Description: Aya Hazuki's life has already been incredibly complicated of late, so let's just say she's in a Mood when she wakes up on some random island in the middle of nowhere without her clothes. Searching for answers, she runs into the hauntingly familiar "Dahlia," who provides an interestingly succinct summation of what's to come. But under the surface, there is something unusual going on in this meeting...
In the darkness, a drop of iridescent blue water drops into an unseen surface, sending perfectly symmetric ripples spreading out in all directions.
Her eyes open, and the yellow haze of sunlight filtered through heavy glass and dust in the air pushes the blackness away. All the usual immediate, fearful questions that waking from unconsciousness presents assert themselves: where am I? When is it? What happened? Is this place familiar? There are no easy answers; all she can see above are the antique-looking slats of a plain wooden roof; other than what might be the distant sound of the ocean, she can hear very little.
What she FEELS is pain.
Not a sharp, jabbing pain of current suffering, but the dull and persistent ache of recent injury or bad fortune. The more she reflects on it -- and the more she tries to gather the energy to stand -- the more Aya perceives that it's as if she ran a marathon; despite having just woken, she feels... drained. Not exhausted; DRAINED. As if something vital was pulled from her all in one awful go.
When she at last sits up... well, it only gets weirder from there. Six men -- the sort of bland, featureless people that blend into the background anywhere -- in long robes, carrying prayer beads, stand around her in a circle of unsettling mathematical precision. Their faces turn to her, but the swordswoman's immediate thought is that nothing behind those eyes actually SEES. As if they were blind animals, turning toward a sound on the power of instinct alone.
She doesn't quite remember what she was wearing when she was last conscious but it almost certainly wasn't a white scarf tied in loops around her breasts like a bandage, and a pair of ragged white pants frayed at the ankle, as if there were more fabric that had been ripped off with someone's bare hands. But nearby, leaning against a wall... the familiar sight of her sword, orange hilt wrapping standing out in what feels like an otherwise relentlessly beige environment.
When she finally found the energy to stand, the observing monks turn to watch, silently. None bar her way.
An hour or so of wandering and searching finds her having emerged from what were either outbuildings, or perhaps servant's quarters, below a large and impressive palace that still looms overhead. Salvaging what she could find in a series of apparently abandoned huts and shacks, Aya has at least found herself something to wear: a cobalt blue men's changshan, the sides cut open at the waist so that her legs, on which she wears simple black leather pants and brown leather boots. Her sword remains at her side, the saya held tightly in her left hand.
Looking up at the palatial expanse of Shang Tsung's dwelling, Aya can only ask: "...what in the *hell* happened and where am I?"
The Dahlia was not... exactly pleased with the outcome of her foray into the Living Forest. There has been plenty on her mind since then, of course -- plenty of other interesting locations to check out within the periphery of Shang Tsung's palatial estate. Most of the locations, unfortunately, were staffed with a great number of guards, armed with axes and polearms sharp enough to cleave one's head off with minimal resistance. The guards around these servant quarters and guest dormitories, though, have a much higher tolerance, and much greater discretion on the actions of those they encounter here.
It'd be a shame if anything were to happen to Shang Tsung's esteemed guests, of course.
The criminal mastermind has not been idle in her time here. Already she has spoken to a great number of the forcibly immigrated 'guests,' rallying many to her cause, and convincing the more violent of the group to remain healthy and hale rather than starting fights indiscriminately. Naturally, some of the more powerful 'guests' have seen fit to make fun of the crime lord, but the point stands that when situations begin to crumble, the crudest of the ruffians are more likely to assist the one who was nice to them than the nameless masses who paid them no mind at all.
Right now, the Dahlia is in one of the adjoining side rooms to the chamber in which Aya stands. Dressed in a red and gold hanfu, the sleeves rolled up for ease of motion, the puppetmaster would not be found alone. Rather, she is in unarmed combat with a group of five other 'guests,' currently demonstrating the dexterity of her circular, open-handed techniques. No words are exchanged -- just simple rhythmic breathing.
So when Aya speaks aloud -- her words echo through the open passageway.
