Meifeng - Metro City Park - Prelude to Investigation

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Description: Metro City Park has been healed. Normally the Librarium would like to claim credit for such things, but they weren't directly involved. Who -was-, though? A small team is about to be dispatched to find out more, but before they do, Lieutenant Yao has some independent investigation of her own to carry out.

Streetlights pick up the slack from waning sunlight. The footfalls of a jogger's shoes echo through city streets as she makes her way through the city streets. All things considered, joggers are a common sight here in Metro City, moreso around the park, now that its chain-link fences are little more than a memory.

Less typical: the sight of a fluffy tiger tail trailing behind this particular jogger. Considering the city's trauma with Jedah Dohma, darkstalkers often conceal themselves, lest they attract unwelcome attention. But no, in this case, Meifeng Yao chooses to keep striped orange fur on display -- a sharp contrast to the neutralizing gray of her athleisure garb. With such a silky coat, a lightweight windbreaker and a good pair of shoes are all the extra protection she needs from the dwindling remnants of winter.

As she figures, jogging is a good cover from the NOL lieutenant's unadvertised mission. Newspapers and local reporting was a disappointing start; citizens were so accustomed to avoiding the corrupted park that there were relatively few present to register the change. She'd hoped telephones could fill the gap, but alas, no one picks those up any more. Getting boots on the ground -- or form-fitting, custom-made sneakers in her case -- would be the only way to sate the hybrid cat's curiosity.

The tigress slows to a halt near a park bench. Taking a long draw of water from a bottle she'd been carrying, she takes a moment to look around at her surroundings: trees enjoying their new springtime weather; sidewalks expending the last of their daytime heat. a nearby garbage can, aggressively sharing its unusual scents. The tigress' nose wriggles; slit irises scan the refuse in the trash can.

Her sharp gaze registers black and white strands of cat fur, matted to a discarded rag reeking with the scent of Choji oil. Mineral oil cut with small amounts of clove oil: the preferred way of maintaining the keen cutting edge of a rarely-used sword. A distinctive convergence of evidence, for a wire trash can in a public park.

The smallest glimmer of a smile crosses the tigress' face, as she takes another look around, her nostrils sampling the air for further clues.

Things are, for the first time in Clio's recent memories, looking completely up. She had somehow survived the infinite glance and walked out the other side. She had seen her mother, established some kind of a connection to the aloof scientist, and secured the trust of secrecy of her survival. Most importantly, she has seen to the revival of Metro City Park. A reduction of the corruption left in the wake of Jedah Dohma. She had allies, a mentor, and something to show for the pain and suffering. And she did it all without the backing of the ever looming corrupted threat that was the Librarium.

Clio hadn't been too enamored with overseeing the park in the immediate aftermath of the spellcasting. At least, that was what she had thought at first. But there was something satisfying basking in the afterglow of a job well done. A sense of pride was not something that she had easily felt since about the time of Golden Angel. And that was less pride and more embarrassed realization that she was very clearly still likely remembered from that kind thing.

Maybe that is why she still had a Kaka Clan mask hanging around.

Alongside that, she knows she looks like an overt and overly fashion focused goth. She still doesn't have much more than that overly long shirt and tights. Her chain tightly packs itself around her waist like a belt that ends with a heavy and comically wide collar hanging around her neck.

This is how she finds herself, laying back and enjoying the sun. The people taking it on themselves to plant trees and flowers and encourage the young growth of the recovering park. It's also a good time to people watch; something she still enjoys. Especially when one of them happens to be tall, athletic and jogging. The darkstalker aspect of the tigress lady doesn't impact Clio's watching that much. Maybe something about learning from Jubei has rubbed off on her.

People watching is an occasional pastime of the Chinese tigress as well. One that recent overtasking has kept her from partaking in, sadly. People watching informed much of her development over the years, aiding in the transition from a wild, feral beast into a prim and proper officer of the NOL. 'Look, but don't touch' took on a literal and necessary edge with the adolescent Meifeng.

Another life skill that provided much benefit to her was the idea that one should survey one's surroundings before leaping to any particular course of action. This served her well in the wild, as well -- and it's why her feet remain planted as she focuses on her sense of smell. A quarter turn later, the lieutenant finds herself face to face with... well, a Kaka clanmember, if she were to trust her eyes.

Ears swivel forward, as she stares back at the unmoving eyes of the mask. It's a mask, right? It's okay to stare, yes? A moment of thought is all it takes to realize that, no, that might be a bad assertion -- someone is undoubtedly -wearing- said mask. Does this mean she's been caught staring? Her tail curling downward might suggest that...

And it's with that that the tigress claps her hands and bows her head in apology. Her eyes lower for a moment; shoulders remain low for the bow. And after a moment, she slowly, reluctantly, lifts her eyes and shoulders to address those of the mask once more. Her tail lifts quizzically, creating something of a scythelike hook over her left shoulder.

She offers a sheepish wave of her left hand. Another tentative test to determine whether the masked Kaka is actually looking her way, or whether the tigress was inadvertently spooked by the eyes.

Clio may not exactly be a member of the Kaka Clan, but she has taken to enjoying the mask's impact on people. Most who don't know look other ways, or are just puzzled. But with today's big city fashion conscious society, most just write her off as someone strange or unique. Something that Clio is comfortable with. Her uniform has always put her slightly off from the general civilian population. She's familiar with the looks.

But the looks of someone that 'knows', or at least is close enough in the know, are the ones she enjoys the most. This darkstalker is one of them. Looking as she is at the always grinning, sharp toothed Kaka Clan mask. Always grinning, the mask stares with red dot eyes back at the tigress. The woman's scent is human, or at least around humans, though she's been in contact with Jubei recently. But she also enjoys trips to Abigail's machine shop. So the general cacophony of ripe scents that hangs off Clio is hers, bundled with a lot of others.

Behind the mask, the woman yawns. A setting sun means it's time to stop trying to sleep in the sun and time to get up and go. But Clio's found her getting up and going is going to be delayed by the brazen darkstalker openness.

She leans forward in her bench, her chain clinks off of itself. A tilt of the head. She pulls a hand out of her pocket and waves. It's a human hand, her makeshift hoodie isn't proper Kaka wear after all. Claws were never her weapon of choice.

Close enough. If someone's going to walk around with a decorative mask covering their face, rather than their actual face, that probably means they're okay fielding questions about said mask.

And it's with that resolve in mind that Meifeng cracks a wide grin at the greeting, clicks her bottle back onto its carabiner hook, and ambles on over. It wouldn't seem like the sight of a human hand had any impact on her reaction.

Ms Yao's nose, though, does seem to be particularly busy as she comes to realize that the scent of machine grease is, in fact, intermingled with the scents of fur and the chain. There's a short-lived moment of confusion as that particular realization is noted, but Meifeng is quick to recover with a smile.

"It is not every day that I meet someone of the esteemed clan," she comments drily, upon entering a fair conversational radius. "I would like to apologize for finding myself staring, but you have a rather distinctive mask, and I had wanted to compliment you in person. It is very pretty!"

Meifeng's ears pivot, occasionally flicking side to side as other stimuli interest them. Her tail slips to and fro with interest.

"Did you make it yourself?"

"If you've met the ones I have," Clio's words spill out unguarded. This whole get-up was a lingering tie to the ones she stayed with and her temporary teammate Taokaka. Which was an event certain to never truly be forgotten. Clio's personal recollection on it something she's glad was never documented in any of the NOL files. But she knows that some people might have some respect for the others of the clan.

