This page includes English translations for the team stories found on The King of Fighters Official Web Site. You can also find the Japanese version on The King of Fighters 2003 Official Website.
The streets are already bustling with activity while the steam and aromas from open-air shops and stands ascend into the sky. It is amply bright outside, but the sun has not completely risen; dark shadows dance on the ground in between the shops of the marketplace. Alone, a behemoth of a man stands out from the throng. "Nuts. That Ash. Calling me here at this time of the morning." Dressed in his usual ultra-casual style, a jacket slipped over his bare torso, anyone passing along the street would recognize him. In Shanghai he is the man called "Shen Woo." Shen means "god" and Woo the Chinese word for "battle." Naturally, this isn't his real name.
"Ah, ha, ha, ha. You're here. Shen, long time no see! So, where is a place that will feed us some delicious crabs? You must know, right Shen?"
"Ash...who'd eat crab at this ungodly morning hour?!"
"Lighten up there, pal. Then how about a little dim sum before Duo Lon gets here?" The young Caucasian with platinum hair gathered up in a katyusha is Ash Crimson. Alabaster skinned with blue eyes. Freckles still remain on his cheeks positioned over the edges of a mouth contorted into an impertinent smirk. You could call him a handsome lad or not, but it is certain that he is enveloped in a strange sort of magnetism that garners glances. His body is slight but sinewy. "Crab, this early in the morning..." Thrusting forward through the crowd, Ash finds Shanghai crabs dumped into a wooden crate, wriggling gloriously in the display window of a shop.
"Look, look. They look spunky. Your buying, right?"
"Who's buying? Give it a rest. And in the first place, do you even eat crab? Tourists from Europe tend to shy away from our local delicacy, you know?"
"I love crab. And after you hear what I got to tell you, I think you'll gladly foot the bill." Ash's mischievous expression is reflected in the window of the shop. "One guy said the clown who ate Shanghai crab for the first time was extremely courageous...or just amazingly intelligent. It's the truth, Ash. So what's your important story?"
And then: the reflection of the figure of another tall man appears in the glass of the show window which would be difficult to be called polished.
Ash and Shen, without looking back, continue pretending to keep judging the quality of the crabs.
Shen clicks his tongue slightly. Although distracted by the conversation, being snuck up on so easily...?
"Ah, ha, ha, Duo Lon. It's been awhile. How have you been? How about we talk somewhere out of the way while we fill our bellies?"
"This place looks good."
Even the fresh air of morning becomes cold and gloomy around this guy. The figure of the tall man, dressed in a costume luxuriously embroidered, appears from the pallid shadows between the buildings. Duo Lon. All but the age of a young man, he is actually a member of the "Flying Brigands," a group of assassins who reside in the back regions of China. He is laconic with a presence that naturally overwhelms people, and bears a sad countenance.
"Ta-dah! Can you believe it? This came to me in the mail. "
What Ash produces is an envelope sealed archaically with wax.
THE KING OF FIGHTERS.
The world's largest tournament of varying fighting styles. Both Shen and Duo Lon are aware of this. And they both know it is a team event of teams consisting of three fighters each. Annually some sort of crisis accompanies it; in other words, an event with attitude.
"I won't pull any punches. I want to join this thing. So, I'm hoping you'll feel the same. How about it? Will you enter with me?"
"Sounds like fun. OK, I'm in! I've always wanted to be in KOF, at least once. I'll go anywhere where strong opponents can be found."
"That's the ol' pepper, Shen. Happy to hear it. How about you, Duo Lon?"
"Ah, ha, ha, ha. Then it's all decided!"
"As a matter of fact, the application of we three has already been made. It would have been a real bummer if either of you had refused to accompany me."
"Say what? You already entered us? ...Ah, whatever. I'm pumped up for this!"
"...What are you scheming? Huh, Ash?"
"Oh, come, come, Duo Lon. It's nothing of any consequence."
"And if I had said I wouldn't do it...What would you have done?"
"...Hmm. What would I have done?"
Grinning like the Cheshire cat, Ash laces the invitation between the fingers of his left hand and plays with it. Supple fingers are they, which look like they have nothing to do with combat. And his nails are adorned with nail art. From the four corners of the invitation interlaced in Ash's fingers burst emerald flames. The entire invitation is swiftly consumed by flames, but the vigor of the flame does not abate and a pillar of flame bursts from Ash's left hand. A spiral of wind breaks out at his feet, blowing up Ash's platinum blond hair, and the flames burn even higher and stronger. He laughs. At the depths of his innocent and capricious giggle an inscrutable something certainly squirms. A few passers-by notice the green pillar of flame but are dumbstruck with astonishment. Ash shakes his left hand dramatically outward. The emerald flames jump from his arm. Drawing a gentle arc that slips between Shen and Duo Lon in an instant, it brushes by the face of a girl passing nearby and then disappears. The draft blows the girl's hair. Promptly thereafter at her side, the thing that was a bee a second before falls to the earth motionless, burnt to a crisp, in a pile of white ash.
"That was close, young lady. Ah, ha, ha."
"Il n'y a pas de quoi." Ash replies with an exaggeratedly old-fashioned bow
"OK, playtime is over. To make things worse I'm totally whacked from being called out so early in the morning."
"I love mornings in the spring. They say, 'The season is spring. The time of day is morning. The time of morning is seven.'"
Who says that?"
Hmph. For someone raised in France, you have strange tastes." Duo Lon breaks out in a rare wry smile. Although he feigns a cool, adult air, his youth is given away when he laughs. Ash continues.
"As God makes evident in the sky. All in the world is nothing. Well, that's it. Take it easy. Just take it easy. Ah, ha, ha."
Their participation in the tournament had already been confirmed by the KOF Management Organization three days ago.
Fatal Fury Team
At the appointed coffee shop, the figure of Terry Bogard is still nowhere to be found. The seats of the open terrace are fully exposed to view from the street. The two sitting in the delicately constructed chairs are men of exceptional build. Between the two, one is the champ of Muay Thai kickboxing, and the other is the king of professional wrestling.
"...Don't sit there like a clam. How about a cup of Java?"
"Look, if you'd just take off that bird mask, you'd be able to drink it, right?"
"It's not a bird. It's a griffon mask."
"Whatever! Take it off. Now! Thanks to your whack little mask, even I've begun to feel like a complete freak."
"Being noticed is the fate of a hero, don't you know?"
(...Terry, Andy, enough playing around. You'd better show up, like, yesterday...) Mind you, Joe is not averse to standing out. But standing out and being part of a freak-show are two different things. Being noticed has got to be on Joe's own esthetic and philosophical terms.
"Hey! It's Tizoc! Tizoc the Griffon! How about an autograph?!"
"Hah, hah, hah! You got it, buddy."
"All right! Thanks!"
Flushed with joy, the child begins to leave...then he and Joe's eyes meet.
"U-Uh, can I get your autograph? You gotta be the Great Ninja Mister Minami, aren't you? You lost the title match with Tizoc recently and became his bootlicker, I hear."
"OK, kiddo. Listen and listen good..."
Had you removed Joe's trademark headband right now, you'd probably be able to make out the vivid blue vein bulging out from his temple.
"I...am really...the one and only..."
"Great Ninja, Mister Minami, aren't you? Sorry. Guess I'm late again."
"Geez, Terry. You're ancient! How about being on time just once, eh?"
With his typically casual air, Terry Bogard made himself known. Squatting down, he looks into the kid's eyes.
"If you're not polite and leave out the 'Mister' he might turn you into a toad with his ninja arts. Mister Minami's pretty tough, you know."
"U-Uh OK. I'll be careful."
"You've got your autograph. Now we've got some important stuff to talk about now, so why not go play over there?" "OK!"
Joe, having been referred to as the 'pretty tough' ninja, throws a hissy fit and takes it out on the waitress by yelling for an alligator steak. Terry orders a cup of coffee.
"Take a chill pill there, Mister Minami."
"Hmph. You got the kids eating out of your hand as always."
"You lack the knack with tykedom."
"Butt out, bird face. So, where's Andy? This tournament...I'm talking KOF, of course. He's in, isn't he? He's doing it, right?"
