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Going a Few Rounds (Dead)

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Fight clubs were not generally something that Shikai had much interest in.

Though he loved to fight, he generally found most of the competition in the average underground arena just weren't strong enough to provide any kind of enjoyment. Dominating an opponent had no appeal to him, and though he did somewhat enjoy taking a beating, he didn't enjoy loosing either. What he sought was an opponent who could make him work for the win; take some punishment as well as dish it out. Fortunately for him, he often found what he was looking for in the course of his duties to The Dead. Today however was a day where he could claim to be pursuing business and pleasure.

He couldn't remember how he'd heard of Natalie Jacobs; though he suspected it had been during some kind of meeting. Either way, he had found himself reading her file, and found himself intrigued by the fighter. Apparently she thought herself blessed by Gaia, something which Shikai couldn't entirely discount. In Valucre, gods existed, and it wasn't uncommon at all for one to give a mortal some kind of boon. Still, the reality of the claim mattered little to him. 

Arriving at the club just after midnight, he had paid the promoters good money to ensure a fight with her. They had looked at him like he was crazy, but he didn't care. Shrugging out of his shirt, he had stepped into the arena to wait for his opponent.

@Noko

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The club was packed, wall to wall with the poorer denizens of Last Chance, and had the unique scent of all their occupations combined.  It was not pleasant, but ale was flowing and flasks passed freely, and it was good that the lot of them had an outlet at the end of their day.  Natalie was always a draw- she packed the club, but was terrible for the bookies until her third or fourth fight and everyone's fourth or fifth drink.  It was midway through that now- the board that hung above the fenced in dirt circle read:

'RHINO: 3 Wins -- NEXT: WHITE ZOMBIE'

In the corner opposite Shikai, Natalie sat on an uneven blue stool laughing softly while blood continued to leak slowly from her right eye.  The air about her was so casual, like a nap in a hammock under the sun or a cold lemonade at the end of a hard day, it was an easy way of being - like everything was okay, or going to be okay, and there wasn't a thing to think about it otherwise.  In ruined brown workpants and a once-white tank top that would never be wearable again, she was the picture perfect template for La Ultima Opportunidad- rough, calloused, and dirty, but smiling and not caring for the grime or the blood.

Lazily, she sprawled backward on her stool, shoulders rounded against the wood planked half-wall that backed each of their rest areas and her limbs haphazardly left to lie.  Whatever joke she shared with her corner man continued and she laughed again, clear, honest, and from the belly, unconstrained by shame or propriety.  The corner man murmured something softly and she swatted at him, dodging as he chased her face with a dripping wet bag of ice, ducking around it to steal a glance at Shikai and flash a wide, almost childish, grin.  She lifted a bloodied, taped up hand, and waggled her fingers in a friendly wave.

What a weirdo.

The ringman slammed a hammer against one of the cage's metal supports, signaling the start of the round.

Natalie stuck her tongue out at her cornerman as he retreated, scaling the fence like a monkey and swinging over to the other side.  The girl stood, snatched her stool and tossed it over, before turning to look at Shikai.  Now mind, all of this was technically 'fight' time - Shikai could be swinging at her already, for fuck's sake, but she was taking her dear time and if Shikai was polite enough to wait she would walk to the center of the ring and offer him her bloody hand to shake.  

"Hey, yer new.  Real nice t'meet ya."

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Shikai smiled and shook her outstretched hand, "The pleasure is mine!"

In an instant his grip was like a vice, and he brought his right leg up to rest on top of their clenched hands. Using his weight to drag her slightly forward, and snaked his free hand around the back of her neck. Then he began to crouch with his left leg while turning into Natalie's body. The result would be a sacrifice throw that would toss the girl into the walls of the cage. Once it was done, the shinobi was back on his feet in an instant, his body relaxed, but ready.

"Let's make this a good one, yeah?"

 

Edited by danzilla3

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There are advantages to working with a well-trained partner- they know the moves, they don't get in your way, and they fall in such beautifully predictable ways.  Unfortunately, that wasn't Natalie-- the girl had no training, only instinct, which was systematically beaten into her by Last Chance and the Dead. 

When Shikai's grip encircled hers like a gorilla around a blooming flower, she responded in kind - wrapping her fingers around the width of his palm and casting an exasperated glance into his face.  The move was misinterpreted, at least in the beginning- taken to be the sort of nonsensical muscle flex that members of the male persuasion often succumbed to.  The thing was, as calm as Natalie was in the initial phase of the handshake, when Shikai began to move, to attack, she panicked. 

