It takes one to know one
A wise martial artist had once said that you do not truly know someone until you have fought them.
After having had his 'formal' introductions into the manor proper, Khalid had the pleasure of addressing Roderick, one of the aides of the head butler, apparently slightly nervous but a man that kept up a very well trained business-like demeanour.
As the butler talked Khalid through the night-to-night live of Clan Anantya in the manor, arrangements were made for Khalid's suite to be made in order. Roderick furthermore pointed out all the facilities the Manor - and the Manor grounds - had to offer. When he mentioned the training facilities in a separate building for weapons training, Khalid decided it was time to take inspiration from the words of the wise martial artist, before seeing Mai. He thanked Roderick for his time, left him the belongings that would need to go into his lodgings and with a brisk pace, left for the training facilities.
Once there, he looked around and the assassin was pleased and impressed. He expected no less from Clan Anantya, but it was pleasurable still to see that he could literally train with every weapon he had. A firing range, a gym, a dojo and even a small obstacle course and urban combat training room.
Figuring it had been too long since he had practised his martial arts, Khalid entered the dojo, waiting to see if some other Vampire would be there or would show up for sparring.
Since his last ass-kicking, he'd been here on a nightly basis going over forms, sparring with anyone who was present, making sure that - one - Amir had nothing to complain about and - two - if it happened again, Bao would come off much worse for wear.
He wasn't really dressed for a workout but that had never stopped him in the past. Tonight he wore a pair of punk-style skinny jeans, bright pink, low on his waist, with a tight black tee that barely came to his belly, revealing the tight abs beneath his golden skin. His hair was spiked up furiously, colored in striated blue as usual, and all of his piercings were present and accounted for. His contacts tonight were cat's eyes, in a luminous orange.
Ran noticed the other guy right away. As he jogged by he kicked his black sneakers off and let them rest against the wall, barefoot beneath them, greeting his Clan mate as he did.
"Oh hi. How's it going? I haven't seen you here before have I? I'm Ran... Order of the Night. Just got here a month or two ago so I really haven't met everyone there is to meet yet."
He didn't stop for a handshake or anything, being too wired up for it. He would have kept talking but he was well aware that he had way too much energy at the moment so he crossed the mats to the wall of mirrors on the other side and immediately began to go through forms, making sure each was perfect before moving on to the next, forcing himself to take them slowly even though he really wanted to go much faster.
Khalid was a strong contrast to this - he wore all black; leather combat boots, strong combat fatigues and a nice hoody. Usually the hoody was there to conceal his face, but the hood was now down, clearly showing that Khalid wasn't Caucasian, but Mediterranean.
But as much as the assassin personally preferred practical clothing over 'flashy' clothing, he'd be a fool to judge someone based purely on appearance. One of the most successful Hashashin had known, looked and acted like an innocent, pure young woman - until it was too late. An tactic as old as the world; he knew fully well most men were very much inclined to read too much into flirtations of a beautifull woman.
"I am doing well. And, no, you probably have not seen me before. Like you, I have arrived recently - in the past few hours, to be exact."
As the other Vampire went through his forms, Khalid nodded appreciatively. He truly was among like-minded individuals, probably some good peers among them. This was a good place.
"Would you appreciate a...live opponent for sparring? It is considered the most honest way to meet and to get to know someone where I am from."
The guy seemed nice, although he didn't give his name. That didn't bother Ran. He was perfectly capable of assigning one to him in his head. He decided this guy would be Sparky. It was probably the blue eyes.
Sparky asked him if he wanted to spar, and Ran turned away from the mirror and grinned. "Sure. Boundaries? Weapons or bare hands? Abilities or no? Blood or no?"
It had to be asked; people sparred different ways. Ran had lost track of the number of times Amir had broken one of his bones to point out a poor hold or an off-target block. If Sparky wanted hardcore Ran could do hardcore. Grin still in place, letting Sparky know he was game for whatever, Ran waited with his hands on his hips for the other man to choose.
"Astute. But given that this is a dojo and not an art gallery, nor the gym, I highly doubted you are here to appreciate the scenery or to train by yourself."
Seeing as that he had found a sparring partner, the assassin walked over to the nearest wall and took off his baggy hoody, dropping it there. It was nice when out on a mission, but it was of little use here, where it'd only restrict his movements. By doing this, he revealed what he wore beneath - a simple, short sleeved T-shirt with a band logo on it. Next, he took of his combat boots, for much the same reasons.
Meanwhile, he mulled over the other man's questions. It wasn't really something he had given thought to until now. Most of the time, his sparring had been no holds barred; no choice given. But now he had a choice...
