Whitney - Night Train to Southtown

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Description: Ryu Hayabusa uncovers a vile Illuminati plot in the works. But as with many schemes by the Illuminati, what Whitney Saulder is doing and what it actually means may not add up. All the same, a young woman is on some railroad tracks and a hero like Hayabusa cannot simply let that be!

A hot night in the city. Far enough away to see the blue-black of the skyline and its myriad glowing windows make for Man's attempt at the night sky. Where the glow crawls upward and manages to cast a shadow of light. Where both the presence of the NOL and the spire of Jedah Dohma stand together in the same city. A place not long ago ravaged by gears. A place not long ago witness to the shadow of gangland warfare. A place where, once more, potential enemies gather and the stormclouds roll in from afar.

Whitney Saulder watches the city from the rail lines. A cigarette in his hand, the end glows an angry red when he takes a drag. He exhales a slow curl of smoke and he considers the situation. He looks unkempt, his suit ill fit and hanging, stain and fray are clear at the ends and unders. His hair is rumpled and his tired blue eyes seem barely alert.

Beside him is a sleeping bag. The contents jostling and making a terrible amount of noise. Noise that Whitney Saulder has no intention of quieting. He's far and away removed from any situation involving people. He's far and away removed from anyone that might help or hinder.

He flicks the ash from his cigarette over the wall of the railway bridge. He checks his phone. No train due for an hour; he has time to take.

He looks down at the writhing sleeping bag at his feet. He considers it, and its contents. The biologist was young. Conventionally pretty. A cursory check of her social media showed pro-darkstalker sympathies. She had promise and potential and a new job at some major firm or another. The details were hazy, but they didn't matter. Not to Whitney Saulder.

"To glory in demonic power, ditching civilization," Whitney speaks in a sonorous baritone to the figure in the sack, loud enough so that the contents can hear him. She was taken for her skills and potential. Not that Whitney had any particular use for them. No. Her skills and potential were better served as potential. One, or another, or another. A few people with purpose here and there. The kernels of truth that may serve well to feed lies later on. Maybe they'll have been taken by nefarious Darkstalkers for Jedah Dohma's purpose. Maybe she'll have been disappeared by the NOL. Just a sign of how treacherous they could be. Whitney wasn't certain exactly what story that the young woman in the bag would be used to prop up. Just that she would be useful for it.

"As a paranoiac boy puts a log on the track," Whitney finishes his poetic discourse by lumping the woman onto the tracks. And then, he returns to his cigarette. After all, he has time before the train arrives.

Smoke drifts languidly away from Whitney, ever more diffuse, as with Southtown's light pollution the farther one drifts from the metropolis. Clouds pass across the moon, but it does little to alter the light level, simply casting a duller shadow across the colors perceived by the human eye in the night. Lightning strikes in the distance, a blue-silver flash through the darkness reverberating in a silhouette of clouds and a distant crack of thunder numerous seconds later.

"Bit of a cliche, isn't it?" The even, glassy-smooth Japanese syllables sound in soft baritone, just off the kidnapper's rear left flank. Expertly placed just outside his peripheral vision, likely a shimmer of grey whispy as the night on approach, even with the benefit of obscuring angle.

The space is occupied by a ninja clad as if armored by the evening itself, dull hues of silver and grey acccentuating armored pieces of hewn midnight. His features are all but entirely disguised behind a sleekly modern tactical helm and a traditional shroud of cloth covering half his face, emerald eyes shimmering subtly in the night. One lightly armored limb is already poised, if deceptively relaxedly, the Shinobi Prince's touch grazing across the ancient katana at his side. "I'm going to have to insist you let her go, immediately."

It's quietly forceful, despite the politesse, the appearance of patience. It also belies Hayabusa's lack of familiarity with his subject, tonight. Some monsters would be greeted by the celestial fang of Ryuken from the darkness, as much the ninja's ally as any monster's. While he knows of Whitney in act, in pattern attributed to the Illuminati agent, he has no direct knowledge of the person before him-- and for a man who's killed more sentient entities than many nations' entire standing army, Ryu nonetheless places utmost importance on fair judgement of those judged 'monsters'. Even as they prepare to kill another.

It will come to blows in this instance, the intelligence fed to Hayabusa through his intricate web of allies and assets leaves him with little doubt he faces a creature with true darkness in his soul. But what of his nature? His potential? Redemption is a powerful tool to oppose the worst in humanity, to say nothing of beyond it, and Ryu delves his quarry's attitude and impulses; they have time.

