KOF 2019 - Semifinal 2 - USA Sports Team vs Team Kaka

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Description: To many, the selection of Belgrade Fortress as the site for a King of Fighters semifinal match would seem eccentric as best. But perhaps the shadowy KOF 2019 organizers had something particular in mind for the battle between Team Kaka and the USA Sports Team...

For centuries, imposing limestone walls were massive enough to protect the entire population of Belgrade. Now, the gates of Belgrade Fortress -- situated in a crook of the Danube River, remain open to the public.

To many, the fortress' long-standing legacy of defense goes unappreciated. It's an impressive feat of engineering, to be sure. But to those with a broader view of history have ample reason to be unsettled. It's been decades since the Serbian War, for one... But as the One-Eyed Twin Lotus takes a draw on a small bamboo pile, he's got another massive conflict on his mind.

The Black Beast. The herald of destruction.

Smoke billows as the cat's one-eyed gaze fixes off to the east. A battle, lost to history by the mechanisms of the Azure. A tumultuous battle that too few people can even remember -- that even they would love to forget.

An embattled orange coat ruffles as Jubei rises to his feet. The mended folds of fabric serve well to conceal the array of bandages wrapped tightly about his limbs, about his center. The samurai warrior does not wish to hide his wounds so much as to, in his words, keep his ancient body from falling apart at the seams. But as he leaps from the tall parapets of the fortress to the ground below -- to surround himself with literal thousands of observers for the semifinal match of the King of Fighters 2019 tournament -- his feline body appears to be holding up just fine.

White paws touch down on the fortress floor. His swords clank in their scabbard, as the coat settles about him. Long-sleeved paws fall to rest bare centimeters from the floor. Twinned black tails swish back and forth in a serpentine rhythm as the one-eyed cat glances around. His nose twitches, whiskers following the motion as he sniffs the air. The feline hunter can smell the antibacterial soap on the hands of the KOF fight announcers standing nearest him. He can discern the scent of those most familiar to him -- of Taokaka, and Clio, waiting in the wings for their time to shine.

But then... he has someone else to turn his eye to.

A fifty-foot stretch of open ground stretches out bare and empty from the open gates of the fortress, ringed on 3 sides by double rows of reflective orange barricades. Beyond the protective boundary bustles a double crew of medical staff, various technicians, historical preservation members, and specially equipped anti-combatant security forces. The thin metal arms of booms reach up and out to hover over the arena floor, cameras pivoting into place to cover every square inch of the available arena. But most importantly of all is the towering semi-circle of aluminum bleachers that loom up behind it all, their massive presence dwarfing the comparatively tiny field of battle. Thousands of voices are raised in conversation and laughter, people pointing, shouting, whistling, and clapping until the wall of sound seems to have a physical force of its own, roaring in from all sides in a deafening ocean of noise.
The Cat feels the shift in atmosphere far before the first member of the crowd falls silent. The weighty prickle of hidden eyes press down upon the aging warrior. The chemical tang of sanitizer unwinds itself from the earthy scents of humanity. The muddy grey borders of shadows fade away as the divide between light and dark sharpens into something distinct and razor edged. Sounds unbuzz, each voice ringing out loud and distinct, layered one on top of the other yet refusing to mingle.
A loud 'Clack' of armor on stone rings out through the courtyard, and a hundred people fall silent.
A second 'clack' and five hundred voices come to an uneasy halt.
By the time Jubei's eye pivots toward the gate, the entirety of the crowd has fallen quiet, thousands of voices caught in thousands of throats, none yet willing to shatter the oppressive silence.
'Clack, clack, clack.'
Though a cool breeze had been blowing through the mouth of the fortress, the wind is now still, the Earth itself holding its breath as a towering figure in faceless white armor walks slowly into sight, striding through the open gate only to halt just within.
Crimson eyes studded across the surface of the armor pass right over Jubei, gaze splitting to scan the barriers, the cameras, and the crowd huddled silently beyond. Then, all at once, the full weight of the creature's gaze snaps forward to stare into the old warrior that stands before him, posture firm and implacable.
"The, Cat?"
The voice that emerges from within Hakumen is very quiet, a speculative murmur that none-the-less crackles and reverberates with the electronic static of one without vocal cords. His words are not the unrelenting demands that have met so many others, but a cautious, almost confused mutter. Perhaps he isnt' even aware he spoke them allowed.
"Could this truly be The Cat? It would be too early for his birth, and yet he is old. perhaps some shift in the natural path was brought about in the same way as the NOL? That is likely...There is an outside force at work. But WHAT? Could it truly be as the Grimalkin said? Could it be, HIM?"
A soft 'HRM' of a grunt escapes the faceless helm as Hakumen shifts, seeming to emerge from his private speculations and back into the moment at hand. Weight returning to his gaze, he lifts his right hand to point one clawed finger toward the center of Jubei's chest, keeping a good 20 feet of distance between himself and the other forgotten legend.
"You will tell me." Order's Avatar demands with typical bluntness, harsh tone sawing through the pregnant pause that still grips the crowd, "Cat. Is it truly you?"

The familiar force of presence draws the cat's attention. Trepidation sends a shudder down his spine. Fur trembles in ripples down the cat's twin tails as he turns towards the source.

It's probably the eyes that unnerve him most. Though he may have practiced for decades to harness his natural tendencies, it's... always been tough for the feline warrior to avoid the gaze of Hakumen's multitude of eyes. Each one draws his gaze, if only for an instant, just to pacify his instinctive demand to catalogue all possible threats. But once that's done... his gaze locks onto the visor. His chin dips, in mute acknowledgement of his fellow Legendary.

Though, after all this, he's referred to as 'The Cat.'
Said cat's ears fold back.
Said cat's whiskers droop.

The cat continues to listen, his brow rising asymmetrically with the straightforward manner in which Hakumen steps through his rationale for justifying Jubei's own existence. An oversized paw reaches to the back of the cat's hood, the points of claws unfurling from three parallel slits in the sleeve, to scratch tenderly at the back of the cat's hooded head.

"... As demandin' as ever... Yeah, it's me, 'The Cat.' Though most people jus' call me 'Jubei' nowadays."

Jubei grins -- deciding to bully past his unease at being called a species rather than an individual. Some things never change, after all. He saunters through to the center of the designated 'arena', as the bustling crowds throw out their cheers. They've all seen Jubei and Hakumen fight before -- and it's probably a good thing the high-end cellphones are able to shoot in slow-mo nowadays.

Jubei raises his right paw to Hakumen, palm up. Three metal claws spring out, glinting in the floodlights.

"We can catch up after the fight, presumin' you leave me in one piece, heh." The metal claws curl back towards himself, as he clenches the paw into a fist. "Never thought we'd meet in a place like this. But I guess we shouldn't keep the fans waitin', yeah?"

His feet press down against the arena floor -- a wide, stable stance. As his right paw lowers, it may not -look- like he's ready for combat. But that's part of the danger inherent in the style of the One-Eyed Twin Lotus.

COMBATSYS: Jubei has wandered into a fight here.

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Jubei            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Hakumen has joined the fight here.

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Hakumen          0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Jubei

For a long stretch of moments, there is little reaction on the part of Hakumen. Armored form having fallen into a deep stillness, crimson eyes staring off into the middle distance, he seems lost in some world of his own making. Trapped in a place only he can go. A distant facility filled with the blaring of alarms, the cackling voice of a mad man, and a few terse words spoken to an old friend that he would never see again.
The flicker of Jubei's claws extending draws the armored warrior's attention back to the here and now, his own claw-tipped hand lifting away from pointing to reach slowly toward the sword on his back. Pausing with fingers wrapped securely around hilt, he tips his faceless helm forward in a slight nod, something oddly vulnerable creeping into the very edges of his posture. It would take keen perception and long years of experience to recognize it, but there is a slight softening of Hakumen's tone as his electronic voice emanates from within the helm once more.
"It is good to see you, Jubei."
Words nearly drown out by the roar of the crowd, Hakumen wastes no more time on pleasantry's. His arm extends, and Okami's silvery blade slides free of its sheath with the grinding rasp of steel on steel. Though the legendary weapon is nearly twice as tall as The Cat, Hakumen handles it with ease, swinging the blunt-tipped Nodachi out behind him in a casual one-handed grip.
"It has been many years since last I faced you, Cat. Let us see if old age has dulled your skill."
Whatever softness might have hidden in his tone is gone now, words as harsh and cold as they ever were. Lifting his left forearm in a loose blocking position, the Avatar of Order leans forward and waits, allowing the officials of this match their moment.
The megaphone-enhanced word is still ringing through the air when Hakumen begins his move. There is a flash of blazing white light and the pressure surrounding Hakumen doubles and redoubles, ribbons of blazing white energy seeping through the joints of his armor to taint the air around him. Surrounded by this nimbus of raw power, he accelerates from zero to sprinting in a crack of stone and a spray of pebbles, outline smearing into a black and white blur. Silver hair and white energy trails out behind him as he streaks toward Jubei in three long strides, launching himself into a diving arc up and over the feline's head. It is in mid air that he twists, body corkscrewing and silver blade arcing down in a single swooping cut beneath his body. Okami is long enough that the swordsman doesn't have to aim for anything in particular, the tip of the weapon nearly slicing the ground as he makes to split Jubei in half from skull to groin while passing overhead.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen successfully hits Jubei with Tsubaki.

