KOF 2019 - Prelims 1 - Family Values vs Aesop

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Description: The NOL enters KOF 2019 with a splash, showcasing not one but two power house teams. And then goes and hosts the match at the extravagant NOL Central Command just to show off!

It's perhapos only fitting that the Novus Orbis Librarium field not one but two teams in the King of Fighters 2019 tournament. After all, it was the calamitous disaster that transpired alongside the ill-fated King of Fighters 2017 that opened the way for the Librarium to begin operating in the open after decades of secrecy. As the previous tournament previous tournament advanced toward its incredible finale, all the world was also forced to bear witness to a nearly unprecedented potential for devastation. The march of the Gear army, the appearance of darkstalkers operating in the open as organized enemies of civilization, and the threat of global catastrophe from a storm god's extreme attempt to curtail the exponentially growing forces of chaos...

When the NOL offered its well-trained, well equipped forces to help world governments fight back against the supernatural, the incomprehensible, the leaders of the world were eager to sign charters with extensive leeway for the Librarium to operate within their borders.

And now, in 2019, the team fighting spectacle of King of Fighters has come again. And what better way for the Librarium to flaunt its presence than to host one of the opening round matches right here, at the Novus Orbis Librarium Central Command located in the mountainous region of Switzerland.

Corporal Renka Kaneko had never been to to the main headquarters of the organization she worked for. This special assignment, directly reporting to one Colonel Hazama, has changed that. While much of the Central Command of the Librarium consisted of buildings more functional than fancy, more secure than welcoming, there was the central lobby of the main entrance. On the outside, this monolithic building better resembled an extravagant cathedral than a para-military compound. And the inside was no less lavish.

No expense was spared in the construction of the building. One can only imagine it was designed to awe and intimidate visiting world leaders who came to treat with the Librarium. Massive columns, high ceilings, and decor that hinted at the wealth, power, and vast collection of the Librarium looms over any who stand within the main lobby. The floors are all stonework, the walls decorated with lavish drapes of blue or red, framed pictures or portraits, and banners bearing the emblem of the NOL. Light is provided by massive, golden chandeliers hanging high above, but rather than candle or modern illumination, they glow with layered arcane circles, powered by a source other than mundane electricity. Fountains, statues, and even trees decorate the interior of the lobby, leaving it to the eye of the beholder if the entire display is overly ostentatious or thought provokingly humbling.

At the base of a wide set of red carpeted stairs, Corporal Kaneko stands, head turning every which way, her pair of vulpine ears twitching in a new direction every time she picks up on a new auditory detail. The ambiance of the Librarium's so-called welcoming center sets her heart to racing. She was here, representing the capabilities of the NOL for all the world to see as well as demonstrate that in spite the prevailing attitudes in most nations, darkstalkers can fight right alongside humans as partners against threats, magical or otherwise.

The fox-tailed soldier shook her head, closing her green eyes as she tries to redouble her focus. She stands ready, clothed in a long dress-like military coat of blue and white. A knee length pleated blue skirt is visible beneath it, and her feet are covered in black boots that reach up to below the knee. Sheathed at her side is a sword of roughly katana-length, and in her left hand, held straight up, its blunt end resting against the floor, is a simple enough looking spear with a wooden shaft.

The match is moments from being underway. Cameras, some manned, others mounted on nearby columns, will give the world audience its much desired view of the action. Renka rests her right hand over the center of her chest, taking in a deep breath before exhaling slowly.

The opulence and grandeur of the NOL Headquarters grand lobby is certainly on full display, but as Noel stood waiting in the wings to be announced, she looked out at today's rather elaborate spectacle and privately wondered if the NOL had...well, THIS in mind when it agreed to host at least one match here.

The brilliant, grand cathedral design of the lobby was always impressive, but perhaps a little less -inspiring today, marred as it was by a veritable throng of people waiting in the wings. Most of them are NOL soldiers or bureaucrats, of course, but there's certainly also fans who came in for the event--only the more diehard kind for a mere preliminary match--, as well as a temporary setup for the announcer and commentators, television crew, and tournament judges. The crowd is loud, positive, and boisterous, and in its own way, rather charming.

What it wasn't was conducive to anyone getting a lick of work done, of course. And as Noel thought about what Colonels Hazama or Clover would say if they caught HER on the sidelines like this...well, she just looks downcast a bit, lost in thought.

Soon enough, though, a squeal of the announcer's microphone brought Noel back to reality. Her nervous, embarrassed look begins to fade a bit as she straightens up, adjusts her hat despite the bobby pins holding it in place just so, and bites her lip in anticipation. How did Colonel Clover ever convince her this was a good idea?

The announcer begins to tell everyone assembled how pleased the NOL is to host this match, yadda yadda, and carefully -not- mention what everyone already knows: Holding a match here, with two NOL teams right in the beginning, is a message. A warning. The NOL will not tolerate a repeat of last years events, and at least one of their teams will make it past the prelims, which might even be a sign the KOF tournament organizers are fine with that. Unless it's coincidence.

Does -anyone- think it's a coincidence?

Noel's far too distracted to be thinking of the bigger picture herself, of course. That's not really something she does on good days, and now her focus is pretty much on Renka. The truth is, darkstalkers are supposed to be strong, and with those weapons, that's a good argument Renka qualifies, but beyond that Noel didn't really know much of how Renka fights. How much Renka knows about Noel's style is anyone's guess.

Regardless, Noel's mind is going a mile a minute, so much so that she's almost completely distracted when her name is called out. It's only when the cheering gets louder and the fans nearest Noel are shouting directly at her that she rapidly blinks like a stratled bunny, looking around curiously for a moment, that it dawns on her that she's LATE. AGAIN. While standing right there!

She runs full tilt into the arena, red-faced and flustered, and of COURSE her hat goes askew in the mad dash no matter how many bobby pins she uses--

Maybe she should GLUE it on. Kajun would be able to whip up something. Noel nods firmly to herself, finally straightens her hat, and looks expectantly at Renka.

It would be trivial for Renka to listen to the announcer even over the clamor of the packed in crowd. But her sharp sense of hearing is focused almost entirely on the audience members nearest her. With a twitch of an ear, she can pick any one individual voice out of the whole, listening in on exchanges most would assume to be private by virtue of the ambient noise. It's a good way to distract her thoughts from the pressure of the upcoming match.

Colonel Hazama openly admitted that fighting wasn't his forte. That means the bulk of this team effort is on her! Maybe if she does exceptionally well, she can spare him from having to participate all together.

But then there's the matter of her opponents. Like her own team partner, Colonel Clover is a man with a reputation among the rank and file of the Librarium. Not that she had ever talked with anyone who served under the enigmatic man directly, but nothing flows faster than rumors among the troops and she's certainly heard stories. She's also well aware that, Colonel Hazama aside, obviously, many of the Librarium's upper echelon of officers are also proven powerhouses when it comes to direct combat.

Plus there's her first opponent - Lieutenant Noel Vermillion. An amusing dialog between two men wagering on the outcome of the match, her eyes snap to the young woman she's up against. From a cursory appearance, the two would not seem to be terribly far apart in age. Compared to the often sadistic, darkstalker-hating Lieutenant Shimotsuki she reports to, Noel seems to be cut of entirely different cloth. Even at a glance, Renka doesn't observe the aloof mien of one who considers herself superior to all around her. Actually, she looks quite nervous. Maybe... maybe she feels the same about all this spectacle? The pressures of a special assignment, being teamed up with one of NOL's high ranking elites... Renka starts to nod her head quickly in quiet, empathetic understanding. Maybe the two of them aren't so different.

Mouth forming into a ready grin, Corporal Kaneko steps quickly away from where she had waited at the side, moving into the arena cordoned off for the match. Standing up completely straight, spear at her side, she gives Noel a snappy salute.

"It is an honor to face you, Lieutenant, sir!"

Normally she would have held the salute until given permission to drop it by her superior officer, but she understands circumstances surrounding this encounter require different pacing. Dropping the salute, she grips her spear with both hands, leaning it forward slightly in front of her.

"I'll be doing my best!" she assures the nervous looking officer with the askew hat. At first glance, it would be difficult to pick out anything unique about the fox-tailed fighter. Her stance is standard, somewhere between guarded and relaxed. "I'm sure we'll have a good match!"

Nine azure colored spheres of glowing light swirl into existence behind the NOL soldier, eight of them roughly the size of a baseball, while the ninth is closer to a soccer ball in dimensions. The spheres begin to move in a loose, circular orbit behind the darkstalker, giving off faint, blue light too dim to actually illuminate anything in the well light arena.

"I'm ready!" the enthusiastic recruit exclaims.

COMBATSYS: Renka has started a fight here.

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Renka            0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Noel has joined the fight here.

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Noel             0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0            Renka

It's a good thing Noel is so flighty sometimes. Not very often, but occasionally it lets her shift from an unproductive train of thought to a line that's at least a little more conducive to accomplishing something useful. Like, for instance, noticing Renka's spear, now pointing...well, if not directly at her, certainly in her general direction. No matter how used to combat anyone is--and Noel has certainly had her share of training--seeing a sharp object pointed towards you is always a good way to convince your ADD mind to quit with the distractions.

Still a bit red-faced from earlier, Noel is just a little late with her return salute. On the other hand, she's not bothered in the slightest that her opponent drops the salute early. She might be dialed into the same level of protocol, but let's be honest--she probably just has her mind on other things. Not especially inspiring in a young lieutenant, to be sure. Fortunately, though, she also apparently does not seem to care that Renka is a darkstalker. Either the fact is unimportant to her or Noel's simply used to them. Not common attitudes to take in the NOL, either of them.

As Noel lets her salute go, she replies, "Ah...um, nice to meet you, Corporal. Let's fight with honor!" She doesn't break into a smile precisely, but anyone in audible range can certainly hear it in her voice.

As Renka's orbs start to appear and spin, drawing a few 'oooohs' and quite a few cheers from the crowd, Noel has a party trick of her own. She stands with arms outstretched, and simply says, "Bolverk." Golden runes circle her arms and slide out towards her wrists, and past them into the empty air beyond. As they pass her hands they leave behind a pair of gleaming chrome slab-sided pistols, large enough that they look like they might break her wrists to fire them. She handles them with aplomb, however, effortlessly spinning them by the trigger guards as she settles into a sidelong ready stance--one gun pointed backwards, at her waist, the other upwards behind her head.

As soon as Noel draws Bolverk, her expression flattens. The almost-smile from before fades like a memory, leaving behind a calm, collected, almost -dispassionate- look that seems a bit out of place with how quickly it appeared. Noel blinks once, and as the tournament judge shouts, "Fight!", Noel replies more to Renka than the judge with, "...Let's begin."

She leans backwards, weight on one leg, stretching out both guns towards Renka. Without anything leaving her gun, the point in space right where Renka is standing blossoms into a golden sigil, then explodes, trying to catch her.

COMBATSYS: Renka blocks Noel's Type XI - Optic Barrel.

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Noel             0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0            Renka

"Nn!" Corporal Kaneko readily agrees, nodding back at Noel's encouragement that they fight with honor. The spear in Renka's hands is in stark contrast to the ornate furnishings of their surroundings or her almost mesmerizing, dancing blue spheres. A slender, wooden shaft, with a straight, metal tip - the yari spear, the weapon of Japanese peasant armies of centuries past. Simple, but easy to learn and effective for its cost.

When it comes to armaments, Noel's own artifact is far more eye catching and the reaction in the crowd to the sight of their summoning is palpable to the NOL soldier. The firearms now in Noel's hands are also an indicator that hunkering behind the defensive zone afforded by her spears is not going to be an effective tactic for the darkstalker. She'll need to be on the move.

Her eyes flick from Noel's face where her nervousness could be easily read down to the weapons in the Lieutenant's hands. No ordinary pistols, those, but she doesn't know the particulars of the relic that has settled on Noel to bear it either. She'll need to close the distance herself.

Her eyes snap back up to Noel's face, detecting in an instant the shift in demeanor. No longer seeming skittish, the Lieutenant is composed and difficult to read. Is this a byproduct of her own training? To find the calm in the storm, to center herself for battle? Fingers tightening over her spear, Renka resolves to find out, to test that calm.

Maybe there's something to learn from this girl who's only seen a fraction of the years she has.

The fox-eared fighter leans forward, pushing off with her feet, ready to move quickly, already planning a zig-zag approach to avoid being an easy target as Noel readies her firearms. Renka had only started to flinch forward when the spark of energy surges into existence around her. Sucking in a breath, she frantically corrects at the last second, drawing back and pulling her right hand free to swipe it through the air in front of her.