"Ah... you didn't receive an official welcome?" The voice calls from within the room -- and from the sounds of cloth ruffling, it sounds like the other gentlemen in the room settle down at the offered words. Moments later, the 5'5" woman exits the room, palms folding next to one another as she gives a quaint bow in greeting.
Despite the Han dynastic attire, the woman's her hair is done up like a stylish Westerner's, and her face is clearly not Chinese at all, but Ainu. ... And in an even bigger disparity from expected norms, her eyes are a sapphire blue, framed by an elegant pair of eyeglasses.
One eyebrow raises -- a glimmer of recognition, that soon passes, swallowed up by her following words.
"Welcome to Shang Tsung's palace. I presume you are, like many others here, an honored guest."
The five men eventually bow their heads as well, flocking near the entranceway of the side room.
Apparently, Aya Hazuki went to bed in Kyoto, Japan... and woke up on the set of an expensive remake of either 'Dr. No' or 'Game of Death'. Either way, things aren't particularly looking good for her.
Instincts trained over long years make her tense, torso on the verge of twisting into a battoujutsu stance, as soon as someone speaks to her and makes their presence known. The vestiges of it are clearly visible in her posture; the left foot ABOUT to slide back, the right arm ABOUT to cross the torso, the left hand holding the sheathed katana ABOUT to slip low and down to leave the hilt free for grasping. And then in an instant it all vanishes; in truth, there are probably few people gathered here -- though Honoka is certainly one of them -- with enough experience and perception to even notice the fractional sighs. But if you know what to look for... yeah. She was primed to cut someone.
There is nothing about the woman who makes herself known to her that Aya immediately recognizes, and it shows in the cautious neutrality of her tone and her posture, neither tensed for fight/flight nor relaxed enough to be considered friendly. "Unless my 'official welcome' involved being chloroformed and left nearly naked in a shack down the hill: no, I don't think I received one." She tilts her head upward somewhat, giving the person who's greeted her the once over. No, they've never met. But there is something.... familiar...
Lately, that's a feeling Aya has learned to trust.
"Maybe it got lost in the mail," the swordswoman offers blithely. Too many unknowns. Let other people talk until there's an anchor to latch onto, for now.
The personage before the Dahlia wasn't immediately familiar. Not at first. The clothing is different, and of course due to the method of her transit, her hair is not as impeccably styled.
The sword and the saya, though... those ring a bell. She's seen them before, particularly in the familiar battoujutsu stance. And the attitude... The Dahlia (or rather her alter-ego of Honoka Kawamoto) remembers meeting this one.
"I'll dispense with the formal language, then." The Hanfu-garbed woman smiles, with just a touch of condescension, as she makes a dismissive gesture to the gentlemen behind her. As the five amble on to explore the rest of the palace, she continues.
"To answer the most obvious questions: Yes, people were abducted. No, you probably don't want to make a fuss about it, and yes, they will have orders to kill you if you try to go anywhere you're not allowed. Luckily, you seem to have stayed in -this- area, which is..."
The Ainu woman draws in her breath, closing her eyes as a memory returns to her. "... Most likely for the better."
She notes the guarded neutrality, noting how it mimics her own stance. She may be unarmed, but three staves of some sort, lacquered in black, protrude behind her left hip. Her hands remain open and conversant, but there's no reason to believe she doesn't know how to use a three-sectional-staff if she needs to.
"But for now, we are all safe. Simple guests, waiting for the grand tournament to begin, I suppose. The... Mortal Kombat tournament."
Her smile tightens. This... probably isn't setting Miss Hazuki's mind at ease.
You can almost HEAR the K instead of the C in 'Kombat'. A wave of palpable disbelief -- or maybe rather than disbelief, something akin to 'you didn't really just say that, did you?' -- sweeps across Aya's face momentarily, like a storm cloud swiftly making transit across the afternoon sun. Those words about waking up *here* instead of *somewhere else*... very ominous words indeed. "Thank you," is all she says, nodding at the woman's dispensing with the formalities. "I think once you've woken up on a strange island surrounded by mutes with no clothes on, all bets are off vis-a-vis formality."
For a second, she looks surprised at her own voice, as if there was something... off about it, even though her tone and verbiage isn't particularly shocking. With a shrug, she looks around her current environment, taking everything in. For a moment her gaze lingers on the circular dragon motif found in some of the scrollwork on the walls. Where has she...? No, it's not familiar.
