Ayame - Mission #14: Path to the Machine Empire

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Description: Conspiracies mount as the King of Fighters tournament heats up. In the somber quiet of a shrine garden, two individuals caught up in the whirlwind confer and agree on possible paths forward. One thing is clear, the problem is larger than either of them can tackle alone.

During the daylight hours, the Meian Jinja hosts a moderate amount of quiet activity. Occasionally, a small group of tourists who made their way to this remote location will appear at the gateway prompting a spike in activity around the shrine as attendants, mikos, and other staff busy themselves with seeing to the needs of the tourists. Other times, an individual or couple will stride into the courtyard enroute to the central shrine itself - regulars, worshippers from the surrounding region that chose this location to pay homage and thanks to the kami, offer prayers for aid to the unseen powers that be, or simply wander quietly through the grounds and take in the sights.

Most of the time, however, the only sounds that can be heard around the shrine grounds are the quiet bustling about of the staff itself. With a structure this old, there is a never ending list of maintenance to be done - paint to reapply, walls to repair, weeds to pick, walkways to sweep, and shrines to be cleaned.

Most shrines this far outside of major cities would not be nearly as large as the Meian Jinja - but then again, most shrines do not harbor the legacy of this one. In centuries past, the Ichijo clan of holy warriors, diviners, and prophets would be called upon by the governments of Japan over its many different eras. Their reputation for protecting the people, for hunting down and slaying monsters, and being able to provide wise council to rules prudent enough to listen was renown throughout the land at on time. In this modern era, where such things have been relegated to myths or mysterious TV channels, the shrine and the clan that maintains it no longer hold the prestige they once did. But even still, the Ichijo clan and its affiliates continue their sacred work, toiling in secret most of the time, waging the unending war against the shadows...

But to a visitor unaware of the Jinja's legacy, the shrine appears much as any other. Friendly staff will pause whatever tasks keep them busy to answer questions and the areas of worship within the building itself are well maintained. The latest arrival might be the strangest thing to show up in some time, his chosen attire setting him apart from most of the visitors the shrine sees. The heavy gates to the large courtyard would be open to receive him. Over the entrance rises a massive torii, seemingly out of place at such a remote shrine. Custom dictates that one bow before passing through, and one must always be careful to not step along the center point of the space beneath the torii for that is reserved for the gods.

He would be given curious looks by those who lay eyes upon him, but little to no sign of fear or distrust. His trained eye would recognize that while many of the attendants milling about couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag, scattered among them can be found the occasional adept that probably has some level of talent for combat. No one has attacked the Jinja directly for centuries and there is no reason for anyone to believe that will change today.

A sweeping black-haired miko near the gate pauses in her endless efforts to keep the stone walkway through the courtyard free of dust to politely inquire if the curiously dressed individual needed any help. A request for Ayame Ichijo would be readily answered with information that the youngest of the Ichijo clan could presently be found over in the temple gardens. But along with the directions a warning would be offered - the girl cautioning the vistor that the one he is here to see can be difficult to deal with.

The garden is accessible from the courtyard via an opening in the stone wall that surrounds it. He would find Ayame there, kneeling on a small grassy knoll toward the back of the gardens. She would be leaning forward, her head bowed, her attention focused on long board with strings strung over it - a koto, a traditional stringed instrument from Japan. Slowly, the strawberry-blonde shrine maiden picks at it, appearing to be feeling out how it works, how it sounds, the twang of plucked strings echoing softly over the quiet garden.

As always when around the Meian Jinja, Ayame Ichijo is clothed in the garb of a Shinto priestess - her crimson, dress-like hakama folded beneath her legs as she kneels, her white, long sleeved haori top standing out in stark contrast from the green grass beneath her. A crimson ribbon keeps some of her hair in check, tied into a large bow behind her head. Additional tassels and ribbons decorate her outfit - as if marks of some importance or symbolism, though their meaning would not be obvious.

Throughout the long and winding history of Japan, there have always been clans with the fortitude to step forth and accept the most difficult of tasks. Those that have endured throughout the years are ancient indeed, with deep roots, and sharp memories.

