Description: The Akatsuki advisor, attending a sad display of martial arts prowess inside a dojo outside of Nagano, discovers an intruder that she happens to know very well. Seishirou Ryouhara, whether he knows it or not, shares some of the dark reminders of his past with the enigmatic Miko Kobayashi.
The students of Gedo High have accepted the de facto rule of Daigo Kazama with unerring loyalty. The Akatsuki-gumi emerged from the eviscerated carcass of the Yamaguchi-gumi as a fully-formed beast, its multitude of chimaeric jaws snapping in different directions even as the four feet begin to move in the same path. And a number of key individuals seem content to follow the seemingly capricious whims of the Empress, deluded into thinking they are serving the best interests of the public.
The puppets are unknowingly marching to the beat of a singular drummer.
The Empress may be unable to produce music on her own, but she has absolute and unerring mastery of rhythm. Three spheres of jade spin about in the palm of her hands without hesitation, moving about within her palms as if they were firmly fixed onto a ring of ball bearings. The slightest miscalculation could send the spheres crashing to the wood-hewn floor beneath her boots, the delicate stone shattered into a discordant array of irrecoverable fragments. But she's not concerned in the slightest; her eyes are cast down to the first floor of the Koku An Dojo, where six promising Akatsuki grunts are currently engaged in an all-out free-for-all. Clear pouches of blood have been secured to the insides of their jackets, and dulled knives have been provided to each man. It's all a staged effort, intended to illustrate the lethality of their techniques; once a blood bag bursts, the men pantomime their injury to show it to the Akatsuki executives gathered around the Empress on the second floor.
"No wonder you sad sacks are getting facefucked out there. You can't even -train- seriously."
Clad in a black jacket, over white silken blouse and skirt, the Empress looks down upon the men with a disdainful expression. The man beside her snarls, his dagger-sharp teeth bared with similar distaste for the proceedings. "This practice is a sham!" he calls out, bringing a halt to the mockery of training. "You dull the blades because you do not trust your brothers! You dishonor yourselves, and in this dishonor, you leave yourself defenseless against one with a true killer's intent!"
Around her, the local contingent of Akatsuki looks aghast: surely these two from the Tohoku region can't be -serious-?!
The Empress frowns, the chrome spheres gliding around one another with a minimum of noise. She snarls, "One hour. These men will come back in one hour, ready to fight to the death. You boys are gonna start getting mileage out of your medical coverage."
She turns abruptly from the group, and begins walking down the hallway. "Jaws" Fujiwara, her confidante, looks back at the local contingent. And... is summarily bombarded with questions. He'll follow the Empress later.
Boot heels click against the wooden floor as the Empress walks to a more secluded part of the dojo -- an office, set aside for private communications. Its window has been left open to the night breeze, the full moon flooding into the otherwise darkened room. Before she's even entered the room, she's withdrawn a cellphone from the jacket pocket, the thumbs of her left hand deftly starting to jab in a number, even as her right continues twirling the jade spheres about in their perfectly rhythmic orbit.
She does not get to complete the call, though. Her eyes narrow as she turns the corner to the room.
Something, she feels, is awry.
It's balmy in the room. Warmer than it should be. That was always the way about him. The battery seals containing his jutsu were capable of increasing the ambient temperature by a great degree, forcing others around him to dehydrate and hallucinate with increased exposure. It is only by the limitations of his own will that the battery is not choking the room off with blazing heat.
He is still enough that he might be mistaken as a furniture addition to the room at first glance. And why not? The dark shinobi shozoku and lotus-white haori draping over him fills more space than his body, comparitively slim frame coming just shy of swimming in the voluminous crush of silk and drill. He is shock still, looking away from the door and deeply into a wall hanging near him. Or so it seems--the directionlessness of his gaze means he could just as easily be studying empty air than any particular detail of the room.
The leaf in wind symbol of the haori faces the Empress as she enters. Proud is the line of the Ryouhara, and the song of their doom has not yet been written. Despite all of the trappings of the shinobi surrounding him--he is quite armed-- he seems to have come almost straight from a battle. A white bandage encircles his head haphazardly, tied off at the side and leaving his dark hair spilling out around, over and through it. The pristine white of his haori is covered in old blood. And on the desk, the protective ninkou that has identified him to so many shinobi in the area as 'the vengeful ghost of the Ryouhara' sits, clamped with a pair of paper seals. A set of transcription senbon have been sunk into the upper surface of the helmet like nails, twin rows surrounding a broad crack running the length of the helmet. The senbon smoulder noticeably, as lengths of sealwork extend across the helmet's surface. While it would be easy to imagine that the crack has simply been set and is in the process of being repaired, there's too much energy clearly at work, especially from the battery seal at the crossing point of the paper seals binding the helmet together.
It looks like a bomb is being crafted on the Empress' desk.
".....unseen hands of history," he repeats, softly, absently.
Lucidity is something that comes slow to him, but he looks up in the space of a contemplative blink, though not precisely drawing his attention to the door. He doesn't really need to look in the Empress' direction to know who has arrived. Instead, only one thing is on his mind. "The conspirators have shown themselves. They are at the gate."
The warmth was the first sign. The leaf, the second. It takes little time for the psion to positively identify the personage with the banner of the Ryouhara -- his soul is unmistakable, the signs too obviously clear. She is not easily misled when it comes to judging one's identity.
Lucidity may be fleeting to the wounded spectre, but not to the woman entering the room. An eyebrow arches as she takes in the details. The shock, the detachment, the repetition -- and of course, the creation of a device. The artifices of the self-proclaimed Hand of History certainly do not escape the puppetmaster's notice.
"Ryouhara-san," she states, her voice calm and soothing -- a stark contrast to the harsh judgment of mere moments earlier. The spheres continue to spin about in the palm of her hand, their orbit unperturbed by the abrupt and jarring change in atmosphere. The phone slips back into her pocket, as the clasp at the top of her jacket is unfastened, allowing the two leaves to separate. The jacket hangs loose, the implied formality of her attire diminished.
After all, this is a conversation between peers.
"Conspirators, you say..." The Ainu woman laughs softly at this. "Then you are saying that you have identified a threat amongst my allies? A wily wolf hiding amongst the lambs with no connection to the aggressions upon the Ryouhara clan?"
Simple confidence lies beneath her expressions. Surely Seishirou does not plan to exterminate her very own allies. Surely history will show the two in this room to be on the side of History.
The ghost's arms are crossed, silk folded against silk and draping against his clothes. His wrists are visible, along with the seals that would otherwise power the penetrative jutsu he would use against hardened enemies. His dark, harsh eyes don't stray, betraying a preternatural focus on something that is simply not in the room at all.
The dangerous techniques at show on Kobayashi's desk are sussed out expertly. After all, just because most of Ryouhara's preparations have been known to explode dangerously--a revelation that has been the end to the fighting careers of many shinobi and aberrants in the past few months--does not mean they all do. However, there is an undeniable offensive end to the re-sealing of the protective ninkou. It has been damaged, and is being repaired, but that much alone is not enough. He's doing something else to it entirely.
His eyes lid as the soft, familiar voice of the Empress reaches him. A slow breath released is the only outward sign that the shinobi's debatable composure and sanity is moored to home harbor securely for the moment, though the errant stray of his attention is much like those boat lashings--fraying hemp. The direction of that attention slips.
"Iya," he objects, misreading the Empress' intentions with her words. "The clan are revolutionaries, just as yourself. Why wouldn't they be? Who wouldn't be? Any threat that would befall you are your certainly befell the clan first, and threats to the clan are threats to you, there is no reason for it to be any different at all. No, I would not falsely accuse our allies without reason. Yes, exactly. I've located a threat... a conspirator ... he's almost dealt with ..."
No, it's not quite that. He's not necessarily misreading the inflections in her tone. He's just responding to everything he reads--every angle he can consider is breaking apart into seperate iterations of the same conversation. Hyperanalysis ensues of every possible threat around him, and though he seems perfectly at rest, perfectly at calm, he is also completely vigilant.
"The revolution will never end," he repeats, growing more agitated the longer he thinks about it.
"They cannot hide from me. The Miyama shinobi clan must have conspired with an unknown to-- AN UNKNOWN," he feels it necessary to repeat, "--break apart the Ryouhara, and now they plan to rise against the revolutionaries. This is not something I will abide. The Meian Jinja, that's what he said, he had no other choice. Obviously a trap. The name I cannot place. Ayame -- I will find her. They have admirable fighting abilities, but they are no match for the depths of Ryouhara Ninkougakujutsu. I will unleash a stormcloud made of an endless conflagration. And then it will be as if even their bones were cast from ash."
His brow furrows, and one hand flexes, dropping to his side.
"But I don't know this name," he repeats, forcing reason to the surface as he unfolds his arms, that free hand braced on his blade. "It means nothing to me," he repeats, trying to focus. "I need you. -- I need your ability. The revolutionaries will be my eyes in this and this alone. Tell me everything you know. Tell me what I need to do next... where can I find her? What are their numbers? The conspiracy is threatening us at all angles."
"But I will crush them, every last one of them."
At times, it can be difficult for the Empress to understand the true meaning of the Ryouhara ghost's speech patterns. He alludes to forces of which she has only a fleeting grasp of -- speaks of histories which are not backed up by any of the records she has perused.
