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Toptomcat

A friendly sparring match

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"Well, it's time for the main event. I'd like to thank the members of the Iga-Ryu Ninjutsu Dojo, the Freedom City chapter of the Hell's Angels, and the Seventh and Nineteenth squads of our own Ares Macrotechnology private security contractors, who have done an excellent job sparring with us and sharing their knowledge. Now, I'd like to ask everyone to back off and give us some space so we can have room to move and put on a good show for you all!"

It's quite a little micro-seminar Shinken's managed to put together, with a number of genuine ninja from Japan, seven scary-looking biker types weighing about a full ton between them, and a scattering of serious-looking soldier types with a good grounding in military combatives. Further underscoring the professionalism of the whole thing is the setting, the Freedom League's own training room- which has technological training aids the likes of which you've never seen. Despite differences in temperament and training between the disparate groups, there's been surprisingly little friction, with each of the groups not only interacting without conflict but also learning a good deal from each other. They've also been quite willing to serve as attackers en masse for Shinken and Nightrival and get roughed up a bit, and have even managed to teach them both a trick or two they haven't learned before. Now, however, they stand aside, clearing a wide space for the two heroes to have some fun with each other.

Shinken draws his blunt sword, holding it before him in the traditional two-handed Chūdan-no-kamae kendo grip. His brightly-colored red-and-gold power armor, designed in sleek imitation of Japanese samurai yoroi, stands in marked contrast to his opponent's muted tones.

"From what I've seen from you today, I expect great things. Dazzle me."

He bows deeply, then raises the sword above his head, taking a move aggressive stance that dares his opponent to close.

"HAJIME!"

-----

"There's a Lee Siu Lung waiting on line one, sir."

"Who? Oh, the Choy Lay Fut sifu. Put him on."

It was an unexpected break for Benjiro. He'd recently put his Shinken battlesuit through a major software upgrade, and any upgrade to a system as complex as the battlesuit's inevitably means a truckload of bugs to fix even for the most talented programmer. The suit was as debugged as it was going to get in a lab situation, however; since the software governed how well he moved and fought, essentially constituting a martial arts style distilled into ten million lines of code, the only thing that can really work out the kinks is a good sparring session, the more competent a partner the better. Thus he asked a talented young man on his staff to look into the Freedom City martial arts community for him, and recieved immediate results. He found a Choy Lay Fut sifu with direct lineage from Chan On Pak, who (after a careful explanation that all that was requested was a friendly sparring session) volunteered the name of a student with an impressive amount of talent and extensive international experience. Further investigation revealed that he was working as a dockworker and boxing coach in Port Regal- and the only step remaining was a quick look in the Yellow Pages. Benjiro picked up the phone and dialed.

"Hello? Am I speaking to a Mr. Liam Callaghan? I have an interesting proposition for you..."

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"Well, it's time for the main event. I'd like to thank the members of the Iga-Ryu Ninjutsu Dojo, the Freedom City chapter of the Hell's Angels, and the Seventh and Nineteenth squads of our own Ares Macrotechnology private security contractors, who have done an excellent job sparring with us and sharing their knowledge. Now, I'd like to ask everyone to back off and give us some space so we can have room to move and put on a good show for you all!"

It's quite a little micro-seminar Shinken's managed to put together, with a number of genuine ninja from Japan, seven scary-looking biker types weighing about a full ton between them, and a scattering of serious-looking soldier types with a good grounding in military combatives. Further underscoring the professionalism of the whole thing is the setting, the Freedom League's own training room- which has technological training aids the likes of which you've never seen. Despite differences in temperament and training between the disparate groups, there's been surprisingly little friction, with each of the groups not only interacting without conflict but also learning a good deal from each other. They've also been quite willing to serve as attackers en masse for Shinken and Nightrival and get roughed up a bit, and have even managed to teach them both a trick or two they haven't learned before. Now, however, they stand aside, clearing a wide space for the two heroes to have some fun with each other.

Shinken draws his blunt sword, holding it before him in the traditional two-handed Chūdan-no-kamae kendo grip. His brightly-colored red-and-gold power armor, designed in sleek imitation of Japanese samurai yoroi, stands in marked contrast to his opponent's muted tones.

"From what I've seen from you today, I expect great things. Dazzle me."

He bows deeply, then raises the sword above his head, taking a move aggressive stance that dares his opponent to close.

"HAJIME!"

-----

"There's a Lee Siu Lung waiting on line one, sir."

"Who? Oh, the Choy Lay Fut sifu. Put him on."