She raises a hand, and leans back, she's trying to be calm, cool, and still wake up in time to not be an idiot in front of the tall jogging lady. "I did make it. It wasn't too hard. Modeled it after a friend's design." She reaches up to take the mask off, and shake the hood back down. "Wanted to match her for a thing. It's easier when it's a mask." Now isn't the time to show off the arcane touches that give it adjustable expressions, but even Darkstalkers aren't necessarily privy to every trick in a person's book.

Clio's eyes dart over Meifeng, looking for something to pay back the gesture. But all she sees aren't things she wants to be too overly complimentary about in the moment. "I don't think I've seen you around here before?" she asks, shifting to blunt topics that she bobbles out onto the conversational court.

Meifeng offers a brief chuckle in response. She may not be able to see Clio's facial expression, but she can put some of the contextual cues together to recognize drowsiness. Or something like it.

She smiles, as Clio tells about the mask's origin. "It is very pretty," she reiterates; her command of the local language had not gifted her with a surplus of adjectives. She considers Clio's words, turning and fitting them against what she already knows -- but the thoughts dissipate as soon as she realizes that the mask has been removed. "... I do like seeing your eyes, though. The window to the soul, I believe, is how they say it?" All the better to gauge your moods with -- things it's -tough- to do with such a mask in the way.

Of course, something that would -also- help in the last vestiges of sunlight would be to remove the yellow lenses covering her eyes. Meifeng lifts the overly large lenses, resting them above her forehead, revealing her own eyes in the process. "Your friend was a teammate of sorts, then?" Meifeng shifts her weight onto her back foot, allowing her to make a fist with one hand. "It is good to present a solid, unified front. A team can do so much more than one."

The shift in topic reminds the tiger, though, that she has not introduced herself yet. "O... oh! Yes. I am terribly sorry. I am visiting from China. I had heard that the park was back in bloom, and felt like it was time for me to see it in person. It is quite different than the pictures I had seem from months prior."

Hands clasp together, and the young tigress gives another half-bow, as she had before. "My name is Meifeng. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

Clio stifles a laugh. "Really, window to the soul?" she asks, looking amused. "Haven't heard that one in a while." Though she can tell there has to be a bit of a language issue, no one could be that forward about 'liking seeing someone's eyes'. Or, Clio considers, she's just letting herself think far, far too ahead of herself.

She runs her fingers over the mask, looking down at it rather than her conversational partner. The Chinese reveal says mostly nothing, though it confirms a bit about languages. "Yeah, the park is a lot nicer. People keep saying it has something to do with the news about Darkstalker stuff and that big tech company." It's babble, made up gossip, just a way to gauge people. And to not crow about her own accomplishments. "I think it's pretty dumb to think some business would do all this and not have their advertisements everywhere," she adds, not wanting to give out too much credit to a rumor.

"Oh, but, my friend, yeah, she was. It was for an amateur league thing. Cat theme because, well, Darkstalker stuff. I've got nothing against them. I think they keep things interesting."

Open mouth, insert foot, Clio bites on her cheek. It is too early for her to engage with a pretty girl. "My name's Clio. Nice meeting you, Mei-feng. Did I get that right?"

The pleasant side-to-side swishing of Meifeng's tail falters as the 'haven't heard that one in a while' is heard. The tigress blinks back in confusion. "I am sorry, d-did I not use that saying correctly?" She gives an awkward laugh, though from the way she draws inward, she feels -- at least for that one moment -- a bit out of her element.

Luckily, the apprehension is short-lived, as conversation tracks towards the park itself. A brow is raised at the idea that Ultratech could have anything to do with the park's revitalization -- though it isn't until Clio voices her own skepticism that Meifeng would feel comfortable in contesting the idea. "... I would think to agree, yes. For many people, the world does not exist unless a big tournament were to stage an event there." She bares her teeth for a broad smile, resting her hands casually upon her hips. Her tail swishes once more into motion.

The smile remains in place, even as Clio's drowsy turns of phrase wander into an unintended slight. And Meifeng... is less bothered by it than she could be. Partly because... well, there a lot of people who would just straight out admit they're biased the other way. "It sounds like a solid theme," she admits with a sly grin. "Did it turn out well for you?"

The tigress can, at times, be a little dense to certain turns of phrase. But she's got plenty of experience acting as a 'big sister' to those under her command, and she makes a point of subtly stepping to the side, subconsciously giving Clio a bit more breathing room. "You got it, wonderful." she reassures. "You have a good ear for Chinese," she states, with a grin. "Clio is a beautiful name, with a good sound to it." Her eyes widen, as a moment of thought breaks through. "Is it... short for anything?"

One hand lifts; long fingers sift themselves through her hair, pulling it away from her fair-colored cheeks. Eyes close for a moment, as she draws in another breath of the breeze. "Mm. So... Clio..." She gestures to the surrounding area with an open hand. "Do you spend much time here in the park? Any recommendations for special places to visit?"

'Smooth, Clio,' she thinks to herself as she fumbles over stupid words. This is far from the first Darkstalker she's been around, she shouldn't be sounding like this. But she knows it's just a flustered moment. She's always been aloof about things. She's always gotten away with just watching. At least with civilians. All of her life has been around people she's worked with, she's gone to school with. Or, people she has beaten up and/or beaten her up. Never some random woman in the park.

She scratches at the back of her neck. "Well, it turned out well enough. Got some money out of it. We got a good chunk of change from it. Honestly, my teacher was the one that carried us," she talks about it easily, skirting over the direct mention of a fighting tournament or anything of the sort. Those are common enough around the world that she doesn't feel the need to explain.

"And yeah!" she adds, "The park and this city can take care of itself more than just having a bit corporation come in. Especially after all that time since the incident. I was out when it happened though, at school then. I mean, I'm out now." She wants to make it clear despite her size and garb she isn't still a child.

"And Clio's not short for anything. It's a Greek muse. My mom has a thing for history and heroes and stuff. Everyone thinks it's Cleopatra, but nope." She slows, looking up at the Darkstalker. She thinks a moment. She shrugs internally. "I know a few places. I could show you if you'd like."

Things have been going up for Clio. Might as well take a shot in the dark for a darkstalker.

Meifeng has worked with the NOL enough to know that the uniform can be an intimidation tactic. That people might not want to be fully open with someone wearing the formal colors. Leaving the uniform at her hotel room was a conscious choice made by the lieutenant. It's not hard for Meifeng to read the subtle signs of nervousnes as simple apprehension. A fear of authority, somehow. Attempts are made to ratchet back the formality, to speak openly -- to just be -casual-. And yet Clio still reads as 'flustered.' How strange.

Meifeng responds warmly, encouraging Clio to talk about the matters which she knows well. "Oh! Your teacher was allowed to enter alongside you. That sounds like a good experience! Plenty of opportunities to learn and grow." She accomodates the flustered response by leaning into every syllable. To egg on Clio, encourage her to relax, to tell more.

For this to feel less like the investigation that it might truly be. For Meifeng is interested in more than what's being shared.

"Yes... you were out then. Thank goodness! But now you are back, yes? How does it feel being in city again?" Perhaps the tigress missed a few cues there; there's none of the markers to indicate she's making a joke of any kind. Just the warm, friendly gestures of a hybrid tiger speaking a foreign language.

