NFG Season One Finals - Round Three: Ichika vs Buck

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Description: With a packed Metro City Arena, the viral phenomena that was The Dragon and The Sword is reprised. Buck showcases newfound surprises; tricks and capabilities demonstrating how far he has managed to push his talent along with a new respect for tactics. Ichika has her sword, and the techniques she has spent so long honing to perfection. In the end, only one can triumph, but the victory, in truth, belongs to both.

For the second time, Ichika walks out into the SlamMasters Arena.

It's a strange thing. If she had been told after the Rumble that she would have misgivings about her own teammates, would in fact want one of them to fail - for their own good as much as anything else - she would simply not have believed it. And yet, there it is. Ichika has retreated somewhat in the wake of Junko's battle with Coco, not wanting to have the conversation or address the monster in their midst herself. She must, she tells herself, have faith that the sponsors will handle it. It is not her place to step in. Besides, what would she even do?

These thoughts take something of the shine off of things, initially. Her walk to the ring is more subdued than her first. There is more, of course. If she triumphs here, it will be Buck who falls. One of her closest friends. And no matter who wins the bout between Iris and Chevy, if she does make it through him, another friend will have to fall before her to reach the final. It is a humbling thought. Though, really, it also speaks to the skill of her chosen social circle. They are strong, just as she is... and as Road of Resistance blares out to announce her arrival, that is the thought that has her not grasp the rope, but instead vault from a standing start, landing in the centre of the ring to the applause of the crowd.

"METRO CITY!" She declares, and at last, she smiles, "Tonight... we bring, the THUNDER!"

And with that she draws her sword, flashing metal bright under the arena lights as she points it to the ceiling. The crowd goes absolutely wild, and she grins as she sheathes the blade again, walks towards the far end of the ring, to give Buck the room to make his entrance in turn.

She can have no complaints. Not really. Whether she falls here or carries on, this is a fight against one of her closest friends. A chance to test each other, and show how far they had come since they clashed in the courtyard of the Hotel Southtown.

As she always tried to do, when the fight was here, it is time to set aside the greater worries. Tomorrow, she can consider her place in the world and what - if anything - she ought to do about Junko. Right here. Right now. She had only one duty:

To give her all!

It's finally time.

Buck's entrance is more subdued than in his first match. He's still wearing his getup of jeans with his cowbuy hat and boots with spurs, that due to the way he walks up the ramp, jingle jangle in time with his entrance music. His expression as always before a match is tinged with excitement, but there's an extra layer there today.

For the first time in the competition he's truly up against one of those he considers not just teammates and friends, but family, and for that he feels this moment deserves to be more sober. The somber air of two warriors with true respect for each other meeting on the field of battle. The knoweldge always there that at some point in this competition one was going to have to surpass the other, and with the distinct awareness that the winner here would need to face the third of their Team Thunder trio. It's hard not to burst from the sheer exitement of it all.

Ichika. The teen from Justice high he has often said is the one that he thinks is most likely to take the winner's podium at the end. Win or lose, he could be happy with this match. It doesn't mean the American cowboy is going to make it easy for her though. No, that would be disrespecting her.

Half way up the ramp his casual stroll turns into a full run as he surges forward. He leaps upwards putting his foot on the top rope, and pushes off of it to land in the arena with another jangle of his spurs. He doesn't shout to the crowd, instead turning around with his fist raised over his head before he turns to Ichika and in a gesture he's practiced for this momennt, presses his fist against the open palm of his other hand, and gives her a formal bow of respect. "Give me everything you got." The words coming out of him with one of his signature wide grins.

Straighting from his bow, he gives Ichika his much more Buck-typical thumbs up before moving to his side of the arena and turning to face her.

COMBATSYS: Buck has started a fight here.

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Buck             0/-------/------=|

"Never anything less, Finley-san."

