Description: Having used a combination of Trish and his own connections, Brandon Malone finally makes contact with the champion of the Rumble Tournament, Ayame Ichijo. Will the Arcane PI make a good impression or will he fall flat on his face in his attempt to recruit the shrine maiden onto his King of Fighters team.
Situated in a forest on the outskirts of what has become modern day Southtown, the Meian Jinja has stood for centuries as a bastion of security against the supernatural threats to mankind. In the past, the Ichijo clan was renown throughout the land with a legacy of powerful holy warriors, demon hunters, and spiritualists... as time marched on, however, its fame has waned while its mission has not. These days, few ever come to visit the remote shrine - while it is a viable tourist spot, it is more out of the way than many of the more famous temples throughout Japan - though the stories of the Ichijo's families historical exploits continue to be fodder for many a rumor, myth, or legend even if far fewer people believe such things in this technological age.
The family would continue to be off the radar were it not for the youngest Ichijo's latest exploits in the Rumble Tournament where she went from a curious entrant to eventually securing a victory over the event through a series of brutal battles. The shrine maiden attire and vehemenence with which she spoke of slaying 'darkstalkers' in her match against Daniel may have caught the attention of some who know far better than to dismiss the threats that lurk in the shadows of the world.
Rustic, the shrine is found off a major highway, down a paved road, then a dirt road fork, then finally a mile long path through bamboo reeds and ancient, hulking cherry trees. With the sun setting soon, the sky above is beginning to take on a golden hue. The gates through the outer wall of the complex would still be open this late - in fact, they look as if they have not been closed for decades - and any inquiry with the attendents moving throughout the courtyard would have directed Brandon to the garden area in his search for the Ichijo scion, perhaps with an accompanying warning about not holding any interactions with Ayame against the rest of them...
The Rumble Tournament victor is in the heart of the shrine's large, walled-off garden area. Planters, flowers, edible fruits and vegetables, a small stream, and even a sizeable rock garden are to be found within. Seated on a stone bench at the lip of the rock garden is seated the white and crimson clad miko. A rune-carved wooden staff leans against the bench at her left, but the seated girl's attention lies elsewhere at the moment.
Leaning forward, her white sleeves draped down to her elbows, Ayame holds a flute to her lips. Eyes closed, lips pursed, with soft, steady breaths, she maintains a slow, almost haunting tune that drifts over the gardens. In half an hour, the sun will have surrendered to the inevitability of night - the hour in which her true work usually begins.
Brandon, thanks to both his and Trish's contacts, was able to gather a bit more information on a particular recruit. After her meteoric rise to prominence via the Rumble Tournament info was a bit easier to come by. He would come this evening, hoping to have a brief conversation with her.
After receiving directions and the warning, the arcane investigator makes his way into the garden area, glancing around and taking in the beauty of the surrounding area cast in the light of a setting sun.
When he sees the miko, he moves towards her with quickened footsteps as he closes the distance with her. He makes no attempt to disguise his foot falls with silence and when he's within conversational distance, he finally speaks.
"Ichijo Ayame. May I have a moment of your time?"
Eyes open at Brandon's approach, a long, dulcet note held before fading to silence. The flute is lowered to her lap though the shrine maiden otherwise makes no overt movements, remaining calm, her expression neutral. It is not unusual for people to seek her out even if the purpose behind each visit tends to be difficult to predict. Some come hoping for an answer, others for guidance, some for help or relief from a curse or life-long haunting.
"You already have," comes her response, her tone not quite hostile but hardly welcoming, a strong contrast to the friendly attendents Brandon would have encountered elsewhere within the complex. "But..." Reaching to the bench at her side, she takes hold of a long, black velvet bag and delicately slips the flute into it before tugging the drawstrings tight. "... I am willing to hear what brings you all the way out here." The bag is laid across her lap as she remains seated for now, her right hand lifting to brush a length of strawberry-blonde hair behind her ear.
With the way she focuses on Brandon now, she's making no effort to hide that she is studying him carefully, eyes searching the well-dressed man for any clue about his background or intent.
Feeling he should probably introduce himself first he speaks, "My name is Brandon Malone." He then pauses to glance about before returning his attention to the shrine maiden.
"Once again, I apologize for interrupting you but you might've heard about an upcoming fighting tournament. The King of Fighters."
