Ayame - Mission #9: Proof of Existence

Description: When in doubt regarding possible hauntings or possessions, the Meian Jinja of the Ichijo clan is a good place to turn to for help... in theory. It would help if the primary expert on such things was a bit less of a viper.

The Meian Jinja - the Shrine of Light and Dark - has stood the test of time. It has served as the residence and primary point of operations for the Ichijo family of legendary demon hunters, powerful spiritualists, and even a few infamous names from the nation's history. There was a time when the Shogun himself would make the journey to the Meian Jinja to consult with the current head priest regarding matters of national concerns on all matters supernatural. It remained a prominent landmark well beyond the Meiji era, with Emperors and and generals alike would honor the Ichijo family with their visits and patronage.

Times have changed, however. With the dawning of the modern age, such customs gradually become less of a concern to new leadership. With the innovations of steam technology, the combustion engine, and eventually the digital miracle of the technological age, fewer and fewer minds were concerned with the state of spiritual matters or threats, and the famous family legacy slowly became more a matter of historical footnote than a prominent power throughout the nation.

Not that it is entirely unknown, however. In the region of Southtown, many will have at least heard of it, though they might consider the Meian Jinja more a historical landmark rather than anything relevant to today, and the Ichijo legacy something for the text books and little more. Given its remote location, it is rare for sightseers to visit... there are larger, more grandiose and elegant shrines that are far more accessible to tour in the major metropolitan areas.

Still, there are those, faced with matters unexplainable by the academics, the scientists, or the law enforcement officials, that make the trip to the compound, seeking answers or solutions to problems no traditional option can possibly solve. Thirty minutes Northeast of Southtown, an offramp of little note would take one along a paved road into a thick bamboo forest that appears to span kilometers worth of territory. The paved road would eventually give way to gravel, and then finally come to an end in a simple dirt lot clearing amid the thick woods. Puddles from recent rains would present minor hazards in the lot.

From the dirt lot, there would be a clearly indicated cobblestone path to walk along, veering north and lasting for a few hundred meters. Along the wide path there would be occasional small shrines - small statues of animals, spirits, and people. Old, extinguished candles would still occupy some of them, tokens left by some visitor or another in bygone days. A wooden footbridge would take one over a rushing brook flowing with crisp, clean water from the mountains to the east. The mid-afternoon soon peeks down through the mighty shafts in glimmering beams that catch the trace particles of dust in the air.

Finally, the bamboo forest would give awy to a wide expanse of ancient cherry trees that have stood sentinel over the Jinja's entrance for centuries. This time of year, their branches are barren, many still dripping water against the damp soil beneath them. Looking around at the hundreds of venerable timber, one can't help but imagine what this scene must look like in the Spring when all the trees are abloom. The cobblestone path is wider here, becoming straight and leading directly toward a towering torii that rises up well over the height of the massive trees. One might expect to find such a huge torii in the great cities of the land, but for a remote rural shrine to have one that huge is certainly unusual. Shinto custom dictates that it is improper to walk along the center of a path when approaching a torii, but heathens will undoubtedly be forgiven their unintended slight.

Just beyond the torii is the compound itself. A large stone wall surrounds a courtyard several acres in size. The heavy wooden gates of the wall hang open, inviting all to enter. Given their worn look and the amount of brush grown up around the open portal, it is questionable as to whether it could even be closed again if one wanted. It has been... a long time since they needed to be sealed each night to keep the rampant threats at bay through the long dark.

Passing through the gate brings one into the courtyard itself. Multiple structures are within view. One might get the sense that at one time, this was a bustling hub of activity. A compound this large would need a sizeable amount of maintenance to keep pristine. Off to one side is a long, low building that looks to be living quarters. Storage sheds off to the rear corner of another, and a few other structures of no immediate importance cling to the outer wall.

The shrine itself is a large structure with two floors and a steeply sloped roof that rises up another two floors above that. It is surrounded by a small, inner wall with a small gate for entering onto its sacred grounds. Just outside of the gate is a small washing station for purifying one's hands and mouth before entering hallowed space, though if one doesn't know the proper customs the purpose of the water trough and wood handled cups might seem mystifying.

Beneath the clear, bright sun of the cool afternoon, the Meian Jinja is a bit more humble than it must have been in the past, but it is by no means in a derelict condition. The walls are maintained, the courtyard kept free of weeds and debris, and the wooden structures are maintained as well as can be expected by what is a far smaller staff these days than had occupied this place in the past.

The setting would be tranquil. There are a few people about. A young woman with short black hair dressed in a simple shrine maiden's garb rakes at stray branches and twigs in a routine cleaning of the courtyard. A man with a ladder appears to be patching and painting sections of a storage shed roof, no doubt attempting to seal leaks revealed with the recent rains.