"Ah, as far as the rules go...With boundaries, I take it you mean the area. I figure we should keep to the dojo. No weapons or abilities. If there will be blood, so be it. Continue until one yields. Acceptable?"
Oh yeah, he went there.
Why did they always go with 'no abilities' though? Ran gave a tiny little sigh, not audible from where he stood. He didn't consider himself a weak fighter by any means; Amir wouldn't allow it. But oh, he had so much more fun and so many more advantages when he was allowed to play with his shape. Ah, well.
"Totally acceptable," he said.
He stepped onto the same mat as Sparky was standing on, bowed, and when it appeared they were both ready, Ran launched himself at his opponent. There was no benefit in waiting and doing the 'let's circle each other' dance. Time wasted.
He went in, ducked low, and then sprang up, his foot lashing out toward Sparky's chest. He was wary of reaching hands, however, and didn't intend to let the stranger grab onto his ankle or foot. Amir had done that far too many times for Ran to fall for it.
He might not be the strongest martial artist in the room, but he was also not the stupidest.
Hmm. What did that say about Sparky? Ran flashed a fangy smile at his opponent, managing not to say it out loud.
All that remained, was the fight itself. To Khalid, this was a combination of two important things in his unlife: keeping his body and mind in peak condition and a simulation of a situation the assassin tried to avoid; protracted hand to hand fighting. Virtually all of his training up to this point was to enable him to kill an opponent in as little time as possible. Combat like this only happened when his careful laid plans went to ruin, which he outright hated.
However, Khalid very well realised that nothing is impossible, and in a world where there was danger on every doorstep, he knew that eventualities could lead to just this; a duel between two warriors. A duel where everything is permitted.
Not in this case, there were rules, as this was sparring.
The assassin's cautious nature allowed Ran the precious few seconds Khalid's opponent needed to make the opening move. It was done with impressive speed and briefly the Egyptian wondered what school it was from. And, if Ran would be able to distinguish what Khalid would dish out - that seemed unlikely to him, as it was a mix of various eastern martial arts; Silat, Dambe, Varzesh-e Bastani, Aha Kemet, Pehlwani, Sebekkha and 'good old' Karate and Jiu-jitsu.
Khalid didn't care much for chess, but he treated the match as a chess match regardless; countering a opening move with an equally strong counter move, but more importantly, planning ahead.
For now, he was content to let his street-honed reflexes and instincts take over, as he ducked low and slightly backward, to avoid Ran's foot landing a hit, and in the same move, going for a low sweeping kick with his outstretched leg, intending to topple Ran by removing his one standing leg from the equation.
He saw Sparky's next move, although he wasn't fast enough to avoid it. The man was quick. Ran simply went with it; tumbling was something he had lots of practice at. He ducked and rolled backwards over his shoulder, going with the momentum of his fall, pushing the mat away as he came up and bouncing easily to his feet.
Now he was a little wary; Sparky was clearly good at what he did. He wasn't Amir, but one didn't have to be to get the better of Ran in a fist fight. He'd been working on that, it was true, but if he was outclassed he'd just have to work smarter, not harder. Sadly, that only worked if he was more clever than his opponent and he wasn't sure he was.
Sticking with his 'waiting is pointless' theory he wasted no time, dashing forward a couple steps and dropping to his knees, spinning while he did, making a swipe at the man's knee before coming up to his feet. That was the plan, anyway.
((ooc: Feel free to interrupt Ran's move, that's just what he's intending to do.))
It seemed Ran understood this principle. What's more, he applied it well. He was energetic, creative and fast - traits usually enough to get even a great Mortal to tire himself in the long run, but good traits for a Vampiric combatant who'd sooner grow bored than tired.
A good martial artist was a lot like water; flowing around obstacles, always going smoothly, even when the grounds got rough. It wasn't lost to Khalid that this was mostly a Eastern way of looking at martial arts; Westerners had more martial arts, such as Kickboxing, that looked to utilize raw power for maximum damage output.
But that wasn't to say water couldn't crash, couldn't break. Khalid saw Ran's 'windmill manoeuvre' coming - it was hard to miss - but the assassin wasn't in the ideal position to avoid it. Shifting his body around, he chose to catch the blows with his crossed arms, creating a sturdy block that could take the punishment, instead of his relatively weak knee.
Continuing on the offence, Khalid aimed for proving knees weren't always a weak point, going for a quick kneeing aimed at Ran's kidneys, switching to a flurry of blows, punches and jabs aimed at the man's torso.
