Description: Alma and Hayabusa, traveling to Hokkaido ostensibly for pre-tournament training and in reality for Hayabusa's inscrutible purposes, recognize Honoka, famed performer and a fellow competitor, at the station. Behind the friendly and incidental exchange is a faintly uneasy atmosphere. What concerns plague Honoka's thoughts? Were psychics truly mind-readers, a revelation might have awaited Alma. As it is, for now, they are but trains passing.
Hokkaido is known as a frigid clime. In the far northern reaches of Japan, even beneath the peaks of Asahi-dake and Youtei-yama, its biting cold is notorious even to foreigners. To native Japanese, it is snow country, a place tinged by melancholy beauty.
But not in late July.
The temperature outside Sapporo's central train station is pleasantly cool, particularly in comparison to the extreme heat and humidity that the central and southern parts of Japan must be reaching at this time of the year. One young man seems to be particularly enjoying it. Lying on his back in the grass outside the station, arms folded behind its head, Alma gazes up at the contours of the clouds in the sky, by all appearances basking in their detail. Unbeknownst to passerby, he moreso luxuriates in the confluence of auras that comprise this gathering place, something of a treat after a few weeks of lonely wandering.
"I suppose it is no time of year for snow angels."
He may have his fill when he and his new companion travel to the mountains for some high-altitude training in preparation for the King of Fighters. He suspects there may be some further agenda for their presence here, but for now he takes his enigmatic new allies at their word and placidly takes in his changing environs at his own pace.
"Perhaps I shall get in a little practice."
So murmuring to himself, he stretches out his arms and begins to sweep them up and down upon the grass, parting and closing his legs in time.
"Yes," Alma continues with a hint of satisfaction, "I see the appeal."
The passerby, staring at him, less so.
One can probably be excused for not recognizing the star juggler of the Twilight Star Circus. For one, she hasn't been performing for quite some time. Two, she tends to dress quite a bit more conservatively when traveling; skin-tight leotards tend to attract a bit too much unwanted attention, after all.
No, right now, the Ainu woman is pacing about just outside the train station, but it's the red yo-yo that's more likely to catch the eye. Her skills far exceed that of a simple walk-the-dog exercise; the yo-yo flies about at ridiculous speeds, wrapping about her elbow and shuttling back, whirling overhead. Occasionally she will even jump over the yo-yo as she slings it beneath her, and never once does she lose the rhythm of her step.
So much for not attracting attention.
But who really pays attention to the star in her home station, any more? Sure, there's three or four children entranced by the maneuvers, but Honoka, for her own part, wears a colossally bored expression for each of the maneuvers she's mastered by rote.
Until she notices Alma Towazu -- a face that she'd only seen in magazines before. And he's... making snow angels. Minus a crucial element.
That's enough to get her to snap the yo-yo back to her hand, and lean upon the railing of the ramp leading up to the train station. "... It works better in the winter, really!" she calls out, a skeptical eyebrow raised as she scrutinizes Towazu.
And then she is forced to wonder: what is that -serenity- she senses? Could that really be his?
Alma pauses on his arms' upswing at the young woman's voice. Folding one hand behind his head, he props himself up to leans forward so that she comes into view, his movements almost languid. His smile is mild but soon forthcoming.
"I knew I was missing something."
His soft voice still carries, as does its warmth.
"Your movements are impressive," he adds, and it may take a moment to register that he must be referring to her yo-yo technique, given that he didn't appear to be watching her. "Very much so, to an amateur like myself. But you seem to find them tedious."
He slowly rises to approach her, his leisure a natural continuation of his previous posture, a courteous cover for the intervening seconds it took him to place her face. By now he has remembered where he's seen her before, just in time for him to calmly approach.
"You are Honoka Kawamoto, yes? The eponymous Twilight Star." Probably not exactly? Oh, maybe that's a little joke. It's can be hard to tell with Alma. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm Alma Towazu, visiting Hokkaido with friends."
"Are you awaiting someone? Or hoping for some diversion to alleviate the summer's tedium?"
His smile is kind, but his eyes are almost too clear.
"Or do you yearn for something deeper?"
Alma really does think this line of questioning counts as casual conversation. At least he has the excuse of being an artist. And being trained as a psychic by a fortune-teller.
It's just his nature, though.