The workers would glance up and greet visitors with a warm smile or wave, but would not make motions to engage them further unless approached. A woman of middle age is near the entrance to the shrine's inner courtyard, cloth in hand, as she wipes down a wooden construct with six sides, each covered with small metal hooks. Several of the hooks have small wooden slats dangling from with inscriptions in black ink. Some are faded and cracking, others appear to be fresh. A small table nearby offers one fresh slats, an ink well, and a small brush for writing. It is a place for visitors to place their wishes for the kami to regard as they see fit.

The three people around all seem approachable and friendly in nature though they leave the visitors at peace unless or until they are approached.

According to Japanese folklore, Hiruko, first child of Izanagi and

According to Japanese folklore, Hiruko, first child of Izanagi and Izanami, was born without bones and unable to stand. Cast apart from his family in a boat made of reeds, he washed ashore in the land now called Hokkaido, and was cared for by an Ainu man, Ebisu Saburo. It is there that tales diverge, the details muddled about by differing storytellers and the inevitable passage of time, but whatever the cause, Hiruko's legend soon became intertwined with that of his adoptive caretaker. And that is how he is remembered to the Japanese people, as one of the Seven Gods of Fortune: Ebisu, the Japanese god of luck, fishermen, and the working class.

There are very, very few points of convergence between Ainu religion and the Shinto and Buddhist influences present throughout much of Japan. Ebisu is one of the few; for while he has no direct analog in the Ainu pantheon, the god of fishermen espouses values which the Ainu in general, and the girl called Miko Kobayashi in specific, find to be most compatible: the hustle and bustle of modern society are actually a -detriment- to people of her upbringing. So, while the casual insider may find it unusual for a young Ainu woman to visit a shrine of Shinto worship, it is actually not so far removed. Not only that, but finding a place of Ainu worship outside of southern Hokkaido is a difficult task in this day and age.

It is, however, unlikely that the three Gedo students accompanying Miss Kobayashi know of her religious tendencies: she's not shared that knowledge with them. No, this was a simple religious visit, as far as they know. Kazuhito, the tallest, seems to be the only remotely devout follower of Shinto traditions: it is he that bows first upon entering, it is he that shows the group how to practice with the proper amount of dignity and reverence. Even Touji and Saya, the two of the group with the least patience, are able to follow his kind example. And he's more than happy to show his companions around the Ichijo complex: each statue has a history, each structure has a purpose, and as he'd been here a few times in his childhood, the group historian actually knows enough to share. Such as the water trough, for which he's happy to demonstrate the purpose, and Saya, Touji, and Miko are more than happy to indulge.

Though she'd been perfectly quiet throughout most of the visit -- a good student listens with her ears, not her mouth, after all -- the girl wearing a boys' gakuran coat does seem to be growing a bit concerned. She'd passed a look at each of the workers -- the lady with the wooden slats. The man on the ladder, the young woman raking at branches -- and none had really stood out as a person who could help her. She's easily within earshot of the latter of the three as she notes to her tall companion, "You still haven't gotten around to answering my question, Kazu. I mean... I don't remember you mentioning exorcism in your curator stint just now. Are you sure we're in the right place?" She draws in her breath with only mildly restrained irritation, her hands looking like they -would- go back into her pockets before remembering, wait, they're clean. "Eh, whatever. Would someone -in- the shrine help us?"

Kazuhito looks back at Miko with a frown. Sometimes he'd given thought about telling Miko to shut up, but it never really manifested in the desire to strike her. He just shrugs, mildly, in response.

The woman dusting the Ema, or Stand of Wishes, glances up at the conversation she can't help but overhear. A gentle face with long hair tied up into a pair of looping braids behind her head, she is clothed in a simple brown traditional kimono with a white obi tied into a bow behind her back. Sharp, back eyes from behind a face just starting to show wrinkles of advancing age study the new arrivals with a patient, quiet curiosity.

"Forgive me," she speaks up, bowing her head slightly. She shuffles over closer, small, diminuitive steps, hands clasped in front of her, the dusting cloth held beneath one hand. "I couldn't help but overhear..." young Kobayashi receives the focus of her attention for the moment, as it was her voice that seemed most vexed of the visitors. Her head cants to the side slightly, expression one of cautious curiosity, "If you are here seeking help with something, we are eager to oblige."

The other two within eyesight continue going about their own chores in the endless upkeep such a compound must require, but the woman shows no signs of abandoning them now. "If I understood your interest correctly... you might be best helped by consulting with the priestess on duty."

Eyes stray up and way from the shrine behind her back to gaze toward a small gate that sits open in the western wall. "Aya. Ah, Ayame. You will find her in the garden. Please make sure to tell her that Komyo sent you her way... it will help things a little." She sucks in her breath before exhaling softly, looking conflicted before continuing further, "I apologize for her severe nature, but if I understood your concerns correctly, there is no better to confer with."

