Description: A Doll encounters a circus performer at a train station, makes some offers that are probably beyond her pay grade, and then runs off, outdistancing all pursuit and parting shots.
Late afternoon, as the sun droops into the mountains along the Arakawa River, a commuter train pulls into Seibu-Chichibu station. Brakes screech to a stop, and then doors open with a hiss, vomiting out commuters eager to make it to their homes for the evening. Warning buzzers sound, announcements are made over the PA system announcing the return trip. While some commuters are eager to make the trip back to Southtown, there are a few stragglers left aboard who aren't in any great rush.
One of these is flicking a yo-yo, seemingly heedless of the environment around her as she performs a few intricate tricks. Other passengers would note that the Twilight Star performer's been doing this for most of her trip, her yo-yo stunts captivating the idle travelers for the brief time aboard the train. But she mustn't be late -- the train's about to pull out again -- and she steps off the train with no small amount of amusement. Amusement at what? The other people, of course.
As she ascends the staircase to the exit walkway, she stops for a moment. Whereas she had appeared casually oblivious when surrounded by people, she slows her pace, squinting her eyes a bit as she looks around the Chichibu train station. Is it just... unusually dark here, perhaps? Or is it more that she feels a cold, alien sensation that she'd felt somewhere before...
After a rough few days that she doesn't really remember with tremendous clarity -- not that that's dreadfully uncommon, mind -- Satsuki finds herself almost -- /almost/ actually having a desire, and that desire is for time to spend doing literally anything but being beaten up. Accordingly, she's found herself riding the trains of Southtown and the surrounding area.
She's coming from a different side of the station, initially thinking she intends to return to Southtown... but then something teases at the edge of her perception -- something she can't quite place, until...
... Her gaze rests on Honoka, heading up the exit walkway as she heads down it. The girl stops there for a moment, then takes a few steps closer; she very pointedly makes eye contact, but doesn't say anything. Perhaps she's feeling shy today.
The... sensation of someone that she'd felt twice before is right on the edge of her periphery -- a silent foreshadowing of the figure rounding the corner. The face, the cold stare, familiar. The gauntlets, unforgettable.
Fortunately, Honoka's outfit is much the same as the last time she'd discussed her 'meditative aid' with the Shadaloo Doll -- a pair of comfortable khaki-colored pants, and a dark purple jacket to match her violet-highlighted forelocks. A small one-shouldered slingpack is strapped to her back; she's also taken to wearing purple-tinted contacts for her flashy stage performances.
The yo-yo had stopped for a moment, but it snaps out again for another trip around the world. She smiles back at the alien, resting an elbow on the handrail dividing the 'up' stairs from the 'down' stairs.
"Just so you know," she offers with a wry smirk, "they're still pretty damn conspicuous."
It has been several months since their first conversation, in Southtown proper, but Honoka's memory has not suffered in the slightest. Again, the yo-yo snakes out, snapping back to oscillate about her pinky finger. The choice Honoka presents the Doll is clear: either Satsuki can stand and chat, or she can wait another twenty minutes for the next train to make its journey. Her call.
The performer's eye colour has already been forgotten, if Satsuki ever knew it; the contacts, accordingly, draw no real remark. The effect, though, seems quite noticeable; the violet-on-violet-on-violet-on-violet draws a couple of short blinks from the swordswoman -- who has no laughs to give Honoka at that little dig.
"The protective capacities of the equipment have proven necessary while traversing Southtown," Satsuki notes, tone as chilly as ever, as she stands with Honoka. "Thank you, however, for your concern; I have occasionally chosen to hide or remove them when protection is a lower priority." Perhaps /something/ got through to her, at least.
Shifting herself slightly closer to Honoka, Satsuki considers how conspicuous the stop is; after a moment, she says -- with a surprisingly unambiguous amount of command in her voice, compared to the careful neutrality she usually gives, "Walk with me." It is not a request; it may just be that she's antsy about standing in the middle of everything -- but her tone is clearly that of a demand. No please and thank you, even! Who taught this girl manners?
Words, words, words. The alien is talking again -- and Honoka has free rein to give a sassy response, right now. "Well, that's a plus. I'm glad you're not a -complete- write-off." She may be in a fairly unfamiliar station, in a fairly unremarkable town, but folks she knows are waiting for her just a few hundred feet away. It's not quite "home" turf. But it will do in a pinch.
