KOF 2019 - Prelims 2 - Team Family Values vs Ikari Team

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Description: With Team Family Values arriving with two points, and Ikari Team rolling in with one point, the duo battle at the Vatican to struggle an important victory: The winner will make it to the thunderdome runoff, the loser will be out.

The gardens of the St. Peter's Basilica were beautiful affairs. Generally maintained by the nuns of the Vatican grounds, they followed the classic Roman style of ornamental horticulture. Staged in the center of one of the many connecting porticos across the Vatican grounds, it followed the same structure as the ancient Romans. Squared sections were placed throughout the neatly trimmed grounds, each segment a simple blend of flowers, shrubs, and herbs. The courtyard kept a single fountain in it, with four statues at each corner. Unlike the classic, it naturally minimizes the more obscene statues, choosing instead sculptures of the Virgin Mary. Tile path crosses through each of the four points of the courtyard, with benches around the central fountain. This was hardly the place for a fight.

But Relius Clover could not find any place better.

With the opponents being the Ikari Warriors, he took his team of the NOL to the former stomping grounds of the traitorous Sacred Order. Neutral territory, for better or for worse. And a dire reminder of just how powerful the NOL could be, when pushed to it. The officer himself was dressed in his best; Royal purple and white slacks, with a grandiose crimson cloak hanging over his shoulders. Upon his face was a mask of gold, a smirk on his lips, and stainless white gloves upon his hands. He was alone now, standing besides a bench, in open defiance of it's use. In the cusp of his fingertips, he was clutching a flower. Perhaps, not so long ago, this was the very flower that terrible rogue Command Gear once corrupted on these grounds. Now, they were banished to Illyria. Totally safe from the NOL.

Just as the Kaka Clan is as well.

After years of clashing with the worst criminals the world had to offer, the Ikari Warriors are wanted by the NOL, branded as terrorists with prices on their heads.

After months of drawing back from active service to focus on training, honing, refocusing herself after a hard brush with Shadaloo, Chun-Li Xiang made friends with an Ikari Warrior.

The tournament's rules /should/ keep the Ikaris safe from opportunistic Librarians; then again, what's a pro fighting tournament to an engineer in a private military with the support of world leaders...?

Once the pairings were announced, it was obvious: if fugitives must share an arena with their pursuers, then Chun-Li will be there to stand between them.

"You don't think I'll take it easy on you," she wonders, one foot balanced atop the statue furthest from Relius, "because I'm worried about breaking something, do you?"

Chun-Li arrived via roof.
Chun-Li arrived between glances: one moment, emptiness; the next, her.

Chun-Li is absolutely just showing off. Precariously perched as she is - free leg bent high, arms forward and ready - there isn't a quiver to be seen. Navy ribbons hold most of her hair in buns on either side of her head, leaving a few bangs dangling. A black tactical vest and blue shirt leave her mid-riff - and a few strips of black KT tape along her rib cage - bare. Deep blue dress jeans hug the World's Strongest Legs, eager to show off the powerful swells just beneath. Elbow and knee pads, gloves, armor plates strapped around her thighs, and combat boots - all black - lend a little extra protection while nudging her personal aesthetic towards her teammates'.

And then, of course, there's the 'IKARI' stenciled across her chest in white block letters.

Her bent leg lowers so she can set it on Mary's shoulder. The holy virgin's cradling her child, giving Chun-Li a little bit of inclined room to work with as she deliberately strolls down the statue.

"It /is/ a beautiful arena," she admits with a soft, slow sigh, eyes set squarely on the masked man's face.

A delicate step abruptly leads to blurring and a stiff breeze cutting through the garden.

"I hope we'll treat it nicely, but if we don't...? It'll be on your conscience as much as mine," she remarks, poised atop another statue.

"At least /I'll/ have winning to make it feel a little better," she adds as knife-hands jut forward and her lips curl into a smirk.

In response, Relius is silent.
Colonel Clover's reputation was amongst the worst. Even amongst the loyal, there was something simply vile about the man's presence. If he had his way, well, nobody ever wanted to consider Relius's limits if he had his way. For Chun-Li to pit herself between the Colonel of the NOL and the Ikari Warriors took an unspoken level of courage. And yet, there was no obvious danger, no traps. In response to Chun-Li's showy display, Relius just looks. And it becomes clear now.

There was something terrible about Relius's gaze.

It wasn't the stare; after all, stares were always the norm. Even then, there was a tactile -feel- as Relius's stare grazes up the powerful thighs, all the way across the words. IKARI. The gentle touch, almost ticklish, but mostly waxy and firm. Every man had their own stare. Not on the outside, no. Every man had a gaze that you could feel on the outside. The Mad Alchemist's gaze penetrated the skin, cut deeper, peered and probed on the inside. Writhing, squirming, twisting deeper and deeper, well past the skin, the flesh, the bone. Fingering within to the very soul. Not like worms, never like worms. But with the surgical care of a tender dentist, a personal doctor, discreeting peeling away every layer by layer of the newest Ikari Warrior.

And all it gains was the faintest smirk from him.

"It really is lovely, yes." Relius replies, adjusting his gloves. "I have been here before, well, not the gardens per say. It's where the Sacred Order kept the rogue Command Gear." He states idly. "Perhaps you remember that; the world was nearly destroyed over it. And the Sacred Order hid behind their so called vows to assure it." Relius shakes his head. "Another terrorist organization; not so different from Shadaloo. They lied to the United Nations about killing it, and then stuffed it away as a secret weapon in their poverty-stricken province they annexed in the mountains. Of course, they still have it in their rogue state; it seems the whole world has their hands tied in dealing with them." Relius sniffs lightly. "Of course, perhaps the leadership is keeping it for more... personal pleasures."

"Naturally, it's not so different from the Ikari Warriors."

Relius strides forward. Approaching Chun-Li? Preparing to fight? No, he holds, as he breaks away that piercing gaze. "Heidern, Leona... it's all so suspect. Of course, I am certain you are really commiting a sting operation. All this, to lower their guards before you arrest them all by the end of it. And yet, I can only sense... yes!" He raises a hand.

"Kindness and gentleness!"

The Mad Alchemist tut tuts. "Not even a hint of deception. Maybe you are like that Lita Luwanda; someone of such shallow moral fiber, that you run off with mercenaries and thugs, under the delusion that by ignoring the rules, you can justify yourselves as if you are anything more than modern day outlaws. It's simply fascinating how you keep lowering your standards. Oh, I am well aware of you, Chun-Li. Really, going from Interpol to Ikari Warriors? I wouldn't be surprised if you end up working for this very tournament. Of course, maybe you'll eventually find someone who will..." He gasps. "Oh, no, I'm sorry, this is a fight, not an experiment." He leaves his hand in the air, ready to snap his fingers. "I am ready!" He declares with force, for the judges and all to hear. "Come! We shall fight. As you said, you have to win to make you feel better!" And from behind the mask, that gaze begins, almost threatening Chun-Li to strike to break it.

"I really hope you have enough to give me..."

COMBATSYS: Relius has started a fight here.

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Relius           0/-------/-------|

Stares are /always/ the norm.

Once, they were belittling, bemused: 'What's /she/ gonna be able to do except run?' they'd wonder. 'Fight someone your /own/ size, for /your/ sake,' they'd sneer.

Then she started entering the '(#)Test Your Might' competitions that run hand in glove with larger fighting events, leaving a trail of swiftly scrapped sedans and shattered ice towers in her wake.

'Christ, she must LIVE in the gym,' those everpresent eyes scoffed. 'How's she ever gonna find a husband with those redwoods in her boots?' they snickered. 'Gotta be juicing,' they decided. 'Probably spent all morning shaving her beard for this...'

And then came the qipao, the stockings, the light touches of make-up-- the signifiers paradoxically shouting that Chun-Li gave no fucks about looking the part of whatever a 'serious fighter' is, and a few too many for the plethora of /other/ unvoiced criticisms swirling around her.

The stares asked, 'Who does this bitch think she is?' then.
They insisted, 'She oughtta be more RESPECTFUL.'
They smirked, 'Can't WIN her way into the big leagues, but she sure knows how to keep people watching, huh?'

The stares never go away, so Chun-Li's learned to smile despite them-- /to/ spite them, with sunshine and the ever-evolving breadth of her art.

"Maybe they thought that they could save her, Colonel," she offers, arching a brow at the approaching Relius.

'Fuck yourself, creep~' silently screams through the broad, rising curve of her lips.

Kind, gentle soul that she is, she smiles her way through the rest of Relius' introductions and insinuations, holding herself perfectly still atop a praying Mary. Beneath the smile and the skintight uniform-- beneath the stubborn sense of justice that's so plain it even animates some of her professional bouts, like her title challenge/public interrogation of Duke Burkhoff-- Chun-Li is a woman with something to prove. Innoculated though she may be against the countless judging eyes that rake over her body, Chun-Li holds herself to a standard that she's struggled to meet for the better part of a year. Incessant training, vigilante work, and Z-grade tourney appearances have kept her as sharp as they can, but she's a competitor at her core... and before today, she'd essentially withdrawn from every form of competition she'd ever engaged in.

He declares he's ready and her eyes flutter in response; her chest slowly rises then falls. She gently swallows; just like /that/, she's back in it again. Back in it for /real/, with a real, dangerous opponent--!

Her eyes slip from his scouring gaze as she takes another breath, bracing-- /settling/-- lingering, perfectly balanced--

"I'm pretty aware of you too, Relius," she utters a beat later, when her eyes return to his. "/Especially/ after /that/--" Her eyes shrink in a disgusted grimace as she shakes her head and curls the top of her fist over her mouth. "If I'm a young woman in the NOL watching /this/, hearing how much /my/ boss must think about men taking advantage of the women in their employ, under their care..."

The shiver's palpable as her hand snaps back into its forward position.

"Then there's the /staring/," she adds with a slight cant of her head and pursing lips. "That feeling of being sized up, weighed-- judged like /meat/... and the /lying/, of course. The proud way you mangle the truth, twist it until it fits whatever story you need to tell with it--"

There are only blue and gold sparks where Chun-Li once stood.

"-- that's /my/ least favorite thing about you so far," she adds along with a wide, looping punch from Relius' right side. It's easily blocked-- /meant/ to be blocked; the same goes for the kick she aims towards his shin shortly afterwards. "But if /anyone/ cared about /any/ of that, you wouldn't be a Colonel, right? So:"

The next moment, Chun-Li's crouched on Relius' left with currents of blue and gold chi swirling around her, ruffling nearby foliage.

"Instead: stop me if you've ever used /any/ of these phrases in a sentence:"

"'Ethical-- research'!" is punctuated with a pair of bone-rattling palm-strikes aimed towards his ribs.

"'Scientific-- responsibility'!" comes with a second, lunging pair.

"'Human empathy'!" is joined by a single, rising thrust that directs the heels of both palms squarely towards the side of his skull.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li has joined the fight here.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0           Relius

COMBATSYS: Relius blocks Chun-Li's Charged Combo.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0           Relius

That was the foulest thing about the gaze.

It would be one thing to tear her apart. To pick and sniff at every piece he was peering through. And yet, there wasn't any sense of it. No explicit judgements, not yet. No, it was studying, trying to dredge up something deep within, to observe, test, experiment against. It was one thing for Relius to try and tear down Chun-Li with his gaze. But he wanted something more. Something more personal to satisfy his tastes.

And it didn't seem he was going to let Chun-Li escape his attentions.

"Save her? Oh, I'm afraid you are both further and closer to the truth than you can imagine." He lowers his hand, however, as the sheer venom of Chun-Li causes his eyebrow to rise. As she calls him out on his reputation within the NOL, he actually drops into a grimace. Sweeping his cloak, he seems uncertain at Chun-Li's point, until she makes her attack. And finally, Relius decides.

"How fascinating..."

