Once in the middle of the gym, Sakura squeed and then covered her mouth. It was one of the coolest places she had ever seen in her entire life. She had no idea what Bede’s problem was. There was sparring going on all over between people with all sorts of amazing powers. Most of it she could make sense of, and it was all awesome. Animatronic training dummies, psychic exercise equipment, shooting galleries. The spoons, though, she lingered by and was very confused. She picked one of the larger ones up and held it, studying it for a moment, the reflection of her face distorted by the concave part of the spoon. ”...Weird!”
She said. ”What the heck is this spoon for?”
She wondered aloud, glancing to see what people might be doing with them.
Snatching up a dumbbell on a borderline subconscious level, she lifted it as she jogged around, craning her neck. She was thirty feet up on a climbing wall, somehow doing it while lifting, when she turned and watched an amazing 1v3 spar go down. Like a moth to a flame she dropped from the significant height and landed lightly, racking the dumbbell and sprinting over to ‘ringside.’
During one of their breaks, she let out her excitement with a loud ‘wow.’ ”You’re really strong!”
Sakura said to the man fending off three attackers at once. Her fists were clenched by her chin and her eyes were practically sparkling.
The soldiers’ practice bout, already winding down after a furious but brief exchange between the gathered combatants, came to an end when Sakura approached. The tall man relaxed his stance and straightened up, a polite smile on his face despite the weariness of many years in his eyes. “Well, thanks. When my friend’s lives are on the line, I can’t afford to slack off training a single day. Still, I could be a lot better, and I don't have long to get there.” Behind him, the well-built brothers with their matching blonde poofs of hair gladly took the chance for a break, their chests heaving as they went for some water. The lady, meanwhile, looked even more worn out, and she couldn’t help but roll her eyes at Sakura’s literal wide-eyed enthusiasm as she turned away.
For a brief moment the last soldier’s gaze rested on Sakura. Then he spoke again in that same deep, measured tone. “I guess I’m what you’d call a regular here, but I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Welcome to Anistar Gym, miss.” He extended his hand to shake. “My name’s Gemma. Gemma Garrison. As you probably guessed, I’m with Psych-OSF. Vodelo Platoon.” He glanced back over his shoulders at the others. “My gym buddies here are Chris, Pat, and Anya. If I’m strong, it’s because people like them were kind enough to help me get there.”
“Especially considering I’m a sharpshooter, not a brawler,” Anya muttered. She sat down in front of a nearby fan to rest, her black hair flapping in the breeze.
Sakura went into a bow, but corrected at the last second and went for a handshake instead, her fighting gloved hand clasping with his. Grinning, she made sure to give him a nice firm handshake! For a moment she considered if this might interfere with her plan to go incognito at Psych-OSF, but, the thought passed quickly. ”Pleased to meet you, everyone! My name’s Sakura.”
She bowed to everyone, quickly, like a spring. This Gemma guy spoke her language. It was only through training with others that people could get stronger! Especially rivals. (Though Sakura always enjoyed an easy win.)”Your metal skin technique is so cool! Would you wanna fight with me?”
Sakura asked earnestly. Street fighters were just that- she played it loose with the rules and Sakura’s idea of ‘sparring’ was closer to what most people think of as ‘fighting.’
Gemma put one hand on his hip, a little surprised by the out-of-the-blue offer even if his face barely changed. “Oh, you like my sclerokinesis? It’s really nothing special, but if you’re down for a friendly spar, I see no reason to refuse.” Over to the side, the twins seemed taken aback. They put their water bottles down in a hurry and headed over to spread out around an area in the corner, loosely outlining the prospective area the two fighters had to work with. Other nearby gym patrons followed suit, interested in seeing the newcomer who’d arrived and challenged Gemma Garrison right off the bat.
The man himself, however, barely noticed. If anything, he seemed a little annoyed. To him this exchange simply wasn’t a big deal. Perhaps the small crowd gathered just to see what he and Sakura could do, but if they wanted some big spectacle they’d leave disappointed. This was just your everyday sparring session. There were no stakes, and there would be neither winner nor loser; if anything, Gemma hoped that both would come away a little better for having tested their skills. Ignoring the onlookers, he took up a spot in the center of the area. Having noticed Sakura attempt a bow earlier, he extended her the same courtesy, then raised his fists. With padded training gloves on, the chances of anyone getting hurt were low. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Sakura eagerly returned the bow. ”Yeah! Let’s go!”
