Description: Now that the Empress has managed to convince Seishirou that the two can help each other... it's time to talk business. Without quite so many sharp bitey ouchie things.
Niigata City has a number of places for doing business of a more discrete nature. Overlooking the Agano River, the four-story building's true appeal is its location, location, location: isolation from practically any overhearing ears. A rash of methylmercury poisoning from fifty years ago is remembered even today, it seems.
The building is nominally maintained -- a front organization for one of the local gangs, it's kept looking like a moderately successful financial planning organization. (Not far from the truth, but that's another matter entirely.) Kenichi, the man who'd accompanied Miko and Sudo out to visit Seishirou, first got his start as an employee here before progressing into less legitimate pursuits.
Speaking of Sudo and Kenichi, both men stay at the door as Miko leads Seishirou inside. Sudo had squared his jaw and stared at Miko, but... he will know if the puppetmaster is in trouble.
The fourth-story room provides a decent view of the city and Niigata Bay. It's not much. But it's enough to prevent any lingering feelings of claustrophobia that might be concerning the Empress' guest. A large conference table occupies the majority of the room. A laminated wall map is taped to the wall. Atop the table are a tablet computer and a piping hot tea service, as promised.
Miko, grateful for having a few minutes to 'freshen up' with new clothes -- ones that didn't look like moth-eaten thrift store rejects -- walks up to the service, pours a cup... and offers it to Seishirou.
"First, I'd like to thank you for coming all this way. I can't speak for you, of course, but it will undoubtedly be easier for -me- to relate what I'm talking about." The azure eyes of the Empress sparkle just so, reflecting the incandescent light of the room as she smiles back at Seishirou, pouring herself a cup of the tea. Pausing to take a sip, she asks, "So... would you mind sharing me a little about your clan? Perhaps... why the roudoushakaikyuu are so important in -your- view?"
They were enforcers, of a stripe. Ryouhara understood that much.
The need for discretion is great amongst the shinobi, but Seishirou is only vaguely aware of the need for such things amongst those like the Ainu. Persecution is a dangerous thing amongst the minorities, he knew. But he was also starkly, briskly aware that one seldom requires bodyguards without a deal of fame--or infamy. He would be very lax in his calculative abilities indeed if he didn't understand that the place that they were at resided in a shadowy spot underneath the underneath.
Privacy, as they say, hides all things.
For his part, though his glance is knife-sharp, he does not waste much time in doing things that might potentially antagonize the guard on his way in, his head bowed low. It would be hard to believe the calm and quiet boy was the one that was hell-bent on almost killing all three of them only a few hours prior. The only warning he plainly displays is the sheathed blades at his back. A fact, if nothing else.
He has not been disarmed.
Ryouhara had waited patiently for his hostess to finish with her perogatives, having said nothing of great importance to his keepers during that time. He took no opportunity to change, himself--though there is no real change between the way his silk winds through the air gauzily and other silk might, it is surprisingly hardy against the rigors of battle, and he wears it as if it were armor. As she leads him inside and busies herself with the service, he finds himself a study of details; though he certainly seems to be acutely aware of his surroundings, the map posted on the wall holds much of his attention at first. Arms loose at his sides, almost invisible beneath the sleeves and mantling of his haori, he seems listless, as his attention meanders freely thereafter. He gives no expression, emotion carefully cut away until patiently neutral. Ryouhara evinces no visible reaction to Miko's appearance nor her graciousness.
"Iya. Forgive me," he says simply.
Though polite, he has a customary ice to his words.
The skyline holds overmuch of his attention.
"You talk about the oppressed. And the marginalized..." he says at once, once asked. He steps slowly away from Miko, and closer to the glass seperating them from the open sky. "...The victims are the ones trampled beneath the heels of history. Those who are considered beneath those who rule. Subject to their whims, and their wiles. The tyrants sing songs that lull their accusers long enough to be led to the noose. A crime perpetuated through the millennia. There have always been soldiers, vehicles to uproot gods. A will in the same should be expected of any person who breathes, though few rise to it."
He could swear he sees someone else in his reflection at the window.
"...A soldier is what I'm supposed to be."
He pauses a moment, critically.
"You seem to be doing well for yourself, amongst Ainu."