Relius coos, rubbing his chin so slightly. He was dead sincere. The sheer contempt, the overwhelming passion. The first blow is actually deflected effortlessly; or at least, Relius makes the attempt to let it seem effortless. In the same breath, he seems almost ready to reposition. Except, of course, Chun-Li doesn't stop attacking. The shin strike is suddenly caught with a jerk of steel, a mechanical limb rising up from beneath the earth to stop it. The device extends around, intercepting the surge from the left, and Relius's flawless performance breaks with the now-shattered mechanical limb. When the attacks to the ribs come, he is forced to throw up ring of sigils, magical wards that only manage to deter the sparks and the first blow; there is a groan of pain as second pair cuts through. Quickly risking a loss of balance, the final head slam comes at his head, and there is a great grunt from him as he -slams- one arm into one of Chun-Li's own, taking a rattling hit to he head. The blow should of bruised. It -did- bruise, on contact. But pushing back, his waxy skin seems to only be smeared, his arm having almost been of metal as it slammed in. Breathing heavily, Relius sweeps his cape, as nuts and bolts tumble out. And then, he responds.

"All of the above, and more!" Relius declares with passionate gusto.

"There is none that compare to my Ethical research!" He declares, movement coming under his cloak as something -drives- down hard into the earth by his feet. "I am unmatched in my Scientific responsibility! And as for human empathy..." Relius smirks, almost dismissive of the insinuation. "I can only point to the sheer adoration and respect I have with my own creations, as my true reputation of the Novus Orbis Librarium."

"As a family man!"

Relius continues to monologue, almost seeming like he leaves and opening... until the tile of the garden path begins to crack and splinter. A trail splits; one heading straight for Chun-Li, the other zig-zagging to intercept between Relius and Chun-Li. "My children have only the highest respect for me, Chun-Li. Even those who disappoint me. Especially those who disappoint me! I have been the greatest father of all the NOL, and I have done more for my children and my beloved wife than even you could imagine!" His fingertips dance, and the earth breaks. Two buzzsaws rip up; one away from Chun-Li, and one by her legs ready to tear in. And with every twitch of his fingers, the blades dance and strike, like puppets on strings. "And every single one has the world and more to thank me for it. Yes, you can hardly even believe it. And why should you, you have already decided so -strongly- what I am to you."

"And yet, that's what so interesting about you."

Relius somehow -continues- to talk, as the buzzsaws dance and weave, the second one finally joining in at the flanks to try and rip and harry Chun-Li. "My apologies for staring, Chun-Li. But you've been so utterly fascinating. Because everything you have said has come with the utmost sincerely. I had almost expected you to be hollow. And yet your spirit, your soul has so much in it... and yet, such a profound weakness that I can hardly help but observe. I promised myself I would focus on fighting, but- well." Relius rubs his chin once more, as his piercing stare begins once again. "Perhaps you can confirm some of my suspicions about you."

"For science, of course."

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li blocks Relius' Geara Lugia.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0           Relius

Chun-Li's arms snap into defensive positions at the first sight of glinting metal. After the second, though, she briskly loosens, bends, scoops--

"Your own /body's/ a lie!" she snaps, throwing a handful of nuts and bolts back at Relius. It could've been passed off as armor, but Chun-Li's internalized the tactile differences bone and metal, by now; the smeared skin and too-stiff clash stand out to her as tells. "And you wanna talk to me about what's /true/?!"

She dips low, ready to continuing pressuring him; sawblades erupt from the ground before she makes it more than a couple of steps, however, forcing an abrupt stop.

"So you /create/ things-- /people/," she spits, "that don't know any better than to love you, lying, creepy warts and all," Chun-Li flatly summarizes.

Thanks to the saws, her eyes are bouncing around the ground instead of burning through him; outrage still ought to carry well enough, though.

"I'm not a scientist, though-- I'm not even an accountant! So you'd have to do the math, for me:" she continues, holding her hands out in claws. "Making people who can't see through you; ten grand US from the bounty fund, for the son who /definitely/ still wants anything to do with you..."

She allows herself a split-second to meet his eyes while she weighs the options laid out before them.

The (~)detective's voice slips a couple semitones and decibels lower, and - saws be damned - she leans towards him while tapping her index finger against her chin: "Why can't you just pick up the phone, Relius? He respects you, right? He loves you, doesn't he?"

Pivoting towards the sawblade at her flank, she throws a wide kick and intercepts the blade at an angle with her shin. A few flecks of black leather and blood spray, but more importantly: the saw /stops/, twisting a divot into the Earth as sheer force pushes it towards its side. Another quick, sideways shift places her parallel to the other blade, allowing her to drive it to the ground with her other heel while she tries not to favor her cut leg too badly.

"Stare all you want, 'family man'," she then hisses while letting most of her weight rest forward, on her good leg, and sweeping a hand down her body. "Leer all you like; I don't /care/. You sent bounty hunters after your /child/-- he's FIFTEEN! Whatever you /think/ you need to figure out about /me/, I already know everything I need to about /you/!"

She vaults away from the saw that may well still be twitching beneath her boot, tucking into a tight ball on the way up. Shortly after passing the apex, her body unfolds and her right leg thrusts forward. Blue and gold dance around her foot until she's close enough to try driving her heel into the top of Relius' head on her way towards a split-legged landing, and a small burst of dual-colored chi erupts from wherever her boot ultimately lands.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Relius with Hazanshu EX.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0           Relius

My child...."

Relius muses, as the blades struggle to pursue up after Chun-Lo. when she takes to the air, however, they only can extend so far. Relius himself seemed distracted, as if he was unable to grasp who, exactly, Chun Li was referring to. When the heel comes crashing down, he only just have enough time to snap out of it, swirling within his cape to escape... unsuccessfully. Taking the blow to the head, Chun-Li properly draws blood, the waxy skin breaking where she had connected before. His body was only a half-lie. Dazed, he touches upon his head as he stumbles. Delicately, he brings his gloved hand, now blood stained, before his eyes. Finally, he snaps his fingers. "Oh yes, you must mean Carl!"

And the automation teleports in.

A hulking, feminine automaton puppet teleports at his side. The iron maiden is clad in the general shape of a dress and a large pink headress, with distended long arms dangling at her.. it's side? At the end of each, long razor sharp claws. It stares blankly ahead, drifting between Chun-Li and Relius, as the engineer continues prattle on. "Please, I can explain fully! But you must calm down! You are being hysterical!" His tone is dead serious, if slightly warmed over. "Since you clearly lack the firm, rational mind for math, I can understand why you could be so emotional! Even I can see your tenderness, your ... Love of family."

There almost a chortle at that, as his fingertips dance.

The automation weaves, swiping her imbued claws in long, slow swings. Less to destroy Chun-Li, but to buy space, to give Relius respite. And worse, to dialogue... Monologue? "Certainly, any good father must be firm with their little boy! You spare the rod, you spoil the child. I would like nothing more than my precious boy grow up into a brilliant man like his father! And yet, his path has become clouded, his mind has wandered. He has squandered his love and respect for me, and placed it in another! And whose fault is it?" He thrusts his finger.

"The wretched Lightning Spangles!"

Upon the finger thrust, the puppet lunges, the catpaw offense driving in hard. An opening? Maybe. There, it would attempt to seize Chun-Li, and simply lift and slam her back. "Yes, that miserable woman has tempted him, tried to lure her into her clutches! They still not share the footage of that terrible Golden Angel tournament, where she... I dare not even say! I would have loved nothing more than to have him at my side for this tournament. But alas, he has grown wayward due to the influence of that criminal. You too were investigating that charlatan, that homewrecker! You even rescued one of her poor victims, if I understand, to be here in this very tournament!"

Relius spins his finger, to effect.

The automation lurches, spinning on command, twirling in a cascade of pink energy. The display nearly comes to a close as she returns back towards Relius, her claws attempting to give a final rip against Chun-Li before coming back to the mad alchemist's side. "Really, you of all people should be eager to see if this is all a Shadaloo plot." He sighs. "But no, your so called heroic instincts drives you to complain about my parenting techniques. Really..."

"What makes you any real authority on a proper family life?"

COMBATSYS: Relius successfully hits Chun-Li with Val Tus.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/-======|====---\-------\0           Relius

Chun-Li pinches the bridge of her nose.

Her heart's racing as she does it. Every muscle's taut and rippling beneath her uniform; there's a /robot/ in the fight, now, the /giant/ kind. 'Hulking', anyway; taller than either of /them/, at the least. If not for the memory of I-No summoning an entire, trainyard-collapsing Gear one round into their first meeting, its presence would've inspired frantic movement and spiky breathing; as it /is/, the automaton presents a problem that she was clearly unprepared for, forcing a quick recalculation of the situation.

But Relius won't stop /talking/, so some of those calculations are happening as she shuts her eyes, pinches, and groans.

"You've gotta know how long I've been doing this," she then sneers, suddenly weary, "right?"

Not weary enough to dart backwards from sweeping claws--!

"C'mon, genius, try a little harder! Show me some of that cutting logic!"

It's not a dialogue, though. Two swipes in, and Chun-Li's stuck letting Relius wash over her while dipping further and further back from wicked claws and unfeeling eyes, until:

"/Ligh--/ the one who's been /dead/ for months? The True Hollywood Story Queen--"

Ignis has a /long/ reach. After several seconds of learning Chun-Li's rhythm, she lunges far beyond where brisk evasion leaves the woman, drawing blood.

"-- nngh--!"

And worse still, rendering her too dazed, too pinned in a taloned vice to do much more than listen to Relius rant about a failed actress. That final finger-snap sends her staggering away then spiraling towards the ground, smoking and bleeding from half a dozen long, pink-tinged slashes along her arms. She's quick to push her hands to the ground and hop to her feet... and quicker still to crumple back down to a knee, still dizzy; still panting.

And Relius.


/Stop/, until he manages to land on a question that distracts her from breathing for a moment.

The next moment, chestnut eyes narrow and begin to smolder. When she finally remembers, her exhale's shaky, and so's the inhale that follows as her hands ball against the ground.

There's another pause after that, though, a moment of absolute stillness like the world around her's trapped in amber.

And then the amber cracks,
and laughter trickles-- bubbles-- streams-- gushes-- /erupts/ from Chun-Li.

She's not so quick to rise this time, but - in spite of residual drunken weaving - she manages to cackle all the way back to her feet. There, at least, she's able to show Relius the courtesy of covering the big, pearly gash of her smile with a hand, while she waves the other helplessly in front of hereself.

"'What--!'" leaks out from behind her hand. Radiant, blue and gold threads lash out from somewhere deep within her, then undulate around her chest. "'What makes--' F-- Father... Father of the /Year/ over here..." The threads multiply and intensify with each machine gun burst of mirth. There isn't a /prayer/ of stillness in her vicinity, now: a fresh wind stirs through grass and leaves while gold lightning snaps bits of shrapnel from the nearest statuary. "... thinks /I/ don't know any-- /anything/... about... ... ... haaaa... haaaa, /God/..."

There aren't any threads by the time she trails off, just a two-toned corona getting brighter by the moment.

"You don't know the first thing /about/ me," she declares a beat later, when she's composed herself enough to lower her hand-- and reveal a broad smile, just for Relius. "So I'll tell you. Because I'm so ~nice~: I know all /about/ what it means to be a good father-- an /honorable/ father-- a DECENT father, because mine was the best man I've ever known."

Not only is the smile gone by now, her gaze is an inferno eager to swallow the Colonel.

"He gave his LIFE to protect innocent people while you were busy dreaming of ways to pollute them with lies-- while you were BUILDING them, to SERVE you-- you threw your own child to the WOLVES, and you have the NERVE to ask ME what /I/ know about family?!"

Right on the heels of Chun-Li's delayed explosion, a swift exhale and a soft, steel-jacketed, "How /dare/ you?" follows.

That final 'you' stretches a ways into the air as Chun-Li disappears from the ground. The question's allowed to linger while she hurtles forward, tucked into a tight ball and keeping herself relatively near the ground while blood paints her trail. The technique's familiar, by now, so the angle must be different. It's a /risk/...

... but when she stops somersaulting to drive her heel towards Relius' chest, every iota of spiritual energy swirling around her races right and downwards, gathering around the potential point of impact. More than a colorful burst, the World's Strongest Leg is primed to trigger a towering storm of chi wherever she strikes.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Relius with Tensei Ranka.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/-----==|=======\-------\1           Relius

Relius can never truly predict how his test subjects respond.

Oh, he can square them away. But never truly predict the absolute outcome. Only likely ones. The Puppetmaster could make the strings, and let the people dance along them. But no one was ever perfect for Relius's brilliant mind. He expected Chun-Li's resolve to steel. Silence. Stoic fury.

