Description: The high-tech kunoichi Nagase lays a trap for the white phantom that has been killing ninja, but rather than a vengeful spirit she instead draws the attention of a Dragon. The two discuss the surge in Darkstalker activity in connection with the great many recent tournaments and agree to join forces to root out whatever mysteries lay burried beneath the King of Fighters tournament.
Murders have been occurring, all throughout the country. It's been well over a year now that innumerable shinobi have been cut down in their prime by -- rumors say -- a ghostly shade in a white haori. The civilian fallout is practically nonexistent, save for those who chanced to become eyewitnesses, tormented for weeks by nightmares of the shade. But his victims have been left in a number of states of destruction. Some ravaged by blades, others by flames, still others impaled by a number of needle-sharp points. There is no one modus operandi, no one solution to the non-stop succession of murder.
The only causal relationship: Every single victim has been a practitioner of ninjutsu.
- - -
Nagase of the Iga-ryu is perched atop the roof of a ruined temple, exactly as stated in her missive to the ninja clans. A white envelope is propped upon her kneecaps, while her arms are folded upon her thighs, chin cradled in one hand. And a decidedly -bored- expression upon her youngish face. Her spectacles occasionally flicker with light -- clearly, they are rigged with an advanced technology that allows a video feed to be piped directly to the lenses scant centimeters from her eyes.
But anyone who has witnessed the kunoichi fight knows full well that her 24/7/365 connection to the aptly-named 'ether' of the internet does not hamper her fighting ability, or her awareness. The temple is bathed in the gentle light of a waxing crescent moon, affording solid visibility for a quarter mile in every direction. There is, effectively, no way for anyone 'normal' to get a drop on the ninja.
Which is why she is concentrating harder than ever, despite an appearance of the contrary. "System access: List the probable candidates for access." A series of green words flits onto her screen, rolled into motion by a tiny gesture from the flame-haired shinobi's left hand. And yet, her eyes scan the surrounding forest, absently. Someone -has- to accept the challenge, she reassures herself. Someone -will-... but will it be the Ghost himself, or someone else?
Ninja clans dot the Japanese landscape, hiding in the cracks between civilization that grow ever more rare as the modern world marches on. Each one holding a legacy that has survived hundreds of years, often keeping a silent shadow war against each other as traditional duties come to a clash. Myths of these warriors has flown through imagination, tinged with excitement and fear for the entirety of their existance. A lone ninja holding the ability to alter the flow of history with a single blade.
Even among these mythic warriors, the Hayabusa Clan is ancient and hidden. Little concern exists among the Hayabusa clan for matters of worldly politics, with their small numbers focused on a duty to maintain the world itself, and few aside from the Black Spider Clan are willing to risk rousing the ire of the anger of the waiting dragon.
The Dragon Ninja's eyes have been opened.
Stealth and awareness are the yin and yang that keep a ninja alive. To be detected in their duties is to fail; to fail to recognize your enemy's presence is to die. And so it must come as a surprise when the faint sound of footsteps reach Nagase's ears within arm's reach accompanied by a voice that commands attention despite barely breaking a whisper.
"Either your masters place a great deal of trust in you or you've earned their wrath to be playing bait like this."
Shadow peeled away by the faint caress of the moon's glow reveal the Singular Super Ninja himself, Ryu Hayabusa.
Footfalls to Nagase's right, atop the roof. The techno-ninja does not twitch a muscle; on the surface, it seems like she does not even acknowledge the arrival of another. But the telemetry readout in the left edge of her eyeglass display increases in perfect unison with her increasing heartrate. She knows someone is there.
But she has been waiting for them. It would be rude to spoil the surprise.
The words, though? Those came as more of a surprise. She expected to be taunted. She -wanted- to give the impression that she was the one to pick the short straw tonight.
It is uncommon, after all, for a ninja to grant the favor of an RSVP.
Nagase moistens her lips, nodding her head dully in response to the words. It hardly seems like a response, at first -- more like she was bobbing her head to a music track only she could hear.
Her words suggest otherwise. Unlike the Super Ninja, her words are coarse and unrefined, smacking of an 'uncultured' urban dialect. "Yes, they do, and... maybe. But really, I'm stupid enough to try this all by my lonesome."
Only then does Nagase turn her focus away from the glyphs imprinted on her eyeglasses, her irises dilating as she focuses upon the Dragon Ninja. Symbols show up, cross-correlating his physical features with those in her database. She knows who he is as soon as she spots those eyes.
Her fingers twitch slightly, and the visual readouts go away. She adds, with an enigmatic smile. "My clan has withdrawn to the shadows and left me for dead. And a ghost in white is killing us all, one by one. Do tell me you've heard of him...?"
The roof is laden with the smell of low-yield explosives. Or maybe that's Nagase -- hard to be sure, really.
