KOF 2019 - Prelims 2 - Team Legacy vs Twilight Stars

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Description: The world has been waiting for this match. Team Legacy, masters of legendary martial arts from eras past. Twilight Stars, renowned for their eclectic mix of psychic powers and crowd appeal. Past and future collide on the tree-lined shores of crystal-clear Arrow Bamboo Lake.

The Internet rumor mills were working overtime on this match. Heirs to Legend placed third in the King of Fighters 2017 tournament. But the team was split asunder, as team captain Zach Glenn, circus performer Honoka Kawamoto, and the enigmatic Ainu warrior Nakoruru each found themselves on different teams this year. And for the latter two to encounter one another so early in the tournament, on such drastically different teams? Former teammates -- clashing in battle?! Yeah -- it's definitely stoking a fire on the fight communities.

The paths of the Ainu sisters were bound to intersect. The paths first crossed on a remote island, far from the watchful electronic eyes of mankind. And then, of course, fate would guide the two together -- as partners in the 2017 tournament, as adherents to the Lord of Thunder, and as confidantes in a solemn ritual. And now... here, with nature's bounty as their stage.

And for once... Honoka Kawamoto -- renowned as the vibrant, vivacious juggler of the Twilight Star Circus -- may be a bit more difficult to find today. For she seems to have forsaken the bright colors for something a bit more traditional -- robes made of white elm bark, dyed with patterns in indigo blue around the sleeves and trim, with a beaded headband to keep her shoulder-length hair swept back. And in another change to her fight tradition, she is -not- twirling her diabolos around, but rather standing in silent reverence to a group of older Ainu ladies, performing a cultural "throat singing" performance for the audience.

In the aftermath of the Biwatori Dam's collapse, a tragedy which robbed the Ainu community of half a thousand souls, it's become more important than ever to remind the world that the endangered society perseveres on. And Honoka Kawamoto is well aware of the effect that mass media can have on the world outlook of a culture -- such that even the pre-match festivities find themselves broadcast around the world in one form or another.

Suffice to say, Honoka Kawamoto is wearing one of the biggest smiles that's ever been seen on her face. This is a -good- day for her.

But the careful have already taken note that she is not sticking too rigidly to tradition -- rather than moccasins, or boots, it's bright orange trainers that are visible under the folds of her attush robes. So, it's clear that despite her reverent attire, she -has- come ready for the fight everyone expects of her, here on the coastline of a lake in the midst of an expansive bamboo forest. Her teammates -- teenagers known as Chae Lim and "J-Dragon" -- are seated under a small tent with the purple Twilight Star Circus logo, not far from the grandstands set up for the audience.

The King of Fighters planning committee could not have found a more picturesque location to host this highly anticipated reunion of sorts. To the West, a crystalline blue lake, its surface smooth as glass. Along its shore, a tiny forest of reeds grow among smooth, black pebbles. To turn one's gaze from the West to the East is to discover the much taller siblings to the lakeside reeds - massive bamboo stalks rising almost a hundred feet into the air. One can hardly see far in that direction; so thick is the growth that beyond several yards it becomes difficult to distinguish the individual poles from the wall of rich green that meets one's eyes.

The air beneath the verdant canopy is cool and still, a world of dim shadows punctuated by golden shafts of sunlight that manage to pierce the leafage. There is a parting through the wall of bamboo to the west, giving one a faint glimpse of a wood thatched pavilion nestled in the distance.

Most of the time, the forest is silent, but for the murmur of activity brought on by the human presence. Voices are muted here, captured by the all encompassing natural world, dampened by growth ages in the making. The calm air is filled with the smell of plant life, dark soil, and moisture from off the lake.

Occasionally, a green leaf will drift down from above. One by one, they will swirl down until coming to rest on a blanket of thick, lush grass covering the stretch of the environs cordoned off for the bout to come. Though no wind disturbs the forest this afternoon, still the old shafts creak from time to time, a detail eagerly captured by the recording equipment already in place.

With the lake on the West side and the thicker forest on the East, the long stretch of grass covered ground set aside for the match is also occupied by the occasional lone or pair of tall, bamboo stalks with ferns at their base.

With all the green and blue, it is easy to spot the first of Team Legacy's fighters for this match. Her pristine white robe with its distinctive crimson geometric patterns long the borders stands out clearly against the backdrop of vibrant emerald. Long, raven-black hair drapes against her shoulders and rests down her back, kept partially in check only by a crimson ribbon tied into a large bow behind the crown of her head. Only the bottom hem of her trousers is visible beneath her robe; her feet clad in crimson moccasins.

Steel-blue eyes glance along the shore of the lake, up at the thick shade-providing canopy, and across to the display of her dwindling people's heritage. Honoka continues to be their champion, refusing to allow them to fade away into obscurity, forgotten forever by the world. The dedication brings a faint smile to the young woman's mouth.

Standing with her partner, the young man from the Wu Shi Academy, on one side, and the protege miko ninja on the other, the trio look almost like they stepped out of the pages of history to be here.

"Your homeland is a sanctuary for great beauty, Kung Lao," Nakoruru observes, lifting her hands to rest them atop each other at the base of her neck, breathing in deeply then exhaling slowly. "I will treasure the memory of this place."

Her focus returns to space ahead, the match to come. Her memory of testing Honoka's mettle in a far less picturesque place comes to mind only as if a distant dream. Even if chronologically it was not an age ago, it still feels as if it was an event from another lifetime. "I'll go now," she declares, stepping forward, feet swishing through the grass.

Nakoruru comes to rest standing in one of the golden shafts of sunlight illuminating the forest floor. Inhaling, she closes her eyes and bows her head slightly, holding her arms out, palms up. A cry from above heralds the arrival of her winged sentinel, Mamahaha swooping past, dropping something from her talons as she passes overhead.

Kamuy's Chosen catches the falling object - a black leather sheath with a small sword housed within it - in the palms of her hands. Opening her eyes, her mouth a quiet smile, she slips the sheath behind her slender waist and fastens it to her belt by quickly tying a dangling crimson cord.

Looking up then, her eyes come to rest on the women standing with Honoka. Her arms at her sides, she bows her head toward them as their song comes to an end. Her focus next settles on Honoka herself. There is an apologetic warmth to her as she speaks. "It can be hard for me to see where the Kamuy's path will take me. So I can offer no apology for the time that has gone by. I can only say... that it has been too long." She looks concerned for a moment, brow furrowed, eyes gentle, "I trust... you have continued to balance well."

Honoka smiles brightly, swaying lightly in the breeze as the ladies continue to warble away. Throat singing isn't for everyone, but the songs selected were unusual and just fascinating enough to hold the audience's interest.

The Ainu-Japanese battler turns aside as she senses Nakoruru's approach, timed to coincide with the natural rhythms of the warbled song as it nears its conclusion. The modern Ainu bows in gratitude towards the ladies, before pivoting slowly and respectfully towards her match opponent -- save for a brief smile passed up to Mamahaha overhead, who she might not have noticed but for the bird's cast shadows.

"No apology is necessary, sister. Every moment I spend with you has been a treasure."

Honoka smiles, offering a gentle bow in thanks... though when Nakoruru's brow furrows, so too does the younger Ainu's. Her lips part to offer a reply, though she freezes up, finding herself staring back into the face of Kamuy's Chosen for a few moments longer than planned.

She finds herself lowering her gaze, offering a brief, embarassed nod. "Y-yes, sister. There has been... much to do in your absence."

Belatedly, amber-flecked eyes rise to once again lock onto Nakoruru's. I'd be... happy to catch up with you after our fight, if the Kamuy grant us time." And then she nods towards the fight judges -- seemingly so far away.

Honoka begins to correct the positioning, bowing her head to Nakoruru and stepping past the tent sheltering her teammates. She offers J-Dragon and Chae Lim each a nod of affirmation -- she'd already done a pep talk earlier, knowing she'd have likely found herself starstruck in Nakoruru's presence for any number of foreseeable reasons. But as she passes them, she tugs at the sash around her waist, pulling it loose. The performer then steps into a walking pirouette, spinning her arms wide like a windmill.

Effortlessly, the white-and-indigo robe comes off -- and almost as easily, she passes the robe to Chae Lim with a faint smile. Another benefit of preparation...

And then it becomes clear to the audience that she, too, has dressed to contrast against the verdant green of the reed forest -- a bright blaze orange windbreaker, coupled with vibrant purple leggings and a matching scoop-necked t-shirt. As she twirls, her beaded headband slips into Chae Lim's hands, cutting loose her shock of raven black hair, highlighted in trademark neon fuschia.

She passes a faint half-smile over her shoulder at Nakoruru, her left hand reaching behind her back to unveil her weapons -- stored much like a shortsword in a sheath attached to her belt. In Honoka's case, the weapons are blunt -- two wands, with a meter-long cord suspended between them; and two diabolos molded in a blaze orange to match her attention-getting jacket.

"I think they want us fighting over here...?" she suggests helpfully, guiding the diabolos onto their cord. As she walks, the diabolos slip down to obey the call of gravity, swinging back and forth at first, and gradually gaining momentum until they are whirling around like bolos.

She gives another perfunctory nod to the fight officials, crossing the midway point of the ring before turning back to Nakoruru. The diabolos continue to whirl around to her right as the judges get everything squared away...

"Good luck, sister. Let's have fun with this one, hmm...?"

And then, the announcement.


Honoka bows her head to Nakoruru, flashing an eager smile. She's been waiting so long for this -- a fight with her 'public' side, divorced from the gravity and weight of their last ceremonial battle. A fight where she could honestly be happy to win, -or- to lose.


COMBATSYS: Honoka has started a fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru has joined the fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|=------\-------\0         Nakoruru

And so it begins. The diabolos whip around, their path congealing into a solid smear of blaze-orange energy as she steps forward. She twirls around -- and in two blurs, the diabolos break from their shared orbit, one sailing high while the other whips around past Nakoruru's feet.

Neither is an immediate threat, unless Nakoruru happens to lose track of the objects. The true peril lies in missing the double wands as they carve a psycho-power-infused arc towards Nakoruru's midsection. Should they impact, Honoka would quickly ratchet back in the opposite direction, snapping her leg in a jackknife kick at the Ainu warrior's thigh!

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru blocks Honoka's Medium Strike.

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Honoka           0/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0         Nakoruru

Honoka speaks of treasure and Nakoruru dips her head, offering a soft, close-lipped "Mn," of agreement. It was the gifted performer that she invited to climb the snowy slopes to the sacred frozen tomb. Alongside her that she experienced her first tournament in the modern world not centered on the taking of lives in pursuit of power. And with her that she shared stories of her past; the details the yukar and books failed to capture. For one struggling to find her place in this world, is it any wonder she looks to the half-Ainu warrior with concern.

Her focus becomes locked on Honoka's face as the other speaks of having had much to do. She opens her mouth as if to speak, the sparks of amber hinting that her sister has much in the way of stories of her own to tell, if she would share, but ends up saying nothing. There comes another nod, worry giving way to a quiet smile of agreement, "Mn," she answers again. Catching up would be nice.

