Description: Zach Glenn's efforts to reveal the NOL's atrocities to sympathetic ears in their own ranks have been fruitful, and he moves to support the Sacred Order at Illyria. But his arrival at Castle Illyria is met with a NOL operative;: Kagura's aide-de-camp, Hibiki Kohaku. Skeptical and outright hostile to Zach's interventions in the machinations of the NOL, he thinks he has found another saboteur attacking the expedition. Can Zach convince the assistant of the rightness of his words, or will Hibiki be forced to nip a potential threat in the bud?
Things in Illyria are... a bit of a mess at the moment.
Since the falling out with the Sacred Order over the fate of Dizzy, the forces of the Novus Orbis Librarium have a lot on their plates. An attack by, of all things, supernatural bears, their camp is in severe disarray and morale is at an all time low. The rank and file are itching to take the fight to the Sacred Order, but as the mystic forces they came to Illyria to fight are *also* making their move at the same time, there isn't much to spare. Everyone and everything, from supplies and motivation to everyone's patience, is thin.
As it is, Captain Hibiki Kohaku felt like the only sane man in the asylum for much of the past few days. When tensions began getting higher than he'd like, he gathered what NOL troops seemed most capable and set out to establish a secondary beachhead at Illyria Castle. By his view, this had a dual purpose: it would be useful to cull some of the supernatural forces that hold the castle currently, and if the Order truly was going to assault the NOL, the castle itself would be an ideal defensive position to have on hand. Thankful that his rank allows him to act with relative impunity, he gathered what forces he could and set out at once.
The current state of the battle on the narrow ramparts is impressive indeed. Most of the faerie forces set to watch the actual walls are svartalfar: dark elves, masters of bow and subterfurge. Ideal scouts and quick fighters. What this means is that this entire affair has been a protracted battle of attrition between Hibiki's hand-picked scouts and the elves themselves. For every current battle of knife and bladework between an NOL trooper and an elf, there's three more going on in terms of projectile volleys, traps, and ambushes.
The NOL troops are holding their own, for now, but they do so without apparent direction: the distinctive blue-clad form of their captain is nowhere to be seen. How this situation is going to end up is anyone's guess, but for now it's a stalemate. The intervention of one particularly able power on one side or the other could very well tip the balance in either direction...
There may just be someone fitting that description.
Zach Glenn was... a little late to the party in Illria. Having alerted the Sacred Order to the Librairum's plans for them, Zach had made the decision to head to the front. His plan, really, was to shield the general public from the chaos.
As it turns out, the general public had been fairly well protected. The NOL was doing the lion's share of that work, being the larger operation in the area. Zach didn't really have anything like a grudge against the NOL; he was just very suspicious of them as a whole. Of the rank-and-file that he had run across, Zach had felt okay with working along side. It was the people near the top that Zach had no trust for, and that only deepened after he had intercepted the orders coming down from one Relius Clover.
Zach had ultimately decided to help out the NOL expedition. His distrust of the higher leadership, aside perhaps for Kagura Mutsuki, was not enough to allow him to turn a blind eye to the NOL forces in need of back-up. One svartalfar had started to melt out of the shadows to take an attack of opportunity against someone providing first aid. Blade raised, the strike was ready...
Only to receive a thrown knife to the chest followed by a short blast of golden energy to the upper body to knock the dark elf clear. Zach flowed into the opening, pistol in hand and a gauntlet of psychic force cladding the other arm. Time to work, perhaps.
The voices come from off to the right, and it absolutely belongs to Hibiki, who appears to be just... standing there watching, curiously enough, as the psychic hunter puts the hurting on a dark elf. "An unexpected find." All of this seems quite curious given that, as Hibiki speaks, a figure -- an angry elf, dagger at the ready -- rises behind him, ready to deliver a sharp and rather fatal blow to the NOL captain's neck.
The blade stabs out, sinks in, and Hibiki... vanishes. His body evaporates, dissolving into shadowy birds that flap their wings and then fade away. This is understandably disorienting to the elf, who has about 5 seconds to look confused before the ACTUAL Hibiki flips up over the crenelations and kicks the elf right over the side, the lanky faerie soldier going flying off the walls to an assuredly unpleasant fate below.
Turning to Zach, Hibiki nods at the NOL soldier that the hunter saved, who runs off to join the fight elsewhere, leaving the Librarium captain alone with the newcomer. "I hadn't heard you were taking part in this operation. I appreciate your assistance for my man, but I must admit some curiosity. What brings you to Albania?"
