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                The Terra Festival crowd was in full force the next day. Attendees began to swarm the Haleigh city square early that morning, some wearing eccentric costumes. At the same time, the festival’s market business was beginning to pick up exponentially. The purchases of foreign delicacies as well as other items was helping support the vendors in attendance. On the far end of the market, rows of chairs were set up and were already being filled by the young and the old.

                Away from the mingling of Terrans, the participants in the exhibition fights were snuck in thanks to added security. There were dressing rooms behind the stage for each group to make themselves comfortable in. The Soaring Dragon Dojo members were all dressed in white gis, though their black belts were to fit the ensemble. Their teacher, Jirokai, was also in attendance. He was sitting in one of the chairs with Shojira and Bailey. Chris was performing warm-ups on the floor.

                Jirokai was a human male with fair skin, sporting a wiry build that did not seem to say ‘sagacious master’. In fact, he looked like he was only in his late 30’s, with messy blond hair, a short beard stubble, and soft blue eyes. Clad in a red shirt adorned with flowers and cargo shorts, onlookers would have assumed Jirokai to be a friend of the three who engaged in illicit recreational activities.

                The master was busy educating with Shojira on what strategies to use on his potential opponent. “Now, you do want to use your strikes to control the distance. Something like wrestling or Jiu-Jitsu relies heavily on being on the ground and wearing you down. You shouldn’t give them the chance to do so. But if you find yourself caught, you’re gonna have to think fast to get out of their holds.”

                Bailey patted Shojira on the shoulder from behind. “Don’t worry too much about it. If that happens, pretend you’re wrestling me, except I’m not gonna be so gentle.”

                “But you’re not even gentle when sparring with Chris, let alone me,” Shojira corrected her.

                “Exactly. So don’t let them get you!” Bailey winked and patted Shojira on the cheek, to his chagrin.

    Chris spoke up, warming up his legs on the floor. “Shojira, just remember.” In a sing-song tone, he chanted, “Rope of Doom. Rope of Doom. Never let it touch you, or you’re screwed.”

    Shojira tossed an empty water bottle at Chris’ head, missing him. A knock came at the dressing room door. Chris got up and opened it, taking a few steps back after realizing it was Blaze, wearing a rather casual t-shirt and pants. To answer Chris’ puzzled look, the princess answered, in the same snooty voice she used last night. “Well, this is certainly not one gathering that is worth putting on my best dress for!” Blaze declared, punctuated with a noble laugh.

    Chuckling himself, Chris invited the princess inside. She occupied one of the empty chairs while Chris resumed his warm-ups. Blaze beamed at Bailey and Shojira. “So how are the two of you today?” she asked.

    Bailey smirked and answered, “Same as I always do. Feeling good.” Shojira rubbed his right cheek and looked down. Sneaking a glance at the tiger, Blaze continued, “I just thought to drop on by and let you all know about the fight schedule and just some ‘need-to-know’ details. So first things first, all of the fights are going to be on global TV.”

                Shojira was quick to become visibly pale, or as pale as one could be with fur. “Oh sweet Helios…” the tiger mumbled.

                Bailey placed her hand on Shojira’s shoulder, rubbing it. “Easy there. No worries, right?”

                Before Blaze could ask, Bailey maintained her coaxing. “Remember, this is not 3rd grade. You will be the best damn tree in the play.”

                Shojira nodded and slapped his face to pep himself up. “I AM THE TREE!”

                The princess paused and raised her pointer finger to say something but chose not to. Chris, who was now standing, asked, “So where are your folks?”

                Closing an eye and pondering, she recalled, “I think they’re already sitting with the other leaders. They really haven’t had any time to relax at all because of the festival.” Blaze suddenly perked up. “Oh right! Your schedule! Let’s see…” The tigress pulled out a paper slip that looked like it was torn out of a notebook. “Shojira, you’re in the 2nd fight. Chris, you’re 5th, and Bailey, you’ll be in the last fight. And your opponents…Rocio Garcia, Song Yoon, and Yuri Andropov respectively.”

                Bailey cracked her knuckles. “Oh, this is gonna be fun.”

                Shojira injected, “Speak for yourself, Chris gets a kickboxing champ.”

                The wolf scratched the back of his head. “Isn’t Song Yoon that monkey guy that Bailey got in front of at the dinner?”

                Blaze closed her eye again. “Ah…yeah. And I don’t think he looked too happy about it.”

                Chris jokingly frowned at Bailey. “Way to go.”

                The badger huffed and folded her arms. “If he wants to take it personally, then I’ll trade you.” Chris graciously patted her on the shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll just explain the situation calmly before I kick him in the face.”

                Blaze groaned, stroking her forehead. Nevertheless, she offered her support before leaving, leaving master and students by themselves once again. Jirokai was the first to talk. “I can’t speak for Mr. Andropov or Miss Garcia, but I have definitely seen Song Yoon in battle. Certainly a cocky fellow but he can back it up.”

                Chris stroked his chin confidently. “Yeah, but he’s just fighting other kickboxers. I would like to think I could offer up something new. I just wonder if his ego is gonna get in the way.”

                Suddenly, a booming, gruff voice broke through the walls of the dressing room as it seemed to be coming from the stage’s sound system. “Yo, what’s up my Zaibatsu, welcome to the first day of the Terra Festival! How’s everybody doing today?!” The thunderous cheers and applause was just as loud as the sound system as the announcer continued. “We have the world’s best fighters gathered here, ready to put on a show for all of you! Broadcasting worldwide, with big thanks to my crew, Shattered Dreams Productions, are you all ready to get this started?!”

                With the continued energetic urging of the crowd, a rock song began to play over the sound system. Chris perked up and frantically looked from his friends to the source of the sound. “Wait, we get theme songs? Nobody told me we were gonna have theme songs.”

                Bailey snickered. “Don’t worry, I picked yours out for you.”

                The wolf immediately grimaced and squinted at Bailey. “I swear, if you’re gonna embarrass me in front of my family…”

                “I thought about it. But then I thought, ‘Nah, this is the closest he’ll ever get to wrestling.’ So I opted to spare you of that.” Bailey’s jokester smile became more sincere and she winked.

                Chris sighed. “You are way too convincing sometimes, you know that?”

                After the song currently playing kicked in with foreign lyrics, the announcer was on the microphone again. “Introducing first, hailing from Southtown, Helcomb, he weighs in at 218 pounds! Specializing in boxing, please welcome…Henry! Bogard!”

                Chris frowned and asked, “Can’t we go watch these? We’re just about ready, right?” Shojira shrugged before seeing Bailey get up. “Sure, let’s go see how good they really are,” she said, leaving the dressing room with Chris and Shojira close behind. Jirokai shrugged and yawned, lounging on the floor of the dressing room and closing his eyes.

                The three headed closer towards the entrance to the stage, noticing a gaggle of various staff in matching shirts coordinating the music and lights, among other things. They were near the path to the ring when they were stopped by a staff member.

                “Whoa, where do you think you’re going? None of you are up yet,” he hissed.

                Chris could hear the name “Zarifa Udoka” over the speakers. Bailey growled. “Oh, we just want to do a run-in and ruin this match before it even starts. We don’t want people to have fun.” Bailey slapped her hand against her face when the staff member actually believed her. “We just want to watch the fights before we have to go up!”

                Frowning, the staff member pointed behind him. There was a huddle of fighters around a television, which seemed to be playing the broadcast that Blaze mentioned. The Eastern Dragon Hanzo was there to greet Shojira while Chris and Bailey occupied empty chairs. The television was busy showing Henry and Dante trading blows in their protective gear when Chris looked to his right.

                A tan human male lounged in his seat, appearing to be drinking from a glass bottle. Sporting a trimmed beard and very messy dark disheveled hair, he wasn’t really dressed to fight with leather pants and boots. The human seemed more like he was ready to party, if he wasn’t already. He faced Chris, grinning a bit and held up his bottle. The wolf shook his head and the human shrugged, taking another swig of it.

                “Antonio!! Come on!”

                Chris jumped in his seat as a woman’s voice popped up from behind. A brown female armadillo, dressed in a gi like Chris, stormed up and grabbed “Antonio’s” bottle, yanking it out of his hands.

                “Are you seriously drinking at a time like this?!” She reproached. If there was something the man had mastered, it was shrugging and the armadillo wasn’t having of any of that. She took a whiff of the bottle’s contents, quickly switching from anger to confusion. “Wait a minute, is this soda?” She asked.

                Antonio began to snicker and then roar with laughter, clapping his hands. “Ay Rocio, mama, ‘ou are too easy to trick!” Rocio looked ready to smack him with the bottle but settled with an open hand smack to the back of his head. She shook her head and looked at Chris, who looked on in bemusement.