History is written by the victors. But the true hands of history of whom Ryouhara speaks are not the same as the ones writing her books. This should, of course, =change=.
The Empress listens to the apparent stream-of-consciousness justifications offered by the ninkougakusha. The logic shows that he has thought of the manifold issues involved with a conspirator in her faction's midst -- and yet, he shifts topics partway through.
Speaking of the name... Miyama. The Ainu woman's eyes narrow to slits with the memory. The guardians, the watchers -- their actual role in the evolving history of Japan is unclear, but the frequency of their name's occurrence is so small as to suggest irrelevancy. The pitch of Ryouhara's words suggests otherwise.
She appreciates his forthrightness. Speaking one's thoughts as they occur is much more helpful than keeping them buried within. Kobayashi may be able to sense the tides of emotion, but reading the mind of one as intensely focused as the Ryouhara ghost is an order of magnitude more difficult than she's used to.
And then he mentions the Meian Jinja -- the well-defended stomping grounds of one of the fighters in the forefront of her mind lately. The Empress draws in her breath sharply -- not even the puppetmaster can control her emotions at the shock of such a name being dropped so casually.
"I know of it. And yes, it would indeed be a trap. You would be fighting not one Ayame, but an entire family of Ichijo. A time-honored clan, predicated on one supposedly divinely-ordained task."
The Empress closes her eyes, exhaling a witticism with a sigh. "The slaying of ghosts." A simple reference to the modus operandi of the shinobi before her.
The blue-tinted eyes of the Ainu woman open once more. "While it is true that my revolutionaries are stretched far too thin to provide much more than information, I feel it prudent to address your wounds while I speak."
She pulls her jacket off, revealing a silken patch upon her shoulder, a brightly colored flower amidst the vast plain of white silk. A scarlet dahlia dahlia.
Setting the jacket on the hook provided for such a purpose, she states, "If you permit it, I have the ability to salve your wounds. They run deep, and weigh heavily upon your mind. The Hand of the roudoushakaikyuu's will cannot function at peak effectiveness with his body and mind scarred so."
If permitted, she would approach the Ryouhara shinobi to administer her aid. Regardless, she would continue.
"You will need to lure her out of the jinja. Away from its protective wards. Away from her willing co-conspirators. She is bloodthirsty with regards to taking on those called 'darkstalkers' -- certainly, if rumor of a ghost or a creature walking with the feet of man but the claws and mane of a beast were to find its way to her ears, she would be sure to appear."
She breathes, yet again, a heavy sigh. "But the threat she possesses is even more grave, I fear. And the fact that you have linked her to your clan only serves as a portent of even greater doom."
The Empress frowns, lowering her gaze.
"She knows of the course of history. She knows that our victory is inevitable."
"For she has seen it before, in a vision. And that vision has already been altered. Possibly irrevocably."
The broken thoughts of the shinobi litter the office like so many shards of glass.
His emotional state is like the surface of a damascus blade. Tight, focused, sharp, but inwardly very torrential and fluctuating. The shinobi's mood is like that of a searchlight, looking and searching for an idea to latch onto. The name 'Ayame' clearly troubles him, and his reaction is elemental the moment Miko reveals her familiarity.
"I have no way of knowing," the shinobi asserts, turning quickly.
In truth, the only thing that seems to be keeping him calm and from windng himself even tighter is the sound--not necessarily the content--of the Empress' voice. There is a thousand strokes of lethality built up within the shinobi, and though there is no actual focus for the Damascene searchlight, it continues to sweep, metering over Miko's words carefully. She recounts his thinking, and through it, she mentions that there is a whole family, and that they are devoted to killing ghosts. The threat seems to drive him.
"The vengeance of the crows of Shinano will bring cursed weight to every thing with traitor's blood!! There -- there is no limit to this," he reinforces, becoming quicksilver in his aggression. "There is no threat they can utter, no ward they can place, no banner that they can fly that will impede the crush of History.... I will //not// be intimidated by annelid garbage, and justice will be carried out against the asseisha until my dying breath."
"Doom," he echoes her. Darkstalkers. Other targets. She slips off her jacket, and as she starts to approach him--step one--Seishirou starts violently, the click of the sword at his hip audible as he moves to continue the endless war. The only stay is the flash of crimson she shows him. This stays him. The effect is peculiar--distress is caused, but he seems more mystified by the color than anything else. At least, as it pertains to Miko. Worry runs deep in him.
"...no, it wasn't your fault," he concludes, absently.
He becomes pliant to Miko's will.
It's clear that the Ryouhara ghost is undergoing a significant deal of turmoil. The Empress pauses in her approach. The hostility is readily apparent even before her conciliatory, tentative words are offered to sate them. Her gesture is one of neutrality -- a measure of -trust- extended to the shinobi, for the jacket itself bears with it a considerable weight. Armor. Weaponry. Communications devices. These are things she is willfully setting aside in the aim to prove her honesty to the rage-filled beast standing before her.
And yet, the Dahlia is what calms him down. The color red -- one of aggression -- fills the beast with pause, and in an instant: calm.
This betrays every single aspect of color theory logic known to man.
And yet, emotions, not color, are the counterpoint to logic -- emotions are the study of the puppetmaster's ancestry.
Offering a pleased smile, Miko moves closer. She starts to raise her hands, moving them as if to place them upon the ghost -- but then the seals upon him give her pause.
She can see them. And she can feel the heat. But she cannot rationally know that they exist, much less why.
"By way of explanation -- we have clashed, as you remember. My talents may work independently of your own, immune to your protections -- but my hands might not. I will need your trust in me, as I have given my own to you."
She does not place her hands upon the shinobi. But, despite her gestures, physical contact is not actually required.
The words spoken moments before -do- mean something to her. Shinano -- the river. It runs through Nagano. It runs through Niigata, the city which introduced her to the Ghost, and caused her much consternation with a certain Interpol agent. But the crows...
She thinks back to that meeting. There was a -reason- for his reputation as a bringer of madness.
The shinobi is babbling -- far from lucid. And yet this is informative in its own way. The Shinano he speaks of is a force -- possibly a person. A threat, obviously, for him to be so vociferous in his disgust. Were -they- the force he detests most, the instigator of his clan's turmoil? Or did it have to do with the Miyama instead...
These fragmented thoughts are valuable -- she does not dismiss them as the disjointed ravings of lunatics. No, she quietly gathers these thoughts, effectively sweeping them into safe keeping, for later analysis and use.
The one thought that matters sticks out in the psion's mind -- the face of Ayame Ichijo.
It is difficult to work with the mind of another. But now that it is open, like the gates to a bamboo grove, Miko Kobayashi begins to see the logic and order in place.
And as she steps inside, the gardener begins to plant seeds of her own.
- - -
A dense cloud of white swirls over a harbor of some sort. The cloud is not smoke, or fog -- but steam. The heat is unbearable -- hot enough to scald the skin. And the disc-shaped cloud expands rapidly, engulfing the docks entirely, filling the air, choking the senses. And as the steamcloud clears, a shadowy ship has emerged from the nothingness.
A vessel, two hundred fifty feet from bow to stern, forged of steel and artifice. A sharply pointed prow, densely plated sides.
This is no normal ship -- it is a ship of war.
A flagship of fighting people. Upon its bow, an unseen and unknowable person waves her arm to the viewe-
- - -
The fleeting vision is gone, disappearing as fast as it came.
"My apologies, dear Ryouhara-san. It may be difficult to comprehend, but... this vision was shared with me by your own memory. Sealed away within you... somehow. A vision of a future which... may have come to pass. Or perhaps it did not, I am not certain. But what -is- certain is that things have changed."
Miko draws in her breath, closing her eyes. "This may make little sense at all, in fact. But I have come to learn that there =was= another time. Another place. Where this vision was true. And it was in this time that you came to know--"
- - -
This vision is different -- the entire =spectrum= of color is different than before. Whereas the last vision was dim and dark, this one is bright, filled with sunlight. Two wildly differing energies collide for a moment; at their nexus is a young woman with strawberry blonde hair. And, more importantly, an ornate staff. A barrier has been created, and an orb of powerful, intense heat is blasted backwards. Through it all, the mocking voice of Ayame Ichijo can be heard -- even as the energy carries the speaker back away from the listener. Or, more accurately, vice versa. The words are indistinct. But the attitude -- the =smugness= of it all -- are communicated clearly enough...
- - -
"-- Ayame Ichijo. Vying neck and neck with you for control." Miko Kobayashi shakes her head, looking downward. "I met her once, long ago at the Meian Jinja. Not long after our last meeting, as a matter of fact. I was attempting to elicit help for your malady." She breathes out a measured sigh. "She spoke constantly of me as if she knew me already. Mocking me. And yet, I had given her no cause for her ire."
Miko draws in her breath. "It made little sense to me at the time. But I have spoken with others. Others who, likewise, =know= of another realm. People in this other realm almost unconditionally act =identically= to their other selves. A man with a garish red hat and a gleaming smile. A young woman with violet hair who both fights and sings with the passion of her mind. And you. And me. Above all else, everyone in this other time and place appears to be the same..."
The Ainu woman's tone shifts from a hopeful, prophetic tone, to one considerably more grave.
