Neo League 251 - #254: Alma vs Frei

Description: The epic battle of Bishounen Monk versus Bishounen Could-Be-A-Monk continues in this, a duel admist the stillness of the Russian Hermitage. Frei's technique proves itself greatly improved, but Alma's overwhelming passion still cannot be denied. Yet what is the nature of this passion, and does it do more damage than it's worth? No conclusion is reached, but the two fighters are, eheh, only the closer for discussing it. Children, shield your eyes. (Winner: Alma)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...

[Record scratching noise]

Back in the early 1900s, Czar Nicholas had his hands full. The war in Europe was not going well, and Russia was expending considerable resources for not much gain, trapped in the web of alliances and backstabs that we in the modern day call 'World War I'. The people were restless, poor and hungry. Plus his daughter Anastasia had run off with some black leather-wearing lunatic from France, his scantily clad red haired girlfriend, and a talking wolf. Needless to say, it's not a happy time for the royal family. The Bolsheviks, seeking to take advantage of that, marched on St. Petersburg and, in the Palace Square overlooking the royal family's Winter Palace, began the revolution that would give birth to the USSR.

Flash forward about 90odd years to today, where the palace and the museum that encompasses it, the Hermitage, are one of the great landmarks of Russian architecture. It is remarkably pretty for what is essentially a wide-open space surrounded by old buildings. The center of the square is dominated by a tall statue honoring the defeat of Napoleon, placed in perfect geometric synchronicity with the gridwork of stone beneath it, the position of the gates of the Winter Palace, and the opposite side of the square, the General Staff building of the former government.

Standing in the square in the shadow of that tall column is Frei, who is glancing around at the methodically picture-perfect clockwork precision of the landscape...

...with what might be fear. "This entire square is *SUSPICIOUS*!"

~ It's like a graveyard. ~
There are a number of quite interesting reasons why Alma Towazu -- and Frei, for that matter -- would make very good characters for a Shadow Hearts game set in their era, but one glaring reason stands out as to why they /shouldn't/: they would most assuredly be side characters, and the main character would probably be Jiro Kasagi. And no game developer, thank goodness, would ever allow that to happen.
True story.
But for all the talents and quirks that would make him a good RPG hero, young Alma is discovering that he too finds the outlay of this place a bit, well, creepy. Not that it isn't attractive, or a beautiful display of the aesthetic capabilities of humankind. But he's getting the same feeling he got when he visited the Metro City central park -- the large but purely artificial park, so popular during the day and so dangerous at night -- and it's a disorienting feeling that makes him want to constantly glance over his shoulder. Everything here has been carefully ordered. Now, you might think that a guy so down with being harmonious like our friend Alma here would be into this, but that's getting Alma wrong. We're talking about the guy who's attracted to women like Xiangfei. Leaving aside all the /other/ possible mental problems he may have that could have resulted in such an attraction, it's clear that for him, truly feeling at home and at peace requires a certain level of activity -- of chaos, if you will. Activity, change, is part of being alive. This place is so measured as to be still.
This place is dead.
Naturally, the handsome young fighting model's thoughts don't show on his features, his normal expression of good-natured mild calm there as always. Even as he smiles at the sight of Frei, however, and notes the cameras that have been trained on the center of this courtyard from the gates and gridwork, his eyes remain serious.
"Hey, Frei," the younger man says softly, his smile reassuring. "Funny that we meet in a place like this."
~ Fighting here may be strange for /both/ of us... ~

"Funny like haha funny, or funny like creepy funny because I feel like I'm trapped in the White Room at Wolfram and Hart?" Wolfram and what? Frei gives Alma a curious glance. He finds the rigid order particularly creepy too, though not because he senses its lack of animation -- though indeed, that may be part of it. For him, it's a little different. Even a still life has life. A painting of an apple can have the vibrance of an apple. Even a rock garden can have 'life', a feeling of presence. This place? NADA. It's like a giant diorama.

The presence of another human being, though, seems to calm the monk somewhat as he gives Alma a wave and a slight smile before tightening his headband and then pushing both hands out forcefully with a sharp exhalation, the long trails of the bandanna flapping out behind him for a moment. "Okay. This place is just *crushing* Yin. Like, hardcore oppressive bottom-of-the-sea Yin. No wonder the Bolsheviks were such screwed up people." Getting into stance, the monk's slight smile suddenly becomes a manic grin as he squares off with Alma. "I guess I'll just have to be a little more Yang to compensate. You ready?"