"Oh. Fantastic!" She pauses, tapping her two indexes together. "Ah, yes, Cleopatra! I could see why history might play into that." She smiles, hoping that talking while walking might alleviate the awkwardness -- to feel less like an interview about the city itself.

"I would love to see more, yes! It is a treat to have a local show me around." Her fluffy tail jaunts around happily.

Clio is paving over the things that normally would irritate her through the power of a potential language barrier, and a heavy dose of 'pretty girl'. She does take a moment to take a breath and push herself up to her feet. The change in posture do a lot to put her back into her own head and into her element. As the heavy chain she wears as a fashion accessory shifts and hangs around her. Her hands slip into the front pocket of her shirt and a hand wraps around the heft of one of her spikes.

"Spend most of my time in cities," she says, "They start to feel the same." She doesn't bring up a few thoughts ticking off in her head now that she's looking at Meifeng with more than just taking in the scenery. The questions, and the dress, and the comfort shown. It tells a few things to Clio. And it ticks a few boxes of suspicion. But Clio has to tell herself that she sometimes has to be open to things.

One thing that jars her into a moment of reality is the mention of Cleopatra. "No. Not Cleopatra. Just Clio. Spelled with an I, not an E," she insists. A pet peeve, but it is her name after all. "Anyway, if you want something good, you got to get something off a cart. It'll be trash, but it's good trash."

Meifeng eyes the links of heavy chain -- but is careful to keep from expressing too much concern. The tigress is not comfortable poking -that- beehive just yet.

Her aim was 'small talk', but Meifeng had inadvertently stumbled onto a pet peeve. She declines to press the point, closing her eyes and drooping her head slightly. "My mistake, please forgive me."

After a beat, she angles her head to one side, eyes widening hopefully. "Are you are hungry now? If so -- I hope you would you allow me to treat you. To make up for it, mm?" Straightening her stance, she adds, "I have always felt that sampling local cuisine is the -best- part of traveling. 'Trash' or no." She gestures with an amicably open hand for Clio to lead the way!

And, well, on the way, it's easier to talk about other things. "Mm, yes. They do all feel alike. Oddly, it is because of them that I miss my home. I had never thought that I would miss the smell of soot and brimstone. But it is... not Shanghai. And not Southtown. So." She offers a mirthless laugh; her ears flick about in response to various park sounds.

"Yes. I miss the simpler life."

Clio walks, hands in her pocket, kaka clan mask worn along the side of her head, clinking with each step of her boots. She knows how she stands out, she's generally fine with it. A history of the NOL's unique stylistic integrity still remains within the former lieutenant. She knows it draws attention. But she can't imagine it's more interesting than a Darkstalker strolling around in athliesure.

"No, no, you don't need to pay. You're visiting my city, I can cover this," she says with a hand raised and a laugh. "Besides, I ain't taking you to anything I wouldn't be doing myself. Just earlier."

She has a place in mind, but with an offering of information, Clio cannot help but to pry. "Soot and brimstone? Where you from? Steel mill?" It's a half joke, something dumb, something desperate to keep things light and to keep showing interest. Clio internally wondering if Minal would be laughing at her for this display.

"Oh, over there, that cart," she points over to a small cart, stained off white with age. A steadily growing scent of questionable meat and spices radiates off of it. It's a kebab cart, and looks about as dubious as one could find within Metro City.

Meifeng's tail poofs out straight, and her cheeks puff up in mild protest. "Mmph." A token effort to show that she'd still -want- to pay, but not enough to inspire true unpleasantness. Cooling off slightly, she allows her tail to swish freely again, continuing: "Despite being a complete stranger, you spoil me as if I were a longtime friend. I appreciate the kindness."

The tigress is pleased that Clio decided to ask her more; with an eager smile, she chops two fingers in agreement. "Close! Coal mining is a very big industry back home. Life has a slower pace there. I miss it, sometimes."

Meifeng picks up the scent of the cart a split-second before Clio points it out; the synergy only serves to broaden her smile. "It smells heavenly," she comments. "... So is this... early for you? Would you call this breakfast, or an early dinner?"

Clio's hand comes out of her pocket enough to hold up a half-dismissive wave. "No big deal," she says. "It's just some street food. It's not pricey, and I still have some some winnings to blow on things." She's smiling, happy to find in some way a position over the attractive tiger lady.

Stepping to the cart, the scent of the spices and grease and cheap meat hangs over the area. Especially to anyone with a stronger sense of smell than the average noseblind human. "This? this is basically breakfast. I'm kind of a night owl. The big glowy ball in the sky and I don't get along well," she jokes with a broad grin. And then it falters as she falls into the small line.

"So, uh, What kinda thing brings you to Metro City again?" she asks, "Jogging, no less."

The approach to the food truck is a feast for the senses. The tigress' tail begins oscillating like a metronome at the thought of sampling the foods responsible for such delicious aromas, with Clio as her guide. Each step closer has Meifeng's mouth watering more and more -- a contagious enthusiasm communicated by her growing smile.

"Mm... I would agree! I would much rather do my work in the evenings, and save sunbeams for sleepytime." The approaching proximity to the wonderful spices starts to have an effect on the predator's sharp vision, her irises narrowing in response. To say she's... interested would be an understatement.

Though, some of that enthusiasm is cut off when Clio asks the purpose of the visit. Meifeng's tail stiffens. She rubs the back of her neck, standing up more straight. Ears fold back. "... Work," she begins, the formality dropping back onto her voice like a leaden weight.

She tilts her head towards the cener of the park. "Here, specifically. Assessing the root causes leading to a purging of the park's corruption."

Her tone shifts yet again, to a friendlier middle ground. "For the moment, I am here on a rare vacation. Off the record, for I have certain... -duties-." Her feline gaze turns back to Clio; making direct eye contact, before dropping away. "As an officer of the Librarium."

She looks back to the food stand. "I hope you can forgive me for being so circumspect."

Her voice is low as she adds: "... but. In two days, the specialists arrive, and I will be on duty as a security officer."

Cash is exchanged, payment in something harder to track and less controllable for a life currently lead in bouncing about and wandering. Soon after comes the kebab, and the same oily pilaf that all carts with a similar budget carry. Clio offers the first over to Meifeng. Listening, and watching, the darkstalker's clear interest in the food.

The sudden drop over work, well that was more interesting. A confident Darkstalker walking among people like she was, it may have been a hint. Of course, the more pleasing to look at ones were always more acceptable, but having paramilitary buddies can help a lot when it came to society. But that the woman seems displeased at her work runs incongruous to the bounciness she's had. It raises the hairs on the back of Clio's neck.

Clio can't simply hate the rank and file. She knows too many of them. She grew up with too many of them. And that woman at the Roselia saved her life. She was likely just as important in the safety and future of Metro City Park as Clio was herself. And the fox-girl likely didn't even know. Clio's eyes looks down at her kebab. It would've been easier if the world had been smaller.

She picks at the meet. Appetite is a fleeting thing, it would seem. "Say it," she says, quietly. "Say the thing."

Mouth-watering. The aroma is heavenly. And Meifeng may or may not have licked her lips once or twice. And yet, as a creature who has grown far too used to suppressing her animal habits, Meifeng abstains on digging in until Clio is able to peel open the wrapper to her own.

One tiger ear pops up at the quiet rejoinder to speak. "... Mrr?" she answers, tentatively. "Say what thing?" Another slight error in translation?

