that weapon-slash-fashion statement. It works through rubber like a hot knife through butter, but when it meets the sole of Slayer's foot --

The impact is ultimately a shallow and quick one as Slayer kicks the weapon into the air in a shedding of blood with all the professional still of a football player.

And so it is still airborne, as Slayer descends. Still airborne, as his right arm enlarges with the straining bulge of fabric that has been crafted specifically to be able to withstand at least this much strain.

Still airborne, as Kung Lao's forceful kick is met with a powerful downwards punch that -bursts- with churning shadowy power enough to shatter the flooring beneath them both.

Beaten down as he is, Slayer does not relent, even for a moment. Caution is wise, but here?


Here, he is enjoying himself far too much like this.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao just-defends Slayer's FB Pile Bunker!

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Slayer           0/-------/-======|====---\-------\0         Kung Lao

The rapid thuds of hardened fists meeting harder flesh pierce the roar of the crowd, each a staccato punctuation to the skill and strength of both fighters. But even those sounds pale in comparison to the roar of approval that comes when Slayer flips into the path of the hat, kicking it up and away with style and grace. The sheer volume of the sound pounds through Kung Lao's skull as he glances up, witnessing the further transformation of his opponent.
No time to think. No time to plan.
Sweeping his kicking leg straight up toward his own head, Lao throws himself backward, hands striking the battered stage, and flings both feet up toward Slayer's descending form.. Sandals passing directly beneath the dandy's monstrously over bulked arm, he plants his soles squarely into the man's stomach and brings his downward progress to a halt, arm stretched out along the length of the Shaolin's body. Improvisation complete, the Shaolin immediately recoils, dropping into a roll that carries him out from beneath the amped up vampire as he falls the rest of the way toward earth, much of his momentum now gone.
Three tumbles later and Lao kips up to his feet, shoulders still heaving with soft pants, dark eyes flicking up to check on the progress of his hat. Lifting a hand, he takes a moment to focus, curving the razor-rimmed head ware down through the air to slap into his waiting fingers with practiced ease.
Placing the hat back upon his head, Lao turns to face Slayer, feet planted and hands hanging low at his sides. A deep breath is drawn in, held, release. The wind gusts playfully around him. And slowly, faintly, a glow begins to radiate up from the monk, filling his surroundings with a gentle blue light.
"You have asked about Legacies." Kung Lao states, voice barely able to cut through the noise of the crowd, "Know this then. They are not only things of obligation."
That said, the Shaolin lifts his gloved palms and presses them lightly together, left foot sliding forward as he pivots to put his shoulder toward Slayer. One more breath in, held...
"Twisting his upper torso, Kung Lao drops his left hand to his side and thrusts his right palm toward the dandy man, a wave of brilliant blue energy roaring from his body and streaking across the distance toward the vampire's chest. Faintly, as if a reflection barely glimpsed in glass, another figure can be seen standing supportively behind the young monk, another champion from another age, one that only a few yet recall.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Slayer with Spiritual Guidance.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Slayer           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao


Surprise spills from Slayer's lips as he is caught mid-descent. Brown eyes widen as the monk recoils, and his stolen momentum leads him towards -=CRACKING=- a weakened fist against wood -- a burst of energy that follows more visually impressive than it is viscerally. Once more does the gentleman's arms slim back down towards a more normal size in the aftermath. His breathing comes out in more labored puffs, the affectation more than enough of a hint of how much he has expended himself in this fight.

"Mm," he breathes out, slowly, as he rises to his feet through the cracked and splintered earth. "It really has been too long."

His head tilts back just so, to look at Lao. The end is probably nigh. But there's no point meekly accepting it, is there?

Slayer looks nothing if not truly pleased as he turns to face Lao fully, the arch of his brow and attentiveness of his stare even through all the damage and fatigue indicative of how much he values the words that Kung Lao offers, even in the middle of all of this frenetic chaos.

"Oh?" he wonders of the glowing monk. "What else do you find in them, young man?"

He sees -- /feels/ -- the gathering of chi. His legs brace, his left fist drawing back.

"Perhaps a thing to be elucidated shortly, then."

And as Kung Lao releases that wave of pure, cerulean power, Slayer -rushes- forward, building up impressive degrees of raw speed as he hurtles towards the mass of energy -- and though he fails to duck under it, staggering in his charge, slowing him down as it -burns- through his cross-shaped necktie, he sees that reflection.

Another time, long ago, he was another era's hero. So long ago, he is a real memory to precious few.

But Slayer's eyes flash in recognition.


The sound of understanding arrives only just before it can be lost in the sound of Slayer's fist shattering a sound barrier as it booms its way towards Kung Lao's center mass.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao blocks Slayer's Mach Punch.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Slayer           0/-------/=======|=======\-------\0         Kung Lao

Two sets of dark eyes meet, one peering through a monocle, one nearly lost beneath the brim of a hat. An instance of private understanding is shared.
The boom of Slayer's fist breaking the sound barrier blasts across the stage, briefly drowning out the fever-pitch roar of the crowd. Dust shakes itself loose from every available surface, a thick haze cascading down to briefly hide the fighters from sight.
And when it finally clears, it reveals Kung Lao perched on the very edge of the wooden platform, heels hanging over empty space. Before him stands Slayer, fist extended, wrist caught tightly between the monk's gloved hands. Knuckles stopped just an inch from striking, there is a clear line of friction still smoldering where Lao's sandals were driven back across the wood, dark smoke curling up from the bottoms of his feet to join the lighter smoke that wafts from the dandy's pipe.
There are no words, only a slight, sharp-edge smile that quirks the lips just visible beneath Lao's hat.
Releasing Slayer's wrist, the Shaolin leaps straight up, arms out, and begins to focus. Twisting his body around once, twice, he builds up momentum, a mini tornado blossoming to life around him as he spirals forward to smash into Slayer, turning the wild rotation into a devastating spin-kick aimed for the side of the gentleman's head.

COMBATSYS: Slayer just-defends Kung Lao's Swirling Dragon!!

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Slayer           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0         Kung Lao

Thick, choking clouds of dust and dirt waft between Slayer and Kung Lao in the aftermath of that assault. It obscures them both. But the dandy can -feel- the monk, even as the monk can feel -him-, within that decisive pincer grip of gloved hands.

Kung Lao is smiling a sharp smile.

And so, too, is Slayer.

Because there's no need for words anymore --

Just this singular, artful moment, hanging like an eternity. But it passes. They always do.

And the very second one moment turns over into the next, the violence begins once more in earnest.

Wrist is released. Kung Lao is fast, even now as the fatigue burns at both of them. In one moment, Slayer is freed -- in the next, Kung Lao is above him, preparing a torrential descent of wild winds and powerful kicks. And Slayer...

... Slayer -leaps- into the twister.

Rusty though he claims to be, experience is still on the ancient dandy's side. The second he goes airborne, the cape fluttering behind him shifts and twists like scarlet clay, sprouting into a pair of black-membraned wings. They buffet against the winds, gaining power and momentum from them.

And when Kung Lao's kick comes, it is intercepted by a single, perfectly-timed palm, gripping tight to his heel as the winds whip, and, aided by the beat of Slayer's freshly-forged wings...

... send them both spiraling to the very top of that twister.

It's only when they reach that zenith that Slayer releases.