Terry shrugs his robust-looking shoulders.
"Hey, hey! What do you mean? You're not telling me this beak boy'll be subbing for Andy, are you?"
"It's not a bird. It's a griffon mask."
Whether affirming the nature of the mask or Andy's substitution is unclear, but, at any rate, Terry nods. The coffee arrives. The alligator steak doesn't.
"You remember Andy's disciple, don't you, Joe?"
Terry inquires of his friend while he heaps cream and sugar into his coffee as any Yank like him would.
"Disciple? ...Oh, yeah, that something-Maru guy. Wasn't he just a kid?"
"The mumps, I'm told."
The disciple's condition isn't fatal, but the big A's worried about aggravating his condition. That's why he didn't want to leave Japan at this time...anyway that's the way Andy's message read."
"Hmph. Talk about your doting masters."
"Hey, shut up. In spite of that, he's a tough task master. But I guess that's different from training. I guess you'd call it 'koshi-kondo' in Japanese."
"'Koshi-kondo' ...the phrase that expresses the sublime relationship of trust between master and disciple. The Japanese language sure is cool. Seems your brother is, too."
"He can't match you, champ."
Terry and Griffon. The two exchange a firm handshake across the table.
"Hey, hey. Try to get along, you two. Jeesh! How about I teach you another sublime Japanese expression? It goes, 'Atchi ni ike, kono busu!' Try it the next time you're hitting on chicks."
"Wow. What does it mean? This KOF's sponsor is Japanese, you know. Mixing a little Japanese into my victory speech marks the consideration of a true gentleman."
"Okay, I'll teach you a load of beautiful Japanese expressions after we win."
Terry sucks out the contents of his coffee cup to the last drop.
"Well, here we are. We go with the team we have here this time. I'm counting on
"I've got no complaints. As long as chickadee face doesn't cramp our style."
"I've no objections. As long as we fight fair and square, I'm in."
"OK! Everything's copasetic. With this solved I can finally pay my respects to my father."
"? ...Oh, a little memorial visit, is it?"
"My ritual before the tournament. I hate to say this but could you guys wait here awhile?"
"No way! You've got to be joking! You'd have me hang out here longer with the mysterious bird boy? I'm coming along with you."
"It's not a bird. It's a griffon mask!"
"Can it! If the beak fits, wear it. Bird boy! Bird boy! BIRD BOY!"
"It's a griffon mask!!!"
Terry reclines back in his chair and looks up at the sky. His long hair parts to reveal the high wide sky above.
(Pop, this year...what can I tell you?)
"I said stop up your cakehole, bird face! Chew on a caterpillar, why don't you?"
"How about you buttoning up?! For I am Tizoc, the gentlemanly griffon!!!" (...It looks like it's going to be a raucous and tiring tourney.)
Art of Fighting Team
"Pop, we've got no money."
"I'm well aware of that."
"And we're all out of rice."
"I know! So just eat your food!"
The family sits around the low dining table in the centre of the living room...
Atop the table is a single bowl with a heaping helping of buckwheat noodles. It will serve as a meal for the three. The drafts blowing through the dojo are chilly.
"Aw, just once in a while I'd like a little egg in our noodles..."
"Don't demand so much, Yuri. Eggs are only for the Festival of the Dead and New Year's!"
"Boo hoo, whimper, whimper..."
"Well, when we finish let's canvass for disciples. Yuri, you'll be passing out these promotional tissues in front of the train station."
"Boo hoo, whimper, whimper..."
"That reminds me, the gas has been cut too. Ryo, go to the mountains and cut us some firewood."
"Boo hoo, whimper, whimper..."
"Pop, the water's been shut off, as well."
"Yuri, when you finish passing out these tissues, head to the river and do the wash."
"Boo hoo, whimper, whimper..."
Yuri awakens. She was just about to pick up a large peach that had come flowing down the river. She finds herself in the dojo of Kyokugen Karate. A handsome Italian gentleman is now peering into her eyes.
"Boo hoo, whimper, whimper...Ah, Robert...was I sleeping?"
"Like a baby. You must have become quite the fighter to be doing head dives while the Master and Ryo are going through the moves. This dojo does have a rep in this neighborhood for putting its disciples through rigorous training."
"I guess I got a little sleepy because things are so dead around here."
"Dead? Why? ...Hmm, on second thought you do seem to have fewer disciples."
You could hear a pin drop in the dojo. As far as anyone could remember, the dojo was always a little quiet, but now it seemed more so than ever.
"My father and Ryo's training is way too hard."
"I know, but they take part in KOF every year and get a lot of TV coverage; so they always get a huge influx of students at those times."
"And then by the time the next month rolls around ninety percent of them drop out. The other day we dragged in our first new disciple in ages, literally, right off the street...."
"Dragged right off the street?"
"And he just disappeared. He never came back. Having steel clogs slapped on you and being made to run 10 miles, even a horse would run away treated like that."
"Hey, Robert. When did you get in?"
The two greatest authorities of Kyokugen Karate, the invincible dragon and the mighty tiger - namely, Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia - come face to face again. Along with the napping Yuri Sakazaki, it's quite a sight to behold when you consider these are the renowned experts of Kyokugen now.
"I've heard all about it, Ryo. Driven out all your disciples, have you?"
"It's not like I drove them out."
"Haven't you considered letting up a little? For the general public, you Sakazakis have physical capabilities like super-humans from another universe, you know?"
Treating this family as aliens from another planet, Robert takes on the mantle of the singular man of common sense.
"Don't talk about us as if we were a family of Martians. Pop's the only one with freakish ability. We children are just normal citizens of considerable looks and purity."
"I second that opinion."
"...Well, I'll leave it at that. Now, the reason I'm here is that I've got some suggestions that will be useful to this dojo's management. Try this on for size, OK?"
Robert takes out an invitation from his inner vest pocket. Ryo and Yuri are unfazed. Naturally, this item has already been delivered to them.
"Got it? This time you should contemplate using a little more PR, eh?"
Robert loses no time beginning his spiel. Don't forget the pleasant smile in the interview. Praise your defeated opponents with pithy lines. Repeat the words "Kyokugen Karate" and "Sakazaki's Dojo" at every opportunity. "Your town's Kyokugen Karate." "A big 'Haoh Shokou Ken' for every household." "A 'Kyokugen Reverse Fluttering Fang' for your family's security."
"And, yeah...Ryo, we'll sew advertisements on the back of your karate gear."
"The name of our dojo?"
"That's good, but we'll need to find sponsors - like a chain of convenience stores or a sports drink company."
Yuri stays silent, sighing on the inside. Robert seems to think himself a man of the world, but he is a scion of the Garcia Foundation. Since he was born he has been in possession of wealth one could not hope to squander in the period of a lifetime. How could his thinking address the scale of the matter at hand?
"Hmm. A sponsor. That might be good."
(Like a hole in the head!)
Yuri's big brother, a stranger to the ways of the world, easily falls in line with Robert. And because of this, the dojo will always be in dire straits.
"Oh, hoh...sewing advertisements on sacred karate gear..."
"That's right. In today's world, everything's got to sell something...uh, M-Master...."
"It seems like you've been doing well, Robert. Just when I thought it's been a long time since one of my favourite disciples has shown his face around here, here you are with talk about using Kyokugen as a means to make money? Wah, ha, ha!"
Suddenly appearing behind Robert, puffing himself up to full height, is Takuma Sakazaki, who was also in Yuri's dream. The master soba maker - and fighter -- known to all in Southtown.
"N-No, that's not why I'm here. As a matter of fact...."
"Papa, Robert is just worried about the management of our dojo."
To counter her father's wrath, Yuri peeks out from behind Robert, who is averting his gaze from his master to hide his panic.
"Hmph. One who devotes himself to the ways of the martial arts should not mewl and puke over trifles like making money!"
"But Papa. You're always bellyaching about the finances. And the management funds for our satellite dojo in Mexico...?"
"Hush, young lady! If that's what you have to say, then I'll speak my mind, too! This year's KOF is said to have an especially impressive line-up of contestants, but you can count me out!"
"Huh?! A KOF without you, Pop...?"