                “I’m sorry, I don’t usually yell like this but this pendejo had been drowning in booze for the past couple days and blowing me and my partner off for parties...” Rocio shook her head and sat by Chris. Bailey was too attached to the action on the television to care about what just happened.

                “That’s…bad?” Chris managed to say.

                “Bad? It’s horrible. I really hope he gets taught a lesson out there,” Rocio scowled, glaring at Antonio. “Do you know who his opponent is?”

                Chris shook his head no. Bailey suddenly blurted out, “You couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn with that kick!” Rocio eyed the badger then looked back at Antonio, who was lounging in his chair. “If only she was facing him. Then she could suplex him out of the ring. Maybe use a steel chair.”

                Chris rubbed his eyes, with his ears folded back. “Yeah, that would be great for public relations…”

                The roar of the crowd suddenly rose to a higher decibel when the TV displayed one of the fighters, a male lion with a wild, bushy mane, raising his hands in triumph, his defeated opponent laying on the ground, clutching his left side.

                The announcer got back on the microphone and declared Zarifa Udoka the winner of the bout by technical knockout. Rocio hopped onto her feet and quickly strode to the entrance to the stage, ready to head out. Shojira was still deep in conversation with Hanzo, but before the tiger could expand on the topic of his recipes for dumplings, his new friend easily spun him in place. Nudged to the entrance and towards Rocio, Shojira realized he was up next. He joined Rocio, standing right beside her.

                After Zarifa proudly entered the backstage area with Henry stumbling in afterwards. The announcer chimed in, “All right, our next fight features a representative of Barostiano against one of our own Aldwynne heroes!” A distinctive increase of applause for the “Aldwynne hero” broke out. Rocio smiled in amusement while Shojira breathed to himself.

               

                The thumping of a perky mambo song burst from the speakers as one of the backstage personnel patted Rocio on her back, giving her the cue to head to the ring. She jogged out of the curtain and was out of sight after the curtains closed. Shojira bowed his head in silence. He heard Rocio’s introduction but it was hazy to him right now. The next thing he heard, the music faded out and a new song began to play. He heard faded horns that were building him up. As soon as he felt the pat to his back, he quickly emerged from the curtains.

                Shojira looked out into the crowd, many of whom who were actually on their feet, cheering wildly. His song’s rap lyrics kicked in, the tiger’s adrenaline actually leading him to yell out the verses to the crowd. His new fans were now chanting for him to jump as per the chorus. Shojira complied. The energy that was pulsing throughout his body was intoxicating. He hopped over the ring’s ropes into the squared circle. It was hard to hear the announcer call out the tiger’s name as he continued to put on a show. He went to his designated corner, turning to look behind him.

                Shojira saw Lei-Mei sitting next to Chris and Bailey’s families, on her feet and clapping for her brother. He nodded in acknowledgement, catching his breath. The tiger felt his body get turned back around. An official was putting Shojira’s protective gear for him, explaining the rules while she did so. He only made out that any strikes were worth points and whoever won either had the most points or made their opponent quit. A helmet was fastened over his head with a chest guard attached. His hands became gloved and shin guards became attached as well.

                Shojira loosened his wrists and raised his arms. Rocio, standing directly across from him in the same equipment, was more crouched. The bell rang. Shojira and Rocio approached each other and touched gloves. The tiger’s stare was aimed directly at Rocio, waiting to see if she would make the first move. As he saw her inch forward, he whipped out a quick kick to keep her back. Shojira kept his feet in motion, starting to circle around the armadillo. Deciding to take the initiative, Shojira aimed his right hand at Rocio’s body.

                Unfortunately, she anticipated it, using her forearms to block his strike and then she caught him by the wrist. She used his momentum to pull him forward, taking him off his feet. She used her own foot to throw him over her head, and then got on top of him in a full mount position. Rocio began to rain down punches upon Shojira, who did his best to keep his guard up. But Rocio’s body was deceptive to her strength and he could feel her begin to break through.

                The tiger did notice a rhythm that Rocio allowed herself to fall into. Counting the seconds in his head, it was his turn to reverse the assault. He deflected a left haymaker and pushed the armadillo off of him with a right palm strike. Even with the chest guard, it was clear the hit knocked some wind out of Rocio. Shojira hopped back up to his feet and took advantage. He attacked with a basic one-two punch combination first, then launched a kick to her right side. It found its mark and the equipment seemed to not be proficient enough to cushion the tiger’s blows.

                Rocio dropped her guard and left herself wide open. Shojira closed the distance and aimed for an uppercut. His hand rose from below Rocio at a high speed. It was so fast that she…disappeared. The tiger felt his fist make contact with the armadillo but she was now nowhere to be seen. Unless...

                Shojira looked down and saw a ball on the canvas. In his stupor, Shojira didn’t realize that the ball had uncurled and a leg soon swept him off his feet. Shojira yelped in surprise as Rocio was back on the attack. She grabbed the prone tiger’s left arm and was trying to yank it towards her. Shojira used his right hand to hold onto his arm and struggled to keep it under his control. However, Rocio pulled his arm free and was now cranking on the force into her armbar. Yelling out in pain, Shojira refused to give up when he heard someone ask him. It had to be an official but he had just been too occupied to notice.

                Shojira’s resiliency awoke his instincts, allowing him to move his compromised arm into a better position. He managed to get off the ground to alleviate the pressure but Rocio then wrapped her legs around his neck, back still on the canvas. Shojira growled and slowly lifted Rocio off of the mat, to her surprise. She attempted to place him in another submission, but with a bellowing roar, Shojira slammed Rocio as hard as he could.

                Even with her protective shell, the impact made Rocio weaken her grip. But the tiger wasn’t finished, raising Rocio up once again to throw her down. This time, she lost her grasp completely, with her body now laid out spread-eagle. At her side, Shojira jumped and dropped his body onto the ground, his left elbow leading the way.

                Rocio suddenly grinned as she leapt up to grab Shojira’s arm again, but he was ready. Shifting his weight in mid-air, he threw Rocio towards one of the corners of the ring. Rocio realized where she was about to go and curled back into her ball again, bouncing off the corner and back towards Shojira. The speed that she was going caught the tiger off guard and he received one speeding armadillo to his gut.

                While hunched over, Shojira managed to grasp onto the curled up Rocio. Clutching her like she was a beach ball, he began to spin in place. Shojira snapped his eyes shut to keep from dizzying himself as he rotated faster and faster. Even with Rocio wriggling to try and free herself, Shojira was able to toss her up and catch her with his foot during her descent. The crowd gasped in shock before he actually kicked up Rocio and bounced her around on his feet and knees. Now the crowd was roaring with overflowing approval with just what this fight was bringing. Lei-Mei, however, was yelling, “NO! HOLD BACK, SHOJIRA!”

                Somehow, Shojira was actually able to hear his sister, turning his head to see what was wrong. Rocio took advantage of his distraction and uncurled, snatching onto the left arm that she worked over earlier and bringing Shojira down with her. Even though she had the upper hand, Rocio looked exhausted and cranked back on Shojira’s arm again. This time, he had no choice but to tap out. As soon as Shojira submitted, Rocio released him and gasped for breath on the ground. The audience got up on their feet and cheered for both fighters. The announcer was back on the microphone, declaring Rocio the winner by an armbar submission.

                Shojira slowly rose to his feet, cursing himself for being easily side-tracked. Hunched over with hands on his knees, he could only shake his head until he saw an open hand. He looked up, realizing it was Rocio’s, who offered a small smile. Without hesitation, he shook her hand and gave her a quick hug of respect. Shojira heard her whisper in his ear, “You had me beat. I just got lucky.”

 

                The two left the ring and headed backstage together, where Chris and Bailey were waiting. Rocio went past the two and was going in the direction of the dressing rooms. Shojira went back to the waiting area with his friends, all taking seats together in front of the television.

                Chris noticed Shojira was gingerly touching his arm and grimacing. “You all right there, bud?”

                The tiger frowned, appearing mellow compared to his energy during the fight. “Rocio has a pretty mean armbar, if you couldn’t tell.”

                Bailey peeked behind her, arms outstretched. “She looks like you did a number on her too.”

                “Yeah. Though I strayed far from the game plan, didn’t I?” Shojira muttered.

                “I wouldn’t say so. You were giving a good show, at least. Better than making everyone bored out of their skulls,” Bailey remarked.

                Shojira smiled and patted Chris on the shoulder. “At least our golden boy will have better luck.”

                Bailey laughed and tussled Chris’ hair. “Yeah, ‘golden boy.’”

                The wolf smiled and rolled his shoulders, breathing quietly to himself. “I’m more than ready. The anticipation is starting to make me impatient though.”

                The three continued to sit and watch as the other matches before Chris’ to play out. They all winced at the end of Hanzo’s match, which saw him effortlessly toss around his opponent without much movement. A few fights later and Rocio was back, eyeing the TV in keen interest of Antonio’s match. She scowled when Antonio was triumphant by having a lead on points. Bailey noticed a graphic on the television displaying the next match. Before she could make a remark, Chris was already at the entrance tunnel.