He didn't stop moving, however, because Sparky was still coming at him, raining blow after vicious blow at his body. This, Ran could handle. He took several painful hits before he caught his rhythm and after that they traded blows and blocks in a viewer-defying blur that would have made Jackie Chan cry with joy.
Having taken the offensive and been rebuffed several times now, Ran opted to let Sparky make the next move. He watched the man out of his orange cat's eyes, measuring his steps, looking at how his feet moved, how each muscle shifted as he moved. He was wonderful to watch, but Ran didn't currently have the luxury of staring. Not while Sparky was busy trying to pound him into jello.
The fast-paced give and take was actually kind of fun, though, and neither of them got off completely unscathed, which made Ran feel a little better. If he couldn't take on an opponent without so much as landing a single hit, he may as well go for a nice walk in the sunshine.
The assassin now knew, without any doubt, he had hurt his opponent, but his opponent didn't know that about Khalid - even though the Egyptian had his fair share of damage by now, the assassin made a point of it never to show such things.
The ebb and flow of the sparring sped up, and little by little, Khalid felt they were getting to know each other. Ran was absolutely no slouch and maybe he'd be a valuable ally.
As they fought, the assassin's eyes narrowed. Ran had changed something - he was blocking more...Changed tactics. He'd be waiting for the Egyptian to make the next move; this exchanging blows, that was peanuts, that was nothing. Time for a little test.
Khalid slowly let a few more openings creep into his patterns, consciously making mistakes, while hiding that this was done on purpose, to see how eager Ran was and to see how easy he'd be to bait, gritting his teeth for when he did bite.
The rules of this sparring match were clear and the Egyptian intended to win it. So far, the damage done were nothing the Vampires couldn't handle. The assassin knew that for a win, he'd have to incapacitate Ran.
Mixed into Ran's moves were a number of formal martial arts, but many unconventional fighting styles as well. He swapped between them all with incredible ease, because that was sort of his thing. His best defense, in a straight up hand-to-hand fight, was to be a loose cannon. He used misdirection as much as he could and occasionally he even set his feet in such a way as to make it appear that he would strike a certain way, sacrificing balance to strike differently.
Those were the things he'd worked with in his sessions with Amir lately. Throwing his balance, taking calculated risks, fighting wildly yet with some smarts. This was the first time he'd had an opportunity to test out the technique, which came pretty naturally to him.
Of course, it didn't stop him from taking plenty of hits. Plenty of them. He didn't hide his reactions, it wasn't necessary really. Maybe in a real fight... but here he hissed and cursed and winced to his heart's content. Also mixed in were a number of compliments, however.
"Oh god, that was a good one."
"Jesus. I need my spleen. Don't I? Nice shot."
"Ummh... uh, new piercing there. Stings. "
The last one was muttered softly, almost to himself. Indeed, he was planning the location of his next piercings based on how and where Sparky hit him. Research. He could call this sparring bout research.
All Hashashins had been carefully trained in both the art of combat as in the study of religion - the latter, mostly in a practical sense, for mental fortitude. Meditation techniques to remain calm in stressful situations, for one. 'Blocking' pain by elevating one's pain threshold to a more risky level. That would come in pretty handy, now.
Khalid had, so far, kept himself to the largest portion of his training; moving swiftly, punching and kicking, dodging and weaving himself through this bout of sparring. No special effects required to make it look fancy; his Vampiric condition and that of his opponent made it possible to have it move with supernatural speed and a visual acuity that most Mortals could only dream of.
But that all changed now.
Without as much as flinching, the assassin did what most would consider unthinkable: he threw his defenses wide open, sacrificing the full of his defense for a unique offense: he concentrated completely on catching one of his opponent's limbs in a vice-like grip.
Khalid knew fully well he'd be heavily injured, but all that counted was to win. Already his mind was going through the mantra's to cope with the resulting stress.
In the end, he needed to hurt Ran more than he himself could handle.
Then, suddenly, Sparky completely went haywire and left himself ridiculously wide open while, fast as a blink, he locked himself around Ran's knee. Ran curled forward, linked his hands together, and brought his elbows down hard on Sparky's shoulder right at the socket, but at the same time he felt wrenching agony and blooming fire as Sparky pretty much popped his knee out of joint with a snapping sound that could only be tendons and ligaments.
It wasn't enough; Ran gasped and pounded down once again, closer to the base of the man's neck. Sparky finished twisting, though, and the fire wound up Ran's leg to his hip, which made an ominous cracking sound.
Ran howled in pain, unable to keep from doing so. In a million years, he wouldn't have been able to bite back the sound of excruciating agony that tore out of his throat. Mercifully, as he realized the floor was coming at him awfully fast, he realized he was about to pass out.