A swath of foxfire blue energy trails behind her fingers, wild and effulgent as flame, providing counter force against the explosion from Bolverk's first attack. It's hardly enough to absorb the entirety of the effectgive burst, however, and the burnt of it Renka takes on her right shoulder, her ears ringing in the aftermath of the close proximity detonation.

Gritting her teeth, feeling the exhilaration at having to answer the challenge, the NOL soldier bursts forward, passing through the fading burst from Noel's attack, ignoring the throb in her shoulder, the ringing in her ears as she hurries to close in. "Better be ready!" The spear in her hands begins to burn with blue fire that gives off no heat, the shade identical to the nine glowing motes that rush in after the fox. The now glowing yari affords Renka a few options, perhaps making her next course of action less obvious than a direct charge and stab.

Instead, she zips back and forth, approaching swiftly, changing sides every other step. She passes by the reach of her spear without striking, instead attempting to slip right by Noel, sweeping the shaft of her weapon in toward the young woman's stomach with a slide-long bash.

Light on her feet, Renka would follow by twirling as she passes, a second swing targeting Noel's upper back. In spite its flame-like appearance, the energy coursing over her weapon is in no danger of burning anyone. There isn't even any hint of heat around it. Instead, should its effects be felt, that spectral energy of the kitsune's hurts on a deeper level than flesh or bone - the foxfire augmented attacks might very well be felt like assaults on Noel's soul.

For all her ready grinning, cheerful eagerness, and fierce respect for her superior officers, there can be no question that the creature Noel faces in combat is quite dangerous.

COMBATSYS: Noel dodges Renka's Power Strike.

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Noel             0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0            Renka

Noel barely even seems to register the effects of the Optic Barrel on Renka's shoulder. Instead, her wide, green eyes shift back and forth rapidly at the spears Renka is carrying. Her attitude is wary and respectful, muscles loose and ready, waiting for the inevitable moment...

...There. The shift of the eyes, the tensing of the bicep, the twitch of Renka's tail. What exactly Renka had planned isn't something Noel could divine--not really, not with any confidence--but the timing. That Noel could tell. Perception, analysis, reaction, all between breaths.

Noel might not be a limbo dancer, but it sure looks close. She slips under the first strike with millimeters to spare, the butt of Renka's spear coming within a hairsbreadth of smacking Noel upside her nose. The eerie blue light from Renka's glowing weapon almost makes Noel's glassy eyes look blue in the reflection.

The second strike, from behind Noel, is harder to dodge. Instead of trying to slip to one side, a move that might make a weapon as long as a spear hit her even harder, she takes a different tactic. She does a full sideways spinning flip in the air, just like a cartwheel but with no hands, right in front of the second swing. The shaft of the spear is over Noel's shoulder as she flips, again, barely avoiding the strike with an inch or two to spare, so close she might have lost a lock of hair were her hair not bound. She lands back on the ground as Ranka finishes the follow-through, but doesn't have time for anything complex: She simply reaches forward, trying to grab Renka by the shoulders. If she manages it, it will be followed by a rising knee, then a kick to the face as she springs away.

COMBATSYS: Renka blocks Noel's Type VIII - Return Fire.

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Noel             0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0            Renka

The nimble evasion on Noel's part through the two sweeping strikes clean through the space she had occupied only an instant before gives the initial exchange of attacks a deceptively graceful, dance-like appearance. Renka spins with her attacks, circling around her opponent, her two fox tails providing the counter balance to her long ranged weapon as she leans on her heels just right to work with the momentum. The wooden shaft whistles through the space, leaving a wake of that foxfire blue in its path. But for as menacingly swift as the two sweeping strikes are, the Lieutenant is faster even still.

Renka recovers quickly is spite the force of her missed attack, maintaining flawless balance as her feet, tails, and torso move with the flow of the missed attack. This leaves her facing the Arcane Gunslinger the moment Noel reaches for her shoulders. There isn't an immediate violent response, though Renka does begin to raise her spear, held horizontally close to herself, looking as if she's about to use the shaft to shove the slender girl back off of her.

A split second adjustment of the weapon's position has her intercepting the rising knee strike instead, the wood creaking with the impact. Matching Noel's speed with her own speed, Renka releases her spear with her right hand, raising it up and slamming it out, palm first into the path of Noel's follow up launching kick. With the same motion, one of the nine foxfire motes rushes forward, merging into the Corporal's hand, causing it to briefly burn with the same azure flame as her spear.

A soft growl rumbles in the darkstalker's throat as she pushes back against Noel's foot, a sound not born of anger but of the thrill of the fight, the exhertion to push back, to make her own mark against the nimble opponent.

As Noel springs back through the air, Renka surges forward to meet her, her swarm of eight remaining sapphire blue spheres hurtling along after her. Shifting her spear to her left hand and holding out against her side, it is from her right hand the next attack comes. A sweep of her arm, her fingers outstretched, slightly curled like a claw, slashes through the air near where she predicts Noel will land. Near, but not through -

It's the swath of foxfire that follows the sweep of her hand that is the actual threat as Renka tries to dash right on by, leaving the dangerous ethereal energy in place for the Academy Graduate to contend with.

For her own part, unless prevented, Renka would slide to a stop, spinning on her feet with the momentum to come to rest facing back toward Noel, her glowing spear already at the ready, an eagerness to step right back in and follow up easily read in her eyes.

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Noel with Mistaken Mercies.

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Noel             0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0            Renka

As Renka deflects the impact of Noel's knee, then her kick, Noel springs backwards, doing a bit of a graceful aerial pirouette before she lands. Just like Renka, Noel's movements are fluid and, really, the two of them fighting is like a dance all its own, the ultimate improvisational number. It's only been a few moments, but the exchange so far has the crowd electrified, and if they had seats they'd be on the edge of them. The KOF Tournament really couldn't have asked for a more thrilling beginning to the fight.

One would think Noel should be having the time of her life now. In a way, it's a pity that her expressions just are never going to be as photogenic as her combat style. If anything, she's calmer and more analytic as ever as she spins and lands on the ground.

The problem is, when you're spinning, there's always -some- point where your eyes aren't on your opponent. And for Noel, she got her head turned to see her opponent just a little too late.

Renka rushes past her, almost a blur, but what Noel had missed was the gathering of cerulean energies beforehand. She turned again to follow Renka's path, never realizing she was turning her back to the real danger.

The spectral fires slam into her back, eliciting a cry of pain as Noel stumbles forward. It's almost an anticlimax to hear her perfectly normal, feminine high pitched cry of pain, so much more natural than the clipped, businesslike tones she'd used in the only two words she's said right as the fight began.

As Renka settles again into her stance, Noel spins her guns around again, settling into her stance as well. She takes the moment Renka so obligingly gives her to study her stance, her movements, and of course, the energies so prominent behind her. In that long moment, Noel's eyes narrow, and in that flat, expressionless voice, she calmly intones, "Analysis complete."

COMBATSYS: Noel calculates her next move.

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Noel             0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0            Renka

An in depth analysis of the fox-tailed darkstalker would provide a few points of interest. In spite the high energy nature of her dashes across the arena, Noel's opponent is breathing as if she were perfectly at rest. Either the creature is so physically fit as to not feel the effects of exertion yet, or, more plausibly, her physiology doesn't work identically to a human's. Renka's pair of fox ears atop her head lean forward attentively, likely keyed in on every sound Noel makes. Is she measuring her breath? The beating speed of her heart?

Another detail likely picked up on with a moment's reprieve is the way the largest of her foxfire motes seems to be channeling energy into her. The ghostly, nigh-intangible tendrils of energy drifting down from the orb into the kitsune are close to impossible to see in the well lit structure, but Noel's perception would be sufficient to detect it.

Noel's opponent is definitely comfortable with the spear in her hands, handling the heft of it with trivial ease. She has also made no moves toward the sword sheathed at her side, but assuredly it exists for a reason. A backup weapon, perhaps.

The darkstalker is still grinning though not from some kind of inside joke or observation of humor in the bout thus far. She's clearly having a good time even with as difficult as the Arcane Gunslinger has proven to pin down. Maybe it's the chance to push herself, to exercise the strength normal, day to day existence no longer permits her to. Domestication may not have come easy for one who has observed the rise and fall of empires from the wilds of Japan.

The rich blue flame of her spear continues to flow evenly over it, coursing over her hands without any threat to the one that created it. There is a lot of energy left in this one. How long can she keep this up without resting?

Noel will find herself observed in return during the brief moment of inaction in what has otherwise been a blisteringly fast match. Thoughts rush through the kitsune's own mind - how stoic Noel seems now, dispassionate, calm and in control. She is aware of techniques humans use to focus themselves for combat, to flush out distractions, but this case is severe even for that... the sense of her is different than before, and the contrast is cause for reflection if she had the time.

But now isn't the moment. FRenka pushes off, attempting to close distance in a flash, both hands gripping her yari as its metal tip leads the way. The first strike is more simple and direct this time - a forward thrust of the weapon right into Noel's space. It would be followed up by Renka pulling back on it, whipping it around once over her head, making it risky to get too close, then finishing by ending up back in a defensive stance much closer to the Lieutenant now. "HAH!" Renka exhales as she commits to the attack, once again putting her opponent's speed to a very difficult test.

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Noel with Random Strike.

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Noel             0/-------/=======|=======\-------\0            Renka

One thing is for sure--Noel -does- seem to be a bit off as far as the emotions go. As she's analyzing Renka, Renka can look back, and it doesn't take a master psychiatrist to tell Noel's not really -coping- with emotions so much as ignoring them. It makes her clinical, tactical, and effective in combat, but the nervous young lieutenant from when she entered the arena is nowhere to be found.

Unfortunately, it clearly doesn't make Noel immune to mistakes. She's not a -robot-, obviously, as unlike before where she wasn't looking the right way for a split second, this time Noel simply and completely fails to flex out of the way in time. Instead of deflecting the spear, she tries to avoid it completely, and her gamble backfires. At least she didn't let Renka gaff her completely through the belly, but her sidestep is way too slow, catching the yari's tip in the side and carving a bloody furrow into her flank. This time she yelps again, louder this time, but shakes her head briefly--look, actual personality!--and leans back to avoid a possible followup.

Since Renka is already there and very ready, Noel takes no time at all to counterstrike. Since she's already leaning back, Noel outstretches both guns above her head, levels them off at Renka, and--wait.

When did she start carrying a shotgun?

However it happened, Noel no longer has paired pistols. Instead, in the blink of an eye she had a completely different weapon entirely and fires it, point blank range.

COMBATSYS: Renka blocks Noel's Type XVII - Chamber Shot.

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Noel             1/-------/=======|=======\=------\1            Renka

The swift spear thrust leaves a mark, but it is likely Renka's energy coursing over its surface that provokes most of the cry of pain. Rather than over committing to the attack, however, she has already followed through the momentum into a defensive posture, buying herself the best possible chance to respond to the Lieutenant's retaliation.

Her preparation pays off a split second later. If she had made any attempt to keep moving, if she had tried to press an advantage into a follow up strike, she would have been caught point blank by the shotgun blast. Even though she's this close, her senses fully alert, her eyes focused exclusively on her wily opponent, the Corporal still looks caught off guard by the sudden appearance of heavy caliber weapon in Noel's grip.

"Wha-" she starts to stammer out, her practiced spear guard stance affording almost no benefit against something like /that/. Instead she twists to the left, as if willing to take the shotgun blast to her side and live, albeit painfully, with the consequences.

But once more, there is an added layer to the creature's defense as another one of her foxfire motes bolts forward to intercede, exploding into a small but concussive blue burst between Renka and the barrel of Noel's shotgun precisely in time to deflect, absorb, or mitigate a significant amount of the potential harm.

Plenty of the threat still gets through, however, blasting into the cloth of her jacket, ripping the shoulder and upper arm of the dress coat to shreds and scattering a small amount of blood from her exposed flesh as well. Even blunted, the impact is enough to send Renka reeling back over the stone floor, her guard shattered, right arm flailing to catch her balance while her left arm slams the shaft of her spear against the floor with enough force to keep herself from tumbling over backward.

She's traveled several feet backward by the time she comes to a stop, a pained gasp escaping through clenched teeth, spear still braced against the floor behind her, eyes flicking to Noel's hands, a slightly confused look on her eyes at the way the young woman's firepower changed in a flash. Her right arm trembles, lingering shock from the shotgun blast leaving it less reliable than it was at first, but with a clench of her fist, she manages to steady it for now.

"Whew," Renka allows beneath her breath. As if in response to the pain she's feeling, one of those ethereal tendrils emanating from the largest of the seven remaining motes reaches out to start channeling into her right shoulder.