               

                “I can do this…I can do this…” Chris thought to himself as he waited for his cue. He kept looking around him for any sign of Song Yoon but there appeared to be none yet. Antonio shuffled past Chris with a pleased smile on his face while the announcer once again took the microphone.

                “All right, everybody, it’s time for another hometown favorite to take on the #1 kickboxer in the world today! I think it’s only fair to give our local hero the welcome he deserves! C’mon, make some noise!”

                The crowd began to applaud and cheer at the same volume they did for Shojira when he made his entrance. The energy was infecting Chris, cleansing him of any butterflies he might have had. After getting the okay, he went through the curtain, to the roar of the audience in attendance. Chris’ heart began to race as the excitement was becoming contagious. He hopped over the ropes and, while in his corner, looked out into the audience. He was able to easily spot his family, in no small thanks to his father standing up and waving his arms frantically.

                Damien Hayabusa, who was about the same size and had the same muscular build as Bailey, was showing his age with a gray stripe in his long black locks. However, his youthful energy oozed through his yells of support for his son. Beside him was Chris’ mother, Suzanne, looking very fair with her soft, snow-white fur. Next to her were Chris’ younger siblings, Jaden and Christie, both gray and white as their older brother, though Jaden shared Damien and Chris’ black hair.

                Chuckling to himself, Chris then breathed slowly and knelt in his corner. He looked down and closed his eyes, waiting for his opponent to enter the ring. He heard his name announced to the crowd but still kept his cool composure. Chris opened his eyes and looked up, seeing Blaze seated with her parents along with the other world leaders. They both shared a smile when the music changed to one of a looming orchestral score. Both cheers and boos showered upon Song Yoon once he appeared from backstage.

                The langur grinned widely as he mocked his detractors while walking down the ramp, wearing a golden championship belt around his waist and a pair of baggy kickboxing pants. The wild white fur covering almost of his body clashed with his jet black face. The only distinguishable features on Song Yoon’s face were his eyes and mouth. To his credit, the kickboxer was being very expressive with his dismissal of his critics.

                After he entered the ring, Song Yoon removed his belt and gave it to an official. The two fighters were fitted with the protective gear and the referee motioned for the match to begin.

                Chris cautiously approached Song Yoon and extended his right fist as an offer of sportsmanship. Song Yoon looked down at Chris’ hand and raised his eyebrows. If Chris wasn’t already expecting the kickboxer’s ego to run wild, he would have taken the full brunt of a wild roundhouse kick. Instead, Chris ducked the swinging leg and pushed Song Yoon away with a front kick to his chest. With some distance between each other, Chris suddenly stepped in with a kick aimed at Song Yoon’s right shin. The strike was not defended in any way since the kickboxer attacked in the same manner. Both seemed to be gauging their reach against one another.

                That was, until Song Yoon charged head-on at Chris and started to furiously throw unrefined punches and kicks. The wolf was taken a bit off guard from the sudden strategy but he soon fell back into the muscle memory of his sparring. Chris was disappointed by how Song Yoon was relying on overwhelming offense. Following his instincts, the wolf swayed to his left and drilled a thunderous right backfist that seemed to penetrate Song Yoon’s chest armor. The langur was knocked into his corner, much to the roar of the crowd.

                The exclamation of the public appeared to be a trigger for the kickboxer. Growling loudly, baring his fangs, Song Yoon started yanking off the protective gear. The referee stood in his way, being shoved aside to the ground. The referee then called for the bell to be rung but Song Yoon was already charging at Chris. Chris still kept his cool, ready to defend himself, until…

                WRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!

                The spine-chilling screech silenced everyone in the area. Chris looked around for where the yell came from. He realized that Bailey and Shojira were standing on the entrance ramp, both now searching for the source of the scream. Chris’s heart started to beat rapidly, his head automatically turning and peering at the top of a nearby 25 story building. His eyes widened and he felt his body run cold.

                There stood a grotesque, crimson red monster that was looking down from its perch. With a hulking frame, it bellowed another cry of fury out of a mouth that was framed with razor sharp fangs. The creature crouched down and leapt into the air, heading towards the city square. Immediately, the crowd tried to disperse. Chris saw the other fighters join the crowd to help them leave safely. Song Yoon had already hightailed from the ring and the monster landed in his spot, almost collapsing the ring. Standing directly in front of the beast, Chris realized the substantial size difference, with his entire body being as big as the monster’s leg. Bailey was ready to join Chris but he held his arm up to stop her.

                “NO! Bailey, you have to get our families out of here! Shojira, you need to look after Lei-Mei!” he commanded, taking off the protective equipment.

                “We’re not letting you fight this thing on your own!” Shojira snapped.

                “I’ll distract it! Just get them away from here!” Chris screamed, turning to them.

                “FATHER!!”

                Chris spun his body to the sound, finding that the monster had grabbed King Ferno in its hand. Blaze and Queen Charrie were knocked over with the other leaders nowhere in sight. Ferno yelled in anger as he tried to fight his way free but the beast’s grip was too strong. With a howl, Chris’ right hand ignited with his purple flame and charged at the monster. The burning flame made contact with the monster’s free arm, actually dissolving it. It was now that Chris realized that the monster was actually made out of blood. The blood beast took advantage of Chris’ stupor, smacking him with the hand that held Ferno in a vice grip. The wolf was sent flying into the ropes, bouncing off of them and onto the ring mat.

                In no time at all, the beast regenerated its missing arm. As fast as it appeared, the monster leapt away with the king in tow. Blaze, standing with pure vengeance in her eyes, took out a phone from her pocket and dialed a number. After a few seconds, she began to roar, “CAPTAIN, MOBILIZE ALL OF THE UNITS AVAILABLE TO SAVE THE KING!! HE’S BEEN KIDNAPPED AND HIS ABDUCTOR IS HEADING EAST!!” After a couple more seconds, Blaze’s anger subsided just slightly, “It’s…a hulking blood monster. No, don’t question me on this. Be careful with how you subdue it…all right. I want reports as soon as possible.”

                Meanwhile, Chris was picking himself off of the ring’s mat when he was yanked onto his feet by another broad figure. Damien dusted off his son and held his head in his hands. “Chris, are you awake?! How many fingers am I holding up?!” Chris pulled his father’s hands away. “D-Dad, I’m fine! Let go of me!” he sputtered.

                “You didn’t tell me how many fingers I held up,” said Damien.

                “Because you were holding my face, you dingus.” Chris whispered to himself.

                Stepping in between the two, Suzanne hugged her eldest son. “Chris…what in the world were you thinking?!” She gave him a slap on the back of the head.

                Chris winced and looked at his siblings for any guidance. Both of them shook their heads, Christie mouthing the words “You’re on your own.”

                It was then that Bailey and Shojira reappeared with Lei-Mei and were in the ring with the Hayabusa family. “I think we have bigger things to worry about,” Bailey said. She nodded her head at Blaze and Queen Charrie, both approaching Chris. Blaze ran her hand over her face, sighing. “Chris…I need you to come with me.”

                “What? Why?”

                “Your family and friends can come with you if you want, just…I need you to come to my home,” Blaze shakily replied.

 

                About an hour later, Chris was in the living room of the Shirazi mansion. Chris, out of his gi and dressed in more suitable clothes to be at the royal mansion, was seated straight across from Blaze on separate couches. She was still trying to grasp what had happened. Chris decided to speak up and try to receive some clarity himself.

                “Blaze…do you have any idea just what the hell that was?”

                The princess looked up at Chris before rubbing her eyes and sighing. “I…I think I do. I need to wait for a report before I go farther, though.”

                The two sat in silence for a moment before Chris spoke again. “Do you know what happened to the other world leaders?”

                “As far as I’ve been told, they were accompanied out by their representatives. And the monster didn’t try to grab them or anything. It seemed to be fixated on my father. I tried to stop it but my flames were useless,” Blaze explained.

                “Wait…you tried to attack it with your powers?”

                After Blaze confirmed with a nod, Chris placed his hand on his chin and closed his eyes. “Because when I attacked it with my fire, the monster’s arm dissolved. It regenerated but I still harmed it.”

                Blaze practically stomped her feet when she stood up, startling Chris. “Your powers effected it?! M-Maybe you-!”

                A loud knock came outside of the room before an out of breath young raccoon in a police uniform entered. He saluted Blaze. “Officer Travis Kennedy reporting! Last known location of Our Majesty, King Ferno, was on the eastern exit of Haleigh! The king was placed inside a black van with tinted windows and no license plate! Officer intended to intercept but mysterious creature thwarted him!”

                Chris noticed, upon further inspection, the scratches and bruises on the young officer.

                “Did you notice any suspects around or inside the vehicle, officer?” Blaze inquired.