It would be easy to identify a pureblooded Ainu when placed side-by-side with a sisam: one who is not. The features are rounder, lips more full, the skin tone fairer. But the number of pureblooded is embarassingly small, these days -- even with the population explosion of the rest of Japan, the number of people identifying as Ainu is about the same, around 25,000. So a wajin would be forgiven for not realizing the difference -- even the Ainu would be hard-pressed to tell that almost no one here actually has any Ainu blood at all.
No... the Empress is a negotiator second. And when negotiation fails, she has intimidation of a different caliber altogether. These people are not here because they believe in the young Ainu idealist's goals. They are here because they're getting something out of it -- a chance to conduct mayhem on an occasional basis for profit and prestige. It's a career aspiration they guard jealously, with their lives.
Miko Kobayashi, as she chooses to be called today, has not truly disarmed either. She may be granting a degree of trust to the young Ryouhara, but she is no fool.
As with Seishirou's, Miko's attention gravitates towards the skyline -- peripherally. In truth, she is watching the young man's reflection, noting the small idiosyncracies... and in all honesty, she is rather amazed at his degree of control. Precision.
She'd noted the precision in his implements of terror, back at the ryokan, of course. That is a large part of why the young man is here. Another, of course: his ideals.
There have always been soldiers. Vehicles to uproot gods. The words fascinate her, the tone... clearly different from others his age. Others aside from her, of course.
But no, he speaks of Ainu. "Thank you. I do what I must, I'm afraid... and what I must do is clothe myself in the garments of a prisoner, speak the jailer's language, and conduct myself accordingly. In that... yes, I'd say so."
Miko sighs wistfully, tearing her gaze away from Seishirou's reflection, looking through her own. The pale imitation of herself is not a different person -- perhaps it never will be. "It has not... been easy for us, oppressed throughout the ages. The Boshin War, the push for westernization... all perfectly noble goals for the Wajin. We were secondary. A half of a percentage point, not worth accounting for. The very definition of a minority, so miniscule so as to not even bear mention for a hundred thirty years."
She rubs at the nape of her neck. "When you speak of marginalization... oppression... yes. We know it well. Would that make us soldiers, in a war?"
She nods to herself first. And then she turns to Seishirou. She notes his quiet, his lack of emotion, and compensates by giving a pleasant smile.
Smiling is generally a bad thing in business dealings amongst polite Japanese. It's seen as dishonest. But there is clearly something about Miko that smacks of honesty, a twinkle in her eye as she talks about her people.
"The Ainu have been reborn. Not long ago, we fought back against the Wajin. Formed our own political party. And we stand poised to reclaim Ezo, the land you may call Hokkaido."
She steps back from the window, overlapping her wrists casually at her waist. "You mention your... role as a soldier. There are many roles a soldier can play... I see you as a tactician, a commander, ... anything but common infantry."
Another measured smile. She's noted his hesitance. His... word choice. He'd said he'd never met her before -- specifically, there was no one named Kobayashi within his skull.
"... If I may be so bold, you've said what you're -supposed- to be. But what are you -now?- And what role do you see yourself taking in this... secret war?"
The youth remains at the window for a long time after the image fades, the dark-haired woman he sees on the precipice between fantasy and reality. Though a few distracted blinks draw the image away, his expression remains cut from sailcloth--firm and drawn tight against the storm. Though normally his eyes are fast and catch on every detail, this time it takes him a moment to realize Miko is looking through the same glass as he.
He is extremely distrustful--not just of Miko, but of everyone and everything, and though he stands here now taking service from a styled Empress of some underworld he is unfamiliar with with no sign of trepidation, every part of him is drawn tight. A all consuming direction burns at the very back of his mind--truthfully, direction is who he is, not unlike the tides--but at once there is something wanton about him. He is direction, but he is directionless. His mind is even now trying to make sense of what she asks just as much as what she says. The revelations and trials of those bloodlines clearly concern him overmuch, though for all of his calm, measured nature, that concern does become conflight somewhere behind those dark eyes.
"The Bakumatsu's close saw a loss of men of idealism," Ryouhara confirms mildly, far too casually recalling ancient history for a boy who barely knows his own name. "Most ideals were laid to rest there... at the pyre of what they called the Republic of Ezo."
She speaks of the rebirth of the Ainu. Is that what he was meant to do?
Her genuine smile when speaking of it is not unpleasant.