The raven-haired young woman waits as Honoka demonstrates her flair for performance as in one fluid motion, she readies herself for battle. The graceful dance-like whirl and step is certain to be an audience pleaser. Honoka speaks of having fun and Nakoruru's smile warms, "It is to that end that I am here." The stakes are different this time. The fate of the world doesn't rest in the balance, the need for all of mankind to choose a champion by combat no longer the case. The tournament, the chance to meet others, to see the world... all thanks to the invitation of her hat wearing teammate. Leave it to a monk to suggest a fighting competition for a good time.

Instead, their skills can be put to the test beneath the canopy of green, darting between shadow and sunshine. The announcement blares, disrupting the peaceful quiet of the forest, before falling silent. By then, Nakoruru has moved into position, her left foot forward, her right arm bent behind her back, fingers hovering just over the grip of her kodachi. Her posture has her leaning forward, her long hair swaying against her back. Her forward left foot planted, the heel of her right foot lifts and falls as she bounces lightly in place, ready to plant herself or launch into a blur of movement in an instant.

"I am interested," she replies, eyes flashing over the diablos, "In seeing this style in action first hand." She has only had the opportunity to witness it from the sidelines so far.

And in the next moment, she's given her chance. The weapons move far too fast to follow with her eyes, leaving her to move in response on instinct and honed reflex alone.

She ducks and steps, skipping over the low swing one foot after the other, almost like a game of high speed jump rope. It allows her to avoid the first threat without losing ground. The second isn't so easy. By the time the song of metal sliding free of leather reaches the cameras, the defense has already been done, Nakoruru's short blade clacking against the higher of the two wands, while her forearm, covered by the guard intended for Mamahaha absorbs the rest of the blunt force.

The energy accompanying the attack is something else, however, seeping clean through the cloth guarding her arm, striking deep in spite the mitigation. There is a soft exhale, Kamuy's warrior drawing her breath right after as she starts to move forward after the attack, only forced to brace for the impact of the kick that follows, catching it with her right upper arm instead.

Pushed back along the grass, a small plume of fallen bamboo leaves left in her wake, Nakoruru pivots to the right, snapping her left arm out, finger pointing.

"Mamahaha, please!"

A cry from the canopy is Honoka's warning of an incoming dive from above, the great hawk diving from a blind angle, her body illuminated by a surge of prismatic chi. If she manages to catch up with the half-Ainu with an initial collision, the bird will continue to harry the young woman by beating her wings about and staying in close proximity for a second pass all to keep her distracted if but for a moment!

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Shichikap Etu from Nakoruru with Tokap Chup Kamui.

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Honoka           1/----===/=======|=------\-------\0         Nakoruru

Honoka could have easily seen herself spending hours sharing tales with the living legend that stands before her. There is so much that's taken place. So many decisions that have been made in the Kamuy's stead -- decisions that seek affirmation, decisions that may thirst for correction. If Nakoruru were present for all of them... perhaps a more complete unity may be forged. But as it is, the Kamuy have chosen for the path of their Chosen One to diverge from that of Earthrealm's Champion -- and the Kamuy have made pointedly clear the cost of disobedience.

And now, the two divergent paths have drawn the two together into battle. Honoka has silently attributed this entire arrangement to Ebisu, the kamuy of fishermen and luck -- for which else of the gods would have the time to arrange such an eccentric clash between the shiny synthetic fabrics of the present and the classical, natural fibres of the past? Indeed, the natural performer had chosen her attire to play up the difference, as a celebration of the kamuy's jovial spirit.

Shadows flicker across Honoka as she twirls beneath the high boughs -- shadows faded by the brilliant plumes of fuschia flame and blaze orange synthetics. The performer's eyes glance away from Nakoruru for a moment, even in the midst of her strikes, confirming the positions of her two diabolos as they clack away onto the lakeside grove's hard-packed floor. As she slams into the kick, drawing away, the pink-purple plumes around her wands flare once more into smooth, rounded arcs.

As her face is bathed in fuschia light, it becomes clear that Honoka is enjoying the fight at this early stage. Surely, cuts and bruises will be traded in the course of the exchange, but it is, as she said earlier, a treasure to be matched against someone of such immense talent. And Honoka can certainly appreciate the way in which Nakoruru unleashes one of her many talents -- one which she's never had the misfortune of facing firsthand until now.

The sight of Mamahaha's fearsome beak and talons are enough to replace Honoka's smile with a look of panic.

Kawamoto steps back, her right shoulder and forearm lifting. The fuschia smears leave the wands, tracing down the length of cord as the performer pirouettes backwards once, twice. It might seem unusual for the juggler to step into an acrobatic routine with a bird of prey hurtling towards her, but there is a method for the madness...

"Forgive me, Mamahaha..."

Just before the moment of impact, the fuschia flares grow into larger blossoms, their petals flipping out in a distracting array. And as Honoka spreads the grasp of the wands wide, the petals unleash a shiny veil of thin, silklike filaments -- as if she's cast a net around Mamahaha in her spin. Honoka draws the spidersilk filaments closed around the bird as she continues into a third spin. With outward flicks of her wrists, the wands separate, and an outer 'shell' of the prismatic cocoon shears apart.

From within, the entrapped Mamahaha emerges anew -- wings snared by the glowing, will-forged filaments -- her deadly beak remaining intact, as Honoka's spin hurls the avian missile towards Nakoruru. The shell falls aside -- but the filaments hold fast for the moment, as momentum and not wingbeats guide the bird back to the Kamuy's Chosen.

Her lips press tight -- a sign of her solemn intensity and dedication to the battle. For Honoka, more than many, knows just how fearsome the bird of prey can be. And how quickly her King of Fighter aspirations might be cut short from contact.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Nakoruru with Reflected Shichikap Etu.

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Honoka           1/--=====/=======|====---\-------\0         Nakoruru

The exchange happens in an instant, extreme speed very much on display as the two clash. The instant Mamahaha begins her prismatic dive, Nakoruru pulls her left arm back. Her right arm is at her side, drawn back, elbow bent, Chichiushi held in a reverse grip as she begins to move, clearly intending to close in and strike nearly in unison with the intrepid hawk's impact.

Such is the nature of her the historical warrior's style - those who face her in combat find themselves having to conduct battle on two fronts, with the two moving with one will, one purpose. The feathered sentinel descending on Honoka from above is no less committed to her course than the young woman in white on the ground. As one, they move in on Honoka.

In the moment, facing not one but potentially two attacks, the skilled performer executes perhaps the only option capable of defending herself in the moment. And in that, there would exist no need to apologize.

Nakoruru's forward momentum halts the instant the steel-blue eyed warrior realizes the nature of her opponent's response. Feet slide briefly before heels dig into the ground, her hair and robe swishing forward around her. Her left hand extends out, palm forward, fingers splayed while her right hand jerks behind her, depositing her kodachi in a flash.

She catches the hurtling bird against her chest, arms wrapping around Mamahaha as Nakoruru weathers the solid, energy-infused impact directly, a gasp forced from her lungs. Her own motion reversed, she slides back over the turf, turning with the momentum, feet moving deftly over the ground as the young woman completes one spin, then a second, only to release her caught companion as she faces away the second time.

Completing the motion, Nakoruru ends facing Honoka once more, her mouth a thin line, eyes focused with an intensity that might at first be mistaken for anger at the offense committed against her winged companion. But an instant later has the corners of her mouth twitching upward, a distinct sparkle to her eyes. Perhaps she isn't amused at the exchange, and the second direct contact with the young woman's power is still thrumming through her chest, but she also acknowledges it as a technique masterfully executed in an instant.

Behind her, Mamahaha flaps her wings and rapidly gains height once more. Her momentum mitigated by her companion's catch and release defense, and now free of the energy Nakoruru willingly embraced, the bird seems no worse for wear by the undoubtedly disorienting experience.

Now it is on Nakoruru to act as for a moment, at least, Honoka is given only one of the pair to contend with. Kicking off, she darts back into range with a fearless commitment to engage once more. She moves as the wind through the still forest, leaping forward from six feet out into a low, swift, horizontal trajectory intended to pass by Honoka in an instant.

The attack comes at the last possible instant - a drawing strike of her kodachi that happens in a flash, a vibrant, pearlescent crescent of chi slashing through the air in its wake. Uninterrupted, she would land in a roll past Honoka before coming to rest, one hand planted against the grass.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Nakoruru's Annu Mutsupe EX.

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Honoka           1/-======/=======|===----\-------\0         Nakoruru

Honoka's look of intense concentration is lightened when she sees Mamahaha ascending freely back to the heavens. It's true that Nakoruru's steadfast friend is no average bird, more resilient than most for a number of reasons -- but the tusukur still bears no ill will. If anything, the sound of Mamahaha's wing beats provide a comforting soundtrack for the fast-paced battle -- the shadow of wingbeats providing a bit extra grounding for the shifting shadows of the forest canopy high overhead.

Each of the Ainu fighters brings experience with the other's skills to the tournament. On Shang Tsung's island, they fought alongside one another against a fores spirit, as well as against one another in ritual kombat. Scarlet Dahlia's sanjiegun is much more suited for battle than the reinforced juggling props wielded by Honoka Kawamoto -- but the core theory underpinning both weapons is similar.

And Honoka reacts in a very similar fashion as Dahlia had then. In comparison to the cutting edge, even the nimble performer is far too slow to get fully out of the way without some assistance. By dropping to her side and slamming one wand into the dirt, she's able to buy her body the rest of the time it needs to tumble backwards out of harm's way -- almost. The keen edge of the blade, having sliced through several layers of the rattan wand, continued onward to graze against Honoka's calf, slicing a run through the leggings and spraying a thin crimson arc through the air.

Biting back her breath, Honoka continues her backwards roll without further incident, spreading her arms and their attendant wands wide, allowing her long locks of highlighted hair to settle back into position as she focuses on her opponent's new position. She nods with approval, steeling herself as she vaults back to her feet, pausing only to snap a kick at the diabolo she'd left on the forest floor. The prop sails past her -- en route to a spot on the ground near Nakoruru -- as she begins a dash to close the distance. Her hands glow with purple radiance as she brings the wands forward, the cord between them flapping around in the wind of the approach.

As Honoka nears the Kamuy's Chosen, purple radiance spills down the length of the wands as well. The left wand drops low in her hand as she leans into a wide horizontal slash, before she hops up to deliver a scything overhand smash with the right wand. Honoka may not have an avian friend, but she's not above attacking from multiple fronts simultaneously!

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Nakoruru with Fierce Strike.

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Honoka           1/=======/=======|======-\-------\0         Nakoruru

Rolling to a stop, Nakoruru rises from her crouch, whirling on her feet in the same motion to end up facing her opponent once again. The moment her feet have traction, she's already on the move once more. Honoka would expect this - she has seen Nature's Avatar in enough fights to know that once engaged, she rarely stops moving. Hers is a style of relentless pressure, speed, a deadly dance of fang and talon that leaves precious few moments of reprieve.

