World Warrior 2023 - R2: Honoka vs Frei

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Description: "The paradox is that 'the play's the thing'; / though prima donna pouts and critic stings, / there burns throughout the line of words the cultivated act, / a fierce brief fusion which dreamers call real, and realists, illusion: / an insight like the flight of birds." -- Sylvia Plath, "Love is a Parallax"

It may be an overcast day here on the streets of London, but that doesn't seem to matter to the crowd that's gathered. As it turns out, World Warrior has been a popular attraction, bringing some of the brightest stars in professional fighting together back into the public eye. And best of all, many of the matches take place right onto the street where anyone can watch -- no overpriced tickets required.

It's... really a lot of people. Police have shown up to place barricades, because otherwise people would be spilling onto the streets themselves, providing a notable hazard to the cars, trucks, and buses passing by. And for the moment, the bulk of the crowd's attention is centered upon the Olive restaurant (since 1914!), located on a wide stretch of curved street. Umbrellas adorned with the Union Jack ward away the threat of rain from a number of round tables -- fully loaded, of course, with customers eager to watch the fight as it unfolds, and yet, unable to see a damn thing because of all the people standing in their way.

A fine mid-morning haze obscures the buildings in the distance, and also provides a subdued color contrast to the bright, blazing fires etched into the air by one of the upcoming fight's participants. As is the norm for her, Honoka Kawamoto has shown up early for her fight, and her warm-ups -- literally, in this case -- are carried out in full view of the public.

After all, the energy of the crowd is a critical ingredient in the juggler's recipe for success. Two fiery diabolos dance about like twinned dragons, cutting wide loops through the air. To her -- it's a tightly choreographed sequence she's practiced a number of times. To them, it's a brilliant distraction to the doldrums of day-to-day life -- magic, real life, and in person. And Honoka loves drinking in every bit of the adoration.

As the fight time approaches, a bright red, 'Hop On, Hop Off' bus rolls up to the curb. It started off empty -- but, even with the "WORLD WARRIOR" wraps plastered to the side, a number of fight fans are eager to pile onto the bus anyway. Thankfully -- attendance is limited, as the two fighters are going to want the majority of the open-air top deck to themselves...

A smile plays along the performer's face as she scans the crowd. Her opponent should be... somewhat easy to spot, she hopes?

The NFG sponsor thing... Rei Hazuki had expected it to perhaps be an opportunity to chat with some young fighters, maybe make some cryptic remarks intended to become little puzzle boxes the youth can chew over in their head which would flower into greater understanding once they worked out the meaning. Admittedly, after meeting her in California, he was looking forward to seeing Ichika Kasumoto's progress, too. So far, that bit's been good.

'Temporarily sealing some ancient fire demon' and 'note to self, talk to young lady about her trauma' did not feature in his predictions for the role, however, and have been slightly more challenging, even if one of those hasn't happened yet.

Thus when the World Warrior tournament committee saw fit to tell him about his round two match, and where it would be -- everything that could be gleaned from the subject line of an email -- it was a nice distraction. After all, his round one fight against Daniel had been eye-opening on multiple levels. The loss doesn't bother him overmuch; he gave as good as he got, which is most of what can be asked.

Then he actually OPENS the email, sees the entire card, and goes: "...ah."

There's the other shoe dropping.

Fast forward to now, when -- wearing a light jacket against the oncoming autumn chill -- Rei moves his way along a pedestrian path on a bridge headed toward the marked GPS destination. Honoka, if and when she has the bandwidth to look, can almost certainly notice him straightaway for multiple reasons, but interestingly enough, without the deliberate markers of his fighter-ness (like the cheongsam-ish top), a freckled ginger actually blends in nicely in the UK, so the people around him don't actually pay him much mind one way or the other.

The crowd cover is probably the only excuse for how he could get close enough to be among those clapping for the pre-game floor show, though in Rei's case he limits himself to a smile, weirdly concerned that clapping would be seen as condescending. For a moment his mind's eye drifts to his conversation with Nakoruru not that long ago, in which Honoka at least got a brief mention. And yet, here she is plying a street performer's trade as if she isn't one of the people single-handedly responsible for Earth not being embroiled in a war with demon monsters from beyond Dimension X.

The thought makes him smile, though he says nothing.

It's... been a long time since Honoka and Rei had met in person. And even then, well... it wasn't on the best of terms. But many things have changed since then.

She noticed his approach through the crowd; it might be doubted as to whether she saw -him-, though, as her crowdwork takes priority for the moment. It will become clear, though, as she builds to a fiery finale. She ends with a dramatic sweep of her arms, the flames of the diabolos stilling from the sweeping gesture. Each hand holds both a stick and a diabolo -- with Honoka showing no particular reaction to the almost-certain heat of the twinned diabolos. And it is here that she favors Frei with a brief glance, mirroring his smile.

"It's been a while, Rei," she starts, as soon as the volume of applause lowers to a reasonable level. "Shall we get this started?"

There's any -number- of things that the two could talk about. But... with such a crowd... -should- they?

"You know," the xian says conversationally, tilting his head a little, "in all the... time... we've known each other, I don't think we've ever actually fought, have we?" He's got to wrack his brain a bit to make sure that particular statement is accurate, but to the best of his ability to recollect, it is.

Sure, they've convered, argued, disagreed, implied, and in many other ways 'come into conflict' (not all of it necessarily antagonistic). But there's never been any exchanging of blows. In point of fact, Rei's suddenly not even sure he's SEEN Honoka fight before, not even during Mortal Kombat... and frankly, he wouldn't trust that her methods in that tournament were, necessarily speaking, indicative of her methods anywhere else in the ring.

Hopefully, anyway.

"I guess that's as good a reason as any to get things moving, huh?" He shrugs off the jacket and... is momentarily stymied by somewhere to PUT it, before shrugging and draping it over the back of an outdoor seating chair. If it's there when he comes back, great. If not, well... it's just a jacket.

"I saw our, ah... mutual friend," he adds, cryptically, as he starts heading for the parked bus. "The animal lover. Seems like she's doing alright."