Feeling her weight shift forward, dragged beneath the weight of her opponent's leg, she stumbled into him - instinct had her grab the man's waistband and hang on.  Her reflexes were true, intuited by proprioception and experience, and translated at adrenaline's racing speed.  As a result, she wasn't thrown, but held, and when she hit the floor still entwined with Shikai the force renewed her - if he could see her, he would see her smile as the air was forced from her lungs, and it felt effortless as she carried the momentum and dragged Shikai overhead, throwing him haphazardly toward the corner he'd intended her to land in.   This was her fourth fight in a row- she was sweaty, slick with the slimy jelly used to prevent friction burns, and not at all easy to hang on to if the Shinobi tried.

"..you know, man.  Some things are sacred," the girl was all a mutter as she stood, disappointed.  Annoyed now, she watched Shikai from underneath a veil of lashes and took a moment to adjust her shirt and bra.  The former had pulled down far enough to expose a tattoo on her mid-chest and the latter had been pulled all out of sorts.  In the background, the crowd booed - hard to know if they booed the Shinobi's lack of sportsmanship or Natalie's delay of game, but they booed, and the girl slapped them down with the flat of her hand.

"Gonna start a riot, here.  Let's just do this."

She advanced; fists up, chin tucked, ready to throw hands.  She'd take a few shots on the way in - Shikai had the height advantage by nearly a foot, but for all her supposed disadvantage the girl was a brawler.  Every hit, taken, with diminishing returns all the way. Oh, she bled, she swelled, her body reddened and bruised along its curves and ridges, but she bore it with the set of her teeth.  When she finally got a chance to unleash on Shikai, it was like being hit by an avalanche- body, body, uppercut, leg kick, floor?

Each strike was stronger than the last, each faster than the last; it was damn near insane - no wonder Phoebe had put her in the Labs.

Edited by Noko

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The reversal was not entirely unexpected, and the shinobi was able to twist in the air so that he was able to catch himself on the corner of the cage; holding himself off the ground with only the strength of his upper body. With a small flip, he allowed himself to land on his feet and moved in to face the girl encroaching on him. Swept up in the moment, he allowed himself to forget technique, and waded into a mad exchange of blows. The two rained strikes down upon each other, both seemingly heedless of the impacts that peppered their bodies. Shikai could feel skin split, bones crack, and his heart race as he struggled to stay on his feet.

Eventually Natalie managed to put The White Zombie on the ground, where he lay panting and laughing. Sitting up slowly, he spit out a mouthful of blood and fixed his opponent with a crimson smile.

"Phoebe was right; you pack a punch!"

Rising to his feet, he weaved a few signs and his body began to transform under the effects of his Revenant Jutsu. His skin turned pale, his eyes changed from emerald green to an almost glowing red. The Zombie's long hair seemed to recede into his scalp, leaving it short, but still mussed. Injuries began to slowly heal himself as he took a small step forward, arms spread wide, and a feral smile on his face.

"Round two?"

@Noko

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For a moment it was good; Natalie was bloodied, tired but winning, and her creeping frustration at life and her lot in it had vanished in the face of exertion.  He was laughing- she grinned, already bleeding through the layers of once-white fabric wrapping her knuckles.  There was real companionship in bloodshed; an easy honesty that was hard to replicate in everyday life.  In the ring, life was simple- you get hit, you bleed.  You get hit too much, you go to sleep.  You go to sleep, you lose.  It was built for Natalie and Natalie for it.  She was a force- a force for what was hard to tell, but Shikai knew at least one striking brunette who would really like to know.

It was, as I said, good for a moment.  

Then Shikai spoke.

"Phoebe was right; you pack a punch!"

The mere mention of the brunette was enough to drain the flush from Natalie's reddened face, only to see it rapidly swell again.  She shifted posture, somehow taller than her five and half feet, and cocked her head to the side as she stuck a finger in Shikai's face.  Her humor had fled so fast, collapsing her smile in on itself with a swiftness that seemed as it should come with a shockwave.  "You tell that--"  The girl gestured angrily, punctuating each and every word with the sharp jab of her finger as Shikai climbed to his feet.  Maybe her words were lost in the quick-change; maybe they were stolen alongside Shikai's assumed humanity, for as he shifted Natalie fell silent and gaped at him- mouth open, eyes hard.  He might as well have shifted into a six foot tall pile of shit for all the disgust she projected.

"You're a fucking Unnatural."