Instead, laughter.

Relius actually falls silent, as Chun-Li's laughter boils forward. With a snap of his fingers, the automation disappears. Just Chun-Li, and Relius. His own gears were turning, you hear the clicking. Chun-Li's own declaration washes over him, he has no reaction, no empathy, no glimmer of shame. Just a dawning joy of discovery, as if Chun-Li revealed a stunning breakthrough. As Chun-li reveals herself, he finally has his opening. She takes to the air, as he already is circling, his mind swirling. He calculates how fast she is moving, how strong she is. And he positions himself to be exactly where he would be safe, according to his calculations.

He fails.

Perhaps he paid too little attention to the sheer emotional passion he drew from Chun-Li. Perhaps it was the 'How dare you'. But when his cape swirls, The impact actually causes something between a 'crack' and a 'groan.' Something caves, the impact driving deep into the ribs. The ribs don't break, per say. Not all of them, at least. They bend, and don't bend back. There is no sound from Relius, as pieces fall out from under his cloak to the ground. Mechanical limbs, gyros, nuts and bolts, syringes, and vials of... thick black -stuff- that seems to just stop itself from detonating. Relius's expression strains; his teeth gritted, a trickle of blood rolling down the corner of his lips. "A... a miscalculation!" He murmurs, unclenching his fist. Another speech? No, only curt words. "But no matter! I have you now!"

And he reaches forward, a single gloved hand, stained with blood, straight for Chun-Li's throat.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li blocks Relius' Geara Manibus.

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Chun-Li          0/-------/----===|=======\-------\1           Relius

And Relius seizes her throat.

The grip is like a vice, mechanically enhanced. And he lifts her up. There is... a whirring underneath the cloak. A writhing. A shaping. A crunching. Something, like a thousand insects, were in motion under the cape. And up close, his gaze comes on her. And the true weight of the leer, the gaze, comes into bear. "Your father... yes... that's where I saw it. The spark, your -essence- of soul. But you sound like you adore him. But is that what you -really- feel? Yes... lets have a closer look..." There is a surge, as golden energy floods over him, as his cape unfurls open. The chittering drone grows louder as the mechanical limbs, an impossible number in an impossible depth, surge up to rush for Chun-Li...

He's stronger than he looks, but really: who /isn't/, in their world?

Gurgling bubbles up from Chun-Li's throat. Neatly trimmed nails rake along Relius' hands, seeking purchase-- gripping, digging, /pulling/... and then just settling into gripping. There's no room for any answer beyond hopping up, briefly drawing a knee towards her chest, then thrusting forward, planting her sole against his chest for extra support. Pushing and pulling as she does isn't particularly /threatening/, but the force of it's sufficient to force herself into a backwards tumble while countless limbs crash together in the space she leaves behind.

Landing in a three point stance, she wonders, "What'd you do to him, Relius?" in a hoarse groan while massaging her throat. The fury's there in her eyes, eager to burn right through the Mad Alchemist they're locked upon, but stoic...?

"You did /not/ lose your beloved son to some sad, broken down screw-up," she presses. Following a rough swallow, she pushes up to her feet and thrusts her hands forward, ready. "C'mon, what was it? Did you creep on one of his friends? Destroy something he cared about? Did you just talk, and talk, and /lie/, until he just couldn't take it anymore...?"

Chun-Li's father taught her - by word and example, both - to put her all into doing the right thing. That it isn't enough to believe in, even /fight/ for justice-- that there's too much darkness in the world to do anything less than champion her ideals as powerfully, as vigorously as she can. The arrogance of a man willing to write his own blood off and call it tough love keeps the fire in her gut burning hot enough for a brilliant eye to see clearly, dissection or no.

"Maybe he's watching right now, Colonel," she whispers just above the warbling crackle of chi sparking and swirling from her limbs. "Maybe if you told him that you loved him -- that /you're/ sorry -- maybe he'd come back to you, and you could save the NOL some money..."

"But you won't, will you?"

Radiant bands ripple in and out of sight as they-- as /she/-- abruptly curves towards Relius' right.

"You'd have to /care/ about him, and I don't think you're capable of it--! I can see it in your eyes, Colonel, the way you LOOK at people: they're just /meat/ to you-- just variables, controls--"

Tension builds throughout her frame until she's gone. A heartbeat later, she's right there in front of Relius again--


-- only now she's found her way onto a tangent. A flying, inverted, violently whirling tangent punctuated by shredding currents of blue and gold radiance, a tangent racing towards a collision with Relius. It's even got its own gravity, sucking leaves and debris into its swirling embrace-- tugging on Relius himself in a bid to force him into the path of the impending storm. As tangents go, it's not the longest: a few seconds at most, whether or not they're spent pummeling Relius with chi-imbued boots.

"Aren't they?!" she roars as the energy suffusing her tints to solid gold.

And then it's time for another tangent, the Interpol Warrior darting her way into a thrust kick aimed towards Relius' sternum, then blurring through dozens-- /hundreds/ more, filling the space between them with brilliant arcs of lightning chi over just a handful more seconds.

/Is/ that what she really feels, that adoration Relius saw?

The Alchemist ought to have enough evidence to make a conclusion.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li blitzes into action and acts again!

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

COMBATSYS: Relius blocks Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick.

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

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Relius with Hyakuretsu Kyaku EX.

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

Relius almost had her-

And there is a groan of pain, as the surge of mechanical limbs lash out to nothing. Chun-Li, deftly, escapes the Alchemist's grasp. Gripping his chest, he looks up as Chun-Li continues. He doesn't respond. He just continues the piercing stare. Halfway through, he snaps his fingers. There is the faintest smirk on his lips. But nothing open, no. Because frankly?

He needed to focus, for what Chun-Li was unleashing upon him.

The spinning bird kick, he was prepared for before this match. He didn't consider the situation ideal; with his limbs out, he was exposed. Still, he had to make do. The limb do not retract, when Chun-Li throws herself forward. Her speed was nearly impossible to react to; his mind could lock on, but the speed was too much. But he didn't need to react perfectly. Only good enough. When the first kick comes? It slams cleanly into Relius.

Rather, the mess of mechanical limbs.

IT was like a lawn mower on a heap of weeds. The cleaving, powerful limbs was met with a surge of mechanical limbs; rather than a proper catch and dismantle of her defense, it was pure force. It wasn't going to be enough to stop it; he has run out of broken limbs only two thirds in. But his free hands comes up, to snap his fingers. Ignis appears.

And takes over the rest.

Her own iron limbs intercept, deflecting the kicks in tandem with the last of Relius's mechanical limbs. His own arms were burning, battered; his legs were bleeding and dribbling oil. But he endured the assault. Or rather, the first piece. The moment Chun-Li drops, he moves Ignis aside, to intercept. The blaze of kicks comes, and Ignis turtles up with her long, mechanical limbs. Relius grunts in pain, a shared pain? As the surge of energy and blows overtakes the automation, there is a sudden wrenching sound; one of the limbs gives out under the barrage, and Ignis is knocked aside. She doesn't teleport away this time, having taken real damage.

And Relius groans, as his own limb droops.

For the damage on the doll, reflects into it's master. Relius's nearly collpases on the impact, struggling to rise up. He pauses, as Ignis jerks and spasms, pulling away. His arm was dislocated at the shoulder. His words are soft. "Children never truly understand the love of their parents." His voice is low. Reflection? Perhaps the worst kind. "They pretend to understand, they pretend to understand. Yes... I have enough. We have fought before, or will fight again." Relius begins to gain the certain air that only the senile hold. He reaches over to his broken doll, as he gives the silent command for it to come to him. It embraces him for a moment, a puppet on the strings. He heaves it up, and off. And then, he lifts his voice, almost lecturing Chun-Li.

"Do you know that if he was alive, he would be here?"

There is an incredible weight in his voice, as he touches on the automation firmly, adjusting her arm back in the socket. In tandem, his own shifts. He stares ahead, as if he was staring into... something. "Of the infinite of possibles... yes. Sometimes he is here. Sometimes he cannot make it. You are still a fighter, inspired by the endless fighting against injustice, or perhaps because you fight so he does not need to risk himself anymore. A thousand possibilities, I cannot..." He groans, releasing his automation, his fingertips dancing. Ignis immediately moves, jerking towards Chun-Li. Both limbs are out; it isn't attacking just yet. All while Relius strides away from Chun-Li, towards the audience, babbling, talking.

Gesturing in the audience.

"He is there, instead of the old man. He is watching you, proud... wounded? Not always wounded. But you are still Interpol, you are still yourself, you are still in a qipao, and fight with incredible kicks. We have fought, and he is there. For all the weight that your supposed father's death has had to you so far? What difference is there, with what is real only now?" Rambling? Babbling? Madness? "Everything you have done, or will do, or refused; the incredible impact that has built your life, yes, that is the light of your soul, the meaning, the shape of your spirit! It is all so clear to me now!" And he gives a twist of the wrist. The iron maiden lurches, swinging both limbs together in perfect unison to buffet Chun-Li's hairbuns.

"You -loath- your father!"

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li instinctively blocks Relius' Strong Punch.

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


It writhes beneath his polite demeanor and hangs heavily from his every word. The Colonel's soaring, inexhaustible certainty seems moments away from burst through his skin, wriggling and slick with ego as he lectures on a subject no-one could /possibly/ have the credentials for. He isn't the first to give her intensely certain scraps of seemingly personal knowledge, but I-No at least had the sense to limit her observations to Chun-Li herself instead of letting her speculations wander... and I-No was more insightful than the Interpol operative would've liked, besides. /She/ at least seemed to be working from the perspective of a (crudely lecherous, worryingly strong) fan-- someone who knows Chun-Li because she /knows/ her, distantly if nothing else. When she told Chun-Li about herself, it was to tease, taunt... and motivate? She wielded whatever knowledge - however /right/ - casually, drip-feeding it to preserve a sense of mystery around herself.

Relius digs and lectures and drills like a (creepily observant, worryingly strong) scientist who /needs/ to be right, meanwhile.

"You're rambling!" she hisses immediately after his conclusion. "Grasping for straws--!"

The Iron Maiden lurches and her limbs meet Chun-Li's, forearm-to-forearm with a pair of deep thumps.

Dorai could have been here, of course. He /could've/ been: he could've pursued Shadaloo a little less single-mindedly; he could've sought back-up more readily; he could've trained even harder-- maybe /he/ could've gone to Gen to learn the skills he'd need to see his daughter follow in his footsteps, failures and all.

He could've been there, /right/ there in the audience, watching his only child buckle to her knees, shaking beneath tireless metal.

He could've put her first - prioritized surviving for his daughter over sacrificing for the world - and if he had, maybe they could've spent the last few years sharing stories about the times they almost /got/ Shadaloo.

And if he had, maybe they'd have learned not to dwell on the 'almost' and the lives swallowed in its yawning maw.

Maybe she wouldn't think of it as quitting in his prime, because he's her father, and she loves him.

Loved him--


"He sacrificed /everything/," she spits, low and venomous as she locks her knees and narrows her eyes on the ground, "because he wanted to make the world better for me-- for /everyone/! And /you/-- what would YOU give up for YOUR son, Relius?! All that smug arrogance, the lies, the /scapegoating/-- if you cared about HIM, you wouldn't have room for ANY of it!"

Ignis is between she and Relius, but he was kind enough to show her - clear as day, disgusting pop and all - that the one's just as good as the other. Gold and blue chi arcs around her feet as aching arms fall limp at her sides and she snaps herself skywards, twisting into a rising thrust kick aimed at the automoton's chin-- forceful enough to lift her into the air /with/ Chun-Li, if it connects. Several more kicks follow in a rising cadence; it's markedly slower than the tempests that came earlier, but each kick is powerful enough to drive the machine a little higher than the last.

COMBATSYS: Relius dodges Chun-Li's Tenshou Kyaku.

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

You were often your most dangerous puppet master

It's one thing to be dancing on the strings of another. But to be the one dancing on your own strings? Insidious. "Ridiculous. You are chasing illusions, mere fiction!" But once it is clear to Relius that Chun-Li is picking Ignis as the target, he readies his good hand... As his stare intensifies. If Chun-Li endured  the Shadaloo reprogramming efforts, the sensation of invasive incorperal attacks on her mind shouldn't be new. What was different, wrong, was the methodology. Reading someone's mind and soul as a psionic was relatively soft. Relius was looking directly into the soul, Chun-Li's soul, with the grace and gentle nature of dismantling and engine block. It was a dangerous attempt, with Chun-Li already moving to pursue the recovering Ignis. As Chun-Li rushes in with her rising kick, there is a snap of the fingers.