The grin that Ichika flashes Buck does so much to puncture the tension between the pair. A small joke between them; she hadn't called him that for months, now. That dry sense of humour of hers remains undimmed, it seems. There's a lot riding on this, but in other ways, there isn't. As Ayame had told her, and as she had taken so heavily to heart: Calm. Focus. Learn. There was no greater purpose to these bouts than that, and though it would open many doors for her if she emerged triumphant... if she does not, those doors deserve to stay closed, just a little longer. She can accept that.

As the announcer blares out their loud:


Ichika is first off the mark. And her opening is textbook. The girl moves with a grace that suggests that she has practiced this move a thousand times before; probably many times more than that. And she's considered her approach here even more. Buck's talents have progressed perhaps even more radically than her own, if his recent fights are to be believed. She's not just fighting one man; she's fighting a menageries, and that means she needs to be ready to respond at a moment's notice.

So the blade flashes out, aiming to strike a testing blow against Buck's side - at the full extent of her reach. And whether that lands true or not, she's already hopping back to maintain her distance. She doesn't know what strategy he has in mind for dealing with her, but it seems that she is not taking her chances and wants as much space to give her time to deal with his reach as she can buy.

COMBATSYS: Ichika has joined the fight here.

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Ichika           0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Buck

COMBATSYS: Buck blocks Ichika's Evasive Strike.

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Ichika           0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0             Buck

Buck has always relied mostly on the unpredictibility of his style. But there's two fighters than probably know what to expect from him better than most, and of course Ichika is one. It puts him on his back foot from the start so he doesn't move as the match begins, instead shifting into a defensive posture.

It proves to be the correct play as he saves himself a cut to the ribs with a slice along his forearm instead, stepping slightly to the side to interpost his arm between his side and the testing blade.

He doesn't move his feet more than he has to to keep away from the blade, letting Ichika have her distance, instead he folows her trajectory with his gaze.

His cheeks puff out and the tip of a forked tongue flicks between his lips for a moment before he fires away, a quick puff sending a pair of venomous chi bullets soaring past his lips towards her.

It's not as flashy as the move used to be, but that's a testement to his training during the tournament and the refining of his control of his abilities. Less wasted effort, more results. A lesson he learned best from observing his current opponent.

COMBATSYS: Ichika dodges Buck's Spit Take.

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Ichika           0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0             Buck

It seems that the opening works out well for both competitors. Ichika's blow fails to find its mark, but she's not too surprised that when she has him outranged, Buck relies on his spit. Ichika rolls to the side, leaving the noxious fluid to bubble on the mat where she had been standing. As she rolls, the blade smoothly slides back into place in her saya - that iaido motion she had only just been starting to incorporate into her technique when they had first thought has become so much part of it now it doesn't even really require conscious thought...

And then the girl fairly explodes from her crouched position.

It's a sudden, brutal shift in the tempo - from her testing probe to a burst of motion that has her just, on him, in a single heartbeat. Ichika's eyes are shining bright and blue, and when she draws out her sword - it too is sheathed in that beautiful blue energy.

Buck may remember this from their first fight, but she's so much better with it now. Arcs of shining blue light left shimmering in her wake as she slashes three quick strikes at him, aiming to draw a set of two diagonal lines and a third horizontal cross over his chest - the girl is in his guard now, and it seems that she is determined to do what she can to maintain control of the tempo of the match!

COMBATSYS: Buck blocks Ichika's Lambent Assault EX.

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Ichika           0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0             Buck

The first time they fought, Buck was aggressive in trying to take Ichika down. Now, he definitely seems to try to be taking the alternate tactic of making her come to him. So when she bursts forward he once more braces himself for her assault.

Bringing his arms up in front of him, he protects his chest from the first two blows and takes a quick step back away from the third slash. "You're faster than I remember." He states with a short bark of a laugh.

He immediately course corrects and pushes off his back foot to get in close to Ichika, pulling his hand back with his palm open.

He's trying to play on Ichika's knowledge of his tactics at this point, as there's usually only one reason he goes in for an open palm strike. Usually.

