|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 you."
"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.)
|At the direction of their leader, B. Jenet, the Rilian Knights, a self-professed noble band of thieves, the decision was made to participate in the always-mysterious KOF, in hopes of being awarded the considerable cash prize for the victor.|
Jenet herself was the sole daughter of the current generation of the Bahns, one of the world's richest families. She was not content, however, to play the role of the pampered daughter and stay locked away in seclusion. True to her upbringing, she made her decision on KOF quickly, and already knew of two available members: a wandering master of Chinese martial arts, and a professional wrestler.
"Hi, there!" Jenet said cheerfully. "You're Gato, right?"
The object of her attention looked at her silently for a long moment, then eventually answered, "And if I am?" He was a Chinese man called Gato, whom people tended to cross the street to avoid when they saw the strength in his entire bearing. Those who gazed into his piercing eyes tended to be left only with the impression that a sword had been aimed to pierce their skulls. ...Or so the average person would say.
Jenet, being anything but average, continued without a hint of fear. "I was thinking that you should join up with me to participate in KOF this year!"
When Gato did not respond, she went on. "I figured we'd split the proceeds 60-20-20... more for me, you know, to cover all the added expenses and for being the organizer. We can meet on the Rilian Knights' submarine."
More stony silence. "Oh, all right," she sighed. "We can split the money evenly. That should be that!"
"Get out of my way, girl," Gato said.
Those passing by watched the exchange nervously, and felt some anxious concern for possibly massive changes in Jenet's well-being in the next few minutes. Just from the looks of things, there appeared to be no way that this could possibly end peacefully.
Jenet gave a slight pout. "Aww, still not interested? Well..."
Gato brushed forcibly by her, but she kept her pace even.
"Maybe some information about your father, then?" she called to him.
Gato froze in his tracks. "...What are you trying to say? How much do you know about me?"
She grinned. "The Rilian Knights are no slouches when it comes to gathering intel!" Despite her confident look, however, she was at least halfway bluffing. She knew that Gato was searching for his father to settle a grudge, but that was about the extent of it.
Truth be told, anyone who knew even a little about this man would know that much. It was finding out anything more that was the problem, and that's why she was banking on her bluff working.
"Are you familiar with the Kyokugen school of karate?" she asked.
It was a foolish question, of course. The name was well-known among anyone with even the slightest interested in weaponless martial arts. It was an orthodox school which was largely picked as a favorite to win the KOF tournament any time it was held. One of its oldest masters, Takuma Sakazaki, was well past the age of fifty, and showed no signs of his age even beginning to slow him down. In light of that, when he was attacked by thugs and put in the hospital in critical condition, word spread quickly throughout the whole of Southtown.
"Just from hearing the name alone, I can't believe it," came Gato's curt reply.
Jenet shrugged and said, "I don't know all the facts myself, but if you help me out, I think we can get to the bottom of this."
Gato gave no reply.
"So how does this sound?" she asked. "Proceeds split 40-30-30, and info on your father. What do you say?"
"So you see the kind of predicament I'm in," Jenet said through her tears. "That man has basically forced me into participating in KOF... there's no telling what he might do if I don't agree."
"Hmmm," said the big man in front of her. "That sounds pretty serious, yeah. So what do you want me to do?"
This all transpired in the wrestlers' waiting room, right after a major bout had been concluded. Even though the room was fairly spacious, the big man was none other than Tizoc the Griffon, and his 7' tall form made the place feel like a broom closet. Normally, spectators wouldn't even be allowed in here, but she found it childishly simple to slip in, just by carrying a big bouquet of roses and pretending to be a big fan. Well, and the judicious use of her ability to shed tears at will.
"I know a little bit of martial arts and stuff myself," she sniffed. "But..."
She further elaborated that in her condition, it was going to be difficult to even get past the first round, but having to fight on the same team as Gato was causing severe anxiety. For the last several days, in fact, she had been unable to eat or get a decent night's sleep.
Tizoc nodded. "That kind of behavior is despicable indeed. One should always fight for the childr--" He then cut himself off. "Never mind. Your story has moved me. I will do what I can to help."
He folded his tree-trunk-like arms together, and nodded firmly, reiterating, "Yes, I understand what's going on. I'll join you."
"Huh?" Jenet replied with a puzzled look. "That's all it takes?"
"Did you say something?" he asked distractedly.
"Oh, uh, nothing."
He shrugged. "I also know that there's a substantial cash prize for the victors of the KOF tournament. I've been wanting to allow children to watch my matches without having to pay for them for some time. I can use the money to have special Griffon Seats made for them. "
He failed to notice her expression, which had shifted from simple puzzlement to near stupefaction. "I-I see... well, the prize is getting split 60-20-20."
He gave another nod of his massive head. "Money isn't the issue. Spirit is."
Jenet nodded in return, in full agreement. Absolutely.
"On the other hand, if my share were increased, I could put it toward an orphanage I know that's going through some tough times."
This time, it was Jenet who was left to return stony silence.
"No, don't worry about it," said Tizoc at her look. "I'll find some other way of helping them manage their expenses."
She sighed. "...Okay, okay. I get it. We'll split it 40-30-30. That's the best I can do."
"Welcome back, Captain!" came the call from one of her crew. "How did it go? Did you get Gato and Tizoc to join you?"
For once, Jenet had no answer.
"What's the matter? They refuse to join or something?"
"No, no, that's all taken care of," she said. "It's just..."
Jenet took a moment, then gave a calm, collected reply. "Life can be a little rough sometimes." She gave a small laugh.