COMBATSYS: Frei has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Frei             0/-------/-------|

"Wolfram and what?"
Well, Alma's got his own kind of funny, which is something along the lines of 'Delighting in absurd or paradoxical coincidences or results funny', but that's quite a mouthful and will probably leave the bitter aftertaste of pretention behind anyway, so Alma feels no need to get too specific. But he ought to say something, so he asks that -- anyway, he's kinda curious. Frei's always making these references Alma doesn't understand.
~ And he speaks so quickly. ~
But none of this stops the handsome copper-skinned youth from grinning good-humoredly as he nods in return to Frei's wave. Alma steps back, shifting his feet lightly, finding that he feels a bit more natural too now that Frei's here. As long as something is happening -- or in Frei's case, some/one/ is happening -- he gets the orienting sensation that the flow of the universe is continuing. Besides... Frei seems stronger.
"It's been a while since we've challenged each other," the calm-voiced youth remarks, drawing his open hands up gently, straighting his posture and relaxing his body in his own interpretation of the Hiten-Ryu stance. "Please, do your best..."
Another slight smile, there, as the young man's deep hazel eyes grow intent and inscrutible.
" we can liven this place up."

COMBATSYS: Alma has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Alma

The question does not break Frei's stride (or grin) at all. "Wolfram and Hart. Evil law firm. You know, you wouldn't think an aged master of chi living in the mountains of China would get pirated satellite, but that man loved him some DirecTV." The monk flexes his fingers, dark leather handguards creaking slightly as he does so, and then begins to circle a bit, measuring Alma's stance. 'Do your best', huh... yeah, well. He's still smarting from the beatdown Adelheid gave him, but it doesn't show. "He watched 'Angel' and 'Charmed'. It was weird."

Coming to a sudden stop, the monk gauges his distance to Alma, and then rushes forward, golden energy already gathering at the tips of his fingers as he cups them together at his side. "It has been a while, hasn't it? I dunno I've changed much, though..." With a manic grin, he hurls himself at Alma at the last second, bringing his palms forward and exploding a sphere of golden yang chi right in the model's face (well, and torso, and arms, etc). "I guess we'll see!"

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Alma with Hizashi.

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

It's not that Alma's distracted by Frei's chatter; he's at least aware enough to avoid falling for that. But psychic senses or no -- perhaps due to his memory of Frei's usual strength -- he misjudges the power of the coming technique, and when he brings his arms up to guard against the attack the energy simply bursts through. The tall young man staggers back a few steps, sliding a bit on one foot, but without a word turns the slide into a preparation to lunge and hurls himself forward, drawing his hand back in the process. White fire flickers to life in his hands, surging as he pulls his hand back as though pumping an inner bellows, and leaving faint trails of pink and purple-tinged light where it passes.
The mild-faced, calm-eyed youth has apparently decided that this return blast of energy will do the talking for him.
Though with Psycho Power, I guess that kinda works out.

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Alma's Self Expression.

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

Check the frequency, Kenneth. Your Psycho Power may need to talk a little louder.

There's a faint shimmer of silvery-white around Frei's forearm as he interposes it in the face of the attack, the girly-colored (you know it's true) energy splashing against his guard, causing the monk to wince. Those still hurt no matter how much of a defensive effort he puts into it, but there's no time to be worried about such things. "Ow, dangit..." he mutters, shaking out his left forearm after the psychic blast dissipates.

Of course, he hasn't actually left being NEAR Alma and decides to take advantage of that, suddenly surging forward the few steps between himself and the fighting model and attempting to plant his foot in Alma's hip, then another on his chest, and the simply leaping off Alma in a spiralling vault in the opposite direction, his back turned. Seems like such a good opportunity to attack! Which is why just as Frei kicks off, a blast of purple lightning arcs out of the sky and into poor Alma's body. You know, as a deterrent.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Alma with Tenrai Enbu.