Her fist seemed to simply appear at the side of Shikai's face before her words had even formed.  In reality, it was a front-hand cross that she aimed to smash the grin straight through Shikai's perverse face.  There was a rage in the girl that refused categorization; a zeal that lit her eyes, and drove her fist, and demanded her acquiescence.  Already, the crowd was losing their mind.  This was a side of Natalie they'd never seen; a new energy in the already exciting fighter who suddenly seemed compelled to utterly ruin her opponent, and in the stands money flew back and forth between the watchers.

Edited by Noko

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Phoebe had been right on the money.

When Shikai had gone to the First to ask for help creating his cover, she had seemed pleased that he'd been smart enough to enlist her aid in the task. Upon finding out what he was planning to do with said identity, she had become downright interested in helping him. It was clear to the Zombie that Natalie was a subject of great interest to Phoebe; and he couldn't blame her. The girl was a treat, and he was thoroughly enjoying the fight so far. But he was sure that he could push her further; especially since the First had helpfully clued him in on how best to get under her skin. 

Shikai caught the punch with his right hand, bones snapping beneath the power of the blow. As he intercepted the blow, he stepped to the side and used Natalie's momentum to slam her face-first into the cage. As his right arm healed, he twisted her captive arm up into a hold, and pressed himself close against her. 

"You're just as good as I hoped," he whispered into her ear, "Can you tell how... excited I am?"

Edited by danzilla3

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Oh, Momentum.  What a fickle friend you are.

What natural strategy Natalie employed in her fights, minimal even to start with, fled at adrenaline's whip.  To be here; to be standing here with its blood on her flesh while it laughed and mocked and spit in the face of Gaia and all the world.  For it to be living here, standing here, fighting her, and still breathing..

There was a tightness in her head now, a warning she didn't know of or expect, or care about, or heed.

When her knuckles hit the thing's hand and shattered it, she grinned through bloodied teeth and watched its face before momentum betrayed her.  It was a whirl, a spinning top on a field of crimson-smeared canvas, that edged itself in a broken plywood half-wall and the rusting cage fence that smashed into her face.  The crowd gasped- a collective inhale of breaths, then then frantic passing of money again.  What a game it was to these people.  They didn't even care that this Unnatural had invaded them.  The desire to escape their hardships numbed them to it and she watched for a moment, while the thin steel wires pressed painfully into her cheek, before they started screaming in her face.  She muttered a mumbled call to Gaia into their mob- just a string of words, all joined together, in one never-ending syllable, as they shouted encouragement.

"C'mon RHINO!"

"GAIA'S FIST!  GAIA'S FIST!"

The opposing side, looking to take the odds, countered in a forceful, almost predatory, chant.

"..ZOMBIEZOMBIEZOMBIEZOMBIE.."

The pain from her wrenched shoulder was a distant thought.  The force with which she'd hit the fence renewed her, but this fucking position was a shit show.  She twisted, looking for escape before the Unnatural flattened her against the fence with his weight.  The girl could feel his closeness, his breath against her ear, as goosebumps cascaded across her flesh.

"You're just as good as I hoped," he whispered into her ear, "Can you tell how... excited I am?"

An elbow answered him; it cost her the proper fit of her shoulder into its socket, but with a roar borne of the holy Natalie whipped her arm around and drove her elbow into the back of the zombie's head.  Its grip loosened, so she did it again, and again, and again, until she felt its grip fail and she could turn freely to face the red-eyed monstrosity.  It was a comment on her lack of training, or her fervor, that she didn't retreat; she didn't take the step back and knock her shoulder back into place so she could properly fight, but instead pressed forward, having to stop her own turning momentum to throw her uninjured fist at the Unnatural's head.

"Die."  She spat as she struck, and she meant it. 

Edited by Noko

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Natalie's elbow hit like a battering ram; and through the sound of fracturing bone, Shikai mused that a normal person would be rendered unconscious from such a blow, maybe even dead. If for some reason the first blow wasn't enough, any of the subsequent strikes would have been sufficient to get the job done. The first hit had knocked loose a few teeth. His jaw was broken on the second; and by the time she was done, his neck had been broken, and his head lolled to the right. Stumbling back a few steps, he saw Natalie step in to throw a punch with her uninjured arm.

Unfortunately for the underground fighter, her fight against her own momentum telegraphed the strike that was coming. With head still hanging to the side, he stepped into the punch, grabbed the arm, and turned his hip into his opponent. The hip throw would put Natalie on her back, and Shikai wasted no time rolling her over and getting her into another armlock. 

"You don't have to be shy," Shikai laughed, popping his head back into place with a sickening crunch, "I can smell your pheromones you know. And they're telling me you like what you see... or that you like hurting me. Like REALLY like it."