She would wait quietly to see if the group needed any further assistence before returning to her own task at hand. The gate she indicated is not far, a small opening in the outerwall. Passing through it would bring one to another section of the compound. A large garden is found here. This time of year, much of the lush vegitation that would be beautifying it is missing, dried up, waiting for the kiss of Spring to make its presence known once more.

The garden is a few acres in size with a small, thin stone wall around it similiar to the one surrounding the inner shrine. A gentle brook traverses one side of it along a bed of soft soil and large stones. A pound in the middle is bereft of lilies for now, but its crisp, clean waters are alive with large fish of rich golden-red and white stripes. Small cobblestone walkways afford one dry footing to traverse the yard, with stone benches offered in places facing what are likely flower gardens in the warmer months of the year.

Leaf-less willows dangle their dry tendrils thirstily into the gently churning brook and a medium sized stone fountain depicting a bear, tiger, and dragon with their backs to each other, spill water down into the small canal as well. Empty dirt plots are ready for planting of vegetation again in the Spring, and many dry vines are clinging to supporting posts.

Toward the far side of the garden is a larger area that is covered in dry grass that will undoubtedly become verdent green next season. The young woman occupying it can be heard before seen, her swift movements with a long bo swishing through the air with each turn the girl makes. Clothed in the traditional white and red garb of a shrine priestess, she weaves, spins, turns, and smashes with the staff in one smooth, ongoing dance that seems to never end, fighting an unseen target, or warding off surrounding enemies only visible to her mind's eye as she pushes through the relentless practice routine.

Her long, strawberry-blonde hair swirls about her as she moves, kept only mildly in check by the large red bow tied into it at the back of her head. Her footwork is immaculate, her timing and control showing no noticeable flaws. Only upon getting closer would one be able to notice that she is conducting the kata with her eyes closed, replaying whatever battle it is she is training for within the hidden chambers of her mind.

Miko seems a bit surprised to be addressed by the woman, as if she hadn't expected to be overheard. But when the interruption -began- with a plea for forgiveness, it is best met with a smile. And in Miko's case, a pleasant, amiable bow as well. She -was- after information, after all, and perhaps her rudeness in snapping at a friend can lead to the eventual accomodation of her request. "I'm... sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you," is the hastened apology she interleaves in before more words can follow.

While Miko nods in assent -- yes, a priestess probably -would- be best -- she does raise an eyebrow at the discussion of Ayame. Not so much for the name, but the warning of her severe nature. "I see. I'll be sure to keep that in mind when I speak with her, then." She bows pleasantly -- as do the other three Gedo students. "Thank you very much, Komyo-san."

Miko passes a brief glance over to Kazuhito, and he nods slowly. There is still much to see in the shrine facility, but Miko's antsiness is a sign of the issues weighing heavily on her mind. She steps through the garden, savoring the breaths of clean air as her rubber-soled boots tread upon the path. Nature is something Miko has not had the time to enjoy lately. It's not unwelcome to her -- far from it, actually -- but it is a reminder of what she's willfully forsaken in order to accomplish her goals. And while this isn't -nature- per se, the tranquil garden definitely reminds her of home.

The priestess, stepping through an elaborate bo staff kata, reminds her of... things she's watched on television, on the internet. Nothing so specific -- though she can, being a fighter, definitely appreciate the martial skills being demonstrated. And when she notices the eyes closed, Miko too closes her eyes, once more savoring the scents on the wind, the invigorating sensations. But moreover, the psychic is looking far beyond what her eyes can sense. Her skills are not as finely honed as those of others, but part of the reason she's -here- is to broaden her horizons. To make the unknown more knowable.

She speaks no words, though. Staying at a fair distance, so as not to disrupt the kata, she cradles her chin in one hand, her elbow in the other, observing with her closed eyes. Her black hair is pulled back, held in place with two hairsticks. Her gakuran coat hangs open, her Gedo seifuku as plain and unassuming as can be. And if Ayame's motions stop, Miko's eyelids will part, blue eyes glancing back intently at the young priestess. And nodding her head in greeting.

"Komyo-san said you may be able to help me, " she would say, quietly and with no particular inflection to suggest her meaning, "of a matter involving a ghost of sorts."

The woman introduced as Komyo responds well to the polite mannerisms before leaving the group to continue on their way. No doubt Kazuhito himself would like time to tour the impressive interior of the shrine building itself, renown for its six seperate, smaller shrines housed within - the Sanctum of Candles, the Hallow of Sand, the Fount of Life, the Murmurs of the Firmaments, the Tabernacle of the Sun, and the Reliquary of the Moon. It would be easy to spend an entire day getting last within the experiences of each of the six holy places, but Miko Kobayashi is here for matters other than restful meditation. Kazuhito will have to return another day for such opportunities.

In the garden they are alone but for the young woman identified to them as simply Ayame. Her practice continues without pause, the girl moving forward, backward, and to the sides, changing facing directions, all as part of sweeping techniques with her weapon of choice. Every angle seems to have a swing, smash, or twirl designed to cover it, every vector targetable by the proper extention of that versatile weapon.