It was an unexpected break for Benjiro. He'd recently put his Shinken battlesuit through a major software upgrade, and any upgrade to a system as complex as the battlesuit's inevitably means a truckload of bugs to fix even for the most talented programmer. The suit was as debugged as it was going to get in a lab situation, however; since the software governed how well he moved and fought, essentially constituting a martial arts style distilled into ten million lines of code, the only thing that can really work out the kinks is a good sparring session, the more competent a partner the better. Thus he asked a talented young man on his staff to look into the Freedom City martial arts community for him, and recieved immediate results. He found a Choy Lay Fut sifu with direct lineage from Chan On Pak, who (after a careful explanation that all that was requested was a friendly sparring session) volunteered the name of a student with an impressive amount of talent and extensive international experience. Further investigation revealed that he was working as a dockworker and boxing coach in Port Regal- and the only step remaining was a quick look in the Yellow Pages. Benjiro picked up the phone and dialed.

"Hello? Am I speaking to a Mr. Liam Callaghan? I have an interesting proposition for you..."

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"Well, it's time for the main event. I'd like to thank the members of the Iga-Ryu Ninjutsu Dojo, the Freedom City chapter of the Hell's Angels, and the Seventh and Nineteenth squads of our own Ares Macrotechnology private security contractors, who have done an excellent job sparring with us and sharing their knowledge. Now, I'd like to ask everyone to back off and give us some space so we can have room to move and put on a good show for you all!"

It's quite a little micro-seminar Shinken's managed to put together, with a number of genuine ninja from Japan, seven scary-looking biker types weighing about a full ton between them, and a scattering of serious-looking soldier types with a good grounding in military combatives. Further underscoring the professionalism of the whole thing is the setting, the Freedom League's own training room- which has technological training aids the likes of which you've never seen. Despite differences in temperament and training between the disparate groups, there's been surprisingly little friction, with each of the groups not only interacting without conflict but also learning a good deal from each other. They've also been quite willing to serve as attackers en masse for Shinken and Nightrival and get roughed up a bit, and have even managed to teach them both a trick or two they haven't learned before. Now, however, they stand aside, clearing a wide space for the two heroes to have some fun with each other.

Shinken draws his blunt sword, holding it before him in the traditional two-handed Chūdan-no-kamae kendo grip. His brightly-colored red-and-gold power armor, designed in sleek imitation of Japanese samurai yoroi, stands in marked contrast to his opponent's muted tones.

"From what I've seen from you today, I expect great things. Dazzle me."

He bows deeply, then raises the sword above his head, taking a move aggressive stance that dares his opponent to close.

"HAJIME!"

-----

"There's a Lee Siu Lung waiting on line one, sir."

"Who? Oh, the Choy Lay Fut sifu. Put him on."

It was an unexpected break for Benjiro. He'd recently put his Shinken battlesuit through a major software upgrade, and any upgrade to a system as complex as the battlesuit's inevitably means a truckload of bugs to fix even for the most talented programmer. The suit was as debugged as it was going to get in a lab situation, however; since the software governed how well he moved and fought, essentially constituting a martial arts style distilled into ten million lines of code, the only thing that can really work out the kinks is a good sparring session, the more competent a partner the better. Thus he asked a talented young man on his staff to look into the Freedom City martial arts community for him, and recieved immediate results. He found a Choy Lay Fut sifu with direct lineage from Chan On Pak, who (after a careful explanation that all that was requested was a friendly sparring session) volunteered the name of a student with an impressive amount of talent and extensive international experience. Further investigation revealed that he was working as a dockworker and boxing coach in Port Regal- and the only step remaining was a quick look in the Yellow Pages. Benjiro picked up the phone and dialed.

"Hello? Am I speaking to a Mr. Liam Callaghan? I have an interesting proposition for you..."

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"Wow. This place is, um, well, huge."

When Nightrival stepped into the Wreck Room, he felt a degree of apprehension. Not because of the eclectic mix of onlookers surrounding the two combatants, but the sheer size of the featureless room completely overwhelmed him.

I've heard stories about it, but this is . . . wow.

He looked over the crowd watching his every move. Benjiro's got some interesting friends. Most of 'em would usually kill each other if they're in the same room together.

Nightrival fought their kind at one time or another. The bikers and soldiers didn't bother him, but he kept the ninjas within his periphery vision. If some of them knew he studied under Fujiwara, there might've been a problem.

Luckily, there wasn't. The fight that enused between the heroes and the others went smoothly, although some of them will go home nursing bruised ribs or black eyes. Now, Shinken stands before him, his armour gleaming in the bright overhead lights. Nightrival takes a deep breath and rolls his head to let his neck pop and crack.

"I'll do my best," he replies. Nightrival returns the bow and immediately shifts into a relaxed Aikido stance. That sword has to go, he muses. Shinken's cry slightly startles him, but he stands his ground. He lingers, intently following his sparring partner's movements.