There are those moments of vulnerability, however, one can come to learn in observing Nakoruru's style of combat long enough - those critical split seconds where she must recover out of her viciously fast dashes, leaps, and charges.

The modern Ainu champion answers her opponent's fierce speed by capitalizing on those narrow windows of opportunity. Even as Nakoruru turns to face her and starts back in for whatever swift strike might come next, the kicked diabolo hits the grass with a gentle thud. The distraction is enough to draw the swordswoman's attention for an instant, eyes flicking to the side, trying to gauge what threat might be coming from an angle not anticipated.

That moment's hesitation is enough as the energy infused first strike catches her on her forward knee, knocking her left foot out from under her. Already in motion, there's no catching herself as she starts to stagger forward, her right leg pushing off in an attempt to turn the pending fall into a desperate attack instead.

The follow up overhead smack puts an end to that idea immediately, sending the young woman down against the ground hard where she slides four feet before coming to a stop. The painful smacks from the wooden rod might sting, and the near faceplant might rob her of her momentum, but it's the energy woven into those strikes that hits her the hardest. The experience is beyond pain, feeling more akin to an undoing, her very existence assaulted by a power she simply cannot understand.

It must be the same gift that allows Honoka to walk with spirits as her companions, to reach beyond the veil of death to communicate with those who's stories had already seen their final chapter come and go. A spiritual power, Nakoruru concludes as she presses down with her open left hand and closed right fist and kicks off with the toes of her feet to launch herself further along the ground into another tumble that ends with her on her feet facing the tusukur once again.

Grass stains much of the front of her once pristine-white robe, knees and arm guards bearing the darkest marks. It's any wonder how the lonely wanderer manages to clean her attire from another age as she journeys, but she certainly has never complained about such details before. Her kodachi still in her right hand, she exhales, leaning forward again, eyes blinking twice as she seems to pause long enough to consider her opponent further.

"You've grown faster since," she finally states after three seconds of quiet, mouth curling into a faint hint of a smile.

Her eyes linger on the performer's face, studying her opponent's eyes carefully a second time. What power radiates there, what nature had she not seen before? Is it the kamuy's faith in her that empowers her so? Or something else?

Bracing herself, Nakoruru launches into another sprint, the battle rejoined, the disruption inflicted by Honoka's power waning enough at last for her to move at speed. Her advance is similar to the last, darting to Honoka's left instead of her right, testing her ability to respond from a new angle. She leaps forward and low once again, but rather than attempt to glide past Honoka with a slash, she lands early, spinning past in a tumble, Chichiushi weaving out of the whirling out, sunlight from one of the piercing shafts glinting off its steel as the Ainu warrior attempts to deliver another swift, flanking slash!

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Nakoruru's Chitenzan.

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Honoka           1/=======/=======|=====--\-------\0         Nakoruru

For a brief moment, it seems as if Honoka might continue in her assaults. The thought of persisting certainly crossed her mind -- pressing an advantage at that moment would certainly be -one- way to mitigate Nakoruru's relentless pressure tactics, by simply refusing to allow her the opportunity for escape.

But here, Nakoruru has two advantages most fighters do not -- a kodachi, and an avian companion. Forcing her Ainu sister into using either one could have considerable negative repercussions -- which she avoids by sweeping the wands back into a more practiced grip.

A mild toe kick at her fallen diabolo is enough to send the juggling prop back into a parking orbit. She flashes Nakoruru a tight-lipped half-smile, communicating little of her actual thought processes.

Kawamoto knows just how hard Nakoruru can hit, after all. And that's a -third- reason to keep her distance; just as Nature's Avatar is vulnerable to the tusukur's spirit-walking energies, Honoka lacks adequate defenses against the primal forces of nature. The Ainu sisters may share in the same language and songs -- less so for their methods of attack.

An arched eyebrow is added to the half-smile, though, at the note that she's grown faster. "... Have I?" asks the tusukur, the golden grains in her irises glimmering as she steps sideways through the bamboo canopy's shadows.

As she considers the suggestion, the diabolo is spun more rapidly along its string. The juggling prop often serves as a meditative aid -- and tournament combat against one of her most treasured friends demands every iota of her consideration. "Perhaps it's because I'm no longer alone, now." With that, she offers up a more open smile.

There will not be a great deal of time to bask in that glow, though, as Nakoruru renews her assault. Honoka backpedals, popping the diabolo up into the air to save it from the swift attack. The half-Ainu woman drops to the ground, crossing both her wands as she spins to the side, tracking the confusing motion as best she can. She's able to ward off much of the damage, but just as before, she's not able to keep up with the swinging blade, which spatters another arc of blood onto the grass.

Honoka's smile falters as she rises, pivoting her right side towards Nature's Champion. "It's also -warmer- here, as well..." she comments, stepping sideways and sweeping her wand forward. The diabolo is slung towards Nakoruru so casually that it might be missed -- but of course, the Twilight Star is not going to give much opportunity to dwell on the prop, as she takes a quick lunge forward!

Her hands flare with the same fuschia energy from before. Her shoulders lag behind, as if she's about to twirl around with a powerful swing of her psycho-powered energy...

But instead, her attack comes much more quickly -- as she drops low to the ground, snapping a quick heel kick at Nakoruru, hoping to capitalize upon her low position. "Hnnh!"

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Nakoruru with Random Strike.

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Honoka           1/=======/=======|=======\-------\0         Nakoruru

Rolling out of her flanking strike, Nakoruru works with her existing momentum to come to her feet, taking another step to spin back around to facing her opponent, her blade still drawn, held in reverse-grip in her right hand. She's already identified that the cunning performing has figured out the back and forth nature of her combat style and that she's more ready than before to catch her in the moments where she has to convert her aggressive offense into a moment crucial recovery.

Already inclined to be wary, she leans back at the sweep of the diabolo, moving on reflex alone, only recognizing the feint for what it was after it continues harmlessly past. A flicker of a smile makes its way into her expression, a flash of amusement at the young woman's ability to deceive, trick, and confuse. It might be frustrating to be on the receiving end, but the Ainu swordswoman hails from an era where one's life was often at stake in battle... is there such thing as dishonor in deception when defeat tended could result in death? The stakes may not be the same in this moment, in this bamboo forested match... but in some other situation, they could be.

It is good that the one she backed on the devil's island would be prepared for such a day.

When Honoka moves in, her hands aglow, Nakoruru shifts tactic, slashing forward aggressively, right arm shooting up then carving through the air in an angle to the left. She still remembers the effects of that fuschia hued power of her friend's, but what better time to strike than when Honoka is already committed?

Only to find that the modern Ainu champion wasn't nearly as committed as she believed, again weaving deception into her tactics as she shifts to a low strike in one fluid motion, her heel catching Nakoruru's right leg as she attempted to lunge forward.

She doesn't trip up this time, but certainly staggers, catching herself as she intentionally leans into the forward fall, then repositioning her left foot to catch herself and spin around the Spirit Whisperer. Shin aching from the impact, no doubt sporting a fast growing bruise beneath her robe and pants, Nakoruru tries to put the throb out of mind. It isn't as easy as when she fights with the old wolf at her side, when pain or even severe wounds barely register... but this wasn't to be one of his battles. Not in a competition, not with her friend.

May more time pass before she next finds herself hunting at his side.

Exhaling, Nakoruru studies Honoka again. The young woman's defenses have been formidable. What things has she endured since last she saw her fight? What form of battle had honed her guard to such a precision edge? The stories her eyes tell, willingly other otherwise, harbor some clue...

"There is strength to be found with others, to be sure." She pauses for a moment, her smile returning. It was good to see how far Earth's champion had come. "I'm glad."

Winding up, Nakoruru closes her eyes for a brief moment - only an instant - as a burst of wind surges through the bamboo, answering the young avatar's call. It rushes past the two young woman, stirring leaves and dust into the air, and Nakoruru moves with it, allowing it to carry her step into greater speed than Honoka had faced thus far.

Her kodachi still drawn, Nakoruru closes into striking range. This time she doesn't dash or tumble past, she doesn't attempt to stick and run. Rather she tries to continue pressuring Honoka, sweeping her blade out in quick, arching slashes, prismatic chi following in the wake of each possible strike. The storm continues, Nakoruru trying to flank her opponent in the process - fourteen strikes in all before she would finally relent, having leveraged the burst of speed and will for as long as she could before pushing further would only incur greater risk!

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully hits Honoka with Inep Ikasma Wanpe Chiw EX.

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Honoka           1/=======/=======|====---\-------\0         Nakoruru

It's said that all is fair in love and war. Honoka Kawamoto was raised to believe that her people were the outliers, crushed into the ground by the churning treads of the Japanese military machine. Nakoruru may have lived through the conflicts themselves -- but Honoka has studied them, read between the lines, and isolated the moments which decided the current fate of the Ainu.

The notion of "Honor" is a farce, at best. A construct to maintain control over the defeated.

For this -- a battle between friends -- Honoka Kawamoto is nominally upfront about her deception, placing her cards on the table where anyone can see them. It's true that Honoka keeps drawing attention to one diabolo in her attacks, but an eagle-eyed audience would know that she'd started the battle with two. That other diabolo lies in place, waiting dutifully to contribute towards an unfortunate misstep.

She's also seen, in Nakoruru's reactions, just how much stronger her psychic attacks appear to have advanced over the past months. She's seen how her attacks -- unnatural in their pink and purple hues -- have been perceived. She -is- proud of the effort she's put into refining her psychic talents. But she's just as happy to demonstrate her athleticism, twisting herself out of the kodachi's path with only centimeters to spare.

Honoka continues with that motion, planting a hand on the hard-packed soil and twisting free of the engagement. A heel digs its way into the ground, and the acrobat flips back to her feet. A moment later, a loud 'crack' can be heard as the loose end of her wand contacts one of the fallen diabolos, popping it into the air; a second lash of the cord snares the mid-air diabolo, sweeping it back into the juggler's possession.

Honoka smiles back at Nakoruru, the diabolo cord thrumming softly as the weighted toy spins through its orbits. Part of her just wants to stop fighting, to spend a few minutes just... catching up with the living legend.

But this fight, too, is a part of the manipulator's grand scheme -- one of many battles against the world at large. The performer is ever cognizant of the role tournaments now play in the world record. The Ainu must be seen as strong of will -- as compassionate defenders of virtue.

"There's nothing we can't accomplish when we set our minds to it, right?"

The thrum-thrum-thrum of the diabolo is a reassuring rhythm. And it allows her to keep her center even as the wind stirs up -- gyroscopic stability holding firm against the zephyr. Honoka's hair, though, is not as hardy -- tendrils of hair blast about chaotically, forcing the performer to narrow her eyes defensively, stepping back from Nature's Champion. The diabolo is her buoy, keeping station amidst the storm, even as her sense of touch ignites with the pinpricks of wind needling into her.

And when Nakoruru surges forward, Honoka finds herself at a loss, stepping backwards.