The angry ember of the cigarette glows again. Whitney Saulder watches the skyline in the distance. A storm lights the night. Heat lightning. It's a tolerable show. A moment where all the light and power of mankind is dwarfed by a split second of nature's potency. Where the raw truth of electricity showcases how much more it is than mankind's domesticated version.

But the lightning brings with it voices. And Whitney flicks the ash from his cigarette before sliding his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "It would appear so," he speaks in a bored tone, fluent in Japanese. He doesn't look to the man who is speaking, doesn't feel the need to. There's a glimmer of appreciation that the ninja doesn't bother to demand or create eyeline with Whitney. It's honest. "But statistically it never happens. If I were less original I'd have just shot her."

His hand leaves his pocket long enough to take the cigarette out from Whitney's lips so he can study its length and flick it to the water below. One final exhalation and the hand reaches in to pull out the pack. A flick of the wrist to present one of the cigarettes. He aims the pack toward the ninja. "Care for a smoke?"

Whitney Saulder, a killer who doesn't hide his name. A killer who is known in the business of wetwork for some time. Though, many times over the killer called Whitney Saulder isn't the man named such. Sometimes, for the purposes of a thing, Whitney subcontracts in his name. Most of those subcontractors are under a parking lot in Arizona now. But this bored, unkempt man is real and present and he doesn't much care that the ninja is here. He's simply offering a smoke.

"You know who I work for. I know what you do. And we both know she has time before a train comes through here. So let's not lie to ourselves for dramatics. It's gaudy,"

"You might find that less simple than you imagine." Hayabusa notes in the same even, confident tones. He's not far off, perhaps a triplicate of sprinting footfalls for the average fighter; something the master shinobi most certainly is not. His aura is quiet, subtle, but intense-- a predatory raptor high above, precise and disciplined. There's likely truth to his words... faster than a speeding bullet, indeed. A slight shake of his head declines the cigarette, and at the invitation to dispense with pretense and drama... very little changes in the young demonslayer.

"Why her?" He inquires simply, offering little argument to the operative's words, save the assured commitment to preserving her life. To Hayabusa, that really isn't still one of the considerations on the table; that much is clearly mission critical. It's a curious thing, though-- scientists are targeted all the time, absconded with or assassinated. In his line of work, at least, that's how it -seems-. "You have a choice some in this universe lack." Ryu observes, his tone expressing neither the plaintive nor the disgusted one might expect confronted with a killer.

"That places the weight of your actions firmly on you-- and the path ahead your conscious decision." There's once more substantial heft to the softly spoken declaration, projected clearly as if through the warm breeze, the Shinobi Prince's focus and building energy, the emotional depth behind the stoic words all but tangible in the air. "But it is a choice you must make now." Because polite or not, Hayabusa clearly intends to end one of those paths here, and now.

Not taking the cigarette? Whitney shrugs and slips the pack back into the pocket of his blazer. But he keeps his posture. He keeps his lean and his languid, half-lidded look out to the lights of Southtown. The girl in the bag still squirming but slowing as she hears the voices speaking over her and about her.

"She's sympathetic," is all Whitney offers to Hayabusa by way of explanation to his reasons. He has many more answers, many more potential ways to respond. But as he considers this man and his words and his theatrics, he caters the answer to what he feels is best to the situation.

And then he tugs on his sleeves, straightens a button on his cuff, careful and direct actions to draw the eye down to his broad hands. "Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same," he speaks and sighs and blinks and puts his hands in his pockets only to take them out again and scratch behind his left ear.

"If," he says, louder here in that moment, his hands bracing on the railing of the rail trestle. "If, perchance, I were to say take the girl and go. What do you think you would do?" he asks. Only to turn and finally face Hayabusa. "That would be the hypothetical. The," he inhales and rolls his hand, acting as though to find the word in his head as he sticks to Japanese, "choice? The hypothetical choice."

He puts his hands into the pockets of his trousers, slouching, he looks over to the city in the distance. "Hypotheticals are boring. The answers are meaningless. They just exist to serve egos." A wave of his hand. "If you want her to live, let her go."

He turns back around to look at the city. "But don't bullshit about righteousness. If all you wanted was to save some girl, you'd have done so instead of talking with me. You're curious. I don't blame you; I just want some honesty."

He nods, not watching what the ninja does with the girl. "Of course, taking her out of the picture now just frees up my night."