And she is gone.

A thin cloud of pink energy is all there is to greet Chun-Li. The automation is gone. "He did sacrifice everything, didn't he?" The words from Relius have that smug taunting edge that everything has. The know it all lecturing. The careful backstepping, to increase the distance, as the stare drives deeper and deeper into her soul. "He sacrificed the chance to give you one more hug, to be there for you. And all to make the world a better place? I would not even sacrifice so much for so little, if it meant I wouldn't see my precious son again. He is one of my greatest creations, and it would be too much loss for him to bear if I sacrificed myself. Really, if he really loved you as much as you claim, he would have been begging to save his life, if only for your sake. Consider the ridiculousness of what you are saying out loud to every person to hear, Chun-Li. That if he only loved you a little less, then he would be still alive for you? How absurd. It is a child's reasoning."

"But that is where it comes from, isn't it?"

Every question had a purpose, every taunt had a meaning. Any change in Chun-Li spirit, any shift of the tight inner balance, and his gaze would drive in deep. Reading minds was nearly impossible for Relius, even with the correct technology on hand. But reading souls, the sttlate of one's self, could reveal volumes. "Yes, it was only men and women who had to pick up the pieces of a man who died in action. Just a checkbox, greiving daughter who lost the last person who really loved her. Who wanted to give a little girl hope, so she wouldn't realize that the man who loved her and cared for her after mommy sent away didn't just screw up and ruin his daughter's life, no. They told her that he was a hero! That he was fighting those bad men, and he died to defend the whole of the Free world! That's all it took to harden the resolve of a little girl, and stop her from falling down into a path of loathing, of hatred, of despair. It was never YOUR true thought, but merely a suggestion given to you. The tiniest little lie, that has blossomed into the champion of justice before me! But it was a lie, a story to tell a scared, frightened child, a mere checkbox to ensure she cries a little less. To hide you from the simple, obvious fact that there was one thing more important than you, or any of his family for that matter."


Relius's smirk was filling the entire arena, the scientist's lecture reaching a nearly hypnotic apex. "Surely you realize this as a full grown woman, don't you? You must, after all, you don't even bother yourself with any distractions like your father did. No family, barely any friends. There is your teammates, I suppose. Leona, with a broken family who was picked to replace another broken family! Really a match made in poty. Or perhaps Hayley, who only stopped being a prop for her daddy's ego when he disappeared, and promptly made herself out to be a prop for Lightning Spangles ego which you only just rescued her from, hmmm? Really, the only one who doesn't have daddy issues is that Luwanda woman, and for all I know her daddy touched her as a little girl and she only feels empowered being in a military leotard. But their time will come soon enough, Chun-Li. No, this is about you, and that father you just hate so much. I want to see that hate!" The staring changes, what was once like a velvet lined finger rubbing and prodding her soul, was now like a underhanded clutch, fingers clenched tight while her very spirit waiting in some unseen palm.

"Let the true self reveal itself to me!"

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

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

There's nobody in the garden but Chun-Li and Relius.


"... and NEW Junior Flyweight champion," roars over the gym's PA while Chun-Li allows herself one more scan of the bleachers, "CHUN! LI! XIAAAAAAAAANG!"

It's been months since he told her about his new case and what it'd mean, but she's always had an active imagination.

Why /wouldn't/ she expect him to be there when he said he'd try...?


There is no garden.

There's nobody here amongst the weeds but Chun-Li and Relius.


"... forgot the OTHER funny thing she said," Chun-Li brightly, briskly chatters while a cooling bite of noodles lingers near her mouth as it has for the past couple minutes, "while we were on our way out of Biology! She did that, like, that smirky, but not too smirky THING she does, and--"

It's been more than a couple of minutes since the last time he said anything, meanwhile. He had to order, of course; and there was that 'uh-huh' over appetizers...

It's mostly just been him staring through the window, stirring, though; occasionally, there are spoonfuls of soup.

"-- and she--" The girl hesitates once it finally dawns on her, then peers into her bowl, mutes her smile, and murmurs, "... well, it's-- /probably/-- I guess-- not /that/ funny, if you weren't there..."


Nothing but a scarred spirit and honeyed strings,

and scorn,
and taunts,
and questions here.

He gave everything he could, and what did he get in return? What did /anyone/ get but a hole in her heart and another red notch for his mile-long ledger? Shadaloo endured regardless of him-- Shadaloo endures regardless of /her/, as if empowered by the blood and tears they've fought so hard to spill for it.

Shadaloo endures. It's one of the many things she picked up in Mexico.


"He'd be here if he"
"But he's /not/."

Jian gives a slight start at the unexpected retort, then shifts his eyes from his former partner's frowning kid and rubs the back of his neck.

"/Look/ at--!" Chun-Li holds her arms out, waving her ehru and its bow, then plucks at the skirt of her brand-new black recital dress. "I could be /training/ right now, but he always /insisted/ that I be '~well-rounded~'," plucking's one thing, but the ehru makes finger-quotes tricky; somehow, Chun-Li perseveres, "and now he's not even--!" The girl rolls her eyes towards the auditorium's ceiling with a sharp huff.

"Look," she softly says a beat later, "I'm glad /someone's/ back here with me, and-- and I know what he does is so, /so/ important... but how long am I gonna have to wait for him to be my /dad/ again...?"


Wherever they are, Chun-Li sinks to her knees 'til she's rooted. Every muscle's rigid and has been since she landed; every inch of her shakes like a leaf on the breeze. Chestnut eyes stay locked and unfocused on the ground. Every question has a motive, every taunt is a swing, and Chun-Li's had over a decade to accumulate a patchwork of feelings regarding the most important man in her life. He COULD have been a better father, couldn't he have...? He could've put her first, above everything-- above /himself/, and whatever stupid, suicidal things he believed in. That's what good parents do: they put their children /first/.

He could've taken it easy once he understood what he was up against. He /could've/ been there to see her follow in his footsteps. Then again: knowing what he knew about what was /really/ out there in the dark places of the world... could he have /let/ her, and still been a good parent? He could have kept her safe; he could've guided her to study medicine, or law, or /something/ more likely to better the world than the best ways to help henchpeople swallow their teeth.




Dorai Xiang keeps rolling until he's several feet from his daughter and the tree she dented instead of him, warily watching the crack in its bark.

Grinning widely, Chun-Li sets her right foot forward and thrusts a hand out for beckoning. "C'mon!" she prods. "Ten minutes left 'til you've gotta clock in, right? You're not gonna waste it sitting /around/, are you?!"


He could've taught her how to settle.

He could've taught her all about how to let go and look away, about how to protect and serve herself.

How to quit.

He could've taught her so /many/ things, if only he'd done things differently... but he made his choice. Whether it was the first time he wore the badge, or the first time he saw his daughter's eyes, or any one of a dozen other inflection points more or less portentous than either, there was a moment where he weighed the potential costs of the job to his own life against the good he could do for countless others and he /made his choice/. Because of it, Chun-Li grew up with the knowledge that every day with her father /had/ to count. Before Shadaloo was even a whisper leaking through his bedroom door, she /knew/ she might not get to have her dad for as long as the other girls did, and she knew it was because /her/ dad was braver than theirs. Time and bleak reality have eaten away at that precious certainty, but the truth lingers: he did the only thing his conscience would allow, and he paid the price they both knew he would.

There /is/ hatred seething at the core of Chun-Li's being. Rather than the man who lived and died for his principles, however, it's reserved for the /monsters/ who made the choice necessary to begin with.

Gulping a lungful of air, she squeezes her eyes shut and lets the breath flow through her body. Tension fades.

"'Your greatest creation'," she quietly exhales. "Sorry-- 'one of your greatest creations'. Like that doll..."

She breathes in again and tries to focus on everything /but/ the cold, slimy caresses rolling over the core of her being. The smell of dust and pulverized stone; the grass beneath her knees; the soft rustling barely peaking through his oppressive drone...

Even when he isn't /talking/, he lingers in her ears like an alarm that went on too long.

"... like those arms... like whatever you use to keep your prisoners in line... where does he even rank, Relius? Your son, who you threw to the wolves for displeasing you... did you ever hold /him/ like you do /her/?"

It's subtle, that urge to curl up and accept the worst version of reality. It's subtle, and so simple, so plain to see that nothing /good/ comes of fighting Shadaloo, so Chun-Li focuses on something even simpler, subtler: breathing in, and out, and in, and out...

"You... /need/ me to hate him," she exhales after a beat, "don't you?"

"He made a choice," she breathes, "that hurt me... and I accepted it /years/ ago, because I love him too much not to..." Slowly, her eyes open and lift as she tries to juggle surviving the weeds with understanding them. They're still glassy and distant... until she sets them on Relius.

"You drove Carl so far away," she softly suspires, "that you had to hire bounty hunters to bring him back to you-- he /hates/ you, doesn't he?"

"He DESPISES you, his 'CREATOR'," she fumes. "Your poor ego...! Of /course/ you need me to hate my father, LOOK at you...!"

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li gains composure.

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

"Need you... to hate your father?" And Relius laughs. The cruel underclutch loosens, but not releases. At least, he wasn't going to go any deeper. Relius shakes his head, and inhales, telegraphing yet another long monologue. "My dear girl, I don't need you to do anything. I am merely pursuing thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Why? Well, I will tell you, soon enough. Just know that it isn't your own life you are protectinf. Really, it is rather shocking how you think it is all about you. I suppose abused children never really stop craving basic needs for attention, even when they grow up."
"And how you obsess over my little boy."

Relius shakes his head, as his backing off stops. "Really, do you think I need bounty hunters to see my son? My little boy is a rebel, a little hero, like what you have become. And what good is a little renegade if he doesn't have any risk, any excitement? I consider it a gift to my sweet little child. And if he is captured? Well, I will take the bounty out of his allowance, just so he understands that his failures have real consequences. Along with a stern lecture, of course. Any good father much ensure discipline!" Relius shakes a finger.

"Spare the rod, spoil the child!"

Relius gives a longing sigh. "When I look upon my son, and see how slowly, day by day, he becomes more like me. And it truly makes me proud of him." The Elder Clover grips over his chest. "I love my precious child, and while he does disappoint me sometimes, it never takes away from the achievement I see in him. His success is my success, and an enduring reminder that I truly found the right woman to be my wife."

There is a snap of the fingers, as Relius gestures to Chun-Li's right side.

From her left, Ignis surges to existence, lunging to grab Chun-Li by the throat with one hand. Should it get a grip, it would lift her up high up, strangling her. But that would be the least of her worries. With the opposite limb, it would already be transformed into a drill, burning with pink energy. There, whether or not it had a grip on Chun-li's throat, it would attempt drive that whirring drill into the fighter. Not to puree her organs, in her abdomen. But right into her thigh, to cripple her. All while the front, blood stained Relius -charges- at Chun-li, cape billowing behind him. "I take great pride in improving those who are lacking!"

"Certainly, you of all people benefited the most from strong men improving you!"

COMBATSYS: Relius successfully hits Chun-Li with Geara Kaas.
# Disabling hit! #

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

"You're... y-you're... /projecting/..." she postulates.

There's /so/ much blood, enough to drag her voice down to a weary creak as she twitches and shudders in Ignis' grasp.

"You have to HUNT him... you drove him to THAT, whatEVER you did to him... he-- h-he DESPISES you-- hhgh--"

Ragged panting abruptly spikes until blood surges up from Chun-Li's throat.

How far does the bond between puppet and puppeteer go? Can he feel the mouthful of her blood dripping down his cheek once she's rid herself of it...?

Does he see the disdainful curl of her lip through Ignis' eyes as he rushes in?

"It's all about you, in the end, isn't it...? Even your love for him-- if you can even CALL it that-- is about YOU. 'Your' greatest creation; 'your' success; seeing '/your/' gross, arrogant image reflected in HIM is what makes you proud...!"

