Explosion after explosion rocked the air. Shockwaves unleashed a staccato sonata of destruction. Any man in the vicinity would have had their eardrums blasted to smithereens, but alas, the unfortunate audience to this performance of ruin were only machines, their smoldering metal chunks and crackling, ripped wire innards strewn in droves across desert dry orange earth.
"You've improved, Fifth!" Clint leaped in mid air, a majestic set of brown feathered avian wings stretched out from his back. Harsh sunlight streamed down from various holes in the now not so very defensive dome that protected Meteor Labs.
The pupils in Clint's eyes narrowed into hyper-focused slits as they took in his target: Shuten Doji.
Where Clint's wings showed free flowing mastery over the skies, Shuten Doji's bare feet, his rough, callused toes digging, no cracking into the firm earth like mini anchors, showcased a rock-solid affinity for the earth.
"What the fuck are you doing here, Unbreakable!?" said Shuten Doji. He raised an enormous kanabo - a Japanese club that looked like an oversized baseball bat lined with bone shattering, brain splattering studs - in the air.
The kanabo was made seemingly of frozen purple liquid. It was surrounded by a permanent coating of wispy lavender fog reminiscent of the condensed air that liquid nitrogen gave off.
"Settling the score, that's what!" boomed Clint. He raised his clenched fists. They were covered in a crackling orange glow. A rough imitation of Stella's explosive blood.
"You've gone insane!" said Shuten Doji. "The truce we had - you break it now!? All the Swords will be upon you! Shit-!"
Shuten Doji leaped backwards, the firm earth shattering under the weight and power of his sudden movement. Almost immediately afterwards, the two footprints he left were engulfed in an explosion of bright orange light.
"You're mad! Reckless!" Shuten Doji narrowed his eyes as the shockwave of the explosion crashed into him. It was a shockwave powerful enough to have shattered the ordinary Alter's ribcage, but it bounced off Shuten Doji's body like rain on a windshield. "Your tribe still has not recovered from our past conflict! You would bring bloodshed on them again!?"
"Nah. This time, it's purely personal. Just me payin' back my debts." The aftermath of Clint bringing down two explosive fists on the ground drove up a cloud of debris, making nothing but the reds of his gleaming eyes visible.
Shuten Doji noticed they were glowing a shade brighter than usual. He placed his kanabo in front of him, in line with Clint's gaze. Red hot beams slammed into Shuten Doji's icy club with a sizzling impact. The kinetic force was enough to send Shuten Doji skidding backwards, but not by much.
The club did not melt, either.
Shuten Doji could breathe out alcohol as intense fire, but he could also do the reverse. He could change the chemical structure of alcohol and structure it into an incredibly dense, battle-ready frost structure.
'He hasn't improved at all since five years ago,' thought Shuten Doji as he carefully moved his kanabo in line with Clint's gaze, preventing the beams from hitting him. 'He's grown complacent. But I can't blame him. I would have too if I had that logic-defying, cheat-like ability of his.'
"You've improved a lot," reiterated Clint. The force of his eye beams had scattered the dust cloud, revealing his towering, musclebound figure. He had on no clothes at this point, destroyed as they were by repeated explosions - both from his own and from tanking Shuten Doji's.
Plate-like armor scales covered most of Clint's body. His genitals - a potential weak spot unneeded for battle - had disappeared upon sensing a fight.
'A good thing, too. Fighting naked men is not something I relish,' thought Shuten Doji.
"But it won't be enough for me. This time, I'll stick to you. I'll make sure to evolve past anything you throw at me. I'll make sure you're dead," said Clint.
"What changed?" said Shuten Doji, his tone accusatory. "What drives you now to seek me out? After years?"
"Like I said. A score to settle."
"Nonsense!" Shuten Doji spat out. "You killed my fellow Swords. You killed my students. Before that, when you destroyed Bushido, you killed my father, my uncle! You massacred hundreds of innocents.
Husbands, wives, daughters, sons!
Yet you dare to fight in the name of your loss!? One measly lover!?"
