Ryu Hayabusa - Sojourn

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Description: Charlie travels to Mt. Fuji to seek out the Dragon Ninja, deemed a worthy ally in an impossible war. Accords are struck, and a brief, brutal battle fought on the slopes of that sacred mountain.

After months on his ass, first healing from a savage beating from Shadaloo's top enforcer and then stuck in a Moroccan hotel room for weeks waiting for orders, Major Charlie Nash couldn't be happier to be back out in the world - and with a renewed sense of purpose, thanks to the Secretary of Defense and his little pep-talk. So much time spent worried about whether his superiors could be trusted - whether they were setting him up to be stabbed in the back or to take the fall over some bullshit charges - had left the soldier drained, dejected, even paranoid.

But all it took to drag Charlie back into the light was a fat man with an official pardon for him and his team and, more importantly, a mission. A list of names, men and women operating outside the official auspices of the United States Government - but who would be needed in the fight to come, all the same.

And though the SecDef had pointed him towards Commander Heidern, something told Nash that he wasn't ready to face the Big Boss of the Ikari Warriors... not yet. As vehemently as he would deny it, his encounter with Juri Han has left some lingering doubts in the Major's mind about his own abilities. It's entirely possible - likely, even - that he would have to force the issue with Heidern, to convince him to put aside his justified distrust of the American Military... and who knows what it might take to accomplish such a feat?

No, he wasn't prepared for that. Not yet.

However, there was one name that immediately stuck out on the list, someone that dwelt in the country Charlie himself was born in.

Ryu Hayabusa, the legendary shinobi who had dealings with the Government in the past.

The Major had spent the first few hours after landing in Japan paying respect to his past; visiting the site of the Yokohama Air Base where he was raised by his father. Not one for nostalgia, he nevertheless felt like this new journey must begin in the same spot where his own path began to take shape so many years ago.

From there, on to an antique shop near the foot of the mountain, which housed - intel had told him - many objects that were beyond his scope of understanding. It was an ancient place, in an ancient land... and perhaps stranger than the wares which were safeguarded there, it seems that the man operating the place had known about Charlie's imminent arrival.

Unexpected, certainly, but the Major had learned in his rare dealings with such places and individuals to expect such things.

Directed by the elderly man to a nearby mountain path, the Major had set off up the slope - his duffelbag slung over his shoulder as he walked a few miles along the footpath.

As he traveled, Charlie thought best how to handle the matter; complicated in no small part by the extremely isolationist nature of the Japanese government. How would /they/ react, if they discovered that a USMC Major was operating within their borders, without their approval? It was a delicate situation, to say the least - and Nash merely hoped that he wouldn't be forced into explaining his presence here at all. If he's quick enough, and if the shinobi were accomodating enough, perhaps he might be able to leave the country before being noticed by any officials.

As he travels further and further, a slight chill enters the air... the early arrival of Autumn lending this place an almost mystical quality - as if it were a land out of time, an older place separated from the tumult and conflict going on in the wider world. He keeps walking, keen eyes darting around the surrounding landscape, looking for any signs he's on the right path...

...and more than that, almost expecting that he is being watched.

It's an interesting conundrum facing Charlie Nash. Diplomatic and political ramifications, personal challenges and profound doubts, and of course-- a world-shattering threat that must be opposed at any cost. Even if balancing those costs is part of actual victory in most equations. There's a sort of perspective-oriented humour to Charlie's decision to come here, to climb Mount Fuji, to seek out the Dragon Ninja over the mercenary commander-- because of Nash's own fear of inadequacy. It makes every bit of sense for the warrior to feel more trepidation at the trial or judgement facing him before Heidern's remarkably solid singular eye, yet in reality, the Shinobi Prince is scarcely a simpler scenario.

It is, however, once which might apply some salve to the spiritual injuries borne by Charlie-- or expose those wounds to bitter result. The spiritual is, after all, a deeply personal and variable consideration. Here on Fuji the boundaries between worlds have always been infamously thin, a number of seals that hold, some say, the currents of the world in balance are maintained by ancient Clans hidden in the midst of those sacred slopes.

It's easy to sense, easier to imagine numerous sets of metaphorical eyes on one's passage deeper into the wilderness, farther up the ancient volcano. The woodlands bordering the sacred site are reputed to be among the globe's most haunted locales; for good, and for ill. Adjacent to the mystical realities is a truth of the wild perhaps older than mankind itself: such a sojourn prompts introspection, builds a resonance from one's confidences or insecurities; reveals both soul-wrenching terrors and truths, and redefining epiphanies that seem sourced from reaffirming divinity.

Charlie's arrival is expected, its nature not precisely /known/... but not mysterious, either. It was spoken of in the symbols of dream or vision, whispered on the impressions of a benevolent spirit privy to the subtle ripples now being cast across the future. So it is that Nash is left to journey on for some hours, or turn back. He'll need the lunch he's packed, and no shortage of defiant faith to push so far that he would be stuck for the night, at least, along the climb should it not bear fruit.

Does the ever cooler breeze singing through the forests beckon Charlie onward, or foretell his certain folly? Do the cycles within his head serve as bulwark to his spirit, to his will... or second guess his very nature with every subsequent bootfall?

In the end, the sun sets too quickly to turn back even with fatal doubt, disappearing over the peak far above and casting the landscape into an extended twilight, lit only by the rising of a sliver's worth of silver crescent moon. A thin, stretched cover of wispy grey limits the stunning starlight in the rural locale, and it's in these shadows that the Dragon Ninja appears. Ryu stands near the edge of the narrow trail a short but polite span behind Charlie, who apparently passed him right by.

The last scion of the Celestial Dragons is dressed simply, humbly, in the traditional grey-blue cloth of his Clan. His face is unmasked, sable mane blowing in the intense but subtle breeze as the youth with a bodycount rivalling some entire militaries calmly regards Charlie Nash, arms easily folded, the artifact katana resting easily in the saya bound to the Shinobi's back. A long, scarlet band whips in that wind in a slow flutter off to one side. "Who are you?" Hayabusa asks with none of the confrontational demand such a query might carry. Instead, his tone is soft, stoic, touched quietly by curiosity. "Why are you here?" It's a deceptively difficult set of inquiries; likely intentionally so.

The path carries on far longer than Nash might have expected; fortunately, his methodical nature has ensured that he is properly equipped for such a journey. Even with his almost bottomless reserve of stamina, the soldier is forced to stop and dig into the MREs that he has brought with him... it is as if time moves differently in this place. The intelligence apparatuses of the United States Government had much to say about the nature of Mount Fuji, particularly after Justice's nuclear assault. Tales of ancient wards, seals between this world and others that are kept in place by an ancient order - men who have dwelled their entire lives in these peaks, serving a singular purpose that might be older than the very country itself.

How much of it was true? It was difficult for the Major to say; such matters were not his forte, to say the least. He'd always been a man rooted in concrete facts, things that could be observed and quantified with the naked eye. It was in his nature, after all, to look for the reality behind even the most unusual, fanciful tale.

And yet, there was something about this land that seemed to poke and prod at his rational mind with every step he took along the path. It seemed to engender a certain sense of reflection, as though imposing its own will over any outsiders who found themselves in this place... forcing their attention inward.

Charlie, for all his will and resolve, is not immune to these effects; and as he walks, he finds himself retreating inside his own head. He plays back past missions, lives he's taken, comrades he's seen killed in the line of duty. Reservations and doubts that he has worked so hard to compartmentalize seem to spring up from hidden places deep within him... before he knows it, he is no longer scanning the surroundings. He simply walks, as if each step were automated by some force beyond his control, eyes on the ground several feet in front of him. He hardly even notices it when night falls.

And then, a voice; and to his credit, Charlie does not appear outwardly startled. All the same, those words serve to snap him back to reality - dragging his conscious mind away from the past and possible future, back to the present. He does not turn, not wanting to move so swiftly as to appear a potential threat.

Who is he?

"Major Charlie Nash, United States Marine Corps, Commanding Officer of the SWIFT Unit."

He rattles off his title as if it were second nature, responding without hesitation to the first query from this mysterious figure. A slight movement of his right shoulder, and the duffel bag is dropped to the ground beside him. Both arms are raised up, hands open and held high above his head before he turns towards the source of the voice. A quick glance from a trained shinobi should confirm that he has no hidden weapons on his person, and the slow, methodical nature of his motions betrays no aggression whatsoever.