It's probably not his best descision to try to play a tactical game against a Go player, but here he is. As soon as his hand comes in close it suddenly more than doubles in size, his reach extending further as his arm lengthens and swells with muscle, black fur sprouting all along his arm as he goes in for the blow.

Not many could say they know what it would be like to get in a slap fight with a gorilla, but maybe the young swordwielder will.

COMBATSYS: Ichika just-defends Buck's Fierce Punch!

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Ichika           0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0             Buck

Ichika smiles faintly at the compliment. Buck is doing well in keeping her at bay, but as Buck comes in back for her, she simply steps forwards. The flat of her blade finds the underside of his arm even as it starts to swell to even greater size. All at once, that immense weight is turned against him, because he's committed all that momentum to the incoming strike and she's used it to have him twist around and past her.

"You're thinking more than you use to as well, Buck." She says, smiling. "It's good to see. Your tactics have come a long way." That might sound condescending, given that she just outshone him; but she genuinely means it. If she were relying entirely on her own thinking, she would likely have been caught off guard. It is only the fact that she is moving with the rhythm and the flow of the fight that enabled her to pull off the trick.

Ironic, in some ways. Buck is becoming more fearsome as he learns tactics; Ichika is becoming more dangerous as she learns when to trust her instincts, and stop thinking at all.

But she is in his guard, and the girl's jaw sets as she crashes her foot suddenly into the ground. The blade is already in her hand. Each of them have, thus far, failed to find a hole in the defense of the other. She tries to capitalise on that now, suddenly seeming to blur as she throws herself at Buck's back.

The blade draws a single line of sparkling steel with her, aiming to score across his flank and her directly behind him, completing a single flick of her sword as she slides it into place with a quiet 'click'.

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Buck with Artful Slash.

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Ichika           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0             Buck

And the first clean hit of the match lands. Buck is thrown off balance by his own shift in weight being turned against him. And though he lets go of his own transformation and returns his arm to normal to avoid toppling over, his balance is still shot enough that his guard remains open for Ichika's sword to find him.

It elicits a grunt but little more. He turns, letting the blood drip down his side, seemingly unconcerned. Only someone who knows him well enough could see the set of his jaw, pure stubborness keeping his expression from showing how much that blow actually hurt.

"I had some good training partners." He replies, even his voice managing to sound airy and light despite the pain.

And if almost to prove the point, he doesn't rush back in to assault Ichika as he may have once done, instead he resets his stance, bringing his guard back up.

He takes a few deep breaths to center himself and focuses on Ichika once more. He's looking for an opening, as her defenses are proving to capable for now.

COMBATSYS: Buck focuses on his next action.

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Ichika           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0             Buck

A small smile from Ichika at that, too. "You did." She confirms, "And the best mentors, too. No matter which of us emerges victorious, I am sure that they will be proud."

She certainly is. Watching Buck choose to stare her down and await her response brings a surge with it. That is precisely the kind of thing she would do, in his position. He needs to find a way to recapture momentum and turn the fight back on her. Whilst there has only been one telling blow scored so far, and it is far too early to call it a done deal, she has been in his position too many times. And she has dug herself out from those positions, as well, by taking that exact break to reclaim her calm, restore her focus, and choose her moment to strike.

She can't give it to him.

But nor can she close on him with his gaze so intent. Instead, the girl leaps into the air - straight up. That leather jacket of hers flies around, and at the apex of the leap - a moment which, no doubt, will be caught in all manner of shots from the crowd and cameras because damn does it show off just how much more acrobatic the girl has become - the blade flashes out again.

The streak of blue light which draws across its edge might be a trick of the arena lighting. Except that it forms a tiny ball, no bigger than the tip of her finger - shockingly fast as it streaks down at a sharp angle, aiming to smack right against Buck's forehead and break him back out of that state of concentration.

She, after all, knows perfectly well what frustrates her when she tries that same trick!

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Buck with Brilliant Spark.

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Ichika           0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0             Buck

Buck's eyes continue to trace Ichika's movements. She's the far more nimble out of the two of them, and pinning her down is going to take effort.

