It was a free-for-all battle between fighters who, for one reason or another, could not appear in official bouts, and held at one of the world's premier underground arenas. The audience's gaze was fixed on two women: one in a unique outfit featuring large eyeballs, and another that soared through the air while changing masks faster than the eyes could see.

"They're pretty strong, eh?"

Antonov murmured, smiling with satisfaction as he watched the fights through a one-way mirror.

"That's Sylvie, formerly of NESTS, who controls electromagnetic forces, and Mian, a master of Sichuan Bushinryu.  Both have a win rate of over 90% in this underground tournament. And they're quite popular."

Antonov's assistant, associate director Yakov, swiftly pulled up information on the fighters on a tablet.

"Ahhh, I see, I see. Alright Yakov, I'm going to scout them as select members of the official invitational team!" "Yes, sir— Wait, what!? So what will you do with the fighters that were recommended by our sponsors?" "Naturally, I'll be turning them down. Fighters known only for their looks aren't nearly strong enough to show off the power of Antonov, the first-generation KOF champion." "Ahh... Yes sir, if you say so. Well then, I'll go call them over."

Told that they had a business proposition from a very wealthy patron, Sylvie and Mian came to Antonov's room. Yakov then explained the nature of the contract.

"KOF, huh... I don't like being on TV. But I'll think about it, depending on the size of the check." "Paula's totally, completely, without-a-doubt okay with this! You're fine with Paula, right?" "Excellent. Yakov, give them the contracts." "Yes, boss. These are the contracts. Please, look them over." "Wow, that's an impressive amount. Even my eyeballs are overwhelmed! ...Are there any penalties?" "No, no, there's no need to worry. It's simply honest pay for a fight." "With this much money... And there's a bonus for getting the venue worked up. It's a deal. Look forward to working with you, President Antonov." "That's great. Ehehe, Paula's glad to work with you too, boss."

Having added them to his select, invitational team, Antonov lectured Yakov in a satisfied voice as he watched the next fight.

"Those two are tough! There's no doubt they'll spice up the tournament. And now that we've got members for the Official Team that can show off my strength, we can use anybody for the final member. Go get me some guy off the street." "Well, for the final member, we could try assigning one of the fighters recommended by our sponsors as a base..." "That won't be necessary. If you're looking for your final member to invite onto the team, I'm here. So hire me already, you sorry sack of shit."

When the two men turned to find the source of the unexpected voice, they saw a hooded man standing in the corner of the room.

"Hey, kid, language! Anyway, when did you get here? I didn't notice you at all." "Just tell me whether you'll hire me or not. You know speed is everything in business negotiations, right?" "B-Boss... What do you think?" "Hmm. I like your abrasive style! Yakov, give him a contract too." "Huh? Are you sure, boss?" "Yeah. It's not just anyone who can hide his presence from me. He's bound to be tough. What's your name?" "Kukri. So, we have a deal. No need to explain the contract or negotiate; that's a waste of time. If there's a problem, contact me here."

Saying this, Kukri took the contract and vanished before their eyes, leaving behind traces of sand and a note with contact information written on it.

Buzzzz... Buzzzz... "It's me. I've got all of the KOF participants. Standby for a report."




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