Through his rimless eyeglasses, Nash narrows his gaze upon the figure who appeared in his wake as if by magic. Such acts of stealth are far beyond even a trained commando; for all his keen, analytical ability and experience with spotting ambushes, there was no real hint that he was being tracked prior to the shinobi making himself known. Had he walked right /past/ the man, while remaining none the wiser to his presence? Had he been followed since the strange antique shop? Perhaps even since he touched down in Japan?

Though he had no reason to believe that he would be viewed as a threat, he'd heard enough stories about the Clan to know that one does not want to put them on the defensive in their own territory; simply being a stranger in their lands could be risky enough, and he doesn't want to make any sudden moves. So he stands firm, unmoving once he has turned to face the ninja... as he considers the second question posed to him.

Why is he here?

A simple query, in theory, but one which Charlie does not have a ready answer to. There was a day when he might have replied instantly with the words 'duty', or 'justice', or a brief explanation of his mission. But those days are in the past; his faith in the righteousness of his superiors has been renewed, all owing to the words spoken by his country's Secretary of Defense. The trust that Goldlewis has placed in him, his abilities, and his morality, has had quite an effect on the Major... and so, when he finally responds to the shinobi's second question, it is with an answer that is almost out-of-character for the professional soldier.


That single word tumbles out of his mouth, seemingly hanging in the air between the two men before a sudden breeze comes sweeping down the mountain, as if to blow it away.

"Hope that the Hayabusa Clan might wish to defend more than these lands. Hope that they are not as myopic as the men who run this country, content to bury their heads in the sand. Hope that my Government might still have an ally in this place. And hope... that I haven't wasted my time coming here."

Slowly lowering his hands back to his side - but keeping them visible all the while - he lets his words sink in for a brief moment before giving the other man a more concrete answer as to his purpose.

"I'm looking for Ryu Hayabusa."

While the man's apparel marks him as a member of the Clan, and the scarlet band seems to indicate his identity - along with that infamous katana... well, it can be so hard to tell these ninja apart.

Does the forest bring madness, or peace? Solace, or psychosis? Spirits react to the living, to the flow of chi and psionic power throughout the Realm-- the answers come as much from where one dares to tread, as from what they carry into the wilds with them. Any explanation as to the Shinobi's appearance is not forthcoming, but whereas Charlie is a master of infiltration in a shock and awe sense-- something that the Hayabusa do practice-- it is arts of stealth and precision, patience and agility that define their traditions. A decided bent towards mysticism and mythology in their own pursuit of duty; justice. Hope.

The young man is polite enough not to chuckle at Charlie's presentation, but the sparkle in his emerald eyes, the subtle half a smile on the Dragon Ninja's youthful features speak to quiet amusement at it. "Rote titles, Major." Hayabusa dismisses the reply as if it misses the heart of the questions; even as Charlie says much. Both of his duty here, and the worries that plague him. "But you do not need the hard sell." Here, the Shinobi Prince's smile is warmer, more sympathetic than amused. The weight Nash carries was apparent even before the Marine spoke.

"You have found him." Or perhaps more accurately, the Dragon Ninja has arrived at a meeting at time and place he somehow may as well have arranged himself, despite the Operative coming to see -him-. Ryu Hayabusa is easily at least a decade Charlie's junior, yet his bearing is that of a similarly grizzled veteran, after a fashion. The young Shinobi has been training to slay demons, to hunt monsters since before his body could properly form muscle mass; since he first began to grasp the chi necessary for their sacred bloodline arts.

Arts with a philosophy that is, thankfully, nowhere near that myopic. "And you do not need to convince me of the weight of your cause." Nash is -here- after all. It's not a hike for the faint of heart, and plenty of material between here and the airport warns against hiking Fuji out of season, or off the carefully marked and safety-conscious trails. Yet here he is amidst a mountain spring, adjacent to a cliffside path that circuits this hurdle and leads ever upwards.

It seems almost impossible that there could be a town secreted in this landscape, much less a myriad mix thereof, a montage of ancient artforms and legendary mandates. If Hayabusa's attention has been focused around Fuji, around Japan's Three Sacred Mountains and sets of ninja-guarded ancient seals, it's a matter of the threat posed to without... rather than any nationalistic zeal from the last scion of the Celestial Dragons. From one hunt to the next; from one crisis into another. The Dragon Ninja wears his fatigue well; it barely shows.

"Tell me of the monsters you face; what must be done, and why." Appeals to ego or egalitarianism is unecessary. For the Shinobi Prince, it is just such an equation. What is the monster. What is the threat. His duty is to wield the very fang of an ancient dragon god and seal evil as judge, jury, and executioner at the precipice of oblivion; to defy every threat to Earthrealm. It's a charge the young champion takes very, very seriously.

As practical a man as the Major is, he does have a certain dramatic flair when it comes to his own cause; a penchant for mythologizing the war he wages against the powers which corrupt and threaten not only his own nation, but the entire globe as well. The Hayabusa Clan has their purpose, and he has his - to his mind, such things are what truly define a man.

A greater goal, an oath, a mission. To live without one - even temporarily - can be a fate worse than death for some. Charlie knows this fact from first-hand experience; without direction, a driven man often finds himself anchorless, and susceptible to painful introspection.

The smile offered by the master shinobi - and the statement that he does not need to sell the idea - seems to cause Nash to visibly relax, as though he were expecting a struggle in bringing Ryu over to his side. Perhaps this expectation was coloured by Charlie's time spent growing up in Japan, being exposed to and fully aware of the reticent and frequently xenophobic nature of this society. Could it be that the Hayabusa Clan is far more willing to accept outsiders than many of their countrymen? Or is Ryu a special case, having involved himself far more frequently in the affairs of the larger world?

It's a thought that Charlie takes a few moments to turn around in his head, sharp, glimmering brown eyes staring impassively at the younger man's face - looking for tics, any possible indication of the true thoughts and feelings below the surface. He finds it difficult, but not unexpectedly so - the life of a shinobi does tend to promote a certain stoicness and mastery over ones' emotions, just as the life of a soldier does.

"Glad to hear it."

Whether the Major is speaking about the confirmation of Ryu's identity, or the fact that he apparently doesn't need to do much convincing about the importance of his mission, goes unsaid. Knowing that the people of Japan can be almost slavishly devoted to tradition and etiquette, he was likely expecting to jump through some hoops before the shinobi was willing to take him seriously.

Good. This saves him time; a precious commodity, if he's to acquire this ally and get out of the country before too many questions about his presence are asked by men in the government.

What monsters does he face?

The question is enough to bring a smirk to Charlie's typically emotionless face, perhaps appreciating a man who is dedicated to his craft as much as the Major himself is.

"Down to business, then? Good."

A few, long steps take Charlie back down the path he had traveled, closing some of the distance between himself and the ninja - though being careful to maintain a sizeable gap. As willing as the young man might be to talk, there is no reason to appear overly aggressive.

"The same monsters man has been fighting since the beginning of time. They carry different names in this modern era, but their goals have remained the same. Power, wealth, death on a grand scale. The corruption of everything honest and decent left in this world. Shadaloo, NESTS, R... the usual suspects, and others to come."

A pause, as he watches Ryu - eyes narrowing slightly as he scans the man's face for any visible reaction. The kid is a difficult read, far harder than most; no doubt owing to a lifetime of training - and in more than the combative arts.

"The Secretary of Defense, Lieutenant General Goldlewis Dickinson, has charged me with recruiting men and women outside the Armed Forces. He's putting together a team; independent of, and unanswerable to, any official government. Able to act where others cannot. Willing to fight when others won't. I need to know if we can count on you."

If even half of what he's heard about this warrior proved to be true, he would be useful in the days to come.

And those with too much zeal for their vision, too much certitude in their course, circle right back around to the very monstrosities they crusade against. It's a decidedly nuanced thing, a complex path they walk along a ridgeline straddling nigh infinite catastrophes. Where is the line between unrepentant monster and redeemable tragedy? Between noble crusader and indiscriminate insurgent? So many have a Cause, profess a Vision.