                Officer Kennedy grimaced and shook his head no. That was, until his eyes lit up with a memory. “Wait, I did see somebody! After I gathered my bearings from being knocked down, I saw a human girl in the van, with white hair. I think she might have been captured by the kidnappers.”

                “Did you only see her hair?”

                With a confirming nod from the officer, Blaze sighed. Suddenly, Queen Charrie entered the room with Chris’ parents in tow.

                “Blaze, turn on the television and put on the news! Immediately!” Charrie commanded.

                The newscast seemed to be coming back from commercial, which was already covering Ferno’s kidnapping. The news-anchor on camera reported that the studio had just received a videotape from the kidnappers and that it would be played live. Chris and Blaze moved closer to the television as a silhouette appeared. There was really nothing distinguishable about it and once the figure began to speak, the voice was obviously edited to be distorted.

                “Hello, world. If you are seeing this video, then you already know. If not, then I will enlighten you. King Ferno Shirazi has been taken from his throne. I have demands that, if met, will ensure his safe return. But I will not express them in the public mainstream. These demands are to be given to the royal family and they will be tasked with following my instructions to the letter. Again, if my instructions are followed clearly, no harm will come to King Ferno whatsoever. I only ask of the public to not panic and let their emotions get the better of them. My demands are reasonable and I do not wish to complicate things any more than they are. Thank you.”

                Everyone was still staring at the television long after the ransom message was read. There was an uneasy air in the room. Chris looked at Blaze and saw that her hands were clenched into fists and they were trembling. He was unsure if he should console her at all. Before he had a chance to decide, she stood up, her eyes piercing a hole into Officer Kennedy.

                “If the police receive that tape meant for my mother and I, you will hand it over immediately. Are we clear?” She said coldly.

                The young officer shivered under Blaze’s glare, saluting her and responding with a quivering, “Yes, Your Highness!”

                After he departed, Blaze sat back on the couch she occupied earlier. Her mother sat besides her, petting her shoulder while Chris and his parents sat across again.

                “Do you know what you’re going to do, Your Highness?” Chris asked.

                Queen Charrie replied simply, “I will be working with the other world leaders to try and figure out the best course of action.”

                “Mother…I need to ask them,” said Blaze.

                With a hesitant nod to proceed, Blaze clasped her hands together and sighed, looking at Damien and Suzanne Hayabusa. “Mr. and Mrs. Hayabusa, I asked for the both of you to come so you’d be present for this question. I know your son is an adult but it would only be fair to…” She paused, shaking her head. “I would like to have Chris help ensure the safe return of the king.”

                Damien and Suzanne both looked at one another and then at their son, who could not believe what he was hearing.

                Suzanne spoke up, “You’re serious about this? You…want my son to single-handedly save the king?”

                Blaze replied, “He wouldn’t be doing this alone, oh no. You do know about his powers?”

                Nodding, Damien continued his wife’s line of thinking. “Does his powers have anything to do with that big monster from earlier?”

                “Yes. My flames were unable to harm it but Chris’ actually damaged it. I think…I think your son has been blessed by the gods.”

A red and white sportscar zoomed through the streets of Haleigh, underneath the beautiful Wednesday sunset sky. Chris and Shojira clung to their seats for dear life as Bailey used her horsepower to zoom past the turns and lanes to get to the Shirazi mansion.  Bailey was dressed in a new vest over a dress shirt while Chris and Shojira settled for long-sleeved dress shirts and ties. Though they probably should have worn helmets thanks to Bailey’s crazy driving. The wheels on her car spun so ferociously, they were almost on fire.

Thankfully for the guys, Bailey reached the mansion with no accidents. Unfortunately, there was swarms of paparazzi hounding the entrance gate, and they went insane with desperation when they noticed Bailey was driving. Bailey got the “ok” from the guards and entered the property while the guards dealt with the photography vultures. Once the trio was inside, a servant directed them to the dining room, where Blaze awaited them, along with the foreign fighters.

Blaze was in a long white dress and matching shoes with her hair tied in a ponytail. Chris noticed how her dress shined and he noticed little diamonds that decorated the garment. She eagerly approached Bailey and almost hugged her before halting herself and tried to regain her “nobility” with a handshake. Chris and Shojira shared sideways glances though Bailey politely smiled.

“Now! If everybody will remain standing!” Blaze announced, still trying to move on from her break of formality. All of the guests were clumped with their friends at the table, which was rather barren. “Thank you for attending tonight’s dinner. I personally made sure that no press will interrupt us this evening. Now, I know that this might not be necessary, but I’d like everyone to sit near someone they do not know personally. I would appreciate if all of you would take the time to get to know one another. If you please?”

With little resistance, the guests shuffled randomly among each other until they were at least side by side with someone new. Bailey ended up seated by a female armadillo and a male puma. Chris ended up sitting right next to Blaze and a humongous green Eastern Dragon from Shen La. Shojira was on the dragon’s other side and right next to a tan, youthful human male with faded scars on his face and a brown Mohawk fade. Chris shifted his head to peer at the towering dragon and ended up facing his elbow.

Turning his line of sight towards the dragon’s head, he could make out a pair of glasses and a red beard. Otherwise, he didn’t really have a good clue of what the dragon looked like…or if he was even in a good mood. “Excuse me. I’m Chris Hayabusa. Nice to meet you,” Chris extended his right hand, showing off his fangs in a friendly smile at the dragon. The dragon’s head lowered down to face Chris, and to Chris’ surprise, his new companion seemed rather gentle for someone of his stature.

“Hello! I am Hanzo Ichinagi from the Esaka borough of Shen-La. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hayabusa!” the dragon beamed, with a hint of nobility in his voice. “It is not often that I travel to foreign lands so it is delightful to be so close to not only a formidable town hero, but royalty as well.”

Blaze giggled at Hanzo. “I find it delightful to be around pleasant company.”

Chris was rather unsure of Hanzo’s claim about him. “Town hero? That’s…a new one.”

The dragon viewed down and rubbed his chin. “Wait…it was either that or town delinquent.”

The wolf hunched over and stared a hole through his plate. “I’m…not really either of those things so I don’t know who told you that,” he thought to himself. The wolf paused for a moment. “So, Hanzo…if you’re a part of the exhibitions, what’s your style?”

“Aikido. I practice it in my spare time. It helps me maintain control of my natural strength.”

“Ah, well you can never have too much spare time for something like Aikido.”

“Valid point. It helps me clear my mind for my poetry,” Hanzo remarked with a smile.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “Poetry? So wait, you make a living as a poet?”

Hanzo nodded. “I could never find much sense in making my living in combat. While it is important to be able defend myself, I do not wish to make a profit from physically harming others.”

The wolf frowned and kept a weary eye on Hanzo. He had no idea what to make of this guy.
Hanzo lowered himself to whisper in Chris’ ear. “Though you will have much more opportunities to know about me. I would take this chance to speak with your princess.” The dragon smiled in encouragement before turning his conversation to Shojira, who sat on his other side.

Chris arched his head past Blaze’s left to see who else she was inbetween. He saw a quick glimpse of a grey langur before the princess’ golden yellow eyes appeared in front of his line of vision. Blaze smiled at the wolf and said, “Hello, Christopher.”

The wolf paused and returned her smile, his fingers on his right hand opening and closing rather absentmindedly on the table. “Hello, Your Highness...how are you feeling this evening?”

Blaze nodded her head left to right in faux deep thought and replied in a cartoonish upper-class voice. “I am feeling quite lovely, prepared to eat an excellently prepared dinner while meeting such charming faces. Oh indubitably, this evening promises to be one worthy of talks and scripture into history!”

Chris scratched the back of his head. “So that’s an ‘I’m doing fine’?”

She giggled, now appearing less of a snooty stereotype and more approachable. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into when meeting some of the citizens who are too worried about being themselves. A lot of people are afraid that I might send them to our dungeon or something.” She still kept her cheeky grin.

Chris chuckled. “A dungeon, huh? You still keep it clean? Having too many skeletons in there might just be a tad bit unsanitary.”

Blaze paused and folded her arms in deep thought. “…I believe we cleaned it out last Thursday. Thursday is when the trash is taken out.”

Chris raised his eyebrows and gasped in horror. “How DARE you! Those prisoners are still Terrans, dammit!”

Blaze laughed, shaken up by Chris’ delivery. Chris snickered along with her, way more comfortable with talking to the princess now than just a few moments ago. “I did not expect this to be the icebreaker between the two of us,” Chris remarked.