Honoka smiles faintly -- though, a bit distractedly. The personal connection between herself and Rei is... well, not uninterrupted. Fans eager for Honoka's signature keep getting in the way of what might otherwise be a heartfelt conversation. So it's only with divided attention that Rei will get answers to her questions, as her fans manage to win smiles and eye contact for themselves in the meantime.

"I don't think so, no," she answers, doodling a little heart onto her signature with a fluorish. One good reason for a celebrity to keep gold paint markers around.

She smiles in the brief interlude before she's mobbed by another fan, and nods cheerily back to Rei.

The next opportunity she gets, she briskly and tactfully makes her way towards the bus, climbing hold of the rail on the steps to the top deck as she glances back towards Rei. There is a momentary furrow of confusion along her brows as she wonders what he means by that allusion.

"... Everyone should loves animals," she comments without fully comprehending. And then she looks up for a moment -- and turns back to Rei.

"Or did you mean one of my teammates from tournaments past?"

The top of the bus is vacant, thanks to the tireless efforts of the tour bus guides. It's also been emptied out, with all but six of the seats removed to make for a more effective, and more flat, fighting space. Honoka, after offering a small wave to the crowds below, makes her way to the back of the bus. She's wearing her usual tournament-ready outfit -- which means that in addition to the two diabolos she's carrying in her right hand, and the sticks crossed in her left, she's got two extra diabolos secured to her belt with carabiner clips.

"I haven't seen her... lately. Things have been a little busy." She shares a sympathetic smile. "But I imagine Team Thunder is no small handful itself. Quite the lively bunch, there."

"They're all lovely," the redhead replies, almost automatically, with practiced speed. There is a minor flashback to a Conversation with the NFG's lawyers about what was and was not acceptable for a sponsor to say on camera during World Warrior that he largely ignored. In truth, he's only met two of the five in person so far, having come into the process mid-stream. "I keep thinking," says someone who to any onlooker appears to be in their mid 20s, "that it would have been nice to have something like that when I was their age."

Who knows, maybe he's an elf.

Comparative to Honoka's adoring crowd, Rei does not really have 'fans' that he knows of (disappearing off the face of the Earth to ponder the universe does that), but at the very least, his experience of people asking for her autograph is qualitatively and reassuringly different than, let's say, Daniel's color-coded cult. Still, he seems a little happier up on top of the bus away from the throng, for some reason. As for the question about teammates, her followup statement makes it clear she got who he meant. "I expect she's kept busy. It happens."

Rolling his head on his neck a little, Rei stretches it out as below, the bus engine starts up, to the relative cheering of the crowd. He can't help but look at the diabolos, a thing he has basically 0 frame of reference for... and REALLY cannot figure out how they become a fighting style. "I expect," he says aloud, to fill the empty space, "I'm about to learn a lot."

"Wouldn't it have, though? To get personal, hands-on instruction from true greats of the professional fighting world?"

Honoka smiles brightly, her eyes shining in the dim, overcast lighting.

"And they've come so far, so fast, too."

It's easy chatter. Small talk to keep the situation rolling, for the few moments before the bus is rolling. But one thing Rei might notice is that while Honoka may be looking -at- him, she's... not really looking him in the eye. She's not really making eye contact.

Maybe it's been -too- long since she'd seen him. And now, she's just not sure -what- to say.

It's as good a reason as any, for her to drop the diabolos upon the strings hung from the staves in her hand. Spreading the wands apart, she swings them into a gentle, steady rhythm, letting them whoosh-whoosh-whoosh past. Perhaps now... with a rhythm... she can think a little more clearly.

Her eyes turn towards Frei's. Meeting his own, again.

"... Sorry for not getting in touch sooner. There's... been a lot on my plate."

She flashes a smile. It's not very convincing. But she -is- ready for a fight; that much becomes clear with her secure stance, canvas shoes spaced shoulder-width apart, her hips turned in -just- such a way. The stance doesn't waver much as the now-rolling bus starts taking its first corner, turning past haze-clouded buildings to reveal more haze-covered buildings. Hers might not be the stance of an established fighting style like escrima, or aikido, but it checks off the same boxes -- a favoring of the right hand for offense, an extended left shoulder for defense. And the confident look of a martial artist.

"But yeah. First time for everything, I s'pose. Right?"

COMBATSYS: Honoka has started a fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

"You don't owe me anything."

A simple truth, but maybe one that needs saying. Honoka's life is her own, after all. And in truth... when these two last met, it wasn't exactly on BAD terms, but there was some tension in the air (Krizalid escaping a building by helicopter nearby has a tendency to make any situation a little more tense than it needs to be). Still, that's all in the past, or at least, that's what he's trying to express.

It doesn't take a genius to spot the change in her demeanor once she drops into stance and starts setting her mind on other things, and thus Rei makes the effort to meet her halfway on that one by also falling into stance... and wobbling a bit on his feet when the bus decides to take off onto the roads of London. Blinking at the crowds lined up for blocks looking to get a brief glimpse of the Battle Bus as it makes its route through the city streets, he can't help but make a tiny wisecrack about it. "You think the royal family is jealous right now?" God save the King of Fighters.

Perhaps one of the most durable tropes in Japanese popular culture is the idea that competitors -- fighters, rivals in a sport, you name it -- can only truly understand each other 'through their fists', i.e. by engaging in the thing they both do, against one another. Considering the awkwardness with which both of these competitors seem to be circling things they would otherwise say aloud, Rei observes, perhaps that is the way to go.

"En garde," is all he offers, before stepping forward and attempting to thrust a palm strike into Honoka's stomach, hand wreathed with a hazy gold-green aura.

COMBATSYS: Frei has joined the fight here.

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Frei             0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0           Honoka

COMBATSYS: Honoka fully avoids Frei's Fierce Punch.

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Frei             0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0           Honoka

"Mm. Maybe. But I'm pretty sure they can hire one of us to train them."