"And with King of Fighters only just concluded," Aya says, turning back to the Dahlia with a raised eyebrow. "At least your name is a little less... fanciful? Am I expected to fight in this 'tournament'? You strike me as someone who's an insider with the organization," Aya adds, inclining her head, "given the look. Though you're just as incongruous as anything here. Thoroughly Modern Millie, with an aboriginal Japanese headpiece and a sanjiegun in your belt."
The K is... definitely something she had to practice a few times. The Outworld dialect seems to make a fairly marked distinction between K's and C's. Weird, that.
"... Indeed," agrees the woman in formal clothing, though it becomes readily apparent that she was fortunate enough not to suffer such an indignity.
The momentary confusion on the Hazuki scion's face is noted, but no attention is called to it. The Dahlia is fairly well familiar with the environs, and feels perfectly content to let Aya suss them out for herself, wearing a content smile as she begins to unfurl the sleeves of her garment back to a more formal state.
The words 'your name' arch an eyebrow. Had she even given a name, she wonders? But then she realizes that Aya refers instead to the name of the tournament, and seems to be under the impression that the Dahlia is formally affiliated with it. With that realization, she begins to return to a casual smile --
-- though that smile turns into a flash of anger at the suggestion that her look is -aboriginal Japanese-.
"Ainu," she clarifies at the earliest polite opportunity, "the headband is Ainu." A Japanese mainlander would not make a distinction between the two -- might even equate the two terms. But for someone who has predicated her entire life to ensuring the distinction remains clear, it is an offense she cannot let pass without mention.
Her sleeves unfurled, she folds her arms behind her back, composing herself. Exhaling, she continues: "No, I would not particularly consider myself to be an insider. Not yet. Just a participant, like yourself, with a bit more of a head start in obtaining appropriate attire."
The Ainu woman glances pointedly in the general direction of the throne room: "And yes, you are expected to fight. The fate of our world -- known to the locals as 'Earthrealm' -- hangs in the balance." Her eyes cast back to Aya, her smile resolving into a thin horizontal line. "From what I can gather, this is the tenth of ten such battles. Should Earthrealm lose to Outworld a tenth time, we can expect..."
The Ainu's shoulders lift slightly. "I shudder to contemplate what happens next."
Aya gets corrected, which is reasonable enough; she doesn't seem upset by it, since being of Yamato descent rather than one of Japan's other indigenous peoples she wasn't entirely certain where the distinctive accessory was precisely from. But there is something about it that--
A busy fishing village, full of laughing people. A girl looks out at it with something between longing and relief. 'This is how I'd always imagined it. The REAL Akan.'
The girl starts to turn.
--lines at the corner of Aya's eyes tighten, somewhat; another barely perceptible movement, the tightening of facial muscles that comes and goes with a moment of brief discomfort. She knows these visions, now, for what they are: memories. Memories that aren't hers, but which she possesses all the same. Fragmented and dispersed, but called into being by...
Aya gives the other woman an undisguisedly calculating look, as if seeing her for the first time. But when she speaks, it's all politeness. "My apologies. I risked offending by guessing, or not being specific enough; the second option seemed less harmful in the end."
Did he know her? Or did he merely know someone Ainu, and that triggered it? Or does he recognize the tournament, or the name 'Mortal Kombat', or...
Too many unanswered questions.
Then the Dahlia launches into a description of this tournament and the number of unanswered questions -- or unbelievable statements -- gets exponentially wider. At the suggestion that this is some interdimensional scrimmage for all the Earthly marbles, Aya *doesn't* bother hiding her actual disbelief at this, and is more than happy to express it. "Hold on. You're saying I -- possibly you, and definitely others -- have been kidnapped to some movie set-looking island in the middle of god knows where to fight people from whatever 'Outworld' is for the literal fate of the planet?" One eyebrow goes up in a move that would make Spock envious. "I just want to be *absolutely* clear that that's what you just said to me."
The moment is not lost upon the Ainu woman. In fact -- it starts to get -her- thinking as well.
