Neo League 526 - #545: Kurow vs Hotaru

Description: On Halloween night, Hotaru Futaba comes up against one of her greatest foes in a graveyard... but the most challenging aspect of the match doesn't come until all blows are exchanged. (Winner: Kurow)

The night winds blow swiftly, tousling hair and clothing, sending dust into the air when it gusts. The decayed, dead branches of a rotting, deceased tree rattle, straining against the occasional gust, desperately clinging to their already expired existence along the trunk. Hotaru isn't sure if there's too many more places to stage a fight than a graveyard left derelict through the passage of time.

Sticking up through dried up fronds of field grass, the old grave markers of hewn stone look like haunted remnants of a bygone era. There is no artificial lighting here. Only the oft interrupted, silvery glow of the moon bathes this area with just enough luminescence to see by... When the swiftly moving clouds eclipse it, however, the entire clearing becomes nearly pitch black.

There is a small building nearby made of wood. It may have been where the keeper once lived decades ago. It lacks a roof and one of the walls has a whole so large it's hard to tell if it used to be the original door or not. Seated on a fallen log, Hotaru hugs herself. She's wearing her normal blue and white fighting attire - the blue looking black in the dim light, the white portions reflecting the silvered moon. But over her outfit she wears a traditional Chinese long coa that reaches down to her knees. Blue in color, she thought perhaps it would keep off some of the mid-fall cool air. But certain chills cut deep through cloth and skin, and even though she is well covered, she can't help but shiver.

Who's bright idea was this? To herald in Halloween with a graveyard fight? To make it worse, there's the matter of her opponent. Kurow Kirishima. To go up against the likes of him in a one on one fight... Well... Better a regulated match than him ambushing her in her own sancturary, right? If she had refused to show, it would have been a failure to herself. A sign of weakness she couldn't live down. And so the girl is here, seated on that log, huddling like a frozen little thing even though the temperature is merely brisk, watching the shadows play across the ground - cast by swiftly blown clouds high overhead.

In truth, the dilapidated little graveyard was Kurow's idea; the youth may not put much stock in traditions like Halloween, but he can certainly appreciate matching locations to dates and times... especially when they might play at other factors in the match. Besides -- ghosts hold no grand mystery for him (and even less for his sister, who probably taught him that particular behavior). Wearing the heavier winter uniform of Justice High, he seems only slightly bothered by the cold as well; he certainly knows how to pick a location to his advantage... though that heavier outfit may yet prove his downfall.

The young man arrives far later than Hotaru, just barely on time for the match; perhaps this is part of his plan, too -- giving her time to agonize over the fight, time to worry. After all, much of fighting is psychological -- and he's starting to get a fairly solid handle on Hotaru's psychology, by this point. After all, they've clashed both physically and mentally more times than either would care to think about, now.

"I wasn't sure you'd show up," he says, cracking the smallest of smiles. "I thought you might be scared." He reaches into his jacket, pulling forth those trademark claws, sliding them onto his hands. "Have you been well lately, then? No -- grave worries about the future?" The pun is awful, but he puts such emphasis on it that it's a little difficult to ignore.

Finally he's here. Maybe the frantic energy she'll have to expend to battle against the likes of Kurow will warm her up, eh? Sliding off of the log, Hotaru unfolds her arms, trying to put the chill out of her mind as dark eyes focus on the young man who has been an anathema to the girl for so many months now. She steps across the dry, brittle ground, puffs of dust lifted up by the wind and carried off to the the forest in the distance.

And then she stands before him, chin lifted to look him in the eyes even if he does exceed her stature by over half a foot. His accusations leave her at a lack of words. To say she wasn't scared would be a lie and she knows she's no good at deceit so what's the point in that approach? His terrible pun actually elicits a twitch from the girl as it sinks in.

"Well, I came." she states, neither refuting or confirming his theorizing that she'd be scared to face him. Her eyes stray over those claws of his and the girl frowns a little. Weapon users are always a problem for her. Maybe she should start showing up to fights with a war halberd and see what kind of reaction that would get. Not that she could swing such a thing anyway.

"I've gotten by," she adds laconically, responding secondly to his no-doubt false interest in her well being.