"I would strike you down." Hayabusa answers simply, directly, with a perhaps alarming degree of certitude. Leave with the researcher, seek to kill her now, and the shinobi would be forced to intercede. In a sense, his intercession has already begun, several times over. For one: he draws Whitney's attention, despite the agent's effort to focus largely on things /besides/ the ninja master as they converse. Whitney's outright dismissive of -her-, from where Ryu is standing.

"But you are correct-- it is not all I wanted." The struggling grows quieter, subtler because of the argument, and because of the cut found in the bag that restrains her. It takes the panicked woman some time to process it, and more time to maneuver and widen the gap without abruptly announcing the effort, but she finds her courage sooner than later.

In the same instant she begins to come free of the parcel, Ryuken comes free of its saya into Hayabusa's grasp. "Run." He advises the scientist simply, his eyes never leaving Whitney. Not even when the fighter had made his suggestive feints, the sleight of hand meant to draw the Shinobi Prince's gaze-- every the ninja's attention remains on his opponent's gaze, on Saulder's stance, reading energy and intent as much as the actual actions and words offered.

"Your employers would be far more impressed if you were able to take //me// out of the picture." Ryu suggests with a likely high amount of accuracy, and a surprisingly low amount of pride. The young monster slayer takes no particular pleasure in this; it's the kind of battle that is his duty. The harsh reality that is this world, in the modern age and nearly every one preceding it.

The ancient nihonto, allegedly forged from the fang of a god in times of legend long before mankind rediscovered the art, seems to draw in the moonlight as Hayabusa lifts the sword to point its razor tip towards Whitney, a shimmering silver wave passing over the intricate grain and impossible edge. "Though that course is no less a foolish waste of potential." One way, or the other. Ryu is already flanking to the side, a predatory arc closing towards Whitney... though rather than immediately lash out, the Dragon Ninja works to position himself to cover the woman's escape.

A world so certain of things. So certain of ideology. So certain of plans. So certain of heroes and villains. Whitney doesn't understand why people do those things. He knows it is what they do. And he sees what he sees as animal behavior dressed up in mental illness. He dismisses the woman because he cannot care for her. He cannot empathize with her in any manner other than her position as a prop. And a prop that can either live or die, because she's no more important to the stage play than any other piece of set dressing.

He watches Hayabusa. He lets the young scientist live another day. If she died or disappeared, it was fine. If she lives. It was fine. The narrative was all that mattered. The narrative is all the Illuminati needs. And Hayabusa is simply adding to it.

So Whitney stands there, the American who speaks flawless Japanese despite looking like, and having had, slept in his clothing on a bench the night before. "I'm going to be honest with you. You're very important to us alive." He claps slowly, speaking deadpan. "Your work back in the Americas? Exactly as I predicted. And appreciated."

Hands back inside of his pockets. "I take it you still want your dramatic showdown. And once more, I have to thank you for doing your part in all this."

Whitney Saulder pushes from the trestle and takes a slow, shufflebump of a limp walk to the tracks, where he bends down and he too gathers a mystical weapon of ancient yore. A rock. At least as old, if not older than any weapon around. The oldest even. And that's when Whitney does smile. A cold, dead smile where the soulless depths of his clear blue eyes are plain to see.

COMBATSYS: Whitney has started a fight here.

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Whitney          0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa has joined the fight here.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0          Whitney

And with that rock in hand, Whitney judges it, and with an underarm submarine throw sends it hurtling toward the ninja with a surprising swiftness. A small, hard to see stone whistling in the dark of night.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa dodges Whitney's Thrown Object.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/-------|=======\-------\1          Whitney

"Knowing enough to oppose Shadaloo is a start." Hayabusa acknowledges, even as the ninja shifts in graceful motion to flow like water around the hurtling rock by scant centimeters, weaving sidelong around it and finishing in several swift, entirely unecessary sidesteps to carry him the rest of the distance between Whitney and the fleeing scientist. Sue him for not entirely trusting the assassin's intentions.

"But it is not enough." Which is, in its terse and subtly mournful way, is confirmation of the terms of confrontation; circumstances demand combat. Demand action. Many would call Ryu Hayabusa a hero, but the Dragon Ninja would not count himself among their number. All he sees is a world of grey, struggle, triumph and tragedy. A world that demands subservience to evil and avarice-- greater, middling, lesser. A population and cosmos of power-hungry and selfish beings all too happy to comply.