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

Psycho Power may be painful, but having it evaded or blocked, Alma finds, is especially disorienting. Imagine that you've put your keys down behind you, and then you turn around for just a second, literally just a /second/, and then you look and they're gone. It's that same stunned feeling, the desire to simply not accept the reality of the situation, the need to shake your fist and shout 'That's impossible!', as unhelpful as such a thing would be.
Now imagine that after you turn around and see your keys are gone, somebody steps on your face and hits you with a bolt of lightning.
...okay, so, not even I can really imagine that, but that's what just happened to Alma. But he makes a good show of it -- as he sprawls from the kick he actually catches himself on one hand, twisting acrobatically to prevent himself from crashing against the stone ground, and he simply endures the lightning with gritted teeth as he continues swinging his body to quickly rise. He does not hesitate -- the end result is not important right now so much as making sure he gets the opportunity to give his all, and that's what he's drawn to do.
Thus the handsome youth throws himself into the fray once again, hurling himself into the air in an apparently bizarre and twisted manuever that, like a budding blossom blooming into bright color, begins to make sense only as his right foot ignites with white fire. Swinging his body around with the gathering momentum, fuelled by pure fighting spirit, Alma roars with a fury free of any frustration or indignation as he aims a powerful hooking kick at Frei's head.

COMBATSYS: Frei endures Alma's Shooting Star EX.

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


That's the sound of Alma's kick impacting on the side of Frei's head with what can only be called crushing impact. Already strong physical attacks from Alma are only bolstered even further by his addition of Psycho Power to the mix. A lesser person would probably have been laid out like a ten cent whore by that strike, and indeed, the sickening sound of impact does make Frei grit his teeth in intense pain.

What it does do is make him fall over. Or, in fact, move so much as an inch.

Instead, he simply grins. "Well, what do you think? Sufficiently different from before?" Frei asks with an almost impish smile, standing plenty close enough for Alma to make it all the more visible, too. "Or just the same old same old?" Not wasting any time, he snaps out a hand with snake-like speed, looking to get a grip on the leg Alma was kind enough to provide him with. If that works? Into the air they go, Frei spinning Alma in a full circle before hurling him at the ground like a comet, with only a huge burst of earth chi 'leaves' to break his fall.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Alma with Daichi Kudaki EX.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Frei             1/-------/=======|=======\=------\1             Alma

~ Interesting. ~
Well, from a certain perspective, it /is/ pretty interesting. It's interesting that Frei literally just seemed to absorb all that force, somehow maintaining his feet against the combined physical impact against his skull and the mental assault that comes with the flame -- and it's pretty interesting the way Alma is swung to the ground, back arching with a painful snap with the sudden leaf-buoyed impact before he flops to the ground. The tall youth grunts once, quietly, and then gets to his feet, taking a moment rather than just rolling up.
"Nice work," Alma offers simply, placing a palm on the small of his back and pushing it outward with a slight wince. At least there's no popping sound. He's still young and vigorous. "I think you've improved..."
And then he's blurring forward, shifting suddenly into a fierce forward punch to Frei's head that, if it connects, may stun him long enough to leave him open for a follow-up backfist. It's pretty harsh to keep attacking the same place, but... Alma /does/ have to give his all.

COMBATSYS: Frei just-defends Alma's Strong Punch!

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

"Nice to hear you think so," the monk says conversationally. And why can he be conversational? Because Alma's fierce forward punch (he forgot to crouch first, that's why no Sacred Wave) is just... there's a dull, soft *whap* sound as the monk catches it with his index and middle fingers on his right hand, pushing it gently and harmlessly to the side. "I was starting to get a bit of an inferiority complex what with all you school-age people who mastered nine martial arts before you were 18, and it took me 6 years to figure out how to kick with fire." He doesn't bring up the 13 year old kid who can kick with fire. The little rat.

He still has Alma in close, Frei does, but he isn't sure he entirely likes being there. Deciding to put some distance between himself and his opponent, the monk reaches back his left, non-blocking hand, gathering a huge sphere of blue-white chi that frosts the already brisk spring air to an even greater chill. "I just like to keep up." Swinging his hand around, the monk detonates the improv ice grenade between himself and Alma, hopping backwards at the same time. Hopefully, that will give him the space he needs.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Alma with Hyoushou Rengeki.

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

[OOC] Frei says, "This bodes ill."

[OOC] Frei says, "You having gauge always bodes ill."

[OOC] Alma says, "It'd bode more ill if I didn't have this friggin projectile penalty. XD"

[OOC] Frei says, "Blah di blah blah blah. :P"

[OOC] Alma XD

Dang, Frei, that was near psychic, right there. Alma can't help but at least blink when you just catch his punch, and at the very least, dramatic effect demands that he get owned by the next attack. Admittedly, there are a lot of other reasons why Alma is struck by the flying ice shards, but blaming it on theatrical imperative makes me feel better about it...
The young man is able to keep his feet, but he looks genuinely pretty dazed now -- Frei's outdoing him in technique today, and it looks like Alma's only advantage is going to be his sheer power. At a disadvantage already due to his distance from his opponent and the fog that plagues his mind and slows his reflexes, the young fighter still finds the strength to unleash a wave of white fire at Frei as quickly as he can.
(Oh, right, /roll/ the joystick. /That/ was the problem.)
"Kuuuuu SEIHA!"