(Heh, heh, heh. Sure they're skilled, but they're still immature tyros. One word of me not joining them against such formidable rivals, and they'll crumble like cookies.)
"Yes!! This time I'm totally free!"
"That's just like you, Master. You really know how to inspire your disciples!"
"No, that's.... Is it really OK? Me not joining you? Just you three against such fearsome foes?"
"Leave it all up to us, Papa. We'll show them all what Kyokugen is capable of!"
"R-Really? Well...Ah, there it is. Knock 'em dead!"
It was one week later that the KOF Management Organization received word from Takuma Sakazaki that he would not be participating in this year's tournament.
And Takuma kneads some celebratory buckwheat noodles for the departure of his disciples.
Korea Justice Team
The high-pitched wails and low bellowing of the two echo out alternately. Choi Bounge and Chang Koehan, who have continued their program of rehabilitation for a number of years at Kim's tae kwon do gym, are miffed. The two who only a few years before did nothing but plan their escape have become quite commendable citizens. It seems that Kim's heartfelt program of rehabilitation has paid off...then again, maybe not.
The abandoned Choi thinks:
(Not only do I have to do all the housework during the Master's absence, I have to watch after his kids...and boy they've really become a couple of brats recently. Simply put, I've want no part of that babysitting gig!)
Meanwhile, Chang concludes...
(Stuck between the two masters constantly at each others heels, being pulled this way and that....I won't be able to take it!)
"Ha, ha, ha. I'm glad to see you working so hard, Choi. But this time I have to give in to Jhun's earnest entreaties. Well, make the best of it and watch over the fort."
"But, buddy boy!"
"I said, watch...over...the...fort!"
With his arms crossed, Kim bears his teeth, which emit a blinding gleam.
"One more word of protest, and Choi would be feeling the full force of a Phoenix Kick in the name of rehabilitation."
"...O-OK. I got you, buddy boy!"
"Ha, ha, ha. If you express yourself with sincerity all will come to see things your way."
"Yeah, and the bruises you'd give me on top of your 'sincerity' are nothing to sneeze at either, buddy boy."
The two whisper to each other in hushed tones as if a pair of mosquitoes, but Kim doesn't fail to catch their remarks.
"Did either of you have something to say to me?"
"Yeah, we were just talking about..."
"...how much we love our daily training. Yeah, that's it."
Chan and Choi answer unflinchingly. Their faces beaming with forced grins are pathetic.
"Ha, ha, ha. You said it. You said it."
The two shrink away from Kim and let out a small, brief sigh. Their humility and timidity would make one doubt that they were once the evilest of the evil.
It is hardly necessary to mention, but Chang Koehan, with his trademark iron ball and chain, is the escaped convict with superhuman strength. The guy with the charming iron talons is the former mad slasher, Choi Bounge Kim is the one who has devoted countless years to rehabilitate these two through the discipline of tae kwon do and "return them to the path of righteousness." He has yet to complete their rehabilitation. And then there's Jhun Hoon, Kim's rival who gets along with him as well as a trench coat complements Mai.
It is Jhun who comments:
"I'm sorry, Choi. But I just have to take part in this year's KOF."
"But Master Jhun, why are you so obsessed with this KOF...just what gives?"
Chin draws in his sharp chin and closes his eyes.
(Hoo, hoo, hoo. Maybe it's got something to do with the introduction of the new rules, like the free tag-offs!)
This is Jhun's scheme. Even though tournaments up till now were 3-on-3 team battles, contestants fought individually, but this time there's the free tag-off Multi-Shift rule. In other words, when Kim finds himself in a fix, Jhun will gallantly jump in, and along with saving his butt, make the world aware of the difference in ability between Kim and him by magnificently mopping up the mat with the opponent. But this, of course, goes against all his professed principles.
"Look, somehow Kim's team is the only one to participate from our country. So the members of this team must be, more than anything, the best. Isn't that right?"
"Well, yeah, most indubitably."
"Choi, you've shown a lot of improvement these few years, but you still can't hold a candle to me. Chan's in the same boat, but his fighting style is way different than ours, and it's just the right touch to a diverse team."
"What is it, Choi."
"About this year's team line-up...It just may be our big chance, buddy boy."
"What do you mean, chance? Given the personalities of our two masters, there's no way I'll see any free time, much less freedom, no matter how hard I try this KOF. So naturally the odds of you and me both getting out of this pickle is impossible, and I guarantee that 200 percent.
"It all depends on how you use your noggin, buddy boy."
Choi's scheme is thus: Everybody's a sucker when it comes to sports, sympathy, and friendship. So, when this KOF comes to a close, Choi, who everyone believes is stuck at home watching Kim's brats, shows up out of nowhere and gives them the old, "I was frantic with worry and couldn't help but come to watch over you buddy boys." If Chang plays along with him just right, it'll be a cinch to pull the wool over the eyes of that rube Kim.
"So, that'll casually make the point that we're rehabilitated."
"Yeah, I got you. An appeal to the emotions, and with the media there making a spectacle of it...That just may work."
"It can't fail, can it, buddy boy? This time we'll put these pious pinheads behind us for sure."
"If we decide to go for this, I'll really have to go gonzo during this KOF."
Meanwhile, Kim is uneasy. It is clear that teamwork will be a crucial factor in this year's KOF. With Chang and Choi, he would be on familiar ground, but he can't seem to get along with Jhun. If other teams take advantage of this, defeat will quickly follow. However...
Kim's scheme goes a little like this: It's definitely difficult to take full advantage of the team's maximum potential with Jhun thrown into the mix. But this just might be able to be surmounted with the efforts of the world's mightiest tae kwon do athlete, the one and only Kim himself. He'll conversely use the new tag-off rules to his advantage and silence from hereon Jhun's grating criticisms by "saving his backside and putting him at his service." And by doing this in public, the effect will be amplified because it will create an undeniable obligation. But this, naturally, goes against everything Kim stands for. "Well, if Jhun insists on joining our team..."
In spite of this team devoting their battles to justice, each of it's members appear to entertain some fairly wicked thoughts, but in a way they all seem unified (?) in their intentions.
"Master, I have come to see things your way, buddy boy. This time I'll root for you from a distance, buddy boys."
"So you've seen the light, have you, Choi?"
"Most indubitably, buddy boy. Even if we're not always together, we're still a team."
"Yes! That's the spirit that gives testament that your long years of rehab are paying off!"
"And I'll make up for Choi's absence myself!"
"Chang's got the spirit too...If you put things that way, I can't afford to lose either."
"Don't forget about me, buddy boys, because you can count on me waiting for you at the awards ceremony."
"Of course we won't forget you. Ha, ha, ha, ha."
"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha."
Four members, with four (rather sinister) motives hidden in their hearts. The team sets out for the familiar stomping grounds of KOF. Their entry into the competition (barring a shipping problem with Chang's iron ball and chain) apparently goes off without a hitch.
The border of a certain country. Twenty-three hundred hours. A full moon floats in a boundless sky with nary a trace of cloud. The wind velocity is 1 meter per second. The temperature is 19 degrees centigrade. The humidity registers at 50 percent. Without fog, one cannot hope for a shielding mist. It is a 3-P night (peaceful, pleasant, and placid); in other words, the conditions are altogether unsuitable for this top-secret invasion.
"...Nuts. Hey, Clark. Couldn't you have chosen another day for this?"
"Don't set your guns on me! Right, Whip?"
"The changing of the border security force comes but once a month. ...It was Ralf who judged today as the only opportunity for our raid."
"That's how I remember it."
"See. Even Leona backs me up!"
"Jeesh! Doesn't anyone feel like sticking up for their leader? Everyone's so freakin' logical all the time!"
There is still quite a hike to the danger zone near the border. A hint of tension clouds the faces and the behaviour of these invaders, but the true test awaits a few kilometres down. That is where the carnage will take place.
Though night, the wasteland illuminated by the full moon's glow is amply bright. The pace of the mercenaries garbed in field gear is light, but they fear being fully exposed. Though they know no watches them, they instinctively seek cover, from rock to rock and shrub to shrub. His trademark bandana gives Ralf away. Clark's the one with sunglasses forever fused to his face. Leona, the laconic lady warrior, and the master of the bullwhip, Whip, bring up the rear. The four shadows silently press on.