With a snappy movement she settled into her bouncy fighting position. ”Don’t hold back!”
She said. To get things started, and to tell him of her own special abilities, she gathered some ki between her hands and unleashed it towards Gemma.”Hadoken!”
If it happened to miss, it was a short range fireball, so it wouldn’t travel outside the ring, instead dissipating into a pleasantly warm flicker before disappearing completely. Sakura did it without thinking. She was used to fighting with an audience.
Her fireball was bright and flashy, but it moved in a linear fashion. Gemma sidestepped it without ceremony, his calm gaze moving subtly constantly between his opponent’s face and limbs to get build up familiarity with her patterns of motion. Rather than move toward her to attack, he held his ground.
Sakura wasn’t in a hurry yet- she was happy to control space. The threat of fireballs could make an opponent make a hasty move. This time, she aimed her fireball at the ground. ”Dodge this!”
It exploded in a small area of effect, wider than a sidestep. It would collide with his knees on hit and shove him back even on block. She did this a couple more times, varying her timing, before she spent a moment to charge up a bigger fireball. Now she was gonna unleash this bad boy and follow after it to begin her offensive pressure.
Her adversary, however, had his wits about him. When he saw her aim in a way that obviously wouldn’t hit him, he predicted an explosion of some kind, and moved farther than normal to avoid the blasts. The first time he still got clipped, which for a brief moment affected his poise, but after that he moved clear each time, advancing just a little each time. Once Sakura realized this wasn’t working and changed tactics again, Gemma noticed her increased charge, then readied himself when it blazed his way.
He lunged forward, activating his Sclerokinesis. A dark, gunmetal-gray coating covered his body, its metallic sheen extending even to his head., creating a four-eyed, mask-like barrier. With complete armor he blew straight through the enhanced fireball, not even taking chip damage, to knock Sakura back with a back-turned shoulder slam, evocative of bajiquan.
Seeing her big fireball get burst aside like that made her heart skip a beat. ”Oof!”
Sakura stumbled backward, squinting one eye shut. That was a familiar feeling! She let herself fall to roll to her feet.
Although his gamble had paid off, Gemma wasn’t about to let the thrill of victory overtake him. With his ability already disabled again, he returned to his defensive stance a respectful distance from Sakura to let her get up. That she hadn’t gotten the wind knocked out of her from an impact like that, even restrained to sparring levels, told him that she was no ordinary fighter.
Sakura began strafing at the same distance, watching Gemma. ”I guess you can’t do that metal thing forever, huh?”
She said hopefully. Though her physical punches were typically stronger than her fireballs, she was hesitant to start punching steel attached to a strong fighter.
“Not forever,” Gemma conceded, never taking his eyes off the girl. “But I try to make the most of it.” He kept himself ready, patiently waiting for another opening.
Sakura rubbed her nose. ”Cool! I can kinda do something like that.”
She said, thinking about her Focus Attack. Noting how defensive he was playing, she slapped the sides of her head. ”Okay, here I come!”
She ran forward, closing the gap. She stopped dead in her tracks and shot out her leg in a light kick towards his shin. It had a deceptively far range. Then she moved in to jam her elbow into his chest, a move that really let her put the pressure on even if blocked. Gemma was roughly a foot taller than Sakura, but if she let that get in her way she’d never have gotten anywhere.
When Sakura went on the offensive, Gemma stood firm. Her kick went faster and farther than he might have expected, so rather than attempt to retreat he blocked it as best he could. His opponent followed up to lay on the pressure, but Gemma had no intention of letting her run her game plan. Sclerokinesis flared up again, and he armored through her attacks to check her with a swift blow to the solar plexus. Before dispelling his power again, he followed up with a hook to chase Sakura away.
Sakura got lower when she felt Sclerokinesis activate again, and she attempted to return fire with her own Focus Attack. The strike against her solar plexus seemed to get absorbed by the black streaks of ink that formed around her. ”Hooah!”
She went upwards for a knee up into his ribs. If that didn’t work she’d be hovering in the air for a moment, slightly above Gemma’s eye level, her Focus Attack over and the ink gone.
Though his mask didn’t communicate it, Gemma found himself pretty surprised when Sakura managed to completely soak a couple strikes of her own. She then retaliated explosively wreathed in stylish furls of ink, but to her chagrin Gemma’s power nullified it all. The maneuver left her overextended, and her opponent retaliated with a simple grab to snatch her out of the air and chuck her away. ”Bwah!”
