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A hand dropped, two men screamed at each other, and they came together, limbs blurring as they struck and blocked and parried and countered. It was an amazing display of physicality, martial prowess, and controlled fury. Controlled, because when the man in the blue robe stuck the flat of his hand into the neck of the man in the orange robe, they both froze. The referee shouted, the men separated and bowed, and a few of the more knowledgeable spectators applauded.

 

Tona Baudin was one of them. She had been especially interested in the arm-lock the tai chi master had attempted, and the way the snake-style specialist had slipped out of it almost bonelessly. Her eyes glittered in anticipation as she looked at the next few fights coming up on the docket. She hadn't even know this martial arts tournament existed a month ago, until her friend Mali mentioned that she was going to watch. In just a couple of weeks though, the young archer had become obsessed with the idea. A place where she could see all sorts of fighting styles on display, measured against each other? It was a thrilling notion to her, and she had waited impatiently for it.

 

Tona wasn't happy that she was restricted to sitting in the bleachers, but registration had closed months ago. She had eventually, reluctantly, agreed that her own style was too wilde and improvisational to be judged in formal competition, but that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy what she was seeing.This was her Super Bowl, her World Cup, her PAX, all rolled into on, and Tona was determined to take in as much as she could.

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Cassandra was wondering how she had managed to get herself mixed up in this mess as she fiddled with the gloves on her hands, sitting on the sidelines waiting for her turn.  She had been trying out different gyms throughout the area attempting to refine her skills as a fighter, her first was greco-roman wresting, and she had now started taking up karate as well.  It was a basic hard-style of martial art, meaning one met an attacker's force with force of their own, rather than trying to deflect or absorb the blow.  She had been well in her training, quite well as a matter of fact.  Even without her powers, there were very few people who could match her physical power, and her technique had been refined over the past few months. 

Her sensei however felt that Cassandra's over confidence in her fists of iron made her overlook her feet of lead.  So he had signed her up for this tournament, hoping that some competition would help her focus on the gaps in her training.  Cassandra would have liked to think that she would've just gotten the message by watching the competition, but perhaps her sensei thought she was more stubborn that that.  Her expression soured as she internally admitted he was probably right. 

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Mali would have liked to join the tournament, but she decided against it. The chief reason was that she was so used to real combat that she legitimately feared hurting people in the ring, or holding back so much she would be beaten easily or injured herself. Her fights tended to end when she disabled her foe, not just to points. Muay Thai fights were already rough as it was, and she was rougher still. She didn't trust herself to hold back the right amount between fighting all out and playful sparring.

The show, however, was awesome. People of varying styles testing their skills. Mali observed things she'd never seen in person before. She was glad she'd had someone to go with, too. Someone who could at least understand her enthusiasm for this sort of competition. Her other friends might be willing to come along, but Tona was the one she thought would enjoy it the most.

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The door to the locker room opened and a woman carrying a clipboard began walking through the prep area. “Cassandra Steel? Is there a Cassie Steel?” Once the fight coordinator caught sight of the doctor, she waved half-heartedly with the clipboard. “Five minutes. You’re up on Mat 2.” The woman left without asking if Cassie was ready or not.

Tona checked the program she had in her hands. “Karate students are up next,” she said. “Cassandra Steel and Jon Yu. I wish they’d skip the amateur stuff. There’s a wushu fight on the docket and I don’t want to miss that, but if these fights are over too fast then I’ll be caught in the bathroom when it starts.” She shifted uneasily on the bench, crossing her legs.

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Cassandra just nodded as her name was called, her throat having gone dry.  She had walked into this thinking that she'd have no problems going out on the stage, after all, she had given plenty of lectures to full auditoriums before.  Only now, instead of talking, she was going to be punching people in the face, also attempting to not get punched herself.  Thinking on it, Cassie realized that the two had almost nothing in common.  Her nerves did start to even out as she made her way out of the locker room and towards Mat 2 however.  She was used to physical combat after all, it was just the style of combat and the given arena that was making her stomach do belly flops.  She spent the last minute or two outside of the ring stretching and loosening up, sizing up their opponent.  She tried to keep her eyes off the crowd, she wanted to keep her focus. 

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GM

 

The speakers turned on with an audible click as one of the announcers leaned in to his mic. "On mat two," he announced, "Cassandra Steel and Jon Yu. Karate." Across the mat from Cassie, Jon Yu was a few inches taller than the doctor, dressed in a white gi edged in blue. He had a white glove on his left hand and a red glove on the right, and she saw him exchanging a last few words with a much older Chinese gentleman wearing casual clothes. He came across the mat, keeping his eyes locked on Cassie's even as the referee gave a short summation of the rules, and as soon as the fight began he was coming after her. His fists moved quickly, trying to force Cassie back and herding her towards one of the edges of the mat.

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Having not been in a proper competition like this before, Cassandra made sure to listen to the referee as he set the ground rules.  As a result however, her competitor got a much quicker jump on her than she expected, as he showed no hesitation about being in the fight.  They exchanged blows for a few moment with Cassandra always being a half step behind Jon Yu, before Jon Yu was able to land a clean chop just below Cassandra's ribs.  A quick bark from the referee stopped the fight as Jon Yu was awarded the first point. 

During the reset, Cassandra visibly refocused herself, and as she took her stance again in the center of the ring, it seemed quite a bit sharper.  This time when the referee signaled the new round, Cassandra was able to keep pace with Jon Yu, forcefully deflecting his blows away, upsetting his balance and slowing down his tempo.  Before long, Cassandra countered one of Jon's thrusts with an elbow block, and followed immediately with an uraken strike to Jon Yu's chest, tying the match. 