It's not enough, and it comes down to a very personal margin-- does one refuse to indulge lesser evil, to pursue their means through ends that sour the best intentions, to try to balance and compromise steps towards and away from the abyss? Juri confronted the issue in a most brusque, base way. They both, they all have gallons of blood on their hands.

The difference then is intentionality; context. What was saved-- and what was sacrificed. So it is that when Charlie casts a very, very wide net on his intended targets, the Dragon Ninja's stoic features knit in visible, intent consideration. "Nature abhors a vacuum. It is why that war is without end." Hayabusa notes quietly, his words measured, tone a practiced calm; a placid mountain lake.

For an alleged murderer, a lifelong monster slayer, the young master's demeanor is humble, canny. Neither impulsive nor driven by adrenaline or bloodthirst. "Our intention must be to protect this world and the balance of its energies as completely as we can; to pre-empt primarily where the gravest threats threaten that continuity." There's a communal purpose readily accepted-- that much is certainly a positive marker for Charlie's mission. However...

"My duty is to that cause, not to any authority." Even the hierarchy and traditional politesse of the ancient Clans hidden among these mountains is up for debate, when it threatens that core mission; that divine mandate. "If your Secretary Dickinson proved corrupt, his intention contrary to that mission, he would be a legitimate target for Ryuken." The Dragon Sword. One of several god-killing artifact armaments at Hayabusa's disposal.

"Where your organization's monsters align with my own, you can rely on my blade." The last of his line is stalwart in that, and clear in the distinction: he may be a killer, but it is at the hire of no one, beholden to no authority but that of the Hayabusa. That much, Nash can certainly count on. "Perhaps it will carry us both farther along this harsh road." One which, as established, is profoundly endless; with a likely exit at one's own, violent death.

There's a quizzical analysis accompanying the thoughts of good fortune, the Shinobi Prince's emerald eyes looking through Nash, as much as at him, considering each reposition with no sign of anxiety or threat. It instead rings of professional assessment, of this 'kid' silently considering-- and by all impressions, capably registering-- just what this soldier might be capable of. Perhaps even the jarring search for renewed affirmation, for positive impact, that found Charlie on this odd trajectory in the first place.

Every good soldier, or warrior, or crusader, questions themselves at some point on their journey. Sometimes, they are taught to do so before they ever step foot on the battlefield. For others, it comes naturally - introspection being a matter of course, rather than some learned thing. And some... well, for some it takes a crisis or tragedy to bring them to that point of self-reflection - as it did in Charlie's case. It was not until he was well and truly humbled that he finally took a long look at the man within; and what he found opened his eyes.

The truth frequently has a sobering effect, particularly in those who believe themselves to be truly righteous.

For so long, he was driven solely by hatred and arrogant pride - not in himself, persay, but in the nation he swore to defend despite all its faults. Rather than fight for some noble goal - or to push his country towards some brighter future - he walked through blood-soaked battlefields on a mission to rage against the dying of the light. He was a scalpel, meant to cut out the corruption and evil in the world before it took root. He was not there to cure or heal anything, simply to destroy that which threatened his countrymen and the lives of innocents around the globe.

But even the most virtuous of motives means little when it is backed by an emotionless dedication to completing ones task, no matter the cost. The things he'd seen, the things he'd done - people killed simply to keep their knowledge or abilities from falling into enemy hands. Villages razed to deny the opposition resources and territory. The lives of good soldiers lost in a war that may well be unwinnable; and all to keep pushing forward, each inch gained being a worthy goal in his mind - regardless of the price attached to that victory.

Yes, he and Ryu may be similar in ways - dedication, patience, skill, loyalty... but their methods and motives are worlds apart. The fact that they are able to bridge the gap in the name of the common good is no small miracle; but troubled times make for strange bedfellows, and in this case the means most certainly justify the ends... at least, as far as Nash is concerned.

The words which Ryu speak point to a maturity gained through difficult times and - presumably - the teachings of his Clan. There is a hardness in his words - his very demeanor - that make him come across as a much older, more experienced man. Nash had seen it before, in men who have spent decades fighting battles across the globe; to find it here, in this warrior from a foreign land, is a reminder that some things are universal in this world. It is enough to earn the respect of the American, as though he were speaking to someone who is as versed in the nature of mankind - and the conflict that springs up wherever society takes root - as he is.

"The war might not end, Ryu, but that doesn't mean peace isn't worth fighting - and dying - for."

Another step forward, the bottom of his boots digging into the packed soil of the footpath as he comes to a halt once more. His eyes remain fixed on the shinobi, never breaking eye contact - watching him intently, as if judging his dedication to the cause.

"I'll say right now; I don't expect you to bow to any higher power, other than your own Gods - and I doubt Secretary DIckinson does, either. We just want to know you'll answer the call, when the times comes. Hell, I know first-hand that authority isn't always trustworthy; my own superiors wanted to clap me in chains before SecDef stepped in with a full pardon."

An oddly out-of-character moment from the usually taciturn Major - full disclosure, and to an outsider no less. Is it possible that the events of the past few months have truly changed him so much?

"I'm glad you're on our side - even tentatively. I've heard a lot of stories about you. We'll need that blade of yours; that much I'm sure of."

For the first time since locking eyes with the shinobi, Charlie looks away - a quick glance shot down at the watch around his right wrist. Making excellent time, even with the long trip up the mountain path... so, why come all this way and /not/ take it a bit further?

"One more thing..."

One hand comes up, as Charlie casually removes his rimless eyeglasses from their place on his face. A quick breath to fog up the lenses, before he rubs them on the fabric of his jacket - returning the objects to their place on the bridge of his nose once finished.

"I didn't come all this way just to recruit an ally. Hard times are coming, and that requires hard men; I've been out of the fight for a few months."

A pause, followed by a rare smile from the generally stern and unemotional soldier.

"Care to show me, if the reality matches the legends?"

Charlie likes that Ito short about the honey from south america that eventually kills people by flattening them suddenly

Yet there are uncountable soldiers, warriors, crusaders, assassins the world over in the service of authorities just as varied that never question; that are taught not to. It's a very different sort of campaign than the one that Hayabusa fights; than the one that Charlie hopes to wage. It is an unquestioning automation that has long been the view of ideal war held by most commanders; at least along the tyrannical sweep of the scale. It is the virtue of man, the heroic will of an open and steady heart that offers the only potential salvation, in the end-- secular, personal ethics honed in a markedly difficult furnace.

A scalpel may be a brutally sharp blade, but it is the tool a surgeon-- an implement intended to preserve healthy tissue, to staunch the spread of deadly threats to a greater whole. In that respect, it is a goal to strive for; but yet another perilous ridge to walk. In the blink of an eye, cauterizing fire can become an inferno. A purifying storm, a devastating maelstrom that brings only eradication. A scalpel, an endless shriek of reports, of blood and bone shorne by indiscriminate metal. Too often, real truth is only discerned in retrospect.

"Sometimes, peace is another word for surrender." Hayabusa notes with no small measure of solemn intensity, his own study of Nash unflinching; unhidden. "But you are not wrong-- there are many battles that /must/ be fought." Perhaps that will, in fact, always be the case; but they can help, have helped in countless ways as that inevitability unfolds. Many would say rage against the dying of the light is utterly essential-- but so is a grasp of one's own shadow, and the myriad of chaotic images that can be cast in the wake of decisive, well-intentioned action.

Regardless of relative age, it's the respect due a peer that the Dragon Ninja offers Nash in turn, "Alliances work both ways." It's more humble acknowledgement of that symbiosis-- of his own //occasional// need for backup-- than any sort of demand for quid pro quo. "And with a problem as large as this? More eyes, more minds working the equation is simply smarter."

There's a small, polite smile at the invitation to test their might, but it's tinged with the subtlest notes of sadness. "Times are frequently hard, Major Nash. Apocalypse is a very relative, personal thing."

Earthrealm has been decimated and flourished anew more times than historical records account for. Time and space itself exist in infinite variety, shorn and rewritten by the consequences of the battles ahead-- and the struggles of cosmic forces beyond any of them.

It may well happen again, flood and famine are as cyclical as storm and harvest. With such things, it's not the impossible victories delaying the next catastrophe that bring solace-- but the knowledge Hayabusa spoke of, the necessity of standing up to fight. "If you are that rusty, Major..." The Shinobi Prince leaps upwards in a blur, all but soundless as he perches in the thick boughs of a tree overhead. "Legends may be overreaching."