The girl takes a few steps backward then, forcing her breathing to slow down, fighting against the shivers she's feeling. A thick cloud moves blankets the moon overhead, shrouding the graveyard in greater darkness than a moment before. Hotaru has sat here for some time, however, and her eyes have grown accustomed to the alternating presence and lack of light. Maybe it will give her an edge at first, unless Kurow has likewise acclimated to it. There is no poor, hapless student caught in the middle this time. Only her and the young man who's freedom to go about his business continues to aggravate her. "I'm ready for you," she asserts, forcing confidence into her voice to steady the stammer the shiver would otherwise cause.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru has started a fight here.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Hotaru focuses on her next action.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Kurow has joined the fight here.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Kurow

Hotaru with a war halberd would probably, at the very least, get an exceptionally solid laugh out of Kirishima; he probably wouldn't have too much real trouble with it, considering that the girl is indeed somewhat unfit to swing such a thing, but the young woman would at least have the element of surprise for a few seconds. "... I see," is all Kirishima says to Hotaru's answers. No further prodding or poking, no further possible tipping of his hand -- just an affirmation.

Beginning to circle around the young woman a little, Kirishima tries his best to hide his frustration with the parts of the environment that are less than stellar for him; Hotaru /is/ more acclimatized to the somewhat harsh, or at least bothersome, conditions. No doubt he'll reach that point fast enough, but until then he's probably going to have some difficulties -- but he'll just have to play around them, he reminds himself. After all, no doubt they're at least counterbalanced by her own apparent discomfort.

The best strategy Kirishima can think of for this match is one that's fast, aggressive, and never gives Hotaru a second to think -- indeed, giving her as much time as he has was probably a mistake in the first place. He should've simply attacked upon arriving, he tells himself, though it's too late for that now; yet another think that forces him to make the best of what he's got.

His first attack is a blinding-fast rush forward, as he finally asks, "How has your student been doing? Is he recovering from his wounds?" As if he cares. It's more likely that he's trying to use Kentou to get into Hotaru's head, make her slip up -- and soften her up psychologically, maybe leaving her open for a swift, stiff heel kick to the gut.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru parries Kurow's Light Kick!

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Hotaru           0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Kurow

Give him answers and he'll twist them back on her. Give him information and he'll use it against her. Hotaru knows that when it comes to clever word play or psychological fighting, the gulf between her and Kirishima makes their difference in fighting ability seem miniscule in comparison. Certain talents of his are such that could never be tought in a dojo that she would be found in.

"He's better now," the girl snaps, already finding the clever games he plays with his knowledge about her life already slipping beneath her skin in spite her efforts to block out the young man's mocking voice. But that doesn't mean the girl doesn't have a surprise for him all the same as he comes in to try and plant that heel into her stomach.

Her left hand comes up to the collar of her coat and then, perhaps borrowing a page out of a certain artist friend's book, Hotaru pulls the long coat off completely and whirls it right at Kurow, releasing it from her hands to try and engulf his head in its folds. The twist of her body as she slings the garment takes her out of the way of the kick and, hoping for a gap in his defenses due to her opening gambit, she attempts to grab hold of both his arms with her own hands and pry them apart, leaving him a sitting target for a vicious sequence of rapid stomps right up the front of him.

If she pulls it off, the girl will backflip through the air to try and gain a bit of distance after the attack in hopes of being able to prepare for whatever comes next. "Ya, ya, ya!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Kurow with Shin-Jou Tai EX.

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0            Kurow

That trick always, /always/ catches Kurow off-guard, doubly so when it's coming from someone he's not expecting it from; the coat wraps around his head and lets Hotaru kick off of him quite readily, working his stomach and back very solidly. Hotaru's /definitely/ come a long way -- just as he is, she's learning a lot of new tricks from everyone she looks to, and it definitely shows.

Putting a hand to his chest, Kirishima pulls away and squints at Futaba a little. "...So I take it you've been working with..." He lets that hang in the air, and rather than invoking Eva's name, he finishes with a simple, understated, "... Heh." Perhaps it's a mannerism learned from someone /he's/ been working with -- whatever the case may be, though, he doesn't spend too long deliberating on Hotaru's new technique, instead just affirming to himself that he's likely to see a lot of interesting new tricks as the night goes on.

This time, he takes a slightly but not significantly riskier maneuver, as he comes toward Hotaru again. The most obvious shift in his stance and apparent plan is how much slower, how much more well-grounded he becomes; it's as though he's completely discarded that lightning quickness for something else entirely. "Did you explain the situation to him, then? Does he know about Thailand?" comes Kirishima's next question, still trying to dredge up old wounds even as he seeks to make some new ones, this time coming in with a modified version of a technique that he's used for ages. The young man clenches his fists as much as he can with those claws on, rearing a hand back before coming in for a wide, hooking punch; he repeats the process twice more, alternating his hands, seeking to give Hotaru some punishing blows that -- in a more peaceful time -- could easily be used to carve hand-holds into a sheer cliff face.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru parries Kurow's Yami Kagura!