The diabolo is knocked from its cord by the first swing -- followed by a scything arc of crimson spurting from her right bicep, freed from its . And almost instantly, Honoka's demeanor changes -- for without that steady metronome, panic sets in. And panic... is when the psychic aura formerly constrained to Kawamoto's hands sweeps across her entire body.

The second strike will draw blood, just as the first -- but there is now faint purple aura clinging to Honoka like a full-body glove. Honoka staggers backward from the onslaught, biting back her pain as drops of scarlet and scraps of fabric are liberated from her person. She clenches tightly onto the diabolo wands, knuckles turning white from the pressure...

And almost as suddenly as it began, fourteen strikes have passed -- and Honoka sees the veil part, leaping backwards and away from the fracas. She drops to one knee, planting her hand and its attendant wand on the ground -- fighting to catch her breath as the purple aura drops away. The panic sloughs away too, with that faint smile of hers returning. Perhaps Nakoruru can forgive her for not offering a verbal response, there.

Her amber-flecked eyes dart about in search for the diabolo. Her windbreaker and leggings are cut in numerous places, the wounds still raw and red -- and the wind is starting to die down, judging from the reduced pace of the bamboo canopy's shifting shadows. But then... she finds her diabolo, not far away from Nakoruru. And, clutching her wands tight, the performer dashes to catch up with it.

The performer flips forward into a cartwheel, keeping her wands tight with her thumbs. The diabolo is snapped into the air -- and almost instantly, it begins to burn with a brilliant pink flame. Honoka completes the cartwheel, placing her upright again -- but this time, she kicks forward, redirecting her trajectory. Taking one pirouetting hop, she closes the gap to Nakoruru, the soul-fired diabolo describing a sphere around her in the process. And another hop launches her into a backflip kick aimed at plowing Nakoruru over -- all while surrounded by the brightly-colored shell of her psychic presence!

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru blocks Honoka's Kamui Atemka.

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Honoka           1/------=/=======|======-\-------\0         Nakoruru

Though it is her fang that delivers the actual hits, Nakoruru's motions throughout the torrent of strikes is part of the technique. Each swipe transitions to the next, her whole body moving to keep up the speed, positioning, and changes in angles coming as fast as possible. Each slash executed as smoothly and gracefully as a painter's brush on canvas, shallow but swiftly executed. She finishes with a final, backhanded horizontal slash, kodachi having been flicked to a forward grip right before the swing. Ending in a forward lean, feet far apart, right arm out at her side, her steel blade glinting in the sunlight, Nature's Wanderer pauses.

Honoka disengages, utilizing her own acrobatic grace to put distance between the two of them. At Nakoruru's left, one of the solitary bamboo stalks shudders, leaves swirling down from its canopy above. Then, with a loud groan, the tall pole begins to slide along an almost invisible, angled cut adjacent to the grass-stained warrior in white. After a few seconds, the huge stalk falls, tipping forward along the angle, crashing down, its top landing way behind Nakoruru. Hitting the ground hard enough to shake it beneath the two fighter's feet, the loud crash echoes throughout the bamboo forest, heard for several seconds following the landing. Then silence.

"Gomen ne."

Nakoruru states softly once the echo has died off. Just who the apology was meant for is not specified.

The entire time, she never takes her eyes off Honoka, her mouth pressed into a thin line of intense focus with only the slightest upticks in the corners to hint at the smile she had readily shown earlier. She doesn't give chase this time, instead waiting. After everything she had weathered thus far, she needed the brief reprieve every bit as much if not more so than her opponent. Slowly, she stands up out of her lean, feet coming together, her right hand flicking Chichiushi back to a reverse grip then sliding it into its sheath at her back with precise control. A slow exhale is released, every instant of time afforded used to focus her thoughts and control her breathing.

But the moment of quiet passes, Honoka Kawamoto, representative and champion to the dwindling Ainu race, bursts into motion once more. Attempting to predict the versatile acrobat's next stratagem or tactic will be difficult and more likely to end in error than success. Instead, Nakoruru's mind races, trying to keep up with the motion in play, knowing she will have to rely on a last second defense rather than proactive anticipation.

The distance is closed in a flash and Nakoruru's own defenses are once more put to the test. Concerned about the sheer amount of the tuusukur's eye-catching power on display, Nakoruru steps forward and into the attack, twisting to the left as she does so. There is a sound of rustled cloth and a flash of white as the young woman's concealed cloak snaps into view. Rather than managing to strike her opponent directly, Honoka's power-laced foot smashes into interceding cape suddenly in her path, blunting the force of both her kick and fierce will made manifest.

Grunting from the momentum that still slams into her shoulder through the protective cloak, the raven-haired girl retaliates instantly, twisting her body back to the right, right arm pulling hard on the corner of the cloak in her grip. The large, crimson bordered cape whips back the other way, now as an attack rather than defense, threatening to smack Honoka in the side as it does so. There is energy coursing through the makeshift weapon, pink energy spilling from its edges in pink, vibrant motes.

And no sooner than the first pass is completed than Nakoruru snaps her right arm back the other way in front of her, body twisting with the motion, the shimmering cloak cracking back out to possibly strike Honoka a second time!

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully hits Honoka with Kamuy Rimse.

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Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0         Nakoruru

It is natural for the living to be fearful of pain, and death: pain limits progress, and death ceases it completely. But there are many circumstances in which damage and destruction can lead a culture to thrive and prosper. Fires can clear a forest of dead and rotting wood, allowing the new to push up. The amputation of an infected limb can allow a person or creature to move past the shackles of injury in search of newer horizons.

The bamboo forest will not grieve for the loss of a weak limb -- chances are, it will grow back, stronger and thicker than before. Adversity promotes growth far better than comfort ever will. This is true with fighters as well. For while Honoka's training would certainly be rewarded by landing her backflipping kick as intended, it would scarcely be as satisfying without the clash of energies that resulted, a brilliant shower of pink and purple motes of light that rain down, vaporizing moments before their heat can scorch the battlefield.

Honoka was forced to break eye contact several times in that series of attacks. Normally, she would not mind -- the psychic's sixth sense proves to be more reliable than her eyes in such cases. But as she lands in a low crouch, and looks up to find a cloak snapping right into her face, she -might- have appreciated a bit more warning. As it is, well...


Honoka, eyes screwing shut from the pain, finds herself snapped to her feet, her arms, legs, diabolo, and cord trailing behind as she sails backwards a good two meters. It would have been three, but a bamboo tree was nice enough to stop her.


For a moment, though... the wound looks -much- worse than it ought to. One might expect the performer's face to be reddened, even bruised from such an attack. Here, though... there's no color change at all. The -shape- is wrong, looking as if her cheekbone is broken, protruding outward at an odd angle.

But by the time Honoka opens her eyes, slumping forward from the tree trunk, the wound -- such as it is -- seems to have fixed itself.

Kawamoto's gaze darts around the battlefield for one more check -- confirming the position of the 'missing' diabolo, and the trees around. Her gaze then lifts back towards Nakoruru. Her smile returns -- as pleasant as it ever was. The cuts and bruises are starting to tally up -- it's exciting, in its own way. She rocks the diabolo from side to side, building up speed -- and whips it into a wide circle in front of her. All the while, the bamboo canopy above gives its whispered applause, in the form of stencilled shadows dancing across the performer's battle-scarred form.

The diabolo -- as before -- begins to glow ever brighter as it picks up speed, the circle narrowing. Before long, it's spinning so fast that the juggling prop seems to be fixed at its own point in space -- and Honoka just -lets go- of the wands at that point. The wands don't just fly off; rather, they stay just as fixed as if they were spokes on a wagon wheel, rotating around the central pivot.

The diabolo freezes, while Honoka's hands trace a quick star in the air, her fingertips glowing with purple light. And then as she presses her palm forward into the diabolo, a column of brilliant, white-hot light spills out from it. A beam of pure psycho-powered intensity, rushing out to swallow Nakoruru whole. An opportunity, for Nakoruru to cleanly separate the physicality of Honoka's technique from the realm of the mind she'd been training for these past few months. (Well, it'll be pure unless Nakoruru happens to find the hidden landmines Honoka's laid out previously...) All delivered with the purity of a faint, friendly smile and the intense focus of battle.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Nakoruru with Nochiu-o Kando.

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Honoka           0/-------/----===|=======\====---\1         Nakoruru

Completing her turn to the left, Nakoruru doesn't pause until she's facing Honoka again. The cloth she whipped from seemingly no where is draped over her right arm, fingers curled tightly into one of the corners. Standing up straight, her expression is calm, eyes focused, her poise maintaining a degree of serenity about her in spite the intensity of the match.

Though the span of her original life was considered short, she still stands a surviving veteran of countless duels, friendly or otherwise, and many violent battles that would only end in the loss of life one way or another. She knows full well that in this exchange, Earth's Champion in the arena of Mortal Kombat is well ahead.

The smacks her opponent landed would be painful but not fight deciding. Yet that power she wields, augmenting her strikes, is far more a disruptive force. From the time she awoke in this era, she had never suffered anything similar to the gift behind the champion's attacks. More than pain, the experience of the piercing strength of the tusukur's will felt dangerous, threatening, something that could test the threads of her very existence. Who else possessed a gift like that in the world? Experiencing it from Honoka's hand was a lesson in caution... there may be others.

Though late to notice as she completed her turn, there is an instant where something seemed off about the performer's face. A trick of shadow caused by the canopy above? It gives her pause. Throughout the match, the swordswoman had fought with fast, shallow strikes and slashes, or techniques that had little chance of landing a lethal blow. And while she was able to whipcrack the cloak fiercely, it should not have been enough to shatter a fighter's bone. Was there a prior injury or-

The thought slips out of her mind as she gets another look at her opponent's face and any hint of a grievous injury seems to no longer be there? There is an expression of uncertainty on the historical fighter's face. But it passes as Honoka begins to move back on the offense, uncertainty and concern giving way to a slim smile of quiet relief.

Then let the duel continue.

Even with Nature's blessing at her back, Nakoruru can feel her strength wane, having attacked relentlessly, rarely pausing or making efforts to pace herself. Her friend's still required as much. But now that she has a moment's pause, the weight of weariness begins to settle in, the toll of having failed to guard against the young woman's attacks increasingly hard to ignore. She is not ready to preempt whatever Honoka might try next. She can only hope to protect herself from whatever comes.

The whirling diabolo is eye catching, but the swordswoman is careful not to focus only on it even as its glow seems to demand full attention. The energy being gathered in the spinning focus communicates the nature of the pending threat even if the precise execution remains to be seen.

The shady clearing is aglow with the light of Kawamoto's attack as Nakoruru leans forward, body tensing, knees bent, feet ready for an instant call to action. Honoka reaches forward with her arm and Nakoruru makes her move, bursting forward, anticipating the linear blast that comes. Already, Mamahaha moves above, keeping position with Nakoruru below. If she can just clear the attack, her winged sentinel will be perfectly situated to aid her transition into her next attack. Right, left, right-

A crimson moccasin-clad foot comes down on the slippery, round trap in the grass even as she was about to launch herself into the air. Arms raising, her left foot snaps down to catch herself even as she starts to fall forward, preventing an ungainly collapse into the turf. But it's too late.