"Hrmph." Hands slowly raise, fingertips slipping free of the silk shrouds covering them, folding his arms at the waist in contemplation. She speaks of who he seems to be, and what he is. The question is not one he likes, shifting his weight barely with the weight of it. It takes him a space of time to answer. When he does, it is logical and reasoned. "I can't be anything at all but what I was predetermined to be. I have skills and abilities far beyond those of my peers. My hands are the fastest that I have known. ... I am the strongest practitioner of my art. But my art is a soldier's art, made to assassinate, to disrupt, to destroy. It could be that I am a soulless killer. It could be that I am a savior. But who am I to say? ... the truth of it is ..."
"...I don't remember you," he thinks aloud.
"How would I trust you?"
The train of thought that he was on dies like a moth in the flame.
"I am a ghost. I am no one of any importance at all."
Trust is not something to be dispensed freely. It is not a prize to be won, placed on a pedestal under glass and adored for all eternity. No, trust is earned, and it must be continually maintained, lest it become lost. Miko has learned much about trust in the past few years. And she knows it can disappear in an instant. Which is why she is very careful with the information she reveals, careful to reveal little, unless the situation demands.
She nods slowly, returning to the table, lifting her teacup as she listens to the young man speak with such lucidity towards the times of a hundred fifty years past. He provides details she had hinted at -- different details, not ones he could have plucked from her own words. This pleases the student of the Meiji era: "You know your history well," acknowledges the self-proclaimed Empress, savoring a sip from her teacup.
But what truly interests her is the young man's contemplative response. Is that agitation, unease, or... something else? The response afterwards is... enlightening, to be sure, but trivial in comparison to the unspoken body language, so far as the psychic puppetmaster is concerned.
Cannot be anything but what he was predetermined. To Miko, this means he's an engineer. A ninja. A soldier, and now, by his own admission, a ghost. This makes for a confusing resume.
But perhaps the 'ghost' was different. A different response, separated by the realization that, maybe, just -maybe- he still doesn't trust her.
A fish twitches on the line. It had enjoyed the taste of the bait, swallowed it whole with no regard to the duplicity of the boon. It thinks it still has a chance to escape, despite the hook speared throughout its lip. It's true -- escape is possible, at great cost.
Is Seishirou a fish? He took the bait -- he's here now. Escape is a window, right before him -- nothing but glass bars his escape. Would the Empress stop him?
The Akan of yore had no catch and release laws.
"You have no reason to trust a complete stranger, it's true." She sips quietly. "But how, if I might ask, does one stop being a complete stranger to you? Clearly... someone -had- attained a level of familiarity with you. To... work their way into your skull, if I might borrow your turn of phrase. Someone of like mind, like purpose, and like ideals."
She takes another long sip of her tea, eyes glancing over the white-garbed young man more appraisingly. A ghost, he says. "I do have need of ghosts. If you truly have no importance of all... perhaps we have mutual goals."
Clink. Miko places the teacup down in its saucer, and steps over to the map. She removes a blue marker from the wall. The map was empty -- and with quick precision, she reconstructs the map from memory. Stars around the major cities of Hokkaido: Hakodate, Sapporo, Asahikawa. The major cities of northern Japan: Aomori. Sendai. Niigata. Nagaoka. Fukushima. There are other, more minor cities, but these are the ones she draws with special significance. Clearly, Miko uses this specific map often, or one identical to it -- or else she just knows geography -that- well.
"These... are the cities where the will of the roudoushakaikyuu is strengthening."
The -truly- major cities of Japan are identified in with a red marker that she pulls out. Osaka. Kyoto. Nagoya. Southtown. She does not broach the other major cities, but instead, stabs the wall map just north of Sendai with particular contempt -- a red dot, amidst a sea of blue.
"Seishirou... why I've asked you here... is because I lack a certain... clarity into the movements of ninja clans here. Ninja clans, you see, are proving to be a special -joy- for me." She closes her eyes for a moment, drawing in her breath, as she turns back to face Seishirou.
She'd turned her back to him for much longer than she'd wanted to, she realizes, as her azure eyes open again.
She compliments his command of the histories, and he meets it with a slight incline of his head. A student of body language would have expected a humble smile, or a self-satisfaction of some sort, something that recognizes efforts justified. Ryouhara's response is more angular, sharper-edged. The topic is sensitive, apparently--or one that is difficult. In truth, saying anything about his abilities at all wins no ground with the shinobi. For a compliment, he seems to react wholly as if she'd asked him a question, a bolt of thought splitting the stormclouds in the young man's countenance.