Releases, and pivots in mid-air, facing Kung Lao directly with a powerful swipe of his right hand, open palmed, fingers bent like a claw as if to bat at him --

-- three large furrows of violet and blue life energy -carving- through the air like the talons of a ferocious claw in its wake, a volley of chi-conjured bats swirling around the retired leader of the Assassins' Guild in the doing.

For effect, you see.

COMBATSYS: Slayer successfully hits Kung Lao with Under Pressure.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Slayer           1/------=/=======|=======\=------\1         Kung Lao

Kung Lao may be fast as has been demonstrated time and time again, but he is only mortal. And mortal flesh can grow tired. Leg caught, winds whipping around him, the Shaolin flings his arms out wide, tightens his core, and is dragged sharply upward to the peak of his own tornado, hair and sashes blowing all around.
Caught high above the stage, nothing to push off of, no traction to be gained, chi reserves flagging and concentration wavering, Kung Lao spreads his arms and legs and balances his weight. Face to face with the now flying Slayer, he continues to grin, waiting, watching.
Hand flashing out at the exact moment the vampire strikes, Lao attempts to vault his body up and over it, to use the dandy's own form as a stable platform upon which to maneuver. He is slowing, however, and just this once, at this critical moment, he misses. His hand passes through empty air behind the sweep of Slayer's arm, hardened palm striking him dead in the chest. It is to that palm that he clings, left hand reversing course to latch onto the wrist even as talons of chi tear through his tunic, parting cloth and flesh beneath.
Blood wells from 3 vertical lines carved deeply from abdomen to shoulder. A hiss of pain escapes from beneath his teeth, smile growing tight. Already the wind beneath them is slacking, whirlwind dying away. But there is no time but the present to act.
Swinging his legs forward, Kung Lao attempts to brace his left sandal upon the gentleman's right knee, right sandal upon his left foot, clinging to him left hand to right wrist. Muscles tighten, potential energy gathering, and he swings his right fist forward toward Slayer's gut...
Only to pause.
Blood Drips from his wounds, beginning the long fall toward the earth below.
Exploding forward with the force of a gun shot, Kung Lao unleashes a simple, devastating, one-inch-punch at near point-blank range, attempting to knock them both flipping into a wild free fall. If he can get his wish, he will reach up to sweep his hat off of his chest, spinning through the air to deliver a heavy cleaving cut across Slayer's chest, followed by taking the hat in both hands and rolling into a front flip, driving the stylish weapon down vertically across the vampire's body with all the strength he has left to muster. The long fall after? Well, he'll figure something out.

COMBATSYS: Slayer interrupts Deadly Path from Kung Lao with Spread Your Wings.
- Power hit! -

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Slayer           0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0         Kung Lao

In any other circumstance, this might be the time Slayer might aside, even in these tremulous, violent winds, some glib or even potentially wise observation.

Today, he does not, and that is as much a testament to and sign of respect for Kung Lao's sheer skill and potential as anything else the ages old vampire could ever afford to offer.

Truly, he will never stop being astounded at humanity's boundless potential.

Skill, raw tenacity, and a dash of fortune have brought them both to this -- suspended at a zenith over the stadium, to the hushed murmurs of the crowds, suspended in those brief moments before gravity takes hold. There is never a single moment in which Slayer can afford for contemplation or even a sliver of a second's rest. Even exhausted as Lao is, even as bloodied, he is still fighting, proudly. It is a beautiful sight to the vampire dandy.

And he does not dare dishonor it by giving the monk even a sliver of leeway.

The wind slacks. Slayer feels the brace of a foot pressing at his knee, his (once-)polished shoe -- the firm grip of a hand at his wrist. Holding fast in preparation even now for what the vampire knows will be a brutal counter-assault.

The fist swings --

-- pauses--

-- and Slayer knows what's coming.

Gravity takes them. But there is one, important difference between them in this moment, and that, perhaps, ends up being the sole deciding factor of this exchange:


Slayer still has his wings.

What was once a cape of (debatably living) fabric billows outward and -buffets- powerfully in the exact fraction of a second between Kung Lao's pause and his titanic one-inch punch. Energy crackles cerulean life behind them. Normally, this is an upwards charge.

But Slayer has learned well the value of improvisation.

And that is why he tilts downwards, instead.

Raw, life's power -explodes- like rocket propulsion at the winged back of the former assassin. He grips onto Kung Lao by the shoulders.

And he has only the time to exclaim "MARVELOUS!" before he -flies- downward, that punch COLLIDING with his midsection as he sends them on a wild, runaway train's path towards the stadium beneath them, violet and pink energies EXPLODING around him in a stunning halo of raw, furious power as those blue contrails at his back rocket them down --

--into a deafening collision with the ground below that shakes through the very foundations of the Casino arena.


Marvelous. Simply marvelous. Whatever happens, Slayer knows.

He made the right choice, indulging in his curiosity.

Suspended above the heads of every onlooker, afloat only by the grace of his opponent, will meets will in one, seemingly final clash.
Caught up by the shoulders and inverted, both he and Slayer rocketing toward the ring at ever-growing speed, Kung Lao does the only thing he knows to do. he follows through. His fist impacts the vampire's gut with all the force he can muster. It isnt' enough to jar him free, not even enough to slow the dandy down, so he reverts to plan B. Kicking down with his legs, angling his palms, he does all that is in his power to brace for the coming impact.
It isn't enough.
An explosion of energy and debris radiates out from where the 2 men strike the platform, reducing what was left into a dust billowing crater. And for yet another stretch of time, all is lost within the gritty haze of debris.
It is within that haze that Slayer can feel it, the shifting of muscle, struggling of limbs. Feel as Kung Lao slips free of his grasp and tumbles a foot or so away, takes a moment to cough out dust and gather himself, and then pushes down upon the earth and begins to rise. A bit slowly at first, shakily, he staggers upright, bits of wood tumbling away from him, dust caked down his front sticking to the blood that soaks his tunic. But he is on his feet.
Reaching up to adjust his hat, Kung Lao draws in a deep, calming breath, shakes his head once to clear it, then turns toward where he can feel the presence of his opponent through the dust. Taking one step, then another, he slowly begins to regain his balance, transitioning from a stagger to a walk, then into 2 jogging steps before leaping into the air toward Slayer and turning a full rotation, soaring out of the mist to deliver a single, heavy roundhouse kick aimed squarely for the Dandy's chin, every bit of effort poured into the last ditch maneuver. he might be on his last legs, but surely the Dandy can't be far behind him. he just has to dig a little deeper. Keep going a little longer...Just that tiny, fraction more...
A grunt of effort escapes the Shaolin as he looks for that last bit of energy left within him. That tiny smidge more potential that only a True champion has.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao keeps on fighting!

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Slayer           0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0         Kung Lao

COMBATSYS: Slayer interrupts Back Kick from Kung Lao with Dandy Step.

[                    \\\\\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Slayer           0/-------/------=|=======\=------\1         Kung Lao

Dust settles thickly amidst the sound of crunching debris. He can feel Kung Lao struggling free.

And Slayer, in turn, disappears comfortably within the smokescreen of his own destruction.

While never one to shirk from conflict nor avoid facing it directly, the once-assassin finds a true comfort here, hidden amidst the billowing clouds as the light chokes everything out around them. It is exactly as he told MARIA when they met: the spotlight is much better suited for people like her.

He has always preferred to dwell in the shadows those spotlights cast.

