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The Jade Arenas of Heaven: Poison Desires [IC]

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The gong split the morning air, cutting through the tranquility of the Ghost mansion. The mansion had certainly lived up to its name; from outside, it appeared an imposing edifice made of ebony and marble the color of exposed bone, more like a crypt than any sort of home. Inside was little different, with biers that shed an eerie blue light that seemed to cast more shadows than illumination. Despite all this, the mansion gave a strange feeling of safety and protection, like no one sleeping within would suffer any sort of harm. Crypts were well-known for their integrity, after all.

The competitors woke to rays of light surging into darkened rooms and the song of birds. After about fifteen minutes, a knock arrived at their doors, heralding the breaking of bread before the first round of the tournament. Once preparations were complete, they made their way down to a large onyx room, decorated with grave goods and jade murals. Tables were set out with nearly every food imaginable, and some that defied description. Once the plates were full, the time came to break bread and trade words...

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The accomedations were some of the best Etain had every had, as such, it was a bit difficult for her to ride from the incredibly comfortable bed in the huge room provided for her nights stay. However, the promise of a meal did greatly help this rising as the previous night's meal proved to be absolutely delicious, and she saw no reason for breakfast to lose any of that quality. Pulling on one of her few pairs of trousers and a long sleeve blouse she appraised herself in the mirror before putting on her mask and watching the outfit disappear under the glamour of the long orange dress. She might of considered just sticking to her underwear, but the possibility of losing it in battle sort of pushed her to keeping the underlayer of clothing.

Moving down towards breakfast, she found that she wasn't in the minority of people who were having a hard time getting up as there were several blank areas up and down the table. It gave her ample space to find a seat near a large tray of a crossiants of a variety of fillings. She started to set up her plate, but waited before eating as they were to have some announcements before they broke their bread.

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Gregory awoke groggily to a knock at his door, and considered turning back over. He sat up in his bed when he realized where he was, and what today held for him. Hurriedly shifting his covers into some sort of order, he quickly slid on his costume. It was one he wore for special occasions. A black leather jacket, with a button at the collar, and on the back, an insignia of snapping dog jaws in red. The shoes, which were his father's WWII boots, tied up to his ankles. The finishing touch, a modern tactical mask. Gregory and looked at himself in the mirror. He gave himself a thumbs-up, and headed downstairs.

After filling his plate, he walked over to the woman in orange, and extended a hand. "Good luck out there today."

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Sage was an early riser so when the knock came she was already wide awake, lying on the top of her bed bored because she had to forego her traditional morning run though her spirits buoyed now that there was something to do. Slipping out of her sleepwear the mindwalker worked her way into her costume, she opted for the one she wears with Young Freedom, and made her way to the dining hall.

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Fulcrum didn't sleep. Not that she couldn't sleep, but a mix of anxiety and curiosity kept her awake through the night. Thankfully, sleep came as an optional pleasure for her, and she didn't miss it. Gave her an opportunity to take in more of the mansion.

Which she did, hovering ghost-like among the hallways through the wee hours of the night. She took a few pictures and scans, but for the most part just enjoyed the ambience. The artwork was simply gorgeous! Her first descriptor was 'divine', but that joke sounded hld the moment it came to mind. So true.

While sleep didn't matter, a good meal certainly did. She was among the first seated in the dining hall. Her plate heaped with food, she waved as the others filed in one-by-one. All that was missing was coffee.

After much consideration, the final outfit selection consisted of her blue-and-gold athletic shorts, top and matching running shoes. Looked more like her destination was the gym than a martial arts tournament.

"Good morning!" she said cheerfully to each competitor while waiting for breakfast to begin.

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Changeling turned towards the other's recognizing Sage whom she gave a smile before responding to the much larger man, and than the even larger woman at this section of the tale.

"Good luck and good morning to you as well. Did you all enjoy the lovely accomedaitions provided? The food seems especially extraviagant."

She smiled as she took a sip of her drink which was some simple fruit juice, but was absolutely delicious.

"I have not seen any listings yet, there seems to be a lot of participants, I wonder how many matches will be running simitainously to fit this all in the next two days."