He can probably see - and feel - the electricity surging in the air, though-- not to mention the wind gathering around she and Ignis. Breathing's /hard/ with an iron claw around your throat, but look at most event programs and /somewhere/ in her profile, they'll mention Tai Chi.

It's /hard/, but Chun-Li is an expert. Each wet rattle through her lips and nostrils heightens the crackle and lends new fuel to swirling currents; every stolen gasp bleeds radiance into the air around her palms, even as they fall from Ignis' wrist to dangle loosely.

"So... fucking... ARROGANT... and self-centered...! All that ANALYSIS... and you STILL don't know SHIT about me! MY life? Y-- you think-- you think-- that I do what I do-- because I care about protecting MY life...? That I spent years-- YEARS-- training, fighting... HUNTING, because I give a DAMN about what it does to ME?!"

Throwing her weight forward drives her palms towards Ignis' face, but she isn't looking for a grip. The blinding coronas around her hands shrink, coalesce, and meld together in the blink of an eye, until there's a blue-gold pearl scintillating an inch from Ignis' gaze. Pulsing and sparking and warbling ominously, it's held in check by the World Warrior's will alone.

"God," she softly croaks, "maybe you're good in the lab, but you're an /idiot/ with people."

The pearl detonates.

It ought to translate if it works, the blue and gold dome shattering its way into existence around her. Heartache and rage and raw, bloody resolve keep the dome fed enough to grow and grow. Grass flies; the earth shudders as shrubs and trees are ripped free from the top down; the remnants of a Mary statue fill the air with grey mist.

It ought to translate if it works, but if it doesn't...? Relius is coming right for her; the dome, moreover, is coming right for /him/, garden be damned.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Relius with Kikoushou.

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

The finale was fast approaching.

With Ignis seizing and mangling Chun-li, the mad alchemist was surging at the pair. He doesn't hesitate, he cannot hesitate when Chun-Li begins to build up the torrent of energy. He has to choose. Ignis could disappear, and he would bear the brunt. Or they would share it. He chooses.

"No- this is the moment!".

Ignis does not disappear, and she releases Chun-Li in a quick attenptthe energy nearly stripping her shell from. The layers of armor over it are separated from their fuse points. It doesn't quite fall off, but the rattling is more than enough to show the damage. The fact she stayed was a mistake, perhaps. The damage was far more severe the last direct hit.

To say the least about how the decoupling and degloving is reflected on Relius.

It seems with the wet bulges and sags, that the neat clothing of Relius is the only thing keeping him together. Even the waxy mask of his own skin seems to be separating from his own face, sliding slightly off-centered. He cape was in tatters, his advance only just slowed Blood dribbles through every corner and opening, the pain is unbearable. How unbearable?

Relius stops talking so much.

But his focus was locked on. His fingertips dance, and Ignis's arms swing and slam, to stagger Chun-li. And with Relius there, limping forward, he throws his hands up. There, he creates an orb of pure energy, countless sigils circling around. He doesn't even put in safeguards to miss. He let's the portal open up under the base of the sealing orb. He had to capture Chun-li in the orb.

To let the gears do their work.

Whether she is in the sphere or not, the ritual executes. A barrage of gears erupt upwards from the portal, joined by a choking black mist. The black mist boils coils around tighter and tighter, to draw the life out. And Relius forces his palm on the orb, exposed. off-balanced, dead focused. Concentrating that pressure, that power centered straight, while Ignis waits, watches...

Until the orb detonates, knocking the duo backwards.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li instinctively blocks Relius' Vol Tedo.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Chun-Li          0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0           Relius


Blessed, miraculous /silence/!

... relative silence: Ignis' limbs clashing with Chun-Li's forearms still generates a series of deep, dull thuds. Their feet scrape over rubble as the inspector is driven backwards-- downwards--

And then there are the gears. If the portal and orb made any noise, they went unnoticed in the clamor of aching bones and burning lungs, but the gears are nearly upon her.

The gears are /everywhere/. She spots a gap, a rapidly vanishing point where the orb's still sealing itself; her knees bend, muscles ripple--

-- a fresh red tide gushes down her thigh as she crumples--

-- and the gears bite.

And black mist boils into a billowing straitjacket.

And blue-gold ribbons slice through black bands, keeping a trickle of precious air flowing even as the mist reseals aronud her--

Until the orb detonates, blowing her backwards through the mist. Sorcerous force buffets her arms and kicks up a cloud of soil and grass around her as she skids along the ground for several feet. When she finally stops -- when the dust finally settles -- the crouching woman's still holding her arms tightly in front of her face, pale and panting, swaying in the settling breeze. This lasts for all of a second before she falls forward with a heavy thud. She's still breathing, but it's faint; an eye's still open, but it's unfocused on anything.

She wasn't /entirely/ honest with Relius. It's a natural instinct, given the circumstances: he's bad enough /without/ the satisfaction of hearing that he's right about something. That he has a point:

This is at least a /little/ about Chun-Li. The training, the fighting-- the synthesis of her father's style with all the others she's studied, and the endless quest to perfect it...

Tragedy sped things up, but she's been walking that road since she was five for one simple reason: she could never imagine herself doing otherwise.

She's /still breathing/; her eyes are /still open/. Sheer, stubborn pride won't let her stay down for more than a couple seconds, but it takes more than pride alone to stand after surviving gears and life-draining mist, especially with so much of her blood painting the garden.

"It's-- it's about everyone who's /not/ me," the trembling woman groans, wrapping an arm around her middle so she can clutch some of those long cuts along her side. They'd lapsed into a bare trickle before her brush with the mist; now they're streaming freely. "Everyone who needs protecting, or just-- just-- /help/--"

She gave Leona and her unit her word: she'd do /everything/ in her power to be their buffer against the NOL team-- to help them secure a win and discourage any foul play. There simply isn't a choice: she /has/ to stand; she /has/ to plant her good leg forward, because she only really needs the one leg for a flip, and she /has/ to pitch herself towards Relius.

(It's not a very good flip - one leg, and all - but the transition from 'barely standing' to 'erratic aerial tumbling' is as lightning quick as ever, at least.)

She gave her word to woman -- to a unit -- who could use all the friends they can get right now, so what else can she do but try to force her boot sole into Relius' spine before crashing to her knees behind him?

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Relius with Kaku Kyaku Raku.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|======-\-------\0           Relius

Before Chun-Li even counterattacks, Relius knows something is wrong.

He was not refreshed. He was unstable, falling apart. He -needed- a refreshment from draining Chun-Li's life force. An opportunity that had been exhausted. Landing hard on a bad shoulder already, he desperately snaps his finger to remove Ignis. Rising up slowly, Chun-li is already upon him. And struggling to bring his arm up into a feeble defense, he is forced to sputter.

"A miscalculation-!"

That is all that he can muster. The foot drives hard into his reinforced spine, and he is sent stumbling forward, doubling over harshly on what was left of a stone bench. And there, he hangs. Writhing. Weakened. The pressure on Chun-Li's soul begins to lift. "I will... I will..." The mad alchemist chokes, as he traces his fingertips on the surface of the stone. It begins to glow, giving warning. "I will.... I will..."

"I will have the last word!"

And he turns, gripping the stone bench. With a mighty, final pivot, he hurls the sigil-studded bench through the air, towards Chun-Li. It wouldn't connect with her, not directly at least. Before it would reach her position, the sigils would glow alight with crimson and blue, before exploding in a burst of shrapnal and energy. That was Relius's last word, however. He is not standing after the throw. Instead, he is collapsed on the ground. No smile. Only blood.


COMBATSYS: Relius can no longer fight.

[                      \\\\\\\\  <
Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li dodges Relius' Nero Angelo.

[                      \\\\\\\\  <
Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|

There's nothing artistic about it: Chun-Li lurches away from Relius' final argument and lands on her side a few feet away. There, she allows herself a few seconds of shallow breathing before swallowing hard, rolling onto her front, and slowly pushing back up to her feet. Once she's there, her arms flow forward and she plants her good leg in front of herself while blood drips down the other.

Her next breath's slow, deep, and carefully measured; when she exhales, a warm breeze rustles through the garden. Brown eyes lower and nearly shut rather than scan the crowd for signs of her next opponent.

When it's time - when Relius' partner reveals themselves - she'll /know/; she settles into waiting 'til then.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li awaits the next challenger.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Noel has joined the fight here.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Chun-Li          0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0             Noel

After the explosive, wild conclusion to the last battle, there's an almost deafening, terrible silence. The small crowd surrounding the now rather dilapidated, ruined garden all of a sudden shifted from wild cheering to a jaw-dropped, gobsmacked collective stare at that final exchange. The TV crew wasn't terribly successful at discerning their argument, no matter how hard they tried, but the momentous import wasn't lost on anyone there. Whatever the two combatants had been screaming about, it was something with heartfelt meaning.

And then, all of a sudden, the silence gives way to a murmuring sussurus of chatter, followed by a single, piercing cheer from one young fan. Soon after, the ring of people scattered about to watch the competition erupts in cheers, hollers and respect for the bloodied-but-unbowed victory of the World's Strongest Woman. The cheering is as loud as it could be for its size, and it continues for a long, long time.

As the crowd whistles and carries on, a young, blonde slip of a girl makes her way through the crowd, roughly from the same direction Relius had come. She's a dainty thing, really, and she's hunched over a bit, making her look even shorter than she is. She surely doesn't act like a professional martial artist. If anything, she looks like she feels a little guilty for being there.

And yet, despite her self-effacing mannerisms, there's signs her wallflower nature doesn't extend to combat. The most obvious, of course, is her NOL uniform. Really, she may not be an imposing presence in uniform but the short dress, sleeves, stockings and beret are all, in fact, present and correct.

She doesn't precisely look at Relius as he lies there on the floor, unconscious, but even still she gives him a fairly wide berth. She even averts her eyes nervously when she walks past his face. Most of her attention, though, is on Chun-Li. How she stands, how she looks back at Noel. Even with her mind clearly half-distracted, Noel might not be as flighty as she looks at first glance.

The NOL lieutenant almost whispers across the space between her and Chun-Li, then gets a bit louder as she realizes she has to be heard at least over the crowd in the background. "I...I'm sorry." She looks down at the white stone pavers, scuffed and cracked from the earlier battle. "About Colonel Clover. And...um, whatever he said about you. And about Carl. I haven't seen him since the Academy." The NOL Academy, she presumably means. She looks back into Chun-Li's brown eyes with her own wide green ones. "You're really strong. But I still feel like I'm being unfair to you."

She manages to look a little sad, but nevertheless holds out her arms to either side. Runes of energy slide up her arms, outward to her fingertips, and in their wake draw into the real world a pair of gleaming, slab-sided handguns, reflective in the light and seemingly too large for her small hands. She pauses for a brief moment, looking down at them while biting her lip, then whirls one decoratively (and skillfully) in a rapid spin before taking a sidelong ready stance--one gun pointed up, the other behind her across her waist. Why she's not pointing them at Chun-Li is anyone's guess.

The crowd might have been more interested in the guns that appear from thin air, and those are important, but to a martial artist the critical difference as Noel settles into her stance is her expression; her resolve. Gone is the waffling, the diffidence, the doubt. Just like flipping off a lightswitch, it's replaced with placid, alert calmness. Maybe Colonel Clover did something to her. It wouldn't be out of character for him, would it?

"Let's fight with honor."

Lita was quiet as she watched the fight between Relius and Chun-Li engage in battle... At least at first. But then Relius starts talking. With each word directed to Chun-Li, the Ikari Warrior frowns on behalf of her team mate. It's when Relius starts talking about Lita and Hayley that she starts turning beet red with rage. From where she watches the fight, a low, barely audible growl can be heard by anyone who happens to be seated next to Lita

The entire interaction is nauseating what with Relius having opened the fight by bringing up Leona, who wasn't even in the fight(yet?), and her family but the moment that Lita is brought up as the only one without daddy issues and brings up the possibility of being touched does she start to rise from her seat. A tournament staff member is close at hand to put a hand on her shoulder as a quiet and polite reminder that she can't jump in and interrupt the match to beat up Relius. She takes a deep cleansing breath and returns to her seat, vicariously relishing in the beat down that Relius received from her team mate.

The blonde Ikari remains quiet as the other member of NOL enters the fighting area and apologizes about her commanding officer comments. A look of confusion appears on her face since she has no clue what to make of this and considering that this is televised, she wonders if there might be some fallout after this match no matter the result.

