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King of Fighters XI
Storyline of King of Fighters 11, The
"So, Miss Kagura, you're sure you're not going to participate in the next KOF?"
"I'm sure... certainly not in my current state..."

Chizuru Kagura, or rather Chizuru Yata, lay feebly on the hospital bed.
Shingo didn't really understand it all, but since Ash Crimson had claimed one of the powers of the three sacred treasures, she could not accompany Kusanagi and Yagami.

"The only thing left I can do is pray.
I don't have the strength to fight alongside Kusanagi and Yagami again..."
"D-don't worry about that!"

Though he thought there was actually a great deal to worry about, Shingo did his best to reassure her anyway.

"But..."
"You can depend on Shingo Yabuki! If you'd allow me, I'd do everything I could to help both of them!"


***

"...so come on, Kyo! Let's enter with Iori! We can do it!"
"Have you completely lost your mind?"

Shingo had happened across Kyo in the middle of a busy intersection, and had virtually prostrated himself in begging for the Kusanagi's cooperation, to little avail. Kyo did his best to just ignore him and continue on his way.

"But we've fought on the same team before!"
"That's just because Kagura practically begged me to. What choice did I have? Why the hell do you think Yagami ever agreed to it before?"

Kyo, Iori and Kagura had entered the tournament together once. That the three of them had cooperated at all had seemed miraculous to begin with; to think that such circumstances might recur was simply absurd. Plus, without the mediating presence of Kagura herself, it was highly unlikely that they would be able to agree on a third teammate.

"Uh, if that's the issue, then I have an idea!"
"...All right then. Spill it, but I'm not making any promises."
"I can join up with you!"

Shingo gave a smile so earnest that, if he was trying to be funny or lighten the mood, one certainly couldn't tell. In other words, he actually meant it.

"...I shouldn't have bothered listening."


***

At the end of a long summer day, the waning moon began to rise in the eastern sky.
The air was humid and heavy.
With the wind becalmed as it was, two entwined trails of smoke rose from the gravestone.
A man stood before the small memorial, and the shadow of another drew near.

"Are you going to leave some incense, Yagami?"
"..."

In front of the stone, the incense smoke mingled with that of a cigarette.
Iori Yagami held it in his mouth, and both strands of smoke wound up into the sky.
Without meeting each others gaze, both men stood before the grave.

"How many years has it been now?"
"...You've gotten even less tactful. What business is it of yours?"

The two muttered quietly to one another, quite unlike their usual sharp words.
The small stone monument seemed to negate their typical antagonism, and all that could be heard was the ever-present chirping of cicadas in the setting sun.

"That student of yours has been pestering me every day. You need to do something about him."
"I'm not his keeper. You can handle it however you want."
"...Very well."

Iori took his now-spent cigarette and crushed it under his foot, then took another one and placed it in his mouth.
Shortly after, Kyo produced a lighter.
It looked to be an antique, with metal plating which was, for some reason, roughly inscribed with English phrases.
With a casual flick, he flipped it open and the wick burst into flame.
He held only his right arm out to Iori, keeping his gaze forward and the rest of his body still.

"Why do you feel the need to carry a lighter?"
"It was a gift."

Iori produced a lighter from his own pocket and, shielding the flame from the wind with his hand, lit his cigarette. Kyo softly clucked his tongue and flipped the cover shut. The area grew slightly darker.
Iori turned to the side and took several steps away.

"..."
"You still need something, Yagami?"

Just as before, Kyo spoke without taking his eyes from the gravestone.

"We still haven't settled this. I'm still going to be the one to kill you."
"..."
"This isn't the place for it, though."
"...I guess not."

Kyo once more heard the sound of Iori's footsteps. They gradually grew more and more distant, until finally fading away entirely.
The nearby streetlamp flickered into life.
The spot where Yagami had stood looked as though it were the focus of a bleak spotlight.
It was stained with the remnants of the cigarette that he had stamped out.


***

The first KOF match, in Japan.
Shingo was waiting for Kyo and Iori at Ootemon, a castle designated as a World Heritage site.
He hadn't exactly gotten promises out of them that they'd attend... in fact, Iori had threatened his life several times. It didn't stop him from trying, but eventually, he was forced to concede.

Shingo remembered his own words one week ago.

"Okay, I'm including both of your names on the signup sheet! You have to come! I believe in both of you!"


Since 2006
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