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The doors to the main hall clashed open, and in came ten men in grim yet splendid robes. The robes bore scarlet, marigold, cerulean, jade, and silver, but black dominated each one, and all other colors seemed somewhat muted. Elaborate hats crowned their heads, and they hid their faces behind porcelain masks, each one bearing the visage of a grinning devil. Guan Yu strode beside them, trading conversation.

"You should appreciate this, Bao, it's been ages since you've been out of that pit."

"My 'pit' is as essential to the functioning of the world as the splendor of Tian, Guan Yu," said Bao from behind his mask. "But I thank you for your concern. Di Yu carries on as it always has -- though I am afraid I have some news for you..."

"Is it grim?"

"Yes, it --"

"Is it important?

"Not critically, but --"

"Then it can wait until tonight, don't you think?" Guan Yu put his hand on the man's shoulder. "At least until we've had some fun." Not waiting for an answer, he strode away from Bao, crossing over to the table where the heroes of Freedom sat. "I'm glad to see you're enjoying the meal!" he shouted. "How does the morning find you?"

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Mad Dog smiled and greeted the other contestants as he munched on a pastry. He had to partially remove his mask in order to take bites. "I was wondering about that too. To be honest, I've never fought against any actual superhumans before, so this'll be a new experience for me. Not one that I'm unprepared for, though." He smiled feistily, and cracked his knuckles.

"Then it can wait until tonight, don't you think?" Guan Yu put his hand on the man's shoulder. "At least until we've had some fun." Not waiting for an answer, he strode away from Bao, crossing over to the table where the heroes of Freedom sat. "I'm glad to see you're enjoying the meal!" he shouted. "How does the morning find you?"

Mad Dog gave the man a short bow, because he really was not sure what else to do.

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"The meals and lodgings are worth the trip alone!" replied Fulcrum as she scooted over next to Sage. "This place is loaded with artwork from a least five different dynasties. I could spend a month just analyzing the jade sculptures in this room." From the excitement in her voice, she was geeking out over the aesthetics far more than the competition!

Overhearing snippets of Changeling and Mad Dog's conversation, she asked Sage as much as the others, "Yeah, that's a good question. How will the brackets be decided too?" Unconsciously, she adjusted her bracelets, which despite her athletic clothing, she still wore.

The answer, perhaps, stepped into the room just then. She researched customs somewhat, but was still in the dark overall considering this was Tian. She settled for standing and bowing politely, "Everything is delicious, thank you. You are a most gracious host." Looking among the competitors, she answered, "Very well indeed. Although the anticipation is mounting for the start of the tournament."

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Changeling turned towards the men and gave a well practiced curtsy to the yama kings,

"The accomedations and the meal are all exceedly luxious, I see that no expense was spared for this event, though I do not think ones such as yourself would be short on the influence to arrange such things."

Her smile kept high as she raised her eyes towards them,

"I am also curious about the arrangement of the matches, there are several contestants, are there going to be a number of arenas for the first few rounds? I have seen similar set ups where prelimenary rounds are set as such to narrow the participants at a faster rater."

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Eve was used to luxury, living the upper strata of society of her entire life, though from her time at Claremont she had experienced what it was like to live without such lavishness. The food was nice, she admitted, and it gave the telepath some secret pleasure in seeing Mona so excited. She largely ignored Guan Yu as he spoke, should found his shouting irritating.

"Even in Tian," the mindwalker mused to herself, "the mouth speakers are an annoyance."

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"I am also curious about the arrangement of the matches, there are several contestants, are there going to be a number of arenas for the first few rounds? I have seen similar set ups where prelimenary rounds are set as such to narrow the participants at a faster rater."

"As a matter of fact, the preliminary rounds shall be conducted back to back," said Guan Yu. "Often, the opening matches go fast; it's rare to have one last over five minutes. As there are tournaments taking place in all the celestial mansions -- well, save the Earth one, that's undergoing renovations -- it allows the audience to sample the various styles and techniques. Some matches do stretch on for a bit -- we had one between two strongmen that lasted until sunset -- but in those cases, we have our engineers partition the arena seamlessly so that the other matches can take place. But those instances are rare; in most cases, a target is selected who can play well off another's talents in a way that inspires creative thinking, improvisation, and spectacle. It dulls the audience's attention when two stone walls keep trying to blow one another over with a faint breeze."