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Hakumen          0/-------/--=====|=------\-------\0            Jubei

Jubei returns the greeting with a warm grin. Hakumen's demeanor might seem closed-off and impenetrable to most, but Jubei's known his old friend long enough to hear the heartbeat deep inside that armored shell.


Jubei's tails flick about, as he paces sideways. He can sense the invisible pressure growing, and responds accordingly. The tails' motion stiffens, as Jubei cuts himself off from external stimuli. His ears swivel forward -- for a fellow Legendary Hero deserves no less than 100% of his attention.

And then, in an instant, Hakumen is upon him. A high angle, difficult to defend against. Jubei starts to fade backwards, but realizes he won't be quick enough to avoid the overhead strike. His claws unfurl, as he thrusts them upward in an attempt to parry the blade away... But Hakumen's strike is -over- him, and the blade is striking at his -back-.

Crimson splashes into the air, a crescent to show the results of the blade's passing. Jubei staggers forward, his one eye wincing shut as the claws clench into a fist. One thought escapes the prison of the Empty Mind, in the form of a hushed whisper... "Yare yare... that's the Hakumen I remember."

But then the battle trance returns anew. The thoughts of blood-stained fur and fabric, the metallic tang of blood surging into his mouth -- these unnecessary reminders of mortality are forcibly expunged by the unyielding warden of the Empty Mind. The wounds are severe -- but the One-Eyed Twin Lotus is made of sterner stuff.

All traces of emotion vaporize from the cat's expression, for Hakumen demands no less than Jubei's best. Whereas the first strike was physical... Jubei relies on the spiritual to pull himself through. He extends his left paw towards Hakumen, raising his right paw over his head. Pressure builds, as he taps into his spiritual well. The blood spurting from his wounds begins to slow, as a black tar begins to congeal around them -- the master's innate, subconscious response to a critical injury. But the samurai cat's got another plan in mind -- drawing forth energy into his right paw, which he then sweeps into a backward arc. Delicate blue strands of chi are woven into a thick matrix within the palm of his mitt. Jubei's palms windmill about him, his right arcing backward while his left swings overhead. And as Jubei brings his right paw around to his core, the mass of chi is nearly half his size. And it begins to take on the appearance of a curled-up feline form...

The blue energy is passed to his left paw. His rotation hurls the growing forward into a low arc at Hakumen -- a fastball imbued with pure energy intended to slam into the warrior with concussive force!

COMBATSYS: Hakumen instinctively blocks Jubei's Rising Justice.

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Hakumen          0/-------/-======|==-----\-------\0            Jubei

Tiny drops of crimson are flung into the air as Hakumen whirls out of his opening attack, Okami's tip flashing skyward even as he turns in the air to orient his front toward Jubei. Now facing back the way he had come, he crashes down heavily upon armored feet, sliding to an eventual halt amidst a shower of sparks and torn flakes of stone. Sword held vertically before him, he stares passed the bloodless blade, over the deep grooves carved into the stone by his claws that even now smolder with the lingering presence of white chi, and cocks his head slightly to one side.
There is no time for words, only actions.
All at once The Cat has spun on him, lobbing a feline ball of energy toward his chest with enough force to easily kill a normal man. Reacting on instinct, Hakumen smoothly guides the length of Okami's blade between himself and the oncoming energy, slicing cleanly through the center in a move that should, by all rights, accomplish very little. However, as silvery steel meets energy, the brilliant blue power is pulled inward, consumed by the artifact with such speed that an impossibly empty space is left in its place. It is into this space that the world collapses, wind roaring, light and sound waves impacting one another with startling force.
Stalking through the heart of this singularity, silver hair tossed about by the sudden breeze, Hakumen approaches his old friend with deliberate steps. Already the winds have begun to die down, the temporary wound in the fabric of space knitting itself back together.
The Avatar's electronic bellow echo's out over the stands, amplified by the rigid rules of his oppressive aura. White energy still smearing the air behind him, he lunges through the last fluttering gasp of wind and closes the distance between himself and Jubei in two more dashing steps. As he closes in, Okami's blade is swept out behind him, its wedge-like pommel driven forward in a single, rising strike aimed squarely for the center of the old Samurai's chest.

COMBATSYS: Jubei full-parries Hakumen's Gurren!!

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Hakumen          0/-------/-======|===----\-------\0            Jubei

A wake of ivory paints the wake behind Hakumen's swift movements, a perfect counterpart to the ebon chi which thrums behind Jubei's. For even as his feline-styled ball of chi is hurled forward, Jubei is already preparing for a followup attack: stepping backwards, his paws swishing through shimmering streams of raven black.

Ever since one fateful lesson, the ancient cat had sought to unlock the secrets of seithr. That mysterious miasma that allowed the Black Beast to materialize practically anywhere on Earth. The dynamo that provided the heat necessary to forge his legendary Dream Blades. The force that propels him at speeds far beyond a human's, or even a cat's, physical limitations. For he would -not- be caught unaware again, for lack of sensitivity to the unseeable.

But neither would he place his fate entirely behind the wielding of seithr. For a blade as keen as Okami's can only be countered by its brethren.

The black mists are shorn apart as the twin blades of Musashi announce their appearance with a stereo, metallic *SHIIIIING!* He pivots backward, placing his weight upon his trailing left paw, holding his right-hand sword across his body, his left held high.

He does not expect the ball of energy to keep Hakumen's attention for long.
He is, on some level, pleased to see Okami devour it as effortly as its homophone namesake, 'wolf'.
But the battle cannot stop for applause or congratulations.
It charges onward, like a creature possessed.

An electronic roar resonates through the battlefield, sending a shudder rippling through the audience, stirring a clamor against the limestone walls of the fortress, casting waves across the surface of the Danube. But while all that is happening, Jubei is already pivoting backward, reacting to what he'd read as an attack -- a surge in chi, a signature of his stalwart friend.

The pommel of Okami slams into the flat of one of the Dream Blades.

The pommel continues forward, slamming the first Dream Blade into its twin.

Jubei has pivoted backward, his elbows both raised over his head, and his swords behind his back. In such a position, even the power of the cat proves insufficient to stop the legendary warrior's force -- indeed, even the pressure surrounding the cat shudders, emanating a shockwave of black chi out in perpendicular directions -- a thunder-crack which might be deafening were the audience any closer at all.

However... the One-Eyed Twin Lotus is not relying on -stopping- the impact, but -harnessing- it. For the blades were struck higher than center. And they are leveraging Jubei forward even still. That might be a problem if his hind paws hadn't already left the ground -- that is, if he hadn't already started leaping forward. And his gruff voice bellows out...


The blades sing a sonorous melody as they cross past one another. With Hakumen's sword as a fixed reference point, and slowed in momentum, the blades shear outward, silvered blurs cross-cutting against Hakumen's extended arm. The cuts would not be so deep as to sever bone, but they would certainly pack a considerable bite. Jubei's twin tails would assist in reorienting him as he somersaults forward, blades clearing to either side as he twists back to face Hakumen in mid-flight.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen blocks Jubei's Form Four - Black Panther EX.