"Ayame Ichijo is the only person who is considerably =different.="
The shinobi bristles with weaponry. Swords and knives and armor and bombs and weapons not yet readily identifiable by conventional martial science lay disguised as elements in the young man's clothing. And though he shows no outward compulsion to strip off unneeded layers as the Empress might, it's debatable that he could--it could take him hours to disarm.
And certainly, it would not have escaped the shinobi's notice that the Empress is not disarmed.
Seishirou Ryouhara is not a young man given to senseless violence, however. Everything is calculated, everything within a reason, even if that reason is opaque to most. Reason has not yet materialized as to why the aimless aggression of the last of the Ryouhara should focus itself on the Empress. No matter how alarmed the shinobi may be, there is still a gulf of reason to avoid harming the only ally he has left on this world.
And whatever impulse he might feel to the contrary is placated by the red rose she wears.
Though outwardly he calms at Miko's reasoned explanation, his eyes focus sharply on the red flower as he settles against the wall, leaning against it as he slides to the floor, the silk of his haori forming elegant, if bloodstained folds in his shadow. Every so often, the storm of conflicting and chaotic impressions that is his mind rains in a singular impression, and that focus gives way to something readable. The dahlia leaves something distinct in his mental state; abandonment, guilt, longing. Something unfinished, something shorn short.
The theatre of mental impressions pin down his psyche like a butterfly's wings. These images -- they are familiar to him. Specifically so. No, not exactly. The angles are all wrong. But he knows enough to know that those images must be his own. No other impression he's felt here has felt quite as correct. Except ....
"Ayame Ichijo--" he breathes, chest hitching with the motion.
Another world? -- !!
A set of gold irises flash in the night.
= I am Seishirou Ryouhara. I am the last light of the Ryouhara shinobi clan, and the strongest practitioner of the familial style, 'ninkougakujutsu.' With my ability, I represent the cold and the destitute, those left behind by this world of tyranny, those known as 'roudoushakaikyuu.' I and mine are the unseen hands of history. There is no limit to this. The shadow war will go on forever, and there is still work to do. =
The mnemonic is powerful. All consuming. The very definition of a persona-shaping ideal. The words that he has a habit of repeating are not merely an anchor for the troubled soul. They are a directive from another place entirely, spoken directly to the broken young man sitting at the Empress' feet, and gave him the idea. An idea that shattered any conception that he could be anything else.
The priestess' crimes and opposition to him reflect in his mind. She is the conspirator. Long ago, she stood in the same 'space' as him. No, with these memories, it's clear. She stood against him. And now she has changed, just as he has stayed the same. She is not the same, does not share the same ideology. She is not a revolutionary. Miyama was just a foot soldier. Miko is right. There is no doubt. How can he not trust that woman with the dark hair? She bled for the clan. No matter what else she might have done, that much is true.
Ryouhara moves in eyeblinks. If the Ainu is not fast enough, he will snap hands onto her wrists, and force her to put her hands underneath his haori, against the knit of his shozoku, just underneath the iron collar he wears. She will feel the heat, and his wide eyes. "Ichijo--is unfamiliar," he repeats, reasserting the truth. "She is an aberration. Impure. If you know this ... then show me."
The fact that both Ryouhara and Kobayashi are wearing white garments stained with blood-red accents is a complete and utter coincidence. The silken garment of the self-styled Empress representing Hokkaido's interests is not as flowing and voluminous as that of the shinobi propping himself against the wall, but it does appear to be similarly ambivalent towards the pull of gravity -- a force obeysed only in the absence of any more insistent directives. Having shed the jade spheres along with her jacket, the silk of her sleeves is free to flutter about in the heatwaves rising from the ninkougakusha as Miko extends her fingertips out towards him. She would have squared her feet and shoulders with the young shinobi, if not for his surprising fascination with the sanguinary flower. She knows not why he's fascinated with it so, but it would be a mistake for the puppetmaster to remove the focal point from his field of vision; instead, she simply angles her left side toward him, splaying her fingertips out towards him.
A distinct tingling sensation can likely be felt within the wounds criss-crossing their way across Seishirou's form. It is a decidedly subtle change: the healing powers of Kobayashi are still being refined and practiced. But, concerned for her own health as it relates to shinobi engineer's arsenal of weaponry, she dares not reach forward to -touch- Seishirou. Not yet.
She does, however, lower herself to the floor, keeping her weight upon the balls of her feet. A placid, reassuring smile seems perfectly at home upon the shaman's features.
Ayame Ichijo. The simple word triggers a familiar memory in the shinobi's psyche -- familiar to the Empress.
In regards to the language of psychic awareness, the Ghost's mental state is practically a dialect unto itself -- and the Ainu woman is a quick study.
Ichijo is unfamiliar. Ichijo is an aberration. An impurity upon the crystal clarity that the Hand of History wish to impose upon the world. Indeed, if the Empress understood the eidetic visions of her source fully, the Hand of History may have alread indeed -imposed- said clarity upon another world.
Miko Kobayashi is... remarkably compelling. It's less because of what she =says=, or what she =does=, but rather in how she finds meaning deep within the cues given to her, indicative of the arts passed down from her ancestors.
Miko Kobayashi is not directing, she is not repairing. She is simply showing the way to Seishirou Ryouhara, lighting his own path.
So riveted is Kobayashi within her trance that she does not even realize the ninkougakusha has made a motion, until it is already done. Her eyes snap wide open -- and the very room shifts, as if the engineer's corneas had been subjected to a sudden rise in pressure. Her lips bare, showing her teeth to be tightly pressed together in focus. Her bared wrists are soaked with perspiration beneath the grip of the ninkougakusha.
And then she is pulled by Seishirou's grip fully forward.
The wall behind the Ryouhara ninja gives way, as much resistance as a singular sheet of paper, without even a sound. The pair falls backwards through the new opening in the wall, the moonlight and the stars streaking into horizontal lines as the woman's hands are placed onto the folds of the shozoku, her clammy hands soaking into the fabric as the dark night sky of Nagano smears away, blues and dense purples of reflected city light yielding to browns and greens...
And just like that, the pair is standing once again, hearty and hale, in the midst of a bamboo grove. It could be Nagano -- it could be any Asian forest. Perhaps Vietnam... perhaps the wilds of the Minshan, for all one knows. The moonlight casts sharp shadows upon the floor of the grove, filtered by the towering bamboo spires. A flock of birds scatters with a sudden cacophony of wingbeats. A red panda can be seen off to one side, chewing carefully upon its midnight meal as it stares up at the new arrivals.
The Empress's regal alabaster hands press firmly against his chest as she leans against him for support.
He was the one who pulled the pair here, after all.
The Empress closes her eyes momentarily, exhaling a breath of mild exasperation. Steadying herself. The transition was jarring, even to her.
The Empress opens her eyes, calm once again.
He had asked a question.
The Empress turns to look beyond Seishirou's left shoulder, and nods her head. She then turns to look beyond his right shoulder, nodding as well.
The bamboo spires shudder, as battle explodes on both sides of Seishirou and the Empress. The shinobi will find it exceedingly difficult to take appropriate actions -- as Miko Kobayashi now has asserted complete authority over the man's shozoku, gripping it firmly with both hands.
The preventative seals will do him no good here, nor will the weapons.
On Ryouhara's left, the sounds of a man fighting a young woman can be heard. As he comes into view, it becomes clear that the man has blonde hair, but his face is indistinct. His motions are solid, powerful -- those of a pugilist. But, under further inspection, his entire -body- will become indistinct and non-corporeal -- a blur of motion, smeared out of existence by the motions of his aggressor, a barefooted young woman with strawberry blonde hair.
"On your left, Ayame of the shared vision."
On Ryouhara's right, a similar battle unfolds. The defender is a woman, her poise decidedly different than the other fighter, despite sharing the same indistinct qualities. Confident in motion, and yet decidedly more evasive, as she resembles a witch of the Western sort. Her aggressor is shouting -- "--is will be over in an instant!"
It is, quite bluntly, the same person. The poise the same, and while the weapon is similar, the intensity is similar. The staff is whipped upwards in a one-handed sweep, but just as soon as it connects with the ethereal, vaguely-defined witch, the strike is abandoned in favor of a back-handed strike to the temple, powerful enough to crack stone.
"And on your right, Ayame Ichijo as she exists in this world. A shrine maiden of the Meian Jinja." The Empress inclines her head to the indicated figure. "She lives in comfort, content to continue the legacy of her mother and father. She hunts helpless prey -- aberrants with little means to defend themselves -- for the sheer thrill. Fights for pleasure, for the shallow goal of 'bettering herself', absent of any real pressing need. And when all is said and done, she returns, exhausted and flush with victory, to the creature comforts of a roof over her head and a doting retinue of servants."
The Ainu representative draws in her breath, angling her gaze once again to the figures on Seishirou's left. "Compare. Contrast. The clothing is not pure, not tended. 'Eccentric,' revealing a hard life on the streets. Her style is born of desperation, of fighting for tooth and limb against an unfair world. For the thrill, perhaps -- but out of necessity."
Miko Kobayashi turns her intense blue eyes back upon the Ryouhara Ghost. She remains silent for a moment -- it is a lot to take in.
"This is the conflict, is it not? The extremes of opulent comfort, pitted against bleak squalor and despair. Must the contrast be so severe...?"