The noble legacy of the Ichijo has gained them a place of high regard amidst some of these clans. One such being the Miyama.

Ancient in their own right, the Miyama clan of ninjas are a quiet, unassuming people. Though polite, they have often held themselves aloof, allowing the world to pass beneath their mountain shrine unmolested. Such a policy has caused many of their fellow clans to turn their backs on them over the years. Seeing them as idle recluses unworthy of attention, some have even forgotten the existence of the small clan of ninja.

The truly wise know better. For many of the ancient clans have their own assigned tasks, and that of the Miyama is to watch. To know the world and those who walk upon it, and when all else fails, to protect it.

Among his Peers, the man who pauses to bow before the gate is known as Noboru. it is as much a title as a name. one earned upon his 16th birthday, tying his soul forever to the memory of his clan.

Though Noboru is dressed as a shinobi might, he does not appear to fit the type. His hair is longish and shaggy, a dark gold that could be blond or brown depending on the light. His build is tall and thick with muscle, eyes round and Anglo. The right is a glacial blue , while the left is scarred a milky white. The rest of his features remain concealed behind a thin black mask that stretches from nose to throat.

Earth crunches softly beneath the shinobi's leather-clad feet as he slips calmly through the edge of the gate. His movements are not that of a tourist, nor of a man who needs direction. But when he is approached by an attendant his request to speak with Ayame is rumbled in a voice both deep and patient. When the gentle warning of her personality is offered in kind, it is accepted with quiet grace.

Moments later, a dark shadow slips across the Miko's kneeling form. It is odd how a man so large can move so quietly, and have such an unassuming presence. There is a certain gravity to large people. A sense of looming above their surroundings. But curiously, this trait seems to be lacking in Noboru. He does not seem to loom so much as rise out of the ground. Solid, but rooted. As if grown from the stones of this ancient place. Belonging to it.

"Ayame." The big man rumbles, voice cutting through the sounds of her experimentation as he dips his shaggy head in a shallow bow, "My name is Noboru Miyama. I believe there are things of some importance to us both that must be addressed." He remains bowed slightly forward after speaking, though this may have more to do with their relative postures than simple respect. Still, his black-gloved hands are clasped loosely behind his back, the heavy silk of his long midnight-blue coat hanging loose and closed about his sturdy bulk.

There is something vaguely servile in the large man's posture. A sense of deference that carries with it genuine respect. it is not at all certain whether or not Ayame will know of this man. And if she does, it is not entirely clear what she will think of him. But it seems that his opinion of her is high.

As the shadow moves over her, the Ichijo pauses in her string plucking, one last twang to echo throughout the garden. The location is a peaceful one, serving both as a place to appreciate nature with its fountains, streams, rock gardens, flower formations, and shade offering trees. It is also a functional garden, rows of crops, fruit trees, and winding vines providing the raw materials with which to make meals for the shrine's residents.

Her head stays bowed initially, her face hidden, one finger hovering over the long, vibrating string of the koto. Until he speaks, her only movement is to tilt her head up slightly, enough to see the feet of this silent arrival. But for her inaction, he would sense the immediate tension. She's only not moving to avoid betraying her own hand, waiting for the owner of the shadow to make a move before springing into action herself.

He speaks her name and the miko remains unresponsive, beyond her initial pause to acknowledge his presence. It is only when the shinobi continues, voicing his own name, that she finally lifts her face, eyes taking in the imposing figure of the Miyama ninja. While Miyama is hardly a unique family name, his appearance and bearing make it easy for the student of Japanese history and tradition to figure out who he is affiliated with. And of course, there is that given name. Her eyes would show no signs of recognition, but deception is not only a tool of ninjas.

Slowly, she pushes herself to standing, reaching a height far smaller than his impressive stature. Her expression is neutral, arms resting against her sides, showing no signs of being on the defensive nor preparing to be aggressive. He would notice then, more easily, that lying lengthwise in the grass behind her is a wooden staff of roughly six feet in length, its surface carved with intricate runes.