In the time it takes Noel to reveal herself, Chun-Li's bleeding has pretty much stopped. A watchful eye might catch blue or gold sparking from the worst of her wounds.

An expertly tapered eyebrow starts to rise at her opponent's timorous approach, striking a high arch by the time Noel's fully transitioned from apologizing to pitying her.

It's supposed to be nice. It /is/ nice; it's a /very/ nice thing for one person to do to another, showing sympathy for their pain. There's a compliment...!

The way a swelling cupid's bow twists in its wake suggests that it may as well have been a slap. Everything quivers and aches the next time Chun-Li breathes in, slow and deep; it isn't until she lets it out that she shifts her feet to actually face her opponent. Her /opponent/-- the /fresh/ one, who feels /bad/ for having an advantage.

It feels so /real/, too. Maybe it /is/ real; maybe Noel really /is/ just /that/ nice, as if that would make it any better.

Through stretching arms and glowing runes, Chun-Li approaches with her hands down and her eyes locked on. The guns - those gleaming, enormous things - appear; that they aren't pointed at her tells her that Noel must be quick on the draw. Noel bids them an honorable fight; Chun-Li keeps walking.

"It's too bad you don't feel like I'm going to kick you through something priceless," she says, flexing her fingers out wide for a tick before curling them tight, "instead, because that's exactly what's gonna happen if you forget what we're here for." After winking, she flashes a smile, showing off the fresh red accents smeared over and pooling between her teeth.

"Maybe if you /don't/, too. We'll see, huh?"

One of her hands does a brisk sweep towards the sky-tilted gun, intent on giving it a small, downward nudge on her way towards adopting her fighting stance.

Sincerely, she adds, "Good luck," in a low voice.

At Chun-Li's (less than diplomatic, but entirely understandable) response, Noel manages to look a bit dismayed and perturbed. By the time she's exhorting them to fight with honor however, that emotion, like everything else she'd been feeling, has left her face in favor of focusing on the battle. She doesn't seem terribly concerned at the warning about paying attention to the fight, but at least she manages a bit of a blush when Chun-Li wishes her luck, enough that she forgets to reply. At least she's not an automaton.

Noel is all business, however, the moment the signal gun fires. Without a moment's hesitation she hops back, putting a little more distance between herself and Chun-Li while still allowing time to strike fairly quickly. From a bit of distance in the arena she thrusts both guns forward, pulls both triggers, and says, "Type eleven." Whatever that means. She could be reading off instant ramen instructions in the same bland tone.

The guns aren't bland, though. The triggers are depressed, the hammers slam forward, and both barrels glow an ambery yellow color, but not a thing comes out from the guns themselves. Instead, a point in space right where Chun-Li is standing, in between her and the hands in front of her, suddenly glows that same yellow color and forms a rune, then explodes.

Whether Noel feels bad or not, the fight has begun.

Noel wavies! XD

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

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Chun-Li          0/-------/-----==|-------\-------\0             Noel

As soon as Chun-Li's crossed arms fall, she's hurtling towards Noel. Smoke and yellow wisps trail from fresh red stinging splashes along her forearms. Trying to /avoid/ the mysterious, teleporting rune would've been the safer bet, but it would've been a /bet/, a wager she could lose of she happened to misguess how thoroughly unconventional munitions might work. Avoiding it was risky; enduring dangerous displays of energy brings more consistent results, and 'consistent' is important when she's starting a fight on the ropes.

Appearances matter too. Teaching her opponent not to pity, but /respect/ the woman who's still standing after crossing Noel's Colonel /matters/. Noel's unharmed; her pity means that she sees herself as being in a superior position, which - nerves or no - is likely to bring a certain confidence. If Chun-Li can shake that confidence before it's too deeply rooted, she might just draw herself and the fresher woman a little closer together.

She's still smoking when she appears before Noel, a shot fired by shaky, steel cast legs. Both arms draw back as she plants her feet, then she thrusts her palms forward and down, towards Noel's sternum.

COMBATSYS: Noel parries Chun-Li's Fierce Punch!

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Chun-Li          0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0             Noel

So -fast-! Noel surely knew going into this fight who Chun-Li is. Knowing the NOL's penchant for acting like a police force no matter what jurisdiction they're in, it's reasonable to assume she's seen at least basic information on all her team's opponents. But it's clear that, if she did read anything on Chun-Li Xiang's martial prowess, it must have underestimated her.

The Chinese woman dashes across the arena at blazing speed and has a double palm strike in her face almost immediately. Noel gasps, sucking in a breath as she hops straight up in a bid to let the palm strike land beneath her.

It's pretty obvious that Noel isn't thinking beyond the battle, not in the way Chun-Li is. She's really a very straightforward person, and her mind is locked down at the moment, mostly clear of extraneous thought. Read, strike, act, react...these are all the young blonde woman is focused on now. On the other hand, if it's Chun-Li's goal to get Noel to respect her opponent, she's well on her way to succeeding.

It's clear from the moment Noel hops in place, she's already made her first mistake. Underestimated her opponent and did the wrong thing on reaction. She should have blocked, and while the strike wasn't going to hit her chest the way Chun-Li intended, Noel was still going to get clipped.

The one other thing that saves Noel, though, is that she realizes early on where it's going to hit. In midair, as she's basically coming down onto the strike, she crosses both guns beneath her, effectively parrying the strike from above. The force shoves Noel's upper body backwards, but that's all right--her guns are by no means Noel's only weapon.

On the backswing, her legs snake out, trying to wrap around Chun-Li's head in order to flip her forward face-first into the ground.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li just-defends Noel's Type IX - Muzzle Flitter EX!

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Chun-Li          0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0             Noel

Chun-Li flips just fine.

Coming as they do after fortuitous defense leads to unexpected motion, Noel's grappling efforts prove difficult to read and dodge. Chun-Li's knees are still bent in a moment of indecision when the other woman's legs seize her; between the persistent agony radiating through her wounded thigh and raw gravity, Chun-Li flips right along with Noel, just as intended.

And thanks to a last-moment thrust from both legs, she /keeps/ flipping until she lands crouched on four points, grimacing but no more harmed than she was a moment ago.

"Why... did you join the NOL, Noel?" she lowly wonders between deep, desperate gasps for air. "How long has it been for you?"

Maybe she wants to connect with her opponent while she has a chance.
Maybe she's looking for a way beneath Noel's skin.
Maybe she's just /tired/ and wants to steal a second to breathe.

Maybe the reason doesn't matter all that much, because 'a second' is pushing it: Chun-Li punctuates her her question by smacking both palms against the ground, steeling herself for a rapid ascent to her feet and a hard step forward that squeezes a few red pearls from the hole in her leg. She screams through pivoting on that foot so her other leg's whipping towards Noel, then just grits her teeth as one kick becomes two--

-- four--

-- eight--

-- sixteen--

-- /dozens/. Blue and gold chi flow down her leg through the next several seconds, threatening to buffet the other woman with rending wind and arcing lightning.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Noel with Hyakuretsu Kyaku EX.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Chun-Li          0/-------/----===|======-\-------\0             Noel

How on earth the pair of them didn't just collapse like a bad game of Twister no one will ever know. Somehow, though, Chun-Li flipped even further than Noel had been trying for, landed safely, and was immediately ready to resume the attack. Noel normally flips upwards, but the extra half-flip sent the lieutenant forwards. Noel recovered gracefully, rolling and popping up to her feet, but the difference in skill shows. In particular, like in so many physical disciplines, it shows in their footwork. By the time Noel is coming up from her tumble and turning to face Chun-Li again, there's already a veritable flood of chi-enhanced kicks right in her face.

What follows is a truly epic beatdown, and there's no other way to say it--Noel gets -hammered-. Bruised, battered, and bloody, she makes a fine counterpoint to Chun-Li's battered state as she's thrown back and lands flat on her back.

Groaning, Noel staggers to her feet, that calm demeanor not enough to hold back the wincing pain. Streaks of blood mar her face and mat her hair, and she's certainly not so quick to get up this time. In the lull, however, as she rises, Noel's green eyes shift to one side, looking down at Relius' unconscious form, before looking back at Chun-Li. Her expression shifts, her battle focus warring with a storm of what must be unpleasant emotions, just beneath the surface of her normally gregarious, pleasant demeanor. Her response to Chun-Li's question is whispered, just to her.

"...Why?" Noel looks doubtful, hurt, alone...scared, just for a moment. "To protect my family..." Her response is rote, practiced. It doesn't seem like a lie...not exactly, anyway. Before she thinks to go into further detail, however, her demeanor shifts again rather suddenly, and her gaze turns more alert, focused on Chun-Li. The doubt and fear are gone like they never were. "En garde," she murmurs, not even really cognizant of what she's saying. Without waiting a moment further, she runs full tilt towards Chun-Li, braving those deadly legs, trying to run right up, plant one foot on Chun-Li's forward knee, and use the leverage to kick her in the face right back.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Chun-Li with Type VIII - Return Fire.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Chun-Li          0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0             Noel

Chun-Li's forced to bear an entire other person with only one wounded leg as her foundation. Blood oozes down the granite striations of a trembling pillar and she grits her teeth against the terrible physics of that moment. She's still standing when it passes, while Noel's busy striking. Her outstretched foot hits the ground hard and that knee threatens to give. Dodging's out of the question; dropping low's her next instinct with Noel /so/ close, but a screaming knee joint and violently twitching thigh slow her down considerably, leaving the top of her head in the path of Noel's kick. The detective crashes to her back, struggling for air while the world pendulously swings around her.

"What are you protecting them from..."

Desperate pants gradually fall into a rhythm as she rolls backwards.

"... that's worth taking orders from /him/?" she quietly wonders as a knee settles on the ground. She lifts her head and does her best to focus on Noel-- to show her the absence of judgment in her features in case it didn't quite carry through her wind-gathering.

"You must love them dearly," she gently observes on a beat later, lowering her chin. Her palms hit the ground again, just to give herself a boost up to her feet; as soon as she hits them, she claps her hands together and draws another breath through her nostrils.

Unlike the others, this one summons blue and gold strands from the depths of her being.

Crackling, radiant chi swirls through the narrow spaces between her hands, vanishing save for the steadily building glare that leaks back out. The flare fades a moment after the last ribbon's gone, and then her hands /burst/ apart, revealing a scintillating orb webbed and cored by both colors. Thrusting her palms against the sphere launches it towards Noel, distorting it into a searing oval in the process.

"KIKOUKEN!" not-so-gently echoes through the garden.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Noel with Kikouken.

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

Noel's kick may have hit home, but still, it's clear to all and sundry that Chun-Li is simply the better combatant. Were they on an even keel, this would be no contest. As it stands now, it's a much more thrilling fight simply because of Relius getting his hits in beforehand. Noel is fast, and she's agile, and who knows what tricks those guns can pull off, but she's definitely getting hit harder, and if she's not extreemely careful right now, she might start getting hit more often too.

None of that matters, though, next to the most powerful attacks Chun-Li is unleashing. The most devastating attack going on right now might be to Noel's psyche. Whatever Chun-Li is saying to her is definitely hitting home--no doubt Relius would be taking notes in between belittling Noel himself, were he not out cold. She doesn't reply to Chun-Li's latest sotto voce commentary, but her battle focus wavers, and she looks down at Relius again, biting her lip and looking for all the world like a sad puppy.

She visibly shakes her head and tries to get back into the game, but for whatever reason, she's not able to focus as before. She gets back into a semblance of her normal stance, but as the Kikouken flies in, she's just a bit...too...late. It slams into her like a torpedo amidships, and she rocks back, whimpering in pain.

At least the extra hit had one good effect on her, it seems: It reminded her of what's truly important right now. Fight first. Cry about why she's here later. She gets a firm, determined look--the wallflower finally gathering up what remains of her wounded dignity--and settles in. Breathe in, breathe out. Watch the opponent. Predict what she'll do next. Counter with precision.

Well, she -hopes- the last part will happen. But as she tries to settle her breathing, the placid, businesslike mask slips back into place like an old friend. She watches and waits, taking a moment to try to turn the tide of this battle.

COMBATSYS: Noel calculates her next move.