Whip, taking up the rear, suddenly freezes, produces her bullwhip, and readies herself. All quickly follow suit, a reflexive action brought about by their training. At the slightest indication, the forward three immediately assume combat positions.
"Hey, what's going on, Whip...ster?"
When Ralf glances back and focuses on Whip, the image of her immediate vicinity being covered by a dark shadow hits him hard. A giant darkness grows behind her; and the "shadow" slowly engulfs the frozen Whip, followed by Leona, Clark, and Ralf himself.
"Leona, can you make out its speed?"
"Going by the shadow's velocity, I'd judge it at five to six kilometres per hour."
"Hmm. An observational flight, perhaps? Clark, what's the objective's height and size?"
"It's altitude's got to be about 1,000 meters. The total length...."
"Well? What's the objective's size?"
"Four hundred meters. Give or take."
"Four hundred meters?! Don't you think you're a little off?"
"I'm not off. It's about 1,312 feet, or 1,320 Japanese shaku. That's 212 Ralfs lined up end to end!"
"Uh, thanks. What's that length in cigarettes placed end to end?"
"Four thousand four hundred forty-four."
"...You scare me sometimes, Clark. So that balloon's bigger than an aircraft carrier?!"
The massive flying ship drifts through the sky. The shadow hangs over all four, continuing to obstruct the moonlight.
It seems the objective has cut its engines and is drifting. It makes no noise. By the light of the moon, it is difficult to determine the ship's color, but it appears to be coated in a dark blue tint. The noble and elegant design is a lithe streamline shape.
"You got pictures, didn't you, Whipster?"
"Whips...Oh, all right, you little twit! Whip! You did get pictures, didn't you?!"
"Yup. And the data's already encoded and compressed. Shall I send it to Heidern?"
"It's got nothing to do with the mission directly...but we can't ignore it. Just that monster nonchalantly floating near the border's hot zone is one big piece of intel."
"Our position may be given away with the momentary transmission of this data."
"No kidding. How long do you think I've been doing this anyway? I know the risks. Send it!"
Leona does not avert her gaze from the giant flying ship leisurely flying on by. She continues to study it, as if trying to remember something, and whispers to herself:
"I've seen that ship.... I just know it."
"You're rationalizing, Leona. You can't possibly recognize that levitating leviathan."
Ralf and Clark frown simultaneously. There is no way Leona can know this craft. But this sense memory...?
* * * * * * * *
"Mistress Rose, the four life signs we picked up previously have begun moving again. It lasted but a moment, but there's a trace of an electronic transmission being sent - a transmission of encoded data. Perhaps agents from some sort of intelligence service?"
"Oh really...? Any word from my brother?"
The answering voice is that of a youthful woman. She is oblivious to the contents of the report. The compact control room of the flying machine is packed with myriad consoles. A blonde girl appears on one of them. It is likely a closed-circuit system allowing direct communication with this girl in a separate room.
"Are we to rendez-vous over the Pacific as planned?"
"Yes.... Tedious, isn't it, Gwan?"
The girl called Rose coos to her black panther crouching at her feet while playing with her blonde tresses. Rose strokes the beast's brow with her foot, as if it were but a house cat.
"And what of those four we previously detected?"
"I'm not interested. Leave them."
* * * * * * * *
"Heidern. KOF has just begun in all venues throughout the world."
The one-eyed mercenary Heidern is currently in cahoots with Interpol, investigating the hidden mystery behind KOF...the King of Fighters.
"Keep my apprised of the steady progress of our two participating squads."
"Yes, sir. And here are the estimated specs of the flying ship from last month's report."
In an exceedingly brief alignment of characters, the following appeared on the submitted transparency: 'Total length less than 400 meters. Total width, less than 50 meters. In addition to a maximum speed below 180 kilometres, a flight range of 60,000 kilometres is estimated. All data computed on the basis of image submitted.'
"For that amount of investigatory time, we still don't know the owner of this particular vessel?"
"My apologies. The tangible and intangible hurdles to attaining such intel were considerable. Further, the vessel, we surmise, is apparently equipped with some sort of radar-jamming system. ...This is all just supposition and conjecture on our part, though."
(This worries me... ...What is this apprehension I feel?)
Heidern orders further inquiry into the mysterious flying ship, but the submission of the official report from the investigative agency is scheduled for a date after KOF's conclusion. Regardless, it was subsequently made known that the name of the sky ship was "SKY-NOAH." And its owner...
"Hey, hey, hey! Out of my way, punk. That's my seat!"
"Didn't you hear me? Geese, let's teach this kung fu clown a lesson, eh?
"I don't give up my seat up to lapdogs."
"......I didn't quite get that. Want to say it again?"
"The place for lapdogs is in the dog house. Satisfied now?"
"Hyah, ha, ha. That sounds like a plan. I'll watch. Let's get the show on the road!"
Those were the first words of the three the first day they met.
The English cudgel wielder, Billy Kane. The broker of evil, Ryuji Yamazaki. And the long-haired man dressed in the loose-fitting garments of Chinese boxing.
"If I'm not mistaken you call yourself Gato. If you want to see old age, you should learn to watch your mouth."
This man, a master of the rigid boxing arts beginning with those of Yakyoku-ken, is still young with a powerful physique and a certain something that makes the very air around him taught with tension. But no commendable person who fears him is in this spacious hall. And there is only one man who could gather all of them here together. Geese Howard.
The CEO of the Howard Connection and a master of the ancient martial arts - he holds mighty influence over the underground society and rules the underworld.
"I won't tell you to take each other's hands and dance the dance of affection..."
Geese, unpleasantly stubbing out his cigar while sitting deeply back, turns his leather chair around 180 degrees to turn his back to everyone.
"But how about pretending to show at least a little teamwork with each other in front of your new employer?"
From the top floor of this skyscraper that looks down on its surroundings, one can view his realm, Southtown.
"Client? Do you mean you've placed me in your hire?" Gato bolts up.
"Rubbish. I have no interest in a fighting tournament. Good day."
Billy shrugs and whispers, "It's your funeral." Geese speaks with his back to everyone.
"This town...all sorts of people come to Southtown."
Gato ignores Geese's words and heads for the door.
"For example, a young Japanese girl searching for her long-lost brother. Eh?" Gato stops in his tracks.
"So what. It's none of my business."
"That is true. But many other people do come to this city. And I've heard that Chinese boxers who may closely resemble you may be among them."
The Howard Connection monopolizes all of the information of Southtown. And Gato now is well aware of this.
"He's come here? For what purpose...it can't be to join the KOF?!"
"I have no idea. But it would be impossible for you alone to search for such a man lost among the millions here. It's a simple proposition, isn't it? You will win the tournament. And I will help you realize your goal. We'll be even Steven."
"...Hmph. Very well. You've got me interested."
"Hmph. What a pushover. Geese, if I have to enter KOF with the likes of this clown, I'd rather team up with a French poodle."
"Gyah, ha, ha, ha. You're nothing more than Geese's lapdog, so it'd be a nice match!"
"Yamazaki, why you..."
"Now, now...a dog barking at guests. Where's your discipline? What about it, Geese?"
"You filthy snake. How about me shutting you up? Huh?"
Billy is too hot-blooded, and Yamazaki's twisted mental make-up enjoys seeing blood more than anything else. Were Geese not here, it would take no more than five seconds for a blood-soaked battle to the death to break out.
"...Anyway, I'll have you three take part in this year's KOF. You'll be amply remunerated and I will provide my syndicate with the necessary information for their investigation. This's just business. I think it's an offer you all can't refuse."
A crazed look appears on Yamazaki's face and he continues to smirk insanely. Gato looks on unemotionally, his eyes fixed on Geeese. Billy's discontent and discomfort is palpable, but his loyalty to Geese apparently exceeds it so he presently behaves himself, gripping his dear cudgel hard in hand.
"Well, then, if you have no objections, that's splendid."
Geese swivels his chair around again to face the newly formed members of his "team."