A gong rang out across the dining hall, and Guan Yu snapped towards it. "Ah, yes, I believe that's the call to the arena. The preliminaries shall begin soon. If you have any other questions, we can address them on the way there."

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The group made its way through the halls of the Ghost to the main courtyard. The arena rose high, its walls made of white jade and onyx. The other competitors were streaming out of the halls of the sepulchral manse, and a hushed din could be heard from inside the arena. Obviously the audience was out in force, and ready for the show.

Guards in crimson held banners pointing the way to a chamber underneath the arena. Guan Yu stood in the center of the room, checking over the board containing the brackets from yesterday - 32 fighters, divided up into 5 heats. "Greetings," he said. "Today begins the first heat of your tournament. 16 matches, back to back to back. The rules are simple -- if you remain down for more than ten seconds, you're out. By decree of the Jade Emperor, all techniques used in the arena shall be non-lethal, and up here, his word is more than law -- it is manifest. You could drive a sword into your competitor's heart and it would merely bruise. But such things aren't sporting, so try to show some restraint. Permanent harm to a competitor is not allowed - no crippling, maiming, or transmutation that lasts longer than a day - and if it is used, you will receive a sanction from the Jade Emperor himself. These things... are not taken lightly. Assuming one of you is stupid enough to try it, our medics will be there to heal any damage to your target." He paused. "If there are no questions, then I believe we shall begin. Take your places when I call off your name, and we shall get you prepared..."

---

Some time later...

The individual heroes made their way up through the halls when their name came up. The murmurs of before had become a deafening roar as they emerged into sunlight, greeted by the audience. The walls of the inner arena loomed white over a black marble floor, smooth and limitless as a starless night. As the heroes took their places, Guan Yu's voice boomed like thunder throughout the arena...

---

"In the Eastern Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Silken Delusion Style... Changeling, of Freedom City! And in the Western Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Barbed Dagger Whisper Style... Bastion, of Liverpool!"

From the shadows emerged a well-built man in black SAS gear, toting a heavy-duty, futuristic blaster. He locked eyes with Changeling; they glowed blue, with an illusory fire, before blinking out, revealing a steely gaze. "Looks like we won't be doing much physical," he said. "Like it that way, one professional to another. Looking forward to a good fireworks show."

---

"In the Eastern Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Ashes to Phoenix Style... Fulcrum, of Freedom City! And in the Western Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Prism's Many Lights Style... Totem, of San Francisco!"

A woman dressed in a pale white bodysuit stepped out, wearing a white mask with no features save for eyeholes. Sheer blue eyes looked on Fulcrum, and though she couldn't see the woman's features, Fulcrum could sense a smile. "Fulcrum, yes," said the woman in the white mask. "Active within the last 5 years, mostly in Freedom City... flying brick, pretty much. I'm a fan of your work. Perhaps we can talk afterwards?"

---

"In the Eastern Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Weightless Blade Style... Sage, of Freedom City! And in the Western Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Soul's Sturdy Grasp Style... Kikidee, of Gorilla Island!"

An albino gorilla walked out into the arena on all fours, her fur an unusual creamy white. She looked towards Sage, and the experienced psychic could instantly feel the familiar bonds of someone establishing a mental rapport. -Pleased to meet you,- thought the gorilla. -May the best woman win.-

---

"In the Eastern Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Skillful Hound Style... Mad Dog, of Freedom City! And in the Western Quadrant, skilled in the ways of Eternal Soil Style... Red Rook, of Prague!"

A large figure with tanned skin emerged from the shadows, clad in a biker jacket and fatigue pants. His skin shifted slightly, and Mad Dog could see that it was no longer flesh - it was clay. He bowed respectfully to his competitor, flaming letters appearing on his forehead. "Greetings," he said in a thick Czech accent. He took his position, and was silent once more.

---

"FIGHT!"