The Psycho Powered cannon bursts out, fully encapsulating the Time-Lost warrior within its diameter.

Compared to the previous contacts with Honoka's power, mere tastes of what that rare gift can do, the beam that washes over her is overwhelming, commanding. Her view before she squints her eyes shut is brilliant white, and the experience becomes no less blinding even with her eyes closed. Again that sensation of being unmade, of feeling less bound to this world surges through her, a torrent of white hot destructive force.

Is this what it means to be pushed to oblivion's edge, she wonders. Quickly, her thoughts empty, replaced by dread wonder at the invasive power. But only in that moment, when her mind no longer attempts to fathom the spiritualist's attack, does Nakoruru become aware of other sensations - they feel familiar yet foreign, relatable yet not her own. Anxiousness, guilty, exhilaration. Where are these coming from? In her mind's eye, the Ainu warrior's right hand lifts, fingers resting lightly on her face - yet she can't feel the touch - everything is numb.

The experience feels like it lasts minutes even though the attack is over in seconds. Still standing, her arms raised across her face, her cape dangling from her right arm, Nakoruru's feet are planted at the end of two long furrows through the grass.

A gasp of breath, a stagger forward, eyes blinking without seeing, before she breaks into a run. Her course is straight forward, thoughts rushing back into her consciousness in a swirl of color, emotion, and memory. She was fighting someone - she has to keep attacking. The why's don't matter, the who is irrelevant. All she knows is that she can't stop moving.

Instinct guides her hand as she lashes out with what she alread has on hand, the cape whipping for Honoka's space, the whistle of snapping cloth and that familiar trail of vibrant pink motes heralding a renewed threat. A second attempt is made, lashing out with the white cape once more, turning to step into a third snapping flick an instant later.

A fourth attempt is made - whipping the cape back the other way, from low to high before she stumbles.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Nakoruru's Apehuchi Kamuy Rimse.

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

The resounding fourth crack is still rebounding off the bamboo forest walls as the present rushes back in to fill the void in her mind. Details go from nonexistent, to blurred, to clear enough to make sense of where she's at.

King of Fighters. Competition. Honoka. Fight.

Eyes blink as the strength of her legs give out beneath her, dropping to her knees in the grass with a startled gasp of surprise, her cloak draped over her arm and right leg. Slumping forward, she catches herself with her left hand, fingers curling into the green blades as she finally pauses, hair framing her face on both sides as it slips forward from her shoulders.

"You fought well." Nakoruru murmurs between gasps for breath.
"For that, you have my gratitude."

Mamahaha circles down with a cry of concern, hovering on large, golden brown wings as she takes position just over Nakoruru. Talons extended, a warning cry screeched, the bird of prey seems to take on the role of protector now, daring anyone to even think about getting too close.

"Peace, Mamahaha," the Ainu swordswoman murmurs softly as tournament staff look hesitant about getting too close. Seemingly with reluctance, Mamahaha lands in the grass at the young woman's side, allowing herself to be assisted even as her elbow threatens to buckle on the small weight necessary to keep her from crumpling forward.

On the surface, Honoka is strong, resolute. A smiling champion of the Ainu people, eager to guide them into the new millennium with mesages of hope and goodwill.

But below the surface, Honoka is an absolute mess. Not only is she fighting the Kamuy's Chosen One herself -- a living legend she looked up to as a child -- but that same person knows who she is. Knows her pessimistic, outlook on life. Stood by her side as she backtalked to Kanna Kamuy himself -- only to be shown a merciful hand and a stern warning. And still -- even now, she harbors of a litany of skeletons in her closet, a connection to her nefarious alter-ego.

Hidden only behind a synthetic mask that nearly fell apart on broadcast -- saved only by the limitations of camera technology. Perhaps the Kamuy-Sent did not notice it -- or perhaps she did. It matters not -- for Nakoruru has -seen- this other self, this Dahlia. She would understand. But would the world she's been performing for? Would -they- understand, or condemn her in their flawed, short-sighted judgment?

Fears. Anxiety. Guilt. All these were present in some form when Honoka unleashed her barrage -- for the great downfall of her psychic-powered attacks is that each one carries a piece of the wielder's mental state with it. Those closely-guarded secrets -- might not remain as such.

But one fear that might -also- be transmitted: Remorse. For in the modern Ainu fighter's wish to show Nakoruru her best, her strongest -- a yardstick which she's presented in the seemingly distant past... Honoka had momentarily lost sight of one crucial difference between Nakoruru and every other fighter she's fought against -- Nakoruru just isn't -like- other people in the world she's encountered. The bond between the two is unlike that between any others -- sister, mentor, spiritual guide. Would such an excess of force... destroy the link? Would it -prevent- the very talks that she'd wanted to have?

By the time the overflow of energy fades out, and the diabolo falls back to the pull of gravity, Honoka's sagging shoulders and flagging expression reveal her own fatigue -- at doing what has to be done. The pace of these tournament bouts is excruciating -- to say nothing of the damage wrought on her newer, more colorful wardrobe. She, too, seems as she might have experienced minutes within those brief seconds...

But Nakoruru stands, still. And the modern Ainu flashes a contagiouss, exuberant sigh. Her fears, momentary as they were, appear to have been unwarranted. And that gives her the strength to continue, to sling the diabolo into motion -- this time, horizontally, parallel to the bamboo thicket's floor.

Somewhere, distantly, she can hear the audience's cheers. And -those- give her strength, as well.

The time for celebration is premature, though. Nakoruru still has some fire left in her. And Honoka's elation turns to confusion, as -- at least for the moment -- she senses a -different- shift in her opponent. A different...

... mindset?!

Kawamoto snaps the diabolo back. Its metronome-perfect tick won't help her now -- only survival instincts will. The simple-seeming cloak hurt her substantially in the last exchange, and she knows to be wary of it. The diabolo now curled in her left palm, the sticks in her right, she hops backward, glancing left and right to reconfirm her read of the environment. And then...

The cloak lashes out. Honoka hops backwards to avoid it, the infused cloth effervescing just inches from her colloid-coated face in a reminder of just how serious she -ought- to be taking this.

A second time it lashes out, and Honoka swerves a hard left. Bamboo splinters beneath the point of impact, shards of shattered wood exploding outward.

A third strike to Honoka's new position -- and the juggler backflips away -- clinging to the trunk of a tree, her sneakers both pressed upon its trunk. The infused cloak stops perilously close to her, its pink reflected, intensifying the highlights in Kawamoto's test-market-approved hair. The tree shudders, its cast shadow showing the juggler's anxiety.

When the fourth snap lashes out -- Kawamoto leaps, pivoting sharply to the side, narrowly missing the attack by just millimeters. The cloak sweeps against the bamboo trunk, smashing loose another section of bamboo bark as Honoka barely steers free of its influence. She lands in a low crouch, back in the path set aside for the fight. Panting for breath, and staring up at the legendary Ainu swordswoman with a mix of awe and alarm.

And then a realization is made. And her friend, her sister, her -personal hero-... slumps forward. Relief washes over Honoka.

The words are so kind... they bring tears to Honoka's eyes.

The urge to do something, to say something, -anything- to match that impresses upon her -- but she finds herself speechless, her breath taken away. Perhaps that's the stoic fight persona at work -- but more likely just the same starstruck little girl who began this fight, scared and afraid of how she might be judged. Who is now... relieved.

But suddenly, the keening cries from Mamahaha demand her focus. Kawamoto rises, holding up the diabolo and the wands up as a sign of wary peace. She means no harm -- and Mamahaha remembers her, yes?

She smiles, taking a moment to dab her cheeks dry with her battle-scarred forearm. She bows her head -- and steps forward, arms spread apart.

And, begging Mamahaha's permission with a plaintive, "May I?" She would give Nakoruru -- the Kamuy's Chosen, Nature's Defender, and close confidante -- a hug.

Somewhere, the announcers are yelling about something. But for this moment, Honoka isn't hearing any of it -- as she's finally found her voice, in a hushed whisper.

"I may have friends," she states with no small amount of emotion. "But I'm so very, very lucky to have -you-, sister."

She smiles -- and holds the hug for what might easily be considered an 'awkward' amount of time to anyone unfamiliar with the history. But suffice to say... Honoka ends up back in the center ring before long. Bamboo leaves and bark are cleared away. A wink and a healthy smile are passed towards Koto and Chae Lim. And... as the next competitor appears?

Honoka is twirling two diabolos around again. She may be weary... but she is -ready-.

COMBATSYS: Honoka awaits the next challenger.

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

Settled within the dappled shade of the bamboo that rings the clearing set aside for their fight, the leader of Team Legacy has watched in silence as the battle between sisters unfolded. Legs tucked into an easy full lotus and hands resting palm up atop his knees with finger to thumb, he has observed and meditated, face hidden beneath the broad brim of his hat.
The final epic collision sends light flooding into the shadows, illuminating the grimace of sympathy that works its way across Kung Lao's lips. But there he remains for a moment longer, hidden gaze fixed upon the women as Nakoruru makes her last stand, destroying yet another shoot of bamboo in the process.
"I think that is my cue." the young monk offers up to their dark-haired third, unfolding to his feet with easy grace even as the last of Nakoruru's energy departs her and she collapses to the grass.
The souls of Kung Lao's sandals crunch softly through the grass as he steps out of the edge of the forest and approaches the fallen girl, still several meters out when their opponent comes forward to hug her. Expression hidden, he takes his time, giving Honoka plenty of her own to disengage and return to the center of the clearing.
It is not Honoka that the Shaolin first approaches, but his downed team mate. As medical personnel swarm forward to insure she is safe to move, he pauses not five feet away, presses his palms flat together, and bows low.
"You fought well." Lao praises, the hint of a knife-edged smile visible beneath his hat as he straightens. "But I will take it from here. Do not worry. I will not fail you."
That said, the would-be champion turns away and begins the short walk toward Honoka with firm purpose, a light breeze kicking up around him. %T Playfully, the wind hums across the edge of the monk's broad-black hat, causing the razor edge to flash and glitter in the bright light of the sun. His long ponytail is tossed about behind him, crimson sash lifting and blue vest billowing around his thighs. Mind set, resolved to do what must be done, he allows his chi to pour forth into the world around him, rioting the air and giving a glimpse of the warrior spirit that resides within.
"I am Kung Lao, descendent of the Great Kung Lao." the monk calls across to Honoka, pausing not 3 meters out and falling into an easy Kung Fu stance. left hand forward and palm up, left knee bent. Right leg back and straight , while his right hand is pulled back and loose. Classic, fundamental.
"Nakoruru has told me of your great deeds during the previous King of Fighters. It is an honor to face you now."
Introductions given, Lao springs forward upon a gust of wind, crossing the distance between himself and Honoka in the blink of an eye. Sandaled feet barely seeming to touch the ground, he lunges in with a swift left straight aimed squarely for the center of her chin, attempting to rock her head back and cause just enough of a distraction for his right foot to swing forward and stomp down between her legs, planting itself with authority.
A fierce, soul-deep kiai tears itself from Kung Lao's guts as his right fist blurs forward, attempting to weave its way through any intercepting obstacle the juggler might try to interpose and plant his leather-clad knuckles squarely into the center of her chest. But where there is one punch, there are many. five more, to be precise, the monks' fists blurring as he chains one blow after the other to gut, chest, gut, chest chest, golden arm bands glittering in the sunlight.
Twisting his torso into a final fierce palm strike aimed squarely for Honoka's center mass, he brings his right hand up and sweeps his hat from his head, the glittering edge swooping down and around in a single, horizontal cut toward the performer's thighs. The entire combination takes only a moment, executed with the Shaolin's typical overwhelming ferocity.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao has joined the fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Kung Lao's Chained Fist ES.