Zach whirls to face the address, pistol at the ready to face a potential threat when he recognizes the uniform. The pistol drops for a moment, until the the elf appears behind Hibiki. The pistol whips upward, but before Zach can loose a round, the elf... seems to be handled. The pistol lowers again, as the psion gives Hibiki a terse nod.
"Thought I might be helpful," Zach says, a certain bluff cheer in his voice as he pivots to level his gun at two more elves about to get backstabby. Two shots fired, two elf heads explode as he turns to regard Hibiki with a touch of concern, the pistol lowering again. "Isn't that enough?"
The diminutive NOL adjutant cocks his head to the side somewhat, at the question of 'isn't that enough?'. "I hope you'll understand if I say: no, not really. This is effectively a war zone, and respectfully, you're not on record as being a particularly enthusiastic supporter of the Librarium." If he seems perturbed at the shots that Zach fires, it doesn't show; Kagura's aide is as calm and composed as he ever is. Not threatening, barely even moving, though now and then he'll turn and track the movements of something -- seen to Zach or not -- with his eyes before bringing his attention back to the armed man before him.
"I don't necessarily say this to imply you mean me harm, but the idea that you're here simply to 'help out' doesn't seem logical. I imagine you have some other goal in mind, but provided you don't interfere with NOL operations in the area, I've no reason to make trouble for you." The implied statement here is: if you DO get in our way, things might get tense. In what is perhaps a self-conscious awareness of the implied threat, Hibiki gives the ghost of a smile. "As you can imagine, I have my hands full of problems at the moment and with my lord attending to Librarium business elsewhere, I needs must stabilize the situation as swiftly as possible. I'd like to avoid unnecessary and wasteful conflicts."
Which is fair, Zach supposes.
"Yeah," Zach says. "I'm not exactly flying your colors," he agrees, as he throws a glance around. There's too much movement, too many /people/ for Zach to keep an easy track of. Too many contacts on the metaphysical radar to keep tabs on any one thing. Too many emotions running through the camp for Zach to pinpoint any one hotspot.
"Some of your people that I've met, I don't mind. I think fairly highly of Colonel Mutsuki, even if he did give me the most polite strong-arming I've ever dealt with," he says after a long moment before holstering his pistol. It may not do him much more good anyway. "But I feel like some of the people up your chain of command are more or less terrible people."
He takes a deep breath. "And I passed through a town full of people that is behind this position on my way here," he says. "And we're the only thing between there and those... elves?" Zach doesn't seem all that sure, having never actually /seen/ such a thing in person before tonight.
"Even if I don't particularly trust some of your leadership," he says, "You're protecting people, and that's something I've always tried to do. We've got common cause here."
Deciding to pick the subject on which he can be the most neutral, for the sake of the conversation itself, Hibiki responds to Zach's question, first. "At the moment we're still not entirely sure what these forces are, other than clearly supernatural in origin. 'Elves' is as good a description as any." He looks around the ramparts to find most of his soldiers have moved on, leaving Zach and Hibiki in relative peace. He's yet to hear any disastrous reports over comms, which suggests that for the moment, the Librarium's forces appear to be holding their own.
"So far we've encountered a number of 'monsters'..." and here the air quotes are audible, "...in the enemy force that conform to known types of European faerie. Banshees, dullahans, redcaps; largely Brittanic and Celtic in origin." And here, a shrug. "I imagine as someone who calls themselves a monster hunter, none of this is news to you." He adjusts the cuff of his jacket sleeves, looking at Zach curiously. "Or perhaps you didn't? I suppose your work brought you here."
But then, well... the elephant in the room, metaphorically speaking, has to be addressed. "While I'm pleased to hear your high opinion of Lord Kagura, I might say, it seems inadvisable to antagonize an NOL officer this way," Hibiki adds, his tone still on the pleasant side of neutral. "If you have a *specific* grievance with the chain of command, there's a process for this you can engage at any NOL regional office." Yeah, that seems likely, Hibiki: tell the psychic with the big fancy sword and the gun that he should call customer service.
"There's knowing about a thing, and then there is seeing it firsthand," Zach says, nonplused. "Most of my work's been in Japan, but the things that go bump in the night seem to care less and less for things like regional boundaries."
Zach glances aside, a chagrined smile on his face. "Tried the process," he admits. "Your people are way too good at screening calls. Couldn't even get to talk to..." his voice trails off as he looks at Hibiki as if for the first time. "But you're here now, and you work closely with Colonel Mutsuki." An idea starts to form.
"What's your take on the matter that started this whole thing," Zach asks, a certain earnest curiousity in his asking. "With Dizzy, the Command Gear?"
'What do you think about the reason that most of your comrades down there want to flay Ky Kiske alive?' Way to start with the softball question, Zach.