If the eyes weren't enough to give away his identity, the fact that he's dressed in his legendary Black Falcon with the Dragon Sword itself strapped to its back would reinforce the image. Although the man sometimes referred to as the modern-day ninja would likely have to cede that title to the kunoichi he's currently staring down.
"Rumors spread like ripples from even the smallest droplet," Hayabusa offers. "A ghost of flesh stalks the deepest black, hunting those that claim the shadows." Even if not for the mask drawn up past his nose, it's likely that whatever expression was marking the Dragon Ninja's face would be left a mystery. All the while his eyes look as though they could peer through lead.
And through all of it he doesn't seem to move an inch, his arms folded across his chest in a manner that should leave him slow to act, were the extent of his abilities not so well known.
"To the uncautious eye, two ripples can appear as one." Hayabusa's eyes are drawn down to Nagase's wrist as he speaks. "It would take far more than a stalking wolf to cause our clan to abandon you alone. Is it because they don't approve or because you consider the reward worth more than the threat?"
Part of the reason for Nagase's separation from her ninja clan is because she could not be tethered; they realized it was better to let her become one with the modern world.
The other reason is because she can't stand people talking like... this guy. Her eyes start to glaze over as the interlocking riddles progress. It's... part of her demeanor, naturally -- she -is- listening to each word. And even if not, the syllables are all likely to be recorded by the advanced technological suite at her disposal. Rumors spread like ripples...
"Look, I know it's hard to tell the difference between a clan going dark, and a clan -being slaughtered-, but I've seen what evidence was left. Either every single ninja clan is placing dead bodies around like crop circles, or the Kanto region's ninja population has been systematically -decimated-."
The flame-haired ninja focuses directly upon Hayabusa's eyes. She knows he's on the level -- and she knows he's listening. Why -else- would he be here? "No, my clan hasn't abandoned me. I left home to go train. They're -supposed- to let me figure things out on my own. And... they've pulled up roots. Or... they got assassinated. It doesn't matter, I'm making it my mission to figure out what the heck's going on. And..." She shrugs at the rooftop beneath her. "This isn't gonna bother you. It's not -for- someone of your caliber. But..."
The Iga-ryu ninja picks up the envelope, holding it up for inspection. "You were right about me being bait, let's just say that. I want to flush out our mystery man. And if I get some help... maybe your clan can benefit. And every other ninja clan out there." She presses her lips together, trying to maintain -some- semblance of formality. "You've gotten an invitation too, right?"
She's already preparing to interpret another riddle of an answer.
As much as he is allowed, Hayabusa leads a life of contemplation. While it's not entirely wrong to say that it is to give him some form of peace over the sheer amount of violence that he has inflicted on the world, the more important fact is that he absolutely needs to keep himself centered and aware or the power in his hands could shatter the world as it is.
Being the Dragon Ninja does not afford him the freedom to delude himself.
Speaking like a zen master is merely a side effect of a life lived in near isolation as the leader of a millenia old ninja clan.
"The stalker is real, but more importantly the stalker isn't a fiend," Hayabusa offers once its clear that the exact meaning of his words was far too cleverly obscured from the young woman before him. "When there are rumors of ninja being killed indiscriminately, we investigated and determined that it was human hands that were responsible. Given that there have been no attempts on my clan and our allies have requested no aid, we left it as a... political matter."
The distance the Hayabusa Clan has left between itself and the other ninja clans has always been to allow it to focus on matters of fiends and realms. Their refusal to invest themselves in political matters meant they were one of the few ninja clans left alone by Nobunaga's famous vendetta against the other clans. The shogun even had a hand in the construction of the Castle of the Dragon.
"If this phantom is enough of a threat to dispatch all the ninja he has thus far, it's quite clear you don't have the talent to hunt him yourself. If it had been my intention, I could have struck before you felt a hint of my presence."
Eventually he does take the offered envelope, holding it between thumb and forefinger at a corner as he looks it over. "A great many invitations are sent my way. None of my intelligence suggested a connection between this one and any fiends, why is the King of Fighters so important?"
The Dragon Ninja makes a distinction between a murderous 'stalker' and a 'fiend.' While it would be easy for Nagase to dismiss it out of hand, the fact that he's chosen his words so carefully suggests that he places a much higher value on slaying 'fiends' than on whatever has been preying upon the ninja clans.
"You're sure of that." A rhetorical statement -- the kunoichi's mind often outpaces her mouth, to her discredit. There are -many- reasons she did not fit in with her own clan, after all. But she does listen, all the same -- she is beginning to get the hang of the Hayabusa scion's distinctive patterns of speech.
Right down to the point where he states that she doesn't have the talent to hunt him herself. Her gaze hadn't shied away from Ryu's, but she flinches now, her gaze dropping to Hayabusa's feet as if she were struck directly in the temple. Whether it's true that she could face him or not isn't the case -- the fact that she's afraid to find out hurts her almost as much.