Hayabusa stands where his Clan has always stood, against the monstrous, against the End of the World(tm). He stands where the mythical Celestial Dragons charged him to stand, the last scion of a line of undeniable mystic power. There's little surprise to the fact Whitney -doesn't- want him dead... but how much hope it might speak of, Hayabusa is less sure. This assassin, his employers and suspected associates... well, they're not nice people, are they?

"The ends do not justify the means; they corrupt the purpose." Ryu feints high with that deadly blade, but comes in low, slicing wide as he lunges sidelong to plant his left fist on a triphammer trajectory for Whitney's ribs, intent on launching a series of jabs into his midsection before a lithe twist brings the resilient kashira of that magical weapon around with force enough to knock even a larger man several strides backwards.

COMBATSYS: Whitney just-defends Ryu Hayabusa's Redan Gekisai Sho!

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/-------|=======\-------\1          Whitney

It isn't that Whitney Saulder opposes Shadaloo. His employer opposes Shadaloo because of their own needs. The money is necessary for survival, ergo Whitney's opinions align with his employer. That and all Whitney thinks on the matter is that Shadaloo's methods will always attract people like Hayabusa. They will always draw too much attention from the world's foremost ideologues.

As he exists now, Hayabusa is more useful for the Illuminati than he knows. Every effort he makes to stymie the opposition, every chaotic wrench in the system, is more time and more openings left for the Illuminati. Effort not expended on Shadaloo or Syndicates can be used to foment ideas, to spread memetic necessities, to control the keys of power needed. And it isn't as though the power and control is going to have to be held for long.

In the end, it all would burn equally. Balance, in a way.

"And what purpose would that be?" Whitney asks, dull, emotionless, but his languid behavior covers the man's true ability. Each jab is met with a counteracting strike. Thump, thump, thump. Just as quick as the ninja, just as aware. The heavy swing strikes a clapping hand at Hayabusa's wrist.

"In the end it's all about the world we're best suited for. Nothing more, nothing less," Whitney says, up close, personal. And that's when he makes his move; flowing from the blocking stance to grab for Hayabusa's wrist. He reaches to torque the ninja's elbow, and to violently kick his knee backward. Violent, sudden and strong, with precision and focus if not flash or technical wizardry.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa fails to counter Violent Grapple from Whitney with Mekkyaku - Ryuso EX.

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Ryu Hayabusa     1/------=/=======|=======\===----\1          Whitney

//What purpose would that be?// It's not really a question Hayabusa can answer. What -does- the Illuminati want? The intelligence community doesn't exactly have a clear picture... it's possible that's part of what drew the Dragon Ninja here. What Ryu -does- know is close quarters combat, and as deftly as Whitney twists in, the shinobi seeks to take control of that leverage and all but literally reverse the technique-- but in this instance Saulder is swifter, seizing the momentum and running with it.

Ryu lets out a soft enunciation of pain as his leg is crunched out from under him and he's momentarily knelt by his capable foe. It does little to break the Shinobi Prince's will or morale-- and much to serve his goal of learning the attitude and capacity of this deadly man. Be careful what you wish for, Hayabusa.

"/Any/ purpose." Ryu answers through gritted teeth, rolling free of the clinch to come to deftly perching feet a scant distance from Whitney, ready to strike out anew. "To build on corpses and compromises is a foundation of ash." It's a very sad trend, by the Dragon Ninja's estimation. Dark eyes of gold-flecked emerald narrow on Whitney, reassessing his adversary. Despite his lifestyle, Ryu is not without his moments of wisdom.

Whitney holds back when the ninja pushes back. He doesn't bother to give chase so quickly. He just adjusts his cuffs and worries at a button before slipping his hands back into his pockets. He stands with a slouch and a slight head tilt, considering the ninja and assessing the situation before him.

"If that may be, then as the good book alludes; ashes to ashes, dust to dust, from whence we came, return we must." Saulder speaks as a man who considers a world nothing but ashes painted gold by the desperate and the deluded. But people with conviction, with true ideals, not the fools and liars, they get the man's interest.

It may not be the best to be of interest to Whitney Saulder.

With a lurching thrust, Whitney slips toward Hayabusa. A snapping kick with a twinned follow up. Striking hard with dusty, marked and worn dress shoes. And it's only after he snaps a quick third kick does Whitney even take his hands from his pockets for a two handed clapping of Hayabusa's ears for a ringing distraction.