Meifeng looks back at Clio, with another tentative look. Her gaze darts between the street meat and Clio. Finally, she relents, and indulges for a bite. It's... everything as good as she imagined it would be. Perhaps moreso, with the guilt of the revelation hanging over her.

Digesting her bite, she answers, "I am here on vacation. Mm? And spending time with my new friend Clio." She forges a shallow smile.

She takes another bite. Taking her time in measuring her thoughts.

"It is not bad. There are no active bounties for your arrest. Someone is looking out for you. In a good way."

Clio mulls over a forkful of rice. The little grains shine in the low sunlight. "I like the motto," she says, "Reminds you why you do it." She takes a bite, as accusatory as a bite can be made. She is savoring the preferred meat, going for the carbs first. Chewing, watching, dark eyes darker still.

She exhales, but she is standing taller, and the cold water of reality has tempered her nervousness. This isn't a civilian. This is another soldier. Another warrior. Maybe, maybe another knight. Clio isn't quite sure. But she's not feeling like she has to dance around things. And maybe the reality of the other woman's position will change her attitude. "Rank? I'm guessing Infantry?" she questions around spice touches bites of rice. "You clearly know about me. I think it's only fair you offer the same to a dead girl."

Talk as she is, she's processing the cover she has. She knows she was reported dead. She knows the aims she took to cover her tracks. She also knows she met her mother. There's a lot of possibilities. Some dark. More than a few a matter of shrugging and sweeping under the rug. It doesn't matter to focus on those questions right now. Because right now she has an officer in front of her, and she has questions.

"Mmm... yes." The urge to repeat the mantra is counterbalanced by the unspoken need to keep from driving a knife too deeply within. Lest more accusatory bites be carried out. "It has kept me going on many a bad day."

Though, as Clio adjusts her stance, Meifeng pivots to get a better look. The tigress is attuned to the ebb and flow of chi. And she can tell that the flow is less turbulent than it was mere moments prior. The figure before would have blended into a crowd, save for the mask -- but this Clio standing before her looks every bit as inspiring as the figure she remembers. She smiles brightly at the revelation -- enough to give her pause on consuming more of her spice-filled treat.

The poke at that 'figure' being 'dead,' though, causes her tail to droop. With a mirthless chuckle, she answers crisply: "First Lieutenant. Infantry Division, on detachment to Southtown under Colonel Mutsuki." Her gaze darts to Clio's crown, before guiltily dropping back down. "You were a senior when I entered the Academy. I... hope is not weird to admit..." She looks down shyly, tail swishing back and forth. "Your class in general, and you and Miss Nanaya specifically, were... an inspiration to me."

She takes another bite of her meal. Chewing thoughtfully, she then amends to her statement: "-Are- an inspiration. It is... I mean, I am delighted to finally meet you, Clio."

A bite of kebab lamb. Clio maintains composure in the face of the perfectly spiced meat and the savory realization that she has had little elsewise to eat today. The first "morning" burst of flavor and energy giving food hits her and she feels a deep warmth of the day flooding her system. It is a struggle that is only won when she closes her eyes for a brief moment of respite from stone-faced coldness.

"Goditsfugginggood," she mutters to herself before recovering enough to look up at the tiger lady now showering her with too many compliments to feel genuine. Curse the NOL and their pinpoint knowledge of her weakness for tall and pretty. She wonders, for a moment, if it was Colonel Mutsuki who did this. If she worked for him, then . . ."

Clio's posture straightens. "You work for him?" she asks. A resigned hum comes from her throat. "He's good people. Skeevy. But good," she says. "I respect his taste in women." She takes a deep breath and another bite to draw out more time. Thought she starts talking through the bites. "I can see Makoto, but why me?"

She narrows her eyes, still trying to figure out this woman. But the information offered makes her a little open to trusting. Further, if it is bait, Clio is fine enough with implicating Kagura Mitsuki in things.

Meifeng breaks into a snicker, as Clio lets spill her true feelings about the taste of the kebab. And, knowing that it's -lamb?- It's more than enough cause for the Shanxi native to indulge for another bite. And then another. Familiar meat infused with a delightfully exotic flavor. The tigress is happy to have made this connection, no doubt.

Savoring the freshness of the taste, she takes pain to keep from indulging -too- quickly in the meal. Perhaps the jogging got her hungrier than she'd expected to be. She reassures herself that seconds aren't off the table yet.

"For the moment, yes. Southtown has had a number of staffing issues lately, and Shanghai less so. It was a fortunate match, in a lot of ways." Beat. "And yes." Another brief uptick in her smile. "'Skeevy,'" she repeats, the word foreign to her tongue.

She takes another bite, chewing thoughtfully as she considers her answer. A brief, almost giddy smile at the flavor bonanza.

Her smile dims. Somberly, she answers: "Because you broke free."

Clio is quick to abandon the notion of slow and measured eating. She started to eat like she did in the field; as quickly as possible to get going once more. The rice and kebab disappearing in a rush, and dabbed up with a wedge of cheap and tough pita.

Even as she wolfs down the food, she hardly averts her eyes from Meifeng. She still doesn't trust. There is still something too much about all of this. And that fear is not abated when Meifeng reveals the reason for 'admiration'. It causes Clio to swallow and to look up at those orange glasses with a clear distrust to her expression. "I'm sorry, what?"

A slow shake of her head, she fights back at her instinct to bolt in this situation. "You know I can't fully trust that, right?" she asks directly, voice dipping low. "What I did is the most painful thing I've done in my life. What's in it for you to do what I did?"

Meifeng's expression goes cold. The tip of her tail drops 20cm, pivoting to her side.

"I do not blame you for being mistrustful. We have only just met."

Meifeng lowers her chin, but does -not- turn her eyes away from Clio. Tigers do not back down -- and neither will she. Her tail stiffens up, swishing back and forth behind her at a roughly 45-degree angle.

And yet, she stares back at Clio, shaking where she stands. For she knows words she -could- say. But she does not know what words -to- say.

Finally. In scarcely above a whisper.

"If I had had the strength, Clio, I would be here as a fellow fugitive, instead of an informant."

The tigress wraps both hands around the kebab, pulling it close to her. Hunger has stilled for the moment, in the heat of dispute, but the tiger knows in her stubbornness that it will pass.

Quieter still. "Why else would a non-human hide in the lair of her hunters?"

The etching along the length of the heavy chain about Clio's throat and body catch the setting sun and shine with an eldritch light. She shifts her position, shoulders stooping. She crunches the wrapper that held her breakfast. Looking down at her free hand, She opens and closes her fingers. Her feet shift to square at the tigress. And then they cross defensively.

She is quiet for a moment. She watches Meifeng. Her lips purse. The whispered admission, or deception, is something major to consider. There might be truth. There might not be. "You think you'd be the first one to try and be the good example?" she asks. "Makoto, that fox girl, there's plenty that're willing to join them. There's plenty of good people in their numbers."

She closes her eyes and takes one sharp inhalation and exhales, "I just can't tolerate injustice. I can't be the one to break the vow in supposed service to that vow. And there's more than mankind to think about these days."

Meifeng holds her ground, her tail twigging back and forth with the consistency of a metronome. She listens -- slowly digesting the words, reassembling them into her native tongue. A low growl escapes her throat, but sticks in her craw -- a mumble of assent, perhaps. Her ears swivel sideways, the feline predator ever vigilant of her surroundings.