--

For the last two weeks, several Zoom users were sent to the hospital with major cardiac arrests. Either they lived on the Southside or they were just passing through the neighbourhood to score. The media reports all pointed to a new influx of Zoom that was far more potent than the usual stuff sold on the streets. When Nightrival heard that the neighbourhood he swore to protect was becoming the testing ground for a dangerous drug, he immediately took up the case. Unfortunately, his campaign was going nowhere.

He is no detective, and the countless thugs and lowlifes he pounded into submission weren't talking. Frustrated, he continued to patrol the streets, looking for the one lead that will bring him closer to the source of the epidemic.

At night, Nightrival scoured the streets. During the day, however, Liam had to hang up the costume and punch in at work. Knocking around crooks wasn't exactly a high-paying gig. Liam found a job working the day shift at the docks along the Waterfront. The work was easy and his boss didn't ask too many questions, especially when he came in covered in cuts and bruises. He claimed he got them while coaching at the boxing gym, which was partially true, and his employer left it at that. One foggy morning, while he was securing a rope around a flat of crates abroad a Japanese cargo ship, he heard his boss yelling up to him as he waddled out the warehouse's massive bay doors.

"Yo! Callaghan! Phone for you!"

"Thanks, Mr. Govorski."

Liam walked off the ship, through the bustling warehouse and up a flight of stairs to reach Mr. Govorski's office. He picked up the phone. An unfamiliar voice was on the other side.

"Hello? Am I speaking to a Mr. Liam Callaghan?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"I have an interesting proposition for you. . ."

"Really? I like propositions. But you know my name and I don't know yours."

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"Wow. This place is, um, well, huge."

When Nightrival stepped into the Wreck Room, he felt a degree of apprehension. Not because of the eclectic mix of onlookers surrounding the two combatants, but the sheer size of the featureless room completely overwhelmed him.

I've heard stories about it, but this is . . . wow.

He looked over the crowd watching his every move. Benjiro's got some interesting friends. Most of 'em would usually kill each other if they're in the same room together.

Nightrival fought their kind at one time or another. The bikers and soldiers didn't bother him, but he kept the ninjas within his periphery vision. If some of them knew he studied under Fujiwara, there might've been a problem.

Luckily, there wasn't. The fight that enused between the heroes and the others went smoothly, although some of them will go home nursing bruised ribs or black eyes. Now, Shinken stands before him, his armour gleaming in the bright overhead lights. Nightrival takes a deep breath and rolls his head to let his neck pop and crack.

"I'll do my best," he replies. Nightrival returns the bow and immediately shifts into a relaxed Aikido stance. That sword has to go, he muses. Shinken's cry slightly startles him, but he stands his ground. He lingers, intently following his sparring partner's movements.

--

For the last two weeks, several Zoom users were sent to the hospital with major cardiac arrests. Either they lived on the Southside or they were just passing through the neighbourhood to score. The media reports all pointed to a new influx of Zoom that was far more potent than the usual stuff sold on the streets. When Nightrival heard that the neighbourhood he swore to protect was becoming the testing ground for a dangerous drug, he immediately took up the case. Unfortunately, his campaign was going nowhere.

He is no detective, and the countless thugs and lowlifes he pounded into submission weren't talking. Frustrated, he continued to patrol the streets, looking for the one lead that will bring him closer to the source of the epidemic.

At night, Nightrival scoured the streets. During the day, however, Liam had to hang up the costume and punch in at work. Knocking around crooks wasn't exactly a high-paying gig. Liam found a job working the day shift at the docks along the Waterfront. The work was easy and his boss didn't ask too many questions, especially when he came in covered in cuts and bruises. He claimed he got them while coaching at the boxing gym, which was partially true, and his employer left it at that. One foggy morning, while he was securing a rope around a flat of crates abroad a Japanese cargo ship, he heard his boss yelling up to him as he waddled out the warehouse's massive bay doors.

"Yo! Callaghan! Phone for you!"

"Thanks, Mr. Govorski."

Liam walked off the ship, through the bustling warehouse and up a flight of stairs to reach Mr. Govorski's office. He picked up the phone. An unfamiliar voice was on the other side.

"Hello? Am I speaking to a Mr. Liam Callaghan?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"I have an interesting proposition for you. . ."

"Really? I like propositions. But you know my name and I don't know yours."

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"Wow. This place is, um, well, huge."

When Nightrival stepped into the Wreck Room, he felt a degree of apprehension. Not because of the eclectic mix of onlookers surrounding the two combatants, but the sheer size of the featureless room completely overwhelmed him.

I've heard stories about it, but this is . . . wow.

He looked over the crowd watching his every move. Benjiro's got some interesting friends. Most of 'em would usually kill each other if they're in the same room together.