COMBATSYS: Whitney dazes Ryu Hayabusa with Blind Assurance!
- Power hit! -

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Ryu Hayabusa     1/-======/=======|=======\====---\1          Whitney

A man of will and convictions-- Hayabusa has that in spades. It's something of a prerequisite to facing down killers and demons... at least if one wants to survive the profession. Even with such expertise and discipline, it's ever an art exercised on the edge of a razor, as the skilled assassin finds a scant delay in the ninja's armored guard, hammering the first kick through and launching Ryu like a ragdoll upwards before well and thoroughly ringing his bell with the clap to either side of his head, even through the effective helm.

Dropping hard to one knee, the injured one for extra pain, Hayabusa nonetheless //snaps// his eyes upwards to lock onto Saulder in the same instant of half-crash-landing. With a precise, powerful motion, an upwards arc of Ryuken seeks to cut Whitney vertically, refusing him purchase on the ground.

His answer comes in action: the last scion of the Celestial Dragons translocates in a blur of grey-black mist, intent on intercepting the airborne assassin and twirling into a forceful spiral, a tailspin that careens like an arrow back to Earth, ideally with Saulder's skull serving as the impact point against the gravel and scrub lining the rail line. All must die, perhaps-- but one does not have to submit to that reality //quietly//. To put it mildly.

COMBATSYS: Whitney fails to counter Izuna Drop from Ryu Hayabusa with Dreams Deferred.
- Power fail! -

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Ryu Hayabusa     2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\0          Whitney

Hayabusa does not go gently into that good night. The blow was strong, and it was to put Hayabusa onto his back foot. Whitney rubs his wrists and watches the ninja, ready and waiting to put what he feels are tired finishing touches on a job. "You aren't talking," he says, "Are you out of philosophy?"

The ninja shifts. On instinct, Whitney's hand lashes out for Hayabusa's throat. A grip as strong as a vice to just choke the air from the hero's lungs. But the force and momentum is against him. Crashing, crashing, cracking down against the ground. A snap and a clang against the rail line and gravel below. A coughing, rough sound comes from deep within Whitney Saulder.

With a cough, through his teeth, Whitney still has to know as he looks into the eyes of the ninja. "Do you fight for your life? Or the girl's?"

Out of philosophy? Hardly. Rather overwhelmed by the current of the conflict thus far? Most definitely. Less than certain topics of morality and redemption are liable to land with this particular monster? Also that. The Dragon Ninja circles the assassin once more, intent and wary, as well as dangerously poised... Ryu is far from out of this fight yet, despite the intensity of Saulder's onslaught.

"I fight for life." Hayabusa answers simply, if somewhat enigmatically. It's only part of an answer to the question Whitney asks-- but it's more true than either sincere answer might be, at the same time. "I fight because those like you darken a struggling world." Another slow side-step, the Dragon Sword rising to intercede itself between the warriors, ready in the Shinobi Prince's expert grasp.

"I fight because I have been given the power to stop such creatures." And with great power comes great responsibility, some have said. Rather than immediately renew his own assault, Hayabusa centers his remarkable inner chi, gathers his reserves and steels his conviction to -end- this fight in a manner far removed from the one sought so adroitly by the Illuminati killer.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa calculates his next move.

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Ryu Hayabusa     1/---<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\-------\0          Whitney

Whitney pats his pockets as he rises fully to his feet, feeling for the cigarettes. He pulls one out and tucks in his teeth. "We all fight for life," Whitney says, "Struggle to be from cradle to grave. It's not as profound as it's made out to be."

He doesn't find a lighter and gives up to return his hands to his pockets. His slouch evident, the cigarette rolls from one corner of his mouth to the other. "I'm only a reflection of what the world wants. I wouldn't be if it didn't let me. Same as you. Violent potential allowed because the world wants if no matter how much it doesn't want to admit to it."

He shakes his head, disappointment about him. "Come on then, be the hero of the day." And with his words, he powers forward, his hands come up from his pockets, but they're just a brief preparation for the heavy thrust kick aimed for Hayabusa's chest.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa dodges Whitney's Sundered Ideals.

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Ryu Hayabusa     1/---<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0          Whitney

"Everyone fights for /survival/." Hayabusa corrects. Even then, it's only generally true. The stewardship the Dragon Ninja implies? That is -far- less universal. "This is a question of duty and necessity; not heroism." Again, others might argue with him. Even from angles not utilized by Whitney. "Struggle is inherent to existence; what matters is why we fight."