Kung Lao, too, is another who - in Slayer's estimation - will inevitably shine in that light. He can see the young man moving, staggering, struggling even now. Recovering. Pushing himself beyond even his impressive capabilities to keep. Fighting. Cape dangling behind him limply as it reasserts its standard shape, Slayer lets his hands fall to his sides, and observes, expression subtly turning towards something pleased and approving.

There's only one way forward, here. He can see the angle of what's coming. And so Slayer waits, like the predator he is, for the exact moment of opportunity.

Kung Lao sees his silhouette. Kung Lao lunges. That roundhouse is powerful --

-- but it cleaves only through a shadowy aftermath.

One that explodes into so much dust at the exact moment the dandy buries a smearing elbow into the monk's solar plexus from just beneath him.

"Thank you, young man," he utters in the midst of that blow, and with as ragged as that voice is -- it is doubtlessly earnest in that sentiment.

Having already pushed himself to, and then passed his limits, there is little enough in the way of last minute defenses that Kung Lao can draw on. His scything foot carves a path of ruin through an image of dust, and he knows that he has made a mistake. But there is nothing he can do. He has given this fight his all. Poured every ounce of effort he could dreg up into defeating the man who's elbow now rests in his guts, holding him aloft above the uneven ground.
He has failed.
But Team Legacy does not have to.
Reaching up, Kung Lao sweeps his hat off of his head and down in a vicious arc, his only response a grunt of breathless effort, whatever wind should have been in his lungs lost to Slayer's elbow. Down his hat comes, swiping once, then again, heavy, looping cuts meant to carve a deep X into Slayer's chest, before the final cut cleaves straight across as if in punctuation. That done, Kung Lao slides free of the dandy's elbow. His sandals touch ground, falter, take a staggering step. He attempts to draw in breath, to get in enough air to drive away the black spots swimming across his vision.
Lao's hat strikes the ground edge-first, imbedding itself in the ruined wood and hanging there upright and still. A moment later, Kung Lao collapses beside it, falling face down and unconscious in the dust.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Kung Lao's Flower Pot.

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

One last stand. There is no end to Kung Lao's resolve, it would seem.

Just and end to his physical limitations. As with all things.

Even Slayer.

He can see it coming. Even here, it is fast enough to give the dandy pause; but Kung Lao receives a preemptive reprieve from the pressure in his gut thanks to his own motions as the vampire snaps himself bodily backwards /just/ as that sharpened hat comes down. Within the breadth of his exhale, that razor's edge swings.

And Slayer meets it with the bold flourish of his cape.

The voiceless familiar intercepts, envelops, and dulls the edge of Kung Lao's hat seconds before it can hit its mark. Sapped of momentum and that impossibly sharp rim, the resultant blow is a muted series of kinetic impacts across Slayer's chest, stinging especially with how weakened he has become, but not quite connecting as cleanly as it could have.

Still, Slayer realizes as Lao sways and ultimately collapses next to his fallen hat, it has done its job. Slayer will be at that much more of a disadvantage in the next conflict.

"Well played," he muses to the young monk, passed out amidst the ruin. The gentleman assassin's dark brows furrow as he observes his fallen opponent musingly. And then, he leans back, allowing his expanding cape to cradle his fall like a reclining chair as he crosses one leg over the other.

He tucks a hand into his pocket. And, wordlessly, he sets about filling and lighting his pipe once more, the snap of flames a brief spot of illumination amidst the lingering dust before it is shaken out of existence.

He considers. And his lips part.

"The whistle of wind
surpassing all predictions
his spotlight shines bright."

And there, after that recitation, Slayer lingers. His head tilts.

"I pray you can hear me past the haze, young man. You ought to know that you would do your legacy proud indeed. You will live up to your forebear's accomplishments. But a word of advice."

Silence, for a moment longer. And then:

"Legacy is a strength, but do not let yourself drown in its shadow. You can soar to even higher heights than another's accomplishments.

"You can make that name your own."

And with that, Slayer waits for his next opponent in the comfort of that dusty dark and roaring crowds.

Eagerly anticipating what may come next.

COMBATSYS: Slayer awaits the next challenger.

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

From the sidelines, Kung Lao's teammate has watched several battles unfold. The illusory battle of performance, the fatiguing battle of strength, the inspiring battle of wills... Quietly she has stood from the moment the razor-rim hat wearing young man rose to the challenge. In a field of pyrotechnics, drama, sophistication, and legendary techniques, the young woman might be dismissed as comparatively simple to behold. Small in stature, she is far from an imposing figure. Her clothing equally modest - a long white robe with crimson, geometric patterns bordering the hem of it worn over white pants, her feet clad in leather moccasins dyed red. Raven black hair spills down against her shoulders and frames her face with two long locks kept in place by the wide red ribbon tied into a sizable bow behind her head.

The entire time, she has stood with her right arm raised, bent at the elbow to be held out in front of her. There, perched atop a thick, white wrist guard, is a large, golden brown bird of prey. The feathered sentinel has observed the match with the same calm focus as its presumptive owner, the two often moving their heads in perfect sync in order to watch the action play out.

When the climax of the incredible, grueling fight is reached, her previously calm expression has become pensive, her left hand lifting from her side to rest over her chest, fist clenched tightly in breathless anticipation.

At last, a battle that will be remembered by all who bore witness comes to an end. The man who identified himself as Slayer, the one to remain standing, is afforded a moment's reprieve as King of Fighters staff move to lift the unconscious monk out of the arena of battle. One of the crew reaches for his fallen hat, sticking up on its side as it fell, but a cautionary word from another has him freeze for a nervous second before choosing to leave the decidedly deadly headgear in place.

Nakoruru steps out, passing the carried Kung Lao as she does, pausing briefly to look at the one who invited her on what promises to be an interesting adventure indeed. A soft smile works its way through the worry on her face and then she continues, bearing her falcon with her.

Turning to face the gentleman, the young woman lifts her right arm up slightly, an unspoken signal to the feathered raptor to take to the air, a task the predator completes with ease, beating her large wings and circling above, a shrill cry from her beak. Closer now, it is easier to notice the sheathed blade affixed to the belt around her slender waist. A small weapon, somewhere between short sword and long knife, it sits against the flat of her lower back, its grip available on her right.

Steel blue eyes study Slayer. Kung Lao identified his nature with some degree of accuracy. It is no mere human that sits comfortably across from her. His behavior during the match was commendable. His words spoken to her teammate-

"Your words for my partner carried wisdom, and your poem, beauty."

Yet it is not a monster she sees? The sun may not scorch his flesh, but he belongs to the night. There was nothing about the man's actions that suggest cause for condemnation, yet there is that stirring, deep within. A simmering anger, a burning indignation that such a nightmarish thing be permitted to calmly tend to his pipe in her view. This is not an hour for sporting battle. Instead, she should call for the old wolf - he would come, and together they would rend the abomination-

A wince crosses Nakoruru's features, a thought unsaid, and for a moment she glances to the side, biting back the darker inclinations Slayer's presence threatens to invoke. Suppressing it comes difficult, but she must be the master of her fate.

When her eyes flick back to her opponent, the moment seems to have passed. "I am Nakoruru. I must warn that my style of combat is unorthodox to many but it has been sanctioned for use within this tournament." The bird overhead has circled around to the swordswoman, now managing to sustain herself mostly in place over the young woman with powerful flaps of her wings - a behavior almost never seen in birds of prey.