"I don't expect anything like teamwork with you jokers, but you will win this KOF. Any other result and I wouldn't expect to get anything if I were you."
"Any other results?"
There is no irony or jocularity mixed in with his tone of voice. Gato's confidence in his abilities is unshaken. His pride in his own strength speaks to this.
"Since I'll be in the tournament, there can only be one result. I will be victorious."
"Hey, hey, oh, tolerant Geese. Won't you grant my desires, too?"
"...It would be a real inconvenience if you rant about your payment in my office. Well, what is it?"
"...Blood, you say?"
"Recently my blood rages more than I can stand.... I just may "go overboard" a little in this tournament, so I'm hoping you'll, you know, make things right. I'm counting on you."
An icy glow flickers in Geese's eyes. But that, too, is just for a second.
"Do as you like. As long as it can be disposed of as 'an accident.'"
"Hyah, ha, ha, ha! Thank you! Now I'm really psyched!"
"Are we done with our little chat? Well then I recommend you rest up as much as you can until the tournament begins."
Once Gato and Yamazaki leave the room, only Billy and Geese remain.
"Geese, about this tournament..."
"Yeah, Billy, I've been meaning to talk to you mano-e-mano about it."
"Of course I want you to keep an eye on Yamazaki, but don't let Gato out of your sight. Especially if someone gets in touch with him, I want you to report directly to me."
"Your wish is my command. By the way, Geese, who, in blazes, is the sponsor of this year's KOF anyway?"
Without answering, Geese once again turns his leather chair around with his back to Billy. After a prolonged silence, Billy bids his leave and exits.
The next time the three team members will meet will be the opening day of KOF.
Women Fighters Team
A baseball field on the outskirts of Southtown. Although the baseball season has already ended, the double "A" league is playing a tournament to appeal to the local baseball fanatics. The one who has asked Mai Shiranui and King here is none other than Mary Ryan. She's a female agent who's known for her considerable talent in the field.
"Both of you have no objections to a dog and some suds, do you? The hot dogs here are legendary."
"You sure are all worked up today, Mary."
"So what's with those clothes? Are you planning to play catch in the stands or something?"
King and Mai are mutually impressed. Looking around the stadium, it's questionable whether there are even a thousand or so fans in attendance. So it's close to a miracle that a hot dog stand is open for business. And Mary is no slacker either, decked out in her usual leather jacket, baseball cap, and even a broken-in glove in her left hand.
"Oh, this thing? It's to snag those home runs. Hey, some hot dogs over here please."
There are no seats in the outfield of the ballpark but a well groomed lawn instead. The fans sit her on sheets laid out to their liking. Among them are some who have removed their shirts, enjoying a bronzing session along with the ballgame. It's well into autumn, but today is a paragon of an Indian summer day. Mai loses no time sinking her teeth into her hot dog.
"Wow, this is really good - just the right amount of onions."
"I told you so. These are the perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of beer."
"By the way, Mary, although I do know my pool, baseball's all Greek to me."
"Don't worry about it. It's fun enough just watching the players throw, hit, and run the bases."
"Hmm, I guess so. How many points do you get for a homerun?"
"All I know is battledore and shuttlecock, myself, so, come on, teach us the rules. How many points for an out?"
"Uh...Oh, don't sweat the details now. Watch and learn"
The batter smacks a fly ball, high and deep. The white sphere shoots into the serenely blue Southtown sky, but the centerfielder snags it with barely a move. It's the third out and the sides change. King tries to strike up another conversation once the play comes to a halt.
"By the way, Mary."
"That was an out. You don't get points for that."
"That's not what I was trying to
Mai seems to be aware of the situation too. There aren't too many of them. But some clearly well-conditioned individuals around the stairs to the seats, in the shadows of the billboards, and behind the light posts have them encircled and are gradually closing in.
"Five, no I'd say six. Mai?"
"At least in the immediate area I'd say so. There may be more waiting in the wings."
"I'm sorry, looks like I got caught with my pants down here."
With that remark, Mary shoves the last bite of her hot dog into her mouth, washes it down with a swig of beer, and then licks the ketchup off her fingers. The eyes of the three remain on the action on the field.
"They don't seem too anxious to use guns. I say we let them move closer into range, sound good to you?"
"It's your call, Mary."
With the previous change-up the match completes the top of the third and the visiting team is now looking at a man on first with no outs. The clean-up batter is at the plate.
Along with the short bang of the dry bat smacking the ball, Mai backhands the nose of the man who has approached her from behind. She takes his right hand and it no more than a couple of seconds she twists it up behind him. In a flash King swings her feet along the ground to trip up the feet of another man coming to the aid of Mai's assailant. The man falls flat on his back onto the grass. King's heel then lands in a flowing motion down on his unguarded solar plexus.
The baseball meanwhile bounces into left centre and the runner makes a beeline towards home. The small crowd erupts in cheers and applause for the runner.
Still another man witnesses the unfavourable series of events unfolding before his eyes and tut-tuts his accomplices in spite of himself, then glances backward.
"What are you doing? Malin!"
The moment he lets his guard down, Mary seizes his arms. It's a brief and speedy action that appears as if she shook her arms up and down just a few times. And with that, there is a disagreeably dull snap accompanying the dislocation of his shoulder.
The final brawl is drowned out by the cheers for the batter just making the slide into third base. The home (visiting?) team has just taken the lead with a three-base hit. A flashy display appears on the scoreboard and the screaming color commentary of the announcer from a radio of one of the fans echoes in the area. No one appears to be aware of the action taking place in the stands.
"I suppose this is a warning for me. They're telling me to go home. But Blue Mary doesn't give in to threats."
"Damn, no one told me something like this would happen. So it wasn't just him?"
"You're not very up on your intel for someone in your line of work. Just try pulling something like this with my pals here. You'll have to answer to me, Mai Shiranui!"
"And your friendly neighbourhood bouncer, who wishes to remain anonymous."
"?! ...Y-you're those fighter chicks from KOF, aren't you? Tch, I'm out of here!"
In spite of the shape of their bodies, the men retreat in a right quick and orderly fashion.
My precious hot dog is ruined!"
Unlike Mary who managed to gulp hers down in the knick of time, King and Mai's superlative sausages rest on the lawn, splotches of ketchup and mustard color the grass. The three are not at all fazed by their predicament, nor are they in the least afraid or jittery. They are seasoned fighters, pros who have survived scuffles more severe than this.
"I'll go get us some new ones."
Mai gets up and makes her way to the singular stand that served them before.
"I'll take two hot dogs (Hmm, Mary could probably use one more too). No, make that three."
"Hey, you were just here, weren't you? You don't need to pay."
"Huh? But why?"
"It's already been covered. Here you go, three hot dogs."
"Covered? By who?"
"What? Don't you know her? She's a petite, cute little thing. Her name was, uh, yeah...it was Maria, or Mario...no, something like Marie, maybe? Nah, I think it was Mariko?"
"Do you mean, 'Malin?'"
"Yeah, yeah. That's it! It was 'Malin.' She left me a message for you, too."
Mary and King immediately sense that things aren't right with Mai.
"What's up, Mai?"
"It looks like someone already knows of our plans to enter this year's KOF."
"So what's the big deal, we're in it every year? Was she scrounging for an autograph or something?"
"No, just the opposite. She sprang for our hot dogs."
"What's all that about!"
"And she left us a message. It reads, 'This competition looks like it's going to be a blast, so you'll be seeing more of me later. Your pal, Malin.'"
"Malin? ...Didn't that bunch of thugs mention that name?"
"Oh, whatever. We'll find out all the details once the tourney starts. Look, another hit!"
The dull roar of the crowd emanates from the baseball stadium on the town's outskirts. And the sun has begun its westward descent.
"Hello, I am speaking to Goro Daimon, aren't I? This is the police and..."
Hired by his alma mater as a special instructor, Daimon has no choice but to cancel practice with this sudden summons and rush to the police station. He links up with Benimaru Nikaido who happens to be on his way to the station for reasons of his own.
"Hey, Daimon, tell me what the heck's going on here. Or have you only heard the same yadda-yadda that Shingo's been taken into protective custody that I have?"
"Yup. That's right."