There's a beat, filled by a practiced kata that brings the ancient katana's razor edge parallel with Hayabusa himself, his gaze still locked on Saulder beyond it, eyes on either side of the incredibly thin geometry of the blade. "What matters is //when// we fight." Ever the Tao doesn't dismiss violence as unecessary or inherently destructive. It's a matter of discipline and clarity; a matter of heart.

A subtle surge of crimson-black energy courses around and through the Dragon Ninja, a quiet wind reverberating outwards in a deceptively gentle, gusting circumference. It's not an outward projection... but a reflection of the power channeled within. The Shinobi Prince once more weaves gracefully around the incoming strike, his blade snapping back to his side, a ready posture without actually sheathing it anew, and its curving length is instead surrounded by a cocoon of roiling winds, a hurricane of additional razor-sharpness contained in a precise, singular cut. A cut unleashed in the immediate aftermath of that powerful lunge, even as the potential impact of Saulder's technique echoes into the empty air.

Hayabusa's strike is singular, but decisive: a classic cross-cut angling from low to high, intent on bisecting Whitney once more with another deep cut, this one amplified by the windshear that accompanies Ryuken, unleashed across a focused line of impossible sharpness and bloody lethality. Whitney is both wrong and entirely correct to draw a parallel between the ambition and intensity of the two of them... he is, after all, not the only assassin-trained death-dealer on the railside. At least to Ryu, what matters is the //purpose//.

COMBATSYS: Whitney counters Blade of the Empty Air EX from Ryu Hayabusa with Pointed Rebuttal.

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Ryu Hayabusa     2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=====--\-------\0          Whitney

Maybe it's a subtle difference in language, but Hayabusa hasn't corrected anything as far as Whitney thinks. But that's where things falter. "Why is just the lie we're most comfortable with."

Short and to the point, but Whitney can agree with Hayabusa on one regard; timing is everything and the when is very important. Tired eyes watch the blade, he watches the graceful curves and the simmering energy, the subtle touch and flow of chi power. He sees the ancestral might growing and the spirit of the idealistic ninja growing ever more present and potent. All while he stands with a half slouch, slumping and shuffling listlessness that he carries himself with.

As with much of Whitney, his posture is a ruse meant to distract and disorient. A shiftless, wastrel of a man that can't even concern himself with dressing well. A man who fights with no style or grace. He stands out for the concerted effort he puts in to make himself lesser. But when he moves, it's with a crushing directness and efficiency.

A turn, side stepping the blade the cleaves through the air. Hands come from his pockets and Whitney snaps his palm toward Hayabusa's face. Right where those eyes are exposed. A simple, direct and painful thumb thrust into Hayabusa's eye. A snap before Whitney pushes past and walks from the fellow killer.

Perhaps more likely is a deep divide on /philosophy/. The aforementioned purpose. What it's All About(tm). The things one fights to preserve. In this moment, where his expert, deadly slice is countermanded, Hayabusa allows himself a moment's relief that his quarry this evening does //not// actually want him dead. It has the potential to be very convenient. It's a ghost of an acknowledgement through the Shinobi Prince's mind as he falls back, momentarily blinded and in remarkable amounts of pain.

The Dragon Ninja went into this fight to find out more about this adversary-- and in that, at least, he continues to succeed more fully than Hayabusa might prefer. Crushingly direct... unusually skilled... utterly unmoved by questions of stewardship or moral responsibility. It's not an equation Ryu likes from any of its angles, but particularly not the one now spied through a haze of his own blood. Whitney walks past, but the Dragon Ninja isn't finished; not yet, at least.

The ninja is somewhat infamously stubborn. His only words are soft incantation, perhaps easily mistaken for a prayer given the circumstances, but the end result of this particular mantra comes as the katana is once more drawn vertical between Ryu and Saulder, a surge of flame coursing from around and within the master shinobi and coursing about him in meteoric orbit.

Three rough spheres of wildly flaming energy whip about Hayabusa several times, building intensity before they spiral for Whitney's frame with explosive fury a half-blink later. Ryu's arts are varied, even where they're as direct as Whitney's there's a grace to them; another element to the dark mirror skewing the two killers.

COMBATSYS: Whitney just-defends Ryu Hayabusa's Art of the Inferno EX!

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/--<<<<<|=====--\-------\0          Whitney

"I'm left with a choice," Whitney Saulder says, standing with his back to Hayabusa as he flicks his lighter to start up a new cigarette. "When I'm finished here, do I kill the girl because you've bored me? Or do I let her live to allow the benefit of wondering why I do anything?"