The yo-yo sails out again, nipping precariously close to the shoulderblade of a passerby. Honoka knows what she's doing -- that's part of the game, to come -excruciatingly- close to nailing a bystander without actually doing so, in a demonstration of her flawless control over the inherently difficult-to-control object.
And here, there presents someone who's already borne witness to her skills. Someone who already knows what she can do. And that someone is deigning to give her orders.
Honoka locks eyes with Satsuki, drawing her yo-yo back to her palm with a loud slap. Her eyes smolder, jaw sets hard, and her lips seal into a straight line. And for one moment, she contemplates backhanding the Doll right here, right now.
The moment passes.
"Okay. You have fifteen minutes till the next train comes." After a blink of the eye, the fiery glare has transitioned into a more relaxed half-smile. The yo-yo slips out once more, twirling around her fingers as if nothing had happened.
The order is obeyed only because it suits her, right now. Her people can wait.
"Standing still in an operating train station draws undue suspicion," comes Satsuki's reply -- calm and clinical and flat as always, as she walks with Honoka. There's no actual objective -- indeed, as they start to talk it becomes rapidly apparent that her motion is totally aimless, as circular as the yo-yo's -- but she knows that people expect movement, and failing to meet expectations creates problems.
"I have no intention of continuing this conversation in excess of that time," she adds. As she leads her around a post, she notes, "I have no intention of harming you or allowing you to come to harm during this conversation."
It's chilly -- but at least it's the most /basic/, /fundamental/ form of positive regard. It's a start. Her slightly-brisk pace slows a little, her expression remaining calm and neutral. "Your abilities are of interest to my employer. I do not consider it in our best interests to engage you further at this time, and will not recommend this."
Honoka was quite amused to hear Satsuki's astute response. It -does- arouse suspicion -- and it has. Though that may be due to Satsuki's miniskirted stewardess getup as much as the fact that she's stopped to talk to a young woman with an overabundance of purple in her outfit. It'd be worse if she'd stopped on the -up- staircase like Honoka had.
With an aloof smile as she sends her yo-yo through its paces, the Twilight Star juggler gives Satsuki no particular pushback on her chosen walking direction, maintaining a comfortable distance beside her conversational companion for the next fifteen minutes. "I understand that there's no -intention-, but..." She needn't finish that statement -- acknowledgement of the threat in such a fashion should indicate the reciprocal is also true. Which is its own form of respect -- part of the reason Honoka had stared into Satsuki's eyes just a moment ago was to assess whether or not she could get away with simply giving a direct counterorder and moving along. Not bloody likely.
Your abilities are of interest, says Satsuki. "... That's probably a wise decision, " agrees the juggler, languidly turning aside in a show of mild consent on that point. And in an assertive show of nonchalance. Confidence, even.
"But it does answer one question I'd had..." continues Honoka, as she glances back to meet Satsuki's calm expression. "I guess that means I passed your evaluation, then." Smirk.
She looks Satsuki's current mode of attire over. So your employer. He's... with an airline? Or, no, let me guess... Japan Rail." Her uneven, asymmetrical tells should fit comfortably within the heuristic patterns of someone making an obvious deception. In short, she's sassing Satsuki even more. "I... I think I can do a bit better than those options, honestly. Unless you'd care to tell me -more- about your employer."
These are always tense situations for Satsuki; this is the one thing she has trouble answering: how secretive should she be? Usually, she's on a mission and the particulars are quite clear -- but sometimes there are other situations, other things to discuss, and those... well. Those are much harder.
"... Evaluation exceeded expected parameters," Satsuki admits, slightly helplessly, as she leads Honoka in a literal circle. "My employer is not with an organization that handles travel except incidentally. As I may have previously stated, we provide... support, for fighters with a particular range of abilities and inclinations." This much, at least, is true, at a certain level of abstraction.
"Your abilities render you a possible threat or recruit, but are in a range wherein nonaggression is optimal for both parties." Were Honoka much stronger, she would be a /serious/ threat; were she much weaker, she would be slated for destruction or retrieval. The space in which she exists is narrow -- but provides protection indeed. "Were you willing to cooperate, however, a meeting could be arranged."