He was made, just as surely as he makes, of that he is sure. He has a specific purpose in his own forge, and his design is so clear that his reason for being might as well had been written on his bones. But therein is the cut. A difference exists between ability and purpose, an impassible gulf. One is clearly legible, and the other cannot be seen until the times realize it. Though his reason for being may be written on his bones, he cannot see inside of his own body, cannot read the embroidery of his soul.
Not yet, anyway.
The shinobi's silence is long and lightning-strung. He takes a long time to respond even when put to a direct question. His eyes lid briefly, and the inclination of his gaze turns, knocking down the curtain between them to slide appraising across the Empress by the time those eyes open again. Stygian blue is the direction of his glance, following her train of thought--and her movements--to their logical conclusion. The map displayed is a tactical one, he is dimly aware. Details run to him like water, and the shadow over Japan, the shadow in which a hundred hands can hide, becomes clear as day to him. His silence is telling.
".... if I am meant to be with you, it will be decided by the will of history."
Seishirou says it simply, as if deciding to remain boneless against the tide for the moment. His will is strong; it brooks no argument in the slightest, but his decision is not one that decides anything. A direction without direction. He is pliant against her ambitions, but he says absolutely nothing of how one can work their way closer to him. That notion--the one that he espoused earlier, of not recognizing her. That notion is just shy of damning. The idea that he is a ghost, a nothingness, is one he takes with him to the grave and beyond. It is a tireless defense.
If he is--can be--anything more than that, he either does not know it, or will not admit it.
"And who are you, to those such as I?" Ryouhara asks quietly, returning his attention to the glass. As if seeking flight, he reaches out a single hand to touch the pane. No, not quite touch; his fingertips never quite leave their mark against the pane. As he focuses his attention to the air beyond, the glazing points at the seams of the window creak audibly. The pane swells--it's not something that can be detected in anything other than dead silence, but in those lightning-strung moments, one can hear the audible shudder of the glass, the sound of an unimaginable pressure being built between the panes. He toys with the mechanics of the double-glazing, absently.
"You speak of needs. Of legacy. You ask me, who am I. What of you? To whose privilege do you speak.. what ideal is in your blood? And what force could be so strong so as to bring an entire nation to the spearhead... is this war your own? They call you Empress. But even an Empress is slave to her ideals. Even an Empress has an Emperor."
His voice drops an octave, low and dangerous.
She has breached a topic in which the boy has a great enmity.
"No. It's even simpler than that .. the shinobi clans have carried out great crimes in their urges to remain relevant after the Restoration. Man has eaten man, and many children have died as a result of their feuds and whims. Each clan in turn will be tested by my strength. They will be judged by history. And then, if found wanting, they will be taken apart. There can be no other end for them. I will find my way to the center of it all. If I do that as a soldier, so be it. The blood of many innocents hangs in the balance."
"Does history mean for me to be with you, or bow to you..."
Compliments flow frequently from Miko. It is not always meant in duplicity, nor is it always meant with absolute honesty -- but words can deceive. Emotions are much more difficult to hide from someone who can sense their ebb and tide.
She studies Seishirou, as he considers the map. Once more, he speaks of history as a silent partner at his side, the drumbeat guiding the rhythm of his steps. Hand of history, heels of history, will of history... he speaks of it in the abstract. The turn of phrase is key, she realizes... but she is curious as to how deeply this abstract is engrained within his thought processes.
We are all intertwined within the tapestry of history, Miko considers. The heels of history had ground the oppressed, he'd said. History... and the roudoushakaikyuu, the working class. He speaks in code, and these two themes are the key.
But then... body language, and actions, speak louder than words. She may not be able to directly sense the swells of chi directly, but she can hear the sound. Sense the vibrations. Feel the prickle at her skin. He's pushing at the window, testing it. He feels... constrained. Trapped. Had she pushed too hard? Her left hand's grip on her right wrist tightens, ever so slightly, the only indication that her calm is now threatened as well.
Body language is universal, transcending any known tongue. And as studious as she had been about keeping her true emotions from revealing themselves, the moment he states that an Empress is slave to her ideals -- but not just that, to an /Emperor/ -- at that moment, her control falters. Her hand shakes, her jaw sets not in fear of the youth's prodigous talents, but in the expression of anger.