For when Honoka first met Aya, there was a similar moment of kinship. Connection, as if she had known the swordswoman before, and yet she was sure that it was the first time the two had met in any physical capacity.
And the feeling was true even moreso now. The flicker... is -stronger-, more real. Part of it could be because of the Ainu tusukur's growing power. It could be due to the Dahlia's unusual rendezvous in the forest, awakening her powers and awareness in ways she hadn't been forced to use before.
Most likely, though, is the answer right in front of her.
That Aya is not just one. But two.
The Dahlia maintains her composure. She could simply abandon the swordswoman to her fate, let her figure it out as everyone else could -- but what purpose would that serve? Always calculating, always planning her next move, the Dahlia resolves -- it makes the most sense to help as many as she can, in whatever capacity she can manage.
"That is a fairly accurate summary, yes. As you can probably guess, the forces of Outworld are... well, 'human' doesn't really seem to be an accurate descriptor for many of them. Suffice to say, the term 'Darkstalker' would probably suit them more appropriately, though 'Outworlder' probably is more... polite."
The Dahlia blinks for a moment, and notes, "My apologies, I've been shameful in not introducing myself properly. You can call me Dahlia." The preceding article would appear to be optional.
"And our host seems to be most calculating indeed. Willing to cheat. If not for the intervention of an Ainu defender, it's quite possible that Outworld may have gained a slight advantage against us by killing one of our own -- a Sergeant Cassie Cage -- in an open show of defiance."
When her interlocutor doesn't bother to deny any of the really just insane-sounding summary that she rattled off, Aya can do nothing but sigh and shake her head in... something between resignation and annoyance. Putting her right hand on her hip -- a motion that emphasizes the fact that her left hand is still clutching the saya for her blade -- she lets a long, slow breath out through her nose before speaking. "I'm... no stranger to the paranormal," she says casually. Not anymore, at any rate. "Pays to be wary, but a darkstalker... or an 'Outworlder'... are just as susceptible to steel as any other being, in the end." Surprising bravado, all things considered, but she seems like she really means it.
There's no exchanging of handshakes, but Aya finally has a name to put to the face. "Aya. Aya Hazuki. 'Dahlia' is a pretty name, if unusual." There's a pause, before she adds with a slight smile, "In the language of flowers, the dahlia represents an eternal bond or commitment. Speaks well of you, I suppose."
Looking around, she takes in the story that the 'host' decided to try and cheat. The mention of an Ainu 'defender' piques her interest, as does the name 'Cassie Cage'. "I've heard of that one. She's related to that grandstanding American movie star, isn't she? Though 'Sergeant' suggests military." She shrugs. "Do you happen to be said Ainu defender, Ms. Dahlia?"
No stranger to the paranormal, she says. While the swordsperson appears to be rooted to the floor, the Dahlia is not as encumbered: she begins to walk a lazy circuit around the Hazuki scion, while nodding quietly. It may not be the nicest approach, but it's perhaps the only way she's going to see the other from more angles than just the one.
A smile is offered as the connotations of the flower are expanded upon. "... Why, thank you. Might you be a fan of ikebana? It's a bit unusual to come across someone who knows so much of the art, these days. Though to be fair, I just like the way it looks."
There was another possible X factor involved in the decision, but it would seem rather narcissitic and hopelessly adolescent to detail it.
The Dahlia stops in her circumnavigation around Aya at about the 120-degree mark, breaking into a gentle chuckle. "Johnny Cage? Why... yes, I believe so. Though I have to say, she has -quite- the mouth on her. Grandstanding is putting it lightly."
The chuckle is repeated at the suggestion that she might be the Ainu defender spoken of. "I can only aspire to be as powerful as she. No... I don't want to misrepresent her, but there is a certain -power- within her, that I cannot quite place."
The Dahlia's eyes narrow in a knowing smile. "A powerful entity, hiding within the guise of someone quite innocent."
"'Fan' is a big word," Aya says, turning her head and upper body somewhat to follow what can only be described as the Dahlia's attempt to appraise her like a used car. "But I had a very... Japanese upbringing. And I find the... focus required for ikebana and even bonsai to be both relaxing and useful." Her left hand comes up, adjusting her grip so that the saya is held perpendicular to the ground, straight up and down, rather than... well, flicking it out horizontally and smacking the other woman in the face. "I don't carry this thing around because I'm into historical re-enactment."