She studies him before responding, eyes tracing over his face, then working their way over his muscular frame, before her focus comes to rest on his blue eye. Slowly, she folds her hands over each other such that they vanish beneath her long sleeves. A slight bow of her head is offered in return after another moment of evaluation. "Rare it is for the Miyama to come down off of their mountain to visit others. To find your shadow here is a mixed blessing... the reputation of the Miyama might can be a stalwart support, but their presence usually means circumstances are dire enough to require them."

Nothing about her demeanor reflects the warning he had been given at the gate, none of her scathing responses spring to her lips at being interrupted in whatever interest she was pursuing at the moment. While he might not know it, his choice to cut straight to the point was the best approach - there is nothing the miko hates more than people who beat around the bush and waste her time with pointless preambles. And his percievable deference probably goes a long way to mollifying her severe personality.

"If you believe something is going on that we should both be concerned about, then I am very interested in hearing what you have to say." She glances around the garden - this afternoon hour finds it empty of any other visible staff or visitors, the only company in site being the occasional rabbit or squirrel. Her right hand lifts, brushing a length of her hair back behind her ear in response to a small gust of wind. "Would you prefer a place more secluded to speak, or..." she offers.

The light breeze swirls gently about the large shinobi's form, ruffling his shaggy brown hair and causing his long silk coat to sway briefly open. Beneath the garment, sturdy leather straps cross the man's chest in some sort of weapon harness, likely holding the various tools of his trade. It is true that he has come to this shrine baring weapons, even if he seems to have no intention of using them.

Straightening from his shallow bow, Noboru takes a moment to quietly contemplate the young girl before him. If the two were dogs, it is likely they would be circling one another and sniffing rumps. But in lieu of such crude behavior, a mutual eyeing up will have to suffice.

The moment of contemplation ends when his mismatched eyes meet her brown, the Chi mystic continuing to stand relaxed with his hands clasped behind his back.

"More often we find ourselves drawn from the mountain. In these days of nuclear weapons and Genetic engineering, the balance of power is often in flux. No longer do we have the option of but observing." He replies, the words rumbled with a certain note of grim solemnity. The seriousness of his words does not at all fit the idyllic beauty of their surroundings. The peaceful arrangement of crops and vines, as well as the soft sounds of splashing water and rustling creatures, do not seem to belong to the same grim reality of monsters that both warriors live in.

"This place suits my purposes. I have confidence that we will sense any who do not belong." Noboru assures Ayame, tone shedding some of the grimness for a much idler note of casual interest, "But tell me, young priestess. What do you know of the Hitbit corporation, and the devices they have created? For it is they that we must speak of. I must know if your own knowledge is a mirror to my own."

"Nn," comes a soft grunt of agreement as the Miyama ambassador references the dangers of modern times. It can be hard enough trying to protect humanity from outside threats without people actively willing to blow each other up too. But that is the only world either of them have known.

There is a hint of a smile in her expression when he says that the garden serves well enough as a place to confer - it is open enough that the risk of eavesdropping is nonexistent without them being able to detect a potential interloper. It seems the peaceful location will have to serve host to unpleasant topics. This is... definitely not the first time that has happened.

"Very well," she states, taking a step away from the instrument she had been experimenting with, crouching down briefly to fish her staff from the ground with her left hand before gesturing with her right hand toward two parallel stone benches not far off to the side, "Perhaps we could sit over here for now."

The location of the benches proves ideal for conversations not meant to be overheard. One person will be seated with a clear view of the garden entrance from the courtyard. To their right is the brook weaving its way through its man made path, a stone fountain creating additional gentle splashes to obfuscate the spoken word from a distance. To their left would be an expansive rock garden, the sands raked into an endless array of grooved waves broken only by the smooth boulders placed throughout it. No one could hope to approach the benches without being noticed.

Resting her staff against the bench facing away from the gate, Ayame settles down on it, placing her hands in her lap, buried once more in her voluminous sleeves.

Noboru's question hangs in the air, the girl quiet until she's fully situated. She avoids eye contact for a moment, gazing over the rock garden as if seeking inspiration to stir her memory of everything she knows concerning the topic of the moment.