Hibiki's face goes from 'pleasantly neutral' to 'deliberately neutral', a specific face he is making an effort to keep. "The Command Gear is a being of considerable power, about which we know nothing. The Librarium is an organization that specializes in dealing with beings such as herself." So far, keeping to inarguable facts, and nothing more than that. "I hear that Dizzy herself has concerns about the regulation of her own abilities. We have facilities and manpower that could more safely contain her if something were to go wrong. So, I don't think having her in NOL custody was an incorrect choice."
Well, so far so good. But now... well. What would Colonel Mutsuki think about this, if he were here? For a moment, Hibiki suppresses a grimace at the thought that if Kagura WERE here he'd probably make some sort of off-color joke about Dizzy's physical appearance. Something about the tail.
For once, the Kohaku clan scion is glad of his liege being elsewhere.
"It's unfortunate that relations with the Sacred Order broke down in the process," Hibiki ventures, guardedly, watching Zach's expression carefully for his reaction. "But I hear it was Sir Kiske and his second that attacked us to retrieve her, rather than go through channels. Is it any wonder that negative feeling sprung up on both sides? Regrettable, but understandable, I would imagine."
So far, none of this is news that Zach couldn't have picked up talking to any reasonably conversant NOL rank and file soldier. That much is clear. And Hibiki is perfectly, even maddeningly calm, but one might wonder what's lying under the surface there. Still waters run deep, after all.
That would be one way to phrase the question, one supposes.
Zach is keeping a close eye on Hibiki. As the chaos of the fight starts to settle down a bit, he is able to focus more of his senses on Kagura's second to try and get a better read of the man in front of him.
The fact that Hibiki does not refer to Dizzy as an 'it' speaks well of the man, in Zach's estimation. He looks completely unsurprised when Hibiki mentions the breakdown of relations. The Sacred Order, or at least those in charge of it, was not even a little shy about expressing their own distrust of the NOL. Zach shared some of the same misgivings. Besides which, the relations between the two groups were already heading for a crash even before he had put his hand in the matter. Ky's actions at the end of the war in Japan had seen to that.
"She is a person," Zach says carefully. "She should be able to have a free choice in the matter. "I had heard," he says, still a bit cautious in his tone, "That your people basically extorted her to get her to go with your people." He takes a deep breath. "And that after Relius Clover got what he wanted, his way of repaying her... compliance was to try and destroy the Sacred Order in every sense of the word."
"It is completely understandable that some people in the Sacred Order would take such a thing a bit... personally. Especially given how... close to the matter Commander Kiske is. I know I'd take an implied order to have me discreetly killed pretty personally."
It is strange how a person's expression can change, yet not a single muscle on their face will move. When Zach mentions Relius Clover and the man's actions, there IS a perceptible change in Hibiki. It might be the focus of his eyes, a perception of muscle tension, maybe even just a shift in the 'mood'... but mention of the puppetmaster and his actions very definitely gets a reaction out of Hibiki. But his facial expression really does move practically not at all. There's a lot that even he, at a relatively high rank in the Librarium organization, does not know. Relius Clover is one of those stonewall situations: no amount of clearance or surreptitious investigation provides any real insight into his activities. Even Kagura finds the man somewhat of an enigma.
Still, you always toe the company line, even if that means walking UP to the line and leaning as far over it as you can without taking the actual step.
"I hear she surrendered herself willingly," Hibiki offers, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. "But I'm not privy to the details of her surrender, and I can't speak with any authority about her treatment at the hands of Colonel Clover, who is notorious for keeping his own counsel in these situations." Read: he's not answerable to anyone, and thus he can get away with murder. "As you might imagine, that kind of problem needs to be approached *delicately*," Hibiki adds, with significant vocal stress, "lest there be serious misunderstandings. We wouldn't anyone to get *hurt*." Hint, hint, hint.
"We wouldn't want any misunderstandings at all," Zach says with an almost detached tone of voice. He frowns a bit, tilting his head to one side, concern evident on his face.
"Honestly, though," he asks after a moment. "The fact that there are guys like that, untouchable and unanswerable to anyone, in your organization doesn't bother you at all?"
There is a moment, perhaps uncomfortably long, where Hibiki looks into Zach's eyes, as if trying to take the hunter's measure. In truth, he knows nothing about this person other than what the NOL knows as an organization, and that's information that Zach himself probably also has. The psion must know that an org like the NOL would have its eye on him. But beyond his public reputation, Hibiki knows very little about him, and even less about what dealings Kagura had with him other than that they met. But: Kagura DID meet with him.