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Hakumen          1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0            Jubei

The dance of blades is one that both combatants have long since mastered. Both being Samurai in their own way, both able to call upon vast reserves of energy, and both having fought side by side to take down the most destructive creature this world may never know. But even the Legendary Hakumen's speed isn't enough to catch Jubei off guard twice.
Even as the force of his blow is lifting The Cat off of his paws, the Avatar's own claws are digging into the stone, slowing his forward momentum just enough that he and his opponent begin to pull apart that slight fraction faster than the wily Lotus expected. With twin swords scissoring up from beneath, there is no time to think, Hakumen's instincts guiding his wrist into a twist that sees the rightmost blade clanging into Okami's own where it runs backward along his arm. The leftmost blade manages to score a shallow cut into his bracer before his free hand flashes in to smack the flat, knocking the weapon free and speeding Jubei along into his acrobatic escape.
"Your skill has only grown since our last meeting, Cat." Hakumen observes cooly, voice perfectly level as he swings his sword up into an overhead grip, both hands clapping into place upon its hilt. "But I am not yet convinced of your ability to defeat me!"
Empty boast or not, brave words or not, Hakumen surges forward in pursuit of the airborne feline, Okami's silvery blade arcing down in an overhead cleave meant to drive his lighter opponent back down to earth. There is enough force behind the blow to send a gust of wind blasting out in its wake, the surrounding crowd roaring in approval as their hair and clothing is blown violently back by the gale. In this moment, at this point in the great tapestry of time, the being that faces Jubei is indeed Hakumen, the leader of the Legendary Six Heroes. For one, crystalline moment it is not a shell of that forgotten hero. he is not a phantom creature half phased into this reality by the mad tampering of a twin-tailed scientist. He is the White Void, The Cold Steel. The Avatar of Order.
Sword sweeping out to the side in the wake of the first blow, Hakumen loops it into a second, Okami's blade diving into a low arc toward The Cat's hopefully grounded paws. With every passing moment yet more white energy gathers around the warrior, its radiant light sharp against the inky darkness of Jubei's own manifested power.

COMBATSYS: Jubei blocks Hakumen's Zantetsu EX.

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Hakumen          0/-------/=======|====---\-------\0            Jubei

The dance between two Legendary Heroes continues -- a perfect fusion of graceful form and lethal function, one master locked in perfect phase with the other.

The grunt of the feline samurai in the midst of his battle trance.
The single syllable to efficiently demonstrate both agreement and reciprocation.

Light coruscates against the hamon of Okami's edge -- a split second before a gust of wind bristles Jubei's fur. But the feline warrior, already attuned with the battle-aura of his opponent, is already on the move, twisting about in midair. He draws his arms close to him, reducing his moment of inertia so that he twists about, facing upward as a cadaver might be. It's far from a fatalistic commentary though -- just the quickest way to cross the blades of Musashi before his center in a narrow X-pattern...

*CL-CLASH!* The three swords collide in a resonant burst of light, catapulting the orange-frocked cat to the ground. An instant later, a shockwave erupts from where the cat's body -would- have hit ground. Instead, the cat flips backward, propelled outward by an outswelling of inky black chi.

He grits his teeth as he whips backward, keeping his swords in an underhand grip, nearly parallel with his body. Because -- as he expects -- there is a followup strike to defend. When Hakumen's blade cuts sideways, Jubei thrusts outward in a counteracting clash -- a much -louder- clang, this time, with the blades setting off a chain reaction of sparks as they scrape against one another...

An eyeblink later, Jubei's toe claws are scraping deep furrows into the arena floor, the result of his controlled and rapid flight some five meters back! Still gritting his sharpened teeth, he lowers his snout.

And for a moment, there -is- a warmth to the feral grin he flashes at Hakumen. One need not speak to share a sentiment.

The moment is fleeting though -- as Jubei suddenly surges forward from his lowered stance. Not content with a lateral roll, or a backflip, he's suddenly whirling up into a seemingly chaotic spin, a veritable blur of orange cloth and black and white fur. And after another moment, the unintelligible spin is highlighted by silver blades whipping out faster than the human eye can see.


It would take the quickest of slow-motion cameras to prove that the samurai master is not only lashing outward with repeated, shallow cuts of his legendary twin swords, held aloft by his prehensile tails -- but also filling in the gaps with ferocious swipes from his twin trios of claw blades!

COMBATSYS: Hakumen just-defends Jubei's Form Three - Wild Lion EX!!

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Hakumen          0/-------/=======|===----\-------\0            Jubei

Sparks flash. The ringing crash of steel on steel echoes violently throughout the courtyard. And finally the grinding scrape of claws on stone accompanies The Cat's backward slide out of the violent confrontation. A fierce grin is offered up to the white-clad warrior who stands across from him, sword held low and angled off to his right, body hunched forward with both clawed hands wrapped around the hilt. Little flashes of pure white chi dart and crackle around him, puffing into glowing vapor in the air and sizzling feint glowing marks into the ground. The moment is brief, less than a second, but while the crowd gasps out a shocked response to the power of their strikes, Unbelief is already closing the distance, whirling forward with a sword in either tail and claws on every limb.
"Huh." comes the quiet grunt of Order's Avatar, the single sound cool and unreadable. Every eye studded across his towering form flicks toward the oncoming tornado, focusing upon the master feline with such force that it can be felt. All around the pair light has begun to splinter into fragmented colors. The wind kicked up by their struggle flows in oddly geometrical swirls before settling down beneath the weight of will that has awakened within the forgotten hero. Members of the camera crew scramble to figure out some way to focus through the disjointed mess of sharp edged colors the world is devolving into, while every sound spikes through the air to slice into eardrums with razor-like intensity.
The shimmering peel of sword striking sword hangs in the air in the wake of Hakumen's opening defense, Okami's blade having been swung up into an aggressive block powerful enough to knock Jubei back two full meters, the following three claw and sword swipes cutting only air. Rather than retreating, Hakumen steps forward into the space Jubei had occupied and swings his sword a second time, blade meeting blade with an identical peel of unbreakable steel wielded by immovable objects. This time, however, the block is angled to pop Jubei up into the air, briefly unsettling The Cat's footing as he whirls in a perfect mixture of offence and defense.
Taking one final step, Hakumen chases the airborne feline and swings his sword up in a one handed strike aimed for the sword held by the feline's left tail, attempting to hammer it up and off balance as he continues forward beneath The Cat, left hand curled into a tight fist.
Pivoting, Hakumen launches his fist upward in a single, heavy blow aimed squarely for Jubei's whirling ribs, the white energy that flows down his arm rippling then shifting fluidly into an inky black that stains the air in the wake of the strike. Hit or miss, dark ribbons of impenetrable black join the aura of white that crackles along the surface of his armor, twisting in liquid ribbons that slide along in sinuous motion.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen successfully hits Jubei with Enma.

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Hakumen          0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0            Jubei

For decades, Jubei's opponents have undervalued the diminutive warrior. A cat, dual-wielding swords nearly as long as he is? But time and time again, the fierce warrior has shown that his arsenal is worth far more than just a good laugh. His short stature had limited many of the traditional forms of the samurai arts, but his innate dexterity and flexibility provided access to a wealth of other options -- such as the Form III: Wild Lion, a whirlwind of blades that, in theory, would shred to bits any would-be aggressors.

But Hakumen proves himself the very definition of a counterproof to that argument, systematically slamming his sword through the One-Eyed Twin Lotus' defenses in not just one, but -three- blows, timed perfectly to parry away the deadly Musashi blades before their gripping tails can bring them back to bear.

The third blunt strike from Okami is enough to slow Jubei's roll to a point the cameras can perceive it -- for the split-second before a fist completes the lightning-quick circuit to the feline's torso. "HNNNNGH!" Swords and paws alike trail behind the cat as he flies back-first into the air, his head lolling forward with trickles of crimson dripping from his lips. With a pained expression, he squints his crimson eye into a near-slit, the harsh drum-beat of the Empty Mind demanding to be heard over his pounding heart.

He clenches his right paw close to his heart.
He hurls his left paw to his side.
He helicopters himself about into a more controlled fall.
A vortex of black and white chi surges outward from his extended paw.

And when he hits the ground, hard enough to loosen the hood from his head, he's once again facing Hakumen. He keeps his left paw raised between the two, even as the twin helix of ebon and ivory continues to waft outward from him.

Hakumen's sudden growth in pressure had, after all, demanded an equal and opposite measure: an immense -cyclone- of energy pouring outward from the diminutive samurai. An irresistable pressure, the antipodes of black and white shoving back against the shimmering mass of shapes, setting them in disarray.

And Jubei -- at the center of the spiralling gyre, calling forth the energy from the very Earth itself. His claws unfurl out to either side, his orange frock flapping about in the impossible breeze. And in the midst of his long, spiky, sweat-slick mane tousling in the monochromatic typhoon, is a snout contorted into an intent expression, its crimson gaze leveled right at Hakumen.