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

Chun-Li's deadliest attack isn't one at all. At least, it isn't /meant/ to be one, but emotional nuance is hard to squeeze between strikes; bruises come with the territory, intentional or no.

Her head's bowed once all of her blows have landed. There was no missing the dip in the other woman's mood, her /energy/; Chun-Li's lips purse and her teeth briefly graze one before she stops herself with a wince.

"I understand doing what you /have/ to, for people you love," she quietly offers to the woman who's slipping into just-- staring at her.

"But you might just... have a /choice/, here, that's all. That's-- I just want you to think about that-- consider whether maybe-- /possibly/-- there are /other/ ways to protect them."

Rather than blistering immediacy, she tries to slip through Noel's guard through the odd angle of a somesault that sends her tumbling towards the other woman's right. A last moment cartwheel as she's passing Noel abruptly shifts her angle, and as soon as she rights herself again, she drives her good leg towards the side of Noel's head, hoping to wear the woman down before she herself is overwhelmed.

On a different day, if they were both fresh, she might indeed have the advantage over Noel. On /this/ day, however, speed and agility and unpredictable weapons make Noel a dangerous opponent indeed, one who could drop her before she's fully cognizant of what's happening. A long fight does her no favors; regardless of her mounting sympathy for someone toiling under Relius' arrogance, she can't afford to slow down and give Noel time to breathe, to focus-- to do /anything/ but fight until one of them can't anymore.

COMBATSYS: Noel dodges Chun-Li's Medium Kick.

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

As Noel listens to Chun-Li patiently explaining that there might be another way, Noel just...manages to look even more sad, and slowly shakes her head, even as she watches what the other woman is doing. This time, at least, it doesn't manage to overwhelm her. Between the rhythmic, calming influence of her own breathing and Chun-Li's own softly spoken words, perhaps that's enough to give Noel a bit of an even keel. She still frowns, though, as she looks down at Relius once again.

"It's...not so simple," she murmurs in reply. "It's never so simple. Even talking about it could push things too far. I'm not good enough..." She sniffles despite herself. "I'm always on the edge, no matter how hard I try. I always screw something up, but I can't..." Noel's voice trails off as Chun-Li somersaults in, but this time she's ready for the assault. She hops straight up again, neatly avoiding the kick in its entirety. Upside down in midair, quickly falling towards Chun-Li's extended leg, she whirls in a complete 360 degree spin with both guns blazing in every direction.

As she lands, Noel whispers, "...But I can't -leave-. I don't dare." It's really to herself, as much an admission to herself as anything, but Chun-Li is close enough she might hear.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Chun-Li with Type XIII - Revolver Blast.
- Power hit! -

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Chun-Li          1/-------/=======|=======\====---\1             Noel

Chun-Li hears.

There were too many bullets to dodge; trying leaves her crumpling to her knees, collapsing to her side, soaking the grass with blood...

... she's breathing, faintly, and that's about /all/ she does for a little while.

So she hears.

She hears, and she can't help wondering: "Why?" after dragging her head up to meet Noel's eyes. She didn't so much miss the self-loathing preamble leading up to that freighted whisper as she's choosing to disregard it-- /disqualify/ it with nothing more than an arching brow.

She hears, so she doesn't wait for an answer before murmuring, "Another time," while rocking onto her heels. "When we aren't..." Trailing leads to trembling as she squeezes an arm around the wounds scoring the side of her abdomen.

Trembling vanishes a moment later a she explodes from her crouch. Uncoiling as she approaches Noel, she tries to wrap an arm around the other woman's neck in the hopes of locking in a tight enough grip to - with the help of a palm against Noel's back for security - haul her into the air while she herself falls forward, all to drive Noel back-first into the Earth.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li successfully hits Noel with Koshuu Tou.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Chun-Li          1/-----==/=======|=======\=======\1             Noel

Without question, that Revolver Blast caught Chun-Li out of position and punished her considerably for it. As Noel lands and Chun-Li whispers her own single-word question, Noel just shakes her head. Whether it's not something she cares to discuss further or simply something she isn't going to address during a fight, none can say.

Instead, Noel stands up and backs off just a bit, just enough to re-set herself for the next onslaught. When it comes, though, Noel, again, was expecting something else entirely. She curls up and leans away, trying to guard from a strike that isn't coming. Instead, Chun-Li steps up, curls an arm around Noel's throat, and mercilessly throws her to the cracked pavers beneath them. Noel lets out another pained cry as the flags crumble beneath her back--par for the course in this knock-down, drag-out fight--but she's by no means unconscious yet. She groans and shakes her head a bit to clear the stars from her vision, only to discover that shaking her head is REALLY not what she needs to be doing right now.

No...what Noel needed to be doing right now is finish off this dangerous, unrelenting opponent soon, because even if Noel wins, she, like Chun-Li before her, has a second opponent to face. With that in mind, her determination is fresh even if the rest of her looks beaten up, bloody, and disheveled. She shifts her stance slightly, an aggressive look that's a little different for her, and announces in a more normal voice, "Let's begin."

What follows is a display of the dexterity, skill, and sheer artistry her gun kata style is capable of. She lunges in with a leap over Chun-Li's head, blasting straight down, then levels off and marches in with a mix of pistol whip strikes, acrobatic kicks, and at one point she uses one of her guns as a -boomerang-, spinning rapidly and covering a wide area, trying to make it difficult for Chun-Li to avoid than anything else.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Chun-Li with Chain Revolver.
Grazing Hit

[                         \\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Chun-Li          1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Noel

Adrenaline rockets Chun-Li right back up after she and Noel hit the ground. It shoves screaming pain into a distant corner of her psyche to be ignored while she twitches around with Noel's acrobatic approach, then ducks and sways away from the array of strikes that follow.

But Noel uses one of her guns as a /boomerang/, so after Chun-Li drops back from a spinning kick, there's a firearm whirling into her spine, staggering her several steps forward with a swallowed cry. Her hands fly out for Noel's shoulders to seize some kind of stability; if she manages to grab them, she won't hang on for long, pushing back to /force/ herself to stand-- crouch-- under her own power.

Somehow, some way, it won't be long before she's low and gathered, waiting-- wheezing--

One more brisk step brings her back in, only this time she immediately throws the sole of her boot towards the bottom of Noel's chin as she unfurls herself.

COMBATSYS: Chun-Li can no longer fight.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Noel             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Noel blocks Chun-Li's Hazan Tenshou Kyaku.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  <
Noel             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

There's enough force to send a body flying, but all Chun-Li does after delivering it is fall, crumpling with a slight twirl the moment her foot hits the ground.

She's /still/ breathing, but she won't be getting up again for a while.

As Noel finishes her final strike, the second gun spinning back into her hand like it was on a chain, she's already bracing for what she knows is coming. In all her time fighting, Noel may have only seen a handful of bouts with fewer truly explosive strikes. This one was fairly reserved, all things considered, even though it was still a thrill for the crowd.

As such, Noel had no illusions about what was about to happen. Chun-Li had just taken two fairly big hits, she was tottering into unconsciousness, and she was sure to play the biggest card she had left before the end.

As such, Noel was well prepared to kneel, holding both of her guns over her head crossed, as Chun-Li's powerful kick skitters off the gun barrels to expend its energy above her head. She looks surprised, then relieved, as Chun-Li finally collapses.

Tottering to her feet, Noel groans slightly and holds a hand over her ribs, glancing over at the Ikari Team's area, her curiosity as apparent as it is easy to interpret.

COMBATSYS: Noel awaits the next challenger.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Noel             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

Leona had not spoken a word. Her expression never once shifted from her usual stoic aloofness. She simply stood in the Ikari Team's position, arms folded at her stomach, gloved fingers occasionally tapping to alert the world that she isn't a statue. For each exultation from Chun-Li, through the taunts and accusations from Relius, Leona Heidern was resolutely demonstrating her epithet of The Silent Soldier.

Inside, fires rage and blood stirs. Drumbeats hammer in Leona's chest. Every kick from Chun-Li, the mere presence of the machine puppet, the words said and the emotion laid bare chipped and dug at Leona. After all, those things, those -feelings- were everything Leona had to fight to control and to hold down. They were felt, but she had to hold them, she had to or else another village may lay under a sea of red.

But then, that fear is entirely why Chun-Li was here. And entirely why Leona felt the itch on her palms when the Iterpol Agent falls. Chun-Li was the safety net. She wasn't necessarily for the Ikari's opponents, she was so Leona would trust someone to take her out if need be. And seeing Chun-Li give so much for herself, and for the Ikari. . .

Leona pulls at the cuff of her glove, her eyes close as she feels the digging of the fabric between her fingers. She breathes, and she releases. Her boots are near silent when she leaves the Ikari Team area. Despite their weight, Leona's steps are carefully measured and precise.

"Lieutenant Noel Vermillion," Leona reads the name of her opponent, monotone and steady. The eyes of an assassin are put to Noel, gauging, reading as well as she can the emotions behind the smaller girl. "We've reached the impasse." A statement of fact, one that has a degree of internal sadness unstated by the blunt wording.

Leona's posture shifts, fighting ready, tense and ready as a serpent to strike. She fires off like a shot. Skirting forward, lurching low, her fingertips nearly brush the ground as she surges toward Noel. A hand reaches, snapping to slap and snatch Noel's wrist. The same motion brings Leona twisting upward as her free hand envelopes in a razor wind of honed chi energy as blue as her hair. A near literal knife edge strike that stabs square for the NOL officer's heart.

COMBATSYS: Leona has joined the fight here.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Noel             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Leona

COMBATSYS: Leona successfully hits Noel with Leona Crash.

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

Tired, beaten and battered, Noel's short break while Leona steps forward isn't nearly enough for her to completely recover. That won't come until this evening, hopefully, and a heck of a lot sooner than that if things don't go her way!

She's got blood in her hair, the beginnings of a whole collection of bruises, and her expression is pretty much one big wince at this point. Still, she stands, those gleaming chrome guns of hers none the worse for wear despite being used to block who knows what so far today. Her spirit seems willing, perhaps buoyed by her recent victory, even though in her mind she knows Colonel Clover did half that job for her. Bloodied but unbowed, just like Chun-Li before her today.

As Leona mentions something about an impasse, Noel simply looks sheepish for a moment, looking down in a brief spurt of shame. Not that there's any real shame to be had--this was a tournament, not a fight to the death with a crazed killer--but she pretty clearly feels it nonetheless.

"Mmm...yeah," Noel murmurs in reply, carefully low enough so she hopefully can't be heard outside Leona's immediate vicinity. "I...I want to ask you something later. About Ikari. And about..." She frowns, looking down at Relius and visibly clamping her jaw shut, despite him being completely out cold, she's still unwilling to say it near him. "Never mind. Later."

At this, she settles into the same stance as before, and her large, green eyes actually flicker for a moment, turning blue as she begins to take her stance.

It's not enough, though. Leona is a very skilled combatant, focuses on the mission and goes right for the objective, while Noel, for all her lieutenant's bars, is already known for dithering, is badly wounded, and whatever Chun-Li told her, it clearly shook her. Noel is just not ready for this, and it shows when the very first Ground Saber catches her unaware, biting deep into her already bruised body. She screams in anguish and topples backwards, very nearly falling over completely. Blood spills, staining her uniform red, and the wound, while not fatal, is deep enough that the crimson hasn't stopped flowing yet. All in all, an unpleasant reminder of a drill from some time past...

Clearly, Noel has to do something, and quickly, or this fight is going to be over before it begins. Step one, unbalance the opponent. 'Get a turn', as some of her trainers might have put it. To that end, instead of going for the guns as Leona might expect, Noel gets up and runs full tilt at Leona. She's small, fast, and agile, and with luck she might be able to slip behind Leona and block her in the back.

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

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

Position, strike, neutralize, sally forth. The plan is simple as it is efficient and deadly. There is no competition, there is no contest, that Leona Heidern does not treat with the utmost seriousness. All is a battlefield and all is life or death. After all, if in a moment of laxity she loses her control over herself, then her opponent will be all the more unawares of her violent intent.

But even in that short moment before the fight begins, the small Lieutenant speaks up. A request for information? What could she possibly need to know? The Ikari have been branded terrorists by a different paramilitary group. She knows they have allies in countries that haven't kowtowed to the NOL's pursuit of ignoble power, but that doesn't mean the NOL is not a constant threat to the Ikari's operations.