And then, the world spins away.
If there is anything that remains of the shinobi that Seishirou was to share with the shinobi that Seishirou is, it's fearlessness. The alarm, the fact that every instinct of his is telling him to whirl, to rise and that yet nothing is happening, this doesn't concern him. He approaches it as if it were another thing to be built around, another problem to be solved and another thing to be fixed. His coat fills the space between them, his hands holding onto Miko's, as slick they are with perspiration, and honestly... it simply never occurs to him that he can let go.
"You're warm," is all he comes up with, as they careen through a color-run sky into a terminal fall across Nagano that seems like it could be anything but. His voice is younger than it has been, and mild concern colors it, the same way a boy might worry over a longtime friend's potential illness.
Before they can die, Seishirou finds himself standing in a grove, shoots of dense bamboo extending high into the canopy, though the only indicator that they are not somewhere real is the absence of the knobby undergrowth patterns that bamboo typically grows in. The notion is turned in his head only momentarily, before it is simply .. forgotten. Though her hands are buried in the folds of his shozoku, one hand falls away, as he looks in a direction, curiously. He seems not even to notice the support he provides for the Ainu, details set aside for interest of other details. Where is... ?
The sounds of battle jar the young man, keep him from second guessing overlong. His reaction is quick and instinctive. Instead of drawing a sword, his remaining hand lifts from Miko's wrist, quickly travelling her arm. She would have to move quickly to break his ferret-quick hands, before he gets purchase on her shoulder, and physically steps into her, a great swing of silk cutting between her and the sounds of battle. The gesture is vestigial at best. As long as she holds onto him, his defenses are irrelevant. But as irrelevant as they are, his first instinct is still to keep watch.
And holding onto him is so like holding onto a flame.
Her words ring closely enough to the young boy that he imagines he might be able to feel the heat of her breath on his skin. But he listens, continuing to warily consider the battles on either side of him. Likely, if Miko stepped away, Ryouhara wouldn't think to stop her as long as he feels the way he currently does, his free hand still limp at his side. Inside his own mind, he seems more overtly curious about the things around him, less wary and volatile. It is very plain to see that he develops a mind about the twin battles on either side of him, that he feels one way about one thing, and another entirely about the next.
Saa... a forge that isn't hot enough will not produce viable steel.
So thinks the shinobi on the unfairness of the matter. He thinks to move, but then the idea is lost in the grip of his confidante, the idea of action itself becoming boneless and pliant in her hands. Absently, even his purchase on Miko slips, his fingertips waning the length of her upper arm, before he settles for a light grip at the crook of her right arm, as if keeping her close for security.
"Only the asseisha have the luxury of looking out from a tower," Ryouhara agrees. "There has been a change that is unconscionable. With it brings cruelty. Excess. Oppression," the boy reasons, as a lotus petal drifts past him. It is peculiar that it doesn't appear to be an idea intrinsic or relevant to the thoughts that weigh down his mind. It certainly doesn't come from the panda. "She stood in opposition to an ideal in this other realm," he continues. "Between then and now, something has changed. And she has reaped the benefits of it." He pauses, thoughtfully.
"... while the Ryouhara suffered and died in the dark," he realizes.
There is a definite change to the 'pressure' and heat around him as he begins to think. You can feel mental connections being made, as something very cold, imperious and judgmental fixes the shinobi in place. His grip on Miko will, unanswered, grow tighter. And there is something else entirely as well.
Though it is something that cannot be seen by looking, the white lotus petals are starting to build up in the periphery of every stray glance. There is no actual error in the memories Kobayashi is leading him to see, but something else is happening entirely. With each slow look to each side, the petals recede, as if carried by a wind, but only just out of sight. The number of petals grow with the breeze. The young man pays it no mind, as if it were something he were simply accustomed to seeing. Even now, he looks up into the sky, his eyes hard and resolute.
But this is what he sees: There isn't a sky. At least, not the way one is typically accustomed to seeing it. The canopy of bamboo and the air beyond have been broken up into pieces. The effect comes on quickly, and seems to get worse the longer Ryouhara focuses on it and Kobayashi doesn't. Like a sliding tile puzzle, each part of the sky slides aside to make room for another, and another, scrambling the sky to the point of only vague recognition.
The world is nonsensical. But it makes sense to him.
"Without exception, such cruel towers must be burned..."
In the past, the Empress has been often been described as "cold." Brutal and savage, she cuts straight to the heart of the matter in tearing down those she feels are beneath her. But now, with her hands gripping the shozoku of the fiery inferno known as Seishirou Ryouhara, she may very well be the complete antithesis of cold. Her face is beginning to turn red, her forehead already dripping with perspiration with each passing moment. She could relinquish her hold on the shinobi engineer to wipe her brow, but she opts against it. Once the ninkougakusha shifts his grip to the crook of her arm, the silk sleeve of her blouse wicks instantly at the engineer's touch, as consternation remains fixed across the features of the Ainu emissary.
She could use an ice-cold drink. But there will be time for that later.
To Ryouhara's right, the two fighters continue their exchange of blows. Both the miko and the witchlike figure gain definition from Seishirou's increased attention: the witch wears a camisole-like strapless dress with full length gloves, sheer leggings and flat-soled shoes. Peculiar bands are strapped to her forehead, wrists, and ankles; identical devices are attached to the shrine maiden identified as Ayame Ichijo. The witch looses a knife, which subsequently disappears within the depths of a colored disc. An instant later, the blade emerges from another seal in an odd orientation. The blade disappears and reappears several times, while the miko twists her staff about in a vain attempt to ward off the confusing blade, but in the end her defense is for naught: the blade plunges into her back. The shrine maiden sucks in her breath as she begins charging into battle, heedless of the wound. She wields the staff, communicating her intent to trip her opponent, but the ninkougakusha would be able to realize that the danger inherent, not in the staff, but in the paper talismans wielded by the miko. The energy flares within the strips of paper, but the energy is counteracted and redirected by an energy barrier wielded by her opponent, which channels the energy right back into Ichijo.
"Many things differ..." narrates the Empress as her blue eyes begin to take on an iridescent brightness. "But... /determination/ is a shared trait between the two. When plunged into the heart of battle, both versions of Ayame remain steadfast, resolute."
The fractal pattern which allowed the key details of this landscape to exist in the first plays allows for infinite resolution, if one were to focus upon it -- the mechanical gears ticking in the heavens are a mere sign that the realm is not a mere analog to the physical world, but something more. In the scene on Ryouhara's left, the technology of the staff has become readily apparent, perhaps even familiar, with its renewed clarity. The armed-to-the-teeth Ayame continues pressing on against her blonde-haired opponent, deflecting the pugilist's blows with her staff and then driving in for a vicious counterattack -- only narrowly avoided.
"The only difference is motive," continues a red-faced Miko Kobayashi, "The determination only appears to be present in fits and bursts. Her fire still burns with a great passion, but her -motives- remain unclear, unparsable. For the cruel towers to burn, we must be certain that she will not be the defender who will quench the flames."
Kobayashi cautiously pivots herself and the genius engineer to her left; as she moves, the vision of the Ayame with the mechanical staff and her boxer opponent disappears. In their place emerges a second copy of the shrine maiden Ayame, fighting a purple-haired executive garbed in a black tuxedo. Ichijo's sleeves are tattered, but her expression is most firm indeed as she perseveres against the executive.
"She has two lifetimes of knowledge, Ryouhara-san. I feel you do as well, locked within the rifts in your soul that I can see as plainly as day. To have power, to have knowledge, and to be unable to use either -- is wasteful. Reprehensible. And I firmly believe that Miss Ayame Ichijo feels so as well -- I am absolutely certain she is putting said knowledge to good use. After all, can someone with such knowledge -truly- remain idle and content to bide her time with simple contests of strength against competent martial artists?"
The new Ayame Ichijo is outmatched, outclassed. Her moves are fast, but the ninkougakusha's eyesight would be keen enough to realize that her opponent is much faster. Much stronger. And much -better-.
His speed and strength allow him to ward off a crushing kick to the temple. But they do not stop the followup swing from Ichijo's staff from colliding with his skull, forcing him to stagger backwards.
Kobayashi answers her own question. "The asseisha have the luxury of waiting. There is hope, albeit slim, that she is fighting these challenging opponents to better herself, to prepare herself for the oncoming fires." She draws in her breath, tilting her head to watch the next moment -- in which a flurry of kicks crashes against the miko with such a rhythmic fury to leave her guard completely inadequate. Her own staff proves to be her undoing for the final succession of blows, as it inadvertently collides with one of the many trees in the bamboo grove, leaving her defenseless against the executive's fury. As she falls to one knee, the staff is broken in twain by the crushing kick of the executive. And the overconfident aggressor halts his attack, and utterances are heard, though distant and indistinct, as if delivered through a thick muffling blanket.
"We need to know more. There are too many variables, too many uncertainties. =I= need to speak with her, in a manner in which she will be clear and straightforward."
Kobayashi frowns somewhat, at this. "Unfortunately, this is not her way."
She continues, her expression guarded. "But there -is- a way to bring out the truth -- and that is by pushing one to their utmost limits. To pressure them to the point of desperation. The true test of character, as you know, is how someone acts when they feel they are not..." Kobayashi offers a brief smile. "... being judged by the masses."