Blaze opened her mouth to reply but the kitchen doors opened and a line of servers entered the room with trays upon trays of food. Each server approached each individual patron at the table, laying down the trays they held in their hands, revealing the intoxicating smell of fresh ham, turkey, chicken, bread, biscuits, and potatoes. Although with less powerful aromas, the salads, fruit, ramen noodles, and seafood were all alluring in their own right. The servers then began to ask each guest what they would prefer to have on their plates. Chris ended up helping himself to some fresh salad, ham, biscuits and chicken. He turned his head to see what Hanzo was eating, which appeared to be a single bowl of ramen noodles with some meat in the bowl. On his other side, Blaze actually had much more food on her plate, though she at least had the proper silverware and knew how to use it.

Wishing he was more focused in the etiquette lessons his sister gave him, Chris picked up the smallest fork and got into his salad. It was very delicious, crisp with every ingredient tasting as if it was just picked out of the garden. After politely swallowing, he turned over at Blaze, who was enjoying herself a piece of turkey.

“Blaze, er I mean, Your Highness…”

“It’s okay, you can call me Blaze,” the princess clarified.

“Blaze, I’ve seen pictures of you walking along the streets of Aldwynne on your own. Don’t you usually have guards wherever you go to keep you safe? You’re sort of high profile.”

The princess giggled and looked back at the wolf. “I’m not exactly a teenage girl, am I?”

Chris scratched the side of his face and lowered his line of vision. “No, not really. I just thought that was mandatory with any kind of political leader to have some sort of protection wherever they go.”

“Actually, you’re not wrong. It’s just that my protection isn’t obvious. I wouldn’t be easy to walk up to if a hulking bodyguard sat down by me wherever I went, giving evil glares to everyone.”

“Heck, I think if they were here, they’d be body-slamming me through the table for being way too nice,” Chris joked before eating some more food.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Blaze spying on Bailey. The badger seemed rather uninterested with the pick-up lines the puma sitting by her was trying to use. After swallowing, Chris turned to the princess, who did not react in time to pretend she wasn’t watching Bailey.

“Bailey caught your interest, huh, Blaze?” Chris asked, doing his best not to show his amusement. Blaze had an expression of envy for the puma before she realized Chris was watching her.

“Oh! Um…yes, the thing is that Bailey…she…” The princess stammered and her hands uselessly gestured while she tried to find her words. She just could not speak while keeping herself appear as someone with authority. Ultimately, she couldn’t keep herself together anymore. She heatedly whispered, “Bailey is just amazing! I mean, I’ve never seen someone with her athletic ability before! And she’s just…!”

Blaze halted herself when she noticed Chris’ wide-eyed expression. She slowly covered her face for a few seconds before sighing and uncovering it. Blaze whispered again, “I’m the princess and yet I still get starstruck by other people…just how does that work?”

Chris could only offer a smile and a shrug before Blaze added, “Remember when I said I’m not a teenage girl? Obviously I need to work on that.” She grinned back at Chris and ended up ignoring her plate.

“So Chris, how long have you been training in martial arts?”

“Ever since I was seven. It’s sort of become second-nature at this point.” The wolf’s face twisted while he thought of what to say next. “I wouldn’t really call it a specific style, like ‘karate’ or ‘tae kwon do’. It’s more my own original style, just influenced by established martial arts.”

“You don’t call it ‘wolfkido’, do you?” The princess inquired, her white fangs grinning.

Chris sniggered, “Oh please, I’m not that full of myself. Besides, I’d call it something along the line of ‘Street Busting’ or ‘The Way of the Fang’.”

Blaze rolled her eyes and proceeded to imitate two different gruff males. “’Yo man, who did this to you?’ ‘Oh, this crazy wolf guy who says he fights using ‘Street Busting’ whooped my ass!’ ‘What the hell is ‘Street Busting’? ‘That’s what I said!’”

The wolf was covering his mouth and tried his best to keep himself from falling over from laughing. He succeeded but his cheeks hurt from just how much Blaze got to him. The princess rubbed his shoulder to help calm him down. “You all right there? Didn’t expect me to say that?” Chris could only shake his head no as he caught his breath.

Blaze fixed her hair and her face became gentle. “Tell me more about yourself, Chris. How’d you meet your friends?”

Chuckling to himself, Chris began, “Okay, so as I mentioned, I was seven years old when I started training in martial arts. My dad took me to the dojo for lessons. Things had happened at my elementary school so my parents thought it would be best for me to go take them to keep myself out of trouble. First day I was there, here’s a tiger who’s my size and then this badger girl who’s about the size of 11 year old but a year older than me. I thought Shojira was nice. He always wanted to hang out with me and we usually talked about games, books, all that. But I also thought Bailey was mean. Mainly because she was so big and grouchy.”

The princess glanced over at Bailey again. She smiled at the thought of young, much smaller Bailey folding her arms and pouting. Turning back to Chris, she said, “If you don’t mind me asking…what happened at school that made your parents sign you up for lessons? It had to have involved you, right?”

Chris’ smile faded. He played with his fingers and he sighed. “Okay. What happened was that a lot of the time at school, I would see other kids getting picked on by a group of bullies and I was getting so fed up with it. When I was born…I was more than special. I had…I guess you could call it a superpower.” Chris’ eyes darted around the table to make sure no one would notice. Suddenly, a small purple flame suddenly appeared on the tip of his right pointer finger. Blaze appeared shocked once she saw Chris’ spark light and then extinguish.

“I learned about this power when I was trying to defend myself. I enjoyed how strong I felt, the energy coming from the flames. So I thought I could be a superhero and try and stop bullying. First time I tried it, I ended up burning the bully. It wasn’t severe but it was enough for me to get in trouble and be taken out of school, but mostly for my safety. Thing was that the authorities thought I brought a lighter to school. It was coincidence that they found one at campus and so they immediately pinned it on me. My brother and sister ended up being scared of me because they thought I would hurt them the same way if I got mad, so that’s when my dad signed me up. Things…got rough after the incident though.”

Blaze shifted in her seat and continued to give Chris her full, undivided attention. “What do you mean? Were other people distrustful of you?”

The wolf nodded. “None of the parents wanted their kids around me. I wasn’t really able to go anywhere without having someone look at me and whisper behind my back. I obviously felt lonely with no kids my age to talk to. My martial arts teacher, Jirokai, helped Bailey and Shojira become convinced that I wasn’t going to hurt them so I didn’t have to worry about that. Still, even with all of the control he was able to give me over my flames, I don’t feel comfortable using them.”

The princess took a quick glance at Shojira, who had now begun to show Hanzo how to wrap a big ball of noodles around a chopstick to eat. Hoping to help Chris take his mind off of his past, she asked, “Is Shojira always eager to teach something?”

Chris chuckled. “You wouldn’t guess it by first impressions, but the guy’s pretty smart. He sort of has to be for his sister.”

“How come?” Blaze questioned.

“Shojira is pretty much the only family that his sister has left. So he’s been teaching a lot of different things. Though I doubt she needs to know how many episodes there are in ‘The Kyoto Nightcrawler’ where Tanae Kikamura does the Dragon Punch.”

Blaze giggled, appearing to appreciate Chris’ lighter mood. Faster than either of them could realize, Bailey approached them, carrying her plate and chair with her. She got in-between Blaze and the gray langur, much to Chris’ amusement and the langur’s annoyance. Bailey gave Blaze a flashy smile and asked, “So is my buddy here giving you thrilling stories?” Chris rolled his eyes and replied, “Yeah, I’m sure hearing you talk about the umpteenth time you threw someone into a table would be so much…okay, you got me there.”

Bailey chuckled and patted Chris on the shoulder. “Aww, I’m just kidding you. I wouldn’t really know of a good way to start a conversation with the princess of the country I lived in.” Bailey nodded at Blaze but was confused to find the princess so quiet. The princess appeared to be gazing at Chris, lost in thought.

“Blaze, would you like an autograph?” As fast as a bullet was Blaze’s response, “Yes please!” Bailey laughed at the sudden eagerness though Chris wondered what Blaze was staring at him for. She pulled out a pen and notepad from her vest pocket, scribbling her autograph down and handing it to Blaze. The princess smiled in gratitude. Chris spoke up, “So Blaze, do you want to hear a story about me, Bailey, and Shojira?” She nodded.

The wolf just about picked up where he left off. “So, after getting to know Shojira, I wanted to get tough and show Bailey I could defend myself. That was because Bailey just whooped my butt all the time in sparring. So I worked as hard as I could during lessons. Bailey kept to herself mostly until I actually asked for a spar with her. Of course, she just wipes the floor with me for most of it. But I kept going on and pushing her to the limit until she’s just exhausted. When she finally stops me, I am staring straight at her when she asks me, ‘Why wouldn’t you just stop?!’ I told her, ‘I want to help people! I want to be a hero!’ And the more sparring we had, the more evenly matched we were. My first win over her, I can remember it so well, because it was the first time I saw her smile at me.”

Blaze gave a small snigger and interjected with, “Sounds sort of cheesy, don’t you think?” Chris laughed. “Yeah, it is, I just made that ‘first time smiling’ thing up. Bailey was much easier to know than I thought she would after sparring so much.”