Not just the Ikari's operations. No. Leona knows the NOL is threatening her very family. The ones that took her in, the ones that allowed her to live her own life. All for their petty power.

Drumbeats echo in Leona's ear when she casts Noel down, the blood remains on her hand even after the potent wind energy fades down. "Fight," she tells Noel as Leona looks at the red stain on her hand. Staring, distant. She doesn't want this to be a slaughter of the nice girl who once fought beside her.

And fight Noel does. The strikes runs through Leona. Fast enough to barely be a blink. The wind sucking from Leona's lungs, sending her hands to her stomach, rolling and twisting, trying to recover her presence of mind and to plan her counter assault.

It's the closeness that Leona counts on in that moment. Her hand slips to her ear, a small bauble lobbed to the NOL Lieutenant. A small bauble the explodes while Leona rolls away to recover her positioning.

COMBATSYS: Noel dodges Leona's Earring Explosive.

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

In a split second, Noel's slammed into Leona and dealt a solid blow, but in the speed and chaos of battle, it's a valid question what Noel hoped to gain long-term from it. All her success has done is put a bit of a dent in Leona's sternum, maybe, but definitely left her too close to those slashing hands Leona has. Leona's quick thinking makes the situation even more precarious when she does something so completely outside Noel's expectations Noel is almost caught out like a startled bunny.

At the thrown earring, it actually takes Noel a moment to parse what actually happened. Throwing -jewelry-? Fortunately for her, Noel's combat training is sharp and composed, her actions swift and sure. She shifts her head quickly to one side, and the earring passes between her shoulder and neck like a perfect skeeball throw. It's only afterwards, when she's focusing back on Leona, that she hears the contained but significant explosion behind her.

Here's the downside to Leona's otherwise well thought out ploy: Noel is by no means helpless up close, either. Despite sporting impressive ranged weapons, Noel is not entirely focused on long range combat, her opponent is at virtually point blank range, and worst of all for Leona, the soldier hasn't seen hardly any of what those guns are truly capable of.

Noel slams the butts of both her guns together, and draws them apart again. Rune circles encompass the weapons, completely reconfiguring them in a fraction of a second into a far deadlier, if ungainly, weapon. The MINIGUN she's holding has a vicious bayonet in front, and she lunges with it, trying to catch Leona with it before squeezing the trigger. Whether it hits or not, the automatic weapon unloads with a ripping roar, accompanied by Noel's own simultaneous scream.

COMBATSYS: Noel successfully hits Leona with Zero Gun - Fenrir.
Grazing Hit

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

The guns are brought out. Close in, Leona should be an easy target for the bayonet. Skewered and held in place, she should be but easy pickings to be shredded by the hellish hailfire of the minigun. But Leona is fast. The blade of the bayonet catches and cuts through Leona's tanktop and gashes her side, but she isn't held enough to put her into the meat grinder of Noel's Bolverk.

It's with desperate, ducking dodging dives that lets Leona out of the dicey situation. She's breathing heavily, down low and keeping herself stable on hands and knees while the whine of the heavy gun squeals. The Lieutenant is doing as she is told, she is fighting, and with the drumming of the machine gun fire, Leona cannot here the drumming in her ears.

She can't lose her cool, however, she cannot allow herself to fail here. No, not when Chun-Li had done so so much for the Ikari's position. And so she remains, crouching and staring. Something almost feral in Leona's cold and dead predatory eyes.

Noel Vermillion is a threat, and one that must be approached with a careful and planned demeanor. This requires proper tactics.

COMBATSYS: Leona assesses the tactical situation.

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

Without question, it's probably a good thing for both women that Noel's attack didn't completely connect. If she'd -killed- Leona in such a way, it's a very good question whether Noel would have been able to forgive herself. But here, now, in the battle? Just as calm and analytical as ever. Her emotional state, locked in a box and hidden away in favor of tactical expedience.

Still, the use of that technique has tempered the audience's ebullience a bit...not as much as could be expected elsewhere, though, due to the nature of the tournament and Relius' rather unusual techniques as well. They're still cheering, but even they can sense that things have gotten more serious. The fact that this is the last round of the match heightens tensions even more.

Noel can't help but notice the change in Leona's demeanor as well. Something beyond the consummate professional. Something...she can't yet pin down, but a change all the same. Noel takes the same moment Leona does to size up her opponent, carefully considering the changes and formulating her own plan.

And to take a breather. It's been an intense day for Noel so far, and it's not over yet!

Two women, so different on the surface, but underneath? A change in personality just out of sight. Hidden potency, leashed by the machinations of, arguably, true evil. The struggle to stay in control, even to stay sane. They could teach each other so much.

If either of them knew even -half- of what was really going on.

COMBATSYS: Noel calculates her next move.

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

Drumbeats of rage and war. The gun is quiet, the immediate danger is passed, but the lurking predation that lingers just on the periphery of Leona's mind is always there. Always scratch scratch scratching at the back of her brain. The heat in her blood that grows with each passing moment, that pulses with fury and intensity. That calls for blood and death and rending of everything that surrounds. It laughs with a madness unhinged.

Assessment complete, and assessed in turn, Leona nods in a small manner, a way to acknowledge that she understands a degree of the woman she's opposite. She has little fear of death, that isn't an emotion she's tempered. Already she has faced down the Command Gear, Justice. She met a fellow soldier that night, even if much of it is a half-remembered blur. Perhaps, in this combat, she can reach Noel the same way.

Leona's fingers brush against the ground, slow and pacing. "Why do you fight?" she asks. "Are you a weapon, or a warrior?"

Cold eyes settle on Noel, and Leona surges forward. A blade of chi erupts from her forearm. A single, direct charge. A slash for the belly. Gun against blade. The moment is now.

COMBATSYS: Noel blocks Leona's Leona Blade.

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

She was ready.

Noel knew every move Leona was going to make. Not exactly what attack, sure, but another lightning-quick dash, in that forward-leaning way she had, followed by...something. Noel knew Leona was going to end this fight just as fast as she could, before something else like Fenrir got hauled out again. So she was ready.

And then Leona asked her one simple question. Something that anyone who'd seen any martial arts movie should know the answer to.

And Noel genuinely, honestly, did not know what to say.

It's all she can do to pull herself out of deep thought and back into what she's supposed to be focusing on. Her mental barriers have been poked and prodded, her worldview questioned, and all she wants to do is sit at a window somewhere and gaze out in thought. Instead, she has a warrior about ready to slice her to ribbons.

Her defense against such an onslaught is as virtuoso as Leona's onslaught itself. She spins both of her pistols in a rapid blur, back and forth and catching many of Leona's powerful slashes from both sides. She can't possibly block them all, though, and a few more wicked cuts adorn her arms, and one across her bare back, before the assault finally subsides.

Her guns are healing the damage to themselves almost before Leona is done moving. They're perfect gleaming chrome in mere seconds. Not so Noel. Even more blood covers her than before, and she totters on her feet, all but completely spent.

Her voice is weak and thready, a very unpleasant sounding gurgle starting to be audible deep within, but she hasn't -quite- given up. Yet.

"B...Bolverk...type seventeen." Just as before, her guns reconfigure...this time into a massive shotgun, half again as long as she is tall.


COMBATSYS: Noel keeps on fighting!

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

COMBATSYS: Leona parries Noel's Type XVII - Chamber Shot!!

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

It was a question all warriors needed to know. Why they fight. Purpose can be simple. Purpose can be complicated. But Leona must knew who and what was making the choice to fight. That is what separated a warrior from a weapon. And time and again Noel has shown a kindness to herself that seemed at odds with the tenacity and fury of the gunslinger at war.

And other times the look in Noel's eyes seemed so familiar.

It was that familiarity and that discordance that had Leona thinking. The Ikari had been open and willing to take in others, and it had served them well, and would continue to serve them. In turn, it would serve the world.

She just had to fight through words as well as through combat. And Leona dreaded words as much as she did the memories of the blood soaked village of her youth.

A blast from Noel's eldritch twin guns brings Leona crashing back down to reality. She's close in and at that closeness, she moves on instinct. Serpentine she slicks and slides. The barrel of the shotgun heavy and large and firing into nothing as Leona has already closed the gap between her and Lt. Vermillion.

It's cold and close eyes that Noel sees when Leona crosses her arms in an X. That close in intense electric blue chi explodes outward toward Noel. The sheer force of the blast rockets Leona in a high arcing flip backwards from her small opponent.

They would have time to talk later. And maybe Lita, Hayley and Chun-Li may also be there to help talk. But either way, Leona had decided that she wants to know more about Lieutenant Vermillion.

COMBATSYS: Leona successfully hits Noel with X-Caliber EX.

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

For a little slip of a thing, Noel is astonishingly tenacious at times. So much so that she really should have been in lala-land by now.

Instead, after Leona got completely out of the way of the shotgun blast and Noel's guns reverted to their normal form, she just can NOT get her defenses up in time. Her body was in tatters, clothing torn and blood everywhere. Her beret was hanging on by bobby pins alone, if not just -blood- sticking it to her head. She's lucky she's still decent, quite frankly. But with her arms and legs feeling like the proverbial lead, her exhaustion showing through in every way, Leona's X-shaped projectile just slams square into her like a freight train. Noel skids back ten feet or more, falling to one knee as the energy burst shoves her back and downwards.

Still, though, she's not unconscious. Not...quite...yet. To even do anything more will surely put her there, unable to think straight, much less fight. But Noel's stronger than even she realizes. She's more tenacious than her demeanor would ever let anyone believe.

And right in front of Leona, Noel dashes forwards a few steps and thrusts both of her guns forwards, barrels glowing lambent yellow. No reconfiguration this time--instead, a large, glowing rune appears in front of her, trying in desperation to catch Leona off guard...

COMBATSYS: Noel can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Leona blocks Noel's Valkyrie Veil.

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

Leona stands tall. She's certain of her explosive strike meeting its mark. She is certain of her standing victory. The fight is done, mission complete, but so many more left to do.

But no, the fight is not quite over yet. Small but fierce Noel has more gas in her tank. And more magic in her guns. The charge comes, barrels. . .not blazing? A runic symbol, some flash of chi, the kind the NOL use. In that moment, Leona realizes that the Ikari do have a tactical shortfall when it comes to enemies wielding weapons like the NOL. Perhaps that may yet be a place for Noel to find herself in.

But the blast comes forward, Leona can do little more than stand her ground. A call of her own violent chi flashing to life allows her to pull her forearms up and hunker against the runic seal. Yellow and blue clash and dissipate, the force itself enough to slide Leona back, her hair tie snaps loose and her hair falls free.

Breathing deeply, Leona knows she is far less worse for wear than she could have been. She stands opposite the fallen girl, no, soldier. Leona knows Noel isn't much younger than her, and she's fought hard here and before. She deserves respect for her strength.

But Noel isn't Ikari. She isn't 'family' for what the term means to Leona. So Leona tightens her gloves, she fixes her hair, and she listens to the announcement that the Ikari have won. And while her eyes fixate sharply on the fallen NOL operatives, she thinks to herself that this is just one victory. The Ikari will win this war.

COMBATSYS: Leona has ended the fight here.

Lita is quiet as he watches Leona take the field of battle. Though Noel had a severe disadvantage, she was showing herself to be incredibly skilled. Where Chun-Li vs Relius was a fight between someone seeking to poke and prod the bear just to see how he could get Chun-Li and quite possibly the entire team to react, Chun-Li vs. Noel and subsequently Leona vs. Noel, was more about skill, respect and what it meant to be a warrior. It was a completely different tone. Because of that, Lita was completely drawn in.

Eventually the last strike is attempted before Noel finally falls and Leona is announced as the winner. While happy about the victory, she doesn't really have the urge to celebrate. Their team was hanging on a thread and her performance was a large portion of the reason behind it. Oddly enough, that was the biggest thing on her mind at that moment. It was Relius.

Lita speaks softly so that it's hard for normal mics to pick up. "Commanders incapable of being the type of person that subordinates can respect will soon find themselves without subordinates."

Lita rises from her seat and walks away so that she can be off camera while she gets updates on the prelim rankings that determine if the Ikari team will move on.

Log created on 12:07:39 06/24/2019 by Relius, and last modified on 13:38:25 07/18/2019.