She considers her words for a long time before speaking. It's the least she can do, after all, when a master assassin decides to give her an audience rather than disposing of her outright.
Drawing in a breath of cold night air, she finally hazards an answer. "I had hoped that a notable presence of ninjas in the midst of a high profile tournament might lure him out. Not on the stage in front of all the cameras, but certainly backstage, where we could be caught unawares. But it's..."
She draws in another measured breath.
"... It's as you say. The plan won't work, unless the plan were to also involve me not sleeping, drinking, or eating for the next two years, which comes with its own fun set of drawbacks."
She indicates the envelope with a nod of her head, looking up to meet Hayabusa's unflinching gaze again. "I don't... know -what- is so special about the King of Fighters. But the guys running this are up to something way more... -fiend-like than the last tournament and all its stupid gadgets and politics. This one..."
Nagase exhales, dropping her hands to her sides. "I'm just a ronin, at this point. I don't..."
She stops to think for a moment, then quirks her head to the side. "Can I ask you something?"
One would expect to be able to respond to the question. Nagase does not wait.
"Were 'fiends' involved in the Trouble in Paradise tournament?"
Speaking with Hayabusa, especially when he takes up her gear and sets aside curio shops for katanas, can be an unnerving experience. He speaks like a man three times his age, his expression often as unreadable even without the mask, and his tone is absolute. There are those that speak confidently to hide insecurity, when Hayabusa speaks it's with the true certainty of a man who has examined with unclouded vision.
Combined with the aura that settles in around him, it can make even a momentary silence feel as though it lasts forever.
Nagase's last question is met with such a silence, more thoughtful than indignant, before he breaches it cautiously. "I did not intend to participate in that tournament. I was attempting to do a favor for a friend, and I allowed an error to occur. I did not realize it when I went there, but there was a greater fiend hibernating within the volcano of the island. I was able to dispatch the fiend with some assistance, although an agent of one of some organization was able to escape with a fragment of the fiend."
Then, without prompting he continues, "The Killer Instinct tournament was also connected with the threat of fiends. Ultratech was experimenting with them, as well as breaching the edge of both time and realms with their technology. It seems to have become more frequent in recent years."
The silence is definitely noted -- did she strike a nerve? The younger of the two ninjas carefully takes a step back, her thumb vacillating from side to side. A small green display pops into view on her left lens, but if it were -lethal-, well, it would be pretty obvious. Trouble in Paradise. And... Killer Instinct. Ultratech. And right on cue, a tiny postage-stamp sized portrait of Riptor appears on her left eyeglass lens. "Oh. You mean the guys who brought a dinosaur back from extinction? Tch... Toying around with crap they barely understand, those guys..."
Nagase's mental train jumps to a different track at that point. She's already rationalized that if there was a way to hire the Dragon Ninja for money, she'd be unable to afford him. Not with Duke's temper tantrums, anyways. So there's only one option she sees as viable.
If a little embarassing. And maybe a bit humbling.
"Well, I can't put my finger on it, but there's -definitely- something fishy about this King of Fighters tournament. Like, why would they need to gather strong fighters all in one place? As a -team- tournament, like... and not a solo entry tournament like -every other event ever-." She pauses. "Except that Trouble In Paradise shindig, but damn, looking back at the footage, I think it's pretty obvious why your 'friend' wanted a bunch of eligible ladies showing up."
Nagase exhales with thinly veiled disappointment. Men. Tch! "Anyway, like... I'll just lay it out. I need help. I don't think you're interested in money, hm? I mean, if you are, I can scrounge something together, but." Her bare shoulders shrug, the lone holdouts defiantly rebelling from her garishly -yellow- attire. "But -something- is going down in this tournament, and based on what I saw in the last one, the only way to make sense of what's going on in the organizer's head is to be down there in the trenches watching. Hide in plain sight and you'll see things you'd would never see from the shadowed sidelines." Take that, fortune cookie riddles!
"Just make a team with me. We can even make a game of it, grab some more ninjas and make a party. And if you don't think some crazy fiendish supernatural bullshit's involved after two rounds, we just split up and go our own ways. I don't want to win, I want to stop this assassin from taking out all of us."
And then Nagase grows a bit tense, frowning. And... she appears to shrink, somehow. "I can't do it alone. You said it yourself -- I'd just be offering myself to the stalker."
Nagase lowers her eyes, at this point. And bows.
"You're my only hope."
Ripples spread from the smallest of droplets.
Hayabusa had heard enough to know that Nagase was involved in something questionable, there aren't many ninjas that would standout the same way that the computer expert would. However, whatever it was she was doing was of no concern of Ryu's. It was not his place to dictate morality to the outside world unless those actions threatened to unleash fiends from their banishment or to harm his allies. Had DOATEC not interfered with the Mugen Tenshin Clan, Hayabusa may not have gotten himself involved.