The bemused, matter of fact quip comes with both challenge and humility. An opportune breeze courses down the mountain, the leaves of the limb on which the Shinobi stands with too-perfect balance blowing across that perch. In that whisper of wind, Ryu is gone, perched on one graceful foot at the center of the small stream, his facing unerringly towards Charlie. He watches how Nash moves, how he reacts. Senses every build and note of power gathered as and after those glasses are removed. Poised and perceptive, Hayabusa considers these opening moments carefully, and for a moment, remains tantalizing, deadly bait. "Thankfully--" one moment, at the stream.

The next, atop a rocky outcropping jutting slightly out from above the narrow ledge that leads around a cliff face to the rest of the trail up. "There's only myself to contend with." The wind is fiercer there, or perhaps -now-, crimson sash dancing in the breeze as the predator named for both drake and raptor smiles cordially once more, accepting the challenge as if Nash were granted the initiative.

Of course, Charlie is beyond such simple trickery, keen to the forces and alert professionalism at play. It's likely Ryu is keenly aware of that, in turn-- but in any dance, there are steps to consider.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa has started a fight here.

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Ryu Hayabusa     0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Charlie has joined the fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa calculates his next move.

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

There are those who cling to peace, hiding behind it as if it were a shield that could keep the wolves at bay - Charlie Nash knows of several within his own government. Cowards who refuse to act - when necessary - against an outside threat, claiming that 'globabl stability' is more important than cutting out evil before it can spread any further. Those men are the ones who claim that the Major is an unwanted influence on the soldiers in his squad, a reckless vigilante who should never have been given such a wide berth to act on his own.

And while he scorns them for the fools that they are, he does have some hope for a world without conflict; though he is fully aware that such a thing might be no more than fantasy. Peace is an aberration in mankind's history, and will likely remain so. But every good soldier - moral soldier - needs a bright future to fight for... the alternative is a man who will likely lose any semblance of moral compass, in due time.

"I'd hoped it went without saying."

Those words are spoken quickly in response to the shinobi's comment about alliances. He knows the man has had dealings with the United States in the past - and even if he hadn't, the stories he'd heard about the Hayabusas ancient struggle for balance would lend himself to aiding Ryu's cause whenever possible. As far as the Major is concerned, that's a contract - a promise. An oath given here and now, between two men bound by their honour and their word.

If shit hit the fan tomorrow, Charlie would be expecting Ryu to get whatever message he, or Goldlewis, or another soldier, ended up sending to the shop at the base of the mountain.

And Ryu could expect the same of him and his team of commandos. Hell, maybe even Secretary Dickinson could call in a airstrike or satellite laser or whatever the hell he's got hidden in that fucking coffin.

Ryu makes his comment about hard times, and the subjectiveness of apocalypse. It's an opinion Charlie shares - he know as well as anyone that things aren't easy, nor should they be. And yet, he's not so nihilistic as to think it's impossible to mitigate the suffering and difficulty faced by so many innocents.

"Imagine how much worse they'd be if nobody stood up for what's right.

Before he's even finished speaking, his mind is already racing along; angles of attack, optimal approaches, vague estimations of Ryu's speed and strength - all of these rush through the Major's head as he begins to form a cohesive strategy against the legendary shinobi.

Of course, the displays of speed and dexterity - moving from place to place, as if by teleportation - add a new element to the equation. Such swiftness - bordering on magic - is difficult to plan for, or around. But he's faced worse odds; and in situations that were decidly unfriendly, unlike this challenge.

It's a hell of a thing to witness with ones own eyes. Footage showcasing Hayabusa's abilities was almost impossible to come by, with one exception: the King of Fighters 2017 tournament. Right around the same time the world went to shit and the United Nations unleashed their monster, Justice, on the very country he now stands in. Seems like just yesterday that those globalist bastards finally showed Charlie what bastards they were; it was a sobering experience, although American policy at the time kept him out of the fight personally.

He could only watch. And after it was over, he promised himself he'd never be put in the position to watch such evil again - not without acting, no matter the consequences.

That path had brought him onto his superiors' shit-list. That path had also brought him to the attention of the ultimate authority within the Armed Forces, Goldlewis Dickinson. That path had, finally, brought him here - to his place - face to face with a stranger he'd never imagined he would have occasion to meet. Let alone test his skills against.

The oportunity was too good to give up. Even if he should be getting out of the country ASAP, now that some agreement has been brokered between the two.

It's clear the ninja is ceding the initiative to Charlie; and he's not about to give that up, either. Nor is he about to rush towards him on that outcropping and start swinging on a man who is - without a doubt - his superior in the realm of reflex and agility. No, he's going to need to /see/ - with his own two eyes and in-person - exactly how Ryu moves, before he gets into close quarters with him.

And so, the Major finally springs into action, his right hand moving up from his side to hook through the air - unleashing a loud, booming crash and a disc-shaped crescent of chi that hangs in the air briefly, before firing off towards the shinobi.

And behind that, Charlie is dashing ahead to close the gap between him and his new ally... ready to press the advantage, if one presents itself.

COMBATSYS: Charlie successfully hits Ryu Hayabusa with Sonic Boom.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Charlie          0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

"Much that can be left unsaid is better declared." Hayabusa retorts simply, calmly. The alliance serves them both-- better to simply say as much than to rub his hands gleefully once the Major has departed. It's a strange paradox, the ease with which the Dragon Ninja acts in so matter of fact, respectful of a fashion-- while remaining evasive, oblique.

But then, the young master is a monster slayer, a determinator of the highest order; what's left to nuance, then, is definitions and methodologies. The nature of the human standing up. Imagine how much better would be if only those with clarity of purpose and intent took violent action; and how much more peaceful the life of Slayers would be, then.

Rather than a feint Nash might fall for, Hayabusa gives a demonstrative display-- a quick primer in what the Major will now face. It's quite polite of Ryu-- if, in fact, the same span of time were not taken to prepare himself; to analyze Nash in turn.

So it is that there's little shock or awe to the hurtling Sonic Boom, the Shinobi's eyes narrowing on the crescent of raw-edged chi. His jump is poised perfectly, but just a half-instant off in its rhythm. Rather than clearing the rocky ledge in the wake of the inevitable explosion, Ryu is caught in its midst, shorn by energy and rocky shrapnel.

Thrown through the air, the Dragon Ninja ignores the pain and twists into a tight flip, the graceful toe of one tabi extending to gain deceptive momentum off the largest chunk of airborne stone. This motion flows like water into an arcing angle like that of a hunting falcon, angled to overshoot Charlie's own charge by the //slightest// of margins.

This margin would be close enough for Hayabusa to attempt a vault right over Nash's head with one hand, and suddenly adjust trajectory to a landing point -directly- behind the soldier. In that same, final flash of descent, Ryuken comes free of saya, and with a subtle, forceful twist of his entire body mid-landing, the Dragon Ninja seeks to suddenly impale Nash on that katana blade with a precise thrust.

Even in the worst case, Ryu will expertly miss vital organs, leaving a wound relatively easy for a fighter like Charlie to recover from-- but it's the thought that counts, the expert intentionality in an all-out dance between experts of their level. The only sounds Ryu makes in this span of moments comes from the subtle swish of leather sole on moist grass and exposed dirt; from the tachi-kaze of the surprisingly intense, singular sword-stroke.

COMBATSYS: Charlie blocks Ryu Hayabusa's Falling Falcon.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Charlie          0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0     Ryu Hayabusa

One has to suppose that Ryu has reason for wanting a verbal confirmation of the reciprocal nature of their agreement; after all, Nash is inextricably linked to the American Government, for good or ill. And the people running his country have made plenty of poor decisions in the past, abandoning those who have fought for them or standing by while evil took root halfway across the globe. Although Charlie has great pride in his nation, he is not so all-consumingly patriotic as to ignore its faults - or take offense when someone expresses doubts about its trustworthiness in a crisis.

It's okay, after all. It just means that the Major will have to prove his loyalty to his comrades-in-arms through actions - and there will likely be plenty opportunities to do so in the near-future.

Anyway, he's got more pressing matters to deal with at present. Such as not ending up short a few pints of blood courtesy of the shinobi's well-honed blade; fighting an armed opponent with ones bare hands presents a set of challenges that tend to require absolute focus and perfect instincts. Typically one of Charlie's strong points, but Hayabusa's skill puts him on a level far above the soldier's usual opponents.