COMBATSYS: Frei overcomes Sacred Wave from Alma with Hyoushou Rengeki.

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

Note the specific reference to Frei's left hand in the previous attack.

Why is it important? Because the joke is that he is not left-handed, which surely even Alma must know because that movie is, really, one of the great classics. The truth, however, is simply that Frei has been fighting projectile mavens of all forms -- Sakura, Tran, Alma himself -- and people with that nasty reflecting trick (like Yuri) for quite some time now. They are, after all, his weakness. So even as he hops backwards from the initial burst, he's preparing a second one with his *right* hand.

With Alma's own psychic blast only mere inches away, Frei suddenly shifts his weigh and thrusts that right hand forward, hurling the second ice grenade right into Alma's attack. In a burst of blue-white ice and purple fire, the two energies struggle against each other in a terrific lightshow... but in the end, Alma's soul flame is entire consumed by the icy blast, which hurtles on toward the fighting model, reduced but still workable. "Not yet!"

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Alma with Hyoushou Rengeki.

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

[OOC] Frei is willing to bet there was nothing left of that when it got to you. ^_^;

[OOC] Alma says, "I'm going to get one reaction tonight, gosh darn it."

Shucks -- that was supposed to buy Alma time, not immediately get him in hot water all over again. Or very cold water, as the case may be, as the poor youth finds himself showered with chunks of ice again. Wiping a line of blood off his cheek with his thumb, the fighting model simply grunts in response, focusing all his resolve on making sure he stays conscious and maintains his auric defenses.
~ I'm exhausted -- but I cannot lose until this passion is expressed! ~
Fatigued but encouraged, Alma takes a deep breath, and recovers himself.

COMBATSYS: Alma gains composure.

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

Watching Alma carefully, the monk pauses a little. To him, fighting is very rarely an active mental endeavor; that goes a little counter to his philosophy of being as water, after all. Instead he, much like Alma, flows in and around the cracks, as it were, working on instinct and perception rather than tactics or plans. Sometimes, like now, it works out. Other times he gets beaten so bad his own mother wouldn't recognize him, if the two were on speaking terms and she'd seen him since he was 17, which she hasn't. So she might not recognize him anyway.

In any event, Frei senses a disturbance in Alma's Force, as it were, and decides to do much the same and give himself a short breather rather than press the attack. After all, he's been tossing chi around left and right, and even for the most practiced individual, that takes some doing.

COMBATSYS: Frei gains composure.

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

Alma's broad shoulders rise with his breath, lips parting and eyes half-closing as the thrill of the fight melts his fatigue away. No time to be tired; no time to give in. He's still in this fight, and he's got to make it good--
--so once again he begins an offensive, lunging into a jab punch that ends up being a feint. Not that it won't hit if Frei's not careful, but rather that the real goal is for it to force him back so that as Alma's body twists, he can lash out with a crushing back kick that may show just how much fight the tall youth still has left in him.
Can't let Frei relax too much, anyway.

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Alma's Heavy Kick.

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

Maybe his intuition is just particularly good today, or perhaps he's becoming more able to read Alma's way of fighting. Either way, the feint jab punch is pretty much ignored; either the monk can sense that it's just going to sting a little and doesn't bother getting out of the way, or he really can tell it's a feint. Either way, the back kick is met with Frei's left forearm sweeping through and brushing it aside, the monk gritting his teeth from the pain but not letting it stop him. Instead, he simply drives his right hand forward, hopefully before Alma can escape, and tosses out another burst of golden chi, looking to shower Alma with shiny sparks.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Alma with Hizashi.

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

Damn, he's too slow turning or something, because--
~ Enough of this! ~
It's not frustration in the usual sense. If it were, you'd see it on Alma's face, because while he's not a demonstrative person by nature, he can't help but genuine express how he feels. No, this is the intensity born of frustrated fighting spirit. He has passion, but he can't seem to express it, because he just can't move fast enough to find an /opening/...
A bellow, arising deep from within the youth, his body gathering momentum with the twist as he just crashes through the attack he's unable to avoid, twisting his body even as the knotted power inside him uncoils...
And spinning, eyes blazing with inner light and battle fury, Alma cracks the stone beneath him with a fierce punch, unleashing an enormous geyser of soulfire underneath Frei's feet.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Frei with Full Confession.