She flashes a brief, enigmatic smile. The trouble with spending so much time cooped up in Shadaloo facilities is... it's hard to be 'real' with the people who know her. Sure, the strategist may be on good speaking terms with Shadaloo executives. But when can she say she had an honest heart-to-heart with a friend at a coffee shop? Or a simple conversation that -wasn't- some contribution to a greater effort to make good on a long-term plan?

She's startled out of her brief reverie by Rei's warning. With another brief grin, she nods back: "Yeah, let's go!"

And then she sees that gold-green glow. Pinks and purples don't hurt much. She's not crazy about the rest of the spectrum, in general. With her against the back rail of the bus, it might -seem- that Honoka is out of escape options. One peculiar facet of her bespoke fighting style, though, is is that she's remarkably well-balanced. When Rei steps in with his palm, she's in the midst of flinging a diabolo high into the air. And as it flies high, she collects both staves into her right hand, trapping the other diabolo on the string as she backs up, planting her heel on the back rail of the bus. And as that palm plunges forward, the acrobatic Honoka performs a quick cartwheel to his left, deftly avoiding the strike with only a split-second to spare.

By the time she's landed, though -- she's got two diabolos in hand again.

"You're pretty fast..."

And with an enigmatic grin, she tosses them into the air again, deftly weaving in four blisteringly-fast strikes of her wands at Rei's neck and shoulders, interleaved between distracting tosses of her diabolos into the air. If she manages to dazzle him with her skills -- she hopes he also won't notice when she's managed to wind the cord around his foot, by which she hopes to lift his leg into a sharp, unbalancing takedown!

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Honoka's Shitumbe Marapto EX.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Frei             0/-------/-------|=======\=------\1           Honoka

Rei Hazuki is kind of a dipstick. He would be the first to admit it, too; he is laid back and kind of a goofball. But there are moments when many people (himself included, sometimes) get a reminder that he's also been at this fighting thing for A While, far longer than most people could even guess, given the circumstances. Honoka's deft evasion and swift counterstrike demand an appropriate response and that makes this one of those times.

Full as it is of a smattering of forms from every type of kung fu, Rei's style occasionally invokes the defensively-oriented art of Wing Chun, which excels at pushing attacks gently aside. As the diabolo wands come in for him, he DOES have the wherewithal to focus on them and not the diabolos themselves, bringing up straightened hands to deftly push each strike aside just enough so that it shears harmlessly past by a inch or so... and if Honoka is wary, she will notice he's cheating (sort of): a tiny buffer of invisible wind chi surrounds said hands, which helps in the deflecting.

Then he doesn't notice the cord and goes down on the bus roof on his ass, because we can't have nice things.

It doesn't take him all that long to get back up, but when he does, it's with a faintly sheepish look. "Alright. Fair cop, as the locals say," Rei offers, getting back into stance. There's definitely no small amount of 'stage magician' in this style: look where they want you to look, think what they want you to think. Appropriate, he thinks, to such a... nuanced personality.

The xian himself, on the other hand...

Adopting a more 'hard-style' stance than he was on defense, the redhead surges forward to strike, again... curiously, with a similar palm strike. The problem is that THIS time, there is a 'second' Rei made entirely of flame, that is attacking alongside him, literally leaping over his shoulder to try and land a hopping kick into Honoka's shoulder.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Honoka with Sekkashu.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Frei             0/-------/-----==|=======\=------\1           Honoka

Honoka is happy about her deceptive strikes managing to make -some- purchase against the otherwise unflappable xian's defense. Not long after her attack lands, there's a clack that sounds beside him -- if he'd look back, he'd notice the diabolo that had landed there.

That said, Metro City dialect is not her favorite. Especially not the word 'cop.'

She does raise an eyebrow when the ginger thrusts another palm her way, though. She's not so naive as to think that it would be the same exact attack, nor is she in the perfect position for a quick cartwheel to the side. She seems to have a handle on the attack, raising her wands in the initial stages of a block, her airborne diabolos arcing around slightly. It's just that the flaming guy leaping over Rei's shoulder is, well... a bit of a shock.

It remains being said that fire -- despite her choreographic mastery -- is still something of a sore point for her. She immediately recoils from the sight of the fire, with an abruptness that forces her into reckoning with the palm strike itself. Slammed by the palm, she staggers backwards, only to find that the kick carries through and scorches her jacket anyway, the heat searing into her veins.

Her diabolos hit the deck a moment later, with two more clacking sounds.

Her breath hisses through clenched teeth as she draws back.
Honoka pats out the flames on her jacket. Adding to the one Tairyu ruined, it's probably another one to clean up and donate to charity. "Heh. That was new." It's new to -her- at least.

She still has -some- sense of rhythm though, as she pivots and takes a few steps backwards, keeping upright even after the bus hits a minor pothole.

"Good idea, though. Let's turn the heat up a little, shall we?"

Honoka looks down. Yes -- her diabolos are a bit out of reach, still by Rei. But then she reaches back, and with an audible *click*, unseats the fourth diabolo from its clip.

When she brings her hand forward again, it's with a wink. She tosses the diabolo before her -- and places her two wands on either side of it. In the blink of an eye -- the diabolo begins spinning around, balanced perfectly between the rhythmic vibration of the cord it's ostensibly strung between. Another half-second, and the pattern of a star appears within those fierce oscillations.

The next second? A column of pure, concentrated psychic energy erupts from the string, threatening to blast Rei backwards, squarely in the chest.

Her hope is that he forgets to take the diabolos into account as he takes steps to respond.

The sounds of awed cheering can be heard from the passersby along the street.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Frei with Nochiu-o Kando.

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Frei             0/-------/=======|===----\-------\0           Honoka

Well... he DID say he'd probably be learning a lot this fight.

The thing that catches him by surprise is the star shape; he'd expected more wire-fighting trickery involving all of the proverbial balls Honoka has in the air, as it were. 'A big fuckoff blast of psychic power' was not the expected outcome, there, and it catches Rei more or less completely unawares... on more levels than just 'you didn't see the attack coming'.