He went for distance rather than impact, sending her rolling along the foam mats as far as he could within the confines of this makeshift arena. Well before she drew close to the feet of the onlookers, he’d shut off Sclerokinesis once more.
When Sakura sat up, the twin tails of her bandana fluttered annoyingly in her face before she dismissed them both with a frenzied wave. With a frustrated sigh she was up on her feet again. ”You really like that one.”
Sakura said. At this point, she just wanted to get him to activate it without hitting her. She advanced again, arms up, shuffling unpredictably in and out of combat range. She began to work her way in with quick kicks and jabs. She feinted a couple of medium punches and kicks. If she could get close enough, she could try to snatch his wrist and hook her ankle behind his leg and throw him clean off his feet. That move of his didn’t seem to enhance his strength or weight.
Gemma tightened up his guard as Sakura really began to move. Had she already grasped the shortcoming of his power? Well, she’d still have to execute on it. He faced off with her barrage of speedy, noncommittal moves, using only his normal block and his range advantage to give and take a handful of insignificant blows. At last she wound up for a stronger strike, and Gemma instinctively braced for a counterattack with Sclerokinesis, but nothing came. In a flash the metallic sheen disappeared again, revealing eyes that said I know what you’re up to.
He backpedaled slowly, trying to keep her at range where he had the advantage, then suddenly switched things up. If she’d already gotten used to his reactionary style, she might not expect a lunging one-two-three. Gemma made sure to commit hard on that final uppercut–then activate Sclerokinesis unprovoked to flummox this bantam’s revenge.
Sakura had him backpedaling and was looking to capitalize with an attack to his legs, but she was ready for the surge forward. His type always did that. She raised her front hand and used it to guide the three hit combo away from her even as she slid backwards, her guard sparking with blue energy. The big uppercut came in and Sakura braced against it. For a moment his uppercut hung in the air, and his metal power activated once more. Sakura didn’t bite. She was, after all, looking for the throw in the first place. ”Oops!”
She grabbed his shoulder and cross him across her thigh, flipping him heels over head onto the ground.”Phew! Gotcha that time.”
Sakura said, dusting her hands. That felt good! Normally she would be all over him while he tried to get up, but it didn’t seem like he was looking for that kind of fight. So she let him get up, too. She did a quick glance around to see if any of her friends were watching the fight.
Gemma rose, dispelling Sclerokinesis as he did. While his power negated damage from the fall, the fact that he got grabbed in the first place impressed him enough. The average fighter would have either panicked or jumped at her first chance for a punish when faced with a bulwark onslaught, but Sakura did not. He clearly wasn’t the only one taking the time to think things through. Facing Sakura once more, he gave her a short but respectful nod, acknowledging that he’d gotten too frisky and she’d gotten the better of him. At the same time, he didn’t plan to let it happen again, if he could help it. Gemma raised his arms and began to advance in defensive posture, one half-step at a time. This time his hands were open.
Sakura shuffled on her sneakers, advancing forward a step before strafing back and to the side, galloping around the mat. Feeling cheeky, she ended up just striding forward and looked to throw him again, going to grab his shoulder and twist him off his feet.
Content to let her Sakura spend her energy, though he guessed she could probably go a lot harder a lot longer than this, Gemma watched and waited. After a few moments his opponent came right for him and reached out to grab his torso. Gemma reached back, trying to catch the offending forearm before it reached him in the grip of the opposite hand. Then Sclerokinesis would activate, turning his grasp into an ironclad death grip, and the soldier stepped forward–onto Sakura’s foot, to stop her from getting away, should she manage to break his grip anyway. The next moment his shoulder collided with her body, and both went to the ground. Rather than immediately let his sparring partner go after the grapple, Gemma just stayed there, pinning her down while -unbeknownst to her- the last third of his Sclerokinesis ticked away.
Sakura avoided his counter grab easily enough, but she yelped out as her foot was stepped on. ”Owie!”
Then she grunted as she was tackled to the ground. It took her a moment to suck in a quick breath, and she realized he wasn’t going to let her get up this time! Even though she just let him
get up!”Okay, fine!”
She said, annoyed. Wrestling wasn’t exactly her specialty, but she knew how to escape. She planted her feet on the ground and balled her fists together, sticking them against his midsection and pushing away. She pushed and quickly wiggled to get out from under him.