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

Well, that works beyond Alma's wildest dreams, to be sure. The immense psychic blast basically envelops Frei totally, obscuring him from sight in a massive, swirling torrent of pink-violet energy that flows around him like a tornado, swirling upwards and outwards. But Alma can probably sense it. Psychic energy doesn't seem to have a lot of 'momentum', unless the user wills it so... and even if it did, Frei is resisting with all of his energy. The monk doesn't move, instead throwing his arms down to his side. He knows this battle isn't physical; it's in his mind. If he wants to pull through, that's where he needs to fight. In his mind and in his heart.

And yet the images that come through are... mostly about Alma, aren't they? The first time the two met, their subsequent fights. An embarrassing meeting with Alma and Mimiru... and the fateful night at the amusement park with Tran. Frei sitting at a coffee shop table and telling Tran that he thought he might have loved Alma. Not knowing what he felt. The power of the psychic attack is doubt. If you can make the mind give up, the body will too. But toward the end, marshalling all of his willpower, Frei comes to a conclusion, focusing with terrible mental ferocity on how Alma treated Tran at the park, and Tran's feelings afterwards.

That's when the flame starts to disappear.

In fact, it's a wind... a wind coming from Frei, whose hands now glow with an increasingly fiery halo of rainbow colors. The flame may have bowed him, but he is unbroken... and in fact, while it might not necessarily be called 'rage', there is something... dark about Frei's heavy-lidded expression, and the terrible swirling of energies around his hands. Something's gotta break. And with sudden ferocity, it happens: the monk launches himself at Alma, hands held in front of him, and hurls his palms at the fighting model.

The resulting shockwave cracks the pavement in all directions whether it hits or not, the perfect order of the cold, dead Palace Square shattered. With only Frei's bellowed challenge to drown it out: "I'M NOT GOING TO LET YOU LOOK DOWN ON ME!"

COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Frei's Fukami Reikai.

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

Doubt is one word for it.
It would explain why Alma, in the fights where he actually gives voice to his attacks rather than simply roaring as he's doing this time, sometimes tells his opponents to 'submit' or 'surrender'. It would certainly explain the feeling, as though all one's most basic assumptions, the simplest foundations that day-to-day life must rest on for it to continue -- even beliefs like 'I exist' -- seem suddenly called into question. And the rest of the universe starts to seem so enormous, and the beauty of it so breathtakingly exalted, that Alma's sparkling light becomes a beguiling temptation to let it go and find peace in the sweet darkness of unconsciousness--
--but some have experienced Alma's power and felt insignificant... and despaired, and grown bitter and angry. To the point that in his weaker moments, the young man feels he begins to understand where Megumi is coming from...
What Frei is feeling right now is for Frei to say. But what Alma himself feels his power do is wear away at the ego, penetrating the mentally constructed boundary between self and other like a foot scuffing at a chalk line. Ironically, those who are trained to release their egos are sometimes more vulnerable to such attacks; thus, Alma original weakness to his own energy form. Those who can call upon a powerful surge of will to assert themselves survive, but in the process, they occasionally reveal that which they would normally not. The young man knows this; in the haze of Psycho Power release he finds the sudden clarity of emptiness, and knows this.
So he seems unsurprised by Frei's words, and his expression does not change as he is engulfed in the shockwave. The cracked stone causes dust to rise into the air, obscuring the youth and the surrounding area until there seems to be nothing left--
"Relax," says a voice, utterly soft and gentle, from behind Frei.
A hand moves the back of the monk's skull.

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Alma's Self Expression EX.

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

What Alma feels, interestingly enough, is not the back of Frei's hand. What he *feels* is a strong grip. Frei is not a physical powerhouse, by any means. He's developed his spiritual muscle more than his physical muscle... but you can't get along in the fighting world without having developed some degree of physical strength. The monk, with astonishing prescience, snatches Alma's fingers out of midair, locking his own in a grip with the fighting model's. Of course, this only looks easy externally; internally, Frei is fighting an ongoing battle with keeping the raging wave of psychic force at bay. So he doesn't escape this struggle unscathed completely.