"Jeesh.... Just what's that clown done this time?"
Without reaching any definitive answer to Benimaru's question, the two arrive at the police station. Right away they are led to a room deep in the bowls of the station, and there sits Shingo Yabuki, who, even now, looks as if he is about to burst into tears.
"Daimon, and Benimaru! I haven't done anything! You've gotta believe me!!!"
"Sorry to put you through this hubbub, Mr. Daimon. This guy was screamin' at us to have you come here."
The officer in charge and Daimon seem to have met before. In spite of his aloof disposition, Daimon, who also moonlights as a special judo instructor at the police academy, is well-connected. But the one who lays into Shingo is Benimaru.
"So why did you call for Daimon?! Calling your mommy and daddy would have been more apropos, don't you think?"
"Are you kidding?! If my parents knew about this...they'd ground me for life and no KOF this year!"
"What a putz. ...So, what's this guy in for? Murder? Armed robbery?"
Benimaru continues to rake Shingo over the coals. This joking is due to the very fact that he knows Shingo is innocent, but naturally no one finds his attempts at levity very funny.
"He's in here for attempted arson."
The stern-faced policeman answers Benimaru's question. Any looks of amusement on Benimaru and Daimon's faces subsequently vanish.
"I'm telling you it's all a big misunderstanding!"
"I got you dead to rights, punk! I saw you with my own two eyes in front of a house in the wee hours of the night and heard you say stuff like, "This time I'll make fire for sure." "I got a little flame there." And the coup de grace: 'Burn, baby, burn!'
The police officer slams an open hand on the table; Daimon and Benimaru take a glance at each other then look up at the ceiling as if to say, "Good grief."
(So that's what this is all about.)
The two know Shingo well. They are sure for the most part that he's incapable of a criminal act, and the various bad premonitions they had on the way to the station in spite of this have now faded away. They are assured their fears were groundless, and now they are relieved...and a little bit ticked off.
"Looks like this has all been one big misunderstanding. Daimon and I can vouch for this guy's character. Isn't that right, Daimon?"
"Yup. That's right."
"Well, if Daimon says so..."
The evidently dissatisfied police officer nevertheless promptly releases Shingo in deference to Daimon. The three exit together from the police station's main entrance. But Shingo takes up the rear, plodding behind them as if trying not to step on their shadows. And after a brief time walking...
"Uh...excuse me you two.... I'm sorry for making such a nuisance of myself!"
Benimaru smacks the back of the head of the deeply bowing Shingo.
"You got that right. I know you were probably giving yourself a crash course in the fighting arts of Kusanagi, but even I would suspect someone ranting about fire and flames in front of houses in the middle of the night of being an arsonist."
"Yup. That's right."
"I'm sorry. I just got carried away.... I just know I made some fire."
"It had to be static electricity or something. If not that, it was a hallucination. A...hal-lu-ci-nation!"
"Hmm...I guess so, huh?.... No, I know I..."
Benimaru and Daimon ignore Shingo's babbling and head back to the university. The two turn to the topic of joining the next KOF tournament. Yes, the two intend to join the competition once again this year. As Shingo catches scraps of the conversation, Daimon discusses how he wants to see the results of his training. Benimaru speaks of wanting to see what he's made of...And another reason is it seems one of the new contestants has caught their attention. When it comes to the crucial reason, the level of Benimaru's voice drops, but Shingo can make out fragmentary words like Lin, flying brigands, and Seth.
With his head drooping down, Shingo continues to follow behind the two. Shingo's house, mind you, is in the opposite direction.
"...Hey, uh, Shingo."
Benimaru turns to look behind him.
"It doesn't seem like you to be moping around like that, don't you think?"
"Yup. That's right."
"Yeah. You endure Kyo's ribbings with laughter, cheerfully suffer his bullying, and happily obey his commands. You're a guy who rushes in where angels fear to tread with spunk and stamina. That's you to a tee, isn't it?"
"Yup. That's right."
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
"Whatever. Snap out of it because for the next KOF, Daimon, me and you are going to be a team."
"Yeah, telling me to meekly resign myself to my just deserts...are you?! You're going to let me join your team?"
"Why? You got a problem with that?"
"But what about Kusanagi? I thought for sure...."
"That bozo Kyo is traveling abroad. I can't get in touch with him."
"Yup. That's right."
Certainly this seems to be the case.
After the end of the previous tournament, Shingo periodically trained under the guidance of Kyo's father - [[Saisyu Kusanagi.
The training took place in a corner of the Kusanagi house, but during that time the figure of Kyo was nowhere to be seen.
"Well, with a guy like that, he just may be planning to storm in at the last minute, but we can't afford to wait for that."
With a swish, Benimaru's body turns and his fist suddenly stop short of Shingo's face. Shingo moves his body a few centimetres to narrowly avoid the blow.
A small flash of lightning emanates from Benimaru's left hand, and he momentarily flashes a fearless expression from below. Though eclipsed by Kyo and Iori, Benimaru Nikaido is one of the world's preeminent fighters.
"Well now, you have improved, haven't you? Am I hearing right? You've been getting special training under a true slave-driver coach, haven't you?"
"U-Uh, yeah, well..."
"Cheer up there, pal. When you get all gloomy, it puts me down in the dumps. To add insult to injury, teaming up with Daimon here, our team image will be pretty off-putting, so I'm begging you."
"Yup. You got...hey, wait a minute!"
"Very well. I'll do anything you want today and today only. Just tell me what you'd like."
"I'm sick of seeing you get knocked around all the time. So, any request - just to psyche you up before the tournament."
"Yeah. Whatever you want. How about something you've always wanted to eat?"
When it seems apparent that Benimaru is sincere, Shingo thinks over all sorts of possibilities with a glint in his eyes.
"Well, then.... Ah, that's it! There is something I've always wanted to do! Benimaru!"
"What is it?"
"Bring me some tiramisu! And make it snappy!"
Daimon and Benimaru cringe for a moment that seems like an eternity.
"Oh, yeah?! Eat this: Heaven Blast Flash!!!"
Suffering a massive electric shock, Shingo, burnt to a crisp, rolls to the ground and moans.
"Ow-oooch...I knew it was a bad idea not to have said, please."
"Uh, but just now...I'm sure I thought I saw bursting flames. ...From my eyes, that is."
And from that moment on the participation of these three in KOF was written in stone.
High School Girls Team
It is early in the afternoon of a weekday and empty seats are prominent in this first-class car of the bullet train. Athena Asamiya is sitting in a window seat, heading for her next concert venue in Fukuoka. Her manager has been directed to meet up with her at Hakodate. Now, she travels alone. The train slows and comes to a leisurely stop.
"Kyoto. This stop is Kyoto."
The announcement echoes over the platform. When the door opens, a familiar face is smiling in Athena's direction.
"Long time no see, Athena."
The attractive blonde is dressed in the sprucely designed uniform of a girl's high school. She is Hinako Shijou, one-fourth Russian and the daughter of a model upper-class family.
"So, Hinako, how have you been? Forgive me for calling you here."
"Oh, it's no bother - as luck would have it our family has villas in Kyoto and Kobe."
Without giving second thought to her blatantly bourgeois remark, Hinako shoves the backpack she had strapped to her shoulders onto the luggage rack above.
The luggage rack squeals ominously. The backpack is loaded with weights of ten kilograms or more. Judging by the groan of the rack, Hinako's lugging more weight than usual.
Appearance, bearing, word and deed - all are what the dreamy-eyed Hinako is about, but because her dream is starting a sumo team at her girl's school, one cannot resist feeling that this young lady comes from a different cookie cutter.
In the meantime, Hinako has plopped down in the seat next to Athena. The first thing she says,
"Please accept my condolences."
A closer look reveals that Hinako conscientiously wears a symbol of mourning on her uniform. Athena, who is obligated in her line of work as a pop idol to remain unfazed by most things, finds herself flustered by this current situation.
The flustered Athena hesitantly takes the condolence gift Hinako extends to her.
"Master Chin did pass away, didn't he? Just how old was he anyway?"
"U-uh, no, the Master is still fit as a fiddle, in a manner of speaking."