Brushing her forelocks out of her eyes with one hand, she continues looping the yo-yo around in her other... until she realizes that the maneuver, in itself, is attracting attention. Snapping the meditative aid back to her palm, she nods slowly in response to Satsuki, a smug grin slipping across her face for just one moment. Honoka considers: she always did tend to do well on tests.
Again with the circumspect description of her employer's duties. It makes a bit more sense, now that the Twilight Star puppetmaster has seen exactly how far the Doll's training has propelled her. Clearly, neither JR or JAL have need for anyone -quite- so talented in the martial arts.
Though, really, Honoka can be just as circumspect in talking about her organization as well: to criticize Satsuki would be to pitch stones in her own glass house, as it were.
Her purple-tinted eyes stare back at Satsuki's. Sensing a near-complete lack of emotions -- nothing -suppressed-, per se, but only... void. Honoka's own senses are still in dire need of refinement, but as her eyes flick over Satsuki's face, committing each detail to memory over the course of a second or two... she makes mental notes of the things she sees. It's easier now that a sword isn't being brought within inches of her face.
"'Nonaggression' is perfectly 'optimal' in my book as well," she states, stuffing her hands and thy yo-yo into her jacket pockets.
She takes a step aside, getting a better look at Satsuki's proportions. Younger, she notes; she wasn't terribly sure before. Interesting. "Well, unless there's a specific offer on the table, I'll have to give a definite 'maybe' on the cooperation. I guess I'm just... afraid of committment?" Her eyebrows raise in coordination with her tone, as she traces her finger alongside her temple for a moment. "Because for right now, 'nonaggression' suits me just fine. Your organization has plenty of... fighters to support, and me? I've already got a day job." She pauses a beat. "Night job."
"Understood. I will raise this agreement to my superiors should an opportunity or need arise," Satsuki confirms, once she hears that Honoka is willing to mutually back off. While strictly speaking she has no actual authority to treat on behalf of her master, she can -- at the very least -- make carefully neutral assessments and defend them rationally.
... which wouuld work, if Shadaloo were an evidence-based organization, and not one person's path to unlimited power of the darkest sort.
Honoka always has those jokes at the ready -- but none of them seem to get so much as the slightest smile from Satsuki. There's just that void there -- that empty, flat feeling. Even her smiles -- rare as they are -- are not her own, and she brings them out so tremendously rarely.
"In the event that a specific offer is available, I will notify you immediately," she adds, as a gesture of good faith. With that said, she's led the pair right back to the train platform. It's an acceptable amount of time -- enough that they could be waiting for the /next/ train, now. "Direct any inquiries to me until otherwise stated."
Never a twitch, never a smirk, never even an honest smile backed with a truly felt emotion. It's a shame, really: Honoka tends to enjoy getting at least -some- emotional response when someone tracks her down on her way to work. Again, the alien meets her with the cold precision of a trained assassin -- and not even the kind of trained assassin she -prefers- to work with.
Honoka has given the matter of Miss Satsuki -- or is it Miss Ginko Himura -- much thought over the past few days. An index card with her name was drawn, details placed upon it -- further extrapolation was considered briefly, and then scribbled out. But what bothered her more about Satsuki wasn't what was not what she'd seen, of course, but the mysteries lying so tantalizingly close to the surface. Mysteries that, again, come to light with cognizance of just how things are starting to tie together.
Satsuki is very young. And for her to be trained as well as she is, Honoka understands that the young woman must have been training for at least as long as she -- and Honoka's perculiar set of circumstances began just before her twelfth birthday.
"Those terms are acceptable to me. Though, I'd prefer if the arrangement goes both ways -- I'd prefer to speak only with you."
Eyes flick to the train platform. There are a few people already starting to queue up. Her gaze flicks up to the clock. Perhaps a minute to go.
Moistening her lips in the chill winter air, the juggler snaps her attention back to Satsuki. "Oh, and by the way... since we've agreed to mutual non-aggression, I do have /one/ piece of information to share with you." She gives the young woman a warm smile.
And then, without much further ado, she takes one and a half step forward. No more, no less -- even if Satsuki were to step back into a hostile gesture, her right would be perilously close to Honoka's own. And if Satsuki were to allow the Twilight Star performer's cheek to brush along her own, she'd feel the warmth of her skin against the night air, and the gentle touch of air across her earlobe.