But when Frei actually half turns to face Alma, his eyes are back to being heavy-lidded, and the monk has an almost zombie-like appearance. "You don't mean to do it," he says quietly. "And actually, because you believe that you aren't intending to, you don't believe it happens. But in reality, people feel like you're lording yourself above them. Maybe they don't see your own personal darkness... probably because I think you hide it." And just as suddenly, the face breaks into a tired smile. This is the granite Frei under the sandstone, perhaps the 'real' Frei. The Frei that looks far older than the 26 he is, never mind the 18 he acts like. "At least, that's my view."

But this is a fight, and the monk doesn't waste any more time once that moment has passed; instead he continues his grip and just leaps sideways and up, using Alma's body as a fulcrum point and intending just drive his knees right into Alma's shoulder and send him right into the ground, which comes up to meet him, as it were, earth chi responding to Frei's call.

COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Frei's Daichi Kudaki.

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

"Or maybe," Alma replies quietly, voice still gentle, looking Frei in the eyes with his own mysterious gaze, "my power just reveals the fears and insecurities that are already there."
~ Personal darkness... ~
But his gaze is thoughtful, his exhausted mind occupied by Frei's last comments -- and perhaps, strangely, it's /because/ he's preoccupied that Alma is able to twist and hurl himself out of the way unthinkingly, spurred on by his renewed engagement in the fight. "I'm not sure if I hide anything," he murmurs even as he's finding his feet from his all-out evasion, although it doesn't sound anything like a denial. More like genuine speculation. "I'm not sure I'm really capable of it, if I want to feel like myself; if I want to feel like I'm living. But... maybe..."
Then he's lunging, instinct and conscious mind running parallel without interfering with each other as, incredibly, he's able to begin a blurring series of jabs while continuing to speak... in an unusually soft, distant tone.
"...maybe I really just don't like irresponsible adults..."

[OOC] Frei says, "Well, who knows. I might JD."

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Alma's Spring Shower.

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

[OOC] Frei smirks. Exactly 0 health.

[OOC] Alma :o

The monk just shrugs, having little to no difficulty in quickly running a series of palm blocks through Alma's punches. He looks exhausted -- beyond exhausted -- but apparently he still has the energy to come to his own defense. "If you're trying to imply that everyone feels insecure compared to you," Frei says simply, though it's hard to tell if that's genuine mirth or sarcasm in his tone, "then I think at that point it's not about other people anymore, is it?" The monk stops and takes a breath, which turns into a cough... which turns into him noticing that said cough came with some blood in it. He hehs, with an almost airy expression. "Guess I pushed a bit too hard too soon."

Turning his glance to Alma, the monk just purses his lips for a moment. He considers this, knowing the last time this happened Alma had already seen what he was thinking, and so he just assumes it's true this time. "Do you mean Tran? Or me?" he asks, sounding genuinely curious. "From one point of view I'm terribly irresponsible. I don't really contribute to society. But I live my life the way I want to, and that's enough for me."

He smiles at Alma. Then he brings his hand up and exlpodes an ice grenade right in his face.

When the smoke clears, the monk is hunched forward, hands on knees. "Yeah... I'm done. You win." Of course, he might be 'conceding' to an unconscious body at that point... but given Alma's speed, this isn't particularly likely.

COMBATSYS: Frei can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Frei's Hyoushou Rengeki.

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

"No," Alma murmurs, even as he's punching and Frei is blocking. "I just remember what it was like when I first /got/ my power. Feeling all my fears and insecurities exposed... and only because it happened at the time that it did was I able to take an objective eye to them... rather than become a beast..."
When Frei stops blocking, Alma stops attacking, and they stand there, looking at each other for a while. The young man is breathing heavily -- he's barely standing, and visibly swaying.
"I don't know what I mean," he whispers in return, his eyes softening. Bereft of his usual passion, Alma seems truly exhausted, unable to even articulate in his usual fashion anymore. Frei may look older than the 26 he is, but for once, Alma actually looks like the 18 /he/ is.
He's just a kid, trying to take responsibility for himself, trying to live his life with a devastating power. A power that sometimes he wishes he never had, until he realizes how it helps him to express his passion, and he remembers how /that/ has helped others... and he can only hope that those that are burned by his flame heal and learn in the way that /he/ had to heal and learn.
"Frei, do--"
Snapping his head back, Alma just barely manages to avoid the final shower of ice as it passes over his award-winning face, leaning back improbably before, with a final quiet grunt, leaning back into a standing position while Frei hunches before him.
A moment of silence, before a question: a question in Alma's voice, a man's voice, far from pleading, but softly spoken, always softly spoken, the voice of a big person who has never really wanted to throw his bulk around.
"--do you dislike me?"