Her tall frame as adamant as a mountain, until the time where she takes in one singular breath.

Her lips purse; her shoulders slump. Clio may be starting her day, but Meifeng is close to ending hers.

" ... I am not good with English. But I am not sure if you are upset with me, or yourself."

She raises the kebab to her mouth, and bites every last morsel off. Damned if she's gonna let the feast go by uneaten.

Chew, chew, chew. The food is made short work of before she speaks again. "Lamb reminds me of home, Clio. Lamb acts as a bridge between the styles of the north and the Han. And I am glad to know it acts as a bridge to you, as well."

Her tail slackens, as she raises a piece of the pita bread. Seems she didn't think to eat it at the same time as the kebab.

"I think I understand now. The vow remains unbroken."

Meifeng smiles. And bites off a hunk of that pita bread.

The tension in Clio St. Jeanne, former Lieutenant of the Librarium, dissipates. The flow of chi around her remains within the chain. The Boundary touched power bending through the links in her chain, flowing from chain to witch and back again. A circuit of magic from one to the other. Held at bay, within her body and her weapon, a channel in the flow of chi.

She lowers her head, and her hands reach to flip her hood up. The Kaka Clan ears, leather capped, visible. "Too many good things is a sign of a bad one," Clio says. "I'm suspicious. That's all." She huffs, a half laugh of self derision. "Enjoy the food. It's good stuff. Metro City's a good place. It needed helping. And it got what it needed."

She looks over at the slow regrowth, where the early grasses, the replanting effort, and the fresh loam piles all lay in wait for a concerted effort to bring life back. She smiles. "The Librarium's going to find some old magic was at hand. But I've seen where it comes from and even they ain't likely to go chasing it down. But they might go trying to throw their weight where it ain't wanted. Metro ain't Southtown, they might learn that."

Clio puts her hands into her hoodie pocket. "But that don't mean it doesn't need some light. Stick around a while. It might need someone like you." She smirks.

Once again, Meifeng had found herself without an Ars Magus. And in such a state, she falls back on her training -- keeping her primal nature at a distance. De-escalation is the tiger's modus operandi -- even when faced with a former NOL officer brandishing a lethal weapon.

When Clio stands down, Meifeng's response is subtle: the tiger tail swishing into motion again, her flow of chi returning to usual. And, well, she takes another bite of pita bread, that simple country-folk smile returning.

"I do not think the Librarium has much need to deploy a garrison here. The corruption was not a large concern, and now that it is largely eliminated, even less so." Her ears swivel about, once again picking up the minute details her focus hadn't allowed her to enjoy. "That is what my contribution to the report will read, anyway. I will do everything I can to help." She flashes a soft smile.

With the hostile auras discarded, Meifeng relaxes her stance, pivoting slightly to one side. "The ears suit you better than the balmoral cap," she says with a grin.

Though, as she nips off a piece of the pita bread, she grows a bit more somber. After some thought, she adds, "I believe you are where you need to be. Do stay vigilant, as best you can, and I will do the same from our end."

Subtle language. But appreciated language. Clio nods. She reaches up to her Kaka clan mask and pulls it down in front of her of her face. This time, the formulae written into it shifts the expression to match, broadly, the way Clio wishes to display. Two dot eyes sat in a black field, the sharp teeth in a grin. "Is that what you're supposed to call it? Always thought it was a beret," Clio notes with a light surprise in her voice.

"But I like what I'm hearing. There's problems all over. And some places don't need the Librarium's way of taking control. But they still need a light. I think that's what I'm gonna be doing. And I still have a lot to learn from my teacher. Don't think I'll ever catch up to him, but a girl can dream, can't she?"

She laughs, the grin on the mask shifts from closed teeth to open. "Watch your back, though. There's a lot of rot there. Any one you see show up real sudden on their bounty lists might be wanted for the wrong sort of reasons. And more than anything else, watch out for Captain Hazama." Clio says a name and gauges the reaction. She opts not to explain the chain man incident. Or to talk about Noel. So she keeps to understandably vague, "He's willing to do whatever he can for the NOL. Regardless of what that means for his people."

The tigress tilts her head as she watches Clio don the mask again. Upon noticing that the mask's changing expressions -- something she hadn't noticed before -- she offers a surprised smile.

"I... think so?" replies Meifeng. "That is what I was taught. Though you are not the first to make that observation." A brief chuckle: "Perhaps that word was bundled along with my English teacher's accent."

Meifeng listens intently to Clio while finishing off the rest of her pita bread, preferring to nod her assent when necessary so that she can gather her thoughts in one go. Besides, this gives her more opportunity to enjoy the mask movements. The one exception: an arched eyebrow at the name of Captain Hazama. "From the Intelligence Department?" Her lips purse. "I have heard of him, nothing more." She seems to think this is a good thing.

She nods, afterward, having collected her thoughts. She keeps the balled-up wrapper in her palm for now. "Thank you for the note of caution. Rest assured, I am keeping my eyes open. The Librarium has a broad mandate to do well; I do everything I can to ensure that mandate is used to help, rather than harm." Her chin droops slightly; it seems she might have some reason for adding that particular qualifier, but she prefers not to divulge that at the time.

Instead, she gracefully sidesteps to a different topic. "Oh, and by 'teacher...' does that mean you are learning the sword?" She taps her left hip -- there's nothing there, but it's where she would keep the item she's invoking. "I have something of an attachment to mine..."

Clio's mask reflects the general mood of her choice. In the moment the neutral red dot eyes and a grin remains the standard. It sits somewhat at odds with the seriousness of her tone as the conversation turned to the Librarium and its chargers. Still, Clio's posture has grown more sedate and languid. Her weight rests on the back of her heels, her hands remain in her hood, and the flow of energy around her has ceased to roil so easily.

Her head tilts at the mention of her teacher. But she laughs. "No. I couldn't do that. I wouldn't know what to do with the kinds of swords he wields. No matter what anyone says, I was always more of a blunt instrument." She pulls a hand from her pocket run her fingers along the length of chain about her body. She flicks it, and the etchings shine for a moment. "But you're a swordy type? I know a few, it always looks cool."

She pulls her fingers from the chains, the energy seeps through, hanging from fingertip to formulae. "I've still got a lot to go, though. But I've been working on my circles lately. I've got some of it down, but I can't get it to fully protect from head on strikes."

Meifeng's smile grows in response to Clio's laughter; her tiger tail bobs up and down. "It is rather a shame that the tournament was not designed to showcase your team fighting in tandem. It would have been poetry in motion to watch your skills complementing one another. The keening of steel, interspersed with the Azure's resonance."

The tigress slides one foot back, moving one hand to her hip as if gripping the hilt of her sword. Her other extends outward in a warding position -- a stance readily identified with practitioners of pigua zhang.

"I have yet to find a martial art that encourages taking strikes head-on. Though, admittedly, I am not -very- familiar with the use of magic formulae as it pertains to Kaka clan masks."

The tigress takes two steps back, windmilling her leading arm back -- and in the wake of the circular motion are left behind three azure spheres. As she shifts into a baji quan stance -- left forearm held vertically as a shield for a slender profile -- the three orbs slip around her into a circular orbit, roughly parallel to the ground.

The three orbs hum and pulse about her as she holds her distance. The tigress smiles in the waning sunlight. "Generally, I reserve the sword as a method of last resort."