Reaching out to experience the atmosphere and company in the garden on a level beyond the fundamental senses would come across a curious blend of dispassionate calculation and fiery disposition.

For only a brief instant.
And then nothing.

The shrine maiden's staff would be whipped up to tuck in her her left arm, the girl turning to face the visitors, brown eyes open, regarding them with an expression no where near as warm and inviting as those out in the courtyard. Young Kobayashi would get the nagging sense that she became aware of them the instant she started to expand her own sense, and indeed, at the moment, she will find the priestess a cipher of emotion - a nothingness where there should be something.

A quick scan over the tourists from Gedo seems to not change Ayame's demeanor any - a severe, intense look, not exactly hostile, but not particularly approachable either. She almost seems to be expecting to find something as she glances over each in turn, attention finally coming to rest on the leader of the small group. Only then does her expression shift, eyes narrowing a little, peering at her as if trying to decide if she's surprised or simply confused by something. The moment passes however.

Another snap of her staff slams one end of it against the ground, Ayame leaning forward slightly, gripping it with both hands as she props herself up with it a little.

"What do you want?"

Her tone is brusque and unfriendly to the point of almost sounding accusatory. She's definitely living up to the warning offered in the courtyard. But as Honoka answers, the girl's shoulders rise and fall a little, as if resigning herself to dealing with this visit afterall, though there is a brief upward roll of her eyes toward the sky as if she was thinking of what she might say to the friendly woman named Komyo when next she sees her.

"Very well," she allows, looking again at Kobayashi, standing up straight again and pulling her staff off the ground, gripping it on her left side. The ice in her voice has thawed a little, though there is a certain sense of feigned patience only by resignation of other options. Her right hand lifts to rub her fingers across her chin in a brief moment of contemplation before she sweeps it out, billowing sleeve draping over the slender limb, as she gestures toward a small circle of stone benches situated near the brook-side fountain.

"Please," she murmurs, sounding as if she was only saying it because it's customary rather than out of sincerity, "Let's take a seat and discuss this ghost problem." One might almost detect a faint hint of mirth in her voice at that. Most of the ghost stories she hears are of course the byproducts of imaginations gone wild. What is the likelyhood that this pack of Gedo students actually have found something legitimately interesting to her?

Saya, the other young woman of the Gedo group, had followed a brief distance behind. She was surely impressed by the shrine, but she's seen lots of shrines, and they tended to be disinteresting to her. But when she'd seen Ayame and her kata, she had become transfixed on the priestess' motions. She was as close to Miko as possible without intruding on her personal space, watching eagerly. She starts to open her mouth, but apparently blurting out her thoughts is so common that Kazuhito is pre-emptively smacking her in the shoulder for even thinking it - a gesture met with only a light sneer, followed by an expression of wounded pride, but no further vocalization.

Miko can sense the change in demeanor instantly -- it is hard to tell whether this is due to the end of the kata, though she suspects it has more to do with the intrusion, and bows in apology, accordingly.

Kazuhito had some idea of Miko had wanted to say, but Miko's riddles and circumspect conversations seem to be wearing on him: his expression seems to be more akin to Ayame's than to the supposed leader of this quartet. And when Ayame snaps at the group, he flinches visibly. He can sense the tempers flaring, and it's bad enough with Touji and Saya are getting into it. Resting his hand on Saya's shoulder, he comments quietly, "Please forgive our intrusion... we will visit the rest of the shrine, there is much to see." He bows quietly, and then takes a tentative step back.

Saya manages to blurt out, "Hey, I wanna watch more of that as--" But she is cut off by a light squeeze of her shoulder by Kazuhito, and relents.

The third, Touji, seems like he would've rather watched as well, but as he seemed similarly crestfallen when the priestess' kata ended, he decides to simply follow Kazuhito's lead, as the three depart.

"I'll catch up with you later..." comments the group's leader. By way of explanation, she offers a faint half-smile and a bow. "Please forgive me, I didn't mean to disturb you." She gets a sense that there's such thing as too much apologizing, though, and clams shut, instead allowing herself to be led to the stone benches. She'd taken in the shift of emotions, and had taken careful note of the shift in voice... but at the time being, she knows so little of the priestess that she'll avoid the temptation to respond in kind.

"According to the tales of my people, the dead cross into the lower world. Sometimes, they find their way back into the upper world. Sometimes they have a message so urgent, so dire... that they feel the need to take possession of someone else entirely. To see with their eyes, to speak with their mouth." She takes a seat at the stone bench, bowing her head as she takes a deep breath. It's clear she doesn't speak about such things often -- her hesitations are frequent, as if she's not sure she's using the correct words. And she is glad that the other three aren't near her, to see her discomfiture -- one small reason she'd subtly suggested that they find something else to do.