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

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. The Twilight Star is perfectly content to wait those few moments. The juggling is great for her -- keeping perfect rhythm is an essential component of the circus star's focus. And the performance is also great keeping the audience entertained in what might otherwise be a long lull between rounds. Plus, as Honoka's alone in the middle of the stage -- she can't be harassed overly much by overzealous fans. And she has time to give her shredded, "distressed" outfit a few furtive once-overs, to make sure the outfit's not going to totally fall apart on her in battle.

It's a good wait, in other words. And when Kung Lao approaches, with his purposeful walk, Kawamoto is able to greet him with an amiable smile.

That smile grows as the man introduces himself. "You can call me Honoka. I'm a descendant of..." She flashes a self-aware wink. "... Of people who liked flowers and trees a whole lot."

Her expression grows somewhat more solemn afterwards, as she leans forward into a bow. The diabolos continue to swing around in a wide figure 8 before her. "Nakoruru respects you enough to fight by your side. It's surely an honor to fight -you-."

At that -- the announcers start the match.

And Kung Lao wastes not a second of time, rushing forward like the very wind itself. Honoka's head tilts left, as the diabolo wand suddenly snaps upward and outward, constraining the snapped fist from coming any closer to her face. The twin diabolos circle overhead immediately afterward, following the rapid motion -- a secondary effect the juggler is happy to humor. She twists further to the side, pulling the tethered diabolos around on the downstroke of their orbital revolution, as she lifts her foot above Kung Lao's. Bristling, she senses the flow of motion -- now ninety degrees to the kung fu master, she steps abruptly to his left, allowing his fist to plunge through the spot her abdomen had previously occupied. Her right hand drops its stick, lashing it like a whip through the air as she sidesteps, absorbing the high punch with folded forearm -- a motion which forces her footing backwards. The punch that follows clips past her elbow, grazing her ribcage -- a motion made possible only because of her slight twist. By the time the next two punches land, she's twisted around to block them. The two diabolos are tossed into the air by their revolution, as the diabolo wand, now doubled against her forearm, retorts against two punches with an angry 'clack! clack!'

The index of her right hand hooks the flying string back into control, sending the second stick flying back into her hand. It's with -both- sticks in a cross formation that Honoka is able to withstand the mighty force of the palm punch that follows -- and leaping in concert with that force sends her far enough back that she can see the razor-edged hat coming towards her legs.

Lips purse and eyes narrow as the performer gives another hop backwards, as the blade carves a deadly arc just centimeters away from her. "That looks -sharp-...!" she comments, rapping her knuckles against one of the diabolos, directing it to a point past Kung Lao's shoulder.

But as the second diabolo comes into view, Honoka thrusts a palm forward into it. In actuality, it's not just prop management -- the palm strike also serves to thrust the diabolo squarely into Kung Lao's sternum! She'd follow through by quickly whipping a spin kick into his thigh!

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao dodges Honoka's Random Weapon.

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

The rapid 'CrackCrack, Thwatck' of Kung Lao's leather-clad hands striking the wood of Honoka's wands rings out through the clearing, carried aloft upon the wind that now gusts around them. Hair whipping out behind him, clothes flapping, the Shaolin monk flashes a sharp slice of a smile at the Ainu star over the missed sweep of his hat, face finally exposed. Dark eyes, strong Asian features, close to her own age at a glance, with the same youthful vitality about him.
"It is," Lao begins, hat swept neatly back into place upon his head and torso swaying left slightly as if to avoid the diabolo that flickers just past his body, "no sharper than a sword." The last is spoken with only the slightest strain of concentration as the monk darts forward toward the oncoming palm strike, managing to twist his left shoulder back just enough that the second diabolo brushes passed the gold fastenings of his vest.
The spin kick that follows is answered with the same fluid forward momentum, right foot coming up to plant a wooden sole against the oncoming knee. Without pause or hesitation, moving with the effortless grace of the wind, he steps neatly up onto the acrobat's leg, using it as a step to vault even further up and plant his left foot upon her right shoulder. The execution is smooth as silk, his weight there and gone in an instant as he leaps over her head and into the empty air behind her.
Rolling forward into a dive toward the grass, the Shaolin jerks his knees up to his chin, wind following him down, and glances back between his feet to line up on the juggler that is hopefully still standing behind him. Then, in one explosive motion, he uncoils his entire body, attempting to drive both feet hard into her upper back and leapfrog himself into a forward flip away toward her side of the clearing.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Honoka with Back Kick.

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

Okay, but swords are pretty damn sharp; at last check, there weren't any other weapons in the world with 'number of bodies this weapon can cut through' as a metric for sharpness. Not like Honoka has any time within which to deliver this retort, as Kung Lao has taken to using her as a footstool to set up his next attack. Bristling at the sensation of wind across her skin, she nonetheless starts to reorient herself towards the master of the bladed hat.

But, that would be a -second- time in which the acrobat finds herself outclassed in the realm of speed, as Kung Lao unleashes a devastating drop kick right between her shoulder blades -- a powerful blow that takes the wind out of her and buckles her right to her knees. She bites back a scream, redirecting the momentum of her fall by hurling her shoulder at the ground, and rolling back to her feet -- this time, -facing- Kung Lao as she rises.

"So fast..." she comments, unwilling to part her teeth as she pushes back to her feet. Dirt mixing with the blood and bamboo bark scattered across her brightly-colored garments, she takes a step back -- and twirls the diabolo around on her extended left index, as she flattens a knife-hand alongside her face. She shifts her weight backward, pointing her left toes towards Kung Lao.

"...when I'm standing -still- of course. But.. can you catch me now?"

She flashes a cocky smile, offering the handsome monk a challenging wink.

And in that very next instant, the crisp, stencilling shadows lengthen dramatically -- the bamboo cage slanting sideways as if from a mighty wind. In that same moment, Honoka rapidly whips herself sideways into a cartwheel motion.

Combined with the dizzying shift of shadows, it might even seem as if there were two Honokas -- or is it -three?!- -- cartwheeling at different speeds. Regardless of the number, each one seems to be whipping around in an arc towards Kung Lao, their purpose unclear...!

COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

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

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao fails to interrupt Niwen Horobi from Honoka with Fist of Shaolin ES.

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

And suddenly, without warning, he would feel the sting of the mosquito's bite -- a palm slapped straight against his chest, flaring with the brilliant pink-purple of Psycho Power! Once Honoka has made contact, her palm's momentum would seek to wrench him right off his feet, and slam him downward into the grove floor -- the other shadow copies of herself fading away into nothingness. And immediately thereafter, she'd unleash a searing bolt of violet-hued lightning directly into his chest -- a jolt followed by a tumultuous, grove-rocking crash of thunder!

Rolling through the air with the wind at his back, Kung Lao turns an easy front flip before touching down in a low crouch. With his back to the performer he gazes out toward her team mates on the sidelines, lifting two fingers to slide them along the front edge of his hat and adjust it down just so. It gives him a moment to center himself, and allows his opponent a chance to regain her feet. Soon, they will clash again. but he does have this one breath for himself.
Sweeping his right foot forward in a scything arc, he pivots on his left foot, knee bent, and slides himself effort back into stance facing the dirt-smeared juggler. All that can be seen of his face is a slight quirk of lips, posture relaxed, while the riotous winds continue to grow in strength around him. If nothing else, he appears confident. In fact, the way he wears his hat, the mysterious smile. They are mannerisms not unlike someone else the star performer has known. could that be a coincidence?
"Let us find out." comes his cocky response, words carried upon the wind to all who have gathered to watch.
At first, the shift of bamboo is nothing but an illusion. A warped sense of perspective brought about by the insidious talents of Honoka. However, as two, then three copies of the juggler cartwheel apart into their own separate arcs, the Shaolin throws his arms wide and leaps into the air, wind blasting inward as he begins to spin.
What was once a chaotic storm of uncontrolled gusts is pulled in toward the monk, wind roaring into a sudden gale. faster and faster he spins, wind howling, bamboo groaning as the forest sways sharply inward, all three of the Honoka clones caught up in the whirlwind and flipped into the air, drug toward the monk who twirls like a top at the epicenter of the attack.
All he must do, is trust in fate to guide his hand.
With three Honokas barreling toward him, the monk whirls toward the left most one, coming out of his spin with a single, devastating chop.
That hits nothing.
The gathered wind roars outward in a sudden burst as the center-most Honoka crashes into him, palm slapping against his chest and carrying him backward off of his feet to slam heavily to earth. He has only enough time to grunt before the opening sting of unfamiliar power is joined by a vast surge of lightning, energy roaring down from the heavens to arc through his body in a jittering jerk. Muscles locking, lungs seizing, he is caught in a stretched moment of agony, mind fuzzing...
Before he disappears.
Kung Lao's body swirls apart into a cool breeze, dropping Honoka to the grass and freeing him from the nerve-fizzing jolt of power. A moment later he swirls back into existence a good 15 feet away, hunched over with his right fist and knee braced against the ground, left knee up.
"Guh." is all he can manage to gasp, seeming to enjoy the fact that his lungs have started working again.

The shifting shadows flicker, and Honoka rolls away from her opponent. In the process of her tumble, the diabolo rolls out of her fingertips, sliding along the unfurled diabolo cord. And as the Twilight Star hops back to her feet, the diabolo jumpstarts into a horizontal orbit, spun about by the wands' expert guidance.

She had a -feeling- the monk would rise to her challenge, that he might attempt to dazzle the acrobat with speed. But while she may not be gifted with nature's gifts like Team Legacy seems to be, that's not to say the circus star doesn't have her own unique talents.

It doesn't take long for the psychic to turn towards Kung Lao's new position. She offers him a brief smile: tacit acknowledgement of his deft escape.

But then, in the next moment, she pops the string on her weapon. The diabolo flies loose, arcing up at a funny angle. And then it bursts into brilliant pink flames, as Honoka clenches her hands together. And just as the trajectory of the diabolo seems simple enough to predict...?

Honoka jerks her hand downward sharply, causing it to veer hard to Kung Lao's left, stripping away a portion of the pink-purple flames. But the bulk of the psychic potential continues onward, swirling into itself as it hurtles towards Kung Lao's chest with the concussive impact of a haymaker punch!

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao blocks Honoka's Ishirishina.