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Hotaru           0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0            Kurow

Feet stamp down the brittle grass around her as she lands after her backflip. Desiccated dust flies into the air and is carried away as Hotaru remains focused on her most deadly foe. One false step can be capitalized by him in ways that can destroy a fighter. One opening can end in crippling pain if she isn't careful. And he isn't helping, dredging up dark hours of her life as the horrors of war are recalled.

"He knows some of it..." she replies. To date only one person was ever told of everything she had gone through there. The young man who accepted her as his sister, in spirit if not in blood, knows all the miserable truths she would be loathe to share with anyone ever again. "He knows what you are." she adds. And that's enough. "Someday everyone will know what a monster you are." When the time is right, Principal Imawano had told her. She just wished that time was now.

And then his assault comes and the girl is forced to fight to survive or take crushing punishment in the attempt thereof. At first she hops back, hoping that he will be caught in the middle of a failed attack by her simply being out of range. But he presses in on her all the same before taking those swings... Only, the perhaps desperate fighter doesn't duck and run now but rather stays put. Each punch is met with a swing of her own small arms, careful horizontal chops made on the outside of his forearm to cause the attack to be rerouted just shy of striking her.

The timing is close to impeccable and she comes through unscathed for now. Her last deflection is with her left as her right arm rolls back, her forearm bathed with a vibrant, pure blue energy that she brings to bear an instant later. Swinging her right hand forward, Hotaru discharges that focused strike of hers at near point blank range, giving Kirishima precious little time to cope with it. "YA!"

COMBATSYS: Kurow dodges Hotaru's Hakki Shou EX.

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0            Kurow

If there's one technique of Hotaru's that Kirishima knows inside and out, every inch, it's this one. Even with those quick little chops throwing off his aim and keeping his strikes from landing true, Kurow nonetheless finds that his well-grounded stance allows him to keep from losing too much footing to them -- and when that oh-so-familiar vibrant energy starts to mass, he's ready. Abruptly ditching that grounded stance for a more ready-to-move one, he dives to one side and rolls, pulling himself out of the way of that ball of energy in no time at all.

"Oh, perhaps," the youth says, somewhat dismissive as he comes back up to his feet. "But will that really matter? Rolento Schugerg walks the earth a free man and he nearly destroyed Metro City trying to claim it. There are those in Southtown, too, who persist no matter how many start to uncover the secrets behind their every-day operations." He spends a moment sizing up Hotaru as he speaks, trying to find the new weaknesses in her defenses -- right now she seems to have his number.

Then he remembers: she has /his/ number. His advantage is that she doesn't have the numbers of the hundreds of other fighters he's faced, the dozens upon dozens he'd learn from with pure observation. Deciding to try some radically different tactic, Kirishima lunges in for Hotaru's shoulder in what looks like a strike... but is revealed to be nothing more than a grab to set him /up/ for a strike.

... or, more accurately, several strikes, as the youth pulls her forward with that one hand and drives his claws into her stomach with the other once, twice, three times; he finishes the technique just the same way Heavy D! did, bringing his knee up in the same moment that he forces her downward, trying to crack her breastbone on that rushing kneecap.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru parries Kurow's Fierce Strike!

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Hotaru           0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0            Kurow

Her little projectile goes flying astray, plowing into the dry bark of the dead tree, sending splinters flying out around the point of impact. Drat. No time to fret about the energy lost on that, however, she has to stay critically fast to keep one step ahead of Kurow.

Rolento. She remembers fighting the military leader in a fast paced, demanding fight not unlike her encounters with Kirishima have been time and time again. "Is he a role model of yours?" the girl asks when he brings up the man. But Kurow's point is made and the shadow that sets in over her eyes in spite the moon being clear overhead shows that she knows what he's getting at. The world isn't so eager to right the wrongs in it, it would seem. A fact that Hotaru has been slow in accepting as she's become aquainted with people like Kurow.

He comes at her again, this time with what would have been a terrifyingly brutal combination of blows that may well have ended the fight in one combo. But Hotaru's quick once more, this time reacting to his outstreatched hand like it is a punch rather than the grasp it was meant to be. Both of her hands are swiped from left to right, knocking the arm aside...