And Hibiki's liege-lord might a feckless, wastrel spendthrift skirtchaser, but he's NOT an idiot. One of the things that Hibiki appreciates about Kagura is the way his deceptive intelligence keeps people off balance, using humor and deflection. It's a skill the NOL assassin never quite mastered and, in truth, seems ill-suited for.
"The Novus Orbis Librarium is a very large organization," he says, at last, having apparently been thinking this out for some time. "Even at my rank there are plenty of moving parts that I don't have access to. You were a US Marine, Mr. Glenn, were you not?" It's a question, but Hibiki blows past it without waiting for an answer he doesn't need confirmation from. "You've got to be familiar with how these hierarchies work. So you'll believe me when I tell you that *nobody* is untouchable or unanswerable, even in a unit like the NOL."
Which, given what he's said about Relius so far...
Zach dismisses the psychic gauntlet to fold his arms across his chest, his head still tilted in that interrogative manner, a single eyebrow raised as if to say "And yet..."
Zach definitely knew that the NOL had its eye on him, and that it was more than just a passing interest or a bit of professional courtesy. They were certainly interested in a broken sword in his possession.
And instead of the outright confrontational or sarcastic responses, Zach asks the simple question. "Then who does Clover actually answer to?" Challenging, perhaps. But not obviously spoiling for a fight either.
"The leadership at Central Command," Hibiki says primly, adjusting the hem of his shirt. He tilts his head somewhat and gives Zach a curious look and there may, MAY even be the ghost of a smile on the otherwise thin-lipped and impassive face. "If you have an issue with Colonel Clover's actions, I would imagine they'd be who you'd need to approach to seek redress in an official way." He MUST know how suicidally stupid that suggestion is, of course; even if Zach COULD find a way to get a legitimate audience with high-ranking NOL command, the chance that they'd listen and act accordingly as opposed to throwing him in a basement a million miles from anywhere to 'question' him is extremely low. That's a fact that Hibiki cannot possibly NOT know.
Distractedly, Hibiki puts a finger to his ear, turning away from Zach momentarily. His brows furrow, and he nods slowly. Speaking aloud, heedless of being heard (apparently), he says to apparently no one, "Understood. Maintain your position. I'm conversing with a..." He pauses, turning back to look at Zach, finger still pressed to his ear, "...potential local asset. I'll rendevous with you shortly. Kohaku out."
With that, he turns to Zach and nods in a businesslike way. "As you can imagine, demands on my time are great at the moment. Allow me to offer some parting words, if I may?"
A hand comes down to the holster across Hibiki's back, resting on the hilt of one of his dual blades. "I'd advise you not to involve yourself in NOL activities at this time. Tensions are high and not everyone is as... understanding as myself. And secondly, maintaining proper order is the duty of every right-thinking member of the Librarium. Perhaps when this operation is over, you might consider bringing your concerns to Colonel Mutsuki." A brief pause. "In the interest of giving them a fair and impartial hearing."
"In all honesty," Zach responds, a somewhat jovial tone in his voice, "Colonel Mutsuki was on my short list of people I wanted to talk to about the matter." And the only one in the NOL even *ON* that list for that matter.
He nods slowly, considering for a moment. "If you want some help," he says, "I'm an okay medic. I've got some training and a touch of a gift in that direction, Captain. But if you want me out of here, I can sometimes take a hint."
Zach holds out a hand to shake, "It was a pleasure to meet you, Captain."
Hibiki is Japanese, and a very prim and proper Japanese person as well. Thus, that extended hand gets a bit of an inevitable wary glance before the NOL captain takes Zach's hand and shakes it. Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy. "I hesitate to speak for Lord Kagura," he begins, once he's shaken Zach's hand and taken his own back, "but I think you'll find in him a man dedicated to similar principles." Promise nothing, invoke as much plausible deniability as possible. But there's bread crumbs there, if Zach is willing to look for them.
"As for your other suggestion... you mentioned the everyday citizens before," Hibiki says, inclining his head over the battlements at the (presumable) villages of innocents below, people who might not be lucky enough to have an Order or NOL agent nearby to save them if things get rough. "We have our own situation well in hand here. But I imagine the commoners would find your presence... reassuring." And, coincidentally, if things go massively south between the NOL and the Order, then an unaligned third party to keep them safe would be on hand.
"Until our next meeting, Mr. Glenn." Pulling the high collar of his tunic up over his mouth, Hibiki nods, and then vaults backwards over the parapets, disappearing into the chaos of the battles below.
Log created on 03:32:46 05/01/2018 by Zach Glenn, and last modified on 12:55:37 05/16/2018.