He remains silent as he rushes forward to follow the path of his projectile - brow knitted in concentration and eyes remaining keenly fixed on the shinobi as he approaches.

The Sonic Boom strikes the outcropping, exploding the spot where Ryu was standing only fractions of a second ago... but Charlie notes that his timing was slightly off, not able to escape the blast without damage. The soldier isn't about to gloat, though; he knows that such a thing was surely blind luck on his own part.

His gleaming, brown eyes follow the ninja's path through the air, taking full notice when Ryu manages to leap /off/ of one of the airborn bits of rock. It's an unexpected display of technique... that level of precision is a thing that is surely confined to a select few fighters on the planet. Even Juri never exhibited such a feat of agility and precision in their brief encounter in the desert.

But Nash has spent the past several months - in lieu of any missions or physical practice - honing his mind and sharpening his perceptions beyond their already razor-like quality.

Ryu flies above him, managing to to control his trajectory and momentum perfectly - coming down right behind his target and lashing out with that legendary katana of his. It happens so fast that there isn't a single, conscious thought that goes through Nash's head - to stop and try to game out his reactions would mean defeat against an opponent possessing such practiced, graceful techniques.

What happens next is nothing more than instinct, a primal reaction that comes from decades spent on the battlefield - surviving when other men perished, living through whatever hellish scenario the Marine Corps dropped him into. The tip of that weapon is thrust towards him, and Charlie is already spinning around to meet it - backpedaling as he turns, as his boots dig into the earth to brace himself.

The weapon pierces him, but certainly not as deep as Ryu would have intended - Nash's reflexes managing to save him from being skewered, although the katana still draws blood before he is able to step away from it completely.

Well, that solves one problem - the issue of how to approach the shinobi. Seems he'd solved that little conundrum on Charlie's behalf, and he's not about to let such a solution go to waste.

Not even bothering to cover the hole in his vest - or staunch the bleeding underneath - he plants one foot firmly into the earth and spins, leveling a brutal roundhouse towards Ryu's head... but that's not all! He follows up, moving without waiting to see what the shinobi does in reaction to his attack; a front kick aimed at the man's chest would follow, finishing up with another spin that culminates in an elbow-strike.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa counters Raptor Combination from Charlie with Mekkyaku - Ryuso.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Charlie          0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\1     Ryu Hayabusa

It's a subtle but important change in terms to the Dragon Ninja. In one, he is on call to another entity, an asset. In the other, he is connected to an ally in a dangerous war; a comrade. A peer. The nature of precisely what one agrees to is a vital detail in the mystical world; and in matters of honor, and considerations of respect.

It's mirrored by reciprocal understanding of there momentarily opposed strength; Charlie is particularly skilled for his walk of life, even among men trained and honed to a killing edge as a rule. He matches the Dragon Ninja step for step, defends himself off a potent initiation, deflects the bulk of a potentially lethal thrust of the Dragon Sword. And yes-- Ryu helps Nash with the prospect of getting in close with the slippery shinobi.

That, too, works both ways. Charlie weaves away, deflects the razor's edge of Ryuken's kissaki, and then twists to lunge right back into the fray. Hayabusa does not flinch, does not dart away-- the proximity is maintained in a study of perfectly timed movement.

The roundhouse reaves just over the ducking Dragon Ninja's skull, grazing his trailing sable mane. The katana snaps away in the wake of its defended strike, midway through the blink of an eye in the midsts of that fluid dodge, and Ryu's arms windmill to the opposite side, driving that kicking leg along its horizontal course and then groundward-- hard.

There's no time to stumble, no time to recover footing as the Shinobi Prince presses in, a flurry of whirling strikes windmilling up the Major's torso as the reversal in momentum carries Hayabusa into an inverted somersault, a skyward cartwheel that cracks one knee and the other leg's armored tabi into Charlie's chest and jaw, launching the Marine as surely as its sheer force carries Ryu's far more graceful ascent.

/Now/ the ninja reimposes a modicum of distance. Naturally!

As he approaches with a combination of blows, something troubles the Major - the Japanese man stands firm, not even the slightest shift in stance that would point towards an attempted evasion of his kicks. It is as though he is a sentry, dedicated to defending the spot on which he stands without taking a single step backwards.

Naturally, there is no opportunity for Nash to change the angle of his kick or back away... he's commited. And Ryu takes full advantage of it, deftly evading the blow and counterattacking with an inverted somersault that drives his knee and leg into the Major's chest and chin almost simultaneously.

It sends Nash backwards into the air, the sheer jarring impact of the strike launching him off his feet and disorienting him temporarily. For a moment, it looks like he might land on his back - but a quick twist in the air brings his feet down onto the earth before the rest of his body, and although the landing is a wobbly one (to say the least) he manages to keep his footing.

One hand comes up to rub at his chin, jaw moving from side to side to confirm that nothing is too badly out of place as a result of the attack. A small smirk plays along one side of his lips, as he stares out from behind his rimless eyeglasses with - perhaps - a bit more respect, as if the speed of the man's reaction confirms that the stories might, in fact, be true.

Charlie is not without his own tricks, however - a fighting style that goes beyond standard Marine CQC techniques: a self-taught acrobatic skill and mastery over his inner chi which he has passed on to several of the soldiers in his squad, Guile chief among them.

Steadying himself and drawing upon the same source of energy which he infuses so many of his attacks with, the Major is standing there one moment...

...and then, with another loud *BOOM* that pierces the calmness around them, he is gone in a flash of blue.

Perhaps Ryu is skilled enough to sense what is happening - he will have little time to react, but it is not outside the realm of possibility for such a swift warrior to deal with an opponent who can, albeit briefly, break the sound barrier with their movement.

A gust of air flows from where Charlie once stood, whisking /past/ Ryu... it gives some hint as to where Nash traveled...

And in a flash, he appears directly behind Hayabusa - assuming he has no predicted this, and spun to face him - a sudden blast of blue chi heralding his reemergence, as the energy threatens to wash over the shinobi if he is too slow in reacting.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa blocks Charlie's Sonic Move.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Charlie          0/-------/-======|=======\==-----\1     Ryu Hayabusa

One good turn deserves another. In this case, it's applicable in both the literal and sarcastically metaphorical senses. Hayabusa turns a full flip through the air and lands in a gentle slide, coming to a three point crouch oriented on the point Nash executes a more volatile variant of much the same recovery. The young master's gold-flecked gaze flickers only to the landscape as the battle moves, otherwise /fixed/ on the Major; a moment's mistake, a single miscalculation spells ample pain, in this bout.

It may not be life and death, standing between a monster and the lives of untold innocents, to say nothing of one's own continuance-- but there is meaning and purpose in comrades in arms coming to understand one another's measure more fully than any number of words can properly express. It's in the flow of the chi, the rhythm of each step, the manifestation of another warrior's will; the subtle language of every personal style.

The crack of a breach in the sound barrier is one familiar to Hayabusa-- but there is no jet, no rocket. The wind whips around and through the Dragon Ninja, crimson sash flying wildly, hair whipping as his emerald eyes narrow.

Charlie closes the distance with dramatic flair in much the same manner Hayabusa tried seconds before-- and like Charlie in those instants, Hayabusa twists to provide practiced defense. A bent arm braced by the other drives a subtly armored grey gauntlet into the impact, chi surging outwards as a defiant stance sees Ryu's tabi drawing deep trenches in the soil beneath his footing. Charlie's chi is elemental, but focused on efficient expression of force. His techniques a near perfection of fight science and personal priorities.

The Arts of the Hayabusa Clan are elemental-- but in the mystical, building blocks of nature, understanding and enlightenment of all life sense. Fire, Earth, Water, Wind... Void. The chi techniques in that repository are, to much of the world across much of history, 'magical'. So it is that in the midst of that sonic maelstrom, limb braced, the Dragon Ninja murmurs a swiftly repeating mantra in a long forgotten tongue. As if of its own accord, a kunai appears in the Shinobi Prince's right fist, and with it he slashes the palm of his left.