Gemma would have thought a pin like this would be the clincher against a markedly smaller, lighter opponent, but this girl somehow possessed enough strength that her ‘plan’ of just pushing him off might actually work. Intriguing. Without a grasp on her arm, he couldn’t go for a hold, and seeing as he didn’t actually want to pummel her while she was down or try to choke her out, Gemma changed tactics. Before Sakura could slip away he rolled off her, disengaging Sclerokinesis.
He stood to a fresh round of murmurs from the onlookers, who wondered why Gemma’s takedown had failed. Of course, they hadn’t experienced Sakura’s uncanny strength for themselves, and once up the soldier dropped his guard. “That’s probably good enough,” he announced, even though that led to some disappointment among the watchers at how inconclusive the sparring match had been. “I have to hand it to you, you’re pretty capable. I’ve definitely got what most would say is an unfair advantage, but you’re strong enough to make do. Without getting a little too serious for a friendly spar, we’re probably at a stalemate. Not much we can do.”
This is why Sakura was a Street Fighter and not a Safe Fighter. She felt annoyed and confused about the etiquette of ‘getting too serious.’ The disappointment of the crowd was ten fold in her heart. She clenched her fists and widened her stance, animated. ”Then maybe we should get serious! Come on, tap out or knock out, let’s fight for real! I’ve been holding back too, y’know!”
Gemma ran a hand through his hair, not so sure about this. Sparring was risky business in general; the tendency for things to escalate wildly after only a blow or two was well-documented. It was why he took pains with Sclerokinesis to make sure he himself took no damage during practice fights, as well as sparring in a manner that would ensure he didn’t run out. No doubt that’s what the growing crowd, now whispering about the possibility of a real match, wanted to see. Gemma didn’t care what they thought, but he did want to give a good account of himself, and it seemed that Sakura did as well.
It was now that Raz wandered his way inside the gym, attracted to where everyone else’s attention seemed to be: a sparring match between Sakura and, it looked like, another Psych-OSF member. ”Geez, those guys are everywhere,”
After a couple moments, Gemma cracked his neck to one side, then the other. “If that’s what you really want,” he replied. He couldn’t deny that he wanted to see more from this surprising girl as well, even if he didn’t enjoy the act of fighting. “If you’ll give me about thirty seconds to get ready, I’ll fight with you.” He removed his padded mitts, designed for the purpose of all but negating damage, and donned his battle gloves, simple as they were. “I won’t use SAS, though.”
Sakura stood up straight again, giving him his thirty seconds and setting her hands on her hips. Now the smile had returned. ”I don’t know what SAS is, but don’t hold back. I mean it.”
Sakura said. ”I’m ready when you are.”
She said, doing a few stretches while she waited.
Her declaration sent a fresh ripple of murmurs through the spectators, who by now had formed into a decent crowd. They took the form of a big circle giving the fighters a wide berth, trading excited -and worried- whispers.
“No way, Gemma’s actually going to fight someone?”
“You mean he’s not just sitting there and countering for a change?”
“She didn’t just say he could use SAS, did she? Ohh, boy.”
“Wait, who’s in his platoon, again?”
“Who is this girl? She’s got guts!”
“Oh man, this is going to be a slaughter.”
“Hey, someone go and get some jelly. Just…you know, in case.”
“This can’t be allowed, right?””Kick his butt, Sakura!”
Sakura grinned at the crowd, ready to put on a show. She waved at Raz.
Gemma ignored them. “It’s a little noisy here,” he said to Sakura, his face mildly apologetic. He then took a deep breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth. When his eyes opened, something happened, although Sakura couldn’t quite see what. Behind him, imaginary cables the width of soda cans appeared from the ether, their near ends rounded with sharp prongs on the ends. Their other ends extended out into nothing, seemingly fading out mid-air. After a brief moment they stabbed -or perhaps plugged- into Gemma’s back with enough force to jerk his torso from side to side, like he’d been shot. That motion was all non-psychics could see, however. The soldier inhaled deeply one more time just as his sclerokinesis refilled to max. “I’ll make this quick.”
The Street Fighter wasn’t intimidated. She was happy to get a sense of someone’s awesome power, even though she felt like she was missing out due to not being a psychic. Sakura bowed one more time. ”Pleased to meet you! For real, this time!”
“Ready?” the twins from earlier called in sync. “...Go!”