"You're complimenting too much," Clio says, a sass to her tone that earlier would've been blushing. She's finding a comfort in the moment, an opening to be herself. "I can see why they made you an officer if you talk like that." One of the eyes of the mask winks out for just a moment.

The eyes on the mask flicker when Meifeng makes a simply show of her practiced technique. Two dot eyes emphasized by parentheticals on either side. "Hey, whoa, that's cool and all. But I'm not talking martial arts, I mean magic. It's tinkering with the formulae used for containment and force direction. It's different from the mask stuff. That's more a party trick."

Clio looks one way, then another. The mask flickers back to the sharp toothed, dot eyed look as she looks back to the tigress taking her distance. "Are you implying what I think you're implying? Here? Now?" she questions, there's no hesitation in her tone. She knows she's in the park. She also knows she's in love with the idea that she might be sharing with Meifeng in this moment.

Meifeng shares a thoughtful look, with the hint of amusement. "The alternatives to compliments are... less productive." She cradles her cheek within her hand. "Also less fun."

When Clio clarifies her position, the tigress hesitates, her ears folding down. Clio mentioned 'head on strikes,' so Meifeng employed a martial arts metaphor. Normally the lieutenant would not press a minor point, but as it's in direct relation to the conversation, the Academy graduate insists: "... I believe I am on the level." The Azure-tapped orbs circling around her flare, as if to say, 'Don't forget about us!'

She raps knuckles against her own cheekbone. "I had -suspected- that the mask was a simple party trick. But, around those of our caliber, it is dangerous to assume such things. So, to rephrase: have you considered employing the mask itself as a second line of defense?" Here, too, she raps her knuckles; this time, against her forehead. "A protective ward, prepared in advance and requiring no spontaneous conjuration to deploy." A slight pause, the barest hint of a smile. "An idle thought, nothing more."

But then Clio's question garners a larger smile from the tiger. "Perhaps I should imply less, and speak directly. I would value an opportunity to test your skills in combat without my chain of command becoming involved."

She crabwalks sideways, raising her baji defenses once more. For a brief moment, the orbs accelerate their orbit, like a high-dollar sportscar revving its engine. "That... and I would like to test a magic theory of my own."

The mask looks blank. Clio is less than certain on how to take what Meifeng means by 'alternatives' in this situation. But it does bring a certain redness to a hidden face. Temporary, as there's plenty of hints that Meifeng and Clio are on a very similar page as one another.

"I hadn't," Clio admits, tapping at the mask, "Not in any major sense. Maybe a sort of ward could be useful. There's subtle stuff out there. But I'd have to dig into the more insidious spellwork. It's not really where I'm good."

But at the direct admission of an interest in a fight, Clio is quick to return to the grinning face with an added set of red lines angled down over the dot eyes. Her hands come out and she grabs at the clasp holding the chain to the oversized collar about her neck. A click and the etchings along the metal begin to glow. The chain come free and it almost seems to curl at its own accord while Clio rolls her arm. Coils of metal slithering to cover the whole of one limb, locking around it like a heavy steel serpent.

In her other hand, she holds a spike pulled from her pocket, a quick clip at the end replaces the open part that once hung to her neck. That she holds in a free hand. "I always like talking shop. What sort of theories you got, kitty cat?"

Condescending words seem to be the 'in' thing at the NOL nowadays. As a darkstalker, Meifeng gets far more than her share of those. And as that's what her comment was meant to refer to, she interprets the mask's blank look as commiseration.

"Mm," comments Meifeng. "There is also a good chance that the answer is closer than you think." The tigress jogger takes a half step back, whirling out a roundhouse that, if allowed to follow through to completion, would send her spinning out of control. But while it may have been easy for Clio to ignore the orbs spinning around her, Meifeng did not -- and the side of her heel contacts the orb soundly, causing its shape to deform into a pancake, with a faint 'bloop' sound -- fully deadening the momentum of her kick.

Pleased, she lowers her foot, reversing her prior stance so that her right forearm is leading now. She gives a lopsided grin at the 'nickname' she's been given, but no comment there.

"I believe I have outgrown the need to use my sword as a focus. I would like to see how well I do without it."

Her trailing hand snakes forward, nudging the yellow glases up along the bridge of her nose. "If this an appropriate location, then please, by all means: let us engage."

COMBATSYS: Meifeng has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Meifeng          0/-------/-------|

Clio leans forward, she rolls her shoulder and takes the spike end of her chain into an underhand grip. The mask simply looks ahead, but inside Clio is considering the words that Meifeng is says. That something might be closer than she thinks. It's a curious one. But something about it should send a chill up her spine. She knows it.

"This place'll be fine. The Park knows what it means to host a fight." She's direct on it, she knows this place has always been one where combat's been common. Wide enough, open enough, should be easy enough to not tear into the new born life. Besides, thinks Clio, this whole place could use something to ring it all in. The spellwork was magnificent, but Clio sometimes just needed something a bit more visceral.

Clio's boots dig at the dirt. Sliding back. She leads with her chain wrapped shoulder. "Let's dance."

COMBATSYS: Clio has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Clio             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0          Meifeng

Meifeng's eyes follow the chain. The spike, the links, the intricate spellwork all take on a new dimension seeing them in person, rather than in the videos she'd watched prior. A familiar foundation underlies the rhythm of energy, but Clio's art has evolved to a breathtakingly different tune. The feline lieutenant's nose twitches; her tail undulates to a steady beat.

"Let the fun begin, then," starts Meifeng, with an enigmatic smile.

In the next heartbeat, she makes good on her suggestion, taking one stride forward. The next step launches her into the air. A 'heavy hand' of Pi Gua Zhang is swung upward -- and then dropped, just as sharply, like the fall of a windmill blade down onto Clio.

The blue orbs, meanwhile, had pulled into a tighter orbit around Meifeng's waist. As Meifeng drops into a low posture, the three orbs break orbit, systematically unleashing a triple cascade strike, aiming to test the waist-high defenses of the tigress' masked opponent.

COMBATSYS: Clio blocks Meifeng's Form One - Keening Draft.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Clio             0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0          Meifeng

Clio turns herself into the attack. Her shoulder lurching forward. The chains shine with an eldritch glow. Spheres crash down against the metal, crashing and sparking with violet/azure light. Clio crackles with laughter at the hit. "C'mon. That was slow, pick up the pace!" she taunts. "Never keep up with Makoto with a hit like that!"

The smaller woman rolls to the side and lances her arm out. The spike travels with a toss, the chain in tow. The point buries itself into the ground and snaps taut. Clio has a moment look at Meifeng and the mask flashes to a face not too dissimilar to a tongue sticking out before Clio's rockets nearly through Meifeng as the chain yoinks Clio bodily away with it.

In passing, Clio's arm cocks out in a stiff hook. One that sheathes in a roiling arcane fire that leaves a streak in the air behind.

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Meifeng with Chain Bomber.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Clio             0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0          Meifeng

Palm, and then orbs, slam into the spell-enriched metal. Clangs and jingles ring out with laughter and some good-natured trash talk. Meifeng stays low, meeting the jeering taunt with a skeptical raised eyebrow and similarly lopsided grin.