Again, the barest expression of a smile.
For now, Jubei is ready to unleash his full potential.
Or to collapse, in the midst of trying.

COMBATSYS: Jubei gathers his will.

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Hakumen          0/-------/=======|>>>>>>>\>>-----\1            Jubei

A sea of crimson eyes shift to follow Jubei's progress backward through the air as Hakumen falls back into a ready stance, sword held low and back in his right hand and left forearm lifted horizontally before him. There is no attempt to further chase The Cat, no pressing of what little advantage his aggression might have gained him. To do so might risk over extending himself and creating some sort of opening for the wily feline to exploit.
Sure enough, the sudden upswell of power vibrates the air, channeled through Jubei's diminutive form and out into the surrounding world, pressing back against the lost hero's smothering aura. Two Legendary Heroes channeling the combined forces of light and dark. One pulling his powers directly from the Earth, the other drawing upon the near endless well of energy contained within his borrowed body.
"Huh. I have seen much since the Grimalkin's tampering guided me to this world." Hakumen states, seeming content to hold his position while his long silver hair is tossed about by the wind of Jubei's power. "Armies of synthetic creatures granted life through Seithr. Ars Magus freely distributed to the Novus Orbis Librarium, which has spread itself throughout the land like a disease. What has befallen this world that we are here, Cat? What has become of ours?"
The words are directed toward his old friend with cool directness as he waits, gathering his focus. The outward signs of it are much less explosive than Jubei's own centering technique. The air throughout the arena grows chill and biting, while a constant stream of inky black energy roils forth to swirl amidst the white sparks that cloak him. Slowly, creeping, the white energy begins to bleed downward into the ground, tendrils snaking out is if seeking to form some shape, though only the barest form of it is visible in the angled lines beneath Hakumen's feet. In contrast, the black ribbons of his aura flow upward, dispersing into the air as shadowy smears that form unsettling silhouettes through the prismatic effect of his aura. Will against will, he faces off with Jubei, the spots where their battle auras touch sizzling and flashing with barely contained violence.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen focuses on his next action.

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Hakumen          1/---====/=======|>>>>>>>\>>-----\1            Jubei

Sparks fly, as the turbulent sphere of one Legendary Hero's battle aura clashes against the other's. The audience stirs uneasily, waiting with bated breath; they can tell that the calm of the next few moments will likely be short-lived.

Were Jubei not trapped within the vault of his Empty Mind, the word 'Grimalkin' might have more of an effect on him. The cat, the witch spoken of, being his daughter. Fur might have raised, but instead there is only a cool glimmer in Jubei's eye, a tacit nod of his head. Another reminder that of the most dire consequence of his obsession for righting the world's perils. The closest thing to 'regret' that the samurai continues to hold onto.

But as he holds still -- as Hakumen holds his position, staying his sword, Jubei permits the gates of the Empty Mind to part momentarily. The maelstrom turns less severe, the boundaries between void and light becoming slightly less stark.

"Some might say it's just the Wheel of Fate turnin'. All the more reason for us to finish our jobs, and let the young'uns take up the reins."

His paws unfurl for a moment.
And then they clench again.
The maelstrom is suddenly drawn -inward- sharply..

"I ain't ready to take a nap yet, though!"

One step, then two, then four. The smaller, -focused- aura clashes against Hakumen's with a widening rim of lightning and thunder. The audience might have trouble discerning the diminutive warrior closing the distance to Hakumen, in the heart of the storm. But the white-clad Hero would be able to see what's going on -- as Jubei's powerful forelimbs drag one of the Dream Blades across in a hard lateral slash, slicing at Hakumen's thighs. "-- KAGEROU!" Immediately afterwards though, his twin tails would bring the second sword out of its scabbard, dragging the blade in a fierce diagonal strike upwards and across: a perfect fusion of traditional iaijutsu with the nekomata's bespoke talents.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen blocks Jubei's Form One - Shadow Wolf.

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Hakumen          1/--=====/=======|>>>>>>>\>------\1            Jubei

A slight forward tip of Hakumen's faceless helm is the first sign that Jubei's words have registered. Chin angled down, his pose seems somehow withdrawn, introspective, as The Cat takes his first forward step.
"What I feared has come to pass." Hakumen murmurs, first quietly, though his harsh words gain strength and volume as he continues, red eyes tracking his oncoming opponent. "The weapons Nine gave humanity to fight the beast. They have turned them against one another. Turned them against your people, Cat. Their minds even now work to discover the secrets behind creating another Black Beast. This world clings jealously to the power Nine gifted them, with all of the petty faults of our own, and no wisdom."
Taking a dashing step backward, Hakumen leaves a vague black and white outline of himself standing braced and ready, only to clear it away as the hungering blade of Okami cleaves through at a downward diagonal to meet Jubei's opening slash with another ringing clash. As quickly as it descended, the sword is inverted, tip flicking skyward and blurring between their bodies to smash hard into the second dream blade as it streaks free of its sheath in the grip of the Twin Lotus' tail.
"I will not allow this world to repeat our mistakes."
Words delivered in a tone like frozen iron, Hakumen allows the power he had been gathering to rush free of his body, no longer restrained by the damn of his will.
A blinding flash of white light glares out from the fighter's position, lightning sparking between them. White chi roars out of Hakumen and into the ground beneath him, spreading across the stones to form an odd, jagged glyph who's backswept edges reach out far behind him like the wings of an enormous angel. Burnt into the stone by the raw force of the release, the emblem smolders with residual chi, while the air around Hakumen grows dark, fading to near blackness beneath the wight of released shadow.
And then, Hakumen is gone. One moment he is standing before Jubei, sword raised in the final motion of a block. Next he is half way through driving his knee through the spot where The Cat's chest should be, powering forward with enough raw speed to carry himself, and possibly The Cat, across the arena and through the nearest safety barrier in an explosion of warped plastic and steel.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen successfully hits Jubei with Kokuujin Ougi - Mugen.

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Hakumen          0/-------/---====|>>>>>>>\>>>>---\1            Jubei

The cat's only response was a quiet nod. The two warriors may have divergent approaches in dealing with problems, or even in speaking with people -- but their goals are largely similar.

The heat of battle, though, is not incredibly conducive to conversation, particularly with the gates of the Empty Mind slamming closed from the start of an attack. With Jubei's fierce sword strikes deflected, he draws back, readying his swords for defense rather than pressing an assault. But just when he expects a frontal rebuttal from the white-clad knight, the feline samurai is forced to squint his eye against the blinding light. He steps back, warily tilting his swords towards one another to defend his center...

His caution is warranted -- though, not particularly useful against the chosen attack vector. By the time he realizes Hakumen is already upon him, it's too late for him to leap back and away. The knee plows into him, forcing out a stammered gasp for breath. Streams of black and white chi, swords, paws, and tails alike stream in the wake of his rapid backward motion, as the cat is slammed -through- the plastic barrier. Gallons of water explode outward, instantly hissing into steam from exposure to the heated battle auras of the Legendary Heroes.

Rebounding forward, Jubei opts to tuck his shoulder forward, rolling. His injuries are considerable, but the Empty Mind prevents him from belaboring the point: strict observance of discipline becomes even more important in the apex of battle.

He rights himself with a backwards hop, ebony and ivory streams still shadowing his motions. The corners of Jubei's lips peel back, hot air hissing through his teeth. His ribcage heaves with ragged breaths. Hakumen has pressed the old cat to his limits.

But he is -still- not ready for naptime. A crimson eye darts sideways. And then the cat leaps.

Once, onto the hood of a police vehicle.
A second time, vaulting in the air.

His voice intones with a bass that shudders throughout the Fortress...
"NI-OH...! KIGANTATSU!" And at the climax of his leap, he raises one sword to his mouth, baring the claws of both paws.

Jubei sharply plunges downward, in a zig-zag pattern, his motion amplified by the crack of lightning. Dense swaths of jet-black ink are painted in his wake, showing the riotous, chaotically fast plunge downward as he makes repeated strokes of his sword. If his target were anything short of reinforced titanium, it would be torn to shreds in two instants. But a Legendary Hero...

COMBATSYS: Hakumen guards against Jubei's Twin Guardians - Mourning Shore.