"Whether they are a subsidiary of Violet Industries, I am not sure, but they are definitely closely linked. I know for a fact that the Hitbit corporation developed technology for recording the fighting style of martial artists for use in the Rumble tournament that took place not long ago. While at the time, the technology was represented as simply a means of giving the masses the ability to watch the events from the participant's point of view alongside some vital statistics, it obviously more than that."

She pauses in her thoughts, inhaling softly then releasing a sigh that hints at annoyance. "The true potential of the technology was demonstrated in the finale matches. While I faced off against Lee Chaolan, public sponsor of the event, Maki Genryuusai faced off against a simulacrum of myself... A robot that had been programmed with the information recorded from my matches." She grunts, lifting her right hand from her lap to wave it absently, "It could only mimic the physical elements of my style, and it was far from perfect, but it was close enough to tell what it was supposed to be."

She pauses for a moment, studying Noboru for his reaction. Most of what she said anyone could have pieced together simply by watching the broadcasts of the tournament itself. Was there more to be shared then?

"Following the King of Fighters match I participated in, I discovered something new. After the arena had cleared out, Lee Chaolan was there with more of his robots. At first, there were two of those robots, perfectly pantomiming the match between Miguel Rojo and Brandon Malone exactly how it played out..." She frowns slightly, knowing full well she has to continue on in spite not appearing to enjoy the topic much.

"Then there was another demonstration. A robot using my own combat style faced off against Mister Rojo, replacing out the match I had just lost against him not long before. But the robotic replay of the match had my representative correctly responding to the attack I was unable to. I believe it was a demonstration of their ability to learn not only from what fighters do but also from the failures they observer in fighters - a correction based on an ever expanding library of experiences and recordings to refine their own implementation of the fighter's art."

While her speaking patterns have not shifted noticeably, her expressions reveal an uncomfortableness rare for the confident priestess. "More importantly, we were not wearing the Hitbit devices in that match, which means it is no longer necessary for a fighter to consent to have their talents recorded into data. And secondly, Mister Chaolan was accompanied by two other well dressed men. It was clear from what I could see that he was demonstrating the robots to them... I can only imagine it was some kind of sales pitch."

Sitting up straight, Ayame lifts her hand to brush her hair back behind her ear a second time before her hands return to her lap. "It stands to reason that the goal is to weaponize robots imprinted with fighter's talents - probably not just a single fighter, there is no reason they could not eventually be programmed to emulate every fighter that gets recorded anywhere."

She finally falls quiet, having shared seemingly all she happens to know on the subject. "And you?" she inquires back, "Are you aware of anything more?"

Rather than waiting to be lead toward the benches, Noboru moves easily into step beside Ayame. Though it is a short walk, there is a lot that could be read in the subtle gesture. The movement of equals, perhaps. The unwillingness to stand in her blind spot. Any number of things are possible, though it is impossible to say if any of them are the intended meaning, or if he simply prefers to walk beside her due to a companionable nature.

Much as the position of the benches, and Ayame's choice, each action in a meeting such as this could have layered meanings, or no meaning at all.

Settling down on the bench across from the young Miko, the large shinobi adopts a posture not unlike her own. Where once his black-gloved hands had been clasped behind him, they now fold together against his stomach, thick fingers laced together in a pose of thoughtful reflection.

There Noboru sits, quiet and attentive, as Ayame takes him through what she knows of the corporation. Little change of emotion comes to his stoic countenance, the golden-haired man seeming more statue than human.

it is only once the explanation winds to a close that he reacts at all, and even then it is minuscule at best. Thin lines at the corners of his eyes deepen, part of his mask twitching fractionally in what might be the barest sign of a wry quirk of the lips.

"It seems." Noboru replies with easy calm, "That your understanding is great. This is good, for you have grasped the potential danger in what is being done."

"What further information I have is limited." The ninja states, "I have scene the machines that are used for recording. They are large, and must be constructed and calibrated before hand. They are concealed within the arenas chosen for this latest tournament." Whatever faint grin might have touched the shinobi's features has long since vanished, his deep voice lacking any shred of levity. "Most troubling, these scanners are precise, and scan deep into tissue and bone. Though skilled I am with disguise, I will not be able to pass beneath one without the truth being discovered. Those who oversee this project know of my interest, and will be alert for my tricks."