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The dirt floor was hard and the girl braced herself as she felt her feet leave the ground.  When she hit, it sounded like a empty drum - just loud and echoing into her empty lungs.  The violence of it knocked her shoulder back in, though, so that was nice - what wasn't nice was the knifing pain that accompanied it.  Still, Natalie was tough- like tough, tough, and she ate the injury with the grit of her jaw and hand-fought a losing battle to stay on her back where she could fight.  There was a leg pin, though- a wedge, and an angle, and before she could do much of anything Natalie found herself stomach down with that fucking Unnatural on her back, wrenching her arm, again.

"I can smell your pheromones you know. And they're telling me you like what you see... or that you like hurting me. Like REALLY like it."

Natalie was a dock hand, and a fish monger, and a counter girl at the blacksmith, and an occasional petty thief if empty pockets called for it - so the concept of pheromones flew right over her blond locks and landed in the parking lot of Argus.  The rest of it though - the tone, the wet, insidious, semi-threatening sexuality of a sloppy deckhand too deep in his pint- that, she knew.  That, she understood, and it set a fire in her belly.  In a display of her potential, Natalie pressed herself upward with the Unnatural on her back, one-handed, and drew her legs one after the other in to stand.  The crowd summarily lost their mind, sliding from an unhappy growl to a raucous cheer.  Unfair, certainly; but actually beneficial for the White Zombie, since the emotion in the crowd's roar had been slowly slanting toward angry ever since the brawl had started to look less like a fair fight and more like an immortal monster mauling a young girl.  Oh, there was still rage there- held, for now, but straining at the edges of the rusted cage.

"Yer.."  As Natalie stood, she began to speak, flailing overhead until she grabbed a handful of the man's shirt.  A bounce or two shifted him upward- it wasn't really that hard, he was much taller than she was, and once she was able to grab a fistful of him she whipped her upperbody forward, pulled the Zombie overhead, and drove him to the ground.  

"..a pig.."

Her words punctuated the slam as the crowd roared, palms smashing against the fence in rhythmic, metallic, approval, even as Natalie's cornerman watched with almost paternal tension.  The girl released her foe as she drew her foot back- her heavy dockman's boot moving fast, streaking toward the Unnatural's head.  

Not generally an approved move, if anyone was wondering, but this was Last Chance's underground fight club.  

The only ref here was the crowd.

Edited by Noko

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Caught off guard by the impressive display of strength, Shikai felt all the air be forced out of his lungs as the girl slammed him into the ground. Breathless, he laughed, the sound more like a wheeze than the expression of mirth that it was. As Natalie's foot came down, he rolled out of the way and back onto his feet. Now his laughter could be heard for what it was as he regarded the Rhino.

"Nah! I just want to see what you're really capable of. You don't make it hard to get a rise out of you, that's for sure!"

Working out the kinks in his neck, he continued to talk, "Your physical strength is extraordinary, but your style is a bit straightforward. Brute force is great when it works, but if that's the only string to your bow, then you limit yourself as a fighter. Like right now for instance! I can shrug off anything you can hit me with; so how are you going to win this fight?"

As he talked, he deliberately left himself open; waiting to see if Natalie would charge right in, or see it for the trap it was. He doubted that she would listen to his advice, but it was good for him to say it anyway. If nothing else, it could be a rehearsal for what he would tell Phoebe later.

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Natalie just blinked, not following something in the man's logic - not that it mattered.  She considered him, content for the moment to rest and give her lungs a few moments to break.  Her light eyes pinched in a squint and she backed away, half-grimacing, and rolling her shoulder around to test it out.  

"Why the fuck would you have more'n one string on a bow?" she replied after a moment, unable to track that rabbit.  I mean, shit - you can only use one string at a time, after all.  Maybe if one broke?  She knew more than a few hunters from the blacksmiths and she was pretty sure they didn't go around swapping their bow strings out in the middle of a hunt, but who knew.  The world was a strange place.  That got to mull her the wine barrel of her mind for half a minute or so before she shrugged and rolled her neck, rested, and likely less strong than she was thirty seconds ago.

"You're a'abomination - don't matter what I do, you'll be scraped off the dirt by the Executioner's scythe."

Sharp words, but she hung back- it was clear that Natalie was trying to solve the problem of how to injure something that refused to be injured.  In the background, the crowd began to grow restless again and continually slammed their palms against the fence, the noise like a marching army of chain-mail. 

"Why don't you fight in yer normal body an' we'll see how it goes, hmm?  Or maybe we kin get an' Inquisitor up here an' see how that goes for you."