She rises, leaning forward with her left shoulder with the aim of catching the blow there. Her balance, though, is almost perfectly out of phase for the hit that blindsides her, sending her flying off her feet into a dizzying spin, the motion trailed by the three orbs snapping back into a tight orbit about her center. The smell of singed fur lingers in the wake of the attack, as Meifeng manages -- just barely -- to catch herself on the ground with her palms. "... Tigers can be patient..." she intones, her voice betraying a hint of her distress. Her tail lashes about -- not just a showy gesture, but a necessary motion for her to regain her balance...

The tigress sucks in breath through her teeth as she twists back to her feet. With a light growl, she thrusts forward, leaning in with a forearm strike, before following up with a twisting backfist!

COMBATSYS: Meifeng successfully hits Clio with Aggressive Strike.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Clio             0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0          Meifeng

"Ah, the tough type, aren't you?" Clio's laughing as she scrapes along the ground, sliding from the momentum of her surging charge. The chain snaps up from the ground and whips about to coil around her arm.

"I like that."

The Kaka Clan mask stares back with its grin as Clio sways from foot to foot in her half bent posture. She looks ready, waiting, willing and eager for this fight to continue.

She skips back, trying to take get one step ahead of the tigress. But the pouncing proves to work. The forearm cracks clean and sends Clio stumbling back, open for the second fist smacking hard against the mask.

"Fuck! C'mon!" Clio grunts, but the seething sound isn't in fury, just in the rush of the moment. The witch whirls about from the hit. She swings with a fist wrapped in chain, weighted and shining, bursting with eager eldritch glow. A haunted haymaker crashing around for Meifeng's ribs.

COMBATSYS: Meifeng interrupts Crushing Strike from Clio with Form Seven - Whistling Gust EX.
- Power hit! -

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Clio             0/-------/-======|=====--\-------\0          Meifeng

Meifeng has watched Clio fight -- at least inasmuch as public videos show. She didn't want to risk official scrutiny by prying further into the records, naturally. So she knows the former officer enough to understand that cursing isn't -especially- a dealbreaker when it comes to continuing such a spar. ... Though the words that -preceded- said cursing cause her jaw to tighten, and her cheeks to darken however so slightly beneath that fine coat of facial fur.

Meifeng steps back to reset herself, snapping her right forearm back up into a set guard. It would prove to be an adequate stance for defense as a chain-wrapped fist comes thundering towards her -- if defense alone were her aim. Instead, though, Meifeng's upper torso twists around counter-clockwise. Reading her mind, the three circling orbs accelerate rapidly to match, their forms whirling into three co-orbital crescents...

In the next heartbeat, eldritch energies collide with the azure orbs. The collision explodes in a shower of sizzle, pop, snap, hiss, as the rings of orbiting azure turn a bright green from the absorbed energy. An instant later, Meifeng grunts lightly as her hip slams into the inside edge of the crescent ring, triggering a shockwave of force, heralded by a brief flash of orange, white, and black, as her tail whips past Clio's field of vision...

A whirling strike from Meifeng's upraised left knee follows, slamming sideways into the masked witch's extended arm. And as Meifeng's brief flight carries her upward still, her spin cracks an extension of her long, tiger-striped leg and custom running shoes across Clio's ribcage, just beneath the arm!

The colliding brawlers break apart; orbs resolve back into their spherical shapes as Meifeng twists back to a neutral stance. Landing with two taps of her sneakers, she raises both palms in a Pi Gua Zhang stance. "... Mm... did you say something? I missed it..." Her right ear flicks sideways for a brief instant as she watches Clio for her response.

Crunch. Whoof. Air gone for a moment. Legs gone for a moment. Earth impact imminent. Clio crashes, her chain thuds, but she's a bouncy young woman and catches and rolls herself out of the landing. Popping up onto her hands before springing back to her near feral fighting stance. She felt a stinging pain in her ribs. She felt the rush of blood in her ears.

Oh, it felt good.

She sniffles and thunks her bare sleeve against the mask rather than wipe at her nose. She hardly even catches the action's not worked. Rather, she simply leans forward. "That hurt. C'mon, Lieutenant, make me really feel it. Errant witch, aren't I?"

She loosens her hold on the spike, dropping links so that it hangs like a plumb. With a whip, she whirls the spike up and over in a clear arch, swinging it around and around in a whirling whistle. A single word to Meifeng. "Ready?"

The chain strikes the ground. A clink off gravel and stone. A scratch. A wildfire roars up and rolls forward. A wave crashing toward Meifeng. A swallowing torrent of eldritch fire roiling.

A face appears within the crush. Jaws. Slavering. Something otherwordly bursts out with the washing tide of fire. Shadowy energy forming into a visage that opens a maw wide and snaps at Meifeng with the ire of a terrible, hungry beast.

COMBATSYS: Clio blitzes into action and acts again!

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Clio             0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0          Meifeng

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Meifeng with Whipflash.

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

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Meifeng with Jaws of Ammut.

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

Meifeng looks past her palms to Clio, her right ear twitching yet again. She cracks a wily grin. "Is that supposed to get me angry?"

The tigress' smile fades as the chain is loosed. She takes a hesitant step back, keeping her hands raised. She sees the chain lash out, but discounts it as a threat once she sees that it seems to miss the mark. Only after the sparks ignite a wildfire does Meifeng start to draw inward -- but her current stance is too open to forge an adequate defense. Bathed in a torrent of flame, she staggers backwards -- set up perfectly for the shadow jaws to engulf her whole.

She screams -- but finds that breathing in that fiery air is much, much worse. Heavily scorched, the tiger is blasted backwards a good ten feet. She curls into a ball, perched on her tiptoes -- a stance only capable by the balancing efforts of her singed but still fluffy tail.

Two fiery orange orbs glare back at Clio over bent knees. Auburn hair is blown back, with embers still glistening here and there. An angry growl is loosed, reverberating throughout the park. The words did not get her angry, but a balefire might just have done the trick.

In the next instant, she leaps to her feet. One long stride closes three feet. The lieutenant places a green orb under each of her next two strides, elevating her further into the air. There is no third orb though -- as Meifeng crashes down onto Clio's shoulder with a flying axe kick!

If she makes contact, she would drop low, and pivot into a sharp shoulder blow, bashing Clio upwards with a mighty roar! At this point, the three orbs would circle into position behind Clio, slamming into her from behind -- and bringing her right back to the grounded tiger, who has a high snap kick awaiting! The pattern would continue -- orb slam, tiger kick, orb slam -- until Meifeng puts an end to it with an overhead guillotine kick, dropping herself and Clio low to the ground.

COMBATSYS: Clio dodges Meifeng's Unbound Form - Raging Cyclone.

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

The arcane fire wicks into the aether as the heat dissipates. Air appears to wobble in the lingering heat. Distortion warping the grinning mask of the makeshift Kaka Clan member. Head tilting as she stands up in full, wrapping her chain around and around her arm to reset it back into its protective state.

"I can hear you," Clio retorts in a sing-song. Her shoulder lean forward, the chain-wrapped one taking point as her spike holding hand remains in check. She taunts, but she is ready. She is waiting. The rush of the fight's put a real smile underneath the false one.

The approach follows the growl. A thrill of a shiver hits Clio's spine. She'd been trained for demons, darkstalkers, brutes and beasts. And it was always fun to see someone cut loose. The aching in her ribs had diminished in the wave of adrenaline, and the moment was ripe for taking. She could see the tigress coming from a distance. She shifts, one hand drops low and draws out a circle on her own thigh.