Bailey smirked and added, “Yeah, though it was hard to keep a little squirt like you still once you got going.”

Chris continued, “She sat with me during a break one day. It was around her 9th birthday and I guess her parents asked her to invite me and Shojira to her party. She wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I told her I would show up and so did Shojira. So, I’m at the party and I’m enjoying myself. Then, the bullies Bailey were hanging out with at school show up, uninvited. Shocker there. They were there to try and get Bailey to leave her own party to do something stupid. I walk up, wondering what’s going on and they nod at me and start calling me ‘runt’…and that’s the only insult I care to repeat. Me being that young and having all these jerks insult me, of course I felt ready to start crying.”

Bailey grinned, eager to also tell part of the story. Chris smiled and gestured for her to do so. “But then, I shove one of them away from me, yelling ‘You leave my friend alone! You all suck for picking on him and you also suck for being a bunch of cowards! ’ And when I shove someone, they end up falling down about 15 feet away. Right before one of them started going crazy, I saw Shojira dash up and give another bully a shove of his own, and he’s too ticked off to say anything. Finally, Chris goes up and yells in their faces, ‘Bailey doesn’t want you here! Shojira doesn’t want you here! Nobody wants any of you here! Go away!’”

Blaze’s eyes widened. “So you two and Shojira pretty much standoff with them, thinking you’re gonna beat them up?” Surprisingly, she laughed and said, “You three must have been ready to do that.”

Chris returned her laugh and nodded. “That’s pretty much it. And I was just so done, I was burning up. By then, the adults come running and threaten to call their parents for causing trouble so of course, they hightail it. Afterwards, Bailey lets me and Shojira have first bites of the cake and ice cream they had. Even though most of the other kids invited went home, she wanted me and Shojira to spend the night. So we did, we stayed up late playing video games and watching TV, and since that day, we’ve just been inseparable.”

Blaze smiled while Bailey laid back in her chair. The badger remarked, “Yeah, I couldn’t really let a pair of knuckleheads run around and try to be badasses. They would have been on a fast path to trouble without me.”

The princess laughed quietly, noticing Bailey going back to her dinner. Blaze scooted closer to Chris to keep Bailey out of earshot. “So, how did your teacher give you control over your powers? And what happened to you and your education?”

Chris shrugged at the first question. “It was all just a part of mental discipline and concentration. As for the latter, I ended up being homeschooled because I couldn’t be trusted. So I graduated elementary school on my own and then I tried public high school. Thankfully, there were less people who were paranoid about me being a ‘pyromaniac’ and I had Bailey and Shojira there to back me up. Otherwise, nothing really special.”

The tigress studied Chris once again, the wolf eyeing his empty plate with a weak stare. Blaze decided to stand up and called for attention. After everyone was watching her, Blaze announced,
“Before I forget! There is something that I would like to present to each and every one of you!”

The princess rose from her seat and walked to a cabinet. She pulled out a stack of paper wrapped in plastic and started walking around to everyone seated at the table. Hanzo was the first one to receive a paper and was instantly surprised. Shojira shared the same reaction, showing Chris and Bailey what he was given.

It was a drawn portrait of the tiger himself, with a small signature in the corner that appeared to be Blaze’s. The guests all gave thanks to Blaze and complimented her on the quality of her art, showing each other her renditions. Chris took a good look at his portrait, which was actually a recreation of his senior year portrait, so his hair was slicked back and he was wearing a tuxedo.

Bailey snickered before displaying her portrait to Chris, the drawing also remaking Bailey’s senior year picture. She was also wearing a tuxedo but she also appeared to have been through a wrestling match, with a bandage over her right eye and her hair unkempt.

The princess could only show her delight by how happy everyone was with her gifts until the clock rang 10:00 at night. Blaze gasped, having been caught off guard. “Oh my, it’s 10:00 already? The time sure flies past you, doesn’t it? I don’t want to deprive you all of your rest!” Even though everyone was trying to convince her that they weren’t tired, Blaze insisted they headed home and got enough rest for tomorrow. As the guests thanked Blaze once again and the foreign visitors left to their limo, Chris, Bailey, and Shojira were the last to leave. Before they exited the mansion, Blaze gave Chris and Bailey individual hugs and wishes of luck. The male tiger noticed how long Blaze hugged Chris and patted his back.

When the three got into Bailey’s car and left the property, they noticed the paparazzi had disbanded. Now much more relaxed behind the wheel, much to the boys’ relief, Bailey appeared to take her time driving home. Shojira decided to speak up. “So what in the world did you two do to get a hug from our princess?”

“Mine was pretty obvious, if you remember the letter,” Bailey reminded Shojira.

The tiger diverted his attention to Chris, who was sitting in the backseat. “So what about you?”

Chris was busy playing with his fingers before realizing Shojira was talking to him. “Oh. Just told her some fun stories about the three of us. And some cute ones about me.”

A snicker slowly rose from Bailey. “Did you tell the princess about the ‘Rope of Doom?’”

Shojira made a sound that could best be described as a cat that was kicked off the bed. “Bailey, you know how much I don’t like hearing about that rope. You say it’s just a piece of rope but it is evil as hell itself!”

Bailey and Chris both cracked up as they continued to head home. They were going to need some high spirits to get through tomorrow.
The autumn sun rose, reflecting off of the windows of buildings and towers of a very large, pristine city called Haleigh. The early morning workers were already heading to their work sites and businesses were opening their doors to the rising bustle and noise of the city. A cool wind ran through the streets, leaves dancing away from the trees. Near the outskirts of the city rested a large mansion with an acre-spanning fence around the property.

At the entrance stood two well-dressed guards, appearing very alert. Their stony faces broke into smiles before they opened the gate and a black luxury car exited the driveway and headed into the city. The vehicle cruised along the streets until it reached a parking lot in the center of the restaurant district.

A petite magenta tigress with swirling stripes along her face exited the vehicle. She was dressed in a long flowing blue dress, black jacket, black slacks, and white heels. With a purse over her shoulder she walked down to the street corner. She entered a small building displaying a sign shaped after a city skyline that read “Colony Café”.

The tigress entered to the sound of a jingling bell and smooth jazz. The aroma of black coffee greeted Blaze while her eyes adjusted to the rather dimly lit interior.  She approached the register, meeting a black human male who grinned upon meeting the familiar face. “Hello, Your Highness! What’ll be today?” he asked. The tigress pondered the menu while giving the cashier her own smile in return.

“A cappuccino is just fine with me, Bryan,” she said with a very noticeable ethnical accent.

In only half a minute, the cup was prepared and the tigress gave the cashier some dollar bills and coins. Thanking him and taking her cup, she headed to an open table near a window with a wide view of the street. She thought about the day’s agenda while reaching for a stray newspaper on a nearby table.

Blaze rearranged the disorganized pages to assemble the morning edition of the local paper. The front page news proclaimed the arrival of the government leaders of the different countries within Sol. Blaze chuckled to herself. She imagined her parents were sure to have lots of fun going through a slew of nonsense just to talk to their neighbors.

Skimming through the headlines, the princess took a quick glance through the articles while periodically taking sips of her drink. She opened the paper in the middle of raising the cup to her mouth and almost dropped it in surprise.

The sports section boasted a picture of a powerful female badger in a dojo sparring with a male wolf. Upon noticing the badger, Blaze was beginning to squeal and bounce in her seat when she noticed several early bird patrons of the café looking directly at her. Remembering where she was, she cleared her throat and offered a polite smile. But she hung her head and grimaced right after.

In an effort to recompose herself, Blaze took a look at the article accompanied by the photo. She read through:

Fighters Ready for World Festival

By Matthew Kowalewski

The 32nd annual Terra Festival is set to begin Thursday morning, featuring live entertainment and activities for the native citizens of Aldwynne as well as foreign visitors. While tents will be set up as a market for would-be shoppers, the city square will feature a stage for live events over the 3 day festival. The first event, taking place at 10 a.m., is a series of exhibition one-on-one martial arts battles featuring specifically chosen contestants from each country. The countries are represented by three person teams that will be mixed and matched individually for a variety of bouts. “The fights are meant to show off the different styles and competitors and not for personal glory,” claimed Zirachi president, Kimbe Arunda. “The term ‘fighting’ is used rather loosely. It is more of a performance. We do not intend for the proceedings to escalate beyond the novelty of seeing top athletes spar with one another.”

One of the athletes, Shen-La representative and champion kickboxer Song Yoon, gave the following statement after hearing of President Arunda’s comments: “Sparring? Sparring is not going to get the crowd pumped up to see their favorite fighters brawl against each other. Sure, there’s not really anything on the line but you never want to send people home feeling let down. You want to make them remember something as cool as me showing off my kicks. It’s not every day you can see greatness like myself in person.”