Once again, she's faced with the challenge of getting back in close enough to reach Noel - a challenge she answers by slamming her left foot behind her and launching into a blitz-like sprint back at the NOL officer. She zips to the right halfway toward her, clearly wary about that the threat of getting shot by that hard hitting weapon the girl produced and fired without missing a beat. But she has to zag back to the left in the end, leaping from a few feet out into an overhead slam of the spear, aiming to deliver a smashing blow with the length of the shaft against Noel's head or shoulder. Maybe she can disrupt the accuracy of her opponent's effective aim if she can get a solid hit in!

COMBATSYS: Noel dodges Renka's Medium Strike.

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Noel             1/-------/=======|=======\==-----\1            Renka

By the time Renka recovers from the effect and looks at Noel again, she's already carrying her paired pistols again, none the worse for wear. The shotgun was there and gone again so fast it almost feels like a mirage...but that blast was no mirage, and it hurt plenty. So the question is, what other tricks does that thing have? On a more general note, just what IS it? It's very clear to anyone who knows a little about relics that this is no basic weapon. You don't dot on down to the local knick knack shop, or even a reputable firearm retail chain, and pick up something like these guns off the shelf. And yet, it's hard to imagine something like this being intentionally put into the hands of a fresh-faced lieutenant when they could have handed them to a general. Plenty of unanswered questions, to be sure, and the speculation online after this fight about both girls should make for entertaining reading.

As for Renka's strike itself, this time the error Noel previously made in anticipating Renka's blisteringly fast lunge was corrected. Noel doesn't dodge left, or right, or even straight up. She frowns in intense concentration, sets her shoulder for a charge, and lunges straight forward!

Meeting a lunging spear with her bare shoulder seems like an unbelievably ignominious way to lose a match--and maybe much more--but Noel is deft enough to slip right past Renka's strike, cutting it just as close as the exchange at the beginning of the match. She twirls past the yari's business end, slips all the way past Renka's outstretched arms, past her body, and among the orbs of blue fire behind her before shifting her weight and reversing course, trying to slam her shoulder right square into Renka's back.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Renka with Type V - Assault Through.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Noel             1/------=/=======|=======\=====--\1            Renka

Of all of Noel's possible reactions, darting in /closer/ to the danger is not the one Renka anticipated. The end of the spear hits first, smacking against the stone with a reverberation heard throughout the arena before rebounding upward while the Lieutenant slips narrowly by. The Corporal's feet hit second, the fox caught a touch off balance as she leans into the landing, only barely able to mentally track her opponent's movements by instinct.

This close in, her spear proves to be more a liability than an asset, especially with Vermillion circling around her. Given time, she could correct for it, try to force the gunslinger off, attempt to disengage herself... but Renka has spent almost all of this fight trying catch up with Noel and she's not about to make it easy to get away from her now.

Her response to being flanked is instant, her hands relaxing, her spear starting to fall to the ground. She whirls on her right foot, spinning to the right around toward Noel, a flurry of motion, her tails trailing, her coat flaring out. Her left hand is on the end of her her sword's sheath, her right hand on its grip as the daring officer attempts to shoulder check Renka from behind. One of her foxfire motes darts down to blend into the handle of her sword, vanishing from sight in a blink.

The swift soldier finishes turning into the shoulder at about the same time Noel connects. Hit in the chest, she reels back, grunting as she loses two feet, then... Renka leans forward, launching into a dash so fast that the darkstalker seems to blur clean past Noel.

The almost invisibly sword draw attack happens simultaneously with her dash, the fox-eared combatant executing the classic samurai dashing strike, a technique she had been refining and perfecting over the course of her life.

A split second later, Renka's abandoned spear finally hits the ground, the blue foxfire that had danced on its surface extinguished while the exposed blade of her sword burns with freshly channeled azure energy.

COMBATSYS: Noel blocks Renka's The Lonesome Road EX.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Noel             1/----===/=======|=======\=====--\1            Renka

Well. It's a damn good thing for Noel she was already doing a shoulder block, because Renka's response is nothing less than masterful. As Renka realizes how Noel is using the spear against her, the kitsune's response is -blisteringly- fast, so fast that Noel literally has no time to act, let alone react to the strike. Her shoulder block hits, sure, but not cleanly--it trades with a fast and precise strike Noel was almost not ready for.

It's good she was in a shoulder block position because as the sword whips past her, it gashes her upraised arm rather than taking her fool blonde head off. Noel cries out in agony as Renka flashes past her, and a small spray of blood flies out.

A small spray, indeed. Really, it should have been a lot more. Noel uncoils from her curled up shoulder block, wincing, but as she lifts her pistols, the bright scratch alongside one of the barrels tells the rest of the story. Even as it becomes obvious to everyone Noel actually managed to partially block that strike, the nick in the metal heals itself. Noel actually starts to give Renka an actual wary, respectful look before her expression changes again, attenuating into calm placidity once more.

Noel starts moving in, slowly at first, then dashing in much the same way Renka had been before. Her movement is smooth and sure, but as soon as Renka moves, Noel is in the air.

She leaps skywards, locks her arms outwards and down right at Renka, and starts to unload an almost inexhaustible stream of gunfire.

COMBATSYS: Renka dodges Noel's Bullet Storm.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noel             0/-------/-----==|=======\=====--\1            Renka

As sharp the weapons are that Renka is employing against the NOL Lieutenant, it would be clear that she is aiming such that even if a severe hit was landed, it almost definitely wouldn't be fatal. The best medics the world has to offer are on standby within the NOL headquarters and it's safe to imagine they have techniques at their disposal not available to the world at large as well.

But that doesn't mean the intense combat dance engaged by the two NOL fighters isn't dangerous. Corporal Kaneko's dashing slash is guarded successfully in an exchange that happened so fast that only the high speed replay cameras will be able to share the the phenomenal event in slow motion for mortal eyes to appreciate later.

For now, the fox-tailed soldier is sliding to a stop, her feet skidding over stone, azure foxfire trailing from her weapon, her motes of energy whirling into orbit behind her a couple seconds later.

She whirls back toward Noel, eyes narrowed, attempting to quickly appraise the outcome of the attack without losing momentum. This isn't a death match - this is a duel, likely countless others she's had within the rank and file of the NOL for training purposes or bragging rights.

Even after all this, the creature's breathing is regular and as she lifts her sword with both hands, angling it into a horizontal defensive guard around the level of her face, allowing the blue, cool embers of her power to flicker in front of her eyes. Out of all her opponents, none had managed to continuously defend themselves as well as the Lieutenant she faces now. The young woman's combat instincts are exceptional, it seems.

She meets Noel's wary look with a slow smile that works its way across her features. She hasn't lost her enjoyment of the challenge as the battle has gone on. Noel moves forward and Renka charges to meet her, blade readied at her side.

Regardless what she pictured happening, it almost definitely didn't involve her opponent taking to the air before they can clash. Eyes widening, the Corporal skids to a stop, only to find herself dead center of the precision sharpshooter's aim. With Noel out of reach and readied to fire from a superior position afforded by her graceful leap, a successful escape on Renka's part seems all but impossible. She might be very grateful for the promise of medical attention the instant she finds herself staring up at the twin barrels of Bolverk.

The gunfire begins to rain down around her. But for the seemingly autonomous movement of one of her foxfire spheres darting in front of the darkstalker to burst into a small barrier, the first few shots would have hit her clean on. For a second, the hovering, burning block consumes the rounds that would have hit Renka instead, giving her a precious moment to ready her own defense.

The moment the foxfire barrier is overcome, she begins to deflect shots with her sword, metal impacts ringing out around her. No amount of speed or skill is going to keep that up. Fortunately for her, another one of her foxfire spheres surges above her, bursting into another barrier. Renka leaps up at the same time, utilizing the shield as a desperate path out of the line of fire, going airborne just like Noel...

Stretching her arms out at her sides, her right still gripping her sword, a swarm of tiny motes rushes up into the air with her, each a small spark of sapphire blue. And then, just before she would fall back toward the ground, she sweeps her arms forward in front of her, sending the swarm of small motes bursting toward Noel, possibly before she, herself manages to land!

COMBATSYS: Noel parries Renka's Gateway to Exile ES!

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noel             0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0            Renka

To be fair, Renka certainly seems to have better stamina than Noel. Renka may not even be breathing hard, but Noel is panting a little after flooding Renka with bullets. There's no time to relax, though--The sheer force of all that gunfire actually keeps her in the air for a moment longer than one would think possibly--and in this case, that could be an incredibly bad thing. If Noel can't land, she's going to be in for a world of hurt...from something pretty damn close to her own medicine!

When Renka leaps up towards her, Noel's flat emotions briefly give way, and her green eyes widen in something very like panic. She almost stiffens, though, a half second later, her powerful emotions and...well, -something-, warring within her. Whatever technique she uses to stay focused in battle, it's probably saved her neck at least once or twice just today!

As Noel is falling, she reverse-hands one of her pistols, gripping it by the barrel and holding it almost sideways, like a metal boomerang or frisbee. As it turns out, that's not far from the truth, as right before she lands, she whips the gun out with a practiced flick of the wrist, spinning it at an oblique angle. It whirls through the air, circling in front of her a few feet away, just like it looked like it was trying to do--but no gun should be able to fly through the air in a trajectory like this!

All this is happening with Renka's flood of projectiles inches away and closing fast. Noel lands with microseconds to spare, even as she whips out her other gun and holds it up, whirling like a dervish in the palm of her hand. She sweeps the gun from left to right, the spinning weapon absorbing the impacts from some of those flying spheres. But in order to catch some, she had to move her left hand too fast--some of the later projectiles promise to hit her from the opposite side!

Then, whipping back from its circular trajectory, the other pistol comes back right on time. It spins over Noel's head, blocking the other half of the incoming projectiles, and Noel finally catches the second gun with her right hand, arms crossed over each other.

Her face like a mask of concentration, lips pressed in a thin line, Noel leans far back in a defensive posture, one gun out low in front, the other cocked next to her face. She gives Renka a long, searching look, but if she planned on saying anything, it dsiappears as her face turns back into placid, even-tempered calm.

As Renka comes down from her own jump, Noel is ready for her. She's already next to where Renka will land, and trying to time the attack so Renka would land on it, she stretches out one gun and shouts, "Bloom Trigger!" Obligingly the gun erupts in a fairly short-ranged line of energy, blasting forward hopefully in Renka's path.

COMBATSYS: Renka just-defends Noel's Type II - Bloom Trigger EX!

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Noel             0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0            Renka

Speed and accuracy rule the day when it comes to fending off the swarm of foxfire motes gunning for Noel. It's her chance to feel, perhaps, what Renka felt staring up at the twin barrels of Bolverk pointed her way! Unleashing the storm Noel's way, the fox-tailed soldier is free to fall back to the ground herself. Even if the Lieutenant manages to guard against the harrying attack, she should at least be delayed long enough for Renka to recover - or so the kitsune thought.

Instead, in the miraculously brief moments between evasion, attacking, then falling back toward the ground, she gets to witness the Arcane Sharpshooter execute an incredible defense all her own. The Corporal already knew she had reasoned cause to respect the legendary reputation of NOL's leaders, but it's obvious now that the Lieutenants are no slouches either.

The deflected foxfire darts aren't destroyed but rather scattered out into the air over the arena, each coming to a stop and hovering in place, dozens of tiny blue stars beneath the glare of the chandeliers.

Even as she falls, Renka can tell Noel is close, but just outside of the reach of her sword. There will be no point in trying to attack her on the descent. All focus must be put to her defense instead. One by one, the nine foxfire motes she conjured at the start of the bout have been extinguished, each lost in last second defense or in augmenting the creature's already dangerous speed. Of the nine, only three remain, including the one that seems to be slowly channeling its essence into Renka's injuries.

And as the fox's right hand sweeps out, one of the trio of spheres remaining swarms down in front of her, forming another one of those defensive barriers that have prolonged her ability to last so long against Noel's accurate shots and swift techniques.

The sphere bursts into a shield just as the beam is about to hit the Corporal dead on, causing the energy to explode around it but missing Renka in the process. The impact is strong enough that it drives her backward, her right arm extended, clearly sustaining the shield with desperate exertion lest it collapse and she get struck by whatever power is left, another soft growl in her throat.

Finally she ducks, feet slipping apart, her barrier overcome by Bolverk's beam, her ears leaning forward to avoid getting clipped by the energy pulse, the last two remaining spheres joining her in, her crouch. There is no time to waste, her retaliation coming swiftly as she surges up out of her crouch, her left hand bringing her sword up over her head where her right hand joins it. She steps forward, leaning hard, bringing the blade down in a far reaching, angled slash, a trail of foxfire left in its wake, the follow through of the strike requiring her to move to the left, offering only a brief window where she is completely defenseless.

Meanwhile, the small sparks Noel managed to deflect come rushing back toward Renka, passing into her body and vanishing from sight, a steady flow of energy restored to the darkstalker who seems to be visibly running low on her supernatural resources.