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

Bent double and panting, Kung Lao has time for 3 ragged breaths before his tricksy opponent is on her feet and facing him, diabolo whipping into another of her seemingly unconscious patterns. Remaining on one knee, he casts a sidelong look toward her, focusing on breathing, calm, and the slow but inevitable gathering of his chi. Already the grass around him is swaying, bamboo leaves fluttering up upon the gentle touch of the wind.
"I have always preferred to fight with my fists, not my mind." Kung Lao calls lightly across to the woman, breaths having evened out into deep, slow inhales. "I get the sense that you do not agree."
Words just a touch dry, the Shaolin pushes up to his feet, hidden gaze lifting to track the motion of the prop as it is flung into a high, lazy arc. Obviously it is a trick, and one that he has fallen for before. Attention snapping back down to Honoka, expecting a frontal attack like the one Maria used on him, he instead witnesses the odd, downward gesture of her hand, and comprehension dawns almost too late.
Sweeping his hat from his head and twisting his body at the same moment, he brings the stylish weapon slicing down through the air before him, left forearm shooting up to brace behind it like a warrior wielding a shield. If he had been a moment slower on the uptake, he would have taken the blast of pinkish energy squarely in the torso. Instead, the psycho force slams into the domed crown of his hat and rolls outward around it, parting to either side of his body even as he staggers back a step from the force.
"You will need more than tricks to defeat me." the monk informs Honoka, lowering the hat just enough to throw a dark-eyed glance toward her over its razor rim. Sure, her displays of power thus far have been nothing less than impressive, but a little friendly banter between combatants never hurt anyone.
Taking a single step forward, Kung Lao begins to lift his hat toward his head. But before it has settled back into place he vanishes, swirling away into the wind, only to re-appear at nearly the same moment directly to Honoka's left. While his right hand continues the motion of settling his hat, he twists his body behind a stepping elbow strike aimed squarely for Honoka's ear, ploughing forward with the swift confidence of someone still vastly sure of their capabilities.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Honoka with Front Punch.
- Power hit! -

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

Friendly banter is more the exception than the rule for the famed juggler's onstage performances. Humility and politeness ranked much higher in market testing than ascerbic playground taunts -- and besides, if Honoka -were- to speak up, she'd simply explain her preference for letting her mind -guide- her fists, or some variation thereof.

The juggler steps closer, smiling, as Kung Lao deals with her attack. She allows the diabolo cord to fall slack, the wands doubling against her forearms. And while the diabolo she'd pitched earlier bounces harmlessly to the side, her approach brings her closer to the diabolo she'd positioned earlier. Nudging it into the air with her toes, she taps the diabolo with her wand, balancing the round prop on its tip. She arches an eyebrow at the monk's insinuation -- and replies with a saccharine-sweet smile and a short, market-approved retort.

"Tricks? What tricks?"

Even as she says that, she's right on the verge of thumbing the diabolo back into motion. But the monk's sudden disappearance, though, shifts her look of cool confidence shifts into eye-squinting concern. The psychic felt his presence in front of her, and now it's behind...?!

She starts to turn a moment too late. The stepping elbow cracks right against her ear, blasting the lithe acrobat right off her feet. Clapping her hand to her ear -- and dropping the diabolo and wand in the process -- she begins to fall. The performer's lips part in a noiseless scream; momentarily robbed of her equilibrium, the world is twirled into an incomprehensible blur. She lands upon her right thigh, her right hand flattening against the ground as she totters back and forth.

To Honoka -- a trained performer who -depends- on her sense of balance -- it feels like an eternity of nauseated spinning. But, in time -- just a couple seconds to everyone else -- her vision sharpens to show just -four- of Kung Lao's feet instead of, what, forty? She lists sideways, slightly nauseated... but with the aid of the hand pressed to her jarring ear, she's able to regain focus, confirming the location of the fallen diabolo...

And then she lurches sideways violently, twisting back to her feet. Overcompensating, she staggers further to the side and almost tips over again; her balance is remedied only when she lowers her hips, planting both feet solidly on the ground.

Resting her wand-toting hands on her scratched-up knees, she narrows her eyes back at Kung Lao in faint indignation. "Tricks," she comments, taking another stumbling step sideways. In the process, she manages to nudge the diabolo forward, seemingly by accident.

But in the next moment, Honoka surges her open palm into Kung Lao's solar plexus.

Just one palm strike. And nothing more...?!

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Kung Lao with Pon-itak Ki.

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

The truth of the matter isn't so much the physicality of the palm strike, but the payload that comes with it. For as soon as contact is made, a massive surge of psionic energy will flood outward from her palm, slamming into Kung Lao with the fury of fifty punches. In fact, it would certainly -feel- as if she's punching fifty times in the space of only one instant -- mixing in the sensation of her fresh nausea for flavor.

She steps back afterwards, exhaling her breath through lightly clenched teeth. It may not be a "one inch" punch. But it's about as close as the psychic can get.

"Your style." Kung Lao explains with the easy confidence of one who feels he's got it all figured out. "It is based upon misdirection."
Fading back from the opening elbow strike, the monk eyes Honoka from beneath the brim of his hat, sliding back into stance with the idle thoughtlessness of one who has drilled his body to act without conscious direction from his mind. Years, even decades of his life have been spent honing his muscles, allowing him to operate on pure instinct. In many ways this is a key component of what makes him such a skilled warrior. However, when facing an opponent like the juggler who now regains her balance before him?
It just makes him predictable.
A faint smile flickers across the Shaolin's lips as Honoka lunges in, palm outstretched. The nudging of the diabolo is noticed before hand and accounted for. He will not be taken in by such an obvious trick.
Dodging a single step back, he plants his back foot and leans, torso shifting away just enough to rob Honoka's opening blow of any power. Front foot lifting, preparing to kick upward toward the performer's jaw, he times the dodge perfectly, allowing just enough space for her palm to brush his chest before his own foot will come rocketing u--
A flood of nauseating energy slams into Kung Lao's chest with the force of a freight train, throwing him backward into a staggering stumble. Stomach twisting, chest throbbing, he lets out a strangled grunt as the force of whatever Honoka just did resonates throughout his body, threatening to force him once more to the ground. Taunting smile replaced by a grimace, jaw clinched, he plants his back foot and regains his balance, hidden gaze shifting into a narrow-eyed glare toward the woman.
Beneath his vest, the monk's ribs and sternum ache with every breath, his stomach roiling in protest. And in his heart, a spark of anger lights.
Lao's lips press into a firm line.
Throwing his head back, the Shaolin lets out another soul-deep Kiai, the force of it tearing its way from his body, banishing pain, nausea, and concern. Wind gusting around him, he launches himself off of his back foot and directly toward Honoka, left hand pulling back high, while his right pulls back low. Landing before the woman in a forward lean, he flashes both hands forward in a blindingly quick over-under strike, one toward her face, one toward her gut.
Both of which, stop.
For half a second, nothing happens, Lao pausing the timing of the strikes, hands just an inch away from contact.
And then, the monk's right hand explodes forward toward Honoka's gut with all the force of a sniper round, upper hand reversing course to snag his hat from his head and bring it arcing around in a swift horizontal slice at upper chest level, followed by an artful twirl of the weapon around his hand as he brings it up and over his head, then cleaves it down the entire length of Honoka's body from chin to groin. Or, at least, that's the plan.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Honoka with Deadly Path EX.

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

Honoka draws in her breath after the mass transfer of psychic energies, her open palm radiating motes of pink and purple light. Feet planted squarely apart, she casts her amber-veined gaze over to follow Kung Lao.

The half-Ainu manipulator is pleased. Yes -- he correctly deduced that her style was based on misdirection, but does she really need to voice her agreement to that? It seems his body understands that more fully now.

Her lips part as if she might have something to say -- but only for a moment, as that grimace is enough to still whatever thoughts she might be having. With a return of that saccharine grin, she snaps her weapon's cord at the fallen diabolo, slinging it back into a lazy side-to-side shuttle just in front of her shins -- a mellow rhythm to sustain herself while giving Kung Lao a sporting chance to recover.

But when she senses that look of smoldering rage in his eyes? That's enough for her to snap the diabolo back to a higher altitude, around waist-level.

The Kiai makes her stop and blink -- a motion not echoed in the unchanged path of her diabolo. And perhaps that was a mistake -- for she had been relying on her sticks to interpose themselves in Kung Lao's path. Indeed -- when he closes in with his over-under strike, he'll receive an immediate welcome: her twin sticks pinning against his wrists from above and below. For that half-second eternity, amber veins resonate in her eyes as she strains back against him -- her poor leverage insufficient to pry his arms further than the one inch they maintain. Contact was all she could manage in that stuttered instant...

And with such a position of stasis, she seems to have underestimated Kung Lao's ability to push forward. She's caught off-guard by the unexpected shotgun of force applied to her stomach, powerful enough to buckle her over like a folding jackknife. When the hat comes around, it carves a brilliant crimson line just below her clavicles -- a line sharp enough to furrow the lapels of her windbreaker and shred the top of her scoop tee. She hisses through clenched teeth, staggering backwards through the sheer transferred momentum.

But then something else happens -- a reflexive response, triggered by the intense stinging pain. A purple 'shell' emanates outward from Honoka's form, taking on a gelatinous appearance and hugging her form like a cocoon. When the razor-edged hat comes slicing down, it will indeed carve a line through her chin as he'd planned...

But the protective shell will retard the blade's sting, serving as a force powerful enough to drop her to her knees, but perhaps not slicing as deep as he may have liked.

The diabolo -- forgotten in the exchange -- crashes down a moment later, thudding into the hard-packed dirt beside Kung Lao. But by this point, Honoka seems to have decided enough is enough.

"HRRRAAAAA!" she howls, slinging both sticks into her right hand and snapping back to her feet. Kung Lao was nice enough to put himself in arm's reach -- and she'll try and grab hold of the front of his tunic!

And should her left hand grab hold, she'd show him just how big a fan of 'fists' and up-close violence she really -can- be...!

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao blocks Honoka's Iomante.

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

The doubled-up sticks would slam into him over and over and over again -- a veritable barrage of attacks delivered to the face, neck and sternum, the leverage giving her the damage output that her lean muscle mass cannot. She'd then try and lift her opponent into the air with a massive buildup of psychic force, powerful enough to bring him off the ground! Sensing that -something- is awry, though, she'd try to whip Kung Lao out of the air with a roundhouse kick...

So far, Koto has been a bit quiet. Perhaps it is the throat singing, perhaps it is the peaceful scene, but the teenager, who has been identified as "J-Dragon" is settled down in the Twilight Stars Circus tent at the moment. His own aura is rather peaceful, and the black hair on his head sways in the breeze.

Despite wanting to get involved in the fight, he knows it is best if Honoka went first in this case. Plus, he had read and heard about the previous team up. Seeing her and Nakoruru fight had certainly started to ignite a bit of a spirit in the Pacific High student. Instead of his usual student uniform he had decided to go with something a bit more traditional for the moment. He had a more traditional kimono in blue with the winged dragon's head design often seen in his fights on the back. Someone had managed to duplicate the prismatic display down to coloring. The loose gi style pants peeking from underneath certainly speaks of his being ready to gain some much needed experience at fighting in the King of Fighters if he was needed. The tennis shoes certainly said so as well, not to mention the slight peeking of a close fitting shirt.