There is a pause then as Noboru slides his hands apart and idly flexes his fingers, glancing past Ayame's shoulder toward the gate behind her. Off to their side the small stream gurgles, and the songs of birds fill the air with their discordant notes.

Something seems to have taken hold of the man's thoughts, pulling his gaze inward. He may have yet more to say, but he seems strangely reluctant to continue.

Interest is taken in his descriptions of the technology behind the scenes. So they must have had something like that at the G-King arena, hidden in the fancy scaffolding and stage decorations surrounding the combat stage. There is a slow blink as he expands on the accuracy with which the sensors are able to record - her impression had been that they operated via analysis of movement, similar to already existing motion capture technology. That they could identify an individual based on their cellular makeup alone is certainly new and troubling information.

"Is there a way to detect the scanners? Any signature wave signals that would stand out against other background interference?" she asks after a moment. "There is no way either of us could pass by one without raising alarms, it seems. And there is no doubt that every participant in the Rumble tournament and ongoing King of Fighters tournament is going to be on file already. This means even individuals that perhaps they are not already on alert for would be detected, though I would imagine most people could get away with one claim of accidentally getting lost or some other excuse if caught..."

Eyes glance to the side, coming to rest on the rock garden once more, "It seems to me that knowing where they are located will be essential. The obvious place to check will be one of the upcoming fights for the next round. They are bound to have the machines setup at one or all of them. The venues could be investigated, perhaps."

She glances up then, eyebrows raised questioningly, "What else? I will not withhold information that I can provide, but I hope not to be left in the dark as well."

"I have witnessed the results of scans showing muscle and bone structure. If this is the extent of the depth, It is likely that X rays are used." Noboru rumbles in return, the miko's words drawing him out of his private reflections. "I am not sure that the technology is so impassable an obstacle. Your build is less distinctive than my own. It is possible you may fool it, with some alterations to your movement and posture. This will be more difficult for myself. Many of my disguises depend upon what is seen on the surface only."

Slowly the shinobi's hands curl into fists, dropping down to rest heavily upon his thighs. His shoulders slump just slightly, and for a moment he looks very much a weary man of over 30, rather than the iron-boned mystic of the Miyama clan.

"We are stretched thin. There will be no aid from my clan. It is in others I must depend." The admission is delivered with an equal amount of weariness, the press of nearly two decades worth of ever increasing demands resting heavily upon him. But after a moment, he lets out a grumbling breath and his posture seems to harden, attention returning fully to the matter at hand.

"This tournament. It exists to seek power. To capture those of great skill with this new technology. Each location will have these devices. They are large, and their range is limited. I do not doubt it will be simple to find and destroy them. But this is not all that troubles me."

Once more meeting the young priestess's eyes, Noboru's hard gaze seems troubled. "I think not that these robotic copies are the only intention behind this tournament. My investigation was not for the Hitbit company, it was for the King of Fighters itself. This is yet another problem that must be addressed. But the King of Fighters must be my main objective. It is a corporation created overnight. There is no history. No trail of paper. It does not appear to be created by the Hitbit corporation. The tournament was created for another purpose. Hitbit merely attached themselves to it."

"Mn," that soft grunt of calm acknowledgement is offered when the idea is put forward that as far as the scanners are concerned, she may well be able to fool them. "An off the shelf radiation detector might be able to help identify the sensor locations then, and I agree that I should be able to pass myself off as someone nondescript easier than you..."

Her guest's thoughts turn to his clan - resources are thin - and Ayame is quiet for a moment or two before responding. "Gone are the days where the need for organizations such as ours was widely recognized. Modern distractions have only made it easier for the real threats to move about unnoticed by the increasingly numb and indifferent."