"Your poem brings to mind another... from my childhood."

She leans forward slightly, her right hand reaching behind her, fingers a fraction of an inch away from the grip of her blade.

"There is not the time."
"To contemplate the essence."
"Of life upon steel."

She moves like the wind, closing distance to her opponent as a blur of white and red, leaning into her sprint, body low against the ground.

"En guarde!"

From six feet out, she draws her kodachi, a glimmering red gemstone in its pommel catching the lights of the battleground. The Time-Lost Warrior launches herself horizontally toward then past Slayer, her bladed singing through the air with a viciously swift slash, a crescent of shimmering, pearlescent chi arcing through its wake. Uninterrupted, she'd land in an easy tumble, recovering from the aggressive momentum on the other end!

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru has joined the fight here.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Slayer           0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0         Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Nakoruru's Annu Mutsube.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0         Nakoruru

Experience is the great teacher. Certain patterns emerge in people that are hard to ignore, over time. That they can mean everything, or nothing, is just a tribute to the enduring tenacity and wonder of mankind, in Slayer's opinion.

But the longer you live, the more difficult it becomes /not/ to notice them. Tells, if you must use such terminology; the little things in behavior, both conscious and subconscious, that tell the story of a person. Slayer is not stranger to such things; being what he is, and the life he's lived besides, he'd have to be familiar. The tells that spell the difference between life, or death.

And it is those similar tells that he sees in Nakoruru -- just as much as he sees her wince them all away not seconds later. Reclined upon that comfortably floating cloth, the very top of that cape funneling into the pointy-eared silhouette of a bat's head, glowing eyes peering at Nakoruru just as Slayer does, the former assassin considers the internal war within his opponent. He puffs once upon his freshly-lit pipe, a soft 'hm' exhaling from the smoke between his lips.

"... As you can see, I am not unfamiliar with fighting with company, though mine is perhaps not quite so lively as yours. You needn't worry, young miss, but your warning is appreciated nonetheless." His bearing is calm, his tone polite -- considerate. The way his head dips, respectful. "You may call me Slayer. Your partner made an impressive showing. I do not know if I can muster the same..." One once-polished shoe plants into the debris-ridden ground.

"... but I shall endeavor to give you a fight worth remembering."

And there he stays, seemingly resting on his cape, one foot on the ground, as he listens to Nakoruru's recitation. Brown eyes narrow, sharper than the edge of steel.

He does not have the time to answer, but perhaps the approval of his smile is answer enough.

She moves in a swift smudge of color. In one moment, she is springing.

In the next, she is behind him.


The sound of deflecting impact, rather than the carve of blade on flesh, trailing behind her wake. The interference?

A pipe. Slayer's pipe. Presented forward at exactly the right moment to let that blade graze across its comparatively smaller surface with nary a nick to show for it, despite how inexplicable such a thing is. The impact tremors powerfully along Slayer's arm -- and does nothing to stop the forceful, if not slightly dulled, expulsion of chi that follows a stinging, singing path across his limb with great strength.

The gentleman vampire is knocked forcefully to his side, but he moves with the momentum of the attack instead of fighting it; cape retracting towards a more normal shape, Slayer -pushes- his foot off the ground, using the force of Nakoruru's blow to send him careening through the air in a graceful, cross-armed spiral.

"Hm! A strong start!"

And this declaration is the herald of Slayer's descent towards the recovering Nakoruru, one long leg lifting high before -snapping- down for his opponent in a graceful swing of a kick.

COMBATSYS: Slayer successfully hits Nakoruru with Diving Kick.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0         Nakoruru

Strike deflected, the rest of the young woman's follow through remains unchanged, a single roll against the ground, her moccasins sliding until they find enough friction to bring the living lightning bolt to rest, her hair, ribbon, and long robe falling into place as gravity takes control.

He would have seen in the moments before she moved, during the blurringly fast approach, and in the brief instant their 'weapons' clashed that it isn't exactly a human that faces him now. There is a timelessness to her nature that defies the normal limits of mortality, yet she isn't entirely one with the gods either. The breath of life flows through her form. And as for blood, something the vampire would know quite a bit about -

She twists out of her landing, rising up from a crouch, her kodachi held in a reverse grip by her right hand at her side, her left arm already stretching out, pointing toward where Slayer should have ended up had he simply fought the momentum of their clash rather than moving with it.


The intent to transition from one attack into another fluidly, to keep the pressure on him from the moment she started sprinting becomes clear. The Ainu warrior realizes too late, however, that her opponent isn't on the ground at all. She becomes aware of his unexpected angle of attack only as he moves past one of the battleground's lights and by then it's too late. Her right arm moves in a flash to intercept, her fingers relaxing for a microsecond as she flicks the small blade from a reverse grip to standard.

If there were any question as to whether the young woman could bleed, it is put to rest as Slayer's leg comes snapping down, catching her in the forehead with enough force to send her reeling, a gash cut over her right eyebrow. Diminutive fighter as she is, Nakoruru slides back easily from the exchange of forces, arms out at her sides as she fights for balance. To the untrained eye, it would almost seem an unsightly mismatch for the two fighters to be facing each other, so severely did his opening kick seem to impact the slender young fighter. But the trained observer would know that while she might be seeing stars for a moment, the swordswoman's resolve remains unshaken to rise to the challenge of this enigmatic opponent.

In the moments immediately following his successful attack, it might be easy to miss the airborne predator plunging toward the gentlemanly monster from behind, her wings tucked in, her feathered body aglow with bright, prismatic energy.

The protective falcon would change at the last second, aiming to crash into her target's upper back with her talons, delivering a payload of potent, destructive energy in the process!

COMBATSYS: Slayer dodges Nakoruru's Amube Yatoro EX.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0         Nakoruru


Slayer can sense it in a moment, thanks in no small part to his own, unusual nature. There's something different about this girl, but not unnatural. If anything... it's the opposite. And her name...


Slayer knows nature's touch when he feels it.

It's there in a moment, gone in a flash; but the implications linger in his mind, even as his kick connects clean. One might see this as a lopsided match indeed in these moments, if they were only to look at the superficialities of it. But the alert edge to Slayer's otherwise calm and measured gaze says much. There was only seconds to spare before facing reprisal, had he not caught her unawares. No; even in will alone, this is very far from a lopsided match.

And that is precisely why that understated delight thrums through his stare.

The fighting dandy lands not seconds after Nakoruru is sent reeling from his blow; dust kicking up from his impact, it seems to swirl around him with a life of its own, his scarlet half-cape billowing outward behind him as he straightens into a full stand. Arms crossing over his chest, he considers the recovering Nakoruru, by all accounts seemingly ignorant of the circling raptor preparing for its dive.

"I had heard a tale once during my travels, some time ago." The way he says 'some time ago' has a certain weight to it -- like 'some time ago' exists on a scale completely different from the average life span for him. Behind him, feathers ignite with a rainbow hue of power. "A tale an old friend once told me, of their people's chosen champion." Talons engage --

And Slayer's arms are still elegantly folded over his chest as he makes an uncanny, spinning leap through the air, the glint of his monocle all most could likely see as those talons graze -just- under his now airborne feet seconds before he clears past Nakoruru's loyal companion entirely and disappears into the lingering dust.