As the aggressor backs up, giving Ayame some space, so too does Kobayashi relax her grip upon Ryouhara, applying only token pressure to his shozoku, a slight discouragement to leave her alone amidst the warriors on either side of them. "Ayame Ichijo is a seeker of mysteries. And a hunter of the transformed creatures known as 'darkstalkers,' enjoying the thrill of the hunt. So I implore you to present her a grand hunt, to lure her away from the ivory tower of her sanctum into the wilds. She must sincerely feel as if she is in control, that -she- is setting the pace, lest she turn away in disgust at a thinly-armored contrivance. Her pursuit shall lead her into Nishizawa Canyon, in Chichibu Tama Kai park. There... far from her support network, an exhausted Ayame Ichijo may be trapped within one of the many caves, safe from the prying eyes of the bourgeoisie flying overhead. There, the prey will be revealed to be the hunter. There, she may be bound, to prevent her potent talismans or her mastery from allowing her measures of control. There, she may be blindfolded, to preserve the mystique driving her to seek the truth behind the veil. And there..."
Kobayashi's shoulders shrug, the red flower rolling about gently in the process. A hand is removed. And a sleeve is brushed, finally, against her forehead. "There we will know whether she proves to be an impediment or an asset."
In stark contrast, the shinobi seems not to bear any of the marks at all of heat exhaustion--to the contrary, he has lived inside this 'space' all of his life. He studies the dolls at play around him, blows being traded no less than a few feet away. The look that crosses his face is not exactly bewildered, nor is it curious. It balances a scale between the two, and leaves no room for anything else but a misdirected concern.
These images seem familiar to him, and his fixation on them is enough to distract him that he moves easily--exactly as Miko bids, watching the scenes evolve and unfold before him. "Is this.... now? Are these thoughts mine?" the boy asks, voice whittled to something small and raw. The fights--the details are of no mystery to him, as coefficients flood the back of his thoughts, enough to draw a tear to his eye. Endless analysis of something that is at once familiar and unfamiliar. Even as he tries to seek a meaning to it, even as he tries to listen to the words fought for every sleeping moment, he cannot help but analyze, to quantify. The priestess has limitations within reach, he knows in only a glance. It is not something welcome. It is not something he wants.
Two lifetimes of knowledge? The idea that he might, that anyone could is much like introducing a fish to the sky. It is bewildering. It is stunning. It is... infuriating.
"I don't know her...." Seishirou murmurs, his hand finally and mercifully drifting away from Miko's perspiration-touched sleeve. His entire body shifts, as he focuses on the woman just past Miko--the shrine maiden. And his brow cuts into a deadly furrow, as Kobayashi worries over variables and tests of character and lures.
"This Meian Jinja stood against the Ryouhara clan," Seishirou notes, succinctly.
"The Miyama, the Hayabusa, the Iga, they conspired with the Ichijo. The Ichijo conspired against the Ryouhara. They conspired and they acted. Miyama tells us that the consecrate justice of the crows over Shinano is false. These conspirators lie. We stood watch over a thousand and one, and a thousand and one conspired to kill us. It must necessarily be at the center of it all--Ichijo tyranny, corrupt and ill-bred over the course of lifetimes, irrespective of will. The Miyama are responsible. The Iga are responsible. The Hayabusa are responsible. The Mugen Tenshin are responsible. The Ichijo are responsible. The Miyama are responsible. The Iga are responsible..."
As Ryouhara goes on with the persecutorial diatribe, he ceases to talk to Miko. Instead, he begins to talk to himself, in tones growing increasingly more hostile. And as that continues, the ground begins to quiver beneath the young boy's feet, tremors that grow in intensity with his increased hostility. He raises his hands past the grip Miko exerts on his shozoku, to slip into his hair and grip his temples tightly, as if to keep his line of logic from slipping away inside of his own head.
"This person that I will never know will never exist. This person who you have told to me is nothing to me... she is a conspirator. She cannot be these things, I don't know her and never will know her-- Miyama calls us a rambling shell, but he just watched as our family was hunted down and killed. And Miyama watched as Ichijo betrayed you!! You were innocent, you couldn't have done the things they said you did. But she -- she /betrayed/ you, and then --"
At that point, a piece of the sky slams into the earth, a great square tile reflecting the blue sky as if in a mirror. The less attention one pays to the bizarre puzzlebox making up the sky, the less it looks like an orderly machine of gears and springs and more like a broken mess. Consequent with his agitation, the lotus petals begin to become more easily seen at the edges of the vision, with a stray breeze starting to carry them even between the battles taking place on either side of the two, or at least the one that Miko isn't directly paying attention to.
"She hunts ghosts, but the will of history will flatten every tower the asseisha build, break every chain and scatter every dynasty--I will cut down the Ichijo clan and draw miles of their blood with an endless sword, justice /will/ be had, there is no end to this and those who are left behind in this world of tyranny will be avenged by the light of the pale moon of History in whose shadow all shinobi hide behind. I will throw the Miyama from their trees, I will spear the gods of Hayabusa and leave them piked from the tallest mountain, I will seal the dynasty of Iga forever behind doors made of nothing finer than pine wood and I will hang the blasphemous Mugen Tenshin naked from their ankles over pits of consecrated oil to have their sins weighed by Keneo and Datsue-baa, that is all that I will do to avenge the innocent roudoushakaikyuu---there is no limit to this, the shadow war will go on forever.."
"I am /not afraid of tyrants./"
Abruptly, as if completely unaware of Kobayashi's fervent grip on his shozoku, the Ryouhara boy will turn on a heel, moving towards the image of Ayame in the priestess' garb. With lotus petals spinning around his feet with every step, his hand reaches back, feeling for his sword.
If left to his own devices, if Miko even lets go for even a second, Seishirou is going to resolve the matter by cutting his own mind in half.
Miko's expression grows neutral at the timidly-asked question. The voice sounds so tiny and inconsequential -- less the voice of a confident ninkougakusha and more the voice of a curious child. "You told me Ichijo is unfamiliar. And you wanted to be shown," she explains with a calm and rational voice. She can tell that the young man is scanning, analyzing -- attempting to impose his orderly framework onto the conflicting visions dancing before his eyes.
Kobayashi remains resolute and calm, even as her grip on the shotoku begins to slacken.
Then, as the young man grows increasingly hostile, clutching at the roots of his hair, Kobayashi's lips press into a firmer line. The Miyama -- she knows of them through context. The Hayabusa and the Iga, though... How are they related? The Mugen Tenshin...?!
The blood. The battle. Something, =something= happened. It was a question she'd meant to ask, but left on the table alongside the ninkou construct. There was a reason for his earlier madness, and it may be related to the current malady -- or it may not.
The ninkougakusha's influence over the bamboo grove begins to grow, exponentially. The bamboo trees begin to flutter, their bark beginning to take on the hue of steel, the strict vertical patterns bifurcating and shifting laterally, sliding about. The base template of the individual trees remains the same, but the trees appear to have been shifted into twisted, macabre versions of itself, carved not of organic compounds, but of silica and steel, their complexity indicative of the analytical mind of the engineer. Lotus petals swirl about in the periphery, in complete defiance of the change.
One silicon tree splinters. The bark unrolls, spilling out a mass of circuitry and exposed wire.
Kobayashi arches an eyebrow. Kobayashi remains resolute.
Ryouhara has ultimately decided in his madness that the Ayame of his memories is an entirely different person from that represented by either of the visions standing nearby. This is not an unwelcome development, to the opportunistic puppetmaster. However the madness -- that is not something she can speak to.
Miko Kobayashi knows two methods of calming a person instantly.
Neither method works.
The young man declares that he is not afraid of tyrants. He turns away in frustration, neglecting the one hand upon his shotoku.
The grip strengthens, grows firm.
Another hand darts forward, latching beneath his arm. Likewise, the grip strengthens, grows firm.
The Ayame analogue that he was staring at ceases her combat with the violet-haired executive. She turns to stare at him with cold cynicism -- judgment. The executive, similarly, halts his muffled dialogue, turning to stare at Ryouhara. Behind him, the other Ayame and the other witch are likely staring at him as well, their judging eyes piercing into the back of his shotoku like needles.
And the hands gripping onto him are firm, strong -- and masculine. For when he looked away, the hands became those of the super-ninja Ryu Hayabusa, still fresh in the ninkougakusha's exposed memories.
Spinning -- that's what would come next, of course. But even as the world begins to spin, time dilates -- slows to a crawl, allowing minute details to be discerned. Such as, for example, the fact that the red-faced Miko Kobayashi is once more in Seishirou's field of view -- and folding her arms before her. Her commanding voice is sharp of tone but not excessive in volume. She does not need to raise her voice to make her thoughts known.
"Then go ahead and face her now, if you like. Your body still bears the scars of combat. The bitter sting of defeat. Make no mistake -- if you fight the tyrant now, Keneo and Datsue-baa will certainly have an audience in the near future."
The lotus petals hover weightlessly -- but they have not stopped moving. Not entirely. Time will always move forward.
Kobayashi's voice softens by degrees, as does her expression. Her advice is offered as an amicable alternative.