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Hakumen          0/-------/-======|>>>>---\-------\0            Jubei

Legendary Heroes do not die.
Having rebounded away from the tumbling Cat to land braced within the center of the steam-shrouded arena, Hakumen steps in a careful circle to keep his front toward his enemy. Many times throughout the years the pair have sparred. When Jubei was young and fought in memory of a lost friend. Then later, when Jubei was older and fought in memory of a lost people. Even more often they had fought together, engaging the Beast on the front lines like so few could. It is that ally that stands before Jubei now, armored form reduced to a horned silhouette in the depths of the fog, long sword gleaming as he shifts it into an upward guard in both hands. The leader of the Six Heroes. Not the fastest among them. Not the smartest. But a white knight that their world could lay their hopes upon the shoulders of, safe in the knowledge that he would stand firm, unbowed beneath the weight. The white knight that their people abandoned once the war was done, cast aside in favor of their own greed and paranoia. And after all of that, the noble knight that sacrificed himself in the end to secure their protection.
Crimson eyes glow in the dimness, all of the residual energy having fled the Avatar of Order at the onset of his previous attack. There are no flashing sparks, no great swaths of energy to outline him. Only himself, his sword, and the raw force of Will that bends the air around him, adding its own amplification to The Cat's voice as he rebounds into the air, suspended high overhead. For in the end, it is not the borrowed body that truly makes Hakumen what he is.
Sword lifting in a silver blur, it intercepts the oncoming lightning, absorbing it into the blade with a roar of tortured space.
It is his soul.
The Cat descends, the first of his blows impacting Okami's flat hard enough to buckle the earth beneath Hakumen's feet, sending a series of deep grooves spider webbing out in all directions.
The soul of a hero.
With a grunt of effort the leader of the Legendary Heroes snaps his blade around just in time to catch the second blow, then the third. Feet braced and eyes scanning, he swings his sword in a constant, fluid pattern, sparks flying as each devastating strike is caught and deflected, the force of each battering his defenses just a little further off time, striving to create enough of an opening to slice through.
Only at the last does a downward cleave toward the center of Hakumen's helm force him to loosen his stance and duck low, Okami rising in a silver shimmer to intersect the Dream Blade before it can strike him. Already off balance, the hero is forced down heavily to one knee, bracing against the earth in the center of a gravel crater that was once stone. He does not pant for breath, having no need for such things. His arms do not tremble. But he and The Cat both know how close to his limit that last attack pushed him. A fraction slower and the fight may well have ended there.
A quiet sound escapes Hakumen's helm, crackling and soft, nearly unidentifiable. Jubei is the only one close enough to recognize it for what it is.
A soft 'hm' of satisfaction.
Twisting Okami's long blade free of its upraised guard, Hakumen spikes the hilt downward with sudden speed, attempting to hammer the pommel home into the arch of Jubei's left paw. Using that as a distraction, he then lunges to his feet and swings a vicious clawed kick toward The Cat's chin, using the blow as both offence and a way to gain space, shifting into a backward lunge immediately after.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen successfully hits Jubei with Improvised Technique.
- Power hit! -

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Hakumen          0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>-\-------\0            Jubei

Streamers of ebony and ivory trail along behind each zig-zag motion of the cat. Okami is there to meet each strike with a clamorous fury of thunder and lightning -- all for the calamitous outpouring of energy to be drawn within.

Jubei presses down against the blade, in his last attempt, coiling up his energy and vaulting into a backflip. The two Heroes have sparred countless times. He knows the limitations of his opponent -- and he's certain he's about to break through. And yet, this is a feat he has not yet managed. Were it not for the iron-willed determination of the Empty Mind, the thought might plague his actions, decay them to a point where he would just... yield.

But it's not at that point yet. Jubei lands on the fringe of the crater, drawing the twinned swords up and about, sliding them back into their respective scabbards. His jaw shifts sideways, teeth grinding past one another in thought. One more of his arsenal of tactics is needed to find the last vulnerability in Hakumen's steadfast defense. He starts to leap once more...

But rock collapses, at the point of landing. And Hakumen's hilt slams into his foot.

Even in the miasmic clash between elements, the misted air... it's still possible to hear the thin bones of his foot crack.

A clawed foot slams into the feline samurai's slackened jaw, lifting him from the crater and slinging him sideways. His orange frock is flecked with gravel as he tumbles, end over end, across the floor.

A lesser creature might call that the end -- with one foot disabled, the other is not enough to mount an offense.

But the cat has three good paws to land on. His tails flick out, unsheathing the uppermost of his swords. His maw covered with flecks of gravel and red spittle, parts in a toothy grin -- just before his tails slide the hilt of a sword into them. His claws dig into the asphalt, in preparation.

With the sword firmly affixed into place, he launches forward, easily covering the distance in the blink of an eye, streaming black, inky chi from his paws.

The old cat still has some fight left in him, it would seem!

COMBATSYS: Hakumen barely endures Jubei's Shiranui.

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Hakumen          1/------=/=======|>>>>>--\-------\0            Jubei

Up to this point, Hakumen's defense has been near flawless. Every strike met with unyielding force, every tactic thwarted. But they both know that can not last. A fighter as adaptive as The Cat is bound to find a way around his defenses, and the longer the fight goes, the more likely it is that the feline will clue into his style and turn it against him.
It is time to end this.
Jubei can likely read it in the swordsman's borrowed body as he resolves himself to the path ahead, see the shift of his stance as he steps forward toward the charging samurai, Okami sliding up and out of the path of the blade, body left completely exposed.
Always so willing to sacrifice himself for victory.
The twin blade parts armor with a soft swish of phantom air, blade cleaving through plate and fabric with only the barest trace of resistance. But rather than pull away, the Avatar throws himself forward into the attack, body sliding across the edge as he accelerates into a heavy shin kick toward Jubei's functioning back leg. The opening maneuver is just the beginning, however, a way to try and disrupt Jubei's dash so that Hakumen can pivot, torso torn away from The Cat's sword with a shower of sparks, and launch himself at the feline's back, other foot swinging down into a heavy stomp aimed squarely for the center of the smaller warrior's shoulder blades. A way to ground him, while giving the white-clad legend a springing off point to send him several feet into the air.
Lifting Okami overhead in both hands, electricity still crackling around the gaping gash in his side, he focuses his will through the blade, pouring an ever-increasing stream of power into the artifact.
Okami's blade ignites in a radiant beam of white energy, power roaring off of the silver blade as it is brought cleaving down toward the center of Jubei's back, its biting edge descending amidst a roiling beam of raw white chi.

COMBATSYS: Jubei fails to counter Kokuujin Kinji - Tengai from Hakumen with Immovable Object.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Hakumen          0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Jubei can no longer fight.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Hakumen          0/-------/-------|

Jubei can read the shift in stance as soon as he commits to surging forward. In some cases, there is a certain... nobility in doubling down on a particular tactic in order to prove a point. To the outsider it might seem like predictability, but to the seasoned combat veteran, there are a number of ways to turn persistence into a cloak for a more subtle sleight-of-hand.

For while Jubei is thundering forward, he also has his two forelimbs trailing behind him. And he's -quite- well aware of Hakumen's penchant for avoiding the obvious strokes of the sword.

He was not, however, prepared for Hakumen to take the sword strike head-on -- for his blade to cleave clear into the armor. He falters, in the slightest, not intending to cut his dear friend in twain.

And in that moment of hesitation, his contingency is tardy. For he can sense the stomp kick, but both his forelimbs are out of the position necessary to swat it aside. Grimacing, he attempts to pivot in mid-air, but alas, the stomp slams home, slamming the cat to the pavement with a crunch of gravel. Wisps of black and white chi swirl around Hakumen's foot, clinging to it as he once more takes flight.

Jubei's lips peel back from clenched teeth as he brings his paws down, attempting to push himself back up without the use of his injured feet. But by the time he can manage to do so, his back erupts in radiant light -- sword piercing through a formidable protective aura. Pavement buckles around him in a nearly hemispherical crater, peals of black and white chi spilling about him as if a large melon were split in the center. Sleeved paws fall against the crater surface, expending one last gust of black and white chi before falling still. The wounds he'd suppressed before -- the ones he'd strained to -keep- from evidencing throughout the fight -- doubled upon by Hakumen's purified, perfected strike.

Jubei wheezes, his eye nearly shut from the pain.
There is a time to rise and fight on...
But that time is not now.

After the sound and fury of colliding auras... there is now a relative silence that whispers out. A stunned, silent crowd waits for signs of the battle to continue as it has many times before... but for a good long moment, there is nothing.

And then.
"... Gonna need a stretcher. Pretty sure you broke a thing or two, there, heh."
The weary voice of an old friend.

And only -then- do the announcers catch up with what just happened: "KAAAAY OHHHHH!"