Sleekly corded muscles clench, veins pulsing up that limb as he squeezes his own blood in the fist, as he rights his sliding stance, as he all too calmly, dangerously intently studies his adversary. A shadowy aura around Hayabusa seems to catch fire, a dark red hue that draws light, rather than projecting it.

Ryu comes in at Nash in a blur, stabbing high, stabbing low, and then slashing from latter to former with that silver-gleaming kunai in a surgical effort to draw blood. Perhaps it's the setup for some further trap or plan-- or simply his own concerted effort to chip away at the Major's impressive resilience along the course of a battle that seems far, far from decided.

COMBATSYS: Ryu Hayabusa successfully hits Charlie with Random Strike.
- Power hit! -

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Charlie          0/-------/=======|=======\====---\1     Ryu Hayabusa

Such explosive movement, bordering on teleportation in terms of sheer speed, is something that can disorient even an experienced fighter like Major Nash. Breaking the sound barrier with ones own body is no small matter, after all - and all the training with extreme G-Forces he undertook in the Marine Corps Department of Aviation couldn't possibly change that.

The blast of chi that heralds his reappearance is mitigated by the ancient elemental arts of the Hayabusa Clan, leaving Nash more open than he might otherwise be. He had counted on the burst of energy having more an effect on the shinobi he is facing - with the majority of the impact being dispelled, it is decidedly not the case.

Recovering his bearings as quickly as he possibly can, the Major nevertheless finds that his opponent is quicker in reacting than he is in steadying himself. The sword slashes out once more - this time utilizing the much shorter, and more manueverable kunai instead of his katana.

Taken entirely by surprise, Nash begins to move his hand out to try and grasp Ryu by the wrist... but it is a futile attempt. He is stabbed low, stabbed high, and then the ninja connects the two points with one long slash that immediately draws a spurt of blood from Charlie.

He has no choice but to back off for a moment, one hand pressing against the middle of that long slash which Ryu has left vertically along his torso - an instinctual effort to staunch the bleeding, but one that is a pointless effort given the sheer length of the cut. Blood pools in Nash's palm, dribbling through the cracks between his fingers to fall onto the earth underneath his feet.

A sharp narrowing of his eyes is the only other reaction that the shinobi receives for inflicting such a brutal cut. Still, the Major is fully aware that his opponent could have made the damage much more severe if he had wished to do so - the fact that his intenstines remain inside his body is likely owed to the friendly nature of this bout, rather than any defensive ability from Charlie.

"Not bad."

His voice is cold, impassive, betraying no frustration or pain in tone - though the gritting of his teeth after those words would imply that he is only just managing to push through the pain with sheer force of will. Keeping one hand over the worst of the cut, his other appendage is lifted up to his face - index and middle fingers extended to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

Time to get serious.

COMBATSYS: Charlie pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose!!

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

"I thought we were doing rather well." It's so dry, so direct, that it's easy to mistake the rejoinder for legitimate confusion on the part of the Dragon Ninja. The young master is not actually /without/ humor, though-- and he's subtly entertained by Charlie's own understated admission. Ryu did, in point of fact, make a funny; or give it a try.

There's no animosity despite the shinobi's deadly bearing; no intent to slay or maim his adversary, no judgement of Nash as a monster. Simply a definitive confidence that the soldier can take what Hayabusa has to dish out; can hold his own in high-stakes struggle. That, or Charlie has been lucky in his ability to step up to the plate, an essentiality for the crusade to which he swears himself.

Regardless, the Major is dealt a meaningful blow out of the deceptively simple technique, the dark fire of the Void still surging within and around the Dragon Ninja as he sweeps the blood from his kunai, and it's snapped as if teleporting back into the ninja's belt. For just a moment, Charlie has the space to get his bearings, to prepare to fight all the harder in the stretch to come.

The crescent moon rises slowly higher in the sky, casting the forest and the mountain's slopes in silver and grey, shadow and sparkle to replace the vivid colors rendered under the daystar. Hayabusa's breath evens, deepens, focusing his chi through the lingering pain and resting his right hand with reflexive grace around the wrap of Ryuken's tsuka. The blade flows free in a slow, fluid motion, sweeping graceful arcs through the air as the mountain winds surge around the warriors in a tangible crescendo.

It's entrancing, the swirling of wind interacting with the gathering of silvery chi, suffusing and surrounding the intricate hada of that artifact's blade. The kata ends at Hayabusa's side, and in a flash it is undeniably apparent that the space given Nash was not room to breathe, but a momentary prologue to the Dragon Ninja's own amplification of the ante.

The Dragon Sword cuts an upward, angular slice, and the voluminous windshear gathered about its razor-sharp length cleaves outwards and through in tandem with that stroke. In a single, impossibly fast glide of a lunge, Ryu crosses the scant distance seperating them only in the half-instants of windup to that stroke. A slice that, from Nash's perspective, threatens to cut him deeply from right hip to left shoulder; alongside the bisection of coldly edged wind.

COMBATSYS: Charlie fails to interrupt Blade of the Empty Air EX from Ryu Hayabusa with Justice Shell.
- Power fail! -

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Charlie          0/-------/-======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2     Ryu Hayabusa

Major Nash is not quite sure what to make of Ryu's movements, as he stares across the distance as the shinobi. Could such motions have some bearing on his combat prowess? The idea might almost be laughable to Charlie, if he'd considered it a decade or two ago... in the intervening years, he's seen things far stranger than that. All the same, he doesn't rush forward to try and interrupt the man's actions - content to stand back and observe, watching for the slightest muscle twitches that might forewarn against a sudden rush from the armed man.

Suddenly, with little visible warning, the Hayabusa comes... and Charlie stands his ground, watching, waiting for the perfect opportunity - eyes analyising every step, every movement, counting fractions of a second...

At the last possible moment he drops to one knee, his body lowering to the ground suddenly as Hayabusa approaches... anyone familiar with the self-taught technique of Charlie Nash and his men would know what that means. Maybe Ryu can recognize the movement for what it implies - depending on how much knowledge he possessed about Nash and his squad, given his dealings with the Government in the past.

Or maybe he can just /sense/ it, with an instinct honed from birth and practiced in countless battles, against forces which the Major could hardly hope to understand.

Whether it be foreknowledge or some sixth sense, the shinobi seems entirely aware of what his opponent is planning. And as Nash prepares himself to execute a jarring counterattack, the ninja seems to suddenly speed up and change his angle - the attack coming out far sooner than it had previously seemed likely to.

Even if the Major notices the sudden shift in the coming assault, he has no time to react to it - no chance to launch his intercepting somersault kick soon enough to make any difference.

The blade cuts through layers of clothing to enter flesh, as smoothly as if there were no resistance at all. A testament to Ryu's skill and control, then, that the soldier does not find himself struggling to contain his internal organs. Nash has no doubt in his mind that the ninja could have made such a blow fatal, if he had the slightest interest in doing so. It is a humbling experience, knowing that ones' life rests entirely within the mercy of another individual. But he has grown used to humbling experiences of late, and it effects him less - psychologically - than it might have once done.

Although the wounds are not life-threatening, the pain is no less significant for this fact; and Charlie is once again forced to falter in the face of Ryu's attack. Stumbling backwards and blood positively spills out of the slashes he has sustained thus far, the soldier's swaying body seems to point towards a breakdown of his fighting ability.

How much longer can he stay on his feet, let alone keep fighting?

Whatever the answer, he isn't verbally giving up the fight - even if he looks on the verge of collapse. He simply stares, chest heaving with breath as his limbs begin to shake from bloodloss and shock, at the shinobi who has inflicted such grievous damage upon him in the span on a few brief exchanges.

There is power in rote, there is power in intentionality. The roots of ritual magic run deep in the martial arts of Hayabusa Ninjutsu. Of course, rushing the process might have seen much the same sword-stroke, but power too lies in theatricality, in presentation; controlling the elements of awe and terror that so often dictate morale. And thus, the outcome of a battle.

The sensation that the Shinobi Prince knew of Charlie's deadly toolbox of techniques before this meeting, that perhaps his own attack intended to bait out just that response-- though it's an exchange that /easily/ could have gone far worse for Ryu-- is one based in accurate assessment of reality.