"There is a young man who I've encountered recently. He says he is a soldier. He speaks of the will of history, yet he seems to know very little of the present. As if he had not grown up here like you or I, but rather continues to live in the past."

She takes another deep breath. The air here is crisp and invigorating, but speaking of such matters seems to fill her with dread or unease. The truth is -- she's withholding details of the first time she'd met the person of whom she speaks -- a battle in which the young man had moved faster than her eyes could see, and coordinated abilities no one his age should be able to.

"He speaks as if he's a fiddler, reading the sheet of music for a song which he knows nothing about in a style he's never used. I... come to you because this seems less a matter for a psychologist, or psychiatrist... but if he were of my people, I know exactly what I would do."

Folding her hands in her laps, she looks to Ayame, worry knitting her forehead. "But he is not. And I wish to help him."

The wooden training staff is sat resting against the edge of the bench that Ayame settles on. There are three such stone furnishings, forming a small triangle facing each other, though only two are occupied now. The girl's hands brush along her hakama idly as she settles into position. There is a faint sheen around her neck and along the extents of her hair from her exercise, but her breathing is calm as if she had simply gotten sidetracked from reading a book rather than the training exercise.

Hands settle in her lap as she looks at the Ainu visitor. Honoka might not be able to shake the impression that she is being actively studied, but maybe that's just how the severe girl treats everyone - matters of tact seem to be lost on her. Is this really the one best suited to help her with her problem? Aren't priestesses supposed to at least be nice?!

She doesn't say a word of encouragement, merely sitting silently as the rest of the group is encouraged to be elsewhere and Kobayashi begins to work her way to the point. The apology regarding being disturbed is acknowledged with a slight nod and nothing more, whether that means she accepts it or not is impossible to read.

But when she brings up tales of her own land, the miko's expression softens, hard scrutiny replaced with quiet interest as she leans forward just slightly in Honoka's direction, hands still clasped in her lap, buried snugly now beneath those lengthy white sleeves. "There is not a lot written down about Ainu beliefs," she replies quietly about the explanation of the restless dead returning to occupy others. Did she identify her heritage purely from her features? Little by little, she seems to becoming more conversational at least. Whatever initial edge she had has slowly bled away now that the two are sitting and discussing.

The girl's head leans to the side a bit as the Gedo student speaks about the curious young man she has recently become acquainted with. "Oh?" she asks, brow furrowed slightly. Claiming to speak of or for the will of history... a faint smile traces at the corner of her lips, though her expression doesn't seem to be one of bemusement at Honoka's description. Perhaps some other thought crossed her mind, a memory of another time triggered.

"That is interesting..." she finally allows. Speaking of the past, of another lifetime. He is probably not an isolated case. Shrinks around the world have no doubt encountered a small but not insignificant number of people who express similar sentiments. How far, how wide did the last song of the Ryouhara reach, she wonders quietly to herself.

In what seems to be the first sign of being remotely sociable, she speaks up before Honoka continues, perhaps noticing the struggle she was having getting the right words to form. "Take your time. Your story intrigues me." She is quiet as Honoka finishes the rest.

She sits up straight as the account comes to a pausing point. "I am curious... what WOULD you do... if he were your people?" She unclasps her hands, folding her arms over her stomach as she leans her head forward, eyes shifting toward the ground between the triangle of benches, a contemplative look on her face.

"And secondly, why is it you wish to help him?"

The second question seems the most important to her of the two, even though it should be the easiest to answer? What decent person WOULDN'T want to help the possible troubled or possessed young man? Is it really so strange that the priestess feels the need to ask after it?

Kobayashi laces her fingers together in her lap. She thinks back for a moment, rewinding her words. -Had- she mentioned that she was Ainu? Was it from her features alone that she'd been identified? Or was it simply from referring to the Shinto shrine as an outside belief that she was identified? Whatever the cause, the moment at which she hears the word 'Ainu,' her eyes widen to some degree. It did not go unnoticed, nor did the small uptick in Ayame's smile as she mentions the will of history. But in lieu of the context Kobayashi does not yet have, the expressions are just that -- expressions. It could be malice, or it could just as easily be a reassurance to continue speaking.

But, truth be said, the young woman had never been all that comfortable around matters beyond her ken. The spirits aren't something she has a context for, either -- and though she continues to refer to the Ainu past, actually speaking with those from her hometown is not on her agenda.

So when Ayame softens her tone -- that does take a moment to adjust. Kobayashi is used to the tactic; she employs it frequently, after all, but remains quiet and respectful for now -- and a bit on the guarded side.

Ayame's first question is, to some extent, expected -- whether willfully or not, she'd laid the bait for it by differentiating herself from the 'sisam.' "... I would refer the matter to someone who knew better of such things, of course. I'm no expert in matters of a spiritual sense. I suppose that in that sense it would not be much different." She smiles faintly, her hands shifting slightly in her lap.