Gemma hardened his arm, and dropped to one knee to strike the ground beneath him. “Hrrah!” Beneath him the whole floor shook slightly, and a shockwave of force rolled out in Sakura’s direction. Gemma sprang forward from his trackstarter stance, charging toward her with massive strides.
Sakura felt the shockwave coming and met it with a fireball of her own. It exploded, clashing with the shockwave and dispersing both. Sakura dashed forward, but before she met Gemma’s charge, she ducked to the side and shot out a crouching kick towards Gemma’s calf, looking to trip him up. And of course, it would just be a solid hit to get started with.
Her leg struck true–for all the good that did, and if she followed up her low starter on instinct, that would only make things worse. Even if the man’s opening haymaker completely whiffed, Sclerokinesis absorbed what would have otherwise been a counter hit, and Gemma replied with a revolving axe kick to stomp down on Sakura overhead. With his armor in place and his only possible fear a grab, he never needed to stop attacking, so he unleashed a barrage of advancing punches and kicks. The air around him buffeted Sakura as he moved, turned even near-misses into a heart-pumping affair.
Sakura was ready, and quickly retracted her leg as fast as it went out, balancing on her other foot just long enough to step out of the way of the revolving axe kick. She raised her fists and blocked and dodged the barrage of attacks, gritting her teeth as she back pedaled. There was some gray damage building up. Making a read she channeled fluid chi through her body and activated V-Shift. On one of his mighty punches, the world seemed to slow down and darken as her body glowed and left a vivid trail of sparkling blue energy in its wake. She stepped back cleanly. ”Saw it!”
With him advancing, she didn’t need to worry about closing the gap. She snatched his wrist and shoulder with both hands and turned into him. Though she could do it even if he was pulling away, his momentum would allow her to easily carry him over her shoulder and fling him down hard into the ground. The impact would require bystanders to have to regain their footing.
“Need a hand, Gisu.” ”Easy!”
She rolled her shoulders and advanced on him, looking to harass him with kicks and jabs.
Gemma stopped before he hit the ground, levitating in the air in a somersault-like spin. After half a rotation he extended an upside-down kick trade with Sakura’s opening attack, and with Sclerokinesis still active his head took no damage, while hers got a solid boot. “Borrowing this,” he muttered. Beneath him a trampoline manifested from psychic energy. He fell into it, bounced up, and came down with a back-facing heel drop into a shoulder slam combo. Before Sclerokinesis could run out he switched it off manually, but his two other borrowed abilities remained active. He backed into a trampoline summoned vertically behind him and used it like the ropes of a wrestling ring to cannon himself after Sakura again. A mighty dropkick flew the girl’s way, made safer -and far longer-ranged- by the power of Levitation. ”Guh!”
As she punched downwards, she thought it would be safe. But her face was smooshed to the side as the big boot collided. Reeling, she pinwheeled her arms as she backstepped, only to get hit twice by the heel drop into shoulder slam. Sakura fell backwards and hit the ground, transitioning into a back roll just in time to see the drop kick coming. She jumped up into the air, trying to go straight over it, her arms out to the side as she pulled her legs in.
Sakura managed to avoid the dropkick, not that surprising. After twisting enough to make sure he’d land on his feet, Gemma allowed himself to fall, right onto a diagonally-angled trampoline. He bounced after his opponent, albeit at a lower angle. How high he actually bounced didn’t matter if he could just lock in his desired height with Levitation again, after all. Barely a moment after she landed, he’d be on her again. This time he unleashed movie-style bicycle kicks, striking again and again in rapid succession while sliding through the air.
Intuitively, Sakura understood the power of the bounce, and knew that with this new aggressive fight style Gemma would be coming in for another attack. As he came in for his bicycle kick, she didn’t flinch and cover her head, or leap out of the way. In a move she thought was rather bold, she converted the bending knees of her falling from her jump into a roll, forward, into Gemma. Curling into a ball she aimed to slip underneath the kick and avoid the assault. When she rose, she fired off a fast moving fireball at his back. ”Hadoken!”
Rather than face the windmill of kicks, Gemma’s opponent swerved beneath it, moving right into his blind spot. He grunted, figuring he’d gotten too fancy. While he didn’t fancy a free hit to his back, he couldn’t use Sclerokinesis again just yet without bottoming out, so as he cut off Levitation to skid to a stop he took the fireball. It did damage, but only a little; in truth he barely felt it, thanks in part to his military-grade body armor. He pivoted around into a side-facing stance to get a bead on Sakura, but rather than let her gain momentum Gemma readied himself for a lunging body blow.