"Swift and skilled, a peerless warrior priestess chosen to become the exemplar of the great spirits that came before. But more than that..."

But he is not gone for long.

The voice comes but a few seconds later, to Nakoruru's right. There is the sound of a sole impacting earth. One could not be blamed for assuming an assault from the shadows was inevitable.

But instead -- instead, all that lingering dust and haze is -blown- away by a violent upkick of wind from that central point, clearing out all visual obstruction...

... and leaving Slayer at the epicenter, seating himself calmly on a chunk of rubble, bearded chin perched upon the pensive stroke of his fingers. This is not the time for trickery, after all. It would not be dignified.

"... she was a brave and selfless young woman. One who made a choice, and sacrificed much, for the sake of others." The gentleman brawler leans back in his seat. It would similarly be easy to assume that his position, his lack of attack, was a sign of arrogance. A mockery. But there is nothing of that in his stare, in his stance. He is ready to fight.

He is assessing.

"I always thought it a great travesty, I could not meet this person myself. But we are all of us the subjects of time's march. I can only hope, wherever she ended, she was able to find meaning for herself, as well." Keen eyes observe. And like Kung Lao before her, Slayer offers Nakoruru a question in lieu of a fist, even as the subtle guardedness of his stance suggests the fight is far from over.

"You may press the attack at your leisure. But tell me, young miss -- what do you hope to gain from this tourney?"

COMBATSYS: Slayer focuses on his next action.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0         Nakoruru

Nakoruru leans to the right, the movement precisely the amount required to avoid the the polychromatic, feathered comet that hurtles right past her shoulder with an echoing screech. Mamahaha continues on, wings stretched out, recovering from her dive by skimming an inch over the ground and kicking up a small storm of additional dust in her wake.

Recovering from her lean, the young woman raises her weapon, gripping it tightly in her right hand, her left hand pressed against the flat of the blade as she looks up, anticipating a possible strike from the air where she last saw the Undying Noble vanish into the dust.

She whirls to the right next, alert, wary, kodachi still readied for defense, his voice originating from a place nearby yet difficult to pinpoint. The obscurring dust is cleared a moment in a whirl of disturbed air, leaving the being known as Slayer calmly seated, facing her. Detecting no immediate threat, Nakoruru relaxes her guard, her short blade lowered, flicked idly into a reverse grip, then slipped calmly into the sheath behind her waist, a soft 'clink' as it settles into place.

The same violent wind that cleared the air whips at her hair briefly and brushes at her robe where it parts over her forward knee. Blue-steel eyes focus on the man who continues to be impeccably dressed even if his distinguished attire is worse for wear from the trial of combat up to this point. He has the young woman's full attention. Circling back, the falcon darts behind Nakoruru while on route to flying once more above the arena, the winged sentinel no doubt looking for the next moment Slayer's attention might fall elsewhere.

His words touch on a tale that would have been lost to time were it not voiced from one evocator to another, from one generation to the next. For the few who knew it, it was an inspirational story from their ancestors; for him, a thought provoking tale from another time. For his audience of one, it cuts deep with memories as fresh as a single passing season.

The accuracy of his assessment is reflected in the young looking warrior's features - lingering melancholy of that previous life imprinted indelibly on her heart and reflected in her eyes. He speaks of finding meaning and Kamui's Chosen hesitates for a moment before nodding, ever so slightly. She blinks her eyes once, her vision clearly filled with something other than this battleworn battleground in Vegas.

It is a curious twist of fate to face one such as this. How often had she shared stories with others of people who's bones have since returned to the dust of the earth. Yet now she stands across from one Immortal Spectator for whom the life she once knew is more than merely a footnote in a historical text.

He speaks of attacking and she blinks a second time, a soft intake of breath, her mind rushed back into the present with an abruptness that might be jarring for a fleeting moment. At the start of his question, she cants her head slightly. But by the time he has finished giving it voice, a trace of a smile finds its way into her lips. What does one given rest among the sacred mountains hope to gain from participating in this pageant of battle? Of what use would such commercial spectacle have for one so touched by the wilds?

Nakoruru stands up straight then, her ankle-length robe closing over her knee as she brings her right hand to rest lightly near the base of her neck.

"On the snow swept slopes of Anyu Mosir, a white fox sung her lonely song for all the land to hear." She lifts her left hand, holding it out to the side slightly, palm raised. "'Come', grumbled the brown bear as it passed by. 'You are a hunter, like me. 'Together we will wander, no longer alone.'" Nakoruru shakes her head slightly, "But the white fox declined. 'I am not like you. Have you ever seen a bear so small as I?'"

The young woman continues, "'Come', chirped the white weasel as it poked its head up from the snow. 'You can burrow like me. Together, we can dig, and and make a home within the earth.'" Nakoruru shakes her head again, "But the white fox refused. 'I am not like you. Have you ever seen a weasel so large as I?'" Her left arm rests against her side then, her head bowed slightly, "'Come', said the pair of red foxes, 'Run with us, hunt with us, play with us, live with us. You are one of us.'"

A frown touches the storyteller's lips, "But the white fox rejected the invitation. 'I am not like you. Have you ever seen a fox so white as I?'" The girl's left hand lifts, coming to rest lightly over her right at the base of her throat. "And to this day, white fox sings her lonely song, pining for the place where she might belong."

A subtle glow of vibrant green swirls up around the swordswoman's feet as she breathes in her next breath. A long, soft exhale later, and the energy life life blooms up around her, small motes of sparkling green amid a gentle, translucent mist-like aura. It fades, the gash on her forehead all but closed in the process as Nakoruru slides her left foot along the ground, leaning forward now, her right hand coming to rest with her fingers lightly resting on her kodachi's grip.

"Invited by my teammate, I came, lest I follow too closely the white fox's lonesome path." The search for belonging can take on many curious forms.

Nakoruru's smile is a wistful thing, but there is warmth there, and gratitude unspoken for the monk who invited her to come join him in this journey.

As Mamahaha's cry echoes overhead, Nakoruru nods her head once more.

"Shall we continue then?"

Her answer comes in a story. And across the gulf of wreckage that separates them, Slayer's lips press into a thin line of thought.

As unusual as it is for her to see someone like him, who knows her story because it is a part of the hallowed treasure vault that are the immortal noble's memories, it is just as striking for /him/ to meet someone like /her/; not divine, not really, yet far from someone like himself, too.

Almost like she had been displaced by time. A woman from another age.

He finds it fascinating, in its own way. And he shows his respect as best he can -- by learning more about the woman with whom he is trading blows. Perched upon his throne of rubble, one leg crossed over the other and elbows rested upon knee and calf, he listens to her story intently. The meaning of it is not lost on him. And the more she goes on, the more the pensive line of his mouth becomes more the tugging smile of subtle approval.

"I suppose in the end," muses Slayer, even as those healing energies of life itself thrum through Nakoruru in trails of shimmering green, "so many of us are trapped in the cages we make for ourselves."

And slowly, Slayer lifts back up onto his feet. He takes in a deep breath of his pipe, pulling it free as smoke spills from his lips with his next words.

"A noble intent for a noble woman. And one beautifully expressed, at that. I hope you find it, within this clash."

Meaning. For herself.

His tarnished shoes spread with the soft protest of rubber across ground. The fingers of his right hand curl into the clench of a fist stacked with subtle power. "Yes, young miss. I believe we shall continue."