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GM

 

The karate fight went back and forth. John Yu and Cassie Steel were obviously very closely skilled, and the match wavered back and forth between them. Eventually, after several hard minutes and with forearms aching from blocking so many strikes, Cassie was awarded her victory. The referee held up her hand as the decision was called out, and there was a smattering of applause as she and Yu bowed to each other one last time.

As she stumbled off the mat and a team with a mop rushed in to clean the sweat for the next batch, a man approached Cassie. He was wearing a badly-tailed suit, oily hair, and mirrored sunglasses. He smiled too widely as he approached her. "Cassandra Steel? That was an excellent fight. You showed a lot of spirit. Could you spare a minute to talk to me?" He held out a business card for her, a thick piece of white cardboard with the word Lanista embossed on the surface in flowery script.

In the stands, Tona hadn't seen the end of the fight. She had retreated to the bathroom a few passes before the end, and so Mali was sitting alone when a woman in a grey suit and a severe haircut climbed up to her. "Hello there," she said. "I have to say, I've been watching you watch the fights, and you look like a woman who knows her fights. Do you have a minute to talk?" She held out a business card that only had a single, embossed word on it: Lanista.

Edited by Raveled

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Cassandra's heart was thumping loudly in her chest, matching her panted breathing as she walked off the mat.  While she was a bit sore, she was sporting a rather large grin, happy to have her first win at an actual competition, and without her powers to boot.  She had downed about half of a nearby water bottle when this strange fellow made his introductions.  Cassie took the card from the gentleman wordlessly and turned it over in her hands a few times.  She got a bit of a skeevy vibe off of this guy, but she was surrounded by a bunch of trained martial artists and a whole crowd of spectators so it's not like he was going to try to pull anything.  "Alright, let's hear your pitch then." said Cassie after a moment's contemplation.  She figured she would probably wind up shooting this guy down, but it never hurt to just hear them out.  Besides she wasn't scheduled for her next match for at least 25 minutes. 

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Mali took the card with suspicion. Who was this person, and why did they approach her? It seemed a bit odd especially given her extracurricular activities. She listened to the woman, but was a little on edge. People aren't normally that bold when it came to things like that. Then again, Mali's eye was more critical than many, and she was obviously in good shape. So, she listened. 

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GM

The man's smile never wavered. "I represent certain media interests, Mz. Steel," he said. "After seeing you fight here today, I feel certain that my employer would interested in offering you a position in our firm. We have competitive rate structures and benefits packages; travel, lodging, and retirement packages are available to high-performers. I'm sure you will never get a better offer when it comes to fighting."


"I represent a certain firm," the woman said to Mali, folding her hands in front of her. "We are interested in licensing consultants of different fighting styles. You would be required to evaluate different fighters, and gauge their skill level and ferocity." She paused and added "If you would be interested, I can set up an interview in very little time for you to meet with my superior, and we can discuss some solid numbers."

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Cassandra felt just a little bad for this guy, just a little mind you.  "Aw honey, you should do a bit more research on your potential picks before making your introduction." she replied with a rather condescending smirk on her face.  "If you did, you'd know that the offer of money wouldn't sway me."  she added with a shrug.  "Better luck trying to recruit someone else." she added as she turned around to start heading back to the locker room to prep to for the next round.  She couldn't shake the feeling that she had heard the term Lanista before, but she couldn't remember any organization with that name.  Perhaps it was a start up and that's why they didn't have much in the way of professional scouting? 

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Mali wondered exactly what the point was, the product. That was assuming anyone knew she knew martial arts. Publicly, Mali Benjawan was just a young Thai woman living in Freedom City, NJ. She had no tournament record, was registered with no martial arts organizations of note, and was technically an amateur practitioner. With that in mind, she was an obviously muscular young woman watching a martial arts tournament with a critical eye. This person probably noticed that, at least.

"What sort of styles are you looking for evaluation on?" She said. 

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GM

 

The man didn’t seem turned off by Cassie’s words, in fact his smile never wavered. Increasingly it wasn't even like a smile, more like a flesh-mask drawn over whatever was underneath. “Please, miss, at least take my employer’s card!” He forced the rectangle of cardboard into Cassie’s hand. “If you have a change of mind, don’t hesitate to call.”

Up in the stands, the woman in the suit was similarly expressionless when talking to Mali. “My employer is expecting something more like -- I think the term is ‘mixed martial arts’?” The woman put her head to one side. “A more freeform enterprise, not strictly keeping to one school of martial arts. And so we wouldn’t be expecting you to speak on a specific style, but more the overall ability of the different fighters. You look like a woman who’s very knowledgeable about this sort of thing.”

Edited by Raveled

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Cassandra took the card more to be rid of the increasingly persistent and creepy recruiter than anything else, trying to force a smile onto her face, but faltering; something was really just unsettling about this guy.  "Yeah, I'll do that... thanks...?" replied Cassandra as she started to back away from the man, slowly turning the card over in her hands.  She wandered back to the more populated areas, hoping now that she had taken the card, Mr. Creepshow would stop following her.  She had to wonder though, why was she singled out.  They were still very early on in the competition, how most of the field ranked with one another was still quite debatable.  Did he know more than he was letting on?  That was a distressing thought, and one that may warrant further investigation, so Cassandra pocketed the card, before trying to refocus her mind on the next match.

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