COMBATSYS: Noel parries Renka's Crushing Strike!

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Noel             0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0            Renka

Their last blistering exchange sends the crowd to even greater cheering, as no less than three times in the past minute, the arena THOUGHT they were going to see a horrific bloody mess, or at the very least a -victory-. Instead what they've gotten so far is a thrilling, intense, close battle. In fairness, Renka is clearly slowly getting better, so the longer the fight goes on the better shape she's in. But Noel hasn't been a slouch either, and both young (?) women have had stunning maneuvers and the devil's own luck guiding them.

So it is with Renka's latest devastating strike. She flashes forward again, her steel an arc of blurred steel and lambent blue flame. Noel's arms extend above her head as she frowns in concentration, and she manages to catch Ranka's sweeping blade in the V of her crossed handguns! The blade stops cold, though Noel looks for a moment like she's struggling to keep it from slicing through.

Ultimately, though, it's not strength but technique that wins the clash. Noel twists the blade to one side, diverting the flow long enough to lunge forward. She flips towards Ranka, trying to catch the kitsune's head between her thighs. If Noel manages that, she'll flip forward, using her weight to slam Ranka into the ground and briefly pop herself into the air.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Renka with Type IX - Muzzle Flitter EX.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Noel             0/-------/-======|=======\-------\1            Renka

The two-handed, overhead swing Noel catches with Bolverk is no light attack, Renka having leaned in hard, pouring her strength into trying to deliver a fight-ending blow. Instead, she finds herself over extended, unable to follow through, left to push down harder with her weapon to make it as precarious as possible for the Lieutenant to move in the slightest.

Another soft growl, her teeth grit, finding her ability to keep up the gunslinger waning. That only two of the original nine spheres remain at her back must be indicative of /some/ kind of resource drain on the kitsune's part. But as the two push in a stalemate, those incoming tiny sparks of foxfire vanishing back into their maker may mitigate the mounting fatigue.

In this brief exchange of strength and will, Noel would observe for the first time that her opponent is breathing harder. The creature's stamina isn't without limit after all. When Noel makes her move, deflecting the sword to the side, the fox-eared combatant stumbles forward, still pushing down against the perfect guard that is no longer there. Off balance, there's no chance to bring her guard up into Noel's path, leaving the Corporal easily caught by the head with a risky, acrobatic maneuver.

A yelp of surprise is Renka's immediate response, followed by a grunt of pain as her world flips upside down and she finds herself hitting stone with her upper back first. Pushing off the ground with her left forearm and right hand, Renka attempts to catch Vermillion with her feet before the Lieutenant matches to fully escape. And even if she misses, she should at least be able to land on her own feet, sword still tightly in hand, the last of the tiny azure sparks streaming back into her then!

COMBATSYS: Noel blocks Renka's Medium Kick.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noel             1/-------/=======|=======\-------\1            Renka

Without question, blocking an attack that hard, head-on, was tiring for Noel. She's by no means out of juice yet--in fact, she can probably still go for a while. But this has already been a long fight, and there will still be quite a ways to go. Sailing through the air, landing on her feet after slamming Renka to the ground, Noel looks just about ready to see this thing close out.

As it happens, though, Renka had other ideas. As soon as Noel lands, a leg snaps out, trying to catch Noel off guard. She can't leap out of the way this time--the attack's too fast. So she scrunches up under her guns, held up in a defensive stance.

The kick skitters across the side of the gun and ends up hitting Noel in the arm, bruising it, but Noel was able to deflect most of the force.

The kick shoves her back slightly, but Noel doesn't seem all that inclined to try to press any advantage she might still have. She instead lets out one deep breath, letting Raeka get to her feet, as Noel sizes up her opponent again.

COMBATSYS: Noel calculates her next move.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noel             1/-------/=======|=======\-------\1            Renka

Pushing off of Noel's guard with the heel of her right leg, Renka is able to secure a proper landing on her own two feet some distance apart from her opponent. Without immediate pressure from the Lieutenant, she has time to compose herself as well, standing up straighter, relaxing the grip on her sword just enough to give her fingers a reprieve from the tension of the last several seconds.

Her breathing is still different than the almost entirely unaffected cadence she had exhibited throughout the bout prior to now, but she doesn't seem to be on the verge of collapse either. Two glowing foxfire spheres remain, circling each other in a lazy dual orbit, the smaller moving faster around the larger, sustaining one that seems to be knitting the creature's injuries over time.

Breathing in deeply, Renka releases her sword with her left hand, moving her hand out in front of her, arm bent at the elbow, palm toward the ceiling of the grandiose hall. There seems to be a moment of quiet, intense focus before two new spheres of shimmering flame blossom into being over her open hand. A gasp of breath follows as Renka returns her left to join her right in gripping her sword, leaning forward, looking even more worn out than even a moment prior. The two newly produced foxfire spheres join the lingering two in their slow, patternless dance behind the fox-tailed creature's head.

Whatever the process was, it's over in a moment, Renka managing a weary grin back toward Noel afterward, "This is some fight, Lieutenant. You're incredible."

Turning her left shoulder forward, the Corporal rushes forward again, this time aiming for a shallow swipe of her foxfire coated sword from maximum reach, a horizontal, quick slash - quite the opposite of the heavier slash she tried before their pause, but that doesn't make it harmless!

COMBATSYS: Noel dodges Renka's Quick Strike.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Noel             1/-------/=======|=======\-------\1            Renka

As the tempo of the battle slows down for a moment, allowing both fighters to catch their breath for a moment, Noel takes a moment to examine Renka once more. There's no special surprises there, of course--Renka moves in the same way, and with not as much exhaustion as one could have hoped for, all things considered. It would have been nice, but the soldiers of the NOL deal with what is, not what should be.

Noel only has a moment to look at Renka pulling together more orbs. Is it a replenishment for the next assault? A defense Noel won't be able to penetrate? A pretty light show?

Well, in all fairness, it IS a pretty light show, one that pleases the crowd, to judge the cheers. But it might have made the fight drag out longer, too.

Noel doesn't smile, or frown, or even look put out by the brief compliment Renka pays her. She simply nods in reply, a silent acknowledgment and reciprocation. Clearly, her mind is on other things just at the moment.

And if Noel's reactions are anything to go by, they were on the next attack Renka was going to make! As Renka lunges forward with a quick swipe of the blade, Noel hops back a step, confident the swift blade would pass harmlessly in front of her. And so it has.

Instead of firing another shot at Renka, though, or sliding in close, the lieutenant tries to shift things a little, taking another leap at Renka. If she's lucky, Renka will think it's another hail of bullets, and defend herself too early. Instead, Noel is leaping in close, past where the bullet hell would have started, and executing a whirling spin in midair, guns blazing in a cyclone around her.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Renka with Type XIII - Revolver Blast.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Noel             1/-----==/=======|=======\======-\1            Renka

The quick slash of the sword is executed without over committing this time, Renka likely having learned a lesson about that the last time Noel deflected her more aggressive strike. The two handed swipe's follow through ends abruptly the moment it passes beyond range of being any threat to the Lieutenant before the weapon using soldier takes a second step forward, twisting her left shoulder forward and drawing her weapon back, quickly readying it for defense from whatever retaliation might come.

The fact that the blond gunslinger had nothing to say in return doesn't go missed, but with her own head pounding at the strain she's putting her body through, Corporal Kaneko doesn't give it a second thought for now. The fight requires her full attention, every step of the way, and that she understands full well.

Eyes focused on her opponent, she flicks her focus between the twin pistols and the prodigy wielding them, trying to predict the unpredictable, hoping to anticipate what she might be facing next. Rooting herself might be the wrong choice in the end, but it's the best she can come up with the uncertainty of the upcoming threat. Perhaps having Noel charge her so directly again has her feeling more defensive than she would be otherwise.

The Lieutenant takes to the air in another graceful arc and Renka brings her guard up higher, waiting for the moment those twin pistols are aimed so that she can finally make her move. Instead, she finds herself having to turn to keep up, the attack never coming quite as she anticipated. A cry of alarm is the next sound she makes as Noel whips herself into a tight spin, unleashing enough gunfire to keep Renka pinned in no matter which way she tries to move before finally catching the evasive fox.

A shot to the upper left arm, grazing right shin and thigh, and a harder burst against her stomach that knocks her back, gasping again, before Renka finally makes a move, attempting to escape the area of threat... by darting straight forward into Noel?

The image of the kitsune rushing through gun fire to hit the young woman turns out to be nothing more than a projection of energy crashing into her while her real opponent darts backward, leaving drops of crimson on the stonework floor. After all the attempts she's had at trying to run Noel down, Renka finally surrenders ground willingly... Working on a new angle of attack, perhaps?

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Noel with Born to the Strife.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Noel             1/-======/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1            Renka

As Noel lands from her spinning leap, she tucks into a crouch, one handgun held behind her while the other is in front of her face. She's a little tired, a little slow to straighten herself, but not to a terrible degree. More importantly, however, she'd struck her opponent a good one. This whole fight hasn't been easy, but the rhythm of the battle, the hoarse screaming of the ecstatic crowd, the thrum of her own fast heartbeat in her ears...all part of the pounding drumbeat, the pulse of life. Somewhere, deep in Noel's bones, far away from the placid, matter-of-fact look on the surface, that primal thrill still lies waiting. She's a long, long way from understanding herself, or knowing what's inside her heart, but even she cannot deny knowing there's something there...locked away.

All of this in a split second's realization; an instant of at least -some- comprehension. But now's not the time for woolgathering, now is the time for focus. And that lack of focus, that tiny slip...it's going to cost her.

The relentless bull rush of Renka's image very nearly slams into Noel with no warning whatsoever. Even still, she's barely beginning to dodge before the attack bowls her over, onto her back, her guns scattered all over the arena.

Noel groans and stands up, blood streaming from her nose and what might be the beginnings of an epic shiner over one eye. Ignoring her guns entirely, Noel starts walking forward, limping slightly, right towards Renka. As it happens, the guns aren't a concern--a moment longer, and the same golden runes as before spring unbidden to Noel's arms, and the guns neatly teleport right where they belong, into her hands.

The fact is, Noel looks like she's pretty messed up after that last hit. She gets into an approximation of her usual stance, but the truth is, speed matters here, not form. From a walk to a lope to an all-out run, Noel closes the distance with Renka as best she can. Renka maneuvered away, it's true, but all she has to do is get as close as she can, as close as she dares before Renka unleashes another attack. Whenever Renka makes a move, that's when Noel will, too--and however close she is, that will have to be enough!

As Noel lunges forward, she strikes, trying to reach Renka with both guns outstretched, as a large, elaborate glyph is drawn in the air before Noel...

COMBATSYS: Renka blocks Noel's Valkyrie Veil.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Noel             0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2            Renka

As Noel lunges in to strike, she flexes, aiming both barrels at Renka from fairly close range. A large glyph appears, and though Renka manages to block the glyph, Noel still goes into action. The glyph freezes Renka in place, while Noel briskly walks around her in a circle, both guns blasting into Renka over and over again. Each gun blast sets up another glyph. She then leaps completely over Renka, pivoting upside down and blasting her many more times. By now Renka is completely covered in these runes. Noel then turns away from Renka and sets the butts of each gun against each other in a meditative pose, a pose of equilibrium. As soon as she does so, every single glyph simultaneously explodes.

Her deception becomes apparently only when it's too late to avoid it. Using illusions to confuse the question of where she actually is any given moment may skirt the edge of what one considers 'honor' in the field of battle... but for the kitsune, such techniques are deployed without a second thought for right or wrong, fair or unfair. If anything, she's glad she's found a tactic that has managed to cut through the perceptive, nimble Lieutenant's lightning fast reflexes.

As she lands and braces herself behind her bluefire blade, Renka Kaneko fixes her focus on Noel. She's managed to wear the human fighter down with her relentless pressure. Her own foxfire energy has been sustaining herself. Were it not, she would have certainly collapsed under the volley of fire sent her way already.

But for now she clings to the last of her waning strength. Four foxfire spheres whirl about behind her in their autonomous dance, moving too whimsically to be connected to the violent combat going on around them.

This is it, she tells herself. The match will be resolved in this moment. All of her own supernatural defenses have been put to the test, one after another, leaving her limbs trembling, her body feeling real physical fatigue - a rarity for her. The energy in the arena is fierce but it isn't hers to claim. Not right now, with everyone watching, with others so far away...

"Focus, Renka," she whispers to herself, squinting her eyes for a moment and then shaking her head, scattering her long, rose-honey hair against her shoulders and back.

Noel moves forward, a touch less adroit than her earlier movements, but no less dangerous. This time, the young noble officer aims to close in tight, perhaps denying the fox any of her clever tricks or evasive maneuvers. Renka steps forward, looking to prepare and test her guard one last time against the power of Bolverk in close quarters combat.