"You're worth more to me than you are to him."
In a game of cryptic half-truths and things perhaps better left unsaid, Honoka is treading in dangerous territory. Message delivered, she takes a step back, pressing one finger to her lips in the universal sign for silence.
The onlookers -- because of course there -are- some now -- turn away, pretending in futility as if they weren't witness to anything at all.
Unpacking the mystery of Satsuki's talent -- of her skill -- takes time. The truth of that story may well never come out; Occam's razor shatters against it. "Understood," she offers, regarding speaking only to her; she thinks she can handle this much. Her sense of the strange woman's abilities is quite strong, at this point -- she knows exactly what she'd be getting into, and about how well it would go.
Sensing no hostile intent in Honoka's advance, Satsuki stands perfectly still as she steps in; her muscles tense, ready for the gesture to become threatening at any moment, but refusing to act until she feels that thrumming undercurrent of aggression that never comes.
Her eyes shut for a moment as she's whispered to, and she nods slowly. "I... do not understand," she says, quietly, softly. "More information required." She stays close, not withdrawing, letting Honoka lead the interaction, letting /her/ withdraw and silence herself with that finger.
Something cracks through that totally-passive facade. The Doll's body shifts slightly to one side, then the other; her hands fold slightly in front of her body, and her chin turns just slightly downward. ... unease?
Playing with people's emotions is only one of Honoka's guilty pleasures -- but is it really so bad when the target in question is expressing no emotion at all? In Honoka's estimation, it isn't so much that she is devoid of feeling, but rather that numerous layers of conditioning have suppressed emotions to such a degree that perhaps Satsuki simply -forgot- how to feel. Without the vocabulary to recognize the basic emotions that normal children learn through the course of growing up, the Doll's psyche just does not have the capacity to understand.
And, as the Doll states, she does not understand. Why did Honoka touch her -- when she wouldn't before? Was it the threat? Or is it more that the pair have revealed so much to each other that she felt she'd nothing else to lose?
The onlookers have stopped staring, but they're undoubtedly listening, wondering why the performer in purple is addressing the miniskirted beauty with the garishly overwrought gauntlets. It's with that in mind that Honoka lowers her silencing finger, and speaks. Quietly.
"You're far from Southtown. That was your theatre of operations, hmm? And yet, you're here -- without a plan to meet me -- there's no way you could have just -known- I'd be here. So you're just... here on your own."
She pauses a moment, her smile fading a few notches.
Honoka has been collecting information from Satsuki all throughout the encounter. The initial meeting on the steps. The walk about the platform. And most of all, from the touch of the Doll's cold skin to hers. In their last battle, Satsuki was exuding feelings of self-assured confidence. Precision, an inner knowledge that -- if not successful -- that at least her mission could be complete. That confidence is completely absent now.
Honoka's eyes soften -- a look of pity. Does Satsuki understand the expression? "... So... does your employer just... not have an active task for you to help with?"
It's a series of stabs in the dark. But Honoka prefers to work under limited light.
Sure enough, they're stabs in the dark -- but a few of them hit their mark. Keeping her distance from Honoka now that they've disengaged, Satsuki remains tense, unsettled... and yet -- Honoka is /right/, isn't she? There's no pressing task currently and she's not due for any adjustments, so she's here, riding the rails, looking for... what? A needle in a haystack of psychic talent?
The fact that she's /found/ it, aside -- what /is/ she doing? The Doll stands still, wide-eyed, saying nothing to Honoka yet. She meets that look of pity with an uncomprehending emptiness... though for an instant, it appears as if she softens.
And then, again -- only the void.
Eventually, she speaks. "That is correct. Others more suited to current and ongoing tasks have assignments. I am currently unassigned." That's more information than she should have handed over so freely, she realizes after a moment -- the way she says it indicates that there are others /like her/, doesn't it?
"What is my value to you?" she asks, next -- that's the sole piece that, to her, does not add up in the least. Perhaps she is not, at this moment, as valuable as the other Dolls to her master... but what possible value does she have to this strange, violet-clad woman?