COMBATSYS: Alma has ended the fight here.

Frei rolls his head on his neck a bit as he stands back up straight. Alma pushing him to the point of exhaustion, but not to the point of unconsciousness. Plus Frei's always been a quick healer, even before he learned to focus ambient chi to do the job for him. So perhaps the people at home aren't going to get the mind-blowing KO where someone gets knocked across the space into a building. At least they got to see Frei crack the pavement and Alma's bitchin' tower of spiritual fire. That was cool, anyway.

Walking over toward the model, Frei stops and laces his fingers together behind his back, looking up at Alma... and perhaps giving the taller fighter an indication of how childlike Frei himself can sometimes look, given his height and slight build. He smiles, but it's still that slightly tired-looking smile from before. "Are you asking if I hate you? Naw. I don't hate anybody. I just sometimes find your tendency to believe the universe works the way you believe it does a little hard to deal with." He turns away for a moment, taking a step, then turns back, finger in the air. "The only law is that there are no laws. So let me ask a question in return... if you don't mind. Do you believe in God, Alma? I mean, with a capital G. The big one."

Alma just listens quietly, his expression unchanging even as Frei says things that would offend the deepest sensibilities of any moral crusader. Maybe he's just tired -- but then again, he's more awake than Frei still. So his pause, despite the fatigue in his eyes that overwhelms all other emotions that might be revealed there, is probably a thoughtful one. Then:
"I don't claim to know anything... because that would be wrong. That would be a false passion, a close-minded passion; it would be like closing off a chinmey and letting the smoke of my fire pour into my home." Well, at least he's got his power of analogy back. "But I -- I want to have faith. Not in anything in particular. Not in ultimate justice. Not in any real divine power. Not even in any particular nature to my /own/ abilities. Just... that truth exists. That maturity is real. That there are no born villains; that all people, at their best, are good to themselves and others."
He sways slightly, but stands fast.
"If there's a God," he whispers, "He can send me to Hell for not praying to Him. Because I'm alive right now. I could die tomorrow -- but I'm alive right now. So I'm going to live, with a passion that will give something to the world and bring others close..."
But his eyes lack that passion now. They are tired.
"...I've just been alone for so long."

"Even after I told her to wear the skirt, huh?" he mutters, without thinking. Thankfully, Frei snaps out of THAT fairly quickly.

Tilting his head to the side slightly, the monk lets his laced hands swing back and forth behind his back, regarding Alma with a curious expression. It's clear to the monk that the fighting model has put a lot of *thought* into this. Real thought. And for a moment, just a moment, Frei feels a little guilty... because he doesn't need to think. He just... knows. That's how it's always been. An entire monastery of Buddhists who'd been trying their whole lives to understand the concepts of their religion and achieve some sort of heightened state found it quite *irksome* that some 19 year old kid from Japan got it in the span of about three weeks. In fact, his expression changes a little as that memory comes to him. They didn't hate him -- not really -- but somewhere deep down, they resented the things that came easy to him. Kind of like Tran and Alma, really.

Take a step forward, Frei's face becomes the Jungian archetype of "^______^" as he smiles at Alma beatifically. "Well... I asked because, the second question is wondering if that God believes in you. If he exists, anyway... I don't claim to know for sure. But the question's rhetorical anyway. It's like asking if you believe in the Sun. The sun is there, whether you believe in it or not. The entire universe is like that, I think. Belief is something we put between ourselves to delineate what we think is true or what we think isn't true. You either believe or disbelieve. But I guess I feel like... the world exists regardless of what I believe. What I can control is what I do with the reality of right now."

Taking a step closer still, the monk brings his hands up in front of his chest, and closes his eyes for a moment. It ALMOST looks like prayer, if you didn't know better. "You don't see it that way, at least as I can see it. You believe in an 'are' and an 'aren't'. And you pursue them with all your heart. You want other people to do the same... but they have 'ares' and 'aren'ts' that are different than yours. So you feel a little lonely... maybe. At least, that's what I think. You want so hard to be true to yourself that others become a mystery."