As if the summoning, the magical recall, and the instantaneous form shifting weren't evidence enough, the true supernatural nature of Noel's portable arcane powerhouse becomes evident when she aims to fire both barrels at the darkstalker in close proximity.

With a defiant surge of energy, Renka rushes forward, one of her four lingering foxfire spheres moving with bullet-like speed along with her before darting down toward the floor at the last second, never seeming to quite catch up

The arcane glyph connects, freezing the Corporal in her place, sword raised into a defensive posture that will do little for her against the assault that follows. The sheer amount of relentless fire Noel produces next would make 80's action movie stars jealous, with bullets flying into the still-image of Renka from virtually every angle. The bullet dance is as much a finale as anyone could hope for from any match, and against almost any other opponent in the same situation, would have been enough to secure certain victory..

But the darkstalker Noel has been matched up is a cut above when it comes to tricky escapes. With glyphs painted every which way around the still form of Renka, there appears to be no avoiding the inevitable... right up until the moment they explode, triggered by Noel's finishing posture. Only then does the captured image scatter into dozens of motes of foxfire, the illusory target more than obliterated by the technique.

The real Renka is crouching beneath the worst of it, hands over her head folding her ears down, tails tucked beneath her long uniform coat, a barrier of thin, shimmering foxfire fading in the final moments from her desperate defense against the unavoidable technique. Pushing up to her feet, it's easy to tell at a glance that she was still a victim of severe collateral damage. Her coat is singed through in many places, her legs marred with scorches and bruises, and a nasty cut is dripping blood down over her left eye.

But after all that, she's still moving, whirling on her feet toward Noel, an almost feral gleam to her eyes as she searches out her target. With a toothy grin, she crouches, then hurls herself directly into the magic sharpshooter, as if to tackle her like some kind of enraged beast!

Contact would reveal the truth of it - it's another illusory copy aiming to tackle Noel then explode into a small cloud of debilitatingly painful foxfire. To the side by a couple of feet, possibly safely away from immediate retaliation, Renka flickers into view, her brief invisibility trick coming to an end as she slumps forward to one knee, blood still dripping from her against the stone, her wounds far exceeding the point at which her energy can knit them closed.

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Noel with The Hour of the Fox.

[                                < >  ///////                       ]
Noel             1/------=/=======|>>>>>>>\-------\1            Renka

There's a total relaxation that comes with -knowing- you've finally won. After Noel finishes Valkyrie Veil and the explosion erupts behind her, it's all Noel can do to not collapse completely then and there. Her calm face instantly turns into one of total exhaustion as she drops to her knees, legs splayed outwards as her hands are the only things keeping her halfway upright. She lets out a long, ragged sigh, and a bit of a sob, before turning slowly to look and see if she'd done any permanent harm to that brave young woman who'd fought so well.

Only to see her still (barely) conscious, and barreling down on Noel!

Noel is 100% completely unprepared to do anything but take Renka's desperate attack square in the face. It plows right into her and detonates, sending motes of energy every which way, but truth is, Noel's long, loud shriek of agony was just about the end of it already. She's battered, bloodied, uniform torn; the works. Definitely a part of the definitive clip of this fight online!

But while Noel's consciousness is fading, her determination has yet to let go. Even in the face of defeat, her expression clears again, turning into that placid stillness for just a moment more...just long enough to do the one thing that might take Renka down with her.

Noel may be lying on the floor, but Bolverk is in her hands. She has one possibility she's yet to try.

The paired pistols shift in Noel's hands yet again, this time in a new and utterly terrifying configuration. Oh, the retweets THIS will generate!

If it hits, and if Renka survives.

"Z...Zero Gun. ...Thor."

COMBATSYS: Noel can no longer fight.

[                       \\\\\\\  <
Renka            1/-------/<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Renka with Zero Gun - Thor.
Glancing Blow

[                           \\\  <
Renka            1/-------/<<<<<<<|

Down on one knee herself, Renka isn't even able to look toward Noel as her last ditch attack lands, gasping for breath as she wrestles with rarely encountered mortal limits to her physical endurance. The Lieutenant's speed, tenacity, and relentless gunfire had drained her of her reservoir of soul energy beyond the point anyone had taxed her in recent memory.

The sound of Noel's pain is not a pleasing thing to hear for the Corporal. While she fought her heart out for victory, there was never a point where baser instincts took over. Even famished for more, she never lost focus on where she was or who she was fighting with. Left hand dropping to her stomach, she folds forward slightly, finally looking over her shoulder...

Just in time to see Noel Vermillion aim a missile launcher her way.


Digging into the last of her own strength, the fox-tailed soldier launches herself into a graceless, late leap out of ground zero for Zero Gun Thor's point of impact.

Which makes it a good day for not being directly hit by a missile. But a bad day for avoiding the blast that follows, the shockwave catching her mid air, tumbling the barely conscious fighter over multiple times before she crashes against the stone and rolls, coming to rest face down several feet away.

"Ugh..." Renka stirs, left hand planting against the floor. She has to get up. She can't leave poor Colonel Hazama to fight alone! It's not his forte, he said! Bloody teeth grit, it looks for a moment like the supernaturally durable darkstalker is about to pull herself back up...

Right until her left arm gives out and she slumps back flat against the ground, out cold. There will be nightmares about unhittable Gun-Fu angels swirling around her head after this one.

COMBATSYS: Renka takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Renka can no longer fight.

THere is an echoing sound.

Delicate, deft. The faintest of a patter patter, slow and steady. Tap tap tap. Slow applause. Relius Clover, the head engineer of the NOL, strides amongst the aftermath of the two NOL soldiers. Each team's lead, battling to nothing but a double knockout. The officer himself was dressed in his best; Royal purple and white slacks, with a grandiose crimson cloak hanging over his shoulders. Upon his face was a mask of gold, a smirk on his lips, and stainless white gloves upon his hands. He held both hands up, and was clapping so softly, so little. as he gazes back and forth. "A very impressive fight, yes."

"Well done, Private Renka."

The Colonel adjusts the cuffs of his uniform, ceasing his clapping. "Very nearly equally matched. A disappointment for the Lieutenant, of course, but that was expected." He shakes his head, as the medical team carts Noel out of the way. Relius casts his attention instead on Renka, as she is brought off. "What was rather interesting was our little demihuman. With her orbs... yes, yes, how fascinating, what a fascinating spirit she has. I should see if I can make time to have a more... personal encounter with her. But nevertheless, now it is not the time for science, but for a competition! One that has gone exactly as planned!" Relius gestures, looking forward in dramatic flourish.

"Did I not tell you, Hazama, that one would defeat each other, with Renka collapsing first?"

"Huh. What a shame."

The crisp steps of polished shoes ring crisply between the columns of the Librarium HQ's main foyer in the seconds after Corporal Renka's fall to Lieutenant Vermillion's final assault. Between the rays of arcane illumination, a slender, green-haired man in a sharp three-piece suit and frock coat approaches, one fingerless gloved hand affixed to the top of his black hat and the other tucked comfortably into his pants pocket. He stops about a foot out from Renka, peering at her prone form with inscrutably squint shut eyes.

Exasperated befuddlement is the order of the day, otherwise, between faintly pursed lips and furrowed brow. His right leg advances. The toe of his shoe nudges the demihuman mildly.

"Ah, wake up." A second passes. "Darkstalkers will be recognized as our legal and spiritual equals if you wake up right now."

This time, he generously allows for two seconds to pass before a defeated sigh slips past his lips. Shoulders lift hopelessly.

"Such a disappointment! But I guess that's just about what you predicted, isn't it, Colonel Clover?"

Slowly, Acting Colonel Hazama tilts his head back just enough to look over his shoulder the very second the NOL's head of R&D makes his approach. Polite smile ineffably etched upon his lips, the Intelligence officer makes a mild note of, "I think it's Corporal, this time," with regards to Renka as she's escorted out before he slowly, fluidly pivots on his heel to face the other man fully.

"IT's fitting, for the hero who thwarted the White Void! Scary, scary stuff!" Is he saying that just to incite Relius' curiosity all the more?

Certainly not.

"Still though, I was kind of hoping she'd at least wear you down a bit before my turn came up. This is going to be a pain!" Despite his lamentations, though, his smile never leaves; if anything, it just grows all the sharper as he pulls that hat brim a bit more securely past his gaze just as a revelation hits him with the snap of his free fingers.

"Ah! I know! You could forfeit!"

It sounds every ounce a serious suggestion.

COMBATSYS: Hazama has started a fight here.

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

"The white void, Hmmm..."

Relius does take the bait, and seems well and and ready to abandon the fight to have some quality time to speak with Renka. But unfortunately (?), Hazama's correction seems to just get under his skin enough. "Private, Corporal, it really doesn't matter." Relius dismisses briskly, shaking free his obessive focus. "And really, I had hoped that our dear Lieutenant would have had the opportunity to face her. Would you believe she was muttering under her breath at me?" HE shakes his head at Noel's direction.
"Such impertenance."

"Really, A few minutes of one on one time with you, old friend, and she would go back to remembering how good girls are supposed to act! She is all heart, no soul. Not -literally- of course." He gives a wry smirk towards Hazama. "But really, if she had more brains she would be actually making something useful of herself. And if anything you are wonderful at, it is making people useful! Of course, you would have been worn down as well... hrm... perhaps this -is- a problem!" As Relius is tapping his chin, Hazama figures out a possible solution.

"Hm, yes... I -could- forfeit!"

Relius states as the realization dawns on him. "Or you could forfeit! Or we could carefully time our forfeits... yes yes, I see. But then you and I would be disqualified from the match because we discussed it! Then we are left with Sergeant Kaneko or whatever her name is with a clean draw with Lieutenant Vermillion here. No no no, it gets much too complicated; even though I can clearly understand the implications, I doubt the limited imagination of these... -Spangles- organizers,"

Clover curls his lips in contempt.

Relius lets out a great sigh. "I am sorry, Colonel, but it would seem the only course of action is to fight each other." He raises one hand, and snaps his fingers. Immediately, a hulking, feminine automaton puppet teleports at his side. The iron maiden is clad in the general shape of a dress and a large pink headress, with distended long arms dangling at her.. it's side? It stares blankly ahead, as Relius just continues to -talk-. "I hope you aren't thinking of slacking off either, Hazama. This is a very important tournament, and the whole of the NOL is looking upon us with hope and dreams. It's as our motto goes... erm..." He snaps his fingers, trying to remember. Ignis disappears again. "Oh, yes!" He puffs out his chest, and clears his throat.

""Disposed... in the darkest hour of mankind's, we... are Knights of the Blue Fire."

COMBATSYS: Relius has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Hazama           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0           Relius

"Muttering, huh?" mutters Hazama between the heave of a sigh.

"How shameful!"

He sounds disappointed. He makes a convincing look of being disappointed. But Relius more than most beyond a certain disembodied friendly ghost would know more than anyone it could never be anything more than an affectation. Just like everything the acting colonel evinces.

Just like that sympathetic smile he offers Relius Clover in the aftermath of his commiseration:

It's a serpent's smile.

"Well," continues the Intelligence officer smoothly, watching as both prone fighters finally disappear to have their injuries tended to within the labyrinthine confines of NOL headquarters, "... I'm sure she'll need a pep talk. But I don't think it's time for that quite yet. Do you?"

Left hand wrapping around to the back of his neck, Hazama rubs there as Relius issues his counter-proposal. "I have a reputation to maintain, you know?" is the first contention of the man mostly reputed for his inclination towards avoiding work. As Relius puzzles his way through the impossibility of his proposal, though, the green-haired young (?) man just throws his hands up with what at least looks to be good-natured defeat.


"Well... close enough."

Hazama pivots mildly on one heel until he is at least partially facing Relius. Shoulders lift in a shrug. "Fine, fine. I was just thinking of enjoying myself a little..."

If such a thing was even possible. Hazama sighs once more; his hands slip into his pants pocket as his stance goes smoothly slack. He, for all the world, looks the absolute opposite of ready to fight, despite Relius' insistence to the contrary.

"... I guess I should do my job first, huh? Don't worry, don't worry! I'm ready~."

... But Relius certainly knows better.

REally, who would know Hazama better than Relius?

The alchemist wasn't even certain that Hazama understood himself fully. And if he did... that could be dangerous. That was the dangers of the upper echelons of the NOL; when you got down to the details, they were hordes of jackals ready to turn on each other, all through the thinnest of smiles. Relius doesn't even seem to be worried as Hazama almost refuses to take it seriously. Why should he take it seriously? Relius adjusts his glove. "Well then, if you are ready..."

"Then let the experiment begin~!"