Nightrival fought their kind at one time or another. The bikers and soldiers didn't bother him, but he kept the ninjas within his periphery vision. If some of them knew he studied under Fujiwara, there might've been a problem.

Luckily, there wasn't. The fight that enused between the heroes and the others went smoothly, although some of them will go home nursing bruised ribs or black eyes. Now, Shinken stands before him, his armour gleaming in the bright overhead lights. Nightrival takes a deep breath and rolls his head to let his neck pop and crack.

"I'll do my best," he replies. Nightrival returns the bow and immediately shifts into a relaxed Aikido stance. That sword has to go, he muses. Shinken's cry slightly startles him, but he stands his ground. He lingers, intently following his sparring partner's movements.

--

For the last two weeks, several Zoom users were sent to the hospital with major cardiac arrests. Either they lived on the Southside or they were just passing through the neighbourhood to score. The media reports all pointed to a new influx of Zoom that was far more potent than the usual stuff sold on the streets. When Nightrival heard that the neighbourhood he swore to protect was becoming the testing ground for a dangerous drug, he immediately took up the case. Unfortunately, his campaign was going nowhere.

He is no detective, and the countless thugs and lowlifes he pounded into submission weren't talking. Frustrated, he continued to patrol the streets, looking for the one lead that will bring him closer to the source of the epidemic.

At night, Nightrival scoured the streets. During the day, however, Liam had to hang up the costume and punch in at work. Knocking around crooks wasn't exactly a high-paying gig. Liam found a job working the day shift at the docks along the Waterfront. The work was easy and his boss didn't ask too many questions, especially when he came in covered in cuts and bruises. He claimed he got them while coaching at the boxing gym, which was partially true, and his employer left it at that. One foggy morning, while he was securing a rope around a flat of crates abroad a Japanese cargo ship, he heard his boss yelling up to him as he waddled out the warehouse's massive bay doors.

"Yo! Callaghan! Phone for you!"

"Thanks, Mr. Govorski."

Liam walked off the ship, through the bustling warehouse and up a flight of stairs to reach Mr. Govorski's office. He picked up the phone. An unfamiliar voice was on the other side.

"Hello? Am I speaking to a Mr. Liam Callaghan?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"I have an interesting proposition for you. . ."

"Really? I like propositions. But you know my name and I don't know yours."

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Jujutsu? No, aikido. Smart: there's a good deal of emphasis on defeating kenjutsu in their techniques.

But its mobility is limited, and they don't do well in dealing with attacks not directed at their core. Footwork is the name of the game.

Benjiro takes just a moment to analyze Nightrival's stance, then nods thoughtfully and moves in. He approaches Nightrival with the time-honored shuffling advance of traditional Japanese swordplay, raising his weapon high over his head for the traditional cut...

Then, his footwork dissolves into apparant chaos, beating out an erratic tattoo on the ground and putting Shinken to Nightrival's right side very quickly in a move that catches him slightly off guard. The blunted sword lashes out, speeding toward Nightrival in a strike aimed at his wrist- but while the plan is good, the execution is too conservative, and the attack whiffs fully three inches from its intended target.

-------

"My name is Benjiro Fujisama. I am a man with considerable interest in the martial arts, and I have gone to considerable effort to find talented sparring partners in the Freedom City area. I got in touch with Sifu Lee, who had nothing but praise for your athleticism and skill.

Would you be interested in a friendly sparring match or two?"

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Jujutsu? No, aikido. Smart: there's a good deal of emphasis on defeating kenjutsu in their techniques.

But its mobility is limited, and they don't do well in dealing with attacks not directed at their core. Footwork is the name of the game.

Benjiro takes just a moment to analyze Nightrival's stance, then nods thoughtfully and moves in. He approaches Nightrival with the time-honored shuffling advance of traditional Japanese swordplay, raising his weapon high over his head for the traditional cut...

Then, his footwork dissolves into apparant chaos, beating out an erratic tattoo on the ground and putting Shinken to Nightrival's right side very quickly in a move that catches him slightly off guard. The blunted sword lashes out, speeding toward Nightrival in a strike aimed at his wrist- but while the plan is good, the execution is too conservative, and the attack whiffs fully three inches from its intended target.

-------

"My name is Benjiro Fujisama. I am a man with considerable interest in the martial arts, and I have gone to considerable effort to find talented sparring partners in the Freedom City area. I got in touch with Sifu Lee, who had nothing but praise for your athleticism and skill.

Would you be interested in a friendly sparring match or two?"

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Jujutsu? No, aikido. Smart: there's a good deal of emphasis on defeating kenjutsu in their techniques.

But its mobility is limited, and they don't do well in dealing with attacks not directed at their core. Footwork is the name of the game.