For the moment he stayed respectfully where he was, watching the fights with interest. The two so far were so very, very different from the styles he had faced. A hawk companion and a... razor hat? That definitely said a lot about what he had going on for him.

Still, Koto was an attentive combatant who was definitely curious, interested, and perhaps more than a little fired up. The strangeness of the styles was something that he wanted to put himself to the test against. That eagerness is easily seen on his face at the moment, as well as the support he has for his team mate and fellow psychic user.

Though Kung Lao is a true monk, and a strong believer of peace and love for all who walk beneath the sun, he is not without his faults. Pride. Ambition. The driving need to prove himself worthy of the expectations so unfairly piled upon his shoulders. Losing here, now? Being so soundly defeated by someone his team mate gave her all to weaken for him? His honor will not allow it.
Burning with the righteous fury of his fighting spirit, Kung Lao finishes the downward sweep of his hat with a glower of iron focus toward his wily opponent. Long ponytail kicked up in the wind, hands trembling with the effort of continuing to push his body forward despite the mind-numbing energies it has been exposed to, he pours all of his will and determination into staying on his feet. Staying in this fight.
Honoka's bellow of rage washes over the monk, crashing against his hardened facade with little impact. The grab, however, is another story. Surprisingly strong fingers snag a fist full of loose blue tunic, dragging him forward slightly even as he struggles to stay on his feet, to keep a grip on the hat still held in his right hand. Lips pulling back from white teeth, he bares them, panting, and snaps his left forearm up just in time to catch the first wand strike upon his studded iron wrist guard.
Eyes lost to a haze of concentration, face blank, the monk jerks his arm up and down, forward and back. wherever the doubled wands seek to go, his wrist meets them, the two fighters locked together in a stale mate of strike and counter strike, sparks of energy flying from the points of impact. Even after the monk's feet have left the ground, body forced skyward by the might of the performer's mind, his left arm continues to block, moving on auto pilot.
Bellow to bellow, the Shaolin releases another kiai down at Honoka. Muscles tensing, knees drawing up, he brings his broad metal hat swinging in just in time to catch her spinning roundhouse, the force of it pounding the hat out of his grip and blasting him backward through the air.
Where he promptly dissolves.
The would-be champion's hat remains where he had been just moments before, spinning slowly beneath the residual force of the kick. However, the monk himself swirls back into existence directly behind Honoka, lashing out at her with a simple, full-bodyed palm strike aimed squarely for the back of her left shoulder, thrown with enough force to hopefully spin the Ainu around so that they are face to face...

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao successfully hits Honoka with Aggressive Tiger.

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

Face to face with the representative of the Shaolin, hat off and face exposed, there is half a second in which the pair meet eyes. Within Kung Lao's dark gaze can be read only ironclad determination, the resolve to put an end to this, one way or another.
And then he is moving.
Driving forward, the monk unleashes 6 blurringly fast punches to seemingly random spots of Honoka's torso, chaining one blow after the other in less than a second. Then, he does it again, 6 identical punches blurring out twice as fast, six nearly simultaneous impacts as he walks through the pattern in half a second.
Behind Honoka, the abandoned hat is flipped through the air by a stray gust of wind, its edge dropping down between her shoulder blades, then pausing as a concentrated tornado begins to swirl around it. Faster and faster the bladed hat spins, rim humming as it accelerates into a glittering vertical saw behind the performer.
Another step from Kung Lao and his body swings into a snap kick to Honoka's chest that knocks her staggering backward into the saw blade, only for him to pounce in after her, fist rearing back...
The following 6 punches come so swiftly that only the truly well trained would even be able to count them, 6 left right left jabs that rock Honoka's face back one after the other, striking chin, cheeks, and jaw with whip-crack force, each serving to thrust her back just a little further onto the blade of his hat.
Snapping back from the last punch, Kung Lao leaps past Honoka and spins through the air, driving a final hard kick into the back of her right shoulder to knock her forward away from his hat even as his left hand snaps out to catch it out of the air.
Brutal? Perhaps. But only he and Honoka can truly comprehend the amount of pain they have both suffered. Perhaps the tournament staff will speak to him about this, but they were not struck by spiritual lightning.

Honoka can already tell she's in trouble once her wands start clanking, instead of yielding the sweet, sweet sounds of cracking bone and tenderized flesh. She's happy to have something of the monk's to hold onto, and to keep pressure on him from all sides with her psychic presence -- but after her fight with Nakoruru, her reserves are really starting to flag now.

Accordingly, when the monk unleashes another kiai, it's enough to break her grip. Her kick is a last-ditch effort to salvage what she can of the hold, but even that, well... she doubts it's enough.

And then she finds herself roundhouse kicking a hat.

Glowering, she whips around to face the enemy, already fearing the worst -- that he'd teleport right behind her. The good news is that she was right on her estimation -- the bad news is that the right elbow she swings at him couldn't dissuade his own palm strike from smacking into her, spinning her around with a flourish of her black-and-pink styled hair. Even more good news -- now she's facing him, like -she- wanted; the even worse news is that it's under -Kung Lao's- control and not her own.

She's already bracing for the worst, there, tensing up in a vain attempt to bring her wands up for an unsteady defense. Narrowed, amber-veined eyes glare back at his. Saccharine and sweetness have already left the bamboo grove here, as she knows the final moments are incoming. Her muscles tense, as she quivers back, too emboldened by rage to keep from fleeing, her mind paralyzed with an overabundance of choices.

And then the decision is quickly wrenched out of her hands, as six punches jackhammer into her torso -- payback for the illusionary punch from before.

If that were all, it'd be a mercy. But then the hat throws its hat into the ring, by ringing its saw into Honoka's back, as Kung Lao continues to piston punches into her. Each one jams the blade further down, rivers of blood gushing out of her back and scalp. She screams -- no longer able to bite back her agony as the bulk of her shoulder-length hair is shredded apart by the spinning blade; scraps of orange windbreaker and scoop tee alike are churned in the mill.

The true mercy is shown as Kung Lao knocks Honoka free of the supernatural buzzsaw with one final kick to her shoulder. Her body falls limply to the bamboo floor, supported only by the remains of her flagging strength.

Panting, bleeding, she finds blackness creeping into the edges of her vision. And yet...

She remembers her place.
Because she never -forgot- where she was, surrounded by the verdant field of bamboo.

And she -laughs-, as she pitches forward, planting both palms on the grove's floor, and -shoves- herself back to her feet.

Her eyes are practically -glowing- with golden radiance -- the same color as the radiant fibers lacing through the wounds on her back and her head -- as she levels her determined gaze on Kung Lao. And she -smiles-, literally -shuddering- with intensity -- for with anything less, the frailties of the human frame would surely collapse.

"The show... must go on...!"

One foot steps in front of the other. And then the back foot becomes the front. Her hands and feet begin to glow with blazing, golden fury. Pressure begins to build, as Honoka's psychic presence grows hotter and hotter. The air becomes dense, almost -liquid- in that moment in time...

She cocks back her right fist as if to punch Kung Lao. For a moment, it seems like time itself is slowing down, with her attack so clearly telegraphed -- surely, a masterful, highly trained monk like Kung Lao could -easily- block such a thing...!

But then the pressure relents. The air cools, a fine haze of steam releasing. And time doesn't just move forward -normally- again, it hyper-accelerates into top speed, with Honoka twisting around sharply...

... her fist completely missing him. Because the point wasn't to =punch= him. It was to get him to back away. To have him stumble on that fallen diabolo, perhaps -- but certainly for him to get nailed by a blisteringly powerful spin kick, empowered by a whip-crack burst of psychic-powered wind, aimed at knocking the monk backward into his very own bamboo tree!

COMBATSYS: Honoka can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Kung Lao with Kunne Chup Kamui.
- Power hit! -

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

Shoulders slumped, chest heaving, Kung Lao offers the fallen performer a final glance, expression unreadable. Lifting his hat, he begins to turn away, to step toward the center of the clearing, but pauses, sensing something is wrong.
Jerking back around, he is just in time to witness Honoka staggering back upright, bolstered by the golden power coursing through her, pouring from her eyes and wounds. His right forearm lifts slightly, muscles tensing beneath the bracer as he gauges the distance between them, mind automatically calculating possible speed, escape routes, likelihood he can teleport in time. But with that much power passing through him while he is dispersed?
A moment of hesitation follows, the performer paused, the monk balanced upon the edge of indecision.
When the strike comes, it snaps Lao out of his funk, forcing him to move. To move now. Operating on instinct alone, he takes one short hop back, forearm sweeping up...
And impacting nothing, the strike coming well short of hitting.
Heel coming down on the rounded side of a Diabolo, lost at some point during their struggle. Balance upset, nerves already on edge, he flings his arm out for balance, removing the guard that had been so carefully placed between himself and Honoka.
The result appears almost choreographed. Fighterpedia scholars will debate for decades whether or not the sequence was rigged, for as Lao hops back, arm flinging out for balance, Honoka's kick blasts right through the spot his arm had occupied mere moments before, catching him square in the chest and launching him backward through the air. Hat jarred free of his grasp, he hurtles straight back, eyes going wide, and strikes the stalk of bamboo skull-first.
The Shaolin's lights are out even before he ploughs through the stalk, bits of plant matter spraying out around him as he tumbles limply across the grass to lie face up, eyes closed and one arm flung out to his side, long ponytail stretched out in his wake.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Kung Lao can no longer fight.

Only then -- after her last expenditure of psycho power, does Honoka spin herself dizzy, collapsing to both knees. For -- with the blood loss she'd suffered...? The juggler is just not gonna be getting up after that gauntlet of exhaustion.

Seeing that his team mate is hurt, Koto takes off from the tent after the judges declare the fight over with. Koto actually leaps off the ground, gliding through the air with his kimono open a bit to get to where Honoka is in probably record time.

Despite not being a medic, he at least knew some injuries and checked her quickly before lifting her as gently as he can and taking off again towards the medical area.

The teenager's antics aren't just for show, it seems, as even Chae Lim seems perhaps a bit concerned. But for Koto? He's making sure one of the few that showed him kindness is going to survive this and hopefully be there for the next round. His limited psychic abilities are already at least trying to keep the blood flow to a minimum by pressure alone in mid-jump/glide to the medical area. "Hang on, Honoka."

Whether it was choregraphed or not, some might stare a bit at the fact that Koto leaped a good deal of distance from the tent to Honoka then back to the medical area so smoothly that she might not even suffer injuries from the movement alone. It was a bit crazy. Afterwards, he looks over towards Nakoruru and Kung Lao, glaring a bit before moving away to let the medical team do it's work.

Log created on 21:24:29 06/21/2019 by Honoka, and last modified on 08:46:24 06/26/2019.