He seems to settle on trying to brace his way through the next attack before launching his response, and at first he expects a blade of energy through the air.

He guesses wrong, and instead of moving out of the way, that spear point of energy catches him along his brow.

It's enough to get a brief hiss of pain out of him, even as he reaches up to clap his hat on his head to keep it from flying off after he jerks his head.

There's no time to nurse this wound though, or else he'll just suffer another one. Ichika is leading this dance, and he needs to take it over or this is already finished.

He charges forward, his arms stretched behind him as his fingers lengthen and curl back up his arm towards his elbow.

He's in one of his headbutt charges, right until he gets in close, then he snaps out one of the hands turned bat wings, then the other, using the aerodynamics to give himself a bit more maneuverability than he normally displays, trying to slip past Ichika rather than confront her directly. It's almost a Buck version of the first clean blow she landed on him.

Buck is a magpie when it comes to moves, not only picking animals that work best, but other fighter's techniques adapted to his own style. Something on full display as he tries to come up beside his teammate.

As he attempts slides past, he shifts the wings once more so he can turn on a figuartive dime, one of his booted feet lashing out to aim a kick at Ichika's backside.

COMBATSYS: Ichika blocks Buck's Wingman.

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Ichika           0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0             Buck

Ichika doesn't miss a beat. Buck comes in, and she moves with him. Turning smoothly with him as he ducks around her, she takes the blow solidly on her forearm. She skids back a pace, and notes the distance that Buck has put between himself and her. She nods her head, approving. This has achieved his aim; the ball is in his court. If she wants to keep the pressure on, she needs to attack into a position where he has every advantage.

"Haa... Buck." She says, with a bright grin, "There was a time when I would have overextended here." Instead, she fixes her own stance, letting her feet slide apart, flexing her hand briefly before allowing it to once more grasp the hilt of her sword as she squats down and fixes him with that bright-eyed gaze.

"But I know, with you, all it will take is one or two clean hits, and all of this hard work will be undone. This time, I will be calm." Rather than the last time they fought, which ended with her throwing away her significant lead in a mad dash to try and close the fight out in blaze of reckless abandon.

Those brilliant sapphire eyes of hers are utterly fixed on him now, and it is almost a physical thing. As though she is not just looking at him, but through him. She intends to maintain that lead she has worked so hard to obtain, the question is... will he be as successful in breaking her focus as she had been in disrupting his?

COMBATSYS: Ichika calculates her next move.

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Ichika           0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0             Buck

Pushing his kick off Ichika's guard, Buck returns the grin with one of his own. "It only takes one stone in the right place to take your opponent's. Isn't that right?"

True, he's an awful chess player, and even worse at go, but he understands the concept at least. On the other hand, he would say he plays a mean game of checkers. And the part he doesn't speak with all those games, is luring your opponent to put their pieces where you want them.

"You've always been a few steps ahead of me, Ichi." Most guys his age might be loathe to admit that to a young woman a handful of years their junior, but not Buck, instead he sounds admiring. "I don't care about the tournament right now. You're the mountain in my path."

What Buck has, and what he decides to use here, is simply his ability to mix things up and come from unexpected angles. So where most fighters may focus on punches or kicks, he's going for variety. Still using those wing hands to help with his balance, he brings up one of his booted feet, his legs swelling with supernaturally enhanced muscle as he does so, then stomps down towards Ichika's base, aiming for her feet. Then planting that foot, he repeats the maneuver with his other foot. Trying to force her to move her focus from him to her footwork. Toe stomping is one way to take control of the dance afterall. Not the most graceful way, but effective.

COMBATSYS: Buck successfully hits Ichika with Hoofing It.

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Ichika           0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0             Buck

The mountain in Buck's path. Ichika smiles at that thought. It is something she can appreciate. She had faced so many of them herself, since she set out on this journey. It is, perhaps, a little unusual for her to think of herself being the one further along the Warrior's Road than another. But, well... she can't deny it any more. She has improved, hugely. And whilst she is not, for a second, going to allow Buck's admission to make her complacent, it does give the girl a whole new perspective on where she is, on what she's doing.