Clint stopped mid step. His jaw set. Before, his eyes were serious but not particularly driven. Now, they were. Driven by cold, long-nurtured anger. "Then how about we put our losses on the line."
"What?" asked Shuten Doji. He held back a desire to involuntarily step back.
"Your losses against mine," said Clint. "If you win, you get to give justice to all those countless lives you're talking about. If I win, I get to prove my wife's loss was deeper than everyone you're jabberin' about."
"What kind of might makes right philosophy is that? More nonsense!"
"You're right. It is nonsense. But that's the thing. Loss is nonsensical. It hurts hard no matter what the numbers say or how the scales lie." Clint's arm morphed, splitting down the middle.
Muscle fibers and severed bone detached and re-arranged into a bladed structure. A metallic grey sheen covered over the bio-blade for a final glossy touch.
"Then you fight to soothe the pain? The old wounds?" Shuten Doji shook his head. "Killing me will not heal that pain. If it did, you would have come for me far sooner, when the hurt was still fresh."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I'll let your corpse know whether you were right or not." Clint disappeared, skin refracting light into pure invisibility.
Shuten Doji remained calm and waited. Then, he sensed it. Subtle changes in wind pressure from behind him. He reacted with the adaptability of a trained professional, no, more than a simple experienced merc.
One of the best fighters in the entire world.
His power was classed under the 'Trump' category that involved abilities that overlapped across multiple categories. In this case, his power could convert alcohol into several different effects.
There was, as he showcased now, the Creator class ability to create ice constructs. He also had the Blaster class ability to breathe fire or explosive fireballs.
But to truly dance with the top of the top, where physical powerhouses were a dime a dozen, Shuten Doji relied the most on his ability's Augmenter category application.
He could circulate alcohol throughout his veins and convert it into a body strengthening agent, dramatically increasing his physical stats, his strength, speed, and even reflexes, at the cost of increasing his drunkenness.
Shuten Doji swayed backwards, folding back at the waist like he was an extreme limbo master. His bare skin showed glowing purple veins - a visual indicator that the alcohol was strengthening him.
Clint's blade arm zipped above Shuten Doji with a whining sound. He stared down at Shuten Doji with narrowed eyes, but he was still stuck mid-swing, wide open for a counter attack.
Shuten Doji sprung back, pushing off the ground with a handstand that fueled a double kick right into Clint's jaw. Impact, or rather, the explosion of the blow sent Clint hurtling several dozens of meters into the air in an instant.
Clint's wings furled out, stopping him from flying up any higher. He put a hand to his mouth and drew fingers coated with copious amounts of blood back. His jaw had shattered down the middle, dangling down in two pieces. His tongue barely hung in his mouth cavity by a thread of remaining muscle. His teeth had split apart into ugly shards.
"Heh." Clint gurgled out. He grabbed his loose jaw and ripped it off. Almost instantly, a new one formed, raw red flesh covering the gaping wound like bubbling foam before stabilizing into a new jaw.
This time, the jaw was covered in thicker armor plating that made it look like he was wearing a bronze mask. He no longer had a visible mouth. Just pure protective plate.
"You hit a lot harder than before," said Clint, his voice projecting outwards through little holes in his mouth plate. "Your strength, speed, reactivity - every part of you's improved. What changed for you?"
"Figured out there's a lot more in life to fight for than I'd once thought," said Shuten Doji as he swayed back to standing. He shifted from side to side, his body lithe with free flowing drunken movement. His wild, lengthy hair swayed with him.
His eyes were a bright violet, the blood vessels gleaming bright against the canvas of the eye whites. Like this, with his stubby horns, he looked like a demon - like Shuten Doji, the drunken oni which he was named after.
"Damn. And here I thought I'd sworn off day drinkin'." He glared up at Clint with shaky, unfocused eyes, but Clint knew better than anyone else that those drunken eyes were a thousand times more threatening than any other expression Shuten Doji could have made.
"I tried talkin' ya outta this, I really did. But if it's a fight ya want, then it's a fight yer gonna have!"