Benjiro takes just a moment to analyze Nightrival's stance, then nods thoughtfully and moves in. He approaches Nightrival with the time-honored shuffling advance of traditional Japanese swordplay, raising his weapon high over his head for the traditional cut...

Then, his footwork dissolves into apparant chaos, beating out an erratic tattoo on the ground and putting Shinken to Nightrival's right side very quickly in a move that catches him slightly off guard. The blunted sword lashes out, speeding toward Nightrival in a strike aimed at his wrist- but while the plan is good, the execution is too conservative, and the attack whiffs fully three inches from its intended target.

-------

"My name is Benjiro Fujisama. I am a man with considerable interest in the martial arts, and I have gone to considerable effort to find talented sparring partners in the Freedom City area. I got in touch with Sifu Lee, who had nothing but praise for your athleticism and skill.

Would you be interested in a friendly sparring match or two?"

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Nightrival watches Shinken's feet. They dance and turn as he draws closer, the sword raised in his hand. The light fractures against his armour and sends glittering red and gold shards into his eyes. But, Nightrival waits. He examines Shinken's body language and its subtle gestures that might betray his true intentions. Despite his heavy armour, Shinken moves with a surprising grace. Nightrival will have to remember that. For now, his mind is completely focused on Shinken's feet, and now his hands. He sees his opponent's fingers tense around the hilt.

Shinken gets within striking distance and slices the air. Nightrival slides his left foot back and draws an imaginary circle that arcs over the two fighters. When Shinken's sword completes its cut, missing him by a mere three inches, Nightrival's right hand reaches out with blinding speed and catches Shinken's left wrist. Nightrival squeezes and braces himself.

--

Liam blushes. Although his countless teachers have all emphasized the importance of humility, the idea that Master Lee himself had actually praised him was surprising. The Old Man isn't exactly the fatherly type. In most cases, Liam would deny that he had such extensive training. That could connect him to Nightrival. Master Lee is no fool though, and he knows Liam's secret. If this Benjiro talked to the Old Man, lying could disgrace his former sifu. Besides, people have looked for him before. He fought in underground matches in Brazil, Thailand and Russia, so anyone with interest and connections could seek him out. But Master Lee?

"Um, yeah," he replies, trying to conceal is cracked voice. "Lee is too kind. He just shows me a few things now and then. So why do you need a sparring partner? Got a big match coming up?"

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Nightrival watches Shinken's feet. They dance and turn as he draws closer, the sword raised in his hand. The light fractures against his armour and sends glittering red and gold shards into his eyes. But, Nightrival waits. He examines Shinken's body language and its subtle gestures that might betray his true intentions. Despite his heavy armour, Shinken moves with a surprising grace. Nightrival will have to remember that. For now, his mind is completely focused on Shinken's feet, and now his hands. He sees his opponent's fingers tense around the hilt.

Shinken gets within striking distance and slices the air. Nightrival slides his left foot back and draws an imaginary circle that arcs over the two fighters. When Shinken's sword completes its cut, missing him by a mere three inches, Nightrival's right hand reaches out with blinding speed and catches Shinken's left wrist. Nightrival squeezes and braces himself.

--

Liam blushes. Although his countless teachers have all emphasized the importance of humility, the idea that Master Lee himself had actually praised him was surprising. The Old Man isn't exactly the fatherly type. In most cases, Liam would deny that he had such extensive training. That could connect him to Nightrival. Master Lee is no fool though, and he knows Liam's secret. If this Benjiro talked to the Old Man, lying could disgrace his former sifu. Besides, people have looked for him before. He fought in underground matches in Brazil, Thailand and Russia, so anyone with interest and connections could seek him out. But Master Lee?

"Um, yeah," he replies, trying to conceal is cracked voice. "Lee is too kind. He just shows me a few things now and then. So why do you need a sparring partner? Got a big match coming up?"

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Nightrival watches Shinken's feet. They dance and turn as he draws closer, the sword raised in his hand. The light fractures against his armour and sends glittering red and gold shards into his eyes. But, Nightrival waits. He examines Shinken's body language and its subtle gestures that might betray his true intentions. Despite his heavy armour, Shinken moves with a surprising grace. Nightrival will have to remember that. For now, his mind is completely focused on Shinken's feet, and now his hands. He sees his opponent's fingers tense around the hilt.

Shinken gets within striking distance and slices the air. Nightrival slides his left foot back and draws an imaginary circle that arcs over the two fighters. When Shinken's sword completes its cut, missing him by a mere three inches, Nightrival's right hand reaches out with blinding speed and catches Shinken's left wrist. Nightrival squeezes and braces himself.