Chichubu is a fair distance away from Southtown -- the Twilight Star bigtop is not far from this train station. Honoka's guess seems to have paid off, as Satsuki inadvertently volunteers the information, with only the slightest of prompting. And yet... the Doll stands there. Surprised? Perhaps.
And perhaps with the small unintended trickle of information, the leak is spotted and sealed, with only a blank stare left in its place.
And then Satsuki rephrases Honoka's words into the form of a question. What -is- Satsuki's value to her?
If Honoka had opted to continue sassing Satsuki, she could easily just admit the obvious: she's getting information from Satsuki. Right now, that would be a true statement -- she's providing more intel to Honoka than to her employer.
But no, Honoka states, her hands into her pockets, her voice low. "Your value to me is in your worth as a -person-. You may have been told this before, but you are not a mindless automaton. You can be a beautiful, talented cheetah, hunting prey in the sunshine. You can be a glorious eagle, soaring triumphantly above the trees with no master to call you to the ground. But instead... you are an ant." She draws in her breath, the anticlimax of the solitary syllable 'ant' hung in the air for a delieriously long moment.
"Ants serve a leader. They claim to love their master beyond all else -- because following the leader is the only thing they shall do, and the only thing they shall ever do."
She pauses once more to glance at the clock. She expects her companions to be most worried.
Turning back to Satsuki with her chin tilted slightly askew, she notes, "Your value is in your intelligence. Your insightfulness. Your dedication. And your spirit. All these are things that inspire me, Satsuki." Heaving a regretful sigh, she frowns somewhat. "And your employer doesn't even let you stretch your wings. Are you not... starving, Satsuki? Not hungry for a change in the routine?"
... and like that, Honoka is telling her the same things she's heard before -- from a kunoichi, from a young woman who seems much more fixated on believing in the Doll than she herself is. "You... cannot understand," she says, slowly and crisply, once Honoka finishes. "It is impossible." Unlike Ibuki, Honoka doesn't seem hostile... but she /does/ seem very insistent on things she cannot possibly understand.
"I... have never wanted for anything," she says, though there's just the hint -- the barest, quietest hint -- of a hitch in her voice as she says it. "We have come to terms; I will be leaving." Short, declarative statements of truth. Despite Honoka's pressure, both physical and psychic... Satsuki's not ready to hear those things. Not yet.
She turns and moves toward the platform, doing her best to get away from Honoka. "Ants, too, are part of all of creation," she notes, as she attempts to disappear into the growing crowd waiting for the train; she cuts a conspicuous figure, but it's coming soon...
Her body language, once she's back among the rest of the world, closes off entirely, and she turns slightly away from Honoka; despite the wonderful things the mastermind is saying... she doesn't want to hear any of it, not for now.
Honoka knows the kunoichi to some degree. And she is fully aware of the fight that Ginko Himura had with Akemi Hino -- it had, in fact, informed this very specific invasion on Satsuki's well-manicured sanity. But she truly has no idea what was -actually- said, and hints of such do not appear to be forthcoming from the Shadaloo Doll.
Instead, what comes from the Doll sounds like denial to the Twilight Star psion. Denial, and that ever-present hitch -- the sign that Honoka best leave well enough alone if she'd prefer to have any such conversations in the future. The mental equivalent of shutting the door, coupled with the very real act of walking away.
Impossible, she says. She never wants for anything, she says. Words mean little, compared to the very real emotions Honoka can sense, or the very real actions that communicate louder than words. The young puppetmaster has a compulsion to use words, to speak the mandatory aisatsu as she leaves: "It was a pleasure seeing you again, Satsuki." The wave, the uber-pleasant smile: also mandatory. But moreso, she has a compulsion to keep her focus on the Doll as she weaves through the crowd, the singular soul weaving its way into the crowd, consumed by the cacophany of conflicting voices... and silenced once again.
Only then, when Satsuki's withdrawn, lonely dirge is swallowed whole by the crowd, does Honoka quietly walk back up the stairs, her yo-yo finding its way out. Snap. Retrieve. Snap. Retrieve. The initial release passes... and then the yo-yo slips into a more casual orbit as Honoka treads up the stairs, uncontested by the crowds which have yet to arrive from the coming train.
Log created on 20:31:51 01/12/2015 by Satsuki, and last modified on 22:42:26 01/13/2015.