The sharp dressed PI lets that statement hang in the air for a moment before he slowly reaches into his vest as a show of peaceful intent before holding up an envelope with a broken wax seal. The envelope in the fading light seems to hum and pulse with energy and barely perceivable light from a working that he put on it to protect his ownership of the King of Fighters invitation.
"Fighters all over the world were invited. However, in order for me to compete, I need a team. I was hoping to gather members with varying mystical backgrounds and I was hoping you'd join us."
"Yes, I know," Ayame answers when he politely offers his name, her gaze still severe and direct... for a moment. Almost as if catching herself, the focus breaks as she glances to the side, shifting slightly where she is seated, eyes averted. "I mean..." Eyes flick back to Brandon then away again, her tone less imperious by the moment, "I... keep track of almost every fight venue that exists..." Attention once again on Brandon, she nods her head slightly, "Please, continue."
As he brings up the King of Fighters tournament, a second nod is given in acknowledgement. "A team competition, as I understand it." Her tone hints at disapproval of the concept - as if the idea of depending on others struck her as a flawed way to measure competitive skill. Perhaps that is why she had not ventured to enter it herself, in spite her recent tournament success and interest in pushing herself further. The idea of recruiting anyone who would want to fight alongside her probably did not strike the ascetic miko as something worth the headache.
He has her curiosity piqued when he produces the envelope, however, head canting to the side just a little - an unconscious gesture of interest. A glance back and forth between the envelope and Brandon himself and something about the young woman's demeanor shifts. Inhaling, she sets the encased flute down on the bench at her side before pushing herself to her feet, clasping her hands together in front of her beneath her draping sleeves.
"That aura on the invitation - your doing?" While chi manifestation was hardly rare, the ability to concentrate, shape, and maintain it with the precision it would take to mark a physical object so, on the other hand, is not a common gift. That, perhaps more than anything, has drawn her interest now. She is quiet then as he continues, eyes shifting to the side as she seems to weigh his offer. "Then you already have someone in addition to yourself invested in this venture. I would need to know about them before I will decide."
She pauses a moment before adding, "And I need to know why you are doing this... what do you hope to get out of King of Fighters?"
The hint of displeasure in the tone of voice makes him wonder if his pitch was doomed to failure before it even begun. Might as well push on since he can't really turn back at this point. He then catches her staring at the invitation. Maybe there's another tact he can take but where there was no hope, there's a bit more now.
His eyebrow raises at the question about the aura placed upon the invitation but he nods. "Yup. That's my work. One of the rules is that if one loses their invitation, they're disqualified from the competition. It's to make sure I don't lose it." How it works beyond that is not something he needs to go into detail into. At least not for now.
When she asks about both who is on his team and the why is he doing it. He nods and says, "So far, we have L. Horne who is an author multiple books on mysticism, and Ninon Beart who made some appearances in the tournament in Metro City. Miss Horne had mentioned that she suspects she may have a lead on one more person but she hasn't gotten back to me on that."
He pauses for a moment as he thinks on whether or not he should go with full disclosure or just go with part of it. Outright lying was not an option. "Combination of things. I get a feeling that something major is going to happen. Because of that, there's a chance I'm going to be hired to investigate the tournament. Plus in a tournament like this there's going to be opportunity to learn and to tweak and refine my skills."
There is almost a hint of a smile at the corner of the dispassionate girl's lips as he describes the purpose of his energy sheath on the invitation. Whether she's amused at the strange rule or she likes the creativity with which he's protected himself from being taken advantage of by it would be hard to say though. She's quiet as he speaks of the others on his team - if either name registers with her it would be impossible to tell.
She also doesn't pressure him as he considers her second question - he couldn't know that that was the one that truly mattered to the reclusive priestess. "Mn..." she answers before turning to the side with a swish of cloth, her head bowed, her hair framing the sides of her face.
"Any collection of powerful individuals tends to draw out the unscrupulous sorts, and sometimes even catch the eye of this world's darkest beings. I have not seen an indication that something is amiss, but... that does not mean there is nothing to find."
She turns to face Brandon directly then, quiet once more as she looks him over from head to toe as if further evaluating this possible teammate. "I am afraid you have me at an advantage in one area - what is your trade such that you would be hired to inspect the events of this tournament?"