"...I think about belief like that, too."
At this, Alma actually turns away, running a hand through his swept blond hair. The young man gazes off at the horizon, as though he'll be able to find his thoughts there.
"That's why I don't equate belief and knowledge. I believe in things, but they don't have to be true... it's just important that I believe in them." His eyes, though tired, soften. "It's always a risk, putting your trust in something, or someone... but it's important that you do it all the same, because... that's part of being alive, too. Risk."
He looks back to Frei, then, and a little of that light has returned.
"I do want to be true to myself," he says, "maybe too much so. I do... work very hard." He does. Tournament fighting, professional modeling, full-time student, living alone... "I'm beginning to think that it's time to slow down, soon. But I don't regret it. I'm alive. There aren't any conditions on that. I don't /have/ to grow, or learn -- but I do, because that's part of passion, and expressing passion is part of truly living. It's not for the goal. It's not even for helping others."
Finally, a slight smile.
"I feel them so closely," he whispers, "everyone and everything around me, and I'm not sure what to do with that. But I'm going to keep going. Because, you know... I promised myself I would. With understanding, I can see the beauty in everything. That's why I'm not afraid anymore -- at the very least, I'm not afraid."
He turns away, for the last time. And pauses. Then:
"Thank you for asking her to do that, Frei," he says quietly. "I'm happy that she did that... before she left."
He walks away.
And after a few moments, he tilts his head back, looks at the monk-- and smiles, really smiles, and not in spite of the pain in his eyes, but somehow, because of it.
"Goodbye, Frei."

Probably when he suggested the skirt to Xiangfei in the first place, Frei knew Alma would freak out on the inside, and then be a perfect gentleman on the outside and not do anything untoward. Because, the monk continues in his head, Alma's a moron that way. As for the rest, he's not shocked. He's not a psychic, but it doesn't take a psychic to read people's actions. Something was up. In this case, it happened to be the departure of Xiangfei. Ironically, Frei's big chance, even. The fiancee who stood in the way is somewhere else.

The truth, however, is that by the end of the fight, Frei had made his decision on that front. Whatever it was he felt toward Alma -- affection, lust, amusement, cameraderie, any of those things, or perhaps all of them -- he was wrapped up in the idea that the world labelled it something called "love", but that he was trying to force a label on something when he didn't believe in the taxonomy. Frei doesn't love Alma... not really. Perhaps he loves the *idea* of Alma. But the reality... wouldn't work out.

He's okay with it, it would appear, however. "My pleasure," he says with a smile. He means it, too, and simply watches the model walk away.

'You can only control what happens in the now', huh...

"Hey, wait a sec!" Dashing after Alma, the monk snags him by the arm and spins around to face him from behind... and, provided the model doesn't do something violently defensive like chuck him into the Alexander Monument, gives him a kiss. Maybe. Not for very long. Just enough to make his point.

Then it's Frei's turn to take a few steps back and smile. "I guess it's that type of thing that makes me an 'irresponsible adult', huh?" And unless Alma has a witty rejoinder to *that*... the monk decides an expeditious retreat is in order.

Maybe it's just because he's tired -- maybe, somehow, he actually saw it coming. But Alma doesn't even seem startled. He neither resists, nor does he sink into Frei's arms... but he does seem to relax, as though somehow, through the mere physical contact, some kind of exhaustion taken shape has simply flowed out of him. No, not exhaustion...
His lips are soft.
"...Frei," is all the young man murmurs, watching the monk begin to, er, scamper away after his brightly delivered comment. The tall youth, blond hair hanging over softened hazel eyes, obviously fatigued yet seeming less as though he is bearing up under a great weight, is simply silent for a moment.
"'re not an irresponsible adult. Because..."
"...there's a difference between having an inner child... and failing to fully grow up. And besides..."
Again, he smiles.
"...even if you didn't mean it to be, that was a brave and kind thing to do, Frei."
The children of the world may be shocked and some viewers may be appalled, but Alma Towazu seems completely at peace. Because whatever Frei decides to call the feelings he's shared with Alma, whether it's love or a crush or just one or another kind of platonic affection--
--it was something meaningful.

[OOC] Frei says, "Awwww. <3"

[OOC] Alma :D

[OOC] Frei says, "Meanwhile, most of the viewing audience changed the channel to CSI somewhere around the end of the fight."

[OOC] Alma cackles.

[OOC] Alma says, "Hey, at least Alma's kissed someone besides Mimiru now."

[OOC] Frei says, "..."

[OOC] Frei says, "...yes."

[OOC] Alma says, "I cannot comprehend how good that must feel for Alma."

[OOC] Frei says, "...also yes."

Log created by Alma, and last modified on 04:16:11 05/11/2006.