When the Dahlia comes to a stop, Aya adjust her position accordingly, turning so that she's standing facing the same direction, effectively standing sidelong. Her left arm drops back to her side, sword in rest position, other arm still on her hip. "Well. I suppose a powerful Ainu mystic is a good thing to have on 'our' side if we're battling for the literal fate of the Earth." A brief pause, and Aya raises an eyebrow at the other woman, though there's the ghost of a dry smile as she continues. "I'm assuming you ARE on 'our' side."
That final comment, though... there's no disgusing the moment of quiet that passes over Aya's face at Dahlia's comment. The swordswoman already knows something is wrong. If what Ayame told her is true, this... person... sharing her body went through more than his fair share of world-ending crises and walked out of them all alive (well, except for one). He KNOWS something. But he's keeping to the bargain, and it is not without some irony that she observes her feeling of actual frustration that he's doing exactly what she asked.
"You can feel that too then, can you?" she asks, her voice surprisingly quiet. "The... unease." All the Dahlia mentioned was feeling 'power' from within this Ainu champion, but in truth, Aya is speaking more broadly. It feels like she she visited the miko, her awareness of the flow of spiritual energy has been more acute than ever. She turns her green eyes to the ceiling. "Like the island itself is uneasy. Like everything's... in flux."
The used car metaphor might seem appropriate for someone in Aya's condition, if... crude. And not one the Dahlia would make.
"Mmmm, very true." The Shadow Advisor to the Akatsuki assents to the idea that bonsai and ikebana could be calming, though the fact remains that her particular lifestyle is not suited to remaining rooted in one place. Not that she seems particularly willing to divulge the particulars of such.
"It remains to be seen how powerful she -truly- is, but her knowledge is volumes beyond ours. You will know her when you see a woman with curiously tribal, geometric patterns upon a white robe." It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Aya -will- meet up with this Ainu, for some reason.
As for whether the Dahlia is on their side or not... "Well, yes." She smiles briefly, and sincerely. "The fate of the Earth is highly preferable to that offered by our gracious hosts."
The way she speaks of the Outworlders suggests a tacit awareness that anything she says can and may be used against her, at any time. She is constantly on guard, moving with conviction and purpose, every motion calculated and weighed.
When she looks at Aya, and hears her question, her pleasant smile falls neutral -- not wanting to belittle the yamato nadeshiko, of course. She nods quietly. "Unease, yes. Be... wary of that outside the palace, for there is a great deal of conflict. Not just energy, but souls as well -- there have been unspeakable atrocities committed on this land. A number of competing forces are waging war -- even the Gods have seen fit to attend this tournament. But will they interfere, on our behalf...?"
The yakuza in red and gold shrugs mildly. "I am not sure that the rules allow it. There is some -code- which they are all beholden to. The details of which, I've been unable to get anyone to give me straight answers on. Suffice to say... I hope we shall obtain answers soon."
The Dahlia seems like she is about to say more, but at that moment a light gong begins to ring. "... Ah. It's mealtime." A wide-sleeved arm is raised towards a corridor Aya has not had the pleasure of traversing just yet -- the sounds and smells of food would be notable just a ways ahead. "I am still full from an early breakfast, so please don't let me keep you from indulging. I assure you, the food is quite excellent. And also free, as far as I have been able to determine." It's not as if half the island wasn't robbed of their wallets, after all. "It's right down that hall, and... there is a bit of a stampede at lunchtime, so do take care."
She smiles faintly. "I hope you like dim sum."
The Akatsuki advisor's gaze lingers on Aya for a moment -- though, perhaps a better description would be to say that it aims -through- Aya, as her focus shifts somewhat.
It passes, after a moment, with the enigmatic Ainu woman pressing her lips into a firm line. And then she angles forward into a proper Japanese bow.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Hazuki."
It's kind of funny how she says that. Almost like pronouncing 'combat' with a 'k.'
Log created on 19:04:47 09/08/2016 by Aya, and last modified on 14:39:42 09/09/2016.