But there was enough to know full well that there was someone hunting ninjas, someone who may turn their sights on either the Mugen Tenshin or the Hayabusa clan. And every one of these major tournaments had something occurring behind the scenes, some of which ultimately threatened the safety of the world.
"If I agree to work with you, there are terms to consider. I will participate in the tournament until it's conclusion unless other terms are broken or more pressing matters require my attention. If we encounter the hunter that has been preying on ninja, I will assist you dispatching the threat. If there is an element of fiends involved in this tournament, we will put a stop to it."
His tone is unyielding, as if there is no debate or haggling to be made over his requirements.
"Do not expect my assistance with any other matters. Our clans have no alliance, and I know enough of your personal dealings to suspect I would want no part in them."
Nagase's eyes widen at the Dragon Ninja's words: 'If I agree.' 'I will participate.' These are very powerful words, from a thoughtful and insightful person, hand-chosen for their impact. And they definitely have one upon the Iga-ryu prodigy, forcing her to close her mouth and stiffen her posture.
He agreed. Tentatively, perhaps, but she's still considering that a good sign.
She... -wants- to tell him that her agenda in the past was due to her employer, that she has no particular vested interest in the agendas of Duke, or anyone else. She'd love to protest at length about the Super Ninja's labeling of her 'personal dealings'. But it's superfluous information, that in the hands of men less zen-like than Hayabusa, would only invite further questions. And in the hands of Hayabusa himself, they are proven unnecessary -- because he -already knows-.
She bows at the waist, partly out of deference, and partly to hide the shy (and maybe a little goofy) smile growing upon her lips. And only when she can successfully keep that smile from showing a disgraceful lack of dignity does she lift her shoulders up again.
"I graciously accept those terms. Thank you."
The bow is met with similar respect from the Master Ninja; there's no point agreeing to form a temporarily alliance with someone you consider unworthy of traditional respect, after all.
"If one of our goals is to draw out the hunter, it would be best to draw from the other ninja clans for our team. It may make us a more enticing target, but it would also avoid putting those not involved in our affairs in undue danger," already Hayabusa has suggestions and insights, much to be expected of a man of his station.
"I maintain a small shop near Mt. Fuji, if you need to get in touch with me. If it's an emergency..." the Dragon Ninja trails off as he reaches behind his back drawing out a tightly wrapped scroll. "This ninpo will allow you to contact me, assuming the Iga have not failed to teach you even the basics."
Nagase blinks back as her idea about soliciting other ninja clans for help in this effort seems to have been taken at face value. She meant it as such, of course, but she half expected it to be disregarded.
Like the skills she'd proven in the last tournament.
The bumblebee-colored kunoichi nods quietly to the notation of the Dragon Ninja's unassuming storefront.
She graciously accepts the scroll with both hands, bowing once more at the waist upon receipt of said item.
And then her left eyelid twitches at the suggestion that she doesn't know the basics. -Doesn't know the basics-. The nerve of this guy!
Choking back her urge to clarify her skills once again, she reaches into her sleeve with a forcibly calm hand. She makes patently clear in her hand motions that she's not drawing a knife -- obviously, it would be a -bad idea- to pull a knife on someone she'd just made a verbal agreement with, but all the same. With the object in hand -- a business card -- she presents it to Ryu. "That would be an accurate assumption," she responds diplomatically.
The business card contains an email address and a phone number. If Ryu Hayabusa wants to question her mastery of communication protocols, she can do the same.
%Clutching the tightly wrapped scroll within her left hand, she makes a melodramatic glance to the left and the right. The kunoichi in yellow and black states, "It... doesn't look like anyone else is coming, so... I'll be in touch!"
She offers one more bow out of deference to the master ninja. But when she rises, her form flickers backwards out of view, like the pages of a flipbook flipped much too fast. Her ninjutsu skills challenged, the upstart felt a pressing need for a demonstration.
And then Nagase is gone, leaving Hayabusa to consider the matter on his own time.
Card in hand, Hayabusa takes a careful appraisal of it as soon as the kunoichi has vanished. Ultimately it simply vanishes beneath wrist guard with little more thought for the time being. If he really needed to make use of the email address he could simply ask Irene for a computer.
Perhaps all of this was related to why someone would set out to destroy every ninja they could; too many young ninja had begun to lose track of their duties, abandoning the old ways for something new. Even Kasumi had carelessly fled her clan over personal feelings for her brother.
The clans were weakening just as threats were growing most dire. The Black Spider Clan had killed so many of the Hayabusa Clan. His own father was gone. The world could not afford for him to be careless.
A storm is coming.
Log created on 19:34:10 05/08/2016 by Ryu Hayabusa, and last modified on 14:46:18 05/09/2016.