--

Liam blushes. Although his countless teachers have all emphasized the importance of humility, the idea that Master Lee himself had actually praised him was surprising. The Old Man isn't exactly the fatherly type. In most cases, Liam would deny that he had such extensive training. That could connect him to Nightrival. Master Lee is no fool though, and he knows Liam's secret. If this Benjiro talked to the Old Man, lying could disgrace his former sifu. Besides, people have looked for him before. He fought in underground matches in Brazil, Thailand and Russia, so anyone with interest and connections could seek him out. But Master Lee?

"Um, yeah," he replies, trying to conceal is cracked voice. "Lee is too kind. He just shows me a few things now and then. So why do you need a sparring partner? Got a big match coming up?"

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That was the *fastest* damned irimi nage I've ever seen. I've got to-

A red tint flashes across Benjiro's machine-assisted vision, and error codes begin scrolling across the HUD at a worrying speed. He tries to move away from Nightrival and find some way to counterattack or escape, but the mechanized ankle and wrist muscles of the battlesuit lock up, making him stumble and transforming his counterattack from a sweeping slash to trivially avoided half-stab.

Goddamn it, I thought I'd fixed the grapple escape code! Finish the kernel dump, finish the kernel dump, finish the-

Oh, this is going to hurt.

----

Benjiro laughs softly.

"You could say that. I'm one of those unusual people who goes out and helps to clean up the streets of Freedom City from time to time...so I never really know when my next 'big match' will be, and I have a considerable interest in keeping myself sharply honed. You might have heard about me by the name Shinken."

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That was the *fastest* damned irimi nage I've ever seen. I've got to-

A red tint flashes across Benjiro's machine-assisted vision, and error codes begin scrolling across the HUD at a worrying speed. He tries to move away from Nightrival and find some way to counterattack or escape, but the mechanized ankle and wrist muscles of the battlesuit lock up, making him stumble and transforming his counterattack from a sweeping slash to trivially avoided half-stab.

Goddamn it, I thought I'd fixed the grapple escape code! Finish the kernel dump, finish the kernel dump, finish the-

Oh, this is going to hurt.

----

Benjiro laughs softly.

"You could say that. I'm one of those unusual people who goes out and helps to clean up the streets of Freedom City from time to time...so I never really know when my next 'big match' will be, and I have a considerable interest in keeping myself sharply honed. You might have heard about me by the name Shinken."

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That was the *fastest* damned irimi nage I've ever seen. I've got to-

A red tint flashes across Benjiro's machine-assisted vision, and error codes begin scrolling across the HUD at a worrying speed. He tries to move away from Nightrival and find some way to counterattack or escape, but the mechanized ankle and wrist muscles of the battlesuit lock up, making him stumble and transforming his counterattack from a sweeping slash to trivially avoided half-stab.

Goddamn it, I thought I'd fixed the grapple escape code! Finish the kernel dump, finish the kernel dump, finish the-

Oh, this is going to hurt.

----

Benjiro laughs softly.

"You could say that. I'm one of those unusual people who goes out and helps to clean up the streets of Freedom City from time to time...so I never really know when my next 'big match' will be, and I have a considerable interest in keeping myself sharply honed. You might have heard about me by the name Shinken."

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Shinken appears to freeze up and responds by poking his sword at Nightrival, who can't help but slightly cock his head at seeing his esteemed opponent suddenly revert to a meager defense.

I'll take what I can get, he thinks.

With his hand still firmly clenched around Shinken's wrist, Nightrival bends his knees and following the imaginary arc he smoothly tosses Shinken five feet away. His armoured opponent lands on his back with a resounding thud. Nightrival draws wide circles with his arms and then immediately tenses into a Shaolin stance, facing down his fallen opponent. He grins underneath his mask.

"C'mon, Shinken. I know you can do better than that," he says playfully.

--

A superhero? Calling me at work? Wow. No one except Master Lee knows about Nightrival. It's not like my training is public knowledge. I'll have to talk to Master Lee about this. But Shinken seems like a decent guy. I'll see what he has to say.

"Shinken?" he replies coolly, "yeah, I've heard of you. You've done some good work. Good to know that some capes rely on skill rather than fancy powers."

For a brief moment, Liam weighs his options. This could be an opportunity to test his prowess against a much tougher opponent, but the risk of having someone knowing his secret identity is rather large. But Shinken is a hero, why would he betray his trust? Besides, Liam was a stranger in Freedom City after being away for so long. Friends are hard to come by.

"Training is essential. That has always been my philosophy. You can count me in."

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Shinken appears to freeze up and responds by poking his sword at Nightrival, who can't help but slightly cock his head at seeing his esteemed opponent suddenly revert to a meager defense.

I'll take what I can get, he thinks.

With his hand still firmly clenched around Shinken's wrist, Nightrival bends his knees and following the imaginary arc he smoothly tosses Shinken five feet away. His armoured opponent lands on his back with a resounding thud. Nightrival draws wide circles with his arms and then immediately tenses into a Shaolin stance, facing down his fallen opponent. He grins underneath his mask.