By the time he hit the mats, he was out cold.
Both his neck and his left shoulder were in dire need of attention, perhaps just a sports massage, but probably medical attention - his neck cracked ominously when he moved his head and his left shoulder felt as if it didn't have the full range of movement it should have.
But he had been ready for that; this is what the assassin prepared for in the seconds before this chain of events.
The most important was this: pain is transient. It was in the back of his head as a constant reminder to his body that, yes, there were several injuries that needed attention, but no, he wasn't keeling over just yet.
Taking another deep breath, he briefly mused how integral breathing was to meditation. For a Vampire mostly placebo, but it helped. Bit by bit, he allowed traces of pain back into his system. It kept the Egyptian on edge.
Looking on Ran, he figured he didn't have much time left.
Placing him so he'd be in kicking distance of the man's injured knee for added motivation if need be, he waited until he saw the flickers of conscious thought return.
"Do you yield?"
Pride reared its ugly head and Ran said, "Hell no, I don't yield."
He moved to roll onto his feet but several things happened at once. His leg did not cooperate at all, not a single bit. It sent him this message by way of rip-roaring agony.
And, at about the same time Ran processed that his protest had not gone as planned, he passed out again; this time he sprawled on his side, halfway on his face.
The next time he woke, which couldn't have been more than half a minute later if the amount of drool were to be taken as an indicator, he blinked against the mats first and croaked, "I yield. For now."
He hitched in a breath at the pain in his leg. Something was surely dislocated or it wouldn't hurt as fiercely as it still did; even a few minutes was enough for the healing process to begin. "The fuck did you do to my leg?"
The complaint was voiced with no small amount of admiration. Even through the rippling waves of fire Ran could tell Sparky had gotten him pretty damn good. His knee was the size of a softball. He had no trouble imagining that if he were a human athlete, his career would have just ended.
His golden-hued face went white as he rolled over and gasped, "And how are you planning on fixing it?"
He raised his orange cat's eyes to his sparring partner, who surely didn't intend to bow, thank him, and leave him there. Right? Because that would be a complete douchebag thing to do.
You know, come to think of it, Amir had done that once last week.
"What I did was dislocating your knee joint with enough force that your hip joint is probably damaged as well. Furthermore, your muscle tendons and ligaments are in disarray. Biomechanical functioning of your leg has seized. To put it simply, you can not stand on that leg, even if you wanted to, even if you were able to ignore the pain."
With a professional look, the assassin gazed at the man's leg. Much like a butcher wasn't a capable veterinary surgeon by any stretch of the imaginiation but probably knew his way around the body of a sheep, Khalid wasn't a normal doctor of any kind, but by long decades of experience, knew his way around a Human's body - or ex-Human's body, as the case may be.
Ran should be glad he was a Vampire. A Human would take months to recover of what Khalid had done in this fight, if ever.
"Had this been a real fight, I had casually ended your unlife - that would be a fix of sorts. Obviously, this is not an option at the moment. Be glad you are Vampire, not Mortal - an intake of fresh blood should suffice to give your regeneration an extra boost."
Khalid tapped his chin a few times, thinking.
"Want me to help you there or shall I fetch you some?"
It didn't last.
"You don't say," he gritted out almost jovially when Sparky suggested fresh blood. Of course, fresh blood. It would be lovely. He'd take it in a martini glass, please. Preferably not dirty.
The offer to help him obtain a supply was met with a pained smile. "I don't think I'm going anywhere at the moment," Ran gasped.
Then an idea struck him, possibly more than a little mischievous. He moaned, hamming it up only a little bit - it really hurt like a bitch. "Can you... can you ask my Creator to come? He'll know exactly what to do."
Ran summoned up his best sad, pathetic appearance. As a long time Nightsman, his acting skills were just where they needed to be even if he didn't operate with them all that often. He was pretty sure his eyes couldn't get much bigger.
"I don't know if you know him. His name is Amir. He has rooms a few floors up, end of the hallway. He'll give me a hand."
Hopefully Sparky didn't know much about Amir. It was a little bit of payback; Ran couldn't imagine Amir would enjoy having his night interrupted by a stranger knocking on his door, and while the Ancient had mellowed a little bit, he was still often irascible and snappish toward people he didn't know.
He was certainly annoying enough to be petty revenge, but on top of that Ran knew he would actually help out. Amir had never not been there for Ran, even when the trouble Ran was in was of his own making.
"Please?" He added to Sparky. Practical jokes aside, his Creator probably was one of the most appropriate people to help out. And id Amir was willing, the blood of an Ancient would heal Ran much faster than anything else.