The great baritone of a bellow comes, a ripple of his cloak comes. Relius takes his free hand, and he crouches upon one knee. Mechanical limbs, from deep within his cloak or body, tear through the ground around the floor. Driving deep in, the ground buckles and cracks as it burrows through-

Straight for Hazama.

Two large mechanical Blades rip up around Hazama's feet, one off to Hazama's right slightly, while the other shooting straight up. The duo of buzzsaws breach below, a diamond edge on each. Relius guides them with clinical precision to sandwich Hazama between them with one hand. The other?

Beckoning Hazama to come right for the opening up high, exposed by his stationary situation.

COMBATSYS: Relius successfully hits Hazama with Geara Lugia.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Hazama           0/-------/-======|=====--\-------\0           Relius

Let the experiment begin.

There is a subtle, unreadable shift behind that polite smile of Acting Colonel Hazama's.

"Of course."

And he does not budge an inch.

Relius crouches. His hand sweeps. Automatons burrow. Hazama's reaction is a small heft of his green brows, practically imperceptible behind the brim of his hat. He follows the long, violent spiderline cracking of the ground, and he knows what's coming next.

Which is why he has just enough time to sing-song out, "oops!" before great, mighty saws lurch out to try to cleave him in twain.

Sawing edges of diamond glint in the magical lighting of the Library's headquarters. They carve inward, and Hazama leaps. The end result finds two blades cutting through his midsection instead of bisecting him cleanly in two; they carve through vest and shirt as crimson decorates the exquisite grounds of their austere bastion.

But Hazama does not stop smiling even once.

Instead, he reacts instantly, leaping -backwards- through the air to gain distance rather than try to close the gap. There's a glint of something metal in the air.

"Dangerous, dangerous!"

And the very second those bladed gears have completed their swing, a pair of throwing knives are singing their way through the air, intent for Relius' legs as Hazama makes his skidding landfall, blood staining his shirt a lovely, slowly expanding shade of scarlet.

COMBATSYS: Hazama successfully hits Relius with Serpent's Kiss.
Glancing Blow

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Hazama           0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0           Relius

Of course, Relius has his own tricks.

How could he not have them. Even the unpredictable Hazama was within his scope. It merely meant the potentials of the Colonel was a simply larger near infinity than all the rest. Hazama would try to evade, and throw his knives. Or, alternatively, he would roll with the attack, and dive him. But no, he split the difference, throwing a single knife at him as his saw do their work. He snaps his finger, rising up in tandem with the knife.

Immediately, the metallic construct is resummoned.

The buzzing blades collapse, their connection to the Alchemist severed. It is in mid motion, as he prepares Ignis to give her defensive command, that he realizes that no, potentials are split. It was -two- knives, not one. Ignis quickly descends, not to deflect a single knife, but slam Relius out of the way of the single knife, all according to plan. For that purpose, they -both- dodge the first knife. But Ignis does not absorb the second, leaving a hiss of pain from Relius Clover as he is raked by the second. Shoving back against the construct, he rises up, clutching his arm. And then, staring at Hazama, he gives a grunt.


He sighs wistfully, as he traces a fingertip on the single wound. If it was one, he could have likely dodged it. But the pair of knives cornered him, leaving a shallow, long cut. Blood seeps through his impeccable outfit, dribbling on the ground. How embarassing, of course. He knew something like this was coming, if imperfectly. Hazama could have arranged it to be more than an insult; one more knife, a different direction. But it was so early now.

And the Alchemist was well aware that Hazama's pleasures were designed by the pricks and cuts.

"Really, I don't know what I should complain about more," Relius gripes, releasing his sleeve and pointing towards Hazama. "The fact you ruined my shirt, or my plan! If you had only gotten closer... well, not like Ignis can keep up with you anyways. My creations always have unique ways of disappointing me." A cruel smirk passes across Relius's lips as the iron maiden rushes towards the snakeman. Her long arms morph, transforming into raw blades of pink. She unleashes a pair of slashes, before spinning like a top, attempting to rend into the Green-haired man with stoic violence. The was nothing on her mask demonstrating fury.

Only the cold efficiency of her master.

COMBATSYS: Hazama dodges Relius' Val Tus.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Hazama           0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0           Relius

Metal glints shimmering hues of sea green a blues reflected from the lights above as Hazama lands casually twirling a balisong between long, dexterous digits. The deadly edge of the blade is sandwiched harmlessly between the split halves of its hilt just as the green-haired colonel's free hand inquisitively dusts fingers across the shallow, jagged wound on his chest.

"Mm," he exhales; it is a soft, musing sound, as the brim of his hat obscures his squint-shut eyes. His words breathed only to himself.

"Not enough, huh? Well... I didn't expect it'd be. Oh well~."

It's only then that he glances over his shoulder at the puppeteer and his precious marionette; his brows lifting in tandem, the slender Intelligence officer scratches the side of his head. "Ah? Is something the matter, Colonel?" he wonders aloud, his voice the very definition of innocuous as he turns to face his creator -- his competition. Just as he muses on the nature of his creations.

His smile returns.

"Well, you know what they say..."

And broadens as the first of the Detonators flings at him with single-minded violence. Single-minded, but far from soulless. No --

She's all soul, isn't she?

With a whimsical backwards tap of his heels, Hazama ducks underneath the first swing of sharp pink ribboning limbs with a declaration of "too close!," smudging after images of green follow in his wake. And as Ignis starts to spin like the blades of a saw --

-- in a flash, Hazama is above her, inverted mid-flip through the air.

Seeking to jam that now-unfurled balisong directly into the doll's shoulder joint as he passes by.

"Hm, hm, hm..."

COMBATSYS: Relius blocks Hazama's Serpent's Redemption.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Hazama           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0           Relius

Dangerously quick.

Ignis's assault comes fast and furious, but not fast enough, not furious enough. As Hazama takes to the air, Relius reacts as if he muttered a curse. Rushing after Ignis, the construct turns, sweeping her arms around. She's too slow, too ponderous. And extendo-arm juts out from within Relius's cloak, and both RElius and Ignis move in sync. The arm comes out just enough to intercept the balisong; not enough to stop the blade in the least. But enough to drive it away from a precise, crippling blow into a grazing cut, right into her twisting shoulder...

And Relius hisses in pain.

In a flash, Ignis disappears from sight, Relius graoning in pain. He grips his own shoulder, the pain being less of a physical cut and more of a spiritual cut: a link that he shared with his own. "Very clever, Colonel; I am always astounded by your cunning!" Comes the praise, as pure and sincere as can be mustered. The mechanial arm dangles limp, as he draws back his other hand. Being defensive in closer quarters? It was one thing for Ignis to be picked apart. But for Relius to be in the dangerous circle of death that was the other Colonel...

And the extended arm strikes.

The dangling extended mechanical arm whips upwards, less of a straight punch but more of a lash. Slashing across in a wide arc towards Hazama, it comes with a wide angle, trading power for reach. The arm would then pull back in, drawing back within his cloak. "But yes..."

"What do they say?"

COMBATSYS: Relius successfully hits Hazama with Strong Punch.
Grazing Hit

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Hazama           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0           Relius

And so does Hazama land in a graceful flourish of a crouch, the tails of his coat pooling beneath him and blood falling in little dripping droplets from his chest wound to decorate the ground below. His hands remain preeminently perched upon his knees as he lurches forward just slightly.

Behind the brim of his hat and the shut squint of his eyelids, he watches Relius' reaction within the diffusing disappearance of his prized puppet.

The right corner of Hazama's mouth twitches upward fractionally.

"Oh, that was nothing," responds Relius' fellow colonel (if acting), his polite modesty impeccable.

"I was just curious."

Relius' hand draws back. Hazama's fingers twitch mildly at his knees.

The arm extends, and instantly the Intelligence officer is -springing- forward from his crouched position like a tensely-wound coil being released. A blurring smudge of black and green is Hazama, twisting just so as that mechanized arm whips up through the air -- angled so that the wide arc of that weapon only just barely grazes him.

That it grazes and thus exacerbates his only existing wound, well...

That's just bad luck. Isn't it?

A moment later, he comes to a squealing stop in front of Relius. His smile is still present despite his worsened wounds.

'What do they say?'

"'That's just life.'"


And not a second later does his right hand snake outward in a downward sweep, a scything crescent of dark green and black energies following in his wake, forging into the vague, gaping maw of a serpent.

COMBATSYS: Hazama successfully hits Relius with Vengeful Viper.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Hazama           1/----===/=======|=======\==-----\1           Relius

Already, too fast.

The speed of Hazama was nearly impossible for Relius to keep up. It was only the sheer brute force and calculations of the Alchemist that was even letting him keep apace with him. Even now, it was almost perfectly evenly matched. "Curiosity is a wonderful thing, the very foundation of... well... yes!" That was the response from Relius, purely sincere and open-hearted. Lifting up his hand, he prepares a 'snap'. A snap that does not come, as the right hand arches towards him. He moves to weave around the attack, to escape and evade. But as he swirls his cape... the maw snaps around him, being too much, too fast. Tearing across his body, he gives another groan of pain. The magical energy floods over him, only being halted slightly by the Alchemist's own powerful aura.

Only rivaled by his creations, of course.

"Ah, life." Relius sighs, drawing his hand within his cloak. He was checking the damage. A trickle of blood and oil from underneath reveals the damage already inched through on the man. And yet, he continues, his lecturing never ceasing. "An endless pleasure of sensations, of experiences, of delights. Just life itself is wonderful, if imperfect. But whatever is broken, must be fixed, shouldn't it? Such is the duty of the NOL! Just life, nothing more, and nothing less." Relius finally breaks from the energy jaws, whirling his cloak around himself. A buffer of energy whips around him, as he dashes in a weaving flash of gears and chi. Aiming to graze Hazama once again, he continues to move, continues to rush. All with a glimmer and flash.

"Don't you agree, Colonel?"

COMBATSYS: Relius successfully hits Hazama with Led Ley.
- Power hit! -

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Hazama           1/----===/=======|=======\===----\1           Relius

Speed isn't everything, of course.

And isn't that great?

Trails of green crackle lingering zig-zag traces along his fingerless glove in the aftermath of his assault. A glimmer of white teeth can be seen in the split of Hazama's smile, scarcely even dulled at the sight of that mana-fueled countermeasure the sorcerous colonel conjures.

"Oops, not enough," he muses to himself. He plants his heels into marbled flooring, preparing his backpedal.

But this, too, is not quite enough.

The energy that Relius summons is weaponized, his automatons from within his coat ignited with powerful life as if to punctuate his own scientific sermonizing. Hazama is not nearly fast enough to outpace the reprisal -- in fact, he is swiftly overcome by it, as a chi-laced gear collides with where his ribcage roughly should be, doubling him over with an ugly CRACK. The Intelligence agent has the wherewithall to make a firm grab for his hat -- because truly, he understands his priorities -- before the hem of Relius' cloak WHIPS into his downturned chin, sending him straight up into the air with much more than a graze.

Airborne, Hazama's smile is a grand one indeed as he bends backwards at gravity's compulsion.

"Ah well--"


This is the sound of Hazama's shoulder striking fine flooring with enough force to splinter it into spiderweb cracklines. Rebounding once, he flips into a crouch, hand still affixed to his hat. Logic would be to press the advantage, to close the gap.

"Oh, I don't know."

But he doesn't.

He stays crouched, right where he is, bloodied lips a slash of a smile.

A glimmer of amber visible in the tiny slit of one, barely-opened eye.

"But a job's a job. Right?"

COMBATSYS: Hazama focuses on his next action.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Hazama           1/----===/=======|=======\===----\1           Relius

"More than just a job, I'm afraid."

Relius reappaears, and almost immediately sweeps his cape again. Bursting from beneath the ground, an upswell of machines boil up. Relius was ready, he had prepared the trap for Hazama. And yet, as he turns, ready to immediately launch the oncoming Hazama...

Relius is forced to deal with him being outsmarted once again.

The predatory watch of Hazama only just gives the Alchemist a moment of respite. "I'm already concerned about them pitting us against each other so early." The machines sink back beneath the ground, as the aura around Relius fades, the gears lowering. "Perhaps it's the luck of the draw. But their eyes are on us now, Hazama." Relius stares deeper back at Hazama. His penetrating gaze, casting over every shape, every breaking point. "Reading our moves, studying them. I myself have already failed in concealing my technique. My need for the theatric is too much to bear! And yet..." Relius actually rubs his chin. His deep, probing gaze deviate, but a moment, looking to the very camera crew.

"Fascinating. And... concerning." He murmurs.