As to why she would want to help him -- such an odd question. She tilts her head slightly at the query. It might seem brusque -- a phase which she'd initially thought to have moved Ayame past -- but Kobayashi then realizes that it may simply be a diagnostic question rather than an accusation of another motive. Recovering from the initial shock -- a crestfallen look and not much else -- she draws her breath and continues once more, in a measured voice. "He seemed troubled. Lost, even... transiting between two states." She looks down for a moment, recounting the memories of her last encounter with Ryouhara. "One, a perfect clarity of informed action, and two, a lost haze, where he knows the words to say but has none of the conviction necessary to say them properly." She looks up, meeting Ayame's gaze once more. "Like a child, asked first to recite a doctoral thesis, and then confused when asked to explain it in his own words."

Kobayashi draws in breath again, forcing herself to think back upon those moments. "I do not... actually know if he is possessed. Or... compromised?" She smiles uneasily, adding, "Is there any way for me to know? I... would likely bring him here, but his schedule is... well. Difficult."

Her answer about seeking someone among the Ainu to help a troubled Ainu is answered with just a slight nod and quiet 'Ah.' She doesn't pursue the subject any further. Perhaps she was hoping for further insights into the belief system that has been mostly passed down by way of verbal traditions rather than the written word. Or maybe she just wanted to gauge how much the young woman knew about such matters in general?

Her attention shifts up from the ground between them as Honoka begins answering her second question, talking more about the case of the troubled young man. There is a slight nod on occasion, her eyes directly focused on Honoka's in a way very uncharacteristic of the typically deferential proper young Japanese lady. Her arms unfold from over her stomach, right shoulder shrugging slightly as she holds her right hand out, palm up, as if weighing something unseen.

"You describe his symptoms to me still. I feel your analogies, while unnecessary, are quite apt at conveying the confusedly addled state you've found this young man to be in. Your initial instincts might be correct - that there is something supernatural influencing his condition. I would be able to help you rule that out."

She lowers her hand, both hands now pressed against the cool stone at either side of her hakama-clad legs. "But I still don't understand why you want to. Why have his troubles become your own?"

Kobyashi frowns slightly -- though it's less due to Ayame's words, and more inwardly-focused. She had stated symptoms -- as was said. And when her words are summarized for her thusly, it's hard to refute the priestess' words. So she doesn't. Nodding her head slowly, she reflects: it isn't normally this difficult to talk. She -had- needed help in matters of the mind and body, after all.

She looks aside. Off into the forest or something, perhaps -- it's not even clear what Kobayashi -could- be looking at, for she's not focusing on anything at all. "I don't know. It... There was a moment where I feel like I could have helped him. And I guess I just feel like... I -should- help him. It bothers me that anyone could say what he did, could be -that- out of tune with reality, and yet."

She pauses, then looks back at Ayame. "It almost sounds like a confessional, more than a plea for help, right? I'm sorry." She gives a gentle laugh, rubs at the nape of her neck. "When he is lucid, he looks at me like... he sees through me. But not like... sees -me-, but some vision of me. Some me that's not here. I want to help him because I want to know who he -thinks- I am. And maybe... maybe we can have a straight conversation. It's... that probably sounds selfish, right?"

Another uneasy laugh, as she looks down at her lap. "But also, I want to help him. Because he feels trapped by... whatever's guiding him, he feels it's so urgent... I don't think he feels that he can even spare a single -moment- to help himself." She looks back up at Ayame, without lifting her head. "So devoted to his cause that he never actually sleeps."

The young Gedo student draws in breath again, squaring herself up with the priestess once more. "It sounds disjointed. But... if it -is- another spirit, I don't think he should be made to suffer for whatever -its- ambitions are. People should be free to live their own lives. And interposing -my- beliefs on him just seems wrong, somehow. I'm not sure what he believes in, but... perhaps I just wanted a more objective opinion."

As before, the strawberry-blonde keeps her focus on Honaka. It might almost be unsettling, the way she now seems to never look away after her earlier contemplations, giving the Gedo student no reprieve from her attention. She doesn't help her along at the pauses for the rhetorial questions, and while her expression is far from hostile, there is a certain detatched analyitical nature to it, as if she was trying to solve a scientific riddle hidden deep in the young woman's words.

She doesn't interrupt, nor shift from her posture, her hands pressed against the cool stone, fingers bent over the lip of the bench seat. Finally, she smiles faintly, looking satisfied at long last. "It is refreshing to find one willing to go to such lengths to help another. Thank you for indulging me.

Her right hand lifts, that half-shrug weighing jesture resumed, brown eyes finally breaking free to gaze at her palm in thought. "You never know in this world... so many people can focus more on how weakness in others can benefit themselves... taking advantage... exploiting... manipulating..."

Her smile is positively glowing now, "I am so happy that you are completely unlike that. I am sure the young man will be grateful." Everything about her sparks of sincerity now, the edge is gone, the intensity has faded. Has sating her concern simply prompted a shift to yet another phase in their discourse?