For a moment, the red-haired fighter is simply... paralyzed might not be the right word, but certainly, as the blast encompasses him, he isn't exactly moving to defend himself. It's been some time since he experienced Psycho Power, after all, but it isn't the first by any means... still, it's a very different kind of pain to deal with than physical fighting trauma, or even taking a chi-based fireball to the face.

It is a thing you experience on an *existential* level, for lack of better phrasing. It's your entire consciousness that's being attacked, rather than your physical form, which might account for the gasping expression of pain on his face.

But at the last second, he hears -- and perhaps even Honoka, sympathetically, hears -- a voice in his head, a familiar voice, saying two words:

'Just breathe'.

Green eyes close, breathing slows, and as the blast finally pushes through and past, there is a moment of serenity. It is perhaps the only thing that keeps this sudden assault of Honoka's from possibly ending the fight in one go right then and there.

He's still flung down onto the bus's roof with a loud *CLANG* afterwards, and it... might take more than a second for him to get back up properly. But when he does, his eyes remain closed, and his breathing deliberately slowed. When he finally does open his eyes, he tilts his head to the side a bit, with a look of guilelessly childish curiosity on his face. "Well," he ventures. "In a weird way, that explains a lot."

A hand flicks out to his side, ring and pinky fingers curling in, index and middle extended; a crackling halo of purple lightning flickers around those fingers as he judges his next move. Is he going to elaborate on his supposed revelation?


He steps forward to attack again, almost like a fencer making a lunge; the extended fingers are aimed for a nerve cluster right at the base of the neck; the 'strike' has no real attacking force, but if Honoka can't get away from it, the pressure point he's Rei's jabbing sure will, especially with the taser-y burst of electricity that goes with it.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Frei's Improvised Throw.

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Frei             0/-------/=======|===----\-------\0           Honoka

Honoka doesn't really... advertise her psychic abilities. Often times, those are met with fear, and maybe a bit of loathing. And there's enough people who distrust her as it is. So she just leans into the special effects aspects -- any fire she uses comes from a traditional source like alcohol, and any flames she conjures mid-fight are effectively her psychic powers styled to -look- like the chi of any other fighter around.

So, Rei's response isn't entirely unfounded. It's hard to know exactly how hard Miss Kawamoto can hit until she just up and demonstrates.

And what a rush that is to her. The shock and surprise on Rei's face is welcome -- as honest an assessment as she's likely to get from the xian.

The diabolo falls back to the call of gravity. And Honoka lightly swings it to the right, whirling it back around into its usual path: a rock from her right to her left, popping airborne for the return trip, continued for good measure.

"Does it...?"
She asks with a faint smile.
"I wasn't aware there were any mysteries remaining unsolved."
She trails off enigmatically, pacing sideways.

And, as an overhead power line passes overhead, she quietly ducks beneath it, maintaining her diabolo's spin.

The rhythm gives her a little bit of additional focus for the coming assault: as Rei plunges in, she twists her shoulders to the side, allowing the diabolo to continue spinning as the nerve strike lands into the flesh of a folded elbow. The burst of electricity that strikes does sting a bit, forcing a light and involuntary twitch in her face -- but it's something she can weather a bit more hardily.

She doesn't plan to let the xian get very far, though. For when he recovers, she plans to pivot sharply, trailing the cord along as she brackets his extended arm between her staves swung high and low. And if she manages to snare him in her cord, she'd aim to pull him close, plant hands upon his upper and forearm, and twist him into a psychically-assisted armbar to the surface of the bus's upper deck.

COMBATSYS: Frei interrupts Quick Throw from Honoka with Amalavijnana EX+.
+ Epic Hit! +

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Frei             0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0           Honoka

"That's where you're wrong."

Compared to Honoka's showmanship and verve, Rei is... perhaps not a STARK contrast, but definitely pretty different. He draws his hand back from the attempted nerve strike only to find her on the immediate counteroffensive, tricksy sticks looking to corral that arm into place before it can be removed from play entirely. So, he SEEMS to simply let her have the hand as she likes. The cord wraps around, the pulling close seems to not be an issue.

But he hasn't stopped the placid smile, which is indicator one that something is not quite right. Indicator two is that despite that despite his attack being over, purple lightning still crowns the now-captured hand.

The third is St. Elmo's fire.

Tiny bolts of lightning spark harmlessly in the air around both fighters, scarring the daytime sky purple and cobalt blue, as the gathering storm discharges partially into the air around them. "There are plenty of things in the universe we know nothing about," Rei says, with as genuine a smile as he can manage, before bringing his free hand around and, before Honoka can put hers on his shoulders, pressing it flat-palmed into her stomach, discharging the stored power... his own little version of the many trailing traps and tricks Honoka herself has used.

The result is a hellaciously tall column of lightning that would briefly but definitively envelop the Ainu fighter, giving the xian an opportunity to step backwards from her to a more neutral distance on the bus's roof.

Whenever Honoka recovers her senses enough, the xian is standing patiently for her to resume the fight, hands in the dhyana mudra: thumbs touching, fingers making a bowl beneath them. But if she makes eye contact, he grins.

"If all the mysteries had already been solved," he says evenly, "life would be pretty darn boring, wouldn't it?"

She was being a little sarcastic.
But maybe it didn't come across.
It's a little hard to call takebacks.
In the middle of getting smitten from the heavens.

It really did come as a surprise -- having everything go perfectly wonderfully, right up until the point that it doesn't. The smile was suspect, to be sure.

The moral of the story is: watch out for Rei's palms. She might have been able to heed that advice had she not been so focused on attacking him -- on delivering -her- unique attacks to -him- rather than warding off his counterstrikes.

Honoka's -scream- definitely turns some heads -- particularly from those along the street who weren't actually paying attention to the two fighters doling out the harshness to one another atop a doube-decker bus. Her whole body jolts involuntarily from the lightning shock, whatever nerve endings might have normally voiced an opinion against such action fried into unwilling silence.

She collapses numbly to the deck of the bus afterwards, feeling as if the vehicle had been rolling -over- her rather than -under-. Panting for breath, she plants both hands -- and her staves -- on the deck for balance, straining to regain some sense of her equilibrium. Rei gives as good as he gets -- and -then- some.