The gaze snaps back to Hazama. "I will have to speak to her after this. But enough is enough, Colonel. I want to make sure you are enjoying yourself. You almost look -bored- fighting me." Relius rolls his fingertips, not giving any ground. He finally gives a fingersnap, bringing Ignis back into a flicker of pink light. The automation hovers at his side, just behind him slightly. "You need to take care of yourself! Why, this tournament is like a vacation after all." A gleam comes from behind his mask.

"Could you cut loose just a little bit?"

COMBATSYS: Relius looks deeper.... deeper...

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Hazama           1/----===/=======|=======\===----\1           Relius

The well-kept leather of a pair of dress shoes creaks rhythmically with the back and forth sway of their green-haired owner. Still crouched low to the ground like a cat ready for the predatory pounce, Acting Colonel Hazama rocks mildly on the balls of his feet as if just... waiting. And when no follow through comes?

The Intelligence officer purses his lips and lets a low whistle sing-song through the air.

"Looks like I just avoided something scary! Lucky me."

Is that the subtle sting of disappointment in his voice, though? Well, if it is...

That's just life according to Hazama. Isn't it?

Slowly, the tall man stretches his way back into a stand, one hand raising spread-fingered through the air, the other calmly attacked to the top of his hat. The weight of his attention flits like a thoughtful dance towards the camera crew.

"It's like we have little stalkers! How frightening," muses Hazama, in a way that does not sound particularly frightened -- or particularly anything, if one were to scrutinize it too closely.

"This has all the makings of a wonderful headache already."

But that reprieve is a brief one at best. Relius points something out: the fact that the colonel is still holding back. And it's true, for any who really know him; he hasn't used Ouroboros once. Hasn't completely used the tools at his disposal. And yet there's a little flicker to Hazama's brow behind the brim of his hat, like a rough simulation of a blink, as he turns a puzzled look Relius' way. His gaze slides back towards Ignis.

"A vacation? I'm not sure I'd call it that," he remarks with a long exhale and the sorry lift of his shoulders. "I'm not really the fighting maniac you all are! But, I'm sure I can find ways to pass the time. In fact, I'm already enjoying myself."

An instant later, Hazama is springing forward low to the ground; by the time he stops, he is to the side of Relius, roughly between him and his puppet.

Smiling his empty smile again.

"Can't you tell~?"

A knife at the toes of his right shoe *snaps* into place.

And with a backwards spin, Hazama swings out a wide, crescent kick targeting Relius and Ignis alike with that bladed boot.

A hiss of green-black, serpentine magic following in its wake.

COMBATSYS: Hazama successfully hits Relius with Serpent's Haste.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Hazama           1/-======/=======|=======\=====--\1           Relius

Certainly, Relius was doing the same.

With a public eye, you had to keep your best tricks away. No incredible acts of magic, no reality bending, no... Puppeteer's Altars. Especially none of those. As Relius waits, he actually blinks once. And Hazama was nearly on him. Ignis begins to move, to intercept the attack, but Relius sweeps his arm. "Really, I just think you should cut loo-" The words are cut short. It wasn't Ignis moving to catch the attack.

It's Relius.

The man slides in, intercepting the attack with a mess of mechanical limbs extending from under his cloak. A tangle of wires and limbs, and all for naught as the bladed boot comes with the eldritch magic, driving hard into Relius's chest. There is a moan of pain, and a jolt. A little more, and it would have hit one of his hearts. As it was, it was a boot between the ribs. But why was Relius moving in to intercept it? To try and deflect it?

To allow Ignis to come in.

The construct chest collapses in itself, transforming the automation into a living buzzsaw. Igniting with pink energy, Relius himself reaches forward to try and seize Hazama by the leg with his other hand. Just enough of a clinch to keep him in place, to allow Ignis to rend into him. And yet, in the moment, Relius keeps his voice down, only the faintest of a whisper. "I hit the same place twice." Was the flat tone, with the utmost seriousness. Before Ignis comes roaring in, to rip thorugh him.

"Is everything intact?"

COMBATSYS: Hazama fails to interrupt Val Lanto from Relius with Serpent's Infernal Rapture.
# Disabling hit! #

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Hazama           0/-------/---====|=======\=======\1           Relius

He isn't done.

Or at least, that was the intention. But like everything in life, well...

We hardly need to visit that old thematic well again, do we?

It is clear from the way Hazama moves, he has an intended plan of attack that hasn't completed itself. It's also clear from the brief, slivering glint from one barely-opened eye that he sees the complication in his plan of attack before he even follows through. He has time. He can choose a different route, a safer route.

Ignis begins to change its form. Now is the time to escape.

But Hazama's lips simply scythe into a broader smile. His right leg tenses as he lands, coiling with brighter concentrations of mana. It snaps forward --


And the sound of fabric gripped tight around the iron vice of gloved fingers sings through the space between the trio as Relius Clover's grip finds its mark seconds before Hazama's bootheel can find its:

Centimeters from Ignis' spinning blades.

"Darn," laments Hazama, seconds before the blades find their mark.

And hit their mark they do, carving harshly into cloth and flesh and exacerbating the primary wound that Hazama has been sporting in a brilliant splatter of blood.

'I hit the same place twice.'

It's not a second later that Hazama -wrenches- himself backward with sudden, reckless violence, dislocating his leg at the knee in pursuit of freedom. The momentum of it and Ignis' rending blows -knocks- the green-haired Library officer away, spinning through the air until he lands back-first into a nearby pillar with a loud CRACK.

Not seconds later does he slump down onto his feet, one leg bent at an irregular angle.

Is everything intact?

And it's almost unnerving, the placidness with which Hazama looks at his own grotesque injury. Or the way he casually grips that dislodged tibia between both, gloved hands with a little, thoughtful hum.

"Hm, hm,"


And, leg roughly shoved back in place, Hazama straightens, wiggling that limb around with the testing tilt of his head.

"I guess so! And here I thought that'd be my way out of this. What a shame, what a shame~."

The damage is clear. But the smile endures.

The damage is clear. But the smile endures.

It might almost pass as cruel banter, to the outside world. Relius's ruthless technique comes with hardly a flicker of empathy per say. And yet, the question was true. Relius was very concerned for Hazama. Push him too far... well, Relius -wasn't- thinking he was pushing him too hard. And yet, when there is only blood, only a broken bone, the Alchemist seems almost relieved. Not even almost. He actually gasps, a hand over his chest, trying to suppress the bleeding. "Good, good.

"You almost had me worried there, you cad!"

It was like a little bump on the head between two boys, not a compound fracture and a sucking chest wound. "No shame at all, Hazama, no shame at all." The voice is chilling cold, icy in it's precision. A bedside manner only the grave would crave. Ignis was closing in, alongside Relius. For an intense fight, there was... very little actual fighting. Plenty of bantering, and sauntering, but every strike came in a flash. Relius's stride almost shows the same indifferent confidence of his opponent... except not even the Alchemist can conceal the limp, the hiss of pain with every moment... and of course, the blood, which was only blossoming more and more with every step. The alchemist was capable of many things, but it seemed that self-repair was not one of them.

Not that it mattered.

"That's hardly any way to take care of your body. You're almost as bad as... well, I dare not say." He covers his mouth a moment, disguising the target. "But it's simply unacceptable; that leg will not do." And with that, comes a gesture of his hand. It might be dismissive... until he begins to trace the runes in the air. Magic sigils imprint on the surrounding reality, as he gives the command. "Ignis, seize him." THere is a flash, as Ignis suddenly teleports right at Hazama's flank, slashing her long arms out to seize up Hazama, and keep him in place.

"I will fix it myself."

COMBATSYS: Hazama easily escapes Relius' Vol Tedo!

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Hazama           0/-------/---====|=======\=------\1           Relius

If there's anything that Hazama and this body of his is not, it is normal. It shows in the way he almost casually stands on both feet after having all-but intentionally dislocated one of his knees, one hand finding a casual purchase in his coat pocket as if nothing had happened. As if he wasn't stained in his own blood. Business as usual.

But there are physical limitations to every body, and even for Hazama, recovering from that tumble is not one he can do lightly. Whether it's simple affectation, bluffing or something else, he still shows the strains of battle in the faint limp in his forward step as Relius speaks in that dispassionately chiding way of his. Hazama's head cants almost curiously. His right leg sweeps out into a slightly wider stance, a trail of bright scarlet streaking a smeared path along the ground in its wake from where his blood pools at his soles. His tone is bewildered, like someone testing out a word they've never heard in their life:

"... Shame??"

The bewildered wondering prefaces the bloom of runes seared into the fabric of space. An impressed whistle looses from Hazama's lips, and the two or three seconds in which it takes to complete its awed trumpet is more than enough for Ignis to just suddenly -appear- beside him. His hands still in his pockets, Hazama looks at the menacing automaton looming over him in the seconds before she strikes.

"I wonder," he muses, voice for Ignis alone.

"If he feels what you feel..."

She snaps out. Hands crash inward with crushing, binding speed and force.

And the sound of a marionette's metal palms clapping together rings out through the wide expanse of the Librarium's grand foyer as Ignis' hands clasp around nothing but air. There is silence.

"... do you feel what he feels?"

But not for long.

The voice comes from above. Weight presses and unobtrusively against the top of Ignis' head.

And there holds Hazama, right palm pressed into Ignis' head in a one-armed handstand, balancing there with an olympic acrobat's ease as his coattails sway pleasantly back and forth like a black veil between them and the outside world.

He shares with the not-so-empty doll a secret smile.

"I hope so~."

And then his hand clenches just a bit tighter.

"It's fine, it's fine!" he announces.

"We can save your TLC for later, Colonel Relius!"

And, as if to emphasize his point, Hazama attempts to use his hold on Ignis to swing -downward- into a semicircular rush of raw, kinetic motion to DRIVE the foot of his injured leg upward in a crescent kick.

To SMASH into Ignis with physical force and an upward scythe of greenish-black magic in an attempt to send her on a collision course with her maker and master.

COMBATSYS: Relius fails to interrupt Rising Fang from Hazama with Id Lauger.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Hazama           0/-------/--=====|=======\=------\1           Relius

"Come now, Hazama, don't be trouble!"

The confident air comes as he watches Hazama eagerly. He knows his tricks, he was fishing for them. He watches as he nimbly and -perfectly- evades Ignis's lunge. The runes were already taking shape; not a sealing rune, but a portal chain. Already, the portal was opening up, a shimmering mirror of light. The moment Hazama makes his move- not at Relius. The puppet was already breaking from his string. Instead, he was attacking Ignis. "Dammit-" He sneers, as he quickly and hastily unleashes the massive fist. Ignis turns, Relius leans forward, and the arc of energy comes in the kick and-


Comes the cry from Relius, as the giant gauntlet goes limp. The massive mitt draws back from within the portal, as Relius falls to one knee. Ignis is gone, a stream of pink energy cascading from where she once stood. She was hit. Gripping his chest, he wavers, drawing in a heaving breath. And then he lifts his head towards his green-haired foe, a smirk hidden on his lips as he regains his composure, rising up.

"It's a date!"

Don't be trouble, Relius exclaims.

And as Hazama lands with a fluid little wobble, zig-zagging lines of circuit-like mana dancing at his heel, his expression practically reeks of one simple, innocent sentiment:

'Who, me??'

He points to himself and /everything/.

Shaking out that wounded leg mildly in the wake of using it to bludgeon an entity by all rights seemingly made of sturdier stuff than he, the most-definitely-normal-human known as Acting Colonel Hazama languidly rolls one shoulder and then the other as Relius falls. He takes a little bit of time to catch his proverbial breath, brows upticking behind his very fancy fedora as Relius makes his rising declaration.

"Oo la la," is his response, as a balisong snaps out of its sheathe nestled lovingly in his right palm. Where on earth does he get all those knives?

"Fraternization is against Librarium rules and regulation, Colonel Clover!"

It's with a shallow amusement that those words are declared, enough to sound genuine indeed, but to the truly keen observer, ultimately hollow -- like someone repeating motions without actually -feeling- the point of them. It prefaces the press of his left shoe into polished, blood-splattered flooring --

-- and the way he is off like a shot not seconds later, a graceful pirouette sending him diving into Relius' personal space anew, the unfortunately short reach of his (visible) weapons of choice necessitating he be right up close, if only to ensure the kiss of his sharpened blade may hopefully bite cleanly into Relius' right shoulder.

COMBATSYS: Relius just-defends Hazama's Quick Strike!!

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Hazama           0/-------/=======|=======\=------\1           Relius

There was no time.