Dust and steam mingle into a single choking haze over the battlefield, concentrated most heavily around the two nearly overlapping craters at the center of the courtyard. To one side, burly men in security uniforms help two men in coveralls drag a mangled mess of plastic out of line as a new barrier is put in place. All across the world, people cluster around screens, witnesses to the final clash of old legends.
Beside Jubei's prone form, clawed feet slam into the gravel with a heavy crunch. Landing with knees bent, Okami held vertically in both hands, Hakumen angles his empty face down as if to observe his fallen friend, several of his eyes joining the action while the rest scan about, picking out the movement of match officials and medics approaching cautiously through the fog. Despite the gaping gash in his side that still spits little cracks of lightning, despite the sudden roar of the crowd, the pounding of feet, the Avatar of Order remains focused. The weight of his aura has not diminished, a constant, near tangible reminder of the nearness of Jubei's old friend. The familiar press of a will that refuses to bend.
"You fought well." Hakumen praises in a quiet crackle. "It seems that age has not yet dulled your edge. Were you unwounded, I could not have been certain of victory."
Straightening to his full, imposing height, the forgotten hero allows a moment of silence to stretch between them, filled by the raucous roar of the crowd, then turns with a scrape of gravel to walk up the side of the crater. Pacing toward an unscarred corner of the courtyard, he allows Okami's tip to dip in his hands, swinging its blade out behind him in one hand as he readies himself for the challenges ahead.
"I look forward to once more fighting at your side, old friend."
Having moved a good distance away from Jubei, the words are murmured to himself rather than for anyone else's benefit. An internal monologue allowed to slip into reality completely by mistake.
By the time the next combatant enters the arena, the damaged section of Hakumen's armor has already sealed itself shut, a deep groove showing where the dream blades left their mark upon him. But despite his wound the Avatar of Order remains firm in stance, the rawness of his aura as fresh and pressing as when he first set foot in this arena.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen awaits the next challenger.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Hakumen          0/-------/-------|

Playing games with gods.

Clio St. Jeanne has watched Jubei fight before. The ones that live on his level are thrilling and frightening in equal measure. Knowing Jubei is there has been blessing and beating. She knows there's a safety near him, but she can always feel that she'll never be on her own footing compared to him. It's something that's been beaten into her time and again in this tournament.

And now she stares that down again. It makes her smile.

The mask comes off; the Kaka clan disguise given over to Taokaka. Clio pulls her hood down and she unclips the length of heavy chain that hangs from the oversized collar around her neck. And she moves forward.

The length of chain ignites, the power of the Boundary, a sliver of that potential, writhes at the core of Clio's flames. The symbology on her chains glow as the embers at the base of the fire. And the chain itself slowly coils up Clio's left arm, tightening up and around her from weight on up. The spike hangs dangling toward the ground, scratching against the gravel.

"No way I'm walking out of this one," Clio tells herself with a fatalistic laugh, but she lifts her head high as she drops into the courtyard. Rising to her feet, she looks out to call to this guy that's just taken down her master.

"Let's make this hurt."

Magic coils, it's always been something she could move and bend. She's lead a lot to believe she's using Ars Magus, much as any other member of the Magic Infatry from the NOL. But the truth is obvious to those more familiar. She can pull on the Boundary, she bends that small shred into the chi of the world. She strikes out at Hakumen with the Seithr. Her magic is raw and not well focused. But it's there, and present as the coil of violet flame rages out toward him, shifting its form into a facsimile of gnashing jaws.

COMBATSYS: Clio has joined the fight here.

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Hakumen          0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Clio

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Hakumen with Jaws of Ammut.

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Hakumen          0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0             Clio

It is the sounds that initially snag Hakumen's attention. The rattle of a heavy chain followed by the crunch of gravel. As one, the eyes studded across Hakumen's armor swivel to take in the newcomer, absorbing posture and appearance, peering through her outer shell and into that spark of energy she pulls on so instinctively.
"It appears that The Cat's choice of students continues to leave much to be desired." Hakumen replies, words crackling through the air with cold disinterest. Just what he means by that is anyone's guess, but it obviously isn't polite. Perhaps if he had more time he'd use it to insult the girl a bit more constructively, but the words have scarcely left him before she sends a wave of energy rolling toward him, gaping jaws manifesting at its front.
Planting his lead foot, Hakumen begins to shift into a forward dash, pushing off from the stones as if to dart around the oncoming projectile and directly into Clio's personal space. However, as he uncoils forward there is an odd seize to his motions, the leg on his damaged side locking up and turning his forward sprint into a stumble, other foot planting itself to keep him from falling face-first to the stones. Before he can throw himself to one side or attempt to leap the projectile, it slams into his left side and latches on, teeth of energy grinding down upon his left arm and shoulder, scraping across his breastplate.
A snarl of frustrated effort escapes the forgotten hero, Okami's blade blurring into a silver streak that cleaves through the projection, leaving only a howling void behind where the energy construction once was. Bracing his balled knuckles against his injured side, Hakumen shoves forward through the howling singularity caused by his weapon and takes two long steps toward Clio, allowing his body a moment longer to recover before dashing the last two steps and swinging the flat of Okami's blade around in a defensive swipe, putting it between himself and Clio's chain-wrapped side. Rather than slowing down to engage her, he accelerates forward in the wake of his opening strike, hurling himself forward into a charging tackle meant to carry the girl back across the arena and smash her bodily into the stones that boarder the open gates.

COMBATSYS: Clio parries Hakumen's Shoulder Charge!

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Hakumen          0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0             Clio

An insult? Clio's worked with Hazama, she's dealt with more annoying. "Jealous?" she asks Hakumen, her eyes wider, teeth showing when she sees him stumble through her conjured jaws. She leans forward, right leg beginning to pump in anticipation. Her backside waves back and forth. Her posture nearing a runner on the starting block, or a cat ready to pounce.

He comes for her. A clever tactic to go toward the chain. Most avoid it, it helps to make thins predictable. And this guy is fast, he had to be to keep up with Jubei, but it's when Hakumen nears the former NOL Lieutenant that the scratched symbols flare up in earnest.

A small circle drawn in the air by Clio's free hand. A burst of arcane energy. A disc of hermetic mathematics flares to life, crashing against the flat of the blade and sending iridescent sparks scattering to the sky when Hakumen plows into Clio. The force still there, Clio lifts and rides that conjured energy along with Hakumen's sliding tackle.

With the gate wall growing closer, Clio's open hand grips tightly on the spiked end of her chain. She stretches it taut and drops forward like a dart. The chain lowering, bursting with eldritch fire, lowering in an attempt to garrote and shoulder toss Hakumen back toward the center of the courtyard. To hang him with his own momentum.

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Hakumen with Avernian Gate EX.

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Hakumen          0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0             Clio

There is a lot to be said for unpredictable fighters. When facing down Jubei, both Hakumen and The Cat moved with surety and power, comfortable in the knowledge of just what the other was capable of. Decades of time spent fighting alongside one another demonstrated in the brutal clash of blade on blade. But here, faced with someone so unlike his old friend, Hakumen's patterns appear to be failing him.
Or, that is how it might appear from the outside. It is likely Jubei, and Jubei alone who would be able to sense the truth. That overwhelming presence, the solidity of spirit that the aging feline's familiar presence summoned forth, that has all faded in the wake of their battle. The creature that now faces Clio is not the Hakumen of times past, but a shadow. A reflection, powers exhausted by the struggle with his old friend.
The very touch of Okami's blade is enough to consume any power foolish enough to come into contact with it, but it can do little to prevent the girl's palm clapping against the flat of the blade. Two more steps forward and the sword is twisted, edge turned toward Clio's hand, but by then she has vaulted up and over, chains snaking around Hakumen's throat to guide his charge into a diving tumble.
Pulled up short by the noose around his neck, Hakumen jerks to a halt with one knee braced against the stones, head bowed forward and sword held flat against the ground, clawed fingers wrapped tightly around the hilt. The aura of pressure that had surrounded him, the feeling of some unknowable force pressing out to force the world into order, begins to flicker and fade...
"I, am the white void."
Words barely a whisper echo from within the depths of Hakumen's helmet, swallowed up by the roar of the watching crowd.
"I am the cold steel."
Voice gaining strength, he speaks at a more normal tone, one in every 3 words punching through the clamor.
"I am the Just Sword!"
Words gaining force and conviction, the legend pushes to his feet, ignoring the chain still rapped around his neck. The air around him grows heavy once more, sounds beginning to echo as if through an empty cavern.
"With blade in hand I will reap the sins of this world and cleanse it in the Fires of Destruction!"
The force of the Avatar's words slices through the crowd without trouble now, driven forward by his will and impacting those watching like a physical blow.
"I am Hakumen!"
Mantra complete, the soul of the warrior comes flooding back into reality at full force, causing space to tremble and the air throughout the courtyard to fall unnaturally still. Shocked into silence, the crowd stares as the white-clad warrior rounds on Clio in a sudden fury of motion. One moment the chain is taught against his neck, the next there is only slack as he covers the distance between them in a blur, Okami's blade sweeping down in a two-handed strike meant to catch the girl at the left shoulder and cleave clear through her body if she can't muster some kind of defense.
The being she now faces may be a reflection of the warrior he once was, but reflected light can still blind. This is not the remnant of a manipulating coward like Hazama, Or a twisted wretch like Relius. This is the walking memory of Hakumen, leader of the Six Heroes.