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Looking down the man, Changeling kept a solid face that broke into a smile, she started to step forward as she looked at the man,

"Professional, strange word for what this is. It sort of takes the fun out of it, though if it is fireworks, I must say I am second to none in putting on a show. Though I hope it is not too short, we would not want the crowd to be too terribly disappointed."

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Mad Dog bowed to the clay warrior, smirking a bit beneath his mask. "Looks like you'll be a challenge. My first real fight against a paranormal. I hope you're ready for me, 'cuz I sure am. I still have a thing or two against you guys. I did Marine training, but I kept with it. I'd be tempted to say I'm fairly badass, but I try to be humble. I'm sure your fists will hurt if they connect."

He seemed to disappear into thin air.

"You'll have to find me first, clay man."

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"Well, what can I say," said Bastion, shrugging his shoulders. "My line of work, we were trained to strike hard and fast, minimum of mess. Carried it over when I put on the fights -- figuratively speaking. Wouldn't be caught dead in spandex. But, I've got to admit -- "

The psychic locked eyes with Changeling, and a force bore down on her with the ferocity of a freight train. It hit dead center, sending the young illusionist reeling back.

" -- fireworks make a pretty show, but it's the mortars you've gotta watch out for."

---

Red Rook scanned the arena for Mad Dog, but seemed unable to find him. "I have received training as well," he said. "Somewhat less formal. Boxing, grappling, improvised weapons. You learn from experience after dealing with enough would-be toughs and skinheads." He turned in all directions. "I have spent very long as a statue, and I can afford to spend a little longer. Come at me, then, when you think you're ready."

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'Totem'? Oh boy, this could be interesting.

The arena was resplendent. Glorious. If not for her matching start, she would take pictures and make sketches! First things first however. She did chuckle a little at the 'style' Fulcrum apparently studied. Wasn't sure if that information should be alarming or amusing really.

Fulcrum bowed to their host and Totem. Popping her neck, she dropped into a boxing stance. She smiled and replied warmly, "Love to!" but didn't let her guard down. At the word, she calmly broke into action!

The list of possible tactics cycled through her mind. Totem suggested someone either a) based on an object/animal or B) someone with lots of powers, perhaps a mimic. Which meant she should be wary for surprises. This match wasn't going to be a straight-up slug fest. If the tiers matched by ability, Totem no doubt brought a lot of raw power to the table. Excellent.

Opening move decided, Fulcrum shifted the flow of power within her. Lately, the control felt almost intuitive, like solving a puzzle. The arena slowed down to a crawl, the roar of the crowd a bass din. She zoomed forward an inch off the ground, broke right at a 90 degree angle and swept in hard using her momentum to launch a powerful middle roundhouse kick to Totem's left flank.

Even with her eyes momentarily off her opponent, her cosmic senses watched every motion from the superheroine.

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Mad Dog slowed his breathing, despite his heart racing at what felt like mach speed. Okay...gotta stay calm. I can't let him know he's got an advantage. He padded silently around the room. At least he can't see me, so I'm safe now. The guy probably isn't stupid, but as I recall, golems aren't exactly known for being rocket scientists. If I miss this hit, I'll have to try some scare tactics. Let's just hope he isn't as stony on the inside.

He snuck behind the mighty golem, and grinned a little beneath his mask. Taking a deep breath, he channeled his mighty strength into a massive punch that made his arm shake. ...let's hope as well I don't have to reset my own arm.

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Just after the kick connected, Fulcrum sensed the blow knocked her for a loop. Her momentum spun her around, and her follow-up jabs sped right for Totem's chest! Unfortunately, the giantess misjudged how quickly her opponent would recover. The punches lashed out and back in a split second but only hit air! The air snapped from the speed and power of the punches!

She's quick. Very quick.

Her face carefully neutral, Fulcrum kept a wary eye (and super sense) on her opponent as she slipped into the familiar rhythm of combat. That Totem survived her fist hit meant something. Perhaps it meant this fight would be a good one. From the sounds from the stands, the audience approved.