And just like that does the ancient gentleman disappear from where he once stood. It would take a keen eye indeed to track his movements, but they are far from a feinting path; no, Slayer approaches boldly from the front, dirt kicking up in circular plumes like rocket exhaust behind him as his right arm draws backwards, igniting in violet-pink light.

"In earnest!"

And the second he is in her defenses, Slayer's fist hammers in one powerful downward swing, a pillar of violet light ensconced in a double helix of pink energies following with a roar in the wake of his blow.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully aids herself with Kamui Sentek.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Slayer           0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0         Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru blocks Slayer's It's Late.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Slayer           0/-------/----===|======-\-------\0         Nakoruru

He speaks of cages and the youthful looking storyteller responds, her faint smile still at her lips, "Only in seeing the bars can we also discover the opening through which to escape."

The invitation to continue extended, Nakoruru doesn't rush the man. The impression she has of him now is in stark contrast to the instinctual desire to put his immortality to a true test she felt at first. On a conscious level, she knows she should be wary. The pages of legend are filled with creatures that deceive with airs of propriety that run only skin deep. But when faced with such refined decorum, how can she help but answer civility with civility?

She waits, breathing slowly now, the reprieve to share in understanding giving her a chance to rest a moment after her aggressive opening. Her hair, draped over her shoulder, sways gently with each breath and the fingers of her right hand open and close slowly, remaining loose in spite the tension that no doubt ripples beneath the surface.

She lingers even as he stands, though the moment will soon come where she will be forced to act. Another dip of her head as the enigmatic Vampire expresses some hope for this echo of the past he has encountered, quiet gratitude for the sentiment of his words.

And then the dance begins anew. The air rushes in to the space once occupied by Slayer, small whirlwinds of dust rendering the disturbance visible... Of course, by then, the clash has already taken place.

Her own skills honed and blessed as they are, it is rare to encounter one who can move so fast in a straight line that she can barely see the attack. Yet here he comes, right arm flexing as it bends into the overhead blow. In an instant, her blade is in the path of his fist, drawn and positioned with arm movement too fast for most to perceive. Had she not also braced with her left hand, palm against the flat of Chichiushi's blessed steel, her attempted guard would have been completely insufficient. Her knees and elbows bend, teeth grit, a soft grunt of breath forced from her lungs at the power behind the singular strike. And even with that, her defense is but enough to glance Slayer's fist into an angle less perilous to her health.

'In earnest', he declared, and she feels her heart answer to a challenge issued with such sincerity. But not all answers take the same form. While some combatants might try to push back against Slayer's powerful strength, the slight fighter he faces instead moves with it, allowing her knees to bend further underneath the pressure, pushing her kodachi with her left hand, sliding it off the gentleman fighter's knuckles as she moves like water around her opponent's attack.

Defense becomes offense in one fluid motion as Nakoruru continues on into a roll, gripping her blade with both hands as she executes a swift, whirling slash toward his right thigh in passing, aiming to come up behind her opponent as his vibrantly bright energy rushes by her in the opposite direction.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully hits Slayer with Chitenzan.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Slayer           0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0         Nakoruru

She could have fought back. Answer force with force. But she does not. Instead, she /uses/ force.

Instead, she plays to her strengths.


This almost encouraging compliment is bellowed out in the space between where fist meets blade and the smaller fighter flows in an indisputable show of skill around the force of the blow. It's all he truly has -time- to say, and that much is moreso the marvel for the gentleman darkstalker who calls himself Slayer; even as the final syllable is flicking off the tip of his tongue, Nakoruru is at his side, a whirling dervish of rolling motion and sharpened steel --

And before he can even think to defend himself, Nakoruru scores a clean hit across his thigh, cutting through the finely custom-tailored fabric of his couture slacks to score an angry red gash across flesh. It resists -- it feels more like trying to cut through layers and layers of ancient rock than human flesh -- but the blow is scored nonetheless.

And with it, the briefest of staggers comes as the wounded dandy's scuffed shoes shuffle the earth, footing nearly lost. But he does not falter.

It's the tiniest of reprieves that Nakoruru earns, before the cape at his back shifts like a liquid ripple. Once more does it become a pair of bright red bat wings, the powerful beat of their membranes lifting him violently upwards. And here, too, is another revelation for the observant; Slayer could have used things like this to a distinctly unfair advantage, staying airborne to deal with either of his opponents. Instead?

Instead, the gentleman brawler uses it only to gain a brief amount of height -- just enough to suitably build up momentum as those wings once more vanish into cloth and he comes crashing down in a single, twisting kick aimed for the space Nakoruru once occupied.

He could use these abilities to gain some slight advantage. But why?

There's no honor to be found in that. No --

This will do just fine.

COMBATSYS: Slayer successfully hits Nakoruru with Medium Kick.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Slayer           0/-------/--=====|=======\=------\1         Nakoruru

From observing Kung Lao's round before, she already had some impression of her opponent's strength. But the knowledge of observation must cede to that gained by experience. She has put Slayer's situational awareness, reflexes, and attacking speed to her tests and in so doing, come to realize that without the successes of her teammate, she would be hard pressed to compete against this one. Her greatest triumphs from history were always with allies at her side.

Once the battle has resumed, she can't stop for an instant. Her own speed, endurance, and resolve are being tested even in her opponent's most seemingly simple attacks. There is a presence about him, a pressure that he doesn't seem to be exerting so much as it is simply an aspect of his existence. This isn't the first vampire she had ever encountered, but none felt like this. Her blade cuts, meeting resistance as if it was trying to separate a part of the Earth from itself.

A successful blow. But only one step toward possible victory.

Coming out of her roll, she whirls up to her feet, hair, robe, and ribbons forming a circle around her as she prepares to reverse course and once more test Slayer's cunning. But his recovery from her own attack is faster than she had even anticipated, her eyes sweeping across the empty location vacated a split moment after she attacked.

Instinct, and experience from earlier in the match, has her looking up in time to see the silhouette of large wings against the arena lights. Having already meant to rush forward to continue her criss-crossing, relentless style of attacking, trying to change gears into an evasive leap backward comes just barely too slow, too late. The twisting kick catches Nakoruru on the side of the head.


Unlike him, the swordswoman's diminutive stature provides minimal resistance to the blow. He may even notice that, knowing she can't avoid the hit, the fast thinking warrior instead allows herself to be knocked further, sparing her neck some degree of painful wrenching.

She stays upright, however, eyes squinting against the blinding pain. Rather that bolt back in, however, her left hand is raised to her mouth, pinky and ring fingers extended. A quick, high whistle radiates out over the battlefield. Above, just barely within Slayer's peripheral vision, a new star of infinite colors is born, a shriek from the sky echoing all around.

That Mamahaha is coming for him again, he can have no doubt. Whether the noble darkstalker can discern the angle and velocity of the attack is another matter.

Compared to the first time the winged predator dove, the power coursing over the dive bombing bird of prey is bright enough to light up the arena. Wherever she lands promised to be awash in an explosion of chi. The only question is whether her target manages to elude her once again.

COMBATSYS: Slayer blocks Nakoruru's Irusuka Yatoro Rimse EX.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Slayer           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0         Nakoruru

The Vampire known as Slayer is hardly unused to fighting more than one person at once. But this is different. Fighting a person with a familiar always is -- but rarely does he ever meet one with so close and powerful a bond as this.