It's hard not for the juggling martial artist to get a swollen head about her own status. Not only has she fought in a previous King of Fighters tournament, and clashed against the World Warrior himself in a separate battle, but her semi-secret alter-ego has been personally responsible for saving the Earth as we all know it.
Suffice to say, when Alma compliments her technique (which of course he was watching, because why wouldn't someone watch her?), and not only that, but identifies her by name, she can't help but flash a shy smile, dipping her chin in acknowledgement of the identification. She could correct him on the etymology of the name Twilight Star, but... why?
"Guilty as charged," she answers, the slightest of a Hokkaido drawl present in her tone. Alma... Towazu, yes.
"Nice to meet you. It's... it's pretty nice out here this time of year, yeah! Not quite -snow- on the ground, but it's a nice departure from the sun and heat of Southtown."
And then... questions. Her smile dims somewhat -- as a minor celebrity, she's used to giving the least committed answers to the usual small-talk questions. And she's used to creepers asking her out for a date. But this Towazu fellow is a bit... different.
"Eh... I guess I'll pick 'diversion.' I've been... a bit too busy to yo-yo lately. I'm grateful for the chance to get out of town for a bit, see some civilization. Such as it is."
A small smile, as she gives the yo-yo a tentative flick, returning it to her hand a moment later.
"You mentioned friends?" Turnabout is fair play, right?
Meeting at a train station tends to have an implication attached to it, a normal way of such transpiring that is simply understood and accepted in polite society. In this case, however, the traveling companion who gave that simple directive is running a bit late, along with the arriving train.
When that all-important shuttle does pull into the station, at long last, those admitted to the platform are so focused on their course into the conveyence that all but no one really notices the dark figure who, by all apppearances, rode in atop the... rather speedy train. It's simply not how things are done-- and truth be told, it's worse than that.
The obviously urgent and essential diversion to Hokkaido was an eccentricity to begin with, but easily attributed, perhaps, to those peculiarities shared by many old school martial arts practitioners-- a prediliction towards the wilderness. In truth, it was matters of duty that demanded Hayabusa's insistence. Matters he was decidedly closed-lipped on, in this instance.
Several weeks ago a train had crashed near here, with unusual and alaring numbers of fatalities, and the master shinobi recognized it as the handiwork of a spirit he hunted, and lost, some years before. A Yokai that feeds on the spirit energy and husks of dying men; this particular one had acquired a taste for the cycle of feasting upon disasters of its own creation... and hibernating for years.
This specific day, this specific time, the opportunity arose to do what he could not the last time this monster feasted. The last scion of the Dragon Lineage stops another tragedy, slays another old and malevolent entity whilst dodging electrified track and unpredictable mountainous terrain.. and speaks of it to no one.
By the time Ryu Hayabusa arrives at-- or above-- the train platform, the young ninja wears a simple outfit of loose, blue-grey cloth, marked as a warrior both by its style and the katana sheathed at his side, to say nothing of the graceful way he skips the turnstyle and zeroes in on Alma and his new ladyfriend as the train departs with the bulk of the station's inhabitants, a tightly bound ponytail all but floating on the momentum he creates. Alma is, perhaps, not the only strange fellow about..
Such as it is, indeed. The passerby frequently slow to gaze at the two striking individuals but eventually go on their way in silence. The pace of the day is sedate.
"I'm grateful as well. I think I will be in Japan for a little while, as is all too rare. But I doubt my travels are as strenuous as yours." Perhaps more far-flung, but he is responsible for less than a circus. In any case, Alma doesn't pry any further.
"My friends are elusive," he confesses. "So I am left to entertain myself. Perhaps I should invest in a yo-yo of my own."
Just don't borrow one from a ninja, Alma. You don't know what sort of apparatus it'll turn out to be.
"Oh, there one is."
Unflappable, Alma points up at the roof above the platform, where Hayabusa is briefly visible as he disembarks, as it were, from the train.
Ninjas don't simply push through turnstiles, clearly.
"Look who I've met. Honoka, this is the honorable Ryu Hayabusa." What, is he a judge? "Ryu, are you familiar with the Twilight Star Circus? It's quite a sensation these days."
Alma talks like someone who hasn't actually seen it ... because he hasn't. His slight smile is pleasant, but he keeps his eyes on Ryu and, at one moment, faintly inclines his head, as if to say:
'I'm ready when you are.'