But when she looks up to see him... looking as calm and sagacious as a summer day in the shade of a fig tree.

Yeah, there's no real takeback for her to give: just a stuck-out tongue.

But since she's low to the deck, and down to one diabolo, she... approaches in a less conventional way.

She suddenly tumbles towards him.

And as she rises, she aims to plant her hands around the front of the Chinese-styled shirt, gripping hold of the fabric. Should she manage to secure the hold, Rei might then discover that she's then falling -backwards-, planting her heel into his sternum to use it as a fulcrum for a judo throw -- Tomoe Nage. With a bit of a twist -- as she'd plan to use her psychic energy to lance psychic energy directly into him as he falls. She'd then seek to send him hurling to the deck, withdrawing that energy spike as she lets go.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Frei with Wakka Pururuse.

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Frei             0/-------/--=====|======-\-------\0           Honoka

If Rei's whole deal is remaining calm in desperate situations, well... he's about to get a hell of a workout on THAT front.

Honoka is obviously light on her feet, and while the xian isn't exactly a plodding rock or anything, he is built much more to endure and deflect attacks than he is to avoid them. Still... sometimes, there will be a moment, a flash of inspiration, that suggests to him, 'try to avoid this one'. Maybe it's instinct, maybe it's some weird clairvoyant insight. Maybe he's just insane.

Either way, it fails him now, in a particularly spectacular fashion.

It's the lightshow at the end that does it, an astonishing domino effect that comes right as he attempts to twist out of Honoka's grip and she's too fast for him, getting him into the fulcrum of the tomoe nage: the psychic rider flashes in the driver's eyes, reflected through a rear view mirror at the worst possible angle, as the bus goes through a narrow-ish street. The result?

The bus tips towards the right and a decidedly groggy and entirely grounded Rei starts sliding OFF THE BUS, managing to catch on at the last second by snapping hand out onto a rail or rivet or other handhold. The problem is that this basically causes him to wave behind the temporarily out of control bus like a pennant, which provides a solid 8-10 seconds of him being caught between the bus's side and dragged *against the nearby buildings*. Thankfully the property damage is relatively low -- a few torn shutters, a few window planters shattered -- but by the time the bus driver gets things under control, the damage has been done.

Struggling to his feet, the redhead -- covered from head to toe in little cuts and bruises and wearing a shirt that is destined for the rag bin for sure -- still manages to give Honoka a wan little smile. "Well... that was thoroughly unpleasant." Is he going to attack her? Probably not. There's a minor miracle involved that he's even still standing, frankly.

COMBATSYS: Frei gains composure.

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Frei             0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0           Honoka

Sometimes, the circumstances of a fight work out in a fighter's favor.
And sometimes, they do not.

Sensing the imbalance after she flings Rei loose, she stays close to the deck, planting a hand along it for balance -- and quietly holding position. Her diabolos, though, have a decidedly different agenda, clacking about the surface deck as if it were nothing more than an air hockey table. When Rei returns... well. Two of them will be near him, as much of a tripping hazard as a rogue Lego brick cloaked in shadow at 3am.

... So yeah. While she didn't plan for Rei to be flung off the bus, it's not entirely accurate to say that Honoka -doesn't- stir a liberal amount of chaos into her battlefield recipes.

Upon Rei's return, he'll find Honoka quietly smiling, her diabolos cutting a figure eight pattern in the air before her. "Yeah, it didn't look fun!" she agrees, stepping closer to him.

Though... *something* is different. As her voice comes from two places. In fact, it might just be an aftereffect of Rei's wild ride, but she's appearing *twice*: one image of Honoka appearing six feet away, in front of him. The second, appearing only four feet away to his left.

The disconcerting thing is -- both of them are appearing to take action simultaneously. The first -- is that each Honoka hurls both her diabolos into the air. Each Honoka then collects both her staves into her left hand, rearing her right hand back for a fist. In two blinks of an eye, brilliant pink light ripples out from the Honokas' wrists, flattening into a ribbon and then spiralling around their hands like a drill auger. In the next instant, both Honokas suddenly stutter-step forward, driving the spinning auger into Frei for what's sure to be a painful burst of psychic power. The real questions are -- which one to defend against? And, -where- are those diabolos she'd left behind on the floor like a naughty toddler?

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Honoka's Sarak Kamui.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Frei             0/-------/-======|=======\-------\0           Honoka

It is a misconception that users of psychic powers have 'no chi', or similar beliefs. Every living thing, no matter how minor, possesses that particular spark. Being able to manipulate it, or having a particularly strong current of it, is a different matter... but it does mean that whichever Honoka is the 'fake' would have no such current whatsoever. Or at least, that's the thinking.

It might occur to Honoka that her opponent has closed his eyes a lot in the course of this battle. It will almost certainly occur to her once the illusionary Honoka passes harmlessly through the xian, whose hand comes up and is suddenly interposed between the psycho powered improvised drill and himself, said hand suddenly rimed with a sheen of blue-white frost. The green eyes open as the drill chips steadily away through the ice, eventually scoring a glancing blow on Rei's palm, making him wince in pain, but probably far less pain than if he'd taken that to the face.

He also definitely has no idea where the diabolos are.

"Fighting you is good exercise for the inner eye, I guess you could say," he adds, suddenly surging forward with more speed than he has really shown to date, looking to grab Honoka's arm before she can pull it back. If he gets his grip, the xian pulls her in, arms rotating in a wheeling motion to suddenly throw Honoka into the air... and, as she comes inevitably back down to earth, thrusting both palms up to meet her, that green-gold aura from before -- the concussive force of earthen chi -- glowing around his hands in the process.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Frei's Seizanhou EX.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Frei             0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\0           Honoka

Two Honokas stare back with frustration as two psychic augers spin towards Rei. Only one is actually boring into the defense -- the other being nothing more than a harmless illusion. But after it becomes clear that the attack isn't landing, both the ribbon and the doppleganger explode into tiny motes of light.

"Cool trick."