The youth is indeed a combat veteran far beyond what his years would imply, tactical and collected. It's with an icy, analytical intensity that the Dragon Ninja carries himself almost regardless of battlefield conditions. Were Ryu here to seek Nash's death, the turn of events would be horrifying indeed, threatening and sending any sane man scrambling for an escape. Or resigned to a last stand. Here, it might be quite affirming, at least in retrospect-- that it's a precise and practiced application of art and skill honed for -their- side of this endless struggle.

Ryuken slices deeply, but not through, a strike that might be cruel if each man's fists were not similarly lethal weapons. There's a purifying fire to the slice of the Dragon Sword-- subtle without the gemstone that can be fitted to its pommel, but inherent to that alleged fang of a long lost god. It's a burn that bulwarks the righteous for the blood spent, that encourages truth and the purging examination of each shadow and dark impulse. The bladed tribunal purges evil-- but its celestial fire is a constant radiance, mystical. Perhaps holy.

In that momentary stutter-step, the staggering aftermath of blood-spattered windshear, Hayabusa flanks right. The Shinobi Prince is indeed like a stalking predator, each strike adding up to a moment of final, potentially lethal vulnerability. For Nash, that moment is now.

A span of it passes without incident; Charlie is given that opportunity to tap out, to indicate need for a breather. It does not come, and so the Dragon Ninja presses him once more-- arguably pushing that envelope all the farther. Ryuken's tsuki comes up first in an uppercut led by the reinforced metal of the pommel's endcap, aligned squarely with Charlie's jaw.

The upwards momentum would be joined by Hayabusa, the young master seeming to teleport skyward, intent on intercepting Charlie and, with a blurring high-velocity corkscrew, drive both of them like a runaway drill back into the rocky earth. Nash's landing would come violently, and headfirst, should the Dragon Ninja succeed in this endeavour.

COMBATSYS: Charlie fails to interrupt Izuna Drop from Ryu Hayabusa with Knee Bazooka.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryu Hayabusa     2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Charlie can no longer fight.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryu Hayabusa     2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

Charlie won't give up until it's over; although this is a friendly test of skill, he still treats it as he might a life-or-death battle. Half-measures were not something taught in the Marine Corps, and certainly not something one would practice on the field of battle. For his entire adult life, he has learned one thing: hesitation equals defeat, and defeat can mean death. Even when facing down a new ally, the soldier finds himself unable to back down - even when his defeat is certain, the bloodloss which stains the earth leaving him barely able to maintain his stance.

There is a brief span of time where where Hayabusa seems to hold back, giving his opponent the chance to throw in the towel before things go any further; but Charlie only responds with a steely glare, even as his condition worsens with every spurt of blood coming from the wounds he has incurred.

And then, as if deciding that there will be no mercy requested from the soldier, Ryu begins to move towards him - the moment of truth, Charlie's last opportunity for a remotely good showing in this bout.

Turning his body to try and face the shinobi as he stalks towards his side, Nash waits until the man is within striking distance before attempting yet another counterattack. His knee explodes upwards, trying to catch Ryu in the gut with a devastating blow... but once again, he is too fast for the Major.

Launched into the air by the savage blow of the pommel's end driven up from underneath his chin, Nash's head snaps back as his body flies up. After a few feet of vertical travel, he is joined by the man who knocked him up there; Ryu following him with that same preternatural speed he has displayed multiple times during this encounter. Gripped around the midsection, the Major finds himself flipped head-over-heels in the air before the pair of them begin their descent, head-first, back to the mountainside.

The top of his skull impacts the hard ground, the force of the sudden stop causing a jarring shockwave to travel all the way down his spine. A grunt of pain is forced from his lungs, leaving him breathless as the air is completely knocked out of him. A momentary pause where he appears to be executing a headstand... and then the rest of his body slumps down, back slamming into the dirt and eliciting another groan from him.

He remains still for the time being, not even an attempt to drag himself back to his feet. His eyes are open, staring through his rimless lenses up to the sky far above... and just like that, peace returns to this spot on the mountain - the ever-so-brief battle concluded.

"Ugh... Christ..."

In the moment of corkscrewing impact, it's as if the Dragon Ninja is launched fluidly clear by that violent shockwave, riding its invisible wave backwards through the air to land lithely a short span from the Major. Where Charlie does not rise, resting where he falls-- Hayabusa's stance and bearing are resolute, ready... despite the sheer amount of effort it took to render the Marine into such a state.

Ryuken whips through the air to Ryu's side, cleansed of bloodspatter in a practiced dual motion of kata and cloth, then slid back smoothly into its saya. The volatile wind that whipped up around the mountain calms with the ebb of battle, a cool, refreshing breeze replacing it as the rattle of branches and tumbling leaves settles to a murmuring rustle in the growing dark.

"You are strong, Charlie Nash." Hayabusa observes without condition. "You can swim even in this new depth." There is no judgement of superiority, no misplaced ego in the victory. Hayabusa got a close look at Charlie's power; at how many moments their fight could have gone the other way. To say nothing of the Dragon Ninja's more thorough knowledge of the style he would face.

Battles between such capable experts are often thus-- moments of tense, near mirrored tenacity, followed by the abrupt shift of the flow of the rapids they ride, and the similarly sudden end of that bout. It does leave the young master in a position Nash is likely far more familiar with filling, however-- Ryu stands over Charlie, and offers a hand up with one braced arm. "Come; I've already set a camp."

Said refuge is a simple, but artful affair: a fire ring is half set, and half dug into the rocky bank around the corner from their battleground, secreted behind the higher stones to keep its light concealed as it expertly vents smoke through a channel above. Two lean-tos of finely cured leather surround the fire-- and further block its visibility from carefully plotted angles-- one of which is already occupied by what is, presumably, Hayabusa's bedroll and assorted kit. This includes a number of weapons besides the kunai and katana demonstrated against Nash.

Scratched into the dirt, drawn on the trees in chalk the particularly observant-- like Charlie-- may note a number of mystical sigils and ancient runes; warding spellwork around the site. It is to the fire that Ryu is drawn, tossing over a simple first aid kit wrapped in a cloth parcel as the Shinobi Prince sets to stoking the flame and making tea in an old iron kettle.

As he lays on his back, both hands still pressed up against the deepest of multiple cuts across his front, Charlie continues to stare up at the clouds overhead. He remembers a simpler time, before ninjas and psycho powered-teenagers, before corrupt officials in his own government and inhuman creatures which twisted and shaped the world. A time when he was just a young man of 18, signing up for the Marines Corps with a twinkle in his eye and heroic dreams in his heart.

Has it really been so long? Seems like only yesterday he was going through the hell that was boot camp - but compared to the events of the past few years, it seems a rosy memory in comparison.

Things have changed; of that, there can be no doubt. He has tried to keep up with it, to maintain some perspective as the world changed around him - or, perhaps more accurately, as the /truth/ of the world was slowly revealed to him. It has not been an easy transition, regardless of how well he has masked his own difficulties in adapting to this brave new world.

He never really had a choice to back out, though - to take an honourable discharge and step away from the fight. To go home and maybe get married, have a family; hell, even Guile managed to find himself a wife (although he had to settle for Ken Masters' sister, ew). The thought of it didn't bring him any comfort, though, even when he was a month into a long-term deployment in some African shithole nation, or stuck in the desert for god knows how long training local militias.

For him, that /was/ life - anything else would be a pale imitation, a rejection of his true calling. A cowards way out, just short of suicide in terms of dishonour.

He can hear Ryu's words before he sees him, although the statement regarding his strength does little to soothe his wounded pride; for even a man as calm and analytical as Charlie Nash is not without some semblance of ego... and this is the second time in a few months that he has found himself utterly defeated. It's not something he is used to; but he supposes such losses come when a man finally steps away from his usual territory and into the realm of monsters.

The shinobi finally steps into view above him, offering a hand in assistance - and the Major is not too proud as to turn down such a thing. Gripping the man's forearm firmly with one still-shaking hand, Nash does his best to push himself off the ground as Hayabusa does the majority of the work in bringing him back to his feet. There is a second where it appears as though Charlie might tip forward, still woozy from blood-loss - but he steadies himself at the last moment.

"Sounds great..."

Groaning those words in response to the news about a camp nearby, Nash takes a few staggering steps towards his discarded duffel-bag. A wince of pain crosses his face, fresh beads of sweat springing to life on his brow as he bends over slightly to heft the object back over his right shoulder. It hurts, and it's unnecessary, but he's not about to ask the ninja to carry his gear - at the very least, he has a duty to appear as steadfast and durable as he possibly can... some small show of toughness, after the beating he just endured.