He takes a drag and shrugs his shoulders as he turns around, tired eyes watching the build up of chi, something he's never felt or understood, and it makes his teeth itch. "If this be the last song you shall sing, sing well, for you may not sing another," he mutters to himself when he sees the fire coming. It's a contest, and one that Whitney takes on with the irritation that bubbles up within his limited emotional palette.

And he meets the challenge well. A shoulder down, a storming of the gates, a violent man that wades through the fire and flames and batters through the other side with scorch and singe and soot alike. The sweat on his face shines in the firelight, his eyes cold and distant and blue finally take a focus onto the ninja.

He lurches forward, his posture straightening and his shuffling stride shifting to a secure and steady run. He closes in and reaches one hand to lock Hayabusa's wrist. The other hand matches with a collision course of a palm strike for Hayabusa's nose.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa counters Risk Assessment from Whitney with Mekkyaku - Ranryu.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0          Whitney

"You presume--" Ryu manages tersely, hoarsely, through the pain and fatigue to the fighting will still smouldering strongly within him, the soft words carrying no small amount of resolve and intensity. "-- too much!!" With regard to 'when he's finished here'. With regard to the world, to lives in general-- the assassin can take his pick, really. One booted foot slides silently back as Whitney renews his charge, Ryuken whipping through a fluid rotation to poise point back at Hayabusa's side.

The monster slayer's free left hand reaches for Saulder even as he seeks the same, and this time it's Ryu that gains control over their clinching leverage in a swift, fierce rotation, twisting the assassin's arm around and down painfully as the Dragon Ninja slides into a fierce, low kick punishing Whitney's ankles... it's ideal for destabilizing the man long enough for Ryu to relinquish his grip and launch the assassin into the air with a formidable, singular uppercut.

The final stroke comes in midair as the Shinobi Prince leaps after his powerful foe, bringing that blade up and around in a slice that cuts as it propels Whitney back to the ground with alarming projected force. Hayabusa lands on defiant legs, their cries of protest ignored as he draws several deep, steadying breaths. "That decision is still not yours to make." And no protestation or plea Ryu could make predictably sways -this- killer's whim. There are still other options. Surrender is seldom one of them.

Now there's pain to back up Ryu Hayabusa's purpose. The sweet singing of pain and desperation. It's a glorious thing that reverberates in Whitney Saulder. He longs to see the truth in the eyes of the desperate and dying. Just when they sink past that point where they cease to cling to false hopes and pretensions as reality finally comes over them. That is where one sees the person behind the animal desires.

The wrestling is short; legs kicked out, thrown, hurled up and slashed deeply, Whitney hammers off the trestle wall and lands in a curl. Blood fanned out behind him, red drips staining his shirt and blazer and the dusty gravel of the railroad.

In the distance, the echoing song of a train's whistle blares out its call.

Whitney plants his hands on the trestle rail, he pulls himself to his feet. There he looks around himself to find the bent and dirty cigarette that had been knocked from his teeth. Without a dusting he inhales a long drag and exhales with a lean on the trestle. "The decision isn't mine?" he asks, "And who determines that? How?" His questions aren't taunts, they're spoken with the same monotone casual that he's spoken with the whole time.

But the man doesn't attack, he doesn't press, he seems in this moment content to take a breather and resume his conversation. "Unless you kill her, I'll always have the option to," he says, "Isn't it easier to make it worth my while to decide she lives?" And with that ponderance, he looks to Hayabusa, bleeding and leaning, as if there hadn't been bloody combat. No anger, no frustration, no life or death in the balance just him and another man speaking. Another day at the office.

COMBATSYS: Whitney gains composure.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0          Whitney

The train whistle sounds a distant alarm, of no urgency to the here and now, not compared to the weight of colliding so fully with this Illuminati assassin. Also of interest are the subtle but audible rotors of a high tech transport helicopter further down the line, intercepting said woman's flight. Perhaps drawing the attention of those who might utilize and protect this particular potential is worse for their aims-- perhaps better, and more exploitable.

It's not the point, at least not to Ryu. "Ideally, I'd call it hers." the Dragon Ninja observes simply, once more answering without answering the question Saulder really poses. Much as his body begs for it, Hayabusa does not rest. The Shinobi Prince stalks a patient arc around Whitney, looking for the perfect moment in that brief respite. "How do you suggest we arrange that?" The Dragon Ninja inquires dryly. "Quid Pro Quo? Sexual favors?"