COMBATSYS: Clio blocks Hakumen's Kishuu.

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Hakumen          1/-----==/=======|=====--\-------\0             Clio

Clio is a relative unknown. She fights with a reckless abandon that has only been tempered by her training with the NOL. Though she keeps up with Hakumen due to his injuries, the work of Jubei, and the simple fact the man is a pale reflection of what once was, Clio doesn't particularly care. That person isn't here right now. That person put up a fight against Jubei. Clio is facing the Hakumen that is here right now. That's all that matters in the moment of the fight. Where the metal meets the meat.

He makes promises, he builds himself, he speaks his mantra. Clio knows mantras. She has her own. But she's also learned that it takes more than just having an oath for it to pass muster. Her lip twitches. She slings the spiked length of her chain back to her open hand to catch it.

"Yeah? Then why are you here playing tournament games?" she asks, leaning forward.

This time there's no swift dashes or clear magic deflection. She meets the strike head on. The chains around her left arm coil and tighten, they glow with the flow of seithr bound in a river of chi. This coiled armor catches the blade. The force reverberates through Clio, she grits her teeth and bares the weight. Reflection or not, this guy hurts.

But if he's a searing light, she brings a darkness. With one arm bracing against the weight of the blade, her other hand wreathes in that shadowy, purple writhing energy. "I said make it hurt!" she shouts at him, swinging a low, chain weighted fist up toward Hakumen's belly.

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Hakumen with Stygian Fist.

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Hakumen          1/---====/=======|====---\-------\0             Clio

In her relatively short life, Clio has done quite a bit more than most. Fought on behalf of, then against, a militant organization secretly bent on world domination. Trained under one of the greatest sword masters the world has known. Beaten the odds and survived it all.
Sword meets chain, and the energy that flows through it begins to roil away, pulled into the silver depths of Okami with startling speed. But even despite that the girl has time to ask her question, leaning into the weight of the strike. Further, she has time to shout her challenge, fist arcing up toward the damaged plates of Hakumen's armored torso.
Chain-enhanced fist meets armor with a heavy thud, forcing the hero to take a step back, sword disengaging with a rasping 'shhhink'. Despite her defiance the overwhelming force of him does not relent, one foot lashing out in a quick kick toward the younger fighter's chest, attempting to stagger her back as he swings Okami up and back in both hands, focusing each and every one of his crimson eyes upon the unfortunate girl.
"The Wheel of Fate turns, and one must walk the path of Order." Hakumen replies, voice crackling free of his helm with harsh intensity. "I have passed my test. Let us see if you can pass yours."
Cryptic response given, the lost hero shifts his bulk forward and levers all of his weight behind a single, heavy strike of his sword. Torso twisting, shoulders rotating with the motion, he brings Okami around in a single, blurring horizontal strike that drags the wind in its wake, dust and gravel tumbling passed the combatants and cameras swaying precariously in their mounts.

COMBATSYS: Clio dodges Hakumen's Kagami.

[                        \\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Hakumen          1/---====/=======|====---\-------\0             Clio

The Wheel of Fate turns. Heroes destroy a beast. World covered in miasma. Cities of magic on mountaintops. A girl in some histories, non-existent in many more. A soldier, a student, a mage. Loyalist and rebel. Fractal possibilities based on decisions. The wheel turns and rolls and moves onward evermore even as it may yet turn over familiar ground.

For the want of a nail so many things have not happened. But in turn, so many things have. In this case, it leads to Clio St. Jeanne existing. Alive here, faking the dead, survived to turn her back on those that forged her, in part due to the very ideals they instilled within her.

Now, she fights alongside Jubei, and she's fighting against someone that has a shared history of sorts with her teacher. A man of proclamations. A man of hellacious strength; far more than Clio herself. The throbbing shoulder ache speaks well enough on that.

His kick finds nothing, Clio's quick to handspring away. Even with the apparent weight of her chain, she moves with a fluid grace and speed. Landing low, the nails of her boots dig into the ground. She looks up at the man and his heavy sword. The air blurs and wind pulls, but Clio takes to the air. Turning, twisting like a screw, she rotates opposite the blade's path, clearing the blade and turning faster for the swiftness of the wind.

And she lands. "Order's overrated," she says, "I like the Justice talk better." The words a quick distraction as she's already beating backward to pace herself against Hakumen's giant sword. And with her retreat comes a whistling spike that hurtles toward the center of Hakumen's armored chest.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen reflects Spike Throw from Clio with Fuumajin EX.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Hakumen          1/-----==/=======|====---\-------\0             Clio

COMBATSYS: Hakumen successfully hits Clio with Reflected Spike Throw.
- Power hit! -

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Hakumen          1/---====/=======|=======\==-----\1             Clio

Yet again, Okami's blade cleaves only air, the force of the missed swing passing over Clio's twisting body with unimaginable force. Up this close, dancing through the motions of step and counter step, it is easy to see how Hakumen and her master might have worked so well together. One direct and blunt, a force of singular strikes and powerful stands. The other's power adaptive and flowing, the finesse to compliment his blunt instrument.
Planting his foot, Hakumen pulls out of the strike just as Clio's feet touch ground, both fighters stepping back at nearly the same moment. Sword angled up and over his left shoulder, force spent, the white knight lets out a soft noise of dismissal from beneath his helmet, all eyes remaining fixed upon his much younger opponent.
"If you believe in the existence of justice without Order, then you are a fool." Words emerging as a harsh dismissal, the swordsman plants his back foot and shifts his body forward, tracking the play of Clio's muscles, the direction of her eyes...
Though the young girl's speed has taken him off guard twice before during the course of his fight, this time he is ready. The spike emerges, humming through the air toward his chest, and Okami's blade descends in a silver streak, passing through the center of the weapon and coming to halt less than an inch above the ground. It is the after effects of the strike that reverses the course of the spike, a blast of wind following in the wake of the blade that catches the projectile and sends it tumbling back toward Clio. As it approaches, the single spike splits into two equally sharp-edged halves, both whirling chaotically through the air.

Striking, moving, surviving. Clio St. Jeanne looks to pin her opponent down before he gets the chance to put the pressure on her. She has seen him for his power. She has seen the strength that he's displayed against Jubei. She knows that he will bring her down with any length of success. She has to press and overcome. She has to win.

The spike whistles through the air. It's cut in twain. The shrapnel sings as it splits. Clio can't read on where it's going. She could've made it clear from a single piece, but the two catch her off guard. It drives her to the ground hard with a sharp cry.

Red darkens the purple sweater she wears. The colors soaking with her blood. The pain rings through her head as she lay on the ground for a long moment. She sucks wind through her teeth. 'That's more like it', the words strum across her mind while she sits back up. A roll to her feet and a lurching stumble before she finds the way she needs to stand to cut the pain enough for herself to keep on going.

Slowly, she rolls her left arm, winding the coiling chain back up and around. She smiles, gripping the spike end of her chain. Each breath comes heavy and burdened. But with a tightening of her grip, the powers that flow through her focus and burst into being. Intricate arcane patterns light up along the chain before bursting into an iridescent light. Her lips move in whispered, spoken incantations. Mantras to pull and flow the Boundary to mingle with the chi of the planet. And she smiles. For she is ready for the rest of this joyful pain.