But she follows through with the momentum, her leg whipping out and up at an angle in a reverse sharp roundhouse, aiming to plow a swath of that vibrant, blue energy of hers into him. He's staying close on her now, but it seems for the moment, anyway, the girl is keeping pace just as well. "KYA!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Kurow with Kobi Kyaku EX.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0            Kurow

"Not particularly," Kirishima says, even as Hotaru comes in with that quick kick; unfortunately, he's half a second too slow to move back, and the kick catches him dead-center in the face. Sent staggering back yet again, the youth begins to feel something that could either make or break his attempts today: frustration. He grits his teeth as he braces himself, one hand on a tombstone, as he realizes something that could save his attempts:

He's starting to break a sweat.

The clicking of a dozen buttons comes from Kirishima's chest as he grabs his Justice High uniform roughly, removing the heavy coat of the winter set; he feels much cooler instantly, which could prove slightly problematic... but his range of motion is more important. "However, Schugerg is certainly proof of a point -- what I've done isn't nearly enough to condemn me in the eyes of the public. So far, I find your little threats... lacking in substance."

His movements are noticeably faster, though due to the cold, they're also slightly telegraphed; the young man locks his eyes on Hotaru, and once again comes in with those claws. Everything about his fighting style has shifted once again; the youth this time comes in with two quick jabs with his right hand, followed by a sweeping slash across Hotaru's midsection with his left. Conveniently, he's coming from an angle that would -- if Hotaru tries to move out of the way in the most apparently expedient manner -- she might trip over one of the raised nameplates on the graveyard ground.

COMBATSYS: Kurow successfully hits Hotaru with Fierce Strike.

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Hotaru           1/-----==/=======|====---\-------\0            Kurow

She doesn't even realize how well she's been positioned after all of her back and forth strikes and reactions with the Justice High prodigy. Too focused on him, she's lost track of the terrain around her - of those obsticles from the past marking the graves of people dead long before either of the two fighters were born.

Dark blue eyes stay focused on the claw user, glancing back and forth from his hands to his face, trying to read his movements so that she can continue to react with the speed that will be so critical to her staying out of harm's way.

Then come the jabs with those claws of his and Hotaru darts to the side at an angle that is meant to put her perpendicular to him. But not in time - the first strike hits, slowing her for the second hit. She tries to lean forward into a desperate weave to avoid the slash but at last her foot comes down, kicking the side of the grave marker she hadn't noticed in the grass, stopping her short and causing her to fall into his slash rather than avoid it.

The damage is readily apparent as both cloth and skin are shreaded by the youth's claws, Hotaru practically falling right into him, her arms failing to catch her plummet toward the ground. She lands with a cry of pain, instinct telling her to just curl up and concede the fight right there. The cuts were deep, the damage severe. She may have just lost the fight on the inevitable blood loss alone.

But just lying there is asking for another attack, especially that close to the boy. It wouldn't be like Kurow to hold back. Pushing off with her hands and hissing from the pain, the girl rolls back up onto her feet before retaliating swiftly, lunging into the air with a spinning hop, two whirlwinding strikes aiming to smack Kurow before he can get out of the way. "Sou-shou..."

If she secures enough of an opening, she'll jump into him for a second set of chi-laden strikes before ramming his chest with her shoulder in a lunge and diving back down into the young man encased in flaring blue energy. "Tenrenge!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Kurow with Sou-shou Tenrenge EX.

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|=======\-------\0            Kurow

The young woman's focus is just too much for Kirishima tonight, even as he lands his first solid hit; she surges forward with those whirling strikes, staggering him long enough for the more forceful blows to start raining down. The final diving strike sends him sprawling, his body making a firm 'thud' against the ground as he lands.

It's still not nearly enough to keep him down, though; the youth once again drags his body back up off the ground, rolling his neck and trying to re-center himself. This time, he doesn't bother addressing Futaba, just shaking off his hand and stretching his back a little in a small attempt to figure out what, exactly, he's doing wrong. Last time, the girl was troublesome, but that was because she had her student there -- a distraction. Here, there's only the two of them, and yet...

He can't figure it out, no matter how hard he tries -- but nonetheless, he once again puts himself back into the fray, trying to discern just how to go at this particular situation now that, for the first time in a while, he's been placed in a losing situation.

The young man takes a deep breath, rearing a hand back; an eerie purple light begins to form around it, illuminating the whole graveyard in a color much different from that waxing and waning moonlight -- and conveniently, keeping Kurow from having to /worry/ about the changing light conditions at all. Blood-red energy pools at his feet for a few moments, and he abruptly speeds forward to dig that energy-laced hand into Futaba's chest, proudly declaring the name of his attack in much the same manner Hotaru did moments ago. "Roppu Zuki!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru dodges Kurow's Roppu Zuki.