Was that sarcasm? It's utterly deadpan, equally easy to assume Hayabusa expects just such corrupt depradation of such men. Either way, he presses his momentary momentum, Ryuken crackling to life with blue-white lightning, mirroring the system drifting ever closer alongside the locomotive, and lunges the distance between them in the blink of an eye. His cut is angular, a cross-slice of committed power. The bolt of electricity mirrors it, from the opposing angle, forming a blazing 'X' of celestial steel and surging chi.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa successfully hits Whitney with Lotus Slash.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/--=====|===----\-------\0          Whitney

To walk through another. Hayabusa wouldn't be the first, nor the last Whitney Saulder would break and move past. That was his thinking. Another idealogue wrapped up in their own pomp and circumstance. A man with training in blood and death who could not accept that his position in the world was a killer and had to wrap it up with dramatics. Another liar in a mask and one not so terribly interesting.

But the skill of Ryu Hayabusa cared little for the dismissive disdain of an American assassin. The cross slice crackles in the air, the scent of scorched and cooking flesh and hair and cheap cloth fills the air along with the sharp stench of ozone.

The force cracks Whitney's back against the trestle railing, the safety rail creaks and cracks under this pressure but for the moment it holds. And Saulder holds it, leaning back, looking tired and dull, but steaming.

No more words to respond this time. He just turns forward, reaching for the close in ninja, as if to grab the very blade itself and to turn and roll and with all his significant force launch Hayabusa clear over the railing to tumble to the far far ground below.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa blocks Whitney's Rebound Grapple.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/-======|===----\-------\0          Whitney

Another amoral assassin consumed by avarice and nihilism. Neither man gives the other enough credit, perhaps-- at least in anything but action. The fight turned harshly against Ryu, but that is the very nature of battles waged at a certain level of lethality, a certain class of expertise. Raging whitewater shifts suddenly and sharply. The Dragon Ninja refuses to give in, however... struggles on against, perhaps, all conventional wisdom.

There is no lie in Hayabusa's dedication to his cause, however; no hesitation in the sacred guardian of balance and life. He strikes, Whitney recoils, and then the last heir of the Celestial Dragons is thrown clear, hurtling over the edge to unforgiving rocks below. For a moment, the ninja is simply gone; perhaps dead. But the fall does not kill the Shinobi Prince; indeed, it scarcely begins. Below, in the dark, Ryuken is the first tool to slow Hayabusa's fall. The unbreakable blade cuts deeply into the cliffside, and Ryu slams -painfully- into it in turn, his momentum abruptly halting. It's further stymied by a clenching hand, fingertips digging into earth and rock as Ryu hurls himself upwards, the blade coming free with him.

Three quick, sprinting footfalls propell him with uncanny alacrity and grace up the vertical surface, and he seeks to maintain that clambor by running right up the front of his almost-victorious adversary, kickflipping off in a leap that loses the ninja, momentarily, in the night sky. The moment before both his armored feet slam back downwards for Whitney's skull, at least, seeking to stomp the assassin down... and perhaps turn the tables with who tumbles clear of the unrelenting conflict.

COMBATSYS: Whitney fails to counter Hane Karakuri from Ryu Hayabusa with Refutation of Reason.

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Ryu Hayabusa     1/------=/=======|

COMBATSYS: Whitney can no longer fight.

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Ryu Hayabusa     1/------=/=======|

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa has ended the fight here.

Dedication to cause. Dedication to service. Some nights, it leads a man to death. Other nights, it leads to the rescue of another. Tonight is one of the latter nights. A sharp move, a crushing kick, and Whitney Saulder tumbles back against the trestle railing. It loosens. The larger American's hand reaches out for Hayabusa, grasping, clutching, gripping.

The rail gives way. Saulder's grip isn't where it needs to be. With a distant, uncaring acceptance Whitney Saulder falls back into the air off the side of the rail bridge into Southtown. His turn may have saved his skull, but it leaves the Illuminati killer rolling through the sky on his way down, down below.

Tonight, Ryu Hayabusa has saved a life, to what end and what results may come, that will be up to time. But as Whitney Saulder disappears to the grips of gravity, the air itself seems to calm and cool. While out in the distance, the train whistle howls.

Log created on 22:12:56 07/19/2019 by Whitney, and last modified on 13:44:37 07/26/2019.