"Time is of the essence, but charging into battle -now- is foolhardy. Marshal your resources. Let me salve your wounds. And -then- march after them, renewed and full of vigor."
Ryouhara seems largely insensate or unaware of the changes occurring in the world around him, not the heaping twist in the earth beneath that causes her to breathe so hotly and shiver so, nor the mechanical elements subsuming some aspects of the forest around. The lotus petals whirling gently around his feet are only there for so long as he's not focusing on them. The vaguest sensation of flower petals around his ankles is always at the edge of his mind, always just barely there, but he truly pays it no heed.
He has a deeper purpose and a higher goal in mind.
They stare at him, watching in judgment. They will pay for the lapse. However, before he can cut into the images damning his subconscious, he becomes aware of hands on his clothing. This time it is not the slim nimber fingers of his hostess, but the strong, swift hands of Hayabusa, a memory he recognizes in stark clarity from recent experience. The response is violent and immediate, the retort of a coiled viper. In an instant, he produces his blade, flipping it false in his hand and whirling. Even as he is turned, so too does he turn, to run the imagined attacker through at neck level and eliminate the problem once and for all without dedicating more than a fragment of thought to it.
But when he strikes, there is nothing there. Inbetween eyeblinks, his assailant has disappeared. Even his hand, extended out in a perfect sketch of a disabling stroke, is simply empty. A fact that it takes the shinobi a moment to realize, fingers splaying out to feel the empty air.
Breath comes hard to a young man deep in the affairs of vengeance. Seishirou forces his breath to level out, the air hitching deeply in his chest. Slowly, his arms return to his sides, sleeves draping over his hands. Time has been slowed to a standstill, and Kobayashi has cautiously been moved out of blade range. At this point, Ryouhara cannot discern if it was because of something he willed to protect her or because she knew he would react.
His eyes narrow at the edge in her voice.
The ninkougakusha becomes slowly aware of the injury. He took a blow head on from the massive shinobi right through his protective helm, all for the purposes of his strategy, but as a direct result, he almost drowned in his own blood inside the sealed helmet. By the time he had escaped, the split in his temple had caused him to lose enough blood that he almost fell from the sky returning to a safe haven. A tactical misstep. But not one he wouldn't make a thousand times over to prove the point.
"... This world of ours," the young man supposes openly, "is filled with traitors who doubt, even scorn the strength of the idealists. And in such a world, there is no room for weakness." His explanation is delivered incisively, without giving even the slightest of his attention to the judgmental gazes on either side of him, as if even the slightest glance could cause terrible aftereffects.
"But ... you're right," he admits. "I ..miss you."
If he meant to say something else, he's no longer paying attention. His wound across his head has reopened, causing a bloom of crimson in his bandages. He pays it no mind, no mind at all. He is no longer actually looking at Kobayashi, instead focusing on the lotus petals at the edges of his vision, his eyes half lidded. "I need you," he repeats, from a moment ago.
"Even Amaterasu must be taught to fear the causes of men."
Ryu Hayabusa, wielder of the legendary Dragon Sword, was a threat to Seishirou. The Ayames and their opponents were possible threats as well.
And yet, as formidable as they may have been for the ninkougakusha, they vanish -- without a trace.
Kobayashi frowns at this unintended change to the battlefield -- this slight shudder that rumbles throughout the bamboo grove. The lotus leaves begin whispering out of view. The heavenly clockwork elements grow increasingly less distinct. Even the sky mirror begins to dissolve into a blurry cloud, to fade from view entirely. The gradual decay of the illusive realm is noticed, acknowledged in her periphery -- but she dares not break her view away from the ninkougakusha, even as his hand extends out into midair, empty.
There are elements that the Ainu emissary would like to focus upon, such as the way the silicon stalks are showing... rust. Decay. Signs of weakness. The illusive space is damaged, incomplete.
Troubled though she may be, the lion's share of the woman's attention is directed towards the young man's belabored breathing. The wound has reopened. And what's more...
He... misses her?
Miko's reddened brow furrows, as her eyes direct towards the wound. A brief moment passes where the emotions on her face become unclear, indistinct. Her eyes look glassy for a moment, as her mouth goes through the motions of speaking -- but no actual sound is uttered.
A moment later, her focus is sharp once more. She begins walking towards the wounded shinobi. Her hands are raised -- empty, to prove that she has no malicious intent.
He... needs her?
"I'm here." The words fall from her lips, clear as crystal, with no thought placed into them. Confusion flits across her features for a split-second, before she adopts a warm, motherly expression in its place. "I'm right here, just let me take care of you."
She steps forward again. Without warning, a warm washcloth is in her hand, instantly. The wound is dabbed with the wet cloth, its damp warmth a comfort even amidst the blazing heat. "... There is no end to the traitors, it's true. It is their nature to malign, to abuse, to mistreat, to neglect. They are born into this, their perceived birthrights passed down in an unbroken chain."
Miko Kobayashi's warmth pervades all, her words a comforting salve seeping through every pore. Her thoughts harmonize with Seishirou's -- different in ways, but in such a fashion as to complement rather than overpower.
If allowed to, she will attempt to remove the bandages. She will cleanse the wounds, and redress them.
"Fathers pass the lies onto their sons. Inaction is their catalyst -- passiveness their nourishment. The children find the encroaching weeds more attractive than the crops; they prefer to watch their lands be consumed wholesale, rather than muster the effort to control the scourge." Even when her face is hidden from the ninkougakusha, her presence is unmistakably a comfort, her heartbeat a comforting thrum in his periphery.
"Rest assured, though ... there are more warriors than you alone, Ryouhara-san. While you rest, while you recover -- other warriors are continuing the fight in your stead. Other warriors are plunging their knives through the hearts of the false nobility. But for now, I must know..."
Traces of solder leak out from the damaged circuitry of the bamboo groves, falling like sap, but in right angles. Kobayashi draws in her breath, closing her eyes for a moment as she focuses on the task at hand.
"You fought with Hayabusa. You fought with Iga-ryu. With Bushin-ryu. ... On our behalf, or did they bring the fight to you?"
Separated from the potential threats surrounding him, the shinobi takes a single breath, his shoulders rising and falling with the motion. As the sharp-eyed psychic noticed, anything not within his sphere of notice--and everything she does not show him--tends to disappear. With no more shadowy assailants and no more words of either, the young man has no trouble holding the steady gaze of his guide, dark eyes focusing keenly.
Though there is nothing about the shinobi that isn't dangerous, isn't alert, his shoulders slip as Kobayashi approaches. All around them, they are surrounded by the signs of the dream breaking down. Eventually, a lot fades to black, save the broken, rusted trees. Though he pays no attention to them, they continue to spark and creak in the wind. As her heartbeat reaches Ryouhara's senses, he becomes aware of his own heartbeat, a fast thing that syncopates with hers in the close space, growing calmer and fainter as Miko's grows stronger.
For some reason, it's just shy of the only thing he can hear as she gets within reach.
Slowly, the blistering heat in the dream levels off. It's warm--unconscionably so. But as Ryouhara compliantly folds his legs underneath him, sitting in seiza to account for the height differences between them, it is no longer like standing in an active blast furnace. He is calm. His heartbeat level. But his injury is a different matter entirely.
Ryouhara is not overknown to sustain many injuries in a fight--their duel had proven that earlier, but the conflict with the Miyama nin makes it seem like he took an axeblow square to the head, with the split going from his lower temple to almost the center of his forehead. It has been treated well, but some exertion or another has caused it to bleed anew. Though the pain is fresh and bright in his mind, Ryouhara shows little concern, instead listening calmly.
"There are no more crops," he comments, "where I come from."
As he speaks with the emissary, there is no overt evidence that he sees anything at all, but her tone of voice brings a response on the wind, a rough, masculine tone echoing through the forest chillingly. - no matter what the cost, we will protect the clan..from any threat. -
While Miko is close, Ryouhara breathes calmly, anxiety reaching a valley keeping him uncomfortable with the contact, but otherwise nonviolent. His brow furrows, as if trying to remember the details. Though his recall of everything that has happened since "that day" is steel to the point where he could recount the number of ties on the Iga's dress, separating motive and dream from reality...
"In the coming conflict," Seishirou reasons, "there are shinobi who will stand against the idealists. The Hayabusa are one of those. And they are positioned to know the most about the conspiracy...that transcends everything." He squints, his gaze becoming more focused, less concerned with the details in front of him, the cool feeling on his head. There is a tinge of hostility, but he continues speaking. "There are few who would willingly step into the battlegrounds of a ninkougakusha. No, it's only natural that they would need to be eliminated first, captured, interrogated for everything they've been hiding. That can be the only end for shinobi who betray their allies.... traitors and liars.."
All throughout history, musical compositions have held a heartbeat at their very core substrate, as fundamental to music as the canvas is to a painting. The very -soul- of music is conveyed by the simple rhythmic vibration of one driving beat pulsing away at a consistent rate.
When passing down knowledge from one generation to the next, one of the first lessons taught to a neophyte tusukur - a spirit medium - is the method whereby a heartbeat can be shared. Just like with a musical composition, the heartbeat is the conduit to an inclusive experience; without a strong and present heartbeat synchronizing the soul of the tusukur to another, the conversation is not as rich as it could otherwise be.