There was no Ignis. No defense. Maybe he could summon up more mechanical limbs within the time. HE doesn't let the smirk fade. "Really? I swore Colonel Kagura found a loophole on that..." He murmurs, as Hazama descends on him. THere was no time for mechanical limbs. All he can do is trace a circle of runes in the air, dancing off his fingertips. He locks his gaze on Hazama, and does not break away, does not hesitate as the blade comes for the shoulder-

And Relius deflects the blade

There isn't a show of force, per say. He doesn't even grip the blade. The runes flare to life, seizing up the blade, the limb, everything in transition. A flow of seithr draws from Hazama to Relius, as the Alchemist freezes. It was a poor seal, it didn't even freeze Hazama; it only stopped him from breaking the circle, from getting closer... as well as stop the blade. And even the process of drawing energy was breaking it. Moving would break it. Even Relius couldn't break his gaze. But finally, he is forced to breath. He inhales.

And it releases.

elius turns, a white, mechanical limb bursts up underfoot, attempting to catch Hazama by his damage leg. Should it get a grip, Relius would finish his pivot, and slam Hazama on the opposite of him. A crude effect, but Relius was trying to work with the strange green magic, the eldritch energy swamping over and within him. "A mastery of Grimoires and Magic." Relius states cryptically.

"Are you really going to see if I oust all my secrets?!"

COMBATSYS: Hazama dodges Relius' Medium Throw.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Hazama           0/-------/=======|=======\-------\1           Relius

"Who knows? Just thinking of all the inappropriate mischief that man must get up to gives me a headache!"

Says Colonel Hazama.

Perfectly delivered to ensure there is not even th slightest hint of irony in his tone.

But still -- as the head of the Engineering branch intercepts his blade with a seizing sigil of sorcery, the left corner of the slender man's lips twitches upwards just so. A swift and effective counter to the Intelligence officer's own brand of mischief, pure magic holds his blade in place.

And Hazama just as easily and instantly abandons it.

Fingerless gloved hands release his weapon seconds before the sigil dissipates; the ease at which he abandons his tools on practical reflex gives the green-haired Librarium officer the precious seconds he needs with which to react to Relius' counter. A limb of metal tearing forth from the once prized marble flooring of their headquarters, Hazama has just enough time to cluck out a "tsk, tsk!" before lurching forward --

-- /towards/ that limb.

He tilts. Collapses. And by the time the mechanical extremity grasps for his leg, it is no longer there.

It, like the rest of him, is hanging inverted off the limb in question, sleeved arms bending at the elbows as he -springboards- off it and towards Relius with a most winning smile.

"Well, who knows what might happen then?"

And once Hazama is flipping over Relius, he seeks to get a solid hold of the other man by the shoulders of his cloak, and use his aerial momentum to -whip- the other colonel towards a nearby pillar just as he prepares to land.

COMBATSYS: Relius interrupts Medium Throw from Hazama with Geara Manibus.

[                    \\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Hazama           1/------=/=======|=======\==-----\1           Relius

Snap snap snap.

The mechanical limb snaps at the already moving Hazama, failing to catch him as it tries to chase. Relius knows Hazama would catch him this time. Another knife? No, another unpredictable attack. "For all his vices, the man is honorable, Colonel." Relius states firmly, as Hazama comes in. "I even heard he is looking to have a chat with one of us, about some concerns about the NOL!" Relius Clover gives a smirk, as Hazama seizes on him.

And Relius in turn grips Hazama.

It wasn't much of a clinch. For all his magic, Hazama was simply that much stronger than the Alchemist. The man is lifted up, and is chucked straight for the pillar. Relius's cloak billows as he spirals. There was no way he was going to avoid the pillar. But from beneath the cloak, the long mechnical limb dangles, stretching out and away from Relius.

And right at Hazama's ankle.

Fortunately, it was not the bad leg. Unfortunately, in the brief grapple, it had just enough time ot seize on. Relius pulls Hazama with him, and the duo come spiraling into the pillar. Reilus hits first, but the leverage comes as Hazama is whipped hard into the pillar above Relius, with a blast of energy on impact. The Alchemist falls to the ground, at the base of the pillar, prone. While the mechanical limb still works to keep gripped on Hazama, a link as Relius slowly rises. The man's composure was beginning to bend.

But it wasn't yet ready to break.

Too slow.

"Uh oh--"

He feels the grip just as it is too late to correct course. Upside-down, his brows lift (drop?) in something like dismay, or perhaps a feigned version of it, as his ankle is snared by the opportunistic grasp of Relius' automated extremity. Instead of ground, Hazama continues to grace air, the momentum he himself generated to toss Relius more than amply sending him spiraling like a ragdoll until --


... he hits exactly the mark Relius intended him to hit.

The intricate stonework of the pillar cracks between those two pillars, the resultant expulsion of power courtesy of Relius embedding Hazama deeper still. The slender, green-haired man is all but smoking, the point of the pillar he calls home dangerously concave, the front of his vest shredded and burned away to reveal that ugly gash beneath. He lurches forward, feeling the tension of that mechanical vice around his ankle. Relius rises. Hazama hangs precariously downward.

And despite all that damage he has taken, his pearly white teeth are exposed in a most amicable of grins as he rips his right arm free just enough to point a fingergun downwards at the alchemist beneath him.


And, proverbial trigger squeezed, seithr condenses into double-helixing serpent's maws of green and black mana, both screaming an angry descent towards one Relius Clover at high speeds.

COMBATSYS: Relius blocks Hazama's Venom Sword.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Hazama           1/--=====/=======|=======\===----\1           Relius

Relius can't even make it up all the way, when Hazama already attacks.

The relentless assault is overwhelming. Relius, in desperation, snaps his fingers. He sacrifices his intricate control now. And just as the winding helix of mana surges towards him. It's not Relius's runes or magic that intercepts the chi this time.

This time, it's Ignis.

Flaring with pink energy, the automation charges right into the maws of energy. With razor sharp claws burning at the tips, she throws into the snake. She rips up the current, tearing into the energy with precise, deflecting swipes. The intense power corrodes and melt her iron hide, as Relius groans in pain, his own waxy flesh beginning to pock and boil. Struggling to swim up the stream of seithr, she finally reaches through, finally breaches through after the intense struggle.

And pinpoints right on Hazama.

She doesn't hesistate any longer. Having broken through, she begins to shred forward with a frantic frenzy of swipes, pink-energy trailing across every slash. The puppet's dance only breaks as she finally spins, pirrouetting as she whirls like a top, her slashes becoming more erratic. Until finally, she finishes with a dreadful lash, hewing downward to give a penetrating cleave with both claws. All while Relius watches, breathing hard.

"What a woman, am I right, Hazama?"

COMBATSYS: Relius successfully hits Hazama with Duo Bois.

[                            \\  < >  /////////                     ]
Hazama           1/--=====/=======|==-----\-------\0           Relius

And in the end, for however fast Hazama might be --

-- he is not quite fast enough to outmaneuver Relius Clover's gambit.

It is Ignis that comes or him, not the colonel; and Hazama, having not quite expected such a bold assault, is left very much at a disadvantage. One green brow hefts upward from his position on the pillar. His legs tense, preparing to spring off of it in what might certainly be another fluid feat of acrobatics...

... but it doesn't come. However slowed down Ignis might be thanks to his assault, it isn't enough; the marionette's blows TEAR through Hazama time after time, brutalizing him with an unrepentant series of ruthless, energy-fueled strikes that only something so completely and utterly mono-focused as a puppet could truly achieve. The blows would be incredibly painful -- should be -- for anyone. One would be hard pressed to say they could feel nothing.

Acting Colonel Hazama certainly wishes he couldn't say it.

One final, brutal cleave deepens the blow across his chest; it won't leave a scar - it can't - but it's more than enough physical force to effectively crush several of his ribs and take the colonel straight out of the fight. Flying goes Hazama, spiked straight down into the earth. He rebounds with an ugly impact against his shoulder, ricocheting off the ground like a skipping rock. He comes to a stop some ten feet away from Relius.

What a woman, am I right, Hazama?

"It's always good..." he spits out between phlegm and blood, wishing either really meant anything to him. It's just a joke. Just as much as that empty smile. His hand lifts, thumb pressed to middle finger.

"... to be happy with our toys~."


And it is at the exact moment that a magical binding circle appears beneath Relius' feet that the lights of the NOL's headquarters and the surrounding electronics briefly flicker in the midst of a baffling blackout.

When it all comes back to, regardless of anything else that may come to pass...

... Hazama can be found, face down, blissfully unconscious.

COMBATSYS: Hazama can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Hazama successfully hits Relius with Eternal Coils of the Dragon Serpent.

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

To anyone else -- the camera crew, the King of Fighters work team, anyone trying to peer into the darkness -- what happens next looks like nothing so much as a few flashes of sickly green light and the sound of chains grinding in the distance.

For Relius, though...

It all happens in an instant. A magic circle of intricate jade runes nips playfully at his heels, a perilous prelude to the chains that spin out of countless portals springing to life around Relius all at once. A simple binding spell, but an effective one -- the kind created with little other purpose than to hurt, as every attempt at struggling to freedom just makes them bind all the tighter.

The invention of a sadist. Of the kind of cruel being that was the sole kind of influence on the empty husk of a thing that now rises limply off the ground.

He wobbles backwards, arms limp, head bent back just slightly. A soft "aaahhh" of a breath escapes his cracked lips as he carefully reaches up to tug his hat tighter over his scalp.

All that can really be seen, however, is the glowing glint of amber as his cold, lifeless eyes crack open to peer at his peer from across the gulf of darkness.

"... but they're always more interesting when they're breaking, right?"

Another fingersnap. A portal appears in front of Hazama. And from it springs the Nox Nyctores Ouroboros, its wild serpentine eyes gleaming a vibrant green as its seithr-packed chain coils LUNGE for Relius. Gripping him by the front of his uniform in the burning bite of his maw, it recoils, -dragging- him back towards Hazama.

"We should pay close attention," he whispers secretively, conspiratorially, in the dark, where no eyes or ears can watch or listen,

"to see what comes out of the woodwork after this."

The next second is a dancing flourish of limbs and steel as blades in shoes and in hand carve through Relius, again and again; he can feel his leg break, his abused shoulder dislocate, but he can't actually -feel- them at all in any way that matters. He winds backwards, feeling the bend of his spine as his hands spread outward, palms forward.

"What a pain~."

And three large, almost sockpuppet-like serpent's heads bloom out from behind him, beady green eyes staring at Relius before they all -spring- in a brutal hydra's snakebite of voluminous, eldritch mana.

In the end, when the lights turn on --

There lies Hazama, blissfully unconscious, just as expected.

A saccharine smile on his cracked lips.

The mirth and merriment was ultimately hollow.

Hazama was just a surface, a shell. As Ignis makes her final play against Hazama, Colonel Clover actually gives a full grin. He was done, broken even. And if he was broken, then Relius would be obliged to fix him. Breaking toys was nothing, compared to the feeling of rebuilding them to your precise specifications. When Hazama remains standing, he quickly makes Ignis move between himself and Hazama. He gets ready with his wards, ready to stop the knives coming his way, and Ignis's way. He was ready for his tricks.

It's not for her though.

In a moment, the link is seperated; not broken, but disjointed. Relius is exposed, alone, apart from his puppet. All from a seal, of course, how could he forget. And that just leaves a personal moment with Hazama, in the darkness. He knows what this is. He understands its rules. And yet, even the Mad Alchemist cannot help but the faintest of struggles. Every wriggle, every turn tightens the noose more. Relius knows, and yet, he can't help but -correct-. He knows it is coming.

He isn't smiling when it begins.

There was a certain professional tolerance between Relius and Hazama. Even fatherly, from Relius side. But Hazama was not a son of Relius in any sense of the word. And when there was a moment of weakness, it was like a starving dog on a sleeping master. When the dance begins, it rakes across Relius's body, tearing his uniform to tatters. When the three serpants come, he can barely think, his mind struggling to stay in this reality. And yet, when the snakes strike, that finally gives the moment of respite. The connection with Ignis returns, for only that split-second before the light returns.

And he forces her to take it.

That last surge of pain is ten-fold magnified into the soul construct bound in eldritch metals. But there is no mouth to scream, no writhing in agony. Only stoically enduring, as Relius is left on the ground. Not in relaxed repose, like his opponent. But in pained contortions, before relaxing in agony. A double KO.

ANd up to the judges to decide.

As the medical team rushes, the two judges shake their head. "First a DKO, and then... another DKO. How are we going to judge this?" The other nods. "Well I think I'll put in favor of Team Aesop, Hazama looks so happy."

"Wait, seriously?"


"Bullshit, you are just picking him because he dresses like Michael Jackson."

"Oh, and you want to pick the guy who looks like 'The Andrew Lloyd Webber production of 'My Dentist?'"

"Good point, I hate dentists, we rule in favor of Team Aesop!"

"Hey, did you know Dentists are statistically the most likely field to commit suicide?"

COMBATSYS: Relius takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Relius can no longer fight.

Log created on 11:23:54 06/08/2019 by Renka, and last modified on 23:43:13 06/17/2019.