Knowing nothing of their task, Alma nevertheless assumes that something more than training has called them here and implicitly trusts that Ryu will lead him to a task that calls upon them both.
Honoka used to make daily travels from Southtown to wherever the circus tent was pitched for the night. Thank the Kamui she's moved on from -that- lifestyle. But, as Alma pays mind to her strenuous travels, she bows her head in appreciation, along with a wisfful sense of nostalgia.
The days were simpler then. Before her personal mission became so strikingly apparent.
Drawing in a breath, she flashes Alma a pleasant smile, noting in her unassuming drawl, "The greatest curse o' bein' on so many posters is never knowing as much about other people as they know 'bout me. Still... hm." She recalls the yo-yo to her hand, folding her arms and propping her chin up. "... Was that you who fought Athena Asamiya that one time?"
And then: enter the ninja.
The Ainu-Japanese woman looks up. In general, it's difficult to just sneak up on her. And then there's ninjas. Truly, Ryu Hayabusa was invisible until he wanted to be seen.
A chill runs down her spine, as she grows considerably more tense, her jaw tightening reflexively.
Where the hell was Seishirou when she needed him...
Drawing in a steeling breath, she answers as self-introduction: "Honoka Kawamoto. Nice to meet you, Hayabusa-san. I... am on a bit of a sabbatical from the circus for the time being, my apologies." She bows her head slightly, one hand raising to sweep long raven-black bangs out of her eyes. "Towazu-san is quite the conversationalist..." she adds, with a good-natured smile. "It's rare to see such famous fighters in the humble wilderness paradise of Hokkaido."
It's easy for even finely honed senses to lose track of a fighter's particular aura amidst a throng, but it's true-- Hayabusa's peculiar aura is notable for its relative subtlety, quiet even in seclusion, a whispered incantation of ancient jutsus and a blooodline touched by Old World gods. To his credit as the honorable Ryu Hayabusa, the young shinobi makes no mention of Honoka's tension, instead endeavoring to put her at ease.
Hayabusa inclines his head politely, clasping his hands before him with practiced grace and an innate respect that seems anything but the airs some put on at moments like this, his words just as soft-spoken and frank. "I am almost surprised we have not had the pleasure before now." the ninja quietly acknowledges this new acquaintance's reputed skill, emerald eyes flecked with gold rising to consider Honoka. "And yes, I had noticed the same." That Alma just -loves- to talk.
A genuine, subtle smile lights those intent eyes as they turn to Alma, and Hayabusa repeats his bow "Thank you for coming, there was something I had to see to-- but I believe these mountains may help prepare us for the King of Fighters, as well. Will you be competing this year, Ms Kawamoto?" A quizzical, almost birdlike cant to the shinobi's head accompanies the sidelong glance back at Honoka.
Alma is only occasionally recognized from his appearance in that fight against Athena, the only spectacle of combat he has put on in public. He remains a reserve member of the Psycho Soldiers, of course, but typically trains with with them only at his teacher Rose's behest. Unknown is that he has continued to fight behind the scenes, assisting an organization that prefers to keep its existence and operations under wraps.
"Yes," he replies to Honoka, his smile broadening and, for the first time, his eyes seeming to light up with a heretofore absent energy at the remembrance. "Athena-san is an extraordinary individual. She pushed me to my limits in that confrontation. I was honored to face her, and never so thrilled by a fight." His posture and bearing haven't changed, but the glow in his gaze reveals in a new way that this remains a man poised for battle. "Of course, my hands more often serve my art." But stars of the painting world tend only to be known to a certain crowd, no matter their appeal.
Less obvious than Alma's delight at recounting that moment in the spotlight is the fact that he is doing so instinctively to set Honoka at ease a little, sensing that she has for some reason become tense. Psychics cannot straightfowardly read thoughts or know one's heart for certain, but if it is Hayabusa's arrival that is the cause, Alma can understand. Those who can conceal their presence even from his aura sense unsettle him in ways he cannot fully explain. When he met Hayabusa, he experienced the intimation that there once was an individual capable of similar subterfuge who deeply wounded him, a villain whom Alma opposed utterly. But today Alma has no scars from these imagined wounds and can remember no such person, place no face, recall no name.
If only Alma, here a mere arm's length from Honoka, *could* read thoughts.