"Athena, I know being in denial is part of the grieving process, but if you don't accept reality..."
"Uh, I don't know what impression you're under, but the Master is in the pink. He still drinks a gallon of alcohol a day, naps, trains Kensou, and watches after Bao."
"Oh, really? I am so sorry. I just assumed the reason for you asking me to join you in KOF had to be because the Master had died and you needed an extra team member."
"No, that's not it at all. Anyway, let me return this to you."
Athena meekly tries to return Hinako's condolence gift.
"Ah, please keep it. You can always hang on to it until you need it again."
(Until I need it again...?)
There is no malice to Hinako's statement. Athena understands this, but....
"Wow. So Kensou isn't entering the tournament this time either...?
"As a matter of fact, he isn't. He's got a lot of other stuff on his plate..."
Athena casts her eyes downward. Yes, this time things are different.
"Then who will be our other member? I rather think that Chang Koehan would be a most excellent choice."
"I-I'm not too sure about him."
"Ah, you're probably right. He can't really manage a sumo wrestler's butterfly coiffure, can he?"
"U-uh, you do have a point there. Do you have anyone else in mind?"
"Hmm. I can't come up with anyone who's suited for sumo, though..."
"That's okay. That's okay. It doesn't have to be a sumo wrestler type."
Athena can't bring herself to say she'd prefer someone other than a sumo-type. Of course Athena too has considered prospective teammates, but....
"Hey, you're Athena Asamiya, aren't you?"
"Huh? Oh, you want an autograph, right? Just a second. My pen...."
"No, that's not it. You're entering KOF, aren't you?"
Athena and Hinako both blink and do a double take at their new acquaintance. She's a rather spunky-looking teenager, a bit shorter than Hinako. Her face and manner seem feline. She sports a miniskirt, blazer and bunched up socks - in short, she's a typical Japanese high school student.
"Yes, I'll be in it, but...how does that concern you?"
"Your team's short a member, isn't it?"
The girl helps herself to the seat next to Hinako.
"Uh, I suppose it may be."
"Hmm. I guess our organization's info is sometimes useful after all."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Oh, nothing. By the way, have you considered me for your team?"
"J-Just like that? Who are you anyway?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Allow me to introduce myself. The name's 'Malin.'"
"So you're name is Malin, is it? I'm Hinako Shijo. That's an unusual name you have there; your family name's "Ma" and your given name is "Lin," I gather. What Chinese character do you use for "Ma?" Maybe the character for magic? Or is it the "ma" for "manuke" - you know, the word that means "bonehead"?
"U-Uh, don't let her offend you. Hinako didn't mean anything bad by that. Words just flow out of her like...well, no need to get yucky here."
"No, the name's just one word, 'Malin.' Works on its own, don't you think? So, are you going to put me on your team, or not? I'm getting off at Osaka, so you got to decide quick."
And as if on cue, the announcement is heard throughout the train: "Shin-Osaka. We will soon be stopping at Shin-Osaka." The time for decision instantly arrives, but there is no need to mull over an answer.
"We appreciate the offer, but no."
"What? Why? Tell me, why?"
"The KOF tournament is the peak of fighting competitions. Though I do say so myself, Hinako and I are exceptional fighters. I appreciate the sentiment, but..."
"You doubt my abilities?"
"Doubt? I don't even know your abilities. We've just met!"
"...Shoot. Okay, you don't need to hit me with a hammer. I'm out of here!"
The train slides to a stop at the platform of Shin-Osaka Station. Malin bolts up with a bang as if she has kicked her seat and abruptly exits.
"Uh, Athena, are you sure you made the right decision?"
"Yeah. I had no choice. This isn't some high school athletic event."
Appearing out of nowhere, Malin is now outside, rapping on the bullet train's window. In her hands (?), she holds two ribbons of different colors that flutter in the breeze.
"??...Hey, those are...!!"
In a panic, Athena and Hinako run their hands through their hair. Gone. One of the ribbons that tied Hinako's long blonde hair and the ribbon used to gather Athena's hair together to conceal her identity are gone.
(When did she...?)
Athena springs from her seat. She looks as if she intends to catch up with Malin. At the same time, however, the bullet train has pulled out from the platform. The train begins to accelerate. The form of Malin smiling ear to ear and waving her trophies in the air slowly recedes.
"Oh, fudge...how stupid could I have been?"
Hinako consoles Athena who is slumped down in her seat.
"Cheer up. We can still find another team member."
"But...Huh? Hinako, under your ribbon!"
A small scrap of paper is secured under Hinako's remaining ribbon. Athena quickly removes the paper and checks its contents.
"If you change your mind, give me a call. Malin. 090-XXXX-XXXX."
After reading the note, Hinako and Athena press their faces to the glass of the train as if to look for Malin. The sight from the window, however, is no longer that of the platform but the buildings and streets of Osaka's north side. Nevertheless, the two feel as if they can catch sight of Malin in the landscape streaming by, and they continue peering out the window for some time thereafter.
The one who visits the unmarked room is an old man near the age of ninety. His long grey hair, and similarly grey moustache. The gourd hanging from a string dangles as he walks. When he knocks on the door with the gourd, the sound of a dry thud and sloshing liquid resonates. The contents of the gourd: booze.
"You're in there, aren't you? Show yourself, you whippersnappers."
The door opens straightaway - but only a few centimetres with the chain lock still fastened. The man who peaks out from the crack is tan with silver hair, wearing a black leather jumper, and the hand resting on the doorknob dons a red glove.
"You...if I'm not mistaken, are called Chin Gentsai...."
"That's my name, sonny, don't wear it out. I hoped you'd at least remember the name of someone you've fought countless times before."
"...Excuse me. So what the hell do you want?"
Chin wordlessly taps the chain lock, indicating his desire to be let in. K' looks down upon the geezer from a difference in height of 20 centimetres.
"Hey, K'. How about showing a little respect towards your elders?
Maxima appears, making Chin look up another 20 centimetres more from Ks mug.
"Master Chin, I presume. Do come in."
Maxima, reaching over Ks shoulder, undoes the chain and ushers Chin Gentsai in.
"Hey, big guy. You need to teach your young charge a little more manners..."
...bellows the one and only Chin, whose breath reeks of alcohol.
Chin scowls at "the young charge" who repeats his question with his usual surliness. But the scowl is lost in his overly long locks, going unperceived by the others.
"I am but a pathetic old man with a brief future before him."
"You don't look the part."
K' retorts quietly. Chin indeed looks as if he will no doubt live another 200 years, but ignoring the chide he produces a letter from his inside pocket. It's an invitation to the King of Fighters.
"I know you love this, don't you? The KOF."
"Don't trifle with me, old man! Of all the things I loathe...."
Had Maxima not grabbed his shoulders, K' would have rung Chin's neck.
"Would you do me the favour of desisting with the teasing of my partner? He's not yet familiar with the ways of polite society."
"I sense it this time, too. That 'evil presence.' It exceeds that of the time when the thugs from the Orochi and NESTS were on the rampage.
"What's that to us?"
"Hey, pipe down and listen. ...Yet, Master, if that's the case, wouldn't it be better if you had entered the competition the same as always and ascertained the true nature of this evil presence without even bothering with the likes of us?"
Chin lets out a sizable sigh.
"A keen observation. But this time that won't fly. Because of those two...that is..."
...Kensou and Bao, who triggered the awakening of the mysterious behemoth of a presence. These two are now spending their days in rigorous training at an undisclosed location to one day confront the presence.
"We four are going to sit this out. I'm sorry, but for now it's the ideal choice."
"Wait. Did you say we four?"
"I certainly did."
"Even that cute idol goddess?"
"Athena? Indeed. Indeed."
Maxima, employing his "Maxima-devised" software, searches the web. He finds information available to the general public. The results soon appear.
"I thought so. I checked the list of KOF participants and her name's on it!"
"What?! ...What did you say?!!!"
Chin, being the Chin he is, is this time taken completely aback. Behind her master's back, Athena has gathered together two other members and completed her application to participate in KOF before he had a clue.
"What is this treachery?! Why did Athena...? Hey, can't you tell me, big guy?"