Sakura felt it coming- he did this kind of thing before. As she advanced after hitting him with the fireball, she was ready with a strong, long ranged kick. Not a roundhouse, but something to deter sudden advances. It was aimed for his face and she leaned back, sticking her foot out as far as possible to prevent his body blow from connecting. It would stop him dead in his tracks, unless he armored through.
Gemma still couldn’t, not yet at least, but that wasn’t his only option. Since Sakura had the drop on him, even if just for a split second, he hadn’t blindly committed, and instead folded his front arm in front of his head to block normally. As he weathered the blow, noting the power behind it, a trampoline appeared behind Sakura just before he switched that power off, as well. He launched a side kick of his own, his legs long enough to challenge and overcome Sakura’s range.
Sakura had pushed him away with that kick, and accounting for his longer range, shimmied backwards to go for a whiff punish. She didn’t anticipate the trampoline being there. With a small gasp she briefly lost her footing and stumbled forward after Gemma missed his kick. She tried to cross her arms in front of her head to block as she attempted to regain her footing. Perfect
. Gemma planted his foot and struck. He went for an elbow thrust to the gut, sliding beneath his opponent’s block, then followed up with a straight punch right to her defense. Sakura was bent around the elbow, her cheeks puffing outwards. The follow-up dealt negligible damage, but it did push her back into the trampoline one more time, breaking it as she bounced back. Gemma wound up for a door-buster kick for the ender, re-engaging Sclerokinesis at last just to make sure that no funny business happened if he could help it. None came, and she was sent stumbling back, still reeling. As Sakura got knocked away, he felt a familiar tug through the SAS: a chance for a Combo Vision. He seized it, and in the eyes of the psychic onlookers he disappeared, replaced by a teenage girl
with red hair, techwear, and some bandages on her arms. With a snap of her fingers -or Gemma’s in Sakura’s eyes- she sent a spark flying forward– and after a full second’s delay, a massive fiery explosion erupted at its location. Then the Combo Vision blipped away again.
When the smoke and flames cleared, Sakura was on her back, her legs up and her arms crossed in an x in front of her. She had blocked the explosion, though it floored her. Her body hurt on the inside. But she could still fight. She kicked her legs out and landed on her feet, snapping back into a fighting position, taking a moment to wipe her lips. ”You’re gonna get it now.”
She warned, excited. She swished her arms to her sides and they ignited with blue flame that traveled down her legs and settled on her sneakers. A flurry of cherry blossoms circled around her and fluttered into nothingness. Her V-Trigger, Sakura Senpu, had been activated. Her physical strikes were empowered with an overflow of ki energy, and she could perform more powerful techniques. She meant to activate this during the whiff punish, but this was the best she was going to get at this point. If she waited any longer she might not get a chance. All she saw was the potential for a comeback!
Gemma cracked a small smile. “Let’s do this, Hanabi.” In response his arms burst into flame, empowered by his squadmate’s Pyrokinesis.
Undeterred, Sakura ran forward. She started with a straight punch to the chest and advanced into an elbow to push him back. Then she jumped right in his face to check his chin with a knee. As she fell behind him she halted all of her momentum mid air and spun like a buzzsaw at head level, her leg extended outward. ”Shunpukyaku!”
Her target managed to block the first two strikes without activating his Sclerokinesis again, too depleted to be used for anything but an emergency, and his flames did not hurt in retaliation. Gemma turned with the second blow to issue a spinning backhand, not imagining that Sakura would recklessly throw herself toward him with a knee. It struck him in the ear, ringing his head, and the girl’s follow-up was immediate. Despite his first instinct to deploy his power again, gritted his teeth and bided his time, even as he reeled from the brief but furious onslaught. To his credit he threw out a formidable uppercut, but if she managed to avoid that she’d get her combo at last. ”Fly away!”
Sakura shouted, blowing through his uppercut with a follow up straight kick upwards. There was a surge of blue energy and wind. Sakura leapt up to her opponent mid air. ”One, two..!”
She brought down both of her fists twice, her and her opponent bouncing higher into the air. Instead of following up with a third, she dropped quickly to the ground before he could land, and met his falling form with quick uppercut. ”Midare Zakura!”