Ayame shifts her left hand to her lap, her right hand resting flat over her chest. The girl bows her head slightly before sitting up straight again.

"Please, forgive me. We have not been properly introduced. My name is Ayame Ichijo, and I will be happy to help you, Miss. This young man, has he given a name?""

The constant attention from Ayame is bewildering. Kobayashi has a similarly intense gaze, at times -- though it's from introspection, and not always on purpose -- whenever she notices that it makes her target uncomfortable, she often finds herself questioning whether discomfort is something she -wants-. It rarely is.

So to find herself the target of such intense scrutiny is... unsettling, to say the least. She'd remembered that there was a reason she'd avoided speaking of theology or religion -- but now, in front of the priestess, she remembers exactly why that is.

Judgment. It may not be intentional -- in fact it rarely is. But when most of one's words are shadowy half-truths at best, the intense beam of a spotlight is enough to bring discomfort, a risk of exposing the lack of substance.

So when the scrutiny is replaced once more with the half-shrug... Kobayashi no longer looks downward. Her spine stiffens, her resolve meeting with the acknowledgement that, yes, she wants to -help- this young man, even when her motivations behind this... help are questioned. Resolute, she nods back. "Yes. I'm... particularly concerned for him. I've never met anyone like him before." This much, she can say with full conviction.

She's all prepared to give her own name, with such a buildup, her mouth even starting to form the 'ko' of Kobayashi.

And then the question is different than the one asked. /His/ name? "R-Ryouhara Seishirou," she states, blurting out the name before her internal filter can properly kick in. From the sound of it, the clan hardly -exists- nowadays, she reassures herself. But still, the ease at which she volunteered the name troubles her somewhat -- a stain of color darkening her cheeks. Something about Ayame's line of questioning continues to keep her off-balance.

And then it strikes her -- the odd, unexplainable expressions making some convoluted sense now. She asks, with an air of tentativeness mixed with her slight unease: "... Why, do you know him?"

Unable to rely on that deeper perception that has likely guided her way through many an exchange throughout her life, Honoka might find interacting with the young priestess more than just a little off putting. There might be a vague sense that many of the motions displayed by her attentive audience is feigned but there are no tells, no clues that betray them as being every bit sincere. Is this what it is like for others who interact with her? Do they have that nagging feeling that something is off but stuff any such concerns away in light of the flawless execution?

The miko's ambush question could not have possibly been by accident. Every human instinct and protocol would have suggested that the name she would be interested in would be her visitor's. Yet she diverges elsewhere, the segue feeling natural enoug to provoke an unfiltered response even from the well practiced and definitely gifted Kobayashi.

But if she was looking for a moment to reverse the situation on her young inquisitor, the answer she gives is more than enough to do so. The friendly smile melts away in an instant as Ayame's hands shift unconsciously over her stomach as if feeling some sickness there. Her mouth falls slightly agape before she finally looks away, presenting Honoka with the back of her head instead, the motion executed far too suddenly to be casual about it.

"No." comes the answer after a moment. "Nevermind. It just," she looks straight forward then, gazing across the garden rather than toward her visitor who's bench is at a slight angle to the side. "It just brought to mind a memory of mine, nothing important."

A deep breath is sucked in then exhaled, Ayame's attention shifting back to focus. That smile is back. The moment of intense vulnerability has passed. "I look forward to helping you help him. Either it will be something my own talents will be of assistence with, or it will at least narrow down the possible paths to recovery available for him to pursue."

Her right hand lifts to brush a length of strawberry blonde hair back over her right ear as she continues. "Let me know how I can contact you and I will find a time very soon to render assistence. What name is it that you are going by now?" she asks. Such a curious way of wording what should be an innocuous enough question!

All throughout the past few months, Kobayashi has had the sneaking perception that people have been making jokes about her. Inside jokes, nods and winks... nothing tangible, but still... knowing glances. Certain tells, certain responses that made little sense in the context of a simple conversation. Hundreds of simple conversations take place in a given day -- whether she plays as Miko Kobayashi, the ill-tempered schoolgirl, or as her polar opposite, Honoka Kobayashi, the exuberant and somewhat shy circus performer. Hundreds of conversations, where she can react and respond to the litany of inconsequential signs.

And out of these hundreds, thousands of conversations she's had in the past few months, perhaps only a handful of people stood out for not really judging Honoka on what was said, but on what they thought she would say.

The only clue was the words of a certain Marine.

- Weeks ago -

'Funny fact,' he says, 'I /do/ actually read really fast, but I'd be lying if I said I got your name from the poster. Your name's not the only thing I know about you, either. But I'm not a stalker,' he says quickly, but truthfully.

- Now - -

Nevermind, Ayame had said. A trick Psych 101 teachers occasionally play on their students is to place a number on the chalkboard, tell the students to forget it, and then quickly erase the number before it can be committed to paper. Oddly enough, students tend to retain the knowledge.