But in a moment, it passes. Her education was rural and informal, but her personal studies in logic illuminated the concept of Occam's Razor. The likelihood of her misunderstanding was greater than the chance of him insulting the right of women to lead. She draws in breath... and when she expels said breath, the tension goes with it.
It does appear, though, that in the midst of her reverie, Seishirou had adopted an appropriately dark shift to his tone. He speaks of the shinobi clans, and acknowledges the point she was tracking towards: that the clans themselves are guiding things.
She nods, with a tight smile, breathing easy as the disciple of ninkougakujutsu took the liberty of answering his own question for her. "I believe you see my dilemma, then. The establishment is strong, the conspiracy much too strong for any one mere Ainu woman to uncover. All I know is that... whatever is in power now? That is the power to which I am inherently opposed. My culture was not destroyed by malice, but by ignorance. By conceit, by the foolish notion that the way things have always been done is the way they always shall. My ideal... is to replace that. To remind people that once, they -were- in charge. That no corrupt tyrant is beyond reproach."
Miko remains silent for a few moments, considering her words, and those of Seishirou. "... I do not know what plans history has set into motion. But I do know that history bears record of many revolutions. Records the incidents in which a lizard's old and inflexible skin cracks and peels away, making way for the fresh, pliable skin beneath."
Miko breathes a heavy sigh, offering a smile. Does smiling have an affect on the young man? Not... yet, it would seem, but it makes -her- more comfortable. "I can tell that you are conflicted. But... I am not concerned. History will decide, as you've said, whether to be with me or... not. Perhaps it is as... simple as you say. Find your way to the center. Learn the truth for yourself. And whatever is fated to be, shall be."
Miko means to offer him freedom, but she does not, however, wish it to be seen as foolishness. Uncrossing her arms, she withdraws a cloth from her sleeve, and slowly moves to erase the figures from the map. "... But, that said. Please... let me know as soon as you decide. The world has a nasty tendency to move on its own accord, regardless of the internal struggles of the people atop it."
She tilts her head to the side, a less confrontational stance. "Have I kept you too long without food? I'm a terrible hostess for not asking sooner -- can I get something for you?"
As in combat, keeping the conversation in motion makes it difficult to be pinned down.
He is a creature of details. And underneath his analytical eye, there really is no detail that can escape him. Even so, if he is aware of the falter in her control, her anger at being implied to only be second to some other principle, he does not show it.
The only sign is the slightest shift in the direction of his glance.
Reflecting the Empress' ambient anger fluidly, the moment seems to reach a fever pitch. The glass shudders as the shinobi heats the gases between the panes. The insulating gas does very well to block his heat, but only to a degree. The brutal heat which that shinobi is capable of bringing to bear is hotter than any blast furnace. As they speak of revolutions and history and tyrants, the shinobi seems ever more lost in a complicated labyrinth of idealism and subdued emotion, stressing the glass just shy of the breaking point. That glass arches, aching to touch his fingers. If he wished it so, it would simple only to..
She seems tired, in that moment.
The glass slowly cools underneath his touch. A barely perceptible dome that one would never had noticed had he continued on to the breaking point of the glass slowly smooths itself out, straightening out the crooked reflections in it. Hovering over the glass, his fingertips curl into a loose fist, before he lets his arm drop away, limp as a stringless marionette.
She smiles at him, and it has no outward effect on his stormy countenance.
No outward effect.
He remains silent for a much longer time than she as the young woman--the Empress--clears away the figures drawn from a relentlessly precise memory. It is his nature, after all. A thing of secrets seldom lets them free. She agrees with his aim, as amiably as any person could. Her accomodation is flawless. It is an ambition he senses.. a drive, commensurate to the one he feels inside. He gives it the time and space of a single thought to follow on the heels of all that was said. That ambition... is it that ambition that he remembers as so important to his aims?
There is some part of her that wishes to use his hands, he knows.
He does not know what he would use in her, put perhaps his memory does.
Can she get something for him? She is endlessly sweet.
"The lists of the shinobi that have been most active in the past months. That is what I desire," Ryouhara replies, coldly. "And your most durable forge."
Log created on 17:45:55 12/17/2014 by Honoka, and last modified on 00:54:56 12/18/2014.