"I do not dare to claim to know him, in person, but, yes, I have heard of him before, including his reputation. Him being your Creator tells me a thing or two."
Nodding to no-one in particular, the assassin turned around to the door of the dojo, and spoke to Ran over his shoulder, baring his fangs briefly by way of smile.
"I will see what he has to say if I tell him I beat you during sparring and that you need his help. I guess I owe you that much. Stay awake and I will be back as soon as possible."
With a brisk pace, Khalid left for the main mansion. So, his opponent's creator was a Elder, wasn't he? He hadn't lied to Ran - as far as the Egyptian was concerned, it did tell him a thing or two. It explained the man's skills, his fervour and it probably pointed at some good Vampiric abilities, taught or inherited from Amir.
As far as the assassin knew, he was roughly from the same region as he himself, but much, much older. According to the gossip and stories told within the Clan, the kind you'd always have, Amir didn't go easy on anyone and was one of the best fighters Anantya had, if not simply the best. Even in his self-imposed 'exile', Khalid had heard that much, much like he had heard about Mai - Elder Mai being one of the reasons he was here to begin with.
But first things first. Being directed by a few members of Manor personnel, it didn't take the assassin long to arrive in the right wing of the big villa on the right floor and he was standing at Amir's doorstep.
The reputation of the Vampire behind the door caused Khalid to pause for just a split second, but, he mused, he had faced worse. Even if Amir would be angered, Ran himself would be able to confirm the rules of their sparring bout.
Yet a few more seconds passed and then the door was opened by what was seemingly a 16 year old boy. The assassin knew far better than that and made a courteous, small bow, as Amir was clearly staring at Khalid, waiting for him to speak.
"Good evening, Elder Amir. My name is Khalid al-Mufrid, a recent Anantya arrival here in the Manor. Just now, Ran and I had a sparring bout in the dojo. I won by disabling him in such a way that he now requests your help."
"You... disabled him."
The words weren't a question. Eyebrows still raised, Amir considered the choice of words. He had no idea who this man was, which in his opinion meant he wasn't important at all. However, he had apparently kicked Ran's ass and that made Amir feel mildly warm and fuzzy inside, less inclined to be a complete jerk.
He had a feeling Ran had sent Khalid here with some sort of retaliation in mind but Amir found himself more amused than angered.
"Sparring without abilities were we? Excellent," Amir said. His approval was mostly directed at the absent Ran, who probably wouldn't be badly injured if they'd been using them. Ran might not be the oldest vampire in the Clan but he had some damn useful skills.
With a soft huff Amir slipped out the door and into the hallway. "Well, let's go see what you've done to my boy, then. There had better not be a mess."
His dark eyes snapped up to Khalid. He couldn't help a little bit of protectiveness, even if he was mostly pleased that Ran was studying. Amir knocked his offspring around the dojo on a regular basis but he was a little twitchy when someone else did the same.
When they reached the dojo Amir saw Ran sprawled on the floor, eyes closed, leg awkwardly twisted, his knee swollen up like a softball. He looked at Khalid again. "Not bad," he said. "Where did he get you when you went for him? Shoulder? Back of the neck?"
He knelt as he spoke, reaching out and patting Ran's face. Maybe slightly more vigorously than necessary. "Wake up, Kudzu."
Ran's eyelids fluttered and he looked at Amir, then past him, then at him again. Then Ran looked a Khalid and said, "You only had to bring one of him."
Amir snorted and, without warning, shoved Ran hard at the hip. There was a snap, Ran's hip shifted, and the younger vampire passed out again. Amir spent a few more seconds waking him back up. When Ran opened his eyes yet again Amir slid one arm behind his head, lifted him slightly, and held his wrist up.
"Drink," he ordered.
Waking up the second time was just as unpleasant, but at least it was met with the offer of blood. Or the demand to take blood. Both good with Ran. With a small noise of gratitude he took hold of Amir's wrist and lifted it to his mouth. He bit down unceremoniously and closed his eyes at the first flow of blood, old blood, powerful and heady.
Amir didn't pull away. He simply sat and held Ran up, letting him drink as much as he needed. It didn't take much. A few swallows, it was like eating rich chocolate cake - you just couldn't handle more than a little at a time. Even with his healing body Ran didn't think he'd need to drink anymore for a few days. Amir's blood lit up his veins and when he let go of his Creator's wrist it was with a sigh of relief as the healing process, already well on its way, sped up further.
He sat up on his own, his leg and other various bruises complaining, and looked up at Sparky. "That was a nice battle," he said, his usual cheeky grin back in place.