Honoka addresses Rei with a wry grin. She starts to pull back -- but soon finds that her retreat is halted, her arm grabbed securely by Rei.


And before she knows it, the Ainu fighter is tossed skyward. Normally this might present a problem, but for three points. One -- Honoka is an acrobat, and after a brief moment of disorientation she's able to thrust both hands out like wings, bending her knees and curling her spine such to gain control in mid-air. Two -- Honoka is a psion, and knows how to use her talents to exert even more control. In this case, as she kicks outward, a small burst of energy blossoms from her instep. That force makes the difference between landing in Rei's awaiting palms -- already proven to be a threat -- and landing a few feet away instead.

(The bus rocks back and forth. Its suspension is still not happy with the last cornering, and her off-balance landing is making it even tougher.)

And three -- Honoka has her diabolos to collect. And she does so by hurling one wand out, cracking it like a whip to bring both of the diabolos back into her pull.

"Heh. Whereas fightin' you is like fightin' all the seasons at once."

The acrobat... decides to keep her distance for the moment, with all the shaking the bus is going through. She starts to twirl her diabolos again -- but this time, the pace is faster, and the aerial portion of the diabolos' flight sends them sailing above the height of Honoka's head.

"I've been nervous about the changes this world is seeing. And yet... you seem really calm about them."

Through it all -- her eyes remain focused intently upon Rei, as she paces more to the front of the bus, near the center.

"I'm a bit jealous, to be honest. Of the serenity you seem to have found."

COMBATSYS: Honoka etches a mental map of the area.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Frei             0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\0           Honoka

'At the serenity you seem to have found.'


Honoka choosing not to go on the offensive is a moment for them to converse, one that the so-far breakneck pace of the fight hasn't really afforded them yet. In a well-recognized gesture, Rei pushes his palms outward, tips of his fingers touching, exhaling a deep and obvious breath for just a second. He probably won't get another chance to do that, all things considered.

"I know it was just a figure of speech, but... hmmm," Rei begins, wobbling a little bit as the bus (or the driver, or possibly both) starts to show the strain of having two experienced fighters going at it on the roof. "I don't think serenity is something you can find. It's something you have to work at."

Slowly, Rei pulls his right hand back, holding it slightly upwards at shoulder-ish height; his left, he extends forward, ring finger and pinky curled inward, the others extended, watching Honoka carefully. Everything so far has suggested this is all an elaborate plan on her part. Every attack she's made has had so many intricate little bits, like a series of clockwork puzzles. And yet... hmm. Isn't this exactly the point he was about to make?

Battles are fought in the mind as well as with the body.

"Bad things will happen whether I want them to or not," he says carefully, circling a little to the extent that's possible on the roof of a touring bus. "I can't control that, but I can choose what I do when they happen. And, well... I've survived a lot of bad things happening," he adds, with the ghost of a smile. "So I know that I CAN get through it."

He pushes off the bus roof, ducking forward to get in close to Honoka, probably much closer than she'd like, before his left hand -- now glowing a flowing, liquid blue -- inverts in a circular motion, a geyser of chi-summoned water looking to envelop the Ainu acrobat as it erupts from the 'ground'.

"Serenity isn't found; it's made."

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Kourengen from Frei with Tokap Chup Kamui.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Frei             0/-------/-======|=======\====---\1           Honoka

Honoka's last World Warrior battle was... intense. Katashi Tairyu made a point of pressuring her at each and every opportunity he could. There as no quarter given, no opportunity for discourse, no way for her to learn -more- about the laconic fighter.

Here, it's different. There's so much for both fighters to learn about one another. And she's grateful to, in some way, have this opportunity to find out more.

The bus may wobble, but Honoka's shoulders and head remain fixed in place like a bird's head. Keenly interested in Rei's response, she stands in opposition to an environment that demands her attention.

Serenity. It's an interesting concept. Honoka's entire motivation, prior to visiting Shang Tsung's island so long ago, was predicated on having a fixed timeline to effect change. It's all good and well to leave the change to people who know more -- but idleness is a curse, the status quo a death sentence. Lately, the gift of 'immortality' has let her relax a bit -- to her own detriment, she feels. But even now, she can't say she's found serenity. Or made it.

Pursing her lips, she gives begrudging approval. It's... true. A person -can- control how unwelcome situations will be dealt with.

It's a notion that is still front of mind when Rei leaps towards her. She can't sense the shift in tides themselves. But she can sense, in some strange way... how Rei is *influencing* them. His shift of *focus* -- his intent. It's not directed at her. But rather, it's directed at forces -beneath- her.

She narrows her eyes -- not in irritation, but in serene focus. She's against the front wall this time, not the back, but her reaction is similar: get out of the way. In this case, a pivot to Rei's left brings her out of the direct line of fire -- and leaves her diabolos and the tips of her wands -within- it.

Such that when the water geyser sprouts upwards, she is exerting her -own- change upon that tidal force. She uses her to wrap a psychic-powered 'elbow' around the water, using the spin of her diabolos as an impeller to convey the geyser's force not into her, but instead into *Rei*.

Clear of the front of the bus, the juggler's weight shift rocks the bus to the left. Adding just that -little- bit of extra instability to the process.

"Mm, yeah. Whatever it is... you got more of it."
She admits that with a faint smile.

With perhaps some great irony, when all it said and done and the redirected flow sends Rei back more than a few steps on the bus's roof, that despite everything Rei just said, there is a flicker -- more in his 'sense' than readable on his face, but nobody's poker face is THAT good -- of, against all logic...


It would be very easy, and thus a mistake, to put it on his attack being flung in his face. The xian is an old hand at fighting by now, and he knows his own style besides; the danger of his own attacks being turned against him is simply the way of things. Sure, people who can do it with a fireball instead of a kick are more rare, but they remain common enough that one needs to be prepared for their routine appearance, emotionally.

Instead, as he gets back into stance and prepares himself, he finds his mind wandering back to... well, Before, a time that justified the capital 'B'. The only other time these two have fought, and in a very different context. A fight that was as much about words as it was about fists; perhaps even more so. He felt it in her words then, and he feels it in her words now: that undenaible thread of... disdain.