The mystic investigator may not have known exactly which questions mattered more to her but he knew that he was undergoing a careful screening process and that chances are, the wrong physical or verbal responses would turn a potential ally away. That being said, he also knew that he needed be honest with her and with himself. If the shrine maiden was going to be a bad fit, it was to both their benefits to find out before hand rather mid tournament. And if she didn't like investigators, oh well.
"Private Investigator based mostly out of Metro City."
With a bit sleight of hand skill that has been trained both in and out of combat, he produces a business card from seemingly out of nowhere for his agency, the Knights of Swords and Wands. Once the card is held between his finger tips, he extends it towards, her.
"A curious skillset for an investigator," Ayame considers, speaking the thought out loud but soft enough that it is hard to tell if she is addressing him directly or simply considering the combination of attributes Brandon has presented her with thus far. He leaves little time for the thought to linger before producing the card, however, and Ayame is quick to respond, extending both hands to take it hold of it with thumb and forefinger on each corner and an accompanying slight bow per Japanese card exchanging customs - it is obvious just by looking at her that the girl is certainly keen on the traditions of her heritage.
"I have had mixed experience with private investigators," she continues, her tone still neutral, as if withholding judgement for the moment. Slowly, she tucks away the card into her left sleeve, suggesting hidden pockets within the folds of her clothing.
"Metro City, hm... you are a long way from home. Well then, what... what is your take on those reports and rumors about the supernatural event that transpired in that city last year?"
He rubs his chin as he ponders how he wants to put his thoughts. It had been something he had examined multiple times but never had explored how he wanted to put them when expressing those same thoughts to others. After the pause almost to the point where it may become awkward, he finally speaks again.
"It's more than rumors. It was a horrifying reality for many. It forced the world to open their eyes to the supernatural world. And while my business picked up for my particular specialty, I hate that it came from such a massive and sickening tragedy."
His eyes drop down to the ground and with bitterness in his voice he mutters, "It actually makes me long for the days when most of my business came from spouses trying to find out if their significant others were cheating."
Even as the pause drags on, Ayame doesn't press. As difficult as she may have come across in the initial interaction, it might also be the case that she appreciates when someone takes the time to put thought into their answers. Brandon would detect no impatience from the severe priestess - if anything, she seems to enjoy the silence, reveling in the quiet sounds that permeate the peaceful garden atmosphere. It won't be long now before the chorus of the nightingale picks up with final glimmers of sunlight in the horizon.
There is no reaction as the well dressed investigator speaks, even when his eyes sweep to the ground and that bitter taste of bygone times seeps into his voice. There is a faint tug of a smile at the edge of her mouth finally as Ayame exhales softly. "Then you do not have a closed mind concerning the true threats in this world..." She pauses then offers a quiet nod, "Good."
Turning to her side, Ayame takes hold of her rune-carved staff that had been leaning against the bench, gripping it in her left hand as she braces it against the soft dirt at her feet. "Brandon Malone, I believe I can fight alongside you in this event. As you are the one that is holding the invitation, provided none of them fall contrary to my principles, I will respect all of your decisions and requests with regards to the tournament."
She pauses for only a slight moment before continuing, "Please understand, while I did participate in the Rumble tournament, public fighting spectacles are not a priority for me. However, I cannot help but feel that you have certain talents that I would like to see for myself in person. Perhaps I might know a thing or two that might be of use to you as well."
Another nod is offered, "If you would have me, then I will be happy to join your team."
At first, when the shrine maiden turns to the side, he begins to wonder if his pitch had actually failed. His lips turn down slightly as disappointment and resignation are just bout to set in. That is until he sees her reach for her staff. That's when he begins to wonder if she was going to test his skills before she gave the go ahead. With her being the champion of the Rumble Tournament, she was a known quantity where with his handful of both SNF and Killer Instinct appearances he was still a bit of a question mark unless one followed the Metro City underground fighting scene.
There's a subtle shift in his stance. Though not aggressive, there's a readiness to it. When he hears Ayame agree, he lets out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. He has smile at the way she put her agreement to join the team. Pretty much the same way he phrased his agreement to help Trish. He had to respect that. Principled and savvy enough not agree to something without making sure they weren't trapped into doing anything they'd regret. He liked her already.
He bows in response, however as he's not quite as well versed on Japanese culture as he would like, he's sure it comes across as clumsy but at least he's making an effort. "Thanks. I look forward to having you aboard."
Log created on 11:32:37 05/28/2016 by Brandon, and last modified on 23:36:06 05/29/2016.