She tries to shift as little as possible; just to dance her feet out of the way of the stomping attacks. That doesn't work, and there's a sharp intake of breath as her feet are crushed. It's painful! And she is forced, with the second stomp, to pull back, her eyes narrowing as she prepares...

And then she is on him again.

And for Buck, this is maybe a repeat of the starkest moment of their previous fight. The girl's blade is once again covered in that glorious, bright blue light - led by a blindingly fast Iaido strike. But where before she had delivered only three, this time, it is a full half dozen delivered in the same span...

Before she blurs out of existence. And whilst he had seen this, too, it doesn't make it much easier to deal with when the girl is suddenly on his left, driving into him with everything she has and painting a pattern of shimmering blue light throughout the arena for the whole world to see. She's putting a lot into this; but it is a calculated gamble, hoping to steal the momentum back from him as quickly as he had reclaimed it.

COMBATSYS: Buck blocks Ichika's Future Perfect EX.

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Ichika           0/-------/-------|=======\=------\1             Buck

It's... finally coming full circle.

Chevelle Beaumont had been offstage for a while. It wasn't long ago that she was up on the very same ring fighting it out with Iris, after all, and first aid was very insistent on checking both fighters out before releasing them for the evening. But, now that she is... well, Chevy doesn't want to make too much of a scene, so as not to distract Ichika and Buck in the midst of their fight, so she's found a non-obtrusive, dark-colored hoodie to put on instead of her distinctive denim blazer.

Of course, in an oversight, the denim pants still read 'TEAM THUNDER'. So, there is a small reaction from the priciest rows of seating as she sneaks down to her seat on the front row -- a reaction she stifles by holding up a finger to her lips as she makes the universal hand gesture for 'hey, keep it quiet!'

With the crowd stilled, she slips into her seat, just barely catching sight of Ichika tearing off into an iaido strike.

Ichika and Buck may have fans in the audience -- but perhaps their -biggest- fan is the one that's going to have the hardest time keeping quiet. Either way -- for anyone who happens to see the redhead's face tucked away beneath that sweatshirt's hood, she's got just the -biggest- grin on her face.

There's no way Buck is going to get away from this attack. He's met its earlier cousins, and he knows the speed of what's to come, and he only has one option left to him to make it through with most of his hide still intact.

One hand goes to keep his hat in place as he drops down to one knee, curling in on himself he turns his back towards Ichika's flurry of sword strikes.

That would be an absolutely idiotic move for most fighters, but he's not most fighters. And as the first sword strike connects, it meats a hide far leatherier and tougher than human skin, armored ridges and scutes dotted along his back absorbing the worst of the blows. Only grunts escape him. Not calls for mercy, or curses. This is simply something he decided he needs to endure.

He barely moves as he takes his lashes in that cascading torrent of blue light, curled protectively around his more exposed stomach and chest. No doubt that's going to hurt in the morning, no matter his freakish healing rate.

A second spot of blue begins glowing in the arena, perhaps shielded from Ichika's eyes by the position Buck has taken, but it starts inside his curled ball of defense, slowly glowing brighter.

As the last blow falls on him, he uncoils, the blue light of his own his was shielding on full display. A fist covered in gray skin shooting off bright sparks of blue electricity.

With all the speed he can muster, he turns as quickly as he can in the direction of his opponent and swings that electrified fist.

A lesson and idea taken from one of his first opponents in the NFG, Kenzo.

At the apex of the punch, his arm fully extended, there's a crack that echoes across the arena as the bioelectric charge he built up is released in another explosion of blue light.

COMBATSYS: Ichika instinctively blocks Buck's Shock & Awe ES.

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Ichika           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0             Buck

Ichika is quietly impressed. She knew Buck's capacity to change shape was extreme. She had no idea that he could form a defense so absolute against her assault. The girl's brow furrows, but not because she is actually angry, or even irritated; she's just trying to incorporate this new knowledge into her strategy. How can she overcome a defense like that?