COMBATSYS: Clio gathers her will.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Hakumen          1/---====/=======|=======\======-\1             Clio

As powerful as the ghost before Clio may be, it is only that, a ghost. A fictional representation of the hero that was, projected into this reality by the tampering hand of a mad scientist. The Hakumen that stands before her is the memory of the sun's rays as they are reflected down from the face of the moon. A pale imitation.
Or, such is usually the case.
Frozen in place, the Avatar of Order seems to waver in and out of focus. There is no blurring of edges, no sudden ghostly transparency, only the odd sense that the creature standing before the young woman is shifting in density. Sometimes stoic and solid, other times wavering and barley there. Underlining this is the odd prismatic effect of his aura, light bending and splitting around him when he is solid, only to grow soft and diffuse as his presence wanes. He has already expended so much of himself. There is only so hard he can push while trapped on the other side.
Tightening the grip on Okami's hilt, the white knight tenses every artificial muscle in his body. Toes grind into stone, shoulders flex. His horned helm dips as he pours every last bit of focus he has into clinging on to this moment just that little bit longer.
The aura surrounding Hakumen wavers, fades, then strengthens once more, crimson eyes staring through Clio as they both prepare themselves for what must come. Whatever the course of this match, it will be decided in the next blow.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen focuses on his next action.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Hakumen          1/---====/=======|=======\======-\1             Clio

A shot from a gun. The hesitation, the hold, the moment waited for. Clio tears from her position. The chains clank and rattle against each other as she throws herself with a bodily blur toward the ghost of a hero long past. Behind her rolls the air, a ripple of arcane power running through Clio and propelling her at her opponent.

The hammering weight of her chain wrapped arm comes crashing toward Hakumen. Direct, clear, unenhanced by the flowing power of magic. Pure chain brought to bare against this Avatar. A piledriver of a fist that packs a weight that isn't obvious for her size and build.

But as soon as she hammers the weight of that blow down, Clio's already moving with lightning speed to strike at Hakumen's back. A spinning, stabbing strike for Hakumen's lower back. A stabbing in the rush that sees Clio sticking and moving, her boots scraping off the ground, kicking the gravel as she sends herself off running from her target to put distance between them once more.

COMBATSYS: Clio blitzes into action and acts again!

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Hakumen          1/---====/=======|=======\=====--\1             Clio

COMBATSYS: Hakumen instinctively dodges Clio's Crushing Strike.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Hakumen          1/---====/=======|=======\=====--\1             Clio

COMBATSYS: Hakumen counters Evasive Strike from Clio with Kokuujin Ougi - Yukikaze.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Hakumen          0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Clio

Will vs reality. Spirit vs the laws that bind all things. For decades Hakumen fought that fight, trapped in a place no mortal should be able to endure. It is that will that he wields now, the singular thing that keeps his borrowed body moving, keeps his soul anchored in the present.
The air seems to thrum beneath the weight of his effort,straining to keep mind, body, and soul united as one. it is into the midst of this private struggle that Clio St. Jeanne throws herself, energy rippling out behind her as she closes on the wavering form of the hero.
Her chain-wrapped arm descends.
The step that Hakumen takes to avoid the blow could be mistaken for casual. One stride to his left, right foot swinging back so that his shoulders are turned perpendicular to her own. Two measured steps that see him neatly around the strike. It is Clio's connection to the earth that lets her feel the truth of it. Every strand of fate, every path in time, all curving inward toward the Avatar, gathered around the weight of his will like celestial bodies caught by its gravity. The step was not easy, it was guided. Cheated by the hand of fate.
Blade slicing the air with a soft whistle, the Avatar sweeps it out behind him in one hand, eyes fixed straight ahead, head lowered. The pressure around him builds, his presence solidifies further, and for one, glorious moment, Hakumen once more manifests himself in reality, punching through the barrier with a surge of effort.
Thrusting his left forearm toward Clio, he opens the gates wide on the boundless energy of his body, an enormous crimson barrier rolling free of his arm to slam heavily into her side. Impossibly tall, impossibly wide, the roiling wall of energy seems to continue on forever, existing both within and without the bounds of time. All around its impossible edges, geometric shapes twist and lock into place.
Dropping both hands to his blade, Hakumen bows his head forward chin to chest, words murmured quietly from within the depths of his helmet.
"Blood Edge..."
With those words, the air around Hakumen splits, light dissolving into a mess of fractal patterns impossible for any to see through. Within that haze of impossible light, Hakumen dashes through the wall, passing behind Clio with such speed that he seems to simply appear 20 feet off to her left, sword extended up and forward as if at the apex of a strike. Behind him, light begins to fold into itself. The crimson wall drifts apart as if it were only a phantom. The heavy presence of the legendary hero fades, leaving a near hollow shell standing in its place.
The sound of Okami sliding slowly back into the sheath upon his back comes moments before Clio's body finally registers the fact that it has been cut.

Not fast enough. Never fast enough. The danger posed by so many, proven time and time and time again to be beyond a soldier's short reach. Struck and battered, her swiftness gutted by pain and exhaustion. The most of her arsenal met and ignored as the gulf between even a ghost and herself is proven ready and obvious.

She cannot hit the ghost. He steps aside. He turns. He bats her away and back into the reality of her place in the world. She crashes, clatters, crushed along by the wall of energy. Deposited, a broken toy, on the graveled ground a distance away.

There she lay, ignorant of the Wheel of Time. Ignorant of the reality of multiple worlds. Of how many have no use of her, how many go along simply and perfectly ticking over without a toy soldier to cast aside. She is nothing. But still, she soaks and drifts in the pain of her reality before rolling and making once more, good on her foolhardy existence.

Hands on the ground, the arcane eddies whirl and bend. Letters, sigils, hermetic sign, spreading outward from her pressed palms, the iridescent glow of arcane writings formulate upon the ground. They race outward, fading and bending into view as they stretch outward into a wide circular pattern on the ground. And then, with nary a spark, the words ignite. A wall of fire in a ring blazes upward, obscuring and penning the arena to a smaller yet size. And from it leaps a shadow of a figure, obscured by the light of the fire. Clio racing inward, running low. She twists, leaping forward more than up, rolling in the air, a sharp heeled wheeling kick striking with the impact and blazing light of chi-fire.

And yet, that isn't it. A second young soldier, a mirror copy of the first, surges from behind Hakumen. She snaps her arm out and to the side, the sharp edge of her spike glints. And this Clio, opposite side of the first, strikes upward in a daring, direct stab for Hakumen's kidneys.

COMBATSYS: Clio can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Hakumen instinctively blocks Clio's Cerberus Rush.

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

The majority of his spirit having slipped back into the empty void outside of time, there is no great aura of power that radiates off of Hakumen. Standing still and impassive, he allows his red eyes to shift as the flaming wall rises up before him, feet crunching over shattered stone as he turns to face down Clio's final charge. Surrounded on all sides by fire, faceless and horned, the lost hero seems somehow at home in the hellish landscape she has created.
Braced and ready, the armored figure brings his left forearm up to meet the charging girl, her opening kick crashing heavily into his guard and forcing him to step back amidst a rush of flames, closer to the blazing wall behind him. The flames of that wall burn high, reflecting in the crimson eyes that stare out from the backs of his shoulders. Eyes that swivel down to lock upon the second soldier that leaps from the conflagration in an attempted sneak attack.
Right arm sweeping back, he manages to clamp his black-clad fingers around the oncoming spike, metal sliding to a halt in his textured grip. With both hands occupied by defense, the looming figure's eyes roam, attention slipping away in all directions. Up, down, to either side. There are no further signs of attack.
The fight is over.
With nothing left to fight, no foes remaining to vanquish, the last bit of stubborn will that had been driving the Avatar forward falters. Back to back fights. Back to back opponents pushing him to, then passed his limit. Wounds accumulated all across his artificial body.
Without the will to keep him routed in place, the outline of the hero fuzzes, his body flickers, and then he is gone. The pressure that had been anchoring Clio's spike in place just inches from his back slips away as if it were never there, leaving the girl as the lone resident of a flaming, heavily damaged arena.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Hakumen can no longer fight.

The fires made by the magic fade away. The spike hits the ground. Two Clio's standing there in the wisping arcane fire turn and disappear, shades of a girl. Arcane clones made in the moment of heat and haste. Two hands of the witch that lay outside of the ring of fire she herself created. She lay on the ground, staring up at the sky. The energy leaving her, her hold on the magic that made her own copies drifting away to nothingness. She exhales and releases the final control of her craft and the fires go out.

She doesn't know, and she cannot find the strength to lift her head to see if what she cast had its impact. She only wants to sleep now. It's a bright day, and those always make her more tired than anything. And even though she hurts, she can finally get in a good, long sleep.

Log created on 09:56:38 09/22/2019 by Jubei, and last modified on 18:22:27 10/09/2019.