Following the shinobi at the fastest pace he can manage in his condition, Charlie is visibly pleased to find a campfire surrounded by two lean-tos. Compared to some places he's been forced to hunker down, this is downright luxurious - hell, it's certainly nicer than the dive hotel in Marrakesh he was forced to occupy for months on end after recovering from his most recent mission.

Dropping his duffel-bag onto the ground with a grunt, Charlie does his best to look dignified as he drops onto his ass close to the blazing fire. As the clotch bundle is tossed to him, the Major snatches it out of the air with one unsteady hand - somewhat surprised he's still capable of such swift reactions at present. Unrolling the package, he finds a decent collection of first aid supplies... grabbing the collar of his ruined shirt with one hand, Nash tears the fabric in order to expose his long, deep cuts.

This is far from the first time he's been forced to treat wounds - his own or others' - in such a fashion. Sterilizing as much of his wounds as he can with stinging antiseptic, the burning sensation it inflicts upon his cuts barely registers compared to what he's already dealt with today.

As he begins to wrap a long sheet of gauze around his midsection, he speaks - his voice low and harsh, but surprisingly steady and calm considering everything.

"So... the rumours were true... I have to say, I'm far from disappointed."

The understatement of the century.

It's easy at any number of critical junctures in life to say that at last, the veil is lifted. Life's not like that, though-- there are always further mysteries, always changes, always fresh epiphanies that can conflict with old. Nash swims out into deeper, rougher water, and so it is that more of reality is revealed along that trajectory. It's a malevolent, menacing sort of realization-- but thankfully, not so purely grim.

Case in point, of course, is new allies with their own intricate, practiced methodologies for dealing with the myriad of threats to the timeline and Realm's integrity; from within and without. Hayabusa does not proactively shoulder Charlie's load, but he does remain little beyond an arm's length from Nash along the path around to the refuge; a resilient back or shoulder prepared to support a stumble.

There is a tranquility to the shinobi's camp that amplifies even that of this sacred trail. Lights twinkle in bundles below and beyond, miles of vista carrying towards the lights of a more noteworthy metropolis. Overhead, the stars are clear, minimally washed out by civilization. Some focus on family. Some favor hedonistic or nihilistic extremes. Some walk an impossible, difficult to understand path along the barricade between demon and that very civilization; to say nothing of the natural order behind it.

"Rumour is often born of fact." Ryu notes, with the 'but' hanging for the beat it takes to mix an herbal shake into the water, which is kept from quite boiling by the sudden removal of one ember-bearing log. "But seldom wholly composed of the truth."

These things are, as established... far more complicated. "You have unearthed neither myth nor legend in me, Major Nash; only a man with understanding of what we face, and the skillset to face it." Now, the enigma of the arts and seals surrounding them now, the ancient stories, entities, and tradition affiliated with these peaks? That's another story entirely, for another night's campfire.

There is no discernible hubris in Hayabusa's assertion-- but the young master's calm confidence is impossible to miss. There is a reason he, alongside Kasumi and Alma, were called King of Fighters. A reason the opening gambit to that tournament saw Ryu, in a rare public performance, cut his way through both Rock Howard and Terry Bogard.

"I cannot tell you hunting the demons of the world is nothing like fighting men, like killing in war-- but I can claim that surviving it, succeeding at your mission is a distinctly different affair. We can start with your toolset." Explosives that erupt with blessed cold iron or holy fire are an easy step. An assortment of specially crafted rounds for firearms, another. Charlie could likely get lost for a year or more in the Clan's libraries... to say nothing of armouries.

"Your finest weapon against Vega and those monsters birthed of his will..." Ryu apparently detects the Favored Enemy status. Or has a share of personal experience, himself. "... is always going to be those sonic waves, perfected to the best of your ability."

The tea is given several minutes to steep in the kettle before its contents are poured into two bamboo bowls, one extended towards Nash, the other Ryu keeps for himself. "Drink; it will speed your healing." Indeed, the pain relief in the mystical tincture would be almost immediate, alongside calming, mild euphoria.

The Major offers a brief, pained chuckle at Ryu's rather humble words; that he views himself as a simple, skilled individual. His mirth is cut short, however, as the jostling of his body causes a fresh stab of pain along his midsection - and he grips the gauze-wrapped wound, face temporarily awash with agony.

It takes him only a moment to regain his composure, however, slowly pulling his hands away from his wrapped cuts to accept the offered tea with a grateful - albeit skeptical - nod. He looks down at the contents as he begins to speak, voice still trembling to match the slight tremor in his hands.

"If that were enough," he begins - referring to his own ability to break the sound barrier with his chi, "Then I wouldn't need to bother you, Ryu..."

Raising the container to his face, he sniffs the tea sharply, trying to determine the contents - he's experienced in dealing with medicinal herbs, a necessity when one has to spend so much time carrying out missions in the jungles and forests of the world. But the smell is odd, utterly unlike anything he has ever dealt with in the past.

"Best weapon, sure. But not the only one we'll need. Your blade is sharp. But that, too, won't be enough."

A deep sigh, as he continues to regard the fluid Ryu has passed to him. Raising his eyes from the liquid to stare at Hayabusa once more, he continues - his voice low and serious.

"Next stop is South America. To find Heidern. He's the only one who can lead us; even Secretary Dickinson said as much. I pray he's as receptive to my offer as you were."

Holding the bowl in both hands - a necessity, considering the weak, shaky grip owing to his injuries - he slowly raises it to his lips, just barely managing to avoid spilling any onto the ground. A few, uncertain sips of the liquid follow... and the effect is almost instantaneous, a comfortable warmth beginning to spread throughout his system. A dulling sensation that seems to calm the sharp pain of his numerous cuts, muffling his pain receptors as it travels through him.

As the effects begin to take hold, he greedily drains the rest - clearly not one for manners or maintaining a dignified bearing. Placing the bowl on the ground beside him once it is bone-dry, the Major inhales deeply... waits a moment... and then lets the breath slowly escape his lungs.

Already, there is a visible dullness that washes over his eyes - pupils constricting as the analgesic nature of the drink kicks in fully.

"I'll need to camp somewhere for the night... and I'm hardly in any shape to set up my own shelter..."

The slowness of his speech seems to point towards the fact that whatever was in that tea is having quite an effect upon him, and reinforces the fact that he's likely not in any condition to start building his own fire and setting up his own camp. He didn't even have to dip into the legitimate painkillers kept within his own duffelbag; which is for the best, as he didn't want to be too loopy here, in an unknown place - even with the Hayabusa clan protecting this peak.

"Alright if I rest here for a while?"

After all, he has a lot of other stops to make on the mission Goldlewis has given him; a veritable roll call of foreign countries he must visit in order to continue building the roster for the Secretary of Defense's planned organization.

The trepidation with which westerners tend to approach such tinctures is not exactly new to Hayabusa-- it's a peculiarity enjoyed subtly, on the periphery of the Dragon Ninja's vision, giving Charlie time to acclimate and indulge without any overt intervention.

"No single weapon is sufficient to every battlefield condition." Ryu observes simply as he sips his own drink, relaxes mind and body. Even the great Musashi relied on two, and even tho two near-perfected were not sufficient for -every- challenge.

"South America." The Dragon Ninja muses. "To seek out the Ikari Warriors..." It lacks the sense of awe, of legend that Charlie spoke of relevant to their meeting, tonight, when the Shinobi Prince speaks of it; but he's no less intrigued for the stoicism. "I may have to join you on that trek."

The champion demonslayer chuckles softly, a warmly amused melody sounding at Nash's gradually more lethargic queries. "The second lean-to is obviously meant for you, Charlie Nash. Rest as long as you like; your safety is as close to guaranteed here as it can be -anywhere-."

Sure, it's a qualified confidence-- but relative security is all they really have in this line of work. Hayabusa will take his own rest on the tranquil mountain overlook, in the shade of aged trees, only after a long period of meditation and contemplation on this new fork in the road; and another bamboo cup of that wonderful, wonderful tea.

Log created on 09:35:51 08/12/2021 by Ryu Hayabusa, and last modified on 22:15:21 08/19/2021.