And then he is showing off another new capability, and once again Ichika has to rely purely on instinct to deal with the attack. Her sword is still out, and she braces the flat of her hand against it, the steel of her blade ringing as she takes the brunt of the blow on her weapon. It is, perhaps, less perfect than when she had used the phrase with her, but Chevy must remember that little murmured phrase from Ichika:

'When is a sword not a sword? When it is a shield.'

She is still sent hurtling backwards. That attack, with her full defense against it, hurt as much as the clean blow he had struck with his stomping. Her initial assault had failed, and now they are both back to square one. That seems to be the rhythm of this fight; they clash, they come apart, they clash again...

She takes a deep breath, and when she exhales, much of the tension leaves her body with it.

"The mountain." She repeats, quietly. "Haa... you've developed in so many ways, Buck. I, have worked to perfect what I already had. The Sword, honed as best I can make it. Against the Dragon, ever-shifting..."

And then, suddenly, her voice raises - the katana, still out of its saya, is raised level with his chest. "COME, THEN!" She declares, to the roar of the crowd who know a good Ichika Speech when they hear one, "Together! We will surpass the top of the mountain! We will reach towards the Heavens themselves!"

The intensity in those eyes is building, and this time there is no hesitation in her surge back. The sword is gripped in both hands, and she brings it down hard, aiming to slash clean down across Buck from shoulder to hip, and even as she brings all the momentum she can muster to bear in that blow, she is already starting to twist, to bring the sword around again...

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Buck with Genius Loci.

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Ichika           0/-------/-----==|=======\-------\0             Buck

"Only because I had reason to improve." Buck comments. He may not be a speech giver, he likes to let his actions do most of the talking, especially in the ring. So when Ichika makes her pronouncement he just throws his head back and lets out a laugh that echoes across the arena. Jovial, bright, and full of life despite knowing he's on the back half of this fight. The armor only helped so much, and a few more solid blows will take him down, no matter what strange defenses he can pull out.

And he laughs, truly enjoying this. "We've come a long way from that hotel in Sunshine. Haven't we?" He reached up to grab the brim of his hat, adjusting how it sits on his head, then flicks the brim with his finger.

"Together, then." Once more pounding his fist into the palm of his hand.

He starts forward himself as Ichika comes at him, once more, he proves to be just not quick enough to get out of the way from the blow, and a line of crimson opens across his chest.

But Ichika is right, he is the dragon, and they are relentless. So even as his blood spills he continues his forward momentum into Ichika's guard. It's not the first time he's taken a blow to try to sieze victory, and he knows it won't be the last. Even if the NFG ends for him here.

A wince is all the blow draws from him, his mood is flying to high to give it more regard than he would a scratch.

Lower, a furry rope snakes around by his feet, trying to wrap around Ichika's ankle. No, not a rope, a tail. Prehensile. And should it latch on, he tugs attempting to get Ichika off balance just enough to pull her defenses open so he can try to slip the sweeping right hook he throws past her guard for a solid blow.

COMBATSYS: Ichika interrupts Combo Grapple from Buck with Intercepting Strike.

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Ichika           0/-------/----===|=======\====---\1             Buck

Ichika's smile returns with the laughter. That's Buck. Maybe she is a little melodramatic (or a lot melodramatic) but she is, absolutely, earnest. And so is he. Together, she has every confidence that they will advance - push forward into a better, brighter future. They can change the world. And they will. She has never been more sure of it than she is in this moment, with an arena full of people cheering. Inspired, by the display before them. This is what fighting should be all about!

As Buck's tail comes into play, with Ichika already starting to rise into her strike, her sword is woefully out of position to stop it. But she doesn't have to. There is, suddenly, a brilliant blue shield of energy between the pair - a perfect dome which frustrates the tail, and which cracks under the impact of Buck's more forceful right hook. It takes the impact for her - and then she is rising through it in a glittering shower of sapphire sparkles. The punch lands, but it strikes the girl's shoulder as she soars upwards...