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|=======\-------\0            Kurow

Back on her feet following the rapid combination of strikes, Hotaru whirls around to face Kurow again. Leaning forward a little, her left hand presses against the wound in her stomach, trying to both stem the flow of blood and ignoring the pain the injury caused.

Fortunately for her, the glow of his hand is easy to follow as it baths their surroundings in a violet hue. And this time the girl is a bit more cognizant of her environment - no more stumbling over grave markers right into his clawed fists. Her evasion of the Roppu Zuki is far less adroit than her earlier actions.

A clumsy scramble to the side that involves leapfrogging over the dead log takes her out of the way of his strike and buys the girl time to evaluate the young man more carefully without the shock of nearly being gutted clouding her thoughts. Those perceptive blue eyes might even pick out a bit of his consternation. Maybe there's a flicker of uncertainty there. Seeing the boy confused at her success doesn't really bring her comfort, however, as Hotaru knows it could quite likely just make him even more dangerous if he feels he must attack her even more violently to make up for lost ground. She's silent, not wasting her breath on speaking when she needs all she has to stay focused on the young fighting prodigy.

She doesn't stay behind that log forever, however, the girl hoping up on the rotted wood with one foot enroute to a forward flip into the air that becomes a knee dive aimed right into Kurow's shoulder. The angle is sharp and her speed swift, making it harder to anticipate correctly - and should she strike with her knee the girl will follow up with her left foot kicking against Kurow's head and then backflip away.

COMBATSYS: Kurow full-parries Hotaru's Rengeki Shuu!

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|=======\-------\1            Kurow

Sometimes, frustration is Kurow's undoing, but just as often, that anger pushes him to new heights -- heights that may seem familiar to Futaba. That diving knee comes in toward him as so many kicks and knees from her have come at him in the past -- and finally, he sees it coming before it actually gets there, really knows it inside and out. The young man pushes both hands up to meet her knee, and sends her harmlessly flying upward; if he doesn't work fast, she'll probably just land harmlessly, and he'll be back at square one.

This makes it, of course, all the more important to do everything precisely correctly. Dropping down low, Kirishima watches Futaba's descent for any particular irregularities; so often he's been tripped up by some split-second twitch of hers that rendered everything for nothing. This time, he has to be focused, perfect.

He takes up a position like a track star waiting for the starting gun, still low to the ground, still waiting for Hotaru's rise and fall to complete itself. It is not until the precise moment she hits the ground, the exact second that she'll be at her slowest due to all her speed digging straight into the graveyard dirt, that he bursts toward her, trying to aim himself on a straight, clear line with no headstones in his path.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru dodges Kurow's Kirishima Kyoujuu Reppa EX.

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0            Kurow

Not only is her attack dealt with, but Hotaru is sent flying back up into the air, counter to the momentum she had going into the attack. There is a flail of her arms at first but if there's any person comfortable with aerial recoveries, it's Kurow's small opponent here.

Twisting her body at the apex of her ascent, the girl begins to drop back down toward the earth. She knows Kirishima will definitely take advantage of her landing with something vicious - perhaps fight-endingly powerful. In this case, however, it's a combination of quick thinking and no small amount of luck that spares the girl the fate he had in mind. An outstretched bough of the long dead tree ends up being her salvation as Hotaru's hands reach out and grab hold of the old wood to stop her descent short.

Centuries ago, the tree stood as guardian over the solemn sight. And for this brief instant, it serves as a guardian for the girl as she swings around the sturdy branch, up over it, then back down again, seeking to strike Kurow foot-first in the chest. "YAA!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Kurow with Light Kick.
- Power hit! -

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|===----\-------\0            Kurow

Swinging down gives Hotaru a lot of speed -- enough to actually tip her opponent over with that kick, sending him sprawling perhaps even more harshly than she might have intended. The youth doesn't have enough time to both notice her angle of attack and react; he goes down hard, and is slow to get up. As he does so, he actually wobbles; whatever changed in Hotaru's tactics, evidently it's more than able to take down Kirishima.

The youth has no room for error now -- everything he does could clinch the fight, and as such, even as his defensive stance tightens, his offense gets more and more high-risk. He can't afford these lightning-fast attacks that Futaba's using at this point -- the goal is to shell her down hard and fast, or not at all.