"C'mon, Shinken. I know you can do better than that," he says playfully.

--

A superhero? Calling me at work? Wow. No one except Master Lee knows about Nightrival. It's not like my training is public knowledge. I'll have to talk to Master Lee about this. But Shinken seems like a decent guy. I'll see what he has to say.

"Shinken?" he replies coolly, "yeah, I've heard of you. You've done some good work. Good to know that some capes rely on skill rather than fancy powers."

For a brief moment, Liam weighs his options. This could be an opportunity to test his prowess against a much tougher opponent, but the risk of having someone knowing his secret identity is rather large. But Shinken is a hero, why would he betray his trust? Besides, Liam was a stranger in Freedom City after being away for so long. Friends are hard to come by.

"Training is essential. That has always been my philosophy. You can count me in."

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Shinken appears to freeze up and responds by poking his sword at Nightrival, who can't help but slightly cock his head at seeing his esteemed opponent suddenly revert to a meager defense.

I'll take what I can get, he thinks.

With his hand still firmly clenched around Shinken's wrist, Nightrival bends his knees and following the imaginary arc he smoothly tosses Shinken five feet away. His armoured opponent lands on his back with a resounding thud. Nightrival draws wide circles with his arms and then immediately tenses into a Shaolin stance, facing down his fallen opponent. He grins underneath his mask.

"C'mon, Shinken. I know you can do better than that," he says playfully.

--

A superhero? Calling me at work? Wow. No one except Master Lee knows about Nightrival. It's not like my training is public knowledge. I'll have to talk to Master Lee about this. But Shinken seems like a decent guy. I'll see what he has to say.

"Shinken?" he replies coolly, "yeah, I've heard of you. You've done some good work. Good to know that some capes rely on skill rather than fancy powers."

For a brief moment, Liam weighs his options. This could be an opportunity to test his prowess against a much tougher opponent, but the risk of having someone knowing his secret identity is rather large. But Shinken is a hero, why would he betray his trust? Besides, Liam was a stranger in Freedom City after being away for so long. Friends are hard to come by.

"Training is essential. That has always been my philosophy. You can count me in."

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"Whoof. I'm going to have to."

Shinken draws himself up to seiza, smoothly sheathing his sword in the process- then comes out of it lightning-fast, sword going from sheath to full extension in a well-practiced iaido motion.

Unfortunately, while he gets to his feet quickly, the blade doesn't quite come out fast enough...

----

"Excellent! What would be a good time for you?"

The request completed, Benjiro makes small talk with Liam for a bit- talking about where he'd trained in the past, what sort of styles he usually uses, and telling an anecdote or two about martial-arts villians he'd encountered as Shinken. He gives no inkling that he knows about Liam's nightly outings as Nightrival, but some of his innocent questions skirt perilously close to secrets.

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"Whoof. I'm going to have to."

Shinken draws himself up to seiza, smoothly sheathing his sword in the process- then comes out of it lightning-fast, sword going from sheath to full extension in a well-practiced iaido motion.

Unfortunately, while he gets to his feet quickly, the blade doesn't quite come out fast enough...

----

"Excellent! What would be a good time for you?"

The request completed, Benjiro makes small talk with Liam for a bit- talking about where he'd trained in the past, what sort of styles he usually uses, and telling an anecdote or two about martial-arts villians he'd encountered as Shinken. He gives no inkling that he knows about Liam's nightly outings as Nightrival, but some of his innocent questions skirt perilously close to secrets.

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"Whoof. I'm going to have to."

Shinken draws himself up to seiza, smoothly sheathing his sword in the process- then comes out of it lightning-fast, sword going from sheath to full extension in a well-practiced iaido motion.

Unfortunately, while he gets to his feet quickly, the blade doesn't quite come out fast enough...

----

"Excellent! What would be a good time for you?"

The request completed, Benjiro makes small talk with Liam for a bit- talking about where he'd trained in the past, what sort of styles he usually uses, and telling an anecdote or two about martial-arts villians he'd encountered as Shinken. He gives no inkling that he knows about Liam's nightly outings as Nightrival, but some of his innocent questions skirt perilously close to secrets.

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Nightrival twists his torso as Shinken's blade harmlessly slips past him. He sees an opening; Shinken overreaches, leaving his chest and neck vunerable. Nightrival pivots on his backfoot and delivers a devastating roundhouse kick, only his foot swoops over Shinken's head. Cursing his poor timing, he backflips over Shinken by vaulting off his helmet with a single hand, then dropping to the ground seven feet away. He settles back into a Shaolin stance, anticipating the next attack. His breathing is calm and steady, and he has now completely forgotten about the onlookers.