Two lives working in perfect harmony to achieve a singular result, greater together than they ever could be apart. It's like facing two extensions of the same person at once. To focus his attention on one too much risks opening himself up to the aggressions of the other. A relationship like this is one of exquisite rarity and challenge.

It is, in a word, invigorating.

And it means that the unaging dandy, already having fought so much, must keep his wits sharp as the edge of Nakoruru's blade in the ensuing exchange of blows. A second's delay could cost him much; landing in upon the ground in a kick-up of dirt and pummeled wood chips in a low but surprisingly graceful crouch for a man as large as he, one leg swept outward, the other bent at the knee against his chest, and head bowed groundwards with the shut of sharp eyes. His lips pressing into a thin line, for a moment, he is stationary. Not to pause the match. No --

To try to predict what is coming next.

He feels the Nakoruru's footfalls, and he knows from the distance of the sound and vibrations against his heels she's further back than he anticipated. Trying to gain ground. Which means she'll probably try to maintain that distance. Which means...

Eyes closed, he cannot see the blinding prism of colors refracting across the spectrum of Nakoruru and Mamahaha's chi. But he can feel it. And it makes those lips twitch into a smile as his right hand clenches into a tight fist.

"A superb strategy," he murmurs under his breath, just as the light engulfs him. Legs tense. The falcon dives.

And the silhouette of Slayer lunging towards the diving familiar can be but briefly seen before it is devoured in a swath of colors.

Chi explodes, in a rippling series of shades. And for a second, there is nothing. For a second.

In the next, a single fist, enlarged and reinforced until muscles strain against clothes specially tailored to accommodate their inhuman nuance, -punctures- through that bright haze. Force dissipating along his battering ram of a limb, it still burns away at clothing, catches furiously at his extremities, stings down to his bolstered flesh.

But does not stop him from flying forward towards Nakoruru fist-first, intent to swing a punch straight into her solar plexus as that embiggened musculature reasserts to normal shape like the snap of a rubberband.

Hurt, but still fighting. In the face of such impassioned tenacity, how could he not?

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru full-parries Slayer's Medium Punch!!

[                    \\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Slayer           0/-------/-======|==-----\-------\0         Nakoruru

The explosion illuminates the arena, concealing both vampire and bird from sight. The magnitude of the explosion provides some insight into how readily Nature lends her breath to Kamui's chosen warrior and her feathered sentinel. A shockwave radiates outward, blowing up dust and whipping at hair or cloth. The force will dissipate well before becoming a danger to staff or crew, only knocking askew a few cameras and blowing out a couple of mics before fading. But that comes later.

Before then, Slayer bursts out of the epicenter of Mamahaha's calamitous dive, zeroing straight in on his opponent, the musculature of his arm hinting at incredible striking potential.

Perhaps when he spoke of strategy a moment before being lost from view, the Immortal Dandy foresaw what was about to transpire. The fierce falcon launches up out of the area obscured in light, flying at a rising angle behind the faster moving vampire.

And as Slayer sets eyes on his target, he will find the time lost warrior waiting, her breath held, steel-blue eyes wide, her whole body tensed in a moment of perfectly coordinated anticipation. She's leaning forward, her weapon sheathed, right hand hovering near its visible grip. In this fight, Slayer fights two moving as one, girl and bird acting with intrinsic understanding, their hearts and souls linked through an existence of shared suffering and triumph.

And as the noble closes in on the raven-haired young woman, their precision stratagem unfolds. Rather than brace for defense, rather than attempt to be evasive, Nakoruru launches toward Slayer. She will meet the Undying Spectator head on. Two steps and then she springs. Unable to launch herself cleanly over him at the speed his fist comes swinging in, it is instead upon his arm that her moccasin-clad foot presses, launching herself up overhead.

It would be understandable if the blindingly fast response was interpreted merely as an escape as Nature's Avatar takes to the air such natural grace it seems almost natural that she could fly.

Mamahaha is exactly where she needs to be, her taloned legs extended, open for Nakoruru to grab hold of. Serving as a flying pendulum for the lithe girl to swing from, the swordswoman swings away from Slayer from her vantage point above, then, just as quickly, whips herself back, inverting her trajectory in a move that would have been impossible but for her feathered ally's help.

Her new, altered path takes her into a steep angled dive toward Slayer's upper back, a ninety pound white comet of burning resolve. She might have reservations attacking from behind, but the warrior priestess of bygone times already knows the slightest hesitation on her part will give him the room he needs to maneuver.

She would draw her sword and slash in one smooth motion the moment it seemed she might pass by his side, a vibrant, crescent of pearlescent chi surging along with the blade's path through the air.

As before, she would have to end the dive with a roll against the ground, hoping the tandem technique with Mamahaha was finally enough to decide this unprecedented contest at last.

COMBATSYS: Slayer interrupts Kamui Mutsube EX from Nakoruru with Crosswise Heel.

[                        \\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Slayer           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0         Nakoruru

He can see the shape of their plan. It isn't simply a matter of normal perception. When fighting familiars with such a close-knit connection to their master, their partner --

It requires a perspective with a greater scope than one can achieve with eyes and ears alone.

His fist swings, but buries in nothing more than empty air. Slayer's eyes widen, one hidden behind the glint of his monocle. Strong as he is, and slight as she is, he can still feel the subtle pressure of her feet landing on his arm to use as a convenient springboard past his assault and well overhead. It's almost like having the air grace his arm, with how light her presence is, how briefly it lasts. Truly, Nature's touch.

It is a style he has not borne witness to in many years, and that alone has made this fight more than worth it all.

And perhaps that is why the Immortal Dandy is grinning around his pipe as Nakoruru ascends. Why his eyes are full of a spark of life that his unlife belies. It would be easy -- understandable, even -- to assume that Nakoruru was attempting to gain more ground again. Simple to assume her falcon would whisk her away to relative safety to continue pressing her assault from range. And as he rises towards a full stand once more, back turned towards Nakoruru, it would seem he has assumed just that. Brown eyes shut. Smoke puffs in thick, gray clouds from his pipe.

The young woman from an age long past draws her sword, a sliver of space from her target.

And the resolve in his expression is reflected perfectly on the keenly polished edge of that blade as he pivots to face her.

A flash of a moment. That's all it takes for him to spring from the air with an acrobat's graceful backflip. Her blade swings, cleaving steel and chi across his back in a way that shreds cloth and wounds flesh at the very moment his right heel buries just under her heel in a straight vertical piston blow.


It is only seconds later that gravity takes hold of the vampire once more, and he falls into a tumble less graceful and aesthetically pleasing than he would have hoped. But when he comes to a crouched halt and springs back once more onto his feet, ruined though his clothes are, battered though his flesh is --

Slayer is smiling with eyes full of fire.

So late is his response, it seems to defy reality when Undying Dandy turns and launches himself into the diving attack. Of course she was committed to seeing it through. She was committed the instant her foot graced his forearm for that fleeting moment. His reprisal comes as fast as thought, her downward momentum providing added force to the impact that catches her jaw from below.

Sharp blade and a rainbow of chi still slash out, still leave their mark, blunted if but a little by the abrupt, jarring stop brought to her descent.

Head snapping back, the fearless warrior's course is reversed into a high arc, her body limp as her vision becomes a field of black and flashing bursts of white. Arms relaxed at her sides, unfocused eyes closing, Nakoruru's thoughts drift through incoherent chains of idea. Just how strong, how fast is this opponent? Has she really seen what he is capable of? Flight was clearly within his means, yet he fought on the ground. Speed defying comprehension would have to be coupled with strength equally overwhelming.