Rei wouldn't necessarily credit the person he was then -- or the place he was at, emotionally -- with being at the height of their perceptive powers. But he's realized he can feel it here, too; the double-edged comments where it's not quite sure you can trust their sincerity. Or maybe it's her words reflected through the lens of her fighting style: where nothing is as it appears on the surface, where innocent-seeming things become dangerous traps if you don't scrutinize them heavily, but the result is a situation where you begin to second-guess EVERYTHING, and at that point, the fight has been, as it were, 'won'.

So you look at what she says, and ask yourself, 'can I trust this?' or perhaps more accurately, 'is it safe to trust this?' and for most people the answer may very well be 'no, I'd better not'.

"Like she *wants* you to hate her," the xian mutters to himself, barely audible.

'Sun Tzu warned us not to despise our enemies,' he'd said at that meeting. How appropriate.

Who knows how much of that reverie, happening at the speed of thought behind his eyes, Honoka's abilities make her privy too. It MIGHT explain the smile on his face, though, after the beat in question.

The redhead makes no move to comment further; instead he makes pulling and weaving gestures with his arms and hands. Slowly the bits of water left over from his attack flow, whirl, and coalesce before him into a small orb, which Rei touches with two fingers; the orb flash-freezes into a sphere of ice, which at his touch streaks across the distance between the two toward Honoka.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Honoka with Gensoudama.

[                    \\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Frei             0/-------/----===|=======\====---\1           Honoka

Honoka Kawamoto is... not a straightforward person. On the surface, she hopes to present herself as simple country folk from rural Hokkaido. And, in many ways, she is that person. Despite an extensive, encyclopedic knowledge of history, she'd never completed junior high school. In many cases she can circumvent any knowledge gaps by simply relying on her peers and subordinates. But when it comes down to actual -learning-... Honoka gets by on simple pattern recognition.

The pattern she sees when she turns Rei's geyser around onto himself, though, is stochastic and unsettled. Contrary to expectation, she'd been sincere in offering her compliment -- that she really -was- jealous of the way in which he could negotiate with life's multitude of curveballs. The tusukur might not be able to read his conscious thoughts, but she can sense his discord -- and hear some disgruntled muttering, if not the words themselves.

"... Did I say something wrong?" she asks, her expression a momentarily unguarded half-smile. The fight had been a bit punishing for the two of them, and maybe even a bit frustrating, but she'd come to believe that it was mutually enlightening.

Rei's answer is... succinct. Perhaps if she were not waiting for a response, she'd have realized that she could have dealt with it in a similar manner to the previous attack -- to turn the hurled sphere around back at him. Perhaps the performer's professional honor prevented her from doing the same thing again so quickly. Whatever the cause -- her attempt to swing to the side of the blast was in error -- and the icy orb slams into her abdomen, slamming her backwards against the tour bus's left side guard rail. The bus lurches sideways, with the squeal of tires announcing it's drivers compensation. A moment later, the icy sphere falls loose, hitting the deck; a moment afterwards, her diabolos follow suit.

Gritting her teeth from the pain, Honoka draws in her breath, pushing away from the rail with one hand, clutching her injured stomach. "Okay... well, let's see what happens -now-."

She lifts a hand.
And she snaps her fingers.
And disappears within a cloud of pink-purple smoke.

In the next moment, clouds of smoke billow forth from all four of her fallen diabolos -- two in front of Rei, two behind. And out of those clouds of smoke emerge four Honokas -- each tinted with a slightly different hue.

And then the carnival of destruction begins. The one nearest Rei steps forward with a sweeping kick -- it will whiff through his face, a clear illusion.

A second illusion would close in on him from his peripheral vision, seeking to unbalance him with a strike from its wands.

COMBATSYS: Frei just-defends Honoka's Iomante!

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Frei             0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0           Honoka

The second assailant, too, would be revealed as an illusion. It would be clear that the third attacker was the one with real fire behind it -- fire of a psychic kind, blazing bright purple as it grasps for the front of Rei's shirt. With both wands in her right hand, it would seem that she's set herself up to give Rei a bit of a walloping...

Energy is energy. Psycho Power -- the energy of thought and consciousness. Chi -- the energy of life and existence. They come from different places, have different uses, different qualities. But on some level, they follow the same rules, obey the same 'must's and 'must not's. If they didn't, no two fighters using one or the other would really be able to fight on even ground... and they've been doing so for as long as fighting has existed.

As one might expect from his previous attempt to deal with Honoka's illusionary tactics, Rei closes his eyes as the assault begins. She's too clever, too adaptable not to take what he did before into account; she'll have prepared a countermeasure of some kind. She'll have adjusted. Thus, so must he.

If you can't trust your senses, trust your mind. If you can't trust your mind, either -- if you have to act without knowledge at all, with nothing verifiable -- then all you can do is have faith, and act.

When the real Honoka makes her grab, she finds her hand stopped entirely by Rei's own, two extended fingers putting almost no pressure at all on hers... but she might as well try and grab a steel wall for all the good it does. It as if the xian somehow intuited the exact, micron-precise point where a small bit of force would blunt the momentum entirely.

The green eyes open, and in a voice just for the two of them, he says: "Nope. Nothing wrong. Just reflecting."

The difference between faith and blind luck, from outside, seems extremely minimal. Did Rei simply let his subconscious guide his hand? Or did he make a literal stab in the dark that just happened to work? That's up to the observer to decide. Perhaps the universe itself doesn't even really know.

His counterattack is not particularly powerful or volatile; a message all on its own, maybe? The redhead simply does a two-handed push at navel height, tapping the wind to give it a little oomph, intending to do little more than separate the two fighters again.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Honoka with Quick Punch.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////                          ]
Frei             0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0           Honoka

Honoka is... surprised, to say the least, when her dizzying array of illusions is seen through for what it is. And a little frustrated, if the crease in her brow is understood correctly. But that moment of pause before she finishes her assault gives Rei enough space to drive his palms forward -- a firm but unequivocal defense of his personal space. Buffeted backwards, her arms flail to either side, allowing her to recover her balance after a few backward steps.