...and it doesn't stop her from catching him in a single, perfect stroke to complete the X that her initial slash had painted across him. Not the usual corkscrew-slash that pushes herself beyond her boundaries and causes such terrible pain to use, but a far more considered blow. One that has the student completing a backwards flip, those heavy boots of hers landing with surprising grace.

This exchange also completed, Ichika flicks the blood from her blade carefully, sheathes the gleaming metal once again...

And waits. It was a telling blow, she knew that much, but he is, after all, the dragon...

Buck let's out his loudest battle cry as he drives his fist into the bright blue shield, as if he can overcome it with sheer determination alone. The crack is satisfying, but his blow still doesn't land.

He looks back up at Ichika just in time to take the second of the sword blows, driving him down to his knees.

There's a moment of stillness, time slowing to a crawl as it looks like he's finally been taken to the ground.

But Ichika is right, he's the dragon. Scales start to pop from his skin, mostly around the many cuts he now bears, staunching the blood and helping to hold the wounds together. Scales as crimson as the blood they are holding back.

His chest expnds as he takes a deep and steadying breath, the first actual movement from him since his knee touched the mat, and then he raises his head, glowing yellow eyes fixing on Ichika. "We were interrupted last time.." He recalls, Peng You coming to end their sparring match when it reached this point.

A pair of horns pierce his brow, making his hat tilt upwards, as his jaw extands into a draconian maw, which he opens wide. A reptilian cannon finding its trajectory to deliver one massive assault.

If this is to be his end, so be it. He's going out with a literal blaze.

The glow forms at the back of his throat, then with a rush the dragon flames explode from his maw, a brilliant blazing cone of chi and fire that roars across the arena in a scintillating wave of light.

He rocks, looking like he's about to fall over, done. But then he plants his foot solidly on the arena floor, and pushes himself back to his feet. Even as his face regains his human countenance, the scales over his wounds remain, a hand coming up to brush some of the flaking dried blood away from the scarlet scales.

Then the dragon, seemingly fallen sets himself against the sword of his would be slayer once again, his face breaking into a wide grin as he lets out a pained laugh.

"I told you, I'm not gonna make this easy."

COMBATSYS: Ichika instinctively blocks Buck's Burn Out ES.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////                          ]
Ichika           0/-------/--=====|=------\-------\0             Buck

Ichika knew what to expect, of course. They'd foreshadowed it enough. It would almost be disappointing if Buck didn't go ahead with it now! She has thought about the fire a lot, since their first battle. It is an impressive display. And in that first bout, she'd pulled what little energy she had remaining to blunt it. This time? She has so much more power.

The blade is swept around, and as it does, every shimmering blue fragment scattered through the arena responds to her movements. She summons up more. Buck's fire is building in his throat, and she is building a wall of power between she and him. It is tall; taller than both fighters, and when the flame releases, it crashes into the girl's guard. She braces herself against it, sweat building on her brow as she raises the sword between herself and the Dragon.

For a few terrible moments, Ichika is swallowed entirely in flame. Her brilliant blue subsumed by the raging inferno. Is the New Fighting Generation going to suffer another fire-based tragedy?

And then she emerges from the fire, trailing smoke and ash. "I never expected it to be easy, Buck!" She declares, "But you should know... you cannot burn down a mountain!"

She refuses to be held back; refuses to slow at all in her rush forwards, and what follows is a feint, a dive to the left, then to the right, before the girl flips up and over, aiming to drive the pommel of her sword into the back of his head and drive him to the ground.

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Buck with Innovation Drive EX.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >                                ]
Ichika           0/-------/=======|====---\-------\0             Buck

Once more, it simply comes down to speed. Buck tries to get out of the way of the more nimble Ichika, but he simply can't quite make it, the wounds, even if sealed are slowing his movements even further.

The pommel connects with a solid crack, driving his head forward ans sending his hat falling to the mat. Once more he's about to topple, but his leg stiffens as he steps forward, staying up with what must be sheer willpower.