The Haleigh Messenger managed to acquire statements from the Sol representatives, who can now be revealed to the public for the first time. The three representatives are: Shojira Hyujimoto, Chris Hayabusa, and Bailey Rosworth. Bailey Rosworth is the current Global Wrestling Alliance World Champion, having defended her title over 7 times now while Shojira Hyujimoto and Chris Hayabusa are her childhood friends/sparring partners. The GWA champion was very insistent in having the two be her partners for the event. “I’m the one who knows these two the best and vice versa. They got my back and I have theirs. The only thing that could make this more interesting is 3-on-3 team battles but that’d be too much of a cakewalk for us,” said Bailey. When questioned about her inclusion in the event, she replied, “It’s simple. It’s like an all-star game scenario. People apparently want to see me in the same place with other talented fighters at the same time. So how can I say no?”

Hyujimoto and Hayabusa declined to comment, their explanation being “We’re not going to get ourselves in trouble with our big mouths.” Regardless, public interest in the event promises to make it a highly-watched spectacle. Some would claim it as a surefire way to gather more attendees but time will tell.


The tigress squinted at the article after reading it. She knew that Bailey was participating so why did she get so excited over a simple picture? She should really get a grip on things…

Blaze neatly folded up the newspaper and placed it back where it originally was. She finished off her cup of coffee, discarding it on her way back to her car. After leaving the area, she headed towards a denser area of Haleigh where a crowd of open tents were gathered, parking across the street.

Taking a clipboard holding several papers with her from her car, Blaze walked to the tent that had a white flag with a pair of crossing red lines with a sun in the center. A few city workers dressed in navy blue jump suits and matching caps attending to the tent noticed her and hastily bowed.

“Hello, Your Highness!” they all exclaimed with noticeable quivers.

Blaze giggled and waved her hand. “Hello, gentlemen. No need to be so formal.” Her soft voice calmed the nerves of the workers considerably. One of them broke into a big grin and chuckled goofily looking at Blaze, unaware he was sweeping the air.

Blaze walked towards a tent with a flag prominently showing an iceberg, with a white sign displayed the word “Cordelia” in very intricate lettering. More workers were attending to it, but overlooking the job was a hulking polar bear dressed in a gray suit that was adorned with a lapel of the Cordelia flag on his suit. He turned his head behind him and chuckled upon noticing the tigress.

“Blaze, my dear! A pleasure to see you again!” He gave her a big hug that lifted her off the ground and made her wince through her smile.

“It has been a while, Mr. Nikolai,” Blaze said shakily, sneaking a rub to her back.

“Last time I had a one-on-one chat with you, though, you kicked me in the shin when your parents were busy,” Nikolai chuckled, with a much thicker accent than the tigress.

Blaze laughed nervously and averted her line of vision from the polar bear. He did not seem to care, however. He patted Blaze’s shoulders.

“You are growing into a beautiful woman, my dear. How are your parents?”

“Oh. Just running a country. Nothing too stressful. How’s Mr. Vashikoff? How was his flight?”

Nikolai nodded approvingly. “Could not have been better. His Excellency was very pleased.”

Blaze beamed. “Only the very best for all of our neighbors! Nothing less can be accepted.”

The polar bear chortled and clapped Blaze on the back, knocking her off balance and almost making her drop her clipboard though he did not notice. “Ja, it would not be very fun if His Excellency did not receive his salmon for lunch! Oh the temper that man has for cuisine!”

The tigress kept herself from falling, easing the sting on her back. Nikolai was not one for restraint. “Are you excited for the festival, Mr. Nikolai?” Blaze asked.

“Very excited. I do hope that my chosen three fighters impress everyone in the exhibition bouts and bring total victory to Cordelia,” Nikolai replied, suddenly looking very cold.

“I-It’s not a competition, Mr. Nikolai! It’s supposed to be for fun!” Blaze stammered.

Nikolai roared with laughter. He roughly patted Blaze’s shoulders again, the polar bear’s strength too much for the poor tigress. “I kid, I kid! My thirst for victory has faded considerably since my youth, dear! I do not wish to be a ‘party popper’, as some would say.”

It took everything Blaze had to not sigh. Instead, she weakly patted Nikolai’s massive left arm. “I am glad to hear that. Now, I need to keep on with my work. I’ll see you tomorrow, sir.”

Nikolai uttered a goodbye in a foreign tongue while Blaze left him. She went on to check on the other tents and meeting the people who were in charge of them. After making sure everything was going according to schedule, she made her way to the main stage where a combat ring was being set up.

Blaze stood near the ring to wait for the foreign fighters from the other continents to arrive to meet her. A female human dressed like the guards back at the mansion approached her in a very stiff manner, appearing rather winded. “Our visitors have arrived, Your Highness!” Right on cue, a group of 15 Terrans approached the princess with luggage in tow. They all bowed in respect to Blaze, all looking very curious with their surroundings.

Blaze smiled and greeted the group, appearing cheery even though her body was now starting to ache from Nikolai’s unintentional displays of strength. “It’s a pleasure to have you all make it to Aldwynne safe and sound. I’m here to escort you to the hotel you’ll be staying at during your stay here. I hope you find our fair city of Haleigh to your liking.” She scanned the group and noticed the stylish track suits they were all wearing that separated each group from one another, with the colors of their respective countries. Blaze looked at her clipboard and motioned for the group to follow her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she snuck a peek at the small mob of fighters. She recognize a number of them from the news, including Song Yoon. The gray langur was grinning and whispering to his friends as his eyes wandered.

Only having traveled a few blocks, Blaze had led the group to a luxury hotel, which appeared to touch the sky when standing on street level. The fighters were visibly impressed with the quality of the interior of the hotel. The fighters all checked into their rooms, Blaze hearing some rather interesting names that she recalled from a variety of news headlines. Before anyone headed to their rooms, Blaze announced, “Feel free to explore the city and enjoy the sights. I only ask that you all are prepared by 6 o’clock p.m. tomorrow night so you may enjoy a dinner at my home in celebration of the Terra Festival.”

The visitors all nodded and headed towards the elevators to reach their respective rooms. Blaze gave a small sigh to herself, thankful that things went off without a hitch. She exited the hotel and walked back the way she came to her car. Rubbing her back once she sat in the driver’s seat, she made her way back home.

Once Blaze parked her car and headed inside, the front doors opened to an unusual mix of fur, feather, and flesh until Blaze realized that it was the very leaders her parents were meeting.

She quickly nodded and greeted everyone who was exiting the home, being smiled at in return by all of them. Once the group was escorted outside of the property by a separate limousine, Blaze finally headed inside, stretching her back and feeling it loosen.

“Rather fast and furious morning, eh, my dear?” A deep, husky voice reached Blaze’s ears once she entered the sitting room. The warm, enriching smell of tea that was mixed horribly with heavy perfume violated Blaze’s nose.

“Yes, Father. I do not envy you or Mother one bit,” Blaze responded.

Blaze’s parents were still seated. King Ferno was quite a specimen, with a powerful frame and charcoal suit clashing with his rather gentle smile and natural orange and white fur. His fair wife, Charrie, was clad in a red button-down shirt, pencil skirt, and matching heels. A golden pendant shined from her neck and gold bracelets adorning her wrists, complimenting her magenta coat. Both appeared to be aging gracefully, considering their youthful years were a distant memory.

The princess let herself drop down on an open seat next to her mother, letting out a sigh.

“Something wrong, darling?” Charrie pleasantly asked, in the same accent that graced Blaze’s voice.

“Well…I have no idea why I chose to wear these heels to walk a few blocks in, I made a fool out of myself at Colony Café over the sports section, and my back is starting to feel numb.”

Ferno’s brow furrowed. “Why is your back starting to feel numb?”

Lazily turning to look at her father, she replied, “Because good ol’ Mr. Nikolai has no idea over the concept of restraint.”

Charrie gently patted Blaze’s leg and smiled. Ferno chuckled at his daughter. “He’s always been one to be oblivious of his environment, dear,” Charrie reminded Blaze.

“Still…he could have remembered that he’s the size of a tank,” the young tigress muttered grumpily.

“So how went your meeting?”

This time, it was the King’s turn to look annoyed. He rolled his eyes and rested his face on his left palm. “Good heavens, when Ms. Zei Yen begins to talk, there is no stopping that boisterous peacock. We were discussing about the different samples of cuisine to offer and she was heavily insisting that we serve crickets of all things!”

Blaze asked, “So what did you end up telling her?”

Ferno huffed and adjusted himself in his chair. “I told Ms. Zei Yen that we simply wanted to serve the very best, and that crickets seemed way too simple.”

Blaze didn’t look too gripped with the answer. She rubbed her eyes and her back. That polar bear sure did a number on her. “As long as I don’t have to eat whatever she thinks of…”

Ferno continued. “And then…well…Mr. Arunda ended up getting into a small spat with Mr. Vashikoff over the newspaper article that ran today.” To answer Blaze’s perplexed look, he added, “Mr. Vashikoff called Mr. Arunda ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘foolish’ for thinking that, and I’m quoting Mr. Vashikoff, ‘the egos of those involved will settle for childish tussling.’”