Meifeng hits the ground with a splitting force, but none of it catches Clio. "Used to cats pouncing," she admits, and with deft darts and dashes she's repositioned herself around Meifeng's assault orbs. Quick moves, quick glances off the heavy chain. Clinking clashes that seem to syphon bits of essence, creating a steady glow in the arcane formulae Clio's applied to her weapon.

"Mine's faster, but not as pretty," she says, sliding outward and planting her hand on the ground. Whether she means cats' or techniques, she leaves up to interpretation. But in that moment, the former Lieutenant splits off in three directions at once. Two rush in in wide arcing dashes that takes them around while the one in the center remains locked in place.

The left one hits the dirt with a scorching slide tackle looking to take out Meifeng at the knees. The right one's weighed down arm lights with a fiery intensity, swinging down in a metal wrapped haymaker. A pincer attack that swings in from two, while the center is taken by a rushing Clio surging forward and low to the ground. Getting in close before sweeps upward in a rolling heavy wheel kick that sparks into a fiery circle crashing toward Meifeng's center.

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Meifeng with Cerberus Rush.

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

Teasing has been a constant, all throughout Meifeng's life. Early in her indoctrination, she was taught to restrain herself -- that no words were worth a physical response. But once in combat, though, all bets are off.

Her growls were answered. Her attack was answered. And now, as Meifeng lopes to a distance, curled hard to one side, Clio has a blistering assault of her own. The tiger stands not in a kung-fu stance, but as a beast, shoulders curled over her feet so as to keep her head low.

"You are complimenting too much," she comments. Her voice is low, husky, and ragged -- far from the cheery, personable tone of earlier. No doubt the work of the fire and the flames.

A three-pronged attack. The tiger's fingers splay outward, but her orbs are tardy in sweeping in to defend. It's the attack from overhead that breaks her defenses, slamming already-lowered shoulders down and setting her up for the haymaker and kick that send her clambering to the dirt with a howl.

A cloud of soil and grass blades erupts as she falls. Another, larger cloud blossoms as the growling tiger vaults into the air. With a low growl from the bottom of her lungs, she slashes downward with a windmilling palm punch -- a similar sequence to the one prior, but imbued with considerably more ferocity, as she seeks to follow it up with a rushing hip thrust. The orbs catch up to her intent, whipping into a cyclone-like configuration as they drive hard against Clio's back. But what's more -- the green orbs ignite into their own arcane blaze! The former lieutenant may find herself pinned between a fiery green whirlwind and the tiger-striped hurricane of twisting, slamming strikes!

COMBATSYS: Clio dodges Meifeng's Unbound Form - Relentless Typhoon EX.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Clio             0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0          Meifeng

That voice. Sounds to Clio like she's breaking through the veneer to see what's going on underneath. Getting to see a bit of passion hidden under the perky soldier. And passion was a lot more fun than the worn and weary resignation about her lack of strength. It was far more fun, and far more accurate to the kinds of things that Clio has come to expect from the lower officer corps.

It reminded her of her friends. And it reminded her of herself; on a torn battlefield, sobbing until she vomited, hurling herself into the swords of the King of Illyria. She owed Leo so much of her freedom. As much as Jubei for opening her eyes to reality. And, in her own way, to that phantom for showing her what real gods of combat can do.

She knows the frustration in Meifeng's voice. It's all too familiar.

"Nope," she denies, grunting as the two dance in close quarters, vying for the time to strike. An explosion of force. A whirlwind of arcane destruction. Orbs at her beck and call, and a sturdy physical style all her own, Clio can see the dangerous potential in Meifeng. She knows Meifeng is only moments away from landing the hits she needs to turn the contest.

But Clio cannot cede ground. She knows it would be an insult to her opponent as a warrior and a soldier. They are not so far apart in experience that it would be acceptable.

The destruction is wrought, but it surges around a form that dissipates on contact. The displaced Clio mere inches from where she should have been. An aftereffect of the spell craft. "You've seen his files. You can't say you're not prettier than Jubei," Clio states, she feels of all compliments that one can't be ignored.

Meifeng has a strong base, but in all the chaos of the whirlwinds and heated emotion, Clio opts to take that base out from under Meifeng. A low lash sees Clio's chain sweep out toward Meifeng's ankles.

COMBATSYS: Clio successfully hits Meifeng with Random Strike.
- Power hit! -

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

Generally, Meifeng's schedule does not permit 'fun.' She gets paperwork. And she gets to run subordinates (and occasionally superiors) through remedial ethics training. Some days she gets to do both.

But in the heat of combat, all of that is set aside. Here, she can work through her problems in a way that employs her natural aggressiveness. And even though she speaks fewer words, her actions speak volumes.

Meifeng growls as the Cerberus vaporizes on contact. The tiny validation she'd gotten from making contact is far from enough to sate her hunger. The tiger lurches forward, orange eyes snapping to the target's new location. She has no retort to the compliment -- not when it comes as a prelude for a sudden movement from the swung chain. Meifeng broadens her stance, intending to soak the damage from the chain -- only to find that leverage was not on her side as the chain's links compress her ACL, forcing her foot to arch and summarily -buckle-. The tiger's knee slams into the ground, forcing her to slam her palms into the ground before her, and eliciting a pained whimper from her lips.

"... Wh-what does -that- have to do with anything?" she asks, in a raspy, yet exasperated voice. Though, from the smile that appears as she lifts her tear-streaked eyes up to Clio, she's not -truly- angry.

Just in pain. A whole lot of pain that she'd rather -not- be dwelling on.

COMBATSYS: Meifeng takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Meifeng can no longer fight.

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

The chain's momentum brings it swinging up and around to be caught in Clio's open hand. A quick whip of the chain and it wraps itself around her arm once more. The grinning mask looks back at Meifeng with its rarely changing emotion. The fight is clearly done. And Clio walks over to stand in front of Meifeng, crouching down to put herself more to the Darkstalker's level.

"Just letting you know," Clio says, and she offers out a hand for Meifeng. "You can take a hit, too!" she adds with excitement. "A lot of other people would've stopped long before you did."

In victory, Clio feels a certain elation in the moment. The thrill of a fight. To see what the NOL had out there. And if everything was honest, Clio could hope that this meeting wasn't some kind of test or risk assessment of her skills. But in her happy adrenaline high, she didn't notice the tears. It puts Clio on her back foot. "Oh, uh, are you okay? You know, I usually get ice cream after a fight. Have you tried that? We could."

Meifeng coughs out wry laughter in response, keeping her mock exasperation. "Well, thank you for that!" Though, it's at this point that she simply flops over onto one side, rubbing her ankle and the sore tendons to be found there. Minor grunts and grumbles can be heard as she presses sensation back into her numbed and raw muscles. "Hah... hahh..."

It's a moment or two before she seems to be ready to sit up again. Which she does -- wincing as she pulls herself into a cross-legged pose. "Oh. Yes, I... am working on endurance. It is quite difficult warding off a chain so heavy. I am even more impressed that you can wield such a weight as a weapon." She offers a brief wince, replaying the 'greatest hits' of the performance in her head. "... Ow."

No longer harried by combat, her tail is now free to dart about as it had before. She reaches up to peel off her glasses, drying her cheeks with the heel of her hand. "I will be, yes -- I just need a few moments," she notes with a smile. "If your favorite ice cream place is as delicious as the food stand just now, I have a lot to look forward to!"

Log created on 12:35:11 03/22/2022 by Meifeng, and last modified on 09:48:08 04/08/2022.