Nothing about this innocuous conversation will be forgotten. This is no simple priestess, Honoka realizes, once that statement, perfectly crafted to be delivered as innocently as possible, seemed to somehow attract such bile. The kami who has so often smiled upon her in the past seems to do so once more, as Ebisu once more guides her towards someone with this... knowledge of her.

"Memory, hm. I suppose it is common, then... for people to come to you with similar circumstance." Kobayashi smiles, and no longer will her eyes leave Ayame.

So Ayame will seek Seishirou out on her own? Convenient... but troublesome. "Oh. I was simply looking to arm myself with information should he come across my path again. A ward, perhaps, or a particular oil to burn. I'm sorry... I've really no idea how this... -works-, really. But I trust someone of your skills would be able to find him where I could not."

Ebisu must be keeling over with laughter as she tries to contain herself. The urge to say more is difficult to resist. But Kobayashi manages with a faint smile, tilting her head at the question. And its phrasing. The funny thing about questions -- the literal answers are rarely the only answers sought. There is no harm in divulging this answer. "Kobayashi Miko." She supplies a local number from memory -- one that will ring to voicemail, undoubtedly.

"And if I find him, naturally, I will bring him here to see you." A brief smile, wrapped delicately around another understated test.

"Oh," comes the reply from the strawberry-blonde at Kobayashi's answer. It is a smooth, self-contained solution, implying at once that she doesn't actually know where to find him. She is quiet for a moment, letting her finish talking about her potentially finding this young man herself. Ayame's smile is fainter now but still present, though there is a flicker of something else, a tinge of defeat?

"I wish I could accommodate you in that way, but I am afraid I would need to see him for myself to really provide any clue to this riddle of possible possession form the past." Her tone has shifted now, the girl sounds distant, distracted, her focus has ceased being on the Ainu student of Gedo. If anything, she barely seems to be paying attention to her as the name and phone number are provided. Naturally she has them both memorized all the same.

It isn't until the last statement that she finds herself with Ayame's attention once more, the girl's eyes narrowing for a moment before her expression relaxes and she nods her head just slightly. "Yes, that... that would be fine too..."

She pauses for a moment, seeming to consider something, "Kobiyashi-san, please do be careful around this young man. Depending on how far this goes, it is possible that he could be quite dangerous... not only to himself but to those around him." She frowns faintly, "I trust he will be safe in your company, but... such things have the potential of being quite unpredictable."

The warning offered, she falls quiet, hands returning to resting in her lap. Whatever seems to have set her off, the priestess seems to be ill at ease compared to her earlier demeanor.

"Thank you for coming all this way about this problem. I do truly hope to have the help to render further aid in the matter." she murmurs, gazing across the garden now. The way she falls quiet afterward suggests she has no further questions for the young woman nor cares to speak about anything else.

Honoka first came here out of a crisis of faith. Ainu theology had no real way to explain -what- could be happening to Seishirou without resorting to oft-misunderstood parables about pissing off the divine spirits who like to mess with you. Ainu theology does not explain the existence of secretive ninja clans who want to direct the flow of history -- ergo, consulting a theologist from a religion that actually had full documentation and wasn't crushed into the ground may have provided the background she needed to understand it. And in the end... it seems like the young Ainu woman got more than she bargained for. Not a ward, or some sort of incense... but a -solution-.

Though, while Miko Kobayashi does not openly express the smile she wants so badly to, she does quirk an eyebrow at the sudden narrowing of eyes that provides the response -- before Ayame offers her warning. if Ayame was not familiar with Seishirou, she might not have given any such warning, beyond a general 'don't mess with crazy people because they're crazy' statement. But this... warning, to someone who someone who's already -experienced- madness? The vaguest hint of a smirk pulls up at one corner of her lip: "I... see. I will be cautious, then."

There is such a thing as pressing one's advantage too far. As far as Honoka knows, turning more cards may be exactly what Ayame wants. That, combined with a sense of unwelcomeness towards further conversation, leads to only one clear course of action.

Miko Kobayashi rises and bows in quiet deference to the priestess of the Meian Jinja. Smoothing out the side panels of her gakuran coat, she offers a small smile, and a nod. "I... regret that I'm not able to provide any more answers, but if you have further questions for -me-..." Her smile takes a brief, polite uptick. It's not hard to find a Gedo student in this town, even if Ayame were to forget the number offered.

"Have a good afternoon, Miss Ichijo. Thank you for your time." Another bow... and then once social necessities are met, the Gedo student will be stepping back through the garden and back towards the rest of the shrine complex. No doubt Kazuhito's got his hands full with Saya and Touji. But at least he won't have to deal with Miko grinding her teeth again.

Log created on 13:19:04 01/04/2015 by Ayame, and last modified on 03:50:55 01/05/2015.