Leaping forward, the youth catapults himself up onto one of the taller gravestones in the area, then up yet again; raising one leg on his second jump, he begins his rapid descent toward Hotaru. It's not exactly the most well-aimed attack; there's a lot that can go wrong with an aerial maneuver like the one Kurow's attempting here, to put it delicately. However, as he swings his foot down, he has a great deal of force following it -- something that he hopes to use to shatter Hotaru's shoulder.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru dodges Kurow's Strong Kick.

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Hotaru           0/-------/------=|===----\-------\0            Kurow

Her use of the environemt paid off this time, allowing the girl to strike Kurow even more solidly than her standard jump kick would have allowed. Her landing afterward is a little rough as she recovers from the impact, but she regains her footing quickly and has a moment to catch her breath. Is it a change of tactics? Or just something about the fight itself playing into her hand? Or perhaps something has changed for Kurow in recent weeks since their last encounter. The girl isn't sure and she isn't about to relax her offense either. Letting up would give him the edge he needed to take her down fast.

As he takes to the air Hotaru loses track of him for a moment as she looks up and sees only the dark clouds overhead, the moon once again hidden from sight. By the time she distinguishes his movement against the sky above there is no chance for anything more graceful than a mad scramble out of the way, the girl literally diving to the side, letting that brutal attack land in the dust instead of crushing her shoulder in.

She comes out of the dive with a roll that takes her back up onto her feet then whirls around to face the young man again. Gritting her teeth, Hotaru charges forward, hoping to take advantage of his need to recover from such an aggressive, if risky assault, in order to deliver a trio of strong palm presses into his side, from low to high, each with her right hand, only to be followed by a double press with both of her hands to try and send him tumbling. "YA!"

COMBATSYS: Hotaru successfully hits Kurow with Strong Punch.

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Hotaru           0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0            Kurow

The series of palm strikes each catch Kurow in the chest, knocking him back away and eventually into a tombstone, putting him between the proverbial rock and hard place and making that final strike that much more devastating. The youth is on his last legs now, and he can tell it -- Hotaru, meanwhile, is still fresh and ready as ever. That high-risk offense didn't work, but at the same time, the only way to catch up is more high-risk offense... an untenable situation, really, in Kirishima's mind.

The young man pushes away from the tombstone, leaving a nasty, careless gash through it with his claws as he tries to get a little space back, since Hotaru has him so effectively backed into a 'corner'. Mentally, he's starting to run out of ideas -- what hasn't he tried? What factor isn't he taking into account?

Then, one last guess dawns on him. It's the Kyokugen training. The elder Sakazaki has torn him apart more times than he cares to remember -- but there was one thing he managed to catch every Kyokugen practicioner he'd ever fought with, when he tried it. Once again leaping up, the youth does something that Hotaru might find familiar, lifting a knee and then coming in with a forceful diving strike toward her head...

COMBATSYS: Kurow successfully hits Hotaru with Kirishima Kyoujuu Reppa.

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Hotaru           1/---====/=======|=------\-------\0            Kurow

And when Kirishima finally comes down, landing that knee squarely in Hotaru's face, he can't keep from cracking a smile. Same old Kyokugen, he thinks to himself, as he starts the traditional wave of claw after chi claw behind him -- only this time, they aren't spread out across meters. No, this time, they happen all at once, and when the usual forward push comes from each of them, Hotaru finds herself slammed into the ground forcefully, down at such an angle that Futaba lands in front of Kurow.

That's when the 'fun' starts; Kurow lands forcefully, driving one knee into her chest. It is then that he starts what, for Hotaru, is likely the more dangerous part of his assault, driving his claws into her stomach over and over in a manner that would likely be familiar to any fan of Iori Yagami... though there isn't that characteristic explosion of chi at the end that marks Yagami's version, just Kirishima bringing himself back up to a standing position.

The knee to the face staggers the girl as Kurow finally gets a second chance to deliver an assault to the fragile fighter. She desperately tries raising her arms against the energy claws... and if they had been spread out over meters she just might have been able to weather the attack. Instead the synchronized assault blasts through her guard with trivial ease, driving young Futaba to the dusty ground with a gasp.

Already she tries to roll, some of the fight still in her as she hasn't quite yet lost the ability to fight, but Kurow's knee cracks down against her chest, drawing forth a cry of pain from the girl as all hope of escape is cut off along with her breath. The savage attack that follows seals the deal, however, each of the claw strikes finding their mark, slashing through the two layers of her vest and blouse to carve into her stomach. His victim thrashes, trying to get free, not even sure if he'll stop when the fight is finished - if perhaps he'll take this opportunity to finish the fued that has existed between them for so many long months once and for all.