--

Liam's experiences as a student isn't a topic that normally enters most conversations. In fact, Shinken is quite possibly the first person he's told. He describes his capoeira lessons in a secluded camp in Brazil, and the ancient Shaolin master that must have broken every bone in his body, even before the master agreed to take him on as student. The ninjitsu dojo in the mountains, the football hooligans in London, the jailhouse rock fights in New York: the stories just told themselves.

He is somehow relieved to finally tell someone all this, but his frankness unnerves him. Benjiro talking to Master Lee along with his curiousity arouses a slight suspicion within Liam, but he couldn't let paranoia govern his every action. There is something much more pressing happening at the moment.

"Since I got you on the line, maybe you can help me with something."

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Nightrival twists his torso as Shinken's blade harmlessly slips past him. He sees an opening; Shinken overreaches, leaving his chest and neck vunerable. Nightrival pivots on his backfoot and delivers a devastating roundhouse kick, only his foot swoops over Shinken's head. Cursing his poor timing, he backflips over Shinken by vaulting off his helmet with a single hand, then dropping to the ground seven feet away. He settles back into a Shaolin stance, anticipating the next attack. His breathing is calm and steady, and he has now completely forgotten about the onlookers.

--

Liam's experiences as a student isn't a topic that normally enters most conversations. In fact, Shinken is quite possibly the first person he's told. He describes his capoeira lessons in a secluded camp in Brazil, and the ancient Shaolin master that must have broken every bone in his body, even before the master agreed to take him on as student. The ninjitsu dojo in the mountains, the football hooligans in London, the jailhouse rock fights in New York: the stories just told themselves.

He is somehow relieved to finally tell someone all this, but his frankness unnerves him. Benjiro talking to Master Lee along with his curiousity arouses a slight suspicion within Liam, but he couldn't let paranoia govern his every action. There is something much more pressing happening at the moment.

"Since I got you on the line, maybe you can help me with something."

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Nightrival twists his torso as Shinken's blade harmlessly slips past him. He sees an opening; Shinken overreaches, leaving his chest and neck vunerable. Nightrival pivots on his backfoot and delivers a devastating roundhouse kick, only his foot swoops over Shinken's head. Cursing his poor timing, he backflips over Shinken by vaulting off his helmet with a single hand, then dropping to the ground seven feet away. He settles back into a Shaolin stance, anticipating the next attack. His breathing is calm and steady, and he has now completely forgotten about the onlookers.

--

Liam's experiences as a student isn't a topic that normally enters most conversations. In fact, Shinken is quite possibly the first person he's told. He describes his capoeira lessons in a secluded camp in Brazil, and the ancient Shaolin master that must have broken every bone in his body, even before the master agreed to take him on as student. The ninjitsu dojo in the mountains, the football hooligans in London, the jailhouse rock fights in New York: the stories just told themselves.

He is somehow relieved to finally tell someone all this, but his frankness unnerves him. Benjiro talking to Master Lee along with his curiousity arouses a slight suspicion within Liam, but he couldn't let paranoia govern his every action. There is something much more pressing happening at the moment.

"Since I got you on the line, maybe you can help me with something."

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Benjiro scowls underneath his mask, frustrated at the inconclusive exchange of blows.

I am being too conservative, forgetting the lessons of the great Japanese masters and trying to preserve my own hide. This is not some mere brawler or criminal, capable of being overcome by technology and skill alone: this man is an artist, a true warrior. To defeat him, my spirit must also be that of a warrior- I cannot defeat him without endangering myself.

As I move, I meditate on Tsunetomo's words. 'I have found the essence of Bushido: to die!'

Shinken is absolutely still for an instant, regaining his focus, banishing the frustration from his mind- and filling his soul with the willingness to die. Time seems to slow as he smoothly sheaths his sword once again, focusing every once of attention on his opponent.

"Yagyū Shinkage-ryū iaijutsu ougi..."

His blade lashes out in a smooth arc, almost too fast to see. The strike is as utterly perfect as the man is utterly exposed to counterattack.

"DAIITOKUMYOUOU!"

-----

Benjiro is quite impressed by Liam's recounting of his experiences, remarking on the excellent diversity of his experiences- neither too formal nor too undisciplined. He himself talks about the unusual path to martial ability he himself has taken; his damaged nerves make it impossible for him to practice martial arts conventionally, so he programmed martial arts ability into a computer that controls his muscles and those of the battlesuit he wears for him. Some would bemoan the fact that he gets his martial abilities 'out of a can', so to speak, but the fact that he had to make the can himself has arguably made his journey harder, not easier.

When Liam asks for help, there is only one reply:

"Of course. You're doing me a favor, after all. What do you need?"

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