"Forgive me," he replies with an amused smile at Honoka's remark and Hayabusa's assent. "I'm possessed of a passion to know the hearts of others. Sometimes I observe. Sometimes I question." Sometimes he flops around in the grass. But it seems he wasn't asking an obvious question, or at least obvious to anyone who follows fighting, which Alma ironically hasn't. It seems to him that it would be a little rude to admit he wasn't aware of Honoka as a professional fighter in addition to being a performer, so he simply glances her way after Hayabusa's question.
"In the mountains," he quips, "maybe I'll find what I'm missing."
Snow: snow angels' not-so-secret ingredient.
The change in Alma's attitude when he speaks about Asamiya is definitely noted -- the mere mention of the Psycho Soldier seems to have brought up a rather remarkable set of memories in the artist.
A subdued sense of jealousy creeps up within the Ainu. Always the pretty singer with the pink hair. Always the one with the winning smile, the one who's naturally cheerful -without- needing to put so damned much effort into it. Always right around the corner... always stealing the spotlight.
"Art..." Honoka repeats, grateful that the artist shifts the topic away from Miss Asamiya. "I would'a guessed 'martial art' but I reckon that's not what you meant. Never did have much talent at that. ... Though I didn't have much at the trapeze till I practiced, either, so there's something to be said for practice makin' perfect." She smiles quietly, bowing her head yet again in the attempt to be as coquettish and charming as possible. And even though it's a habit borne of nearly a decade of performance, she questions herself in front of Alma -- does this look -forced- to him?
As she turns her eyes to address Hayabusa, Honoka takes peripheral note of the way in which Alma responds, her senses cluing her in to things that wouldn't be obvious to the eye or ear. Particularly, the manner in which his responses to her emotions appear to be completely complementary -- a reassurance to match her understated anxiety, a cooled response to her attempt to respond in kind. A yang, to her yin, in a manner of speaking -- in a fashion she'd only encountered a few times before in her life.
Coincidence...? Perhaps. But while Honoka respects the kamui Ebisu, she does not rely on his luck or his whims to guide her through life.
"Yes, as a matter of fact -- I was convinced by a dear friend to join his team. We'll be there. And maybe our teams will make it to round two together this year." She smiles -- oh, she knows all about Team Ninja's performance, having committed the roster of last years' King of Fighters tournament to memory.
"At least, I--"
Just then, the announcement comes across the PA system that the shinkansen line to Southtown is now boarding. Honoka squints, looking at the nearest clock. "Oh dear. That's my train. Anyway..." Tucking her yo-yo into her jacket pocket, she finishes her earlier thought, taking a couple steps towards the platform: "I do hope we'll meet on the big stage! Best of luck to you both!"
And then she's jogging off.
For his part, Hayabusa seems more than content to offer his gentle politesse and simply lurk on the periphery of the exchange, observing the subtle interplay of words and emotions, the intricate patterns to the currents that shift around him as Alma's nostalgia is well and thoroughly stoked, as Honoka's jealousy and showmanship are alternately hidden and demonstrated, despite the peformer's momentary insecurities. Perhaps even the moment the hairs on Kawamoto's neck stand up at his decided ninja-ness, or Alma's curiosity-tinged readiness to continue along this new and unexpected quest they find themselves upon in tandem.
Half of a smile lingers on Hayabusa's features, listening and considering without judgement or interruption. He might have something to input-- but he's a patient man, and seemingly more interested in what the others have to say than he is in hearing himself speak. "There is nothing to forgive." he does offer amiably to Alma-- and his quietly attentive demeanor these past moments would certainly support that asserted viewpoint.
An inclination of the young shinobi's head is offered to the retreating Honoka, along with a murmured, "If not then, hopefully another time." No progression of such a tournament is assumed in the ninja master's mind. Humility is a rare virtue in the modern age.
A sidelong glance is paid to Alma after Hayabusa stops studying Honoka's egress, "Athena Asamiya is a remarkable fighter, and something else... altogether unique." The infatuated rose-colored glasses of a fan? He doesn't seem the sort. How was it Alma put it? There's something entirely deeper about the assertion.
"Come." a momentary pat of one shoulder beckons the painting pugilist follow, "Let us walk." And talk. Into the shadow of a looming mountain.
Log created on 21:46:59 07/31/2017 by Alma, and last modified on 01:31:14 08/01/2017.