She has to stop him. She isn't ready to die in this wretched place. Not at his claws. When the assault stops she isn't even aware it has ended as the girl swings out with one last strike - more of a haphazard spasm than any respectable attack, as she tries to smash the young man with a final burst of chi and drive him off.

The movement rolls her over onto her stomach, hands pressing against the dirt as she tries to get up, only to collapse face down, fingers clenched into the dirt.

COMBATSYS: Hotaru can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Kurow blocks Hotaru's Kobi Kyaku EX.

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

In a split-second decision that could make or break the sudden minor lead that Kirishima's grabbed for himself, the youth, rather than pulling back, thinks back to the words of a man he respects a great deal. Don't let your opponent dictate your responses. Don't give up ground if you don't have to give it up. Those lessons echo in his head -- and it is that that prompts him to abruptly throw his arms up and brace them for that bright blue kick, taking the full force of the attack and spreading it over a larger area than it would've otherwise impacted.

He drops to one knee, but does not fall all the way, not like she does. The youth stays there, quiet in his barest of victories, eventually slumping over several seconds after Hotaru does, his head landing a few inches away from hers as he lashes out with those claws one last time, digging them into her shoulder in an attempt to shock her back to consciousness, if she's indeed lost it.

His voice is a whisper. The Neo League cameras could never hope to hear him. "You're dying," he hisses... not with any malice, or even smug self-assurance; no, he seems... frustrated, and not with Futaba herself, either. "How?" It would be an immense stretch to say that Kirishima sounds concerned, of course -- but it's clear that, in spite of this knowledge, he is in no way content.

Quiet. Did she hit him? There was the sound of impact, but she can't move so far as to even look. She doesn't want to move. All that matters is that it's quiet now, with nothing but the sound of wind blowing through the dry grass to be heard. Her right hand moves, fingers lifting, the clutched dirt falling from them as she slides her hand beneath her stomach. She can't remember an assault like that final one from him. But she doesn't feel the pain she should. Maybe it's shock settling in. Or maybe she's slipping fast and her senses are failing.

She closes her eyes, willing to let the embrace of unconsciousness take her from this place, hoping that medical assistance isn't too far off. She's going to need a lot of down time from this one. But Kurow will have none of that relaxing unconsciousness business, it seems. The stab into her shoulder gets Hotaru to gasp, her shoulder gouged. Turning her head to the side to glare at him, her face dirty from the dust clinging to her perspiration, Hotaru's mouth opens only to close as he utters his first two words. At first she thinks he is describing her immediate, severe injuries. Worst she can remember since the night Grant crushed her into the forest floor so many months ago and left her for dead. But when his question comes she realizes he's speaking not of the cruel wounds she's suffering from but something else entirely.

The reaction on Hotaru's face is varied, a mixture of emotions that would be hard to delineate accurately. Anger, shock, pain, worry, betrayal. "How..." she repeats back his question though it isn't rhetorical. "How do you-..." Her mouth closes again, lips trembling as she seems left woefully uncertain as to what to say. Silently she glares at Kurow for a long moment. Her most hated foe lying there next to her, speaking of something no one should know. Something she doesn't even know for certain; only suspects, fears, but doesn't know.

"...cursed blood," comes the whisper as the ire bleeds out of her gradually, the girl starting to slip again even with the razor sharp claw in her shoulder. Why tell him? Why answer that vexing question? Is it even really an answer anyway? If she know how then maybe it wouldn't be happening in the first place. But she knows the origin of her plight. Of that part she's certain. That cursed Futaba blood that drove her father and brother mad. And for some reason, she admits it to the young man.

The answer is... something of a disappointment to Kirishima, and it is immediately visible on his face. Cursed blood? Not some unique malady of her own, but merely following in a pattern put down by the rest of her family. Pulling those claws back, the youth glances toward the medical personnel for a moment. 'Nothing's fatal,' he seems to tell them with his expression. 'Wait.'

His eyes turn back to meet Futaba's yet again, his voice low. "So that's it. Because of some terrible power or curse of your family, you're decaying." Even as he feels the rigors of the match catching up with him, he keeps his expression as steady as possible, still boring into her eyes with his own. "I don't believe it." This is not the 'I don't believe it' of shock or wonder, though -- the way Kurow says it, it's as if he genuinely doesn't.