"M-Me? Tell you...? How should I know about this?"
Maxima winces at Chin, who begins to rant with a vigour that quickly sobers him up.
"Dagnabbit! She told me she had to do a concert, and while she was away from me, she must have...I don't understand her. This time our foe cannot be stopped with some hastily assembled gaggle of girlies."
"Just smack her into submission and drag her back with you, old man."
"You don't know Athena's true nature...She's a kind kid, but she's stubborn, too. Once she decides something, there's no going back. She must have concluded that this time she's going to face the 'evil presence' in her own way. She kept quiet because she was concerned for me and the other two, I bet."
"Well, things being what they are, I can tell you everything. Like why I've come to ask a favour of 'you two.'"
Chin begins to speak grimly and solemnly. The "presence" this time resembles that of the Orochi but is also unique. Not only that, the inscrutable and unknown presence is surging. And Kusanagi and Yagami are closely related to it. The evil presence is mighty, comparable to the strength of the Orochi, and it is difficult to say whether even the likes of Kusanagi and Yagami could defeat it. What's more, these two are still feuding among themselves.
But the situation is not without hope. If the "evil presence" cannot sense that other being... If the second Kusanagi, who was created by man, still exists....
"Now I understand, Master Chin. We're nothing more than "insurance."
"Insurance? You mean "sacrifices," don't you? Or just "openers" for Kusanagi's main act.
"...You get the picture. I'm making a self-serving request."
"But during the tournament we just may come up against Kusanagi, you know?"
"We'll drive off that bridge when we come to it. What's vital is that there be mighty fighters to counter the 'evil presence.'"
"OK. I hear you, Master Chin. We have too much idle time on our hands these days anyway. Entering KOF again with this guy wouldn't be so bad. Hey, you don't mind, do you?"
"Thanks, whippersnappers. I owe you."
Chin for the first time deeply bows in gratitude.
"As you see, I am grateful."
"...Don't grovel. It's annoying."
Chin, continuing to bow, averts his gaze from K'.
"Well, it looks like we're in. Myself, K', and along with us...?"
"Curses. What'll we do about the remaining member? That young...you know, that child with chestnut-brown hair. No, she won't do. She's too childish. Much younger than Athena is, don't you know?"
"You need not worry yourself. I have the very pro we need."
"You know, don't you, Maxima?"
"Ah, that dependable dominatrix is still around...but I believe she is presently involved in a mission with that squad of mercenaries, isn't she?"
"Ask me if I care! Make her a timely offer she can't refuse. I leave the particulars up to you."
"Why do I get all the grief? Jeesh!"
Two weeks later. Whip, in debriefing as a result of the completion of her mission, is promptly given another assignment.
"Link up with K' and Maxima. Form team. Enter KOF."
As did Chin, the leader of a band of mercenaries - Heidern - also senses the presence lurking in the shadows of this year's KOF and dispatches his squad.
Their struggle is just about to begin anew.
3 Sacred Treasures Team
The figure of her elder sister, presumed murdered, is always nearby. This is not expressing things poetically. Those who were to head the House of Kagura were always meant to be these female identical twins - Chizuru and Maki Kagura.
In the windows of buildings, in a car's rear-view mirror, in a city shop's show window, even on the surface of a pond - Chizuru's own reflection was the spitting image of her departed sister, with lavish and long hair tied in back, its length flowing down to her waist, and that same distinctive bearing.
"Yagami...Uh, begging your pardon, Master Yasakani has arrived."
"And Kyo Kusanagi?"
"He has yet to grace us with his presence."
"Really, that is exquisite. It would be highly unlikely for those two to meet cordially with each other anyway, don't you think?"
Chizuru Kagura responds from the other side of a shoji screen. Her sigh dissipates into the air of this building that suggests a grand and tranquil Shinto shrine.
"Please tell him that I will be right there."
"Wouldn't it be preferable to let him wait a tad longer?"
"If you're worrying about me, I'm fine. I've just been a little fatigued recently - that's all."
"Then I suppose I have nothing to worry about."
"I'm fine.... Yes, quite fine."
* * * * *
When he leaves the grand entrance of the Kagura house, Iori Yagami refuses the car waiting for him, ignores those seeing him off, and hoofs it out the gate. The cobblestone road running through this neighbourhood of established families is paved with well-bevelled stones, and not only is it well-kempt it is regularly rinsed to keep it immaculate.
But Yagami, oblivious to his elegant surroundings, continues to press on homeward. With his well-tempered body poised, his red hair complements the keen glint in his eyes.
As he remembers the previous discussion at the Kagura house, an inexpressible anger with no target to unleash it on wells up within him. After a five-minute walk, he reaches a railway that cuts through the rows of old houses. His gaze sets upon a lone figure astride a motorcycle on the other side of the train tracks. Yagami freezes to a halt.
The man wears a helmet with a full-face visor, making it impossible to discern his identity. But for Yagami, there's no question as to who this person is.
The two stand motionless on opposite sides of the track. Only the motorcycle's engine dares to make a sound, producing a low and well-regulating purr.
Before long a train nears and warning bells ring out. The yellow and black colored railroad crossing gate slowly descends between the two. The man on the motorcycle raises a hand to the visor of his helmet. At the instant Iori thinks he can make out the rider's face, the train rushes between them.
(It's him all right.)
That instant was all that was needed. Another train passes by from the opposite direction, and although the line of vision remains obstructed, Iori needs no further confirmation.
When the trains pass on, the figure of the motorcycle rider is nowhere to be seen. Iori can make out the noise of a motorcycle engine fading away in the distance.
(Who'd believe me teaming up with that clown? Bah!)
Yagami's face, bordered by his red bangs, breaks into a, for want of a better word, "smile." History, deprecation, cynicism, hate, madness, disdain, and fate.
A variety of inexpressible emotions fill Yagami's soul when he faces off against his nemesis. The only thing that can expunge these overwhelming emotions he finds impossible to handle is the act of fighting.
* * * * *
"So you haven't been riding recently I gather, have you?"
Kyo Kusanagi, led into the inner rooms of the Kagura estate, poses this question to his host as he comes face to face with Chizuru. Kyo had noticed two bikes left idle next to him as he parked his motorcycle. They were carefully maintained, but he could tell that no one had used them for quite a while.
"No, not recently. You haven't changed, I see."
"I wish I could say so. I've had quite a lot on my plate recently."
Chizuru kneels before him with impeccable posture. For Chizuru, who sits perfectly still, this is the manner of natural dignity befitting the leader of the House of Kagura. But in all honesty, Chizuru is not exactly Kyo's cup of tea.
"I saw Yagami just a few minutes ago."
"So, to what do I owe the pleasure this time? What pressing matter would call for you to simultaneously summon not just me but Yagami as well to your humble abode?"
"It appears that I should just be frank with you."
"You can be whoever you want, just give it to me straight."
"I would like you to join the "Three Divine Vessels" team in this years King of Fighters tournament. That would mean the three of us Me. Kyo Kusanagi, uh, that's you, of course. ...And Iori Yagami."
"Are you bonkers? Regardless of what I'm about to say, there's no way that Yagami-crud would agree to such a proposal."
"He already has."
"...Are you yanking my dangly?"
Unbelievable. Yagami himself had, of all things, already acceded to Chizuru's request.
"Hey, just what sort of spell did you cast on him anyway?"
"If Yasakani had not lent us his strength..."
"Both the Kusanagi and the Yata are sure to suffer defeat."
"It was probably too much for him to stomach: someone beside himself defeating the Kusanagi."
"Now you're just being wack. Just who would defeat whom?!"
Chizuru shuts her eyes.
"Answer me! Are you telling me that I'm someone who can't win without Yagami's help?"
"Perhaps...that is the case."
The atmosphere becomes tense between the two. Then for some reason, the image of the two motorcycles comes to mind. They are two models of the exact same type of motorcycle which appear to have been abandoned.
"...Nuts, well, whatever. Anyway, the whoopla keeps me from becoming bored out of my skull every year."
"Thank you...I'm grateful."
Kyo snatches up his helmet resting at his side and stands up.
"I told you it was a way to relieve the boredom, didn't I? There's no need to thank me."