He reaches down and picks up his hat, turning it over to peer into the depths as if it holds the answer to a long ago asked question. He knows where the chip lay. He could expend his final strength in one last attack that wouldn't achieve anything, or..

He seems to come to a decision. Then slowly, he turns ever so slightly and reaches out, hat still in his hand, and as if crowning the victor, he uses the last of his strength to set it on Ichika's head.

"Good job, Ichiban."

Then his knees buckle and he drops to the mat, eyes staring up at the ceiling of the arena as the crowd no doubt bursts into applause and cheers.

"Sounds like rain in the trees." He mutters, more to himself. "Guess that cabin's gonna have to wait." Then his eyes slide closed as he slips right off into one of his post match naps right there in the middle of the arena.

COMBATSYS: Buck takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Buck can no longer fight.

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

It's been months since the video of that last big fight between Buck and Ichika had gone viral. The one in which the world would realize that the NFG wasn't just meant to introduce new fighters to the business -- but to showcase the raw, unfiltered -brilliance- that best humanity has to offer.

And now it's here, in person -- a literal dragon rearing back its head. And regarding the sword-wielding Kasumoto with not just blazing red hellfire -- but an Oklahoman drawl to boot.

The crowd is completely -raw- with cheers, hoots, and shouting. They're here for it the on-stage continuation of one of the earliest pages of NFG history. Tickets worth -far- more than the price of admission.

So, yeah. There's applause and cheering. And the hayseed in the front row is -far- from the only one providing a standing ovasion. The hood falls loose as she stands up. Her auburn hair, mussed from her own fight just recently, is shown to view. And the people who -might- not have noticed the third member of Team Thunder on her mid-fight arrival begin to hoot and holler even more loudly.

She can't be prouder to join in the clapping.

"Awesome fight, y'all!" she calls out -- though, it's -very- likely her voice would be drowned out by all the noise!

"I'm so proud of you both...!"

Ichika is breathing hard when she lands on the ground. All of her power is exerted; her energy burned away by the Dragon's wrath. Those bright eyes of hers are noticeably a lot more dim. She could keep going, but she has been pushed, and she is reaching the point where she usually has to start trying things more out of desperation than strategy. When he reaches up with the hat, though, she smiles. She doesn't shrink away. Instead, she very deliberately sheathes the blade, and bends down so that the hat can be placed on her head.

There is no more need to fight.

And as his eyes start to close, the girl grasps him firmly under the shoulder, lifting him to his feet to lean on her. When did Ichika get so damned strong? She'd always said she used the sword to make up for her lack of physical strength but -- that, can't possibly be true now, as she a man with more than a foot of height on her so that he can see the roaring crowd, the people cheering, rather than just looking into her face as he slides towards inevitable unconsciousness.

"This is where our journey has taken us, Buck." She murmurs softly. Tears well in her eyes as she realises -- she'll be taking the next step along the road. She will be the one in the quarter finals. And it will be either her, or Chevy, who carry forward their dream before the whole world.

"It's more beautiful than I could have imagined. Thank you."

She'd never really believed it when Buck said that she was the one he thought would win the whole thing. It seemed so far-fetched to her. She'd come to terms with the fact that she was only a middling fighter quite early in the competition; and she didn't consider that a denigration at all. To be a middling fighter was still to be a fighter, and she is the youngest in the competition. She still has so much to learn, so much before her.

Those bright eyes of hers might be a little dulled, but they are still very sharp indeed. And as she cheers and claps, Ichika's eyes find Chevy's among the crowd. And she smiles. The next step on this journey... funny, that it seems like one they've revisited so many countless times.

And she raises her fist to the sky in a classic devil-horn salute!


The crowd, of course, take it up. The word encompassing not just the victor, but the spectacle as a whole. Something that would not truly have been possible if all three members present hadn't spent so much time pushing each other further.


COMBATSYS: Ichika has ended the fight here.

Log created on 15:00:37 11/24/2023 by Ichika, and last modified on 13:07:30 11/25/2023.