She hesitates a moment before continuing, "But there are others I believe we can rely on - my tournament partner, Brandon Malone... I believe he is a good man and his eyes are not blind to the truth of the world we live in. A detective for hire, I have seen enough of him to believe that he will not shirk the opportunity to aid in our goals. I recommend that you meet with him to confirm my assessment." She leans hear head from one side to the other quickly, clearly weighing something else in her mind, "As of my other partner, one Patricia Nathair... I am not as sure about her. I have not seen her in combat, so I do not know her heart for such things. If we need even more, there is at least one other that I can think of that can be counted on..." Her shift in tone toward the end suggests that she would rather not involve whoever this last individual is if it can be avoided.

She falls quiet, her thoughts on potential allies expressed, listening to what else Noboru has to share about the world famous King of Fighters tournament. A nod is given in agreement to the idea that every venue will likely have the devices but then she becomes still as he continues expressing his thoughts about the true purpose of the tournament. A corporation from out of no where? The Rumble tournament was similarly spontaneous in its appearance. "Hmn." she softly acknowledges after a moment.

"In the end, there must be a trail of money - salaries to be paid, venues booked and built out, marketing budgets to allocate... when all else fails, one can always count on that." She lifts her right hand, finger raised, "Also, I do not think anything is to be gained by destroying the Hitbit devices at the events. What is destroyed can simply be built again as long as the plans exist and financing is available. But I would like to secure as much information about one of the devices as possible."

Her right hand drops back to her lap, "When the enemy is data, technological warfare is the only effective response. I believe... I know of someone who would have the skills we would need to combat it. I have faced her in battle, her abilities reflected that of a gifted ninja... Do you know anything about the one called Nagase?"

While there is a quiet sense of acceptance, a feeling of shared understanding, Noboru does not linger overlong on the troubles of their clans. As when he fights, forward momentum and solidity seems to be his preferred method of discourse.

"Nagase is young, , and less well mannered than yourself." Noboru replies, tone completely void of humor or irony despite what he might have heard from other people. "But what little I know of her skills does suggest this task would indeed suit her. We would be wise to seek her aid."

"To destroy the devices would be only to insure those fighting are not recorded. I do not relish the thought of combating an army made up of those such as Ryu Hayabusa." Though the repercussions of such an even would clearly be dire, Noboru states the problem simply enough, already beginning to rise to his feet. His heavy silk coat slides quietly into place around him, gloved hands clasping once more behind his back.

"I will speak to Brandon, and perhaps to the woman as well. It would be best if you were to do the same with Nagase. Not much of my time can be devoted to this issue, but know that if my aid is required I will do all in my power to give it. I am attempting to follow these money trails, yes, but often this is an arduous process. Those who wish to conceal these things are much better with numbers than I."

The faint grin that works its way into Ayame's expression suggests she finds humor in the powerfully built ninja's assessment of Nagase. How his observations match her own experiences is something left unsaid, however. But the irksome ninja did seem comfortable with the Hitbit technology, knew more about it than anyone else Ayame had encountered thus far, and seemed to possess the skills necessary for technological warfare... If she could be trusted, something the miko is skeptical about, she could be a valuable ally in this specific effort.

"I am not sure how to find her at the moment, but I will look into it." she states. His hopes of sabotaging recording efforts are met with a nod of agreement but also an accompanying warning, "I do not believe we would have multiple opportunities to destroy or damage the equipment. If we succeeding in disrupting their recording in one round, the security will be undoubtedly increased significantly in any remaining rounds... it would become a question of sufficient manpower to pull off future attacks if we tip our hand too early. Just... something to consider."

He rises to stand and Ayame responds by doing likewise, hands still folded over each other beneath her crimson-tassel decorated sleeves. She can offer no further advice for his investigation into the King of Fighters backers than she already has. Perhaps Brandon has resources that might better help in traditional investigative work?

"One last thing... A favor, if I might ask..." The girl's tone has shifted - there is an edge of emotion to her voice. She is discussing something personal now, something she cares about more than whatever affronts and threats the Hitbit Corporation and King of Fighters organizers might represent. "It concerns the Ryouhara clan." A gifted ninja clan with extensive fame within the shadows for being gifted engineers, masterful chismiths. "I am looking for one of them in particular... if they even exist at all anymore." The Miyama would no doubt be aware that the village of the Ryouhara was destroyed several months ago, rumors have it that there were no survivors.