Her eyes scraped up the Zombie's body on the hunt for an workable strategy.  There was no sign she saw anything.

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"Why don't you fight in yer normal body an' we'll see how it goes, hmm?  Or maybe we kin get an' Inquisitor up here an' see how that goes for you."

Shikai laughed, "That would be pretty stupid of me! Although to be honest, even like this, I'm still holding back quite a bit to keep things fair. If I went all out on you from the start, this fight would have been over a long time ago."

Now his smile turned a shade sinister, "If you don't believe me, you should ask those Inquisitors of yours. I've killed no small number of them over the years. You'd think they'd get the hint and back off, but no. They still send a few after me every now and then."

It couldn't be more obvious now that Shikai was goading the young woman into attacking recklessly. He had to admit that he was already surprised that she hadn't charged in swinging. Perhaps the girl's instincts were better than he gave her credit for. At the very least she seemed to have realized that her standard tactics weren't working; though her attempts to enrage him were merely amusing.

"Now let me show you a little taste of what it's like when I get serious!"

To all but those with the quickest reaction times, it would appear that the shinobi had simply blurred before appearing behind Natalie. From there he drove a brutal elbow into her back. He had broken the backs of lesser warriors with strikes like that. It would be interesting to see what effect it would have on the Rhino.

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"...If I went all out on you from the start, this fight would have been over a long time ago."

Whoop.  At that, Natalie lifted both of her bloody, broken, fists, leaned back on her hips, and gave Shikai the two-finger salute.  Her mock-humor faded though, as Shikai mentioned the fallen Inquisitors, and in its flight it left only her raw anger.  It was clear, given the opportunity, she would end him - but it was equally clear that this was a losing battle.  She'd just caught her breath; just felt the burn fade out of her core and sting from hitting the mat dissipated.  Meanwhile, her opponent was as fresh as a day old corpse.  It's not like she could decapitate him with her hands.. could she? 

Pursing her lips, the girl considered it- turned her hands over and examined them, then looked back at Shikai, then back at her hands.

Probably not.

The distraction was brief; her blue eyes lifted as Shikai's tone turned cold and the edge of his teeth shown from beneath bloody gums, but it didn't register.  She didn't know.  All she thought was more of the same- a throw, some joint cranks, a fucking uncomfortable pin before she found a way to get her hands on him and fight him off.  There was no reason for her to know- she'd never fought someone like Shikai before, never seen a zombie like him.  There were the shambling masses at the Carnival, but he.. he wasn't anything like them.  They were dead shambling masses grateful to be sent back to the dirt- he was a living, breathing, pig of an undead man, who thought and moved like he was alive- like he was more than alive.  She looked up, meeting his eyes.

He was there.. and then he wasn't.

She was standing.. and then she wasn't.

Natalie couldn't even track him as he blurred- to her, she just flew.  He was there, then he was behind her, his fist driving through her ribs as she felt her feet become airborne.  Beneath such unnatural force, her bones snapped like twigs- the force propelled her full six feet where she hit the cage wall with a sick crunch, before sliding to the ground.  Somehow, the girl caught herself - she fought to remain conscious enough to land on her hands and knees, before her body failed and she collapsed to her forearms, spitting blood into the dirt as the world lost its color.

The crowd erupted.  

In seconds, the closest participants fingers wrapped around the rusty steel and pushed.  Aided by the weight of those behind them, they tore, and the rickety cage couldn't support their fury.  The cage walls fell and were trampled as the crowd swarmed inside and blocked Shikai's view of his fallen opponent.  It seemed like the mob's first instinct was to protect Natalie- but it wouldn't stay that way.  Their anger was a tangible thing; you could taste it, acrid and burnt.  Already, amidst the calls for medics, Shikai could feel the atmosphere shifting as murder took to the air.

Edited by Noko

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Shikai wasn't threatened by the murderous crowd; he was confident that he could kill every single one of them if he so desired. But The Dead had a rule; don't go around dropping bodies, or at least not bodies that could be easily tracked back to them. He had already taken a few liberties by leaving witnesses who had seen his Revenant form alive; but Phoebe had given him the go ahead, so he would leave them be. He'd had his fun after all.

"Well it looks like our time together is coming to a close."

Right hand outstretched, the Legendary Blade Mykur appeared in his hand out of a cloud of shadow. A few quick slashes into the ceiling carved him an exit from the angry spectators, some of whom were scrambling to avoid the falling rubble.

"Until we meet again!"

With that, Shikai leapt up through the hole, and disappeared into the night.

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