"The strong," he whispers, "are not bound to their blood. If your life is one worth living..." His tone is curiously sincere -- and from a man who lies so readily, so often, that in itself might be something worrisome. "... you won't lose it to some ancient blood curse." He grits his teeth as some internal hemorrhage or another, brought on by blunt trauma, starts to give him particular trouble; a few of the muscles in his chest twitch in disconcerting manners.

"How do you know about the curse?" His whispered questions shift back to a more fact-finding nature, even if part of him thinks that Hotaru will likely not answer, at least not in this strange, eerie place. "Stories... passed down in your family? Strange abilities?" No doubt the youth conjures up images of Iori Yagami as she says this -- a strange juxtaposition, but not an inappropriate one here.

As his claws are withdrawn, Hotaru winces again, helpless to do anything about him tormenting her at whim to keep her conscious and paying attention to him. Her eyes stay focused on him all the same, so it seems to be working at least. Her attention is searching the young man's face as he speaks. His defiance of her declaration seems... strange. "Why do you care?" the question, meant to sound demanding, comes out as a gasping croak.

As he stalls the medics, Hotaru's eyes narrow some. She really would like their help about now. Take her away from this place, staunch her blood loss, let her rest and recover, get her away from Kurow Kirishima. But for now she's powerless and he is able to voice his questions, his search for information. She pictures her brother, thinking back to the evening he would have killed her but for the intervention of the man who has given himself over to the pursuit of Might. Surely only some form of madness could have caused her own sibling to look at her with those apathetic eyes or strike out with such killing intent. Right?

"Was sick," she murmurs, her thoughts drifting now, her grasp on the present becoming untenable. "I don't know..." Those three words entail a lot. Doesn't know if it's true. Doesn't know what has happened to her. Doesn't know if she's better now after Marise... There is a slight shake of her head as her cheek rests once again against the dirt.

"How... how did you..." Her eyes narrow again, a piercing, questioning look. How could anyone know? Some probably saw when the sickness was more obvious. But she's been better in recent months. She had hoped she was cured. That he has come out of no where to dredge up the past leaves her uncertain now and the worry is visible in her face so close to his.

'I don't know.' The most frustrating answer Kirishima could've received -- yet also very telling in itself. This could simply be a fabrication, he tells himself -- something she's told herself, built up in her mind. Yet why would she do such a thing? She seems so -- well-adjusted, or at least that'd be how the kind would put it. The youth writes it off as a possibility, and indeed something that bears investigation; in spite of such a condition (if it exists) being to his advantage, he finds it frustrating beyond measure.

"I was told... some time ago," he responds, levelly. Why shouldn't he tell her this? After all, if it's such a secret, no doubt she will be unsurprised by much of the answer. "There was... a woman in the Southtown Village," he eventually explains. "She talked as though... she knew you, but was finished with you." No doubt the young woman will know precisely who the ninja speaks of -- indeed, it'd probably be fairly difficult for her to forget someone like that.

Sliding a few inches away, he finishes, "... and I care because this may deny me something I want." How predictable. Even when he seems to show some interest in the long-term health of another, it's only out of selfishness. But what is it he wants? To kill her, to get some revenge for her interference? To stomp her will out of existence, leaving what little is left of her to serve his? Or is there something else that the youth wants, some other motive that pulls at his strings?

Hotaru is left to ponder that, as he pushes himself farther away, and the medics start to step in.

Marise. If anyone would know... And there he gets to the crux of it. Maybe the woman put the entire idea in Hotaru's head from the beginning. Expecting honesty from the wraith from the past is a dubious prospect after all. But there was an ailment. A deeply rooted problem that seems to have subsided in recent months ever sense she was taught a very key adjustment to her chi manipulation. A balancing act, one that has pushed off her final hour for now.

"I see," the girl replies quietly as he speaks of Marise, eyes finally tearing away from the youth's face to focus on the dirt instead. And then he speaks of his interests in her situation and she glances back at him, watching him scoot away gradually. The pointed question in her expression is impossible to miss. What does he want from her? He's beaten her time and time again - at least, physically. And even once pushed her will past the breaking point when all hope was lost. Her mind was his for a spell, though no more. What more could he possibly want that he hasn't already taken or broken before?

She exhales, unable to speak any further as at last the Neo League medics are permitted to approach. His words echo in her mind as she closes her eyes. '...deny me something I want.' It would seem their paths are not fated to go their seperate ways any time soon. " can't have it," comes her last words before slipping unconscious, eyes closing, a long sigh escaping her lips. Whatever it is she doesn't care. Denying it from him is all that matters to her.

Log created on 00:56:19 10/31/2007 by Kurow, and last modified on 10:22:06 11/10/2007.