After landing the first uppercut, she zipped back onto the ground and surged upward again, doing a longer, bigger, spinning uppercut that exploded at the apex. If all that hit, Gemma would fly straight up into the air. Sakura landed with a wobble, giggling breathlessly. ”Come on!”
Gemma came down a split second later, although he didn’t exactly land. Levitation brought him safely back down to the ground, at which point he wiped a smear of blood from his lip with the back of his hand. He’d deactivated Pyrokinesis when he started getting hit, but it flared back up now as he put up his hands like a boxer and began to move forward.
On the way over he deployed two Assault Visions in close succession. A psychic facsimile of Gisu Neruman
sped forward first, floating atop her hoverboard and invisible to Sakura. She charged in and pulled off a sick kickflip, rotating the board like a saw for a flurry of unexpected hits. A moment later the Assault Vision of Morris Martinez
descended, bouncing on his target three times with his blue levitation orb. By that time Gemma closed the distance, and he added a flurry of fiery punches to the mix.
The sick kickflip, though Sakura certainly wished she could see it for more than one reason, struck her head. ”Bwah! What the-?”
She said, her head jerking to the side as she was hit from nowhere. Uncertain, she dropped low into a block as three more invisible impacts connected. Gemma began punching and Sakura skid backwards, shielding herself with her forearm. While V-Trigger empowered her abilities, it also removed the ability for V-Reversal or V-Shift, making her weaker defensively.
Gemma’s opponent was on the ropes, and it was time to make good on his stated intentions. He wiped out the remaining fifty percent of his Pyrokinesis to call upon an Assault Vision of Hanabi herself. Bo staff in hand, she twirled in front of him, releasing an arc of flame. At the same time, he activated Sclerokinesis once more, and punched the ground once more to deal the finishing blow to Sakura’s poise–and her Crush.
At that point he knew he could probably get off a Brain Crush of his own, but such a thing was completely unnecessary. He simply moved in with one forearm extended to get beneath whichever arm he could, then snake around it with an armored grab, a form of nonsense Sakura had been fortunate enough to encounter but rarely. Gemma jabbed his fist into his opponent’s stomach and made an uppercut motion to lift her up, over, and down on his opposite side, facing away from him. From there, he needed only to kneel and ensnare her neck from behind with his indomitable arm: a rear naked choke, all the tighter thanks to his usage of his other arm on the other side of her head. “Concede,” he said simply, and he began to squeeze. ”Ggk-”
Sakura made an involuntary choking noise as she grabbed his arm to try and give herself some breathing space. She began to formulate a plan- she hadn’t done any EX moves yet and had a large reservoir of explosive power at her disposal. If she could just-
It was like someone flipped a switch in her brain. If someone was looking at her face they could see her go from composed to sheer panic in a moment, the light leaving her eyes. For some reason she fired a huge, misshapen blast of ki straight up into the air, to no effect. Her body flashed with an uneven orange energy, a pale imitation of her previous EX moves. That poor excuse for a reversal just used up all of her EX-meter!
Inside her mind someone had pulled the wool over her eyes. Something was coming! She can’t be here! This is terrible! I don’t wanna get turned into soup! Somebody HELP ME!
The fact that they were in a spar was forgotten, she hadn’t the wherewithal to concede. ”Hhgk- guh…”
So a few moments of flailing later her eyes rolled up under half-closed lids, and she was placed onto the mat. A moment passed and she startled awake, dizzy. ”Wh-wha-? What was…”
She felt herself go red in the face. Embarrassed, no, humiliated, she recalled her total loss of composure. That had…literally never happened to her before in her entire life. She felt like she was going to cry!
Gemma blinked, startled. With all his powers and SAS disabled, he looked normal once more, which meant his concern was writ large on his face. This was a shocking change from the girl he’d seen moments before, inexplicable even by a sound defeat. “H-huh? Are you-” ”I- I’m sorry- I just- I’m sorry! G-g-good fight!”
Hiding her face, she got up and ran away. Because she was wrong- that had happened before. Twice. Once on the Maw, and once when she was reminded of the Maw. And now it had happened again! Was she cursed forever?!
The spectators’ hype practically evaporated. One of them, a teenage girl with a ruby-red ponytail, gave her squadmate an accusatory look. “Nice, Gemma.”
“W-what?” The sounds of their exchange faded into the background as Sakura beat a hasty retreat.