"Seishirou Ryouhara would be his name. If you know anything at all of this man, it would... mean very much to me if you would share it." The expression is earnest and while she hardly wears her emotions on her sleeves, his perceptive eye would detect that this request comes from depths of her soul. She does not ask the man to betray the secrets of the shinobi clans lightly.

"It will likely take but one round for the device to begin compiling data. We must strike quickly, in hopes to halt this before it can properly begin. A preemptive strike will provide us time to develop a counter measure." The big shinobi replies, gazing down at the priestess with a look of solemn respect in his icy eye. "Please speak of this with Nagase. She will be fighting in the tournament quite soon. That is where I would look if I were to seek her out."

Noboru continues to stare down at Ayame as the young girl's expression changes, growing vulnerable in a way that he did not expect. For though she is a mighty warrior in her own right, both a gifted fighter and a stalwart monster hunter, she is still so much younger than he.

What did it used to feel like? Losing a friend? How did such effect him when his soul was new and unscarred.

"The Ryouhara. They were a clan of great cleverness and skill." The big man rumbles these words gently, the glacial blue of his good eye softening along with his tone. "A great catastrophe struck them some months ago. Their village was destroyed." Slipping his hands from behind his back, the towering shinobi steps forward and reaches out. perhaps crossing the line for what two newly met people might consider appropriate, he attempts to rest one large hand on her right shoulder, peering somberly down at her.

"I know of no survivors, but you should not abandon all hope. If such a thing were to happen to my people, we would vanish as well. it would be unsafe to contact those we thought to be friends, for our attackers would be watching. Do not let hope die in your heart."

Sometimes, hard truths do not need to be said. Hope can be allowed to grow, and give comfort to the young.

It is the kindest thing he can do for her.

Removing his hand from Ayame's person, the big ninja steps quietly past her and begins to move steadily along the stone pathway toward the exit. His steps are soundless, posture closed off as he gives the girl behind him time alone to think.

He would find his face being searched as her request is posed - the shrine maiden is gifted in reading tells, finding patterns in the unconscious facial ticks of others... almost as good at detecting them as veteran ninjas would be at hiding them. He speaks of the massacre and destruction of the shadow clan's home - an event she had discovered in her own search for the living enigma that is Seishirou Ryouhara. The hope, of course, is that he might know something more of it - who was responsible, were there any refuges, any hint of a trail of a living remnant of the decimated clan...

As his heavy hand comes to rest on her shoulder, he would feel the girl tense up - contact, even as supportive as this gesture would be, is not something she is used to. But in spite the reaction, she does not rebuff the motion, instead turning her face to the opposite side to glare toward the ground, eyes unfocused, as she absorbs the rest of his words. "Mn." she grunts, softly acknowledging the sentiments, clearly processing them alongside countless other thoughts that must be swirling about her mind concerning her search for this one individual.

Her mouth curves down into a frown as he pulls his hand away, Ayame still avoiding eye contact for the instant, "Thank you," she mumbles, the phrase forced through her lips as if an expression she was not used to uttering regularly. "If you learn of anything new..." she states, glancing up, meeting his eye, leaving the rest of the implied request unspoken. It is no small thing to ask one of the shadow clans to share secrets with an outsider, but what better sources could she hope to find?

With stealth that can only be the byproduct of incredible training and discipline, the hulking ninja moves past the resident miko. Ayame doesn't turn to follow him, her back to the gate, hands still folded over each other as she bows her head in thought. "May your efforts be met with success." she bids him farewell.

It is some time before she moves again, taking her staff and returning to the knoll where he had found her, the instrument right on the ground where she had left it. Once more, her fingers take to studying the sounds produced by instrument, closing her eyes to take in the different tones, octaves, and chords she can produce. A moment of contemplative quiet between the many mounting concerns on her mind. It won't be long before her work must begin anew.

Log created on 02:26:27 06/16/2016 by Ayame, and last modified on 15:00:08 06/17/2016.