Blaze’s eyes rolled in thought. “So basically, Mr. Vashikoff thinks that they’ll turn into real fights?”

Ferno nodded. “Though we are requiring the participants to be wearing protective gear as well as having an official in the ring so even if that did happen, there wouldn’t be much room for that.”
The young feline simply shook her head and made a face showing a bit of exhaustion.

Charrie noticed, thus she leaned over and whispered to Blaze, “If it helps you feel better, how about you prepare the gifts you had planned for the guests? Like for Miss Rosworth? She should have received my letter today.”

Blaze’s weary eyes suddenly snapped open before she rushed off to her room in a flash, leaving her mother chuckling at her daughter’s trigger while Ferno was confused. Now in the comfort and privacy of her room, Blaze hurriedly opened her desk drawers and took out a stack of paper and pencils. She had a separate stack of photos in her left drawer and picked up the top picture of the stack. The subject in the photo, a familiar gray langur, sported a mischievous smile. The writing on the side of the photo read “Song Yoon – Shen La” and soon, the princess was putting pencil to paper and getting to work…
Sol - Chapter 1: A Day In The Life
Here it is, Chapter 2 after some retouching. Keep in mind that this is NOT the final, I'm simply posting to receive some feedback.

And before anyone says anything, yes, the newspaper author IS a certain Punisher-loving American man who throws fire axes.


EDIT: IGNORE ALL OF THAT.

After some personal feedback from :iconhyperchaotix:, who said that this chapter should be the first one, that's what I'm doing. So only the first sentence has changed. That's all. :V
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Me! My niece was just born today and oh my God, I'm so excited! More details to come when they do but yay!

Journal History

deviantID

OrochiPhoenix19
Christian Serrano
United States
Name: Chris Hayabusa

Age: 22

Gender: Male

Height: 6’1"

Weight: 195 lbs

Species: Wolf

Hair color: Gray

Eye color: Blue

Family: Damien Hayabusa (father), Susan Hayabusa (mother), Christie Hayabusa (sister),
Jaden Hayabusa (brother)

Powers/Abilities: Chris is extremely proficient in martial arts, having trained in the Soaring Dragon Dojo since he was 7 years old. He came up with an original style of combat based in Wing Chun, Capoeira, and wrestling. He also has an interest in parkour, which he uses as a part of his daily training regimen. Chris comes from a long line of pyrokinetics, and even though his parents found no use for such powers, Chris’ power is just as strong as the rest of his heritage.

Weaknesses: Chris has a very serious fear of being weak, not being able to carry out his goals as he envisions them or protect others. His sense of justice is noble, but it is prone to being manipulated for others. He also seems to be prone to some inner turmoil he might not be aware of. Chris also has a problem with being carried away by being a showman.

Biography: As a child, Chris was just as bullied as other kids, and he couldn’t stand seeing
them every day at school. Even though he was mostly quiet and was generally well-behaved, Chris always wanted to find a way to help others but wasn’t sure how. Then one day, when Chris was a 2nd grader, one of the bullies decided to target Chris, to get a reaction out of him, the young wolf didn’t pay too much attention to him until the bully started to insult Chris’ parents, a surefire way to anger him at that age. Out of nowhere, Chris’ right hand ignited with burning violet flames and the bully quickly backed off, not mentioning the event to anybody in order to protect his reputation. Chris looked at his quickly diminishing fire. He had power. He found a way to protect others.
But even though Chris realized he was special, he didn’t think things through on how to use it. The following day, Chris witnessed the same bully from yesterday picking on a much smaller student. This was it. This was Chris’ chance to be a hero. From the blue, Chris charged at the 5th grader and jumped on him, wildly using his pyro abilities, causing 1st degree burns towards the “villain”. This power possessed him, as he proceeded to attack the bully while he was still on the ground.
As no surprise, Chris was suspended from school indefinitely, but his parents took him out of school for his own safety from the other kids. Following the suspension, Chris’ younger siblings, Jaden and Christie, looked upon their older brother with a sense of fear over what he could do to them. Wishing to defuse the paranoia occurring among his children, Damien Hayabusa talked to his oldest son about how he appreciated the fact that Chris was trying to help others but was at the same time disappointed that he didn’t handle the situation differently. After talking it over, Damien and Susan enrolled Chris into the Soaring Dragon Dojo, a martial arts school owned and ran by a family friend of theirs named Jirokai, in order to help Chris better grasp his abilities and learn to use them responsibly. Strangely, only two other children were taught at the same time that Chris was, and yet, the dojo was very clean and modern, as if Jirokai taught that many students to afford it. These two new classmates of Chris’ were Shojira Hyujimoto, a tiger who was taking care of his younger sister after their parents succumbed to a disease, and Bailey Rosworth, a female badger who was about twice as tall as Chris as well as a tomboy.
As years passed and Jirokai taught the trio in ways that not only improved their bodies but their minds beyond the limits of their bodies, Chris not only learned how to control his pyrokinesis but to think through situations where he would have jumped the gun if not for his training. Now much more social and energetic thanks to his friendships with Bailey and Shojira, he was able to finish school at a proficient level. Chris has been taking several odd jobs around his hometown as a means to get by living on his own. He technically graduated from the dojo but is still involved to help new recruits. Lately, an announcement was made for a festival in the royal city of Aldwynne that would feature a martial arts tournament. But little did everyone involved know that their lives would change on that day.
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:iconshirleyvaga:
ShirleyVaga Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015
happy bd
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:iconthemrcagdl:
THEMRCAGDL Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015
Happy Birthday!
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:iconsonicgal390:
SonicGal390 Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
:icondjpon-3plz::iconpinkiepieplz: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! :party::iconcookiecakeplz::iconcakecookieplz::cake::cookie::milk::party::iconpinkiepartyplz::iconcarameldansenplz::iconcheerplz::iconvictorydanceplz::iconhappybirthdayplz::iconballoonsplz::iconskyepartyplz::iconomgcakeplz::iconfuncakeplz::iconcumple1plz::iconcumple2plz::iconcaekglompplz::iconcaekplz::icongiftplz::iconbummyballoonplz::iconcake3dplz::iconhappybirthdaysignplz::iconpresentplz::iconrainbowbummiecakeplz::iconheartballoonplz::iconforyouplz::icondjpon3plz::iconrainbowcakeplz::iconplaywithfireplz::iconbonklers::iconpineappletardplz::iconhappybirthday2plz::iconbummiesplz::iconlaplayplz::iconlabeatplz::iconballoonplz:
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:iconshadowblazerx:
ShadowBlazerX Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2015
Hello there :P
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2015
Yooooooo. :V
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:iconshadowblazerx:
ShadowBlazerX Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2015
whats up man :p
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2015
Ah, just been up to school and stuff. Selling kitchen cutlery. Going to go see :iconhyperchaotix: next month for my birthday.
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(2 Replies)
:iconjinzoki:
JINZOKI Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2014   Digital Artist
Thanks for the llama and Merry Christmas! :D
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2014
Hey, I want to commission you again. I already sent a note on FA to try and establish it. :V
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:iconjinzoki:
JINZOKI Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2014   Digital Artist
Oh can you send it here actually I'm not as active on FA as I am here :XD: I'll get on in a while I'm answering everyone as fast as I could.
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:iconnafyo:
Nafyo Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Commission :: Chris and Bailey by Nafyo  
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:iconnafyo:
Nafyo Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
  Isabella from AC: Thanks for the Fav by Nafyo  
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:iconnafyo:
Nafyo Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Commission :: Chris and Logan by Nafyo  
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:iconwinterfox51:
WinterFox51 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014
Hey! I've seen you on KYM a few times.
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014
*slowly walks into my bunker shelter* You ain't seen nothin'. >:T
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:iconwinterfox51:
WinterFox51 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014
I am simply omniscient, there is no hiding! 
I used to see you alot back when Cringeworthy wasn't locked xD those were the days.
But yeah, I'm Jesse, my KYM name is UACmarine208, nice to meet you finally.
How's it going? :) 
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014
Trying to help fix :iconhyperchaotix:'s Saxxies 2014 entry by putting it in the right category.
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(1 Reply)
:iconalexandricswartzwind:
oAo
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:iconshadowblazerx:
ShadowBlazerX Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2014
Long time no see buddy
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014
Yep.
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:iconshadowblazerx:
ShadowBlazerX Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014
How have ya been?
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:iconorochiphoenix19:
OrochiPhoenix19 Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014
Pretty fine on my end.
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(1 Reply)
:icondanguy96:
DanGuy96 Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2014
Thanks for the watch.
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:icontixielix:
TixieLix Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the fave on my Street Fighter work!
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