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Bastion watched as Etain reeled from the telekinetic blast. "Bit hard, was that?" he said, honestly curious. "Sorry; usually used to playing for keeps." He raised his hands this time, the air seeming to bend around them. "I'll try something a bit more gentle this time. Hope you don't mind." He thrust his hands out, and the distorted pulse rocketed towards Changeling... but missed by a country mile, wrapping itself around the far wall of the arena briefly before blinking into nonexistence.

"Hmm. Bit strong a touch, there."

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Changeling head was spinning from the first hit, but she recovered enough to see and move so the rocket buzzed right by her. She looked at her opponent with a narrow gaze,

"You know, I do not believe, I have faced someone as strong as yourself as of yet. I might have to work a little harder."

Looking at her wrists, she glanced at the binding set by the school. She had been working sometimes in her spare time and figured a good way to remove it at least partly but kept it fully intact for good faith towards the workers at the school. However, given the circumstances, perhaps a little wiggle room was required. Reaching onto it, she focused for a second, and reached out physically gripping the binding and pulling it outward. She felt almost instantly a lift from the restriction and pushed her powers invisible over her new range before grinning quietly and disappearing on the spot.

"Now than, where were we?"

The voice echoed from everywhere and than suddenly a fireball rained down from the sky onto Bastion.

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Totem dodged Fulcrum's onslaught and remained rooted on the spot, shutting her eyes as if entering into a state of meditation. She opened them... and now they were a steely grey color. Her costume began to shift as well, changing scale by scale from white to other colors - black, lined with blue, with gold lightning bolts crossing at the shoulders. Her mask shifted to similar heraldry.

"Anvil," she said as if repeating a mantra. "St. Louis, Missouri. Storm manipulation."

A bolt of lightning surged down from the clear skies of Tian, the thunderclap nearly knocking the audience out of their seats. The lightning struck Fulcrum dead on, charging through her and charring the marble beneath.

---

Mad Dog's strike found home, driving into the hard outer shell of Red Rook and finding some purchase in the soft clay beneath. The golem grunted in pain -- a sensation that must have been rare to it, as it also seemed somewhat bemused by the situation. "Stronger than you look," he said. "Amazing. For one who has never fought the strange... you learn fast."

---

Bastion shook off the onslaught from Changeling's fire and began scanning the arena, trying to find her. "Not bad," he said. "Met a man in Cairo who preferred to put you in a hall of mirrors. Him, you, and 99 other versions of him. Like that old movie, Lady from Shanghai." He threw out another blast of telekinetic force that caused a wall a good twenty feet from Changeling to explode. "Pretty good film, though I imagine it must've been frustrating for that PI."

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There was a laugh that echoed throughout the stage at the psychic's anecdote. The resounding voice from no particular direction kept up.

"Sounds very interesting, but neither a hundred or a thousand of him can hardly compete with one of me. I can certianly do something of that nature, but I do prefer to keep things more are efficient."

It didn't take but a thought, nor a handwave, he was in her range, and his senses in her grasp. So she removed the powers he used earlier just as easily as she had turned invisible.

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Fulcrum knew something bad when she heard it. Just invoking the name "Anvil" suggested a hammer. Her cosmic sense pinged a powerful surge of energy straight above her, but she didn't have time to react. Well played, Totem.

Her vision went white and her hearing a high-pitched whine as the lightning conducted through her. If her wits had been about her, she'd muse on the painful tingling and sensation of rapid micro-contractions of all of her muscles, effectively paralyzing her. The list of attacks launched at her grew pretty large over the years, but being hit by lightning was a new one. Later she'd decide she didn't like lightning.

Thankfully her quantum vision proved operative. Totem no doubt would launch another attack at the opening. She willed her body to move, but functionally knew she was completely vulnerable. Felt like Gigantosaur sat on her!

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The impact of the hit caused his knuckles to crack, which made him a little nervous. As the clay gave way beneath his fist, he pulled it back in surprise. He was almost shocked by how strange the clay felt beneath his fist. "Thank you, Red Rook. It's really not a matter of being good- although that helps. It's really more knowing what to do next." Taking advantage of his opponent's reaction to the pain, he braced his knuckles for another impact.

"Being a badass does help, though." He held his arm back, and threw it forward, and he grunted with the exertion of the punch.

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