So it is, then, that the heartbeat grows in presence, if not in literal volume. Miko could sense the rapid vacillation between calm and agitation. Calm she could converse with, reason with. Panic is, by definition, unreasonable and incorrigible.
More importantly, adrenaline is the best friend of panic, and like a bad party guest who refuses to go home, the body cannot be rebuilt or restored as long as it is present.
Adrenaline has been welcome for far too long in the temple of Seishirou's body, and it is with Miko's decisive, yet calming words, that she is able to coax the visitor away.
The response is clearly noticeable -- the exhausted body is already beginning to respond, grateful for the rest and respite provided by the slower, more relaxing beat. The towering heights of the bamboo grove reduce, albeit only slightly -- the lower altitude a reflection of the reduced amplitude of emotional intensity.
As Seishirou seats himself, Miko begins to get to work -- her actions in the real world having a direct correlation with those in the illusory space. The most obvious -- the seeping head wound -- is addressed first with an application of firm pressure. The ever-present heartbeat is reinforced with steady outward breaths at the same calming rhythm.
No more crops. Miko's lips part only far enough to exhale, but her brow knits in consternation. It's a simple admission -- and yet a troubling one.
She gets the response she was looking for. The Ryouhara youth was acting on her earlier suggestion -- to strike at the most threatening of the opposing shinobi before they can mount an adequate defense. An excellent strategem, with nearly fatal results. The fact that he stood alone against Hayabusa... it's almost incomprehensible! And yet... she understands the reality of the situation.
That Seishirou stood against not -just- Hayabusa, but more than he.
"They will all be punished, within our lifetime. The very -nature- of shinobi is to stay concealed. To reveal themselves at the least convenient moment for their opponents, just as you have."
The role of the tusukur is often not limited to acting as merely a spirit medium, or a vehicle of divination, but often a physician as well. Miko may not be as experienced in the Ainu ways of medication, but first aid is second nature. The flow of blood stems. The wounds are unwrapped, dampened with a warm washcloth, and rinsed. Salves and ointments are applied -- a pittance in comparison to the severity of the wound, but a necessary step in the process all the same. And wounds are redressed.
"The goal is to ensure that you strike when least convenient for them, of course -- not for you." Simple reiteration of the concept, a poignant reminder to stay calm.
Miko hesitates. The trees in the illusory space had begun to sag, but with a thought from the tusukur, they begin to stand upright once again.
She cannot find the tree she is looking for. But she is willing to chance a risky approach.
"I am here, Ryouhara-san."
The clear response to 'I miss you.'
The clear response to 'I need you.'
Miko touches Seishirou's hair tenderly. Fingertips press firmly against the scalp -- searching for another wound, ostensibly, but also brushing the tender hair follicles and all the sensations that accompany such.
It is a clear risk, pressing further into the brink. But just as with the heartbeat, she has another method of reinforcing control.
Her lips part once again, this time in a whisper.
"You are Seishirou Ryouhara.
"You are the last light of the Ryouhara shinobi clan, and the strongest practitioner of the familial style, 'ninkougakujutsu.'"
Her eyes part in the illusory space. Scanning the grove, for one tree among all others. One is -bound- to move. One is bound to unfurl its silicon bark, to bare its secrets to the Ainu emissary.
"With your ability, you represent the cold and the destitute. Those left behind by this world of tyranny, those known as the 'roudoushakaikyuu.'
"You and yours are the unseen hands of history.
"There is no limit to this.
"The shadow war will go on forever."
Ryouhara shifts noticeably, as it becomes incrementally harder to keep his gaze fixed in one location. The mention of enemies unmoors him from control, moving him into a state of aggression where in every shadow of every angle a potential opponent awaits. It is only the thin thread of that tusukur heartbeat that keeps him threaded, tethered to place by a vague memory long ago, his quickening heartbeat levelling off as she whispers to him. The idea of an eventual justice, calm and reasoned. The spirit of the shinobi itself...
"I wasn't strong enough," Seishirou responds as she promises a reckoning. The slack in his sleeves cross in front of him, his hands folding in his lap. "My preparations weren't enough to eliminate him... if another dies, then it will be my fault, won't it?" he asks. There is a mildness in his tone. With her so close to him, he can't think of anything to be angry over, nothing to be frustrated by. But there is a sadness to his words, as if it were the only liberty left to him as she redresses his wound. Though fully half of his face has been coated in blood anew, the coppery scent does not reach him, his eyes distant and faraway.
"Though ... ano. I don't know what it's like yet, really, to kill someone. To be responsible for someone dying." The idea seems to bother him more than it should. After all, rumors of shinobi disappearing surround Seishirou, or rather, 'the white ghost of the Ryouhara clan.' Yet, the idea of actually killing someone bothers him, bothers some part of him, far away from the senseless aggression and anger. His voice has never been smaller.
"Does..does it hurt?"
His eyelids finally shut as she comes closer to him. It's easy for him to lose track of what he's saying when she is that close to him, his heart calm. She looks for the extent of his injury--there is none to find, though the edge of the axeblow-like wound does threaten to creep into his hairline. The pain is a dull throb that continues on until it gets hiss jawline, even dressed snugly as it is. Even so, the pain doesn't reach him. The tingling sensation of her practiced hands parsing his scalp for further injury is felt much further than the range of the pain. He breathes in. She is here. The breath is unstable, shaky. His eyes are still closed.
"I'm sorry," he begins quietly. "I ... know I should be better than I am. That I should know everything. But something happened. My dreams have been getting worse, lately. I've been seeing you more and more. We spent so much time together.."
A tree shifts in the mindspace. It does not so much unfurl as it does translocate--first in one location, then it becomes indistinct, as it shifts instaneously to another. As the boy speaks, his words begin to give way to an image, one which the tree grows organically from. The lotus petals surge around it, but they aren't at the edges of the vision this time--they float in the center, because the scene takes place in a field of them, not too far up the side of a mountain on a cloudy day. It isn't blazing hot there, not at that elevation--it's quite cool, as the lotus grows in a lake pooled near the mountain's foothills. And through the slopes and fields, a pair of children play, no older than 12 or 13. Though one is clearly Seishirou, albeit with a little bit longer hair, the other child is indistinct, slightly older, and a girl. She has long black hair, but the way she runs, the Ryouhara kamon is very clear on the back of her jacket. Seishirou is chasing her, but she is faster by just so.
'Hey, wait up!'
"I'm sorry.. when I woke up, you were gone."
Seishirou never catches the girl. The memory fades too fast, the lotus petals slowly becoming unreal and detaching from the scene long enough to completely choke out the image, causing the electronic tree to crack loudly, ominously.
"Maybe it's what has to be," Seishirou reasons, afraid to open his eyes. "because I wasn't strong enough. Maybe you're just gone. ... but sometimes I think I can hear you. Maybe that's all that's left?"
At this point, if all else is quiet, then anyone could hear the song. A light melody, sung in the style of a lullaby. The words are clear and sweet, and sang by a young woman, inimitably familiar to him. The song is an old children's song, calming a mother crow over her seven children on the mountain. It has the feeling of being one of many sang, but for some reason this one sticks in the mind.
That is where it stays, for the moment. Ryouhara neither speaks nor responds for a time, listening to that song in his head. Images flicker, more iterations of that girl, near to him. They are the same, faceless image. But as Miko speaks to him, reminding him of who he is, and who he was, his face twitches. A pained, uncomfortable tic. And as he does so, the back of the trees in the grove begin to burn. Images of fire that ignite a whole city. Subway cars ripped from the street and hung from ninkou wire in the middle of the square. Great machines picking up tanks and throwing them through the air. These memories--memories of jutsu and techniques--they are fuzzy, but appear in greater regularity than any other memory. All in all, arsenals of ninkou capable of taking over cities. Seishirou--older than he is now, and with bright yellow eyes, striding down a hall.
'The revolution will not end. Anyone who enslaves the proleteriat will answer to us. In this world, or the next...!!'
Trees begin to be consumed by fire. Even now, the memory is crushing to Ryouhara, flashes of himself-but-not-himself occurring quickly, and in vague indications. A conflagration that stretches high into the sky. A battle in which something was taken. 'Come at me with everything you have, or disappear reasonlessly into the fire.' A song that winds through the timelines. Though played without words, the tune is similar to the one sang by the young woman.
The last image is of that golden-eyed shinobi staring into the mirror. He repeats the words, at first indistinct and unclear. But as Miko repeats the mantra, the man's words dovetail into it, speaking in perfect sync. And then he links his hands together, forming a sutra while repeating it again. And again. And again...
Stone slabs the height of eight men leap from the earth, slamming skyward in series. They cut off the two violently and abruptly from the silicon forest, from the image of the young girl, and link together end-to-end tightly, the sound of grinding rock filling the air in a cacophony. The wall extends for miles in either direction, making it impossible to tell if there was ever even a forest. Each slab is the same, fitted at the top with rocky, hostile-looking crowns, from which chains and weights hang, the rattling intended to scare off bad spirits. Across the slabs, the words that Miko just spoke are chiseled, verbatim. A thousand times, in a thousand directions, in a thousand ways, on every slab, for as long as the wall reaches. Chains cross over them, and locks tightly bind the slabs together. These slabs--and the words on them--were manmade. They represent an almost impregnable seal.