Looking worse for wear, Honoka brushes her sleeve against her face. She slowly starts to center herself across the deck of the bus.

"If you've got time to ponder things I *might* not be doin' my job right."

She admits that with a self-deprecating grin, tossing one stick back into her left hand. She may not have any of her diabolos in the air at the moment -- but that may change once she makes a sudden stride towards Frei. The staves are swung like clubs -- a hard diagonal slash across Rei's left shoulder, and then a side strike to the opposite side. Changing things up a bit, she drives in with her elbow for a third strike, staying a little light on her feet -- knowing how close she is to just toppling over.

COMBATSYS: Frei fails to interrupt Evasive Strike from Honoka with Reisen Shou EX.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Frei             0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0           Honoka

This fight is certainly a nailbiter for the people following at home (thanks, camera drones!). As Honoka dives back in with another of her complex, multi-part assaults, Rei sets his jaw a bit and actually moves *towards* her, rather than away, arms moving in a slow circle, water coalescing in the path of his movements and following his arms. In an IDEAL world, he could weave that flow between Honoka's series of strikes with the diabolo wands and send her backwards away from him.

That is... not what happens.

Instead, Honoka shows superior agility; the strikes are too deft for the xian to get around, and the result is a blow to the stomach that sends him tumbling backwards more steps than he took forwards, right up to the edge of what could charitably be called 'the arena' when you're discussing the top of a tour bus.

But as he recovers and gets in stance, it is clear that the redhead still has at least a little more fight left in him yet. At her comment about doing it wrong, Rei gives Honoka a weak little grin. "Dunno about that. I'm good at pondering at times other people might not try for."

Honoka had started off strong -- and kept that momentum rolling a bit too much, committing her heart and enthusiasm into each blow. She may not always know -why- the ginger has factored into her life as much as he has, but she feels a connection to him, one that can't be expressed in mere words. And the need to win his favor is... high.

It's turned into something of a struggle, now. Even as she gives a diabolo on the floor a little nudge with her toe, kicking it just high enough for the cord of her wand to slip underneath, she's considering her options here at this late stage in the fight. The bus is, for the moment, still rolling. And as she looks past Rei, the sun catches a drone just right to cause her to narrow her left eye against the glare.

"... ugh," comments Honoka with disgust in her face, "I had three things to say to that, and every one was a -horrible- meme."

She pops the diabolo into the air, rocking it back and forth to get its axle rotation up to speed.

"You deserve better," she admits, with a more optimistic grin.

The bus makes its way past a music store, blasting out a track from one of the local punk bands. It's enough to get Honoka's toe tapping and her head bobbing. But then...

She bounces the diabolo into the air; it sails past Rei's head.

"Gotta love the London music scene!"

Honoka suddenly rushes forward. She launches into a series of strikes with her wands -- overhand, as before, then two sweeps to clear a path to the core. Stepping forward, Honoka would then bring both wands high, chopping them down onto Rei's shoulders...
All of that, though, would be with the goal of leaving him open as she then seeks to grab him about the waist, twist him out of balance, and slam him to the ground in a "o-goshi" hip toss!

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Frei with Urara Kando.

[                            \\  < >  /////                         ]
Frei             1/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0           Honoka

The energy to move your body is one thing, but the will to keep going is a different thing altogether. The truth of this fight is that, in general, Honoka is actually capable of delivering very hard hits, and they are steadily taking their toll on Rei, despite his trademark (and usually unexpected) resilence. Thus when Honoka comes back on the offensive, and the xian tries to muster some sort of defense, it's not difficult for her to simply power through it; in truth, before the throw even happens, just the wands striking him might have been enough. Pain can slow one's reactions just as surely as fatigue can, and perhaps more definitely.

In the split second where the two are close, however, before Honoka's throwing technique sends him to the roof of the bus with a sharp *CLANG*, she might hear him say: "I've never even one time pondered an orb."

Did he smile in that moment? Who knows.

Lying on his back on the bus's roof, the redhead lets his slightly clouded gaze stare up at the grey sky, considering his situation. Pondering, even, one could say. Specifically, the conundrum that is Honoka. It's not that the other parts of her life are entirely unknown to him -- not specifics, mind, but their interactions previous to this have all been in specific contexts and with a very PARTICULAR flavor. It's rather that it can be a challenge to square the carefree-seeming performer with all the rest.

It'd be very easy for the question to become the one he'd found himself asking in a more practical way during a few of her attacks in this very fight: which one's the 'real' one?

He gives a faint little smile of acceptance, before closing his eyes and declining to take one last shot at her. Instead, he makes peace with the conclusion the momentary pondering brought him to: they're all the 'real one'. The trick to the illusion is that there isn't an illusion.

COMBATSYS: Frei takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Frei can no longer fight.

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

For those who understand her core... Honoka can be very, very simple. There were a few who had managed to turn aside the false pink highlights, the light dusting of blush, the foundation inspired by Golden Angel, and find the scared, traumatized girl hiding beneath it all.

But Eskerimrim is not, as one might say, easily approachable. She hides beneath layers of artifice, carefully constructed and lightly interwoven, to protect her existence, and to further her long-term goals. To atone for her crime of ignorance -- and to restore the honor and standing of her noble people.

It's possible that Rei could be one of those people who understood her. It's even quite possible that Honoka -knows- this, deep down, as she looks upon the fallen redhead. He picked up the reference that she'd had a mind to invoke -- and she smiles with that knowledge as she walks around to retrieve her diabolos.

He might be out -- or he might be pretending. Either way -- the camera drones are flying in for a closeup -- so the weary Ainu mugs for the camera as best she can, directing her thoughts to Rei.

"Thank you for the fight, Rei Hazuki. I hope it won't be so long before our paths cross again."

And in her heart -- she means that. The words, at least, aren't an illusion at all.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has ended the fight here.

Log created on 11:48:46 09/30/2023 by Frei, and last modified on 20:02:45 10/03/2023.