She wished she could ask what /he/ sought out his participation in the King of Fighters tournament. What could bring something like Slayer into the open? But the blisteringly fast pace of combat had denied more than a few words' utterance ever since their brief lull ended. He draws on power unknown, knowledge spanning untold ages. What chance does she have against that?

But then another thought comes to mind - she isn't alone in this fight either. Her sources of support extend beyond her bold sentinel or the intrepid monk. Nature is more than a distant observer in her struggle, and the Kamui more than unknowable forces.

Nakoruru's eyes snap open, a breath inhaled. Autonomy over her body is found once more, purpose renewed as she bends her knees up toward her chest. No longer careening toward the ground, she takes control, stretching out of the flip into a straight fall from the sky.

When she lands it is with a thunderous crack, a single bolt of white lightning piercing the sky directly into and through the half crouching warrior, small forks of brilliant energy rippling out around her in a small radius. One hand and knee pressed against the dirt, she lifts her head, eyes finding Slayer, lips pulled back in an open grin.

No sooner than the lightning has faded than she bursts toward him, moving faster than she has at any point in the bout. He has seen much of her style, a tribal sword art lost to the centuries. But until this moment, the Timeless Observer had yet to see the genesis of her style's name.

- Shikanna Kamuiryuu Toubujutsu -
- The Dancing Sword Arts of the Thunder God -

Her speed is as lightning, her sword swipes slicing through air, each leaving electric arcs of crackling energy that fades an instant later. Slash after slash is executed with her steel fang, the living force of nature moving about Slayer in a whirlwind.

It isn't with vehemence that she strikes.
It's that his performance demands nothing less of her.

She would have to stop eventually, the burst of power having exhausted itself, the swordswoman left winded.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully hits Slayer with Inep Ikashima Wanpe Chuie.

[                             \  < >  ///////////////               ]
Slayer           1/------=/=======|===----\-------\0         Nakoruru

And so it comes to the end. Slayer had thought it might. Still, he cannot help but be a little disappointed.

He had hoped this moment might last just that much longer. But there's no sense in being greedy, is there?

A reserved smile crosses his lips as he sees lightning crack in ionizing air and raw expression of Nature's fury. The Kamui are at his opponent's back, ready to show him something he has not seen in an age. No; he does his opponent disservice with his selfishness.

"Let us embrace this end with grace, young miss!"

This is more than enough to satisfy.

He has no time; he figured he might not. But he plays this moment through sincerely to its last, legs tensing from where he crouches in place, his form begins to waver in inky smears much as it had before in the fight with Kung Lao. When brown eyes crack open, they show nothing but that impassioned will to fight till the bitter end. He prepares to spring --

-- too late. Much too late. She is fast; faster than she's been; faster than even /he/ has estimated from what he has witnessed throughout the entirety of this bout. Behind his monocle, one eye widens in an expression of brief surprise before it is obscured by the crackle of lightning.

And no sooner have the balls of his feet begun to push him upwards than her sword finds its mark with a brutal swipe. A wound is formed and instantly cauterized before the Undying Dandy's own regenerative prowess can seal the injury up. It leaves sizzling scars that will last for at least a small time to come, little fading mementos of this clash that continue to grow in multitude with each successive bite of electrocuted steel.

She is a crack of plasma across his field of vision, winds whirling about him as every successive strike lifts him further and further up off his feet to the mercy of the vortex generated in her wake.

It isn't vindictive. It is a sign of respect. And she is not wrong, either.

Because it is equally a sign of respect that he would have lashed out in reprisal if she had left even a single opening available.

And so very satisfying that she does not, even for one second.

But even this magnificent show of force can only last so long; even this, too, must eventually fade. Even surpassing human limits has its own limits. And as the tempest stills, slowly but surely, gravity takes hold of Slayer once more. He falls towards earth with a meaty -=t h u m p=-, his body smoking with the scent of singed flesh heavy in the air.

That he lands on his side in an elegant sprawl, well --

-- it's as he said. Even defeat most be handled with grace.

There is silence from his prone form, for a long moment. The sensation that he might just spring back and begin fighting again hangs heavy in the air. Battered, cut, outfit in tatters, his chin rests upon his right, smoking fist, decorated with ashy char marks all along his abused skin. His eyes shut, pipe hanging from his lips, he exhales a breath he never needed in a slow, deliberate way.

His hand moves. Fingers encase the glint of glass around his eye. He pulls his monocle free, and for a moment, he stares at it as his eyes crack open. With simple a tilt, the hairline fracture that runs through its center is exposed to the gleam of light.

Once more, those eyes shut, and a beleaguered but satisfied smile of concession crosses his cracked lips.

"... Ha! So be it."

And with that, the eternal watcher rolls onto his back, lacing fingers at his chest.

"I yield! This match belongs to you and your valiant companion, young miss! A well-earned one at that. It has been a true privilege to face opponents such as yourselves. And if I may be so bold to say..."

And as the last wafts of smoke dwindling from his pipe, the man's smile endures.

"... I believe you will find what it is you seek. The both of you."

Defeated as he is, he does not press a final assault. Instead?

The Undying Dandy shuts his eyes, and drifts off into a quiet nap. Yes.

This has been a most worthwhile venture, indeed.

COMBATSYS: Slayer takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Slayer can no longer fight.

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

She slides to a stop, feet apart to keep herself upright in spite her forward lean, right arm out at her side, fingers closed over the grip of her kodachi. Lightning crackles along the sacred blade of Chichiushi, but it is a calm thing compared to the storm she heralded only an instant before. A moment later, and the only trace of the power she had drawn upon is the scent of ionized air.

Above, Mamahaha cries out, the great falcon circling back around from the moment she had aided Nakoruru with her moment of aerial acrobatics. As the sound reaches her ears, the raven-haired warrior musters a tired smile, standing up straight, turning around without hurry. Her sentinal's call told her all she needed to know.

Her right hand flicks her blade to a reverse grip, allowing her to slide it easily into the sheathe at her waist, the weapon settling into the soft leather up to its hilt.

The sense of victory in the air is unlike any other battle she could remember. Unexpectedly, she realized she found herself awaiting appraisal from the timeless Slayer, as if this was a moment to be evaluated, to be determined if her best was found lacking after all. Just how much did the Vampire have within him? A nagging impression in her mind suggests... she had only seen hints of what he was capable of. This fight was no normal sport against a peer.

He calls out his approval, and with it, an acknowledgment that the efforts of her and her teammate were sufficient. Her smile lingers as she closes her eyes and dips her head.

"Thank you, sir."

She opens her eyes, pausing for a moment. "I hope... that you do as well."

Lifting her left arm, bent at the elbow, she offers a perch to the feathered predator that played no small part her in her battle, Mamahaha alighting before folding her wings behind her back.

Whether the vampire is conscious or not, she would not be able to tell. And for his ears, she leaves a final thought.

"At last the fight ends."
"Victory is its own prize."
"It is never free."

Finally, she turns to step away, eager to check on her partner's condition after their incredible bout.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru has ended the fight here.

Log created on 18:55:44 06/06/2019 by Kung Lao, and last modified on 18:43:53 06/16/2019.