The only thing to evidence that there was memory of anything at all is that song, haunting, carrying over the thousand mile wall, faint, but filling the sky with soothing warmth.
Karasu naze nakuno?
Karasu wa yama ni,
Ko ga aru kara yo..
Mentioning the shadow war was supposed to be a touchstone to control the shinobi, but the tusukur remains unshaken despite the change in his response. Seishirou may lose control, but she cannot -- she must be the stone around which the river calmly flows.
If another dies, will it be his fault? Miko Kobayashi does not answer him -- that he already placed the blame on his own shoulders speaks volume to the depths of his character. By his own definition, Miyama is guilty -- contesting the guilt he feels for the -same- inaction would throw the constructed conceit into imbalance. It is not worth the risk.
Miko dabs the blood off the shinobi's face with one hand, streaming her fingers through his hair with the other. She opts to listen, for the obligation of a medium is to listen -better- than one is able to speak. She does not hear the White Ghost of the Ryouhara in those few moments. She hears a very small voice, full of doubt and wonder -- a voice not accustomed to the life of murder and betrayal that the puppetmaster herself has become fully accustomed to. She realizes one very poignant truth.
The master of the ninkougakujutsu -- the ninja engineering arts -- not, himself, a murderer.
The bamboo grove begins to fluctuate, ever so slightly, as Miko's eyebrows knit together. She's not supposed to waver. She is -not- supposed to waver...
Before the illusive space can be adversely affected, the trees begin to move of their own accord. One responds, and then another. The key elements she was searching for -- and they are =moving=.
Is this a result of her inability to focus?
Is this because she was unprepared for the revelation?
No, she realizes, as she pieces the words together. A shift of narrative voice, a shift of attention. The cool washcloth drags against Seishirou's face, wiping it clean and heralding in the new image. This was not hers. This was -his-, she realizes; no fault of her own wavering indecision. The construct is secure -- and the person does bear -some- resemblance to her.
The lady of the Scarlet Dahlia focuses upon the image presented to her. Her eyes turn to glass as she fixates upon each detail of the young woman, committing everything to memory. The monsho of the Ryouhara, the leaf motif so clear now. She twines the words around the memory -- should be better than he is; that he should know everything; that his dreams are getting worse; that he has been seeing her more and more. That when he woke up, she was gone.
Miko's lips press together tensely. On the worst day of her life, was she really that much younger than Seishirou?
No. She cannot think about that now.
She quietly notes the memory for future reference. The girl will become a key to Seishirou's deteriorating mental state. The dreams, if they are indeed increasing in frequency, will require a guide. And who better to guide him than someone versed in the arts of navigating the depths of the mind...?
The waypoints have been located. The path is now clear. The map to the deteriorating passageways comprising Seishirou's mind will be made -- but it will not be instantantaneous. Not something she can do in a session so short.
She repeats Seishirou's mantra back to him. She has a need for control, a need to tie this all back into a cohesive whole. The urge to leave a soul better than she'd found it -- that, too, was a message from her grandmother's teachings. She recites the words with him.
And she is aghast by the memories that flood in. She watches the images flicker past. She sees the images that are ignited by her words, by the simple, forceful, -powerful- mantra. Miko Kobayashi shudders. Her heartbeat... begins to accelerate, as if to match the pace of the frenetic, apocalyptic visions. These are... intense, deeper than anything she had encountered before...
Except that one battle. The one in which she fought Seishirou.
This is his memory.
The battles from before.
These, too, Miko finds herself staring at. Committing details to memory. A veritable treasure-trove of memories that speak to a Seishirou who is certainly acting -- while not as a murderer -- as an agent of change.
She repeats the chorus with him, mindful that her volume remains only at a whisper. A presence to keep him motivated should he choose, but not one that would prevent him from stopping if he chose to instead.
She flinches, as the first stone slab slams skyward. It was... not something she was prepared to deal with -- and yet, she accepts it as the new reality, as an obstacle she can surmount if she chooses.
If Seishirou wanted to hurt her, he would have shown signs of it before now.
An impregnable seal -- made by the hands of man, locking away the grove of bamboo memories. Even her touch, her manipulation -- her -control- over this world feels locked away.
Miko Kobayashi did not have a normal childhood. But she is familiar with the tone, if not the precise words.
In the office of the Koku An Dojo, she hums softly to the tune, brushing her hands through Seishirou's hair with one hand, finishing up her dressing of his wounds with the other.
Kawai kawai to
Karasu wa nakuno
Kawai kawai to
Nakuna da yo.
The door has been shut. A first-aid kit lies hastily disemboweled upon the floor, a roll of gauze unfurled, scissors and a bandage kept within arms' reach of the woman. The executive's blouse has only a few droplets of blood, the vast majority of the crimson fluid embedded instead with a half-dozen washcloths, staining the water within a metal mixing bowl rested upon the tatami floor.
Moonlight from the window shines in upon the window. No crows can be heard crying, though the cicadas have their own symphony to put on, in direct opposition to Miko's humming.
Her arm remains close to Seishirou's shoulders, ready to pull him close to a motherly embrace should he choose now to finally fall prey to the rhythm of the lullaby.
Memories of technique, of process dominate the shinobi's memory. In the flood, the clearest are always of the techniques. Not the builds themselves, or the exact construction, but the ideated light that makes up the construction of each one--and the techniques in action, brutal and decisive. These are the strongest and most complete memories the shinobi has. Everything else...
If he notices the shifting of the trees, Seishirou doesn't show it. Though entirely calm, soothed by the bizarrely familiar sensation of Miko combing through his hair with her hand, the reaffirmation of the war against everything should by all rights have galvanized him to action. But as if in deference to the witch will of the spiritualist, he is spellbound, and completely calm. Even so, the stone slabs that raise to block off the forest are the purposeful work of something--someone. A person from another place, another time. Those thoughts have been walled off entirely. That galvanizing affirmation is a construct...
But there are ways around that construct.
As he is now, there is nothing left but those words, and a sky filled with unlimited potential, freed from trauma of the past. The power of the mantra surges, leaving nothing but a clean slate. A ghost. He shows no interest in harming her, makes no move to stand as she cares for him. No matter how high those walls are, he could never hurt her. He looks up, eyelids shuttering open slightly as she hums that song, the dreamlike reality draining away around them, leaving only the scent of his own blood.. and that song.
Slowly, he recognizes it, on a level deeper than himself.
His eyes widen.
And then, note for note, calm for calm, the shinobi completely shuts down in the space of only a moment, barely having enough time to fall into Kobayashi, clinging for the precious few seconds he remains conscious. Then even that strength is gone, and the shinobi rests bonelessly against her, a pile of dangerous silk and steel rendered absolutely, completely harmless.
~ 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. ~
It feels like an eternity ago that Miko Kobayashi had spoken these words to a shrine maiden not far from Southtown. At the time, she would not have considered herself a tusukur -- would have considered herself an outsider to her own people's way of life. At the time, she had no idea of her own potential. Nor of the ambitions of another... just like her.
Walking around the bamboo grove of Seishirou Ryouhara's memory has stirred up a recollection of that conversation from... how long ago was it, now? Before the Butcher forcibly severed her soul, wrenched away what was left of her naivete. Before confronting the ugly truth behind the worst day of her life.
Fatigue and bitterness drag the corners of her lips and eyes downard as an exhausted Seishirou falls into her waiting arms. As strong as she has become, as many times as she has clashed against the fortifications of a heavily-defended mind, she finds herself again confronted with, confounded by stone walls.
It may be possible that the constructs were built by Seishirou himself as a defensive measure. Perhaps they were built by another, possibly even maintained externally.
Regardless of source, the gaps in the defenses are inadequate, incomplete. Whether via weariness, or via injury, or via singleminded devotion, she was able to gain access today, and she would surely gain access at a future time. She will delve into the mysteries of the Ryouhara.
The Dahlia of the Akatsuki reaches to the side with her free arm, dragging over a pillow. She props herself up, making herself as comfortable as she can be with the shinobi resting upon her. Her skin is still a faint pink tinge from the proximity to the furnace-like aura of the Ryouhara. The firest may have faded, but his body's warmth resonates into hers all the same.
With the ninkougakusha resting upon her, her left hands taking over the duties of combing through his hair. She hums, softly, her skeleton resonating the melody softly through the shinobi's body. The sedate rhythm of her breathing will surely set the pace for the shinobi's dreams as it had during their illusive fugue.
She reaches out with her mind.
<< Fujiwara. Keep no less than two guards posted here. No interruptions. >>
A figure standing just outside the closed office door begins to move, his footfalls firm upon the second floor of the dojo.
Moments later, words are exchanged, and the Dahlia's orders are carried out.
The job of first aid is done. The next job is somewhat less clear: unlocking the mystery of the shadowy force which even now holds the memories of his past life hostage, or perhaps has already cut them down for the harvest. Her mission to him is clear -- broker a meeting with the Meian Jinja miko under the Dahlia's own terms.
She could rest. She, perhaps, -should- rest. Seishirou needs his rest after all -- and too much stimulation will break the effect.
Perhaps he won't mind the passive observer in his dreams, as his subconscious performs the duties necessary of sorting his memories into their proper locations.
There is only one way to find out.
Log created on 19:35:50 07/03/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 16:22:46 07/11/2016.