Mortal Kombat - A Story for Three

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Description: A rare moment of peace and recovery affords two of Earth's Lucky Chosen to get acquainted, recover from their battles, and share some about their own stories that have brought them to this point.

It's not clear what this place was, once upon a time; centuries of disuse, abuse, and the elements have reduced whatever building this once was to rubble, effectively. Remnants of the foundation jut out of the ground at irregular intervals like jagged teeth, while chunks of wall stubbornly cling to life, standing despite the devastation and the ravages of time, their surfaces scoured by years and years of wind shearing dust and dirt along their surfaces. The entire affair is shrouded, at this hour, by the shadow of the tower that stands nearby... if anything can truly be said to be 'shrouded' in the dusk-like haze of these wastes.

Once upon a time, this was probably a useful outbuilding to whatever edifice the tower was part of. Possibly storage, or maybe servant quarters. Its proximity to the tower -- the only thing that seems to have withstood the ravages of time in this place -- is probably among the reasons for why it's still standing in the first place. There are enough pieces of wall to support the remnant of a sloped ceiling and provide some shelter, and the stone floor remains a stone floor, a bowl-shaped fire pit set in the center. And, well...

There's the roughly person-sized hole in the fragment of roof closest to the tower, which is the first sign something is wrong.

She dropped out of the sky like a meteor, the uncontrolled torrent of wind surrounding her adding speed to her fall, until Aya Hazuki's body dropped through the ceiling and slammed into ground of this surprising, if incomplete, refuge in the wastes. The mostly-intact stone floor runs with an erratic circle of spiderweb cracks from the point of impact... though, interestingly, the amount of stress and destruction is surprisingly light given the events that appear to have caused it. Especially given how the woman in question actually *looks*.

Aya lies on her back, limbs askew at seemingly random angles. On the ground next to her is, against all logic, a kunai, the straight-bladed counterpart to the shuriken. More accurately, it's embedded in the stone floor, point-down. An observer who spends the time to do an inventory of the space will find four just like it in random places around the remnants of the room: stuck in a wall, lying simply on the stone floor, and in one case embedded in the remains of the ceiling just past the hole she apparently fell through.

The woman herself is definitely unconscious, though her breathing is regular enough that it's apparent she's at least alive. Five bloody wounds -- a number matching the number of kunai -- are painfully visible thanks to the dried blood that once streamed from them, caked to her skin... in one instance, on the side of her neck, though thankfully far enough away from her carotid that she doesn't appear to have been in danger of bleeding out.

It's not clear how long she's been here... but it says something that at her side, miraculously unharmed, is the rather expensive and high-quality katana she carries, in its lacquered wood saya. Unmolested and unharmed despite it being a tempting target for scavengers or refugees to take from a seemingly unresisting woman...

She had seen the meteor from the tower, a flash of light on the horizon as she picked her way through the ruined wasteland. Time and time she had come this way, preferring to keep her distance from the palace on the Western half of the island. Torn, corrupted, and desolate as the outdoors of this prison in the sea may be, she preferred it over the grim interiors of the Tyrant Sorcerer's domain. In the twisted halls of his palace, it was hard to anticipate from which angle the daggers to the might come. Out here in the open, at least she could see any approaching threat well in advance. Or so the idea went, at least.

Each time she ventured further East, her journey skewing toward the only standing edifice she had ever noticed in this broken land, but each time she found herself forced to turn back in order to aid another. This time, she pressed on, her determination strengthened by the unshakeable impression that she was needed there. Along walkways of shattered stone, and over mounds of broken marble she picks her way through the infinite graveyard of a time lost empire. Its history, its suffering known to her only by what she can see. If it had a name once, no trace of it had ever been noticed among the ruins.

At a glance, she seems alone - a bold choice on this island given the sense of danger that exists in every shadow or around every corner. Earth finds itself in the state of war, the outcome determined by the blood spilt by every individual called to stand for it. No space would be truly safe. The wanderer's clothing is simple - a long, white robe, held closed by a belt at her waist. With each right step forward, her leg slips through the opening in the lower half of her robe, showing it to be covered by pants made of similar white cloth.

The only ornamentation of her outfit is the intricate geometric pattern running along the borders of her robe or circling the cuff of her pant legs, alternating shapes of royal blue and sharp red, marred some by the grey dust that has collected on her lower half during the course of her travel. Her hair is raven black, decorated by a crimson ribbon tied into a large bow behind her head - it serves to keep some of her long hair from folding down over her face but otherwise seems to be just decoration. And against her back thumps a satchel - supplies to survive the night in the wasteland.

Coming to a stop outside the outbuilding, she listens quietly, her own steps nearly silent once she choses to approach more stealthily, her rust red moccasins slipping into the layer of dust without a sound. In this world of nightmare, what she might find inside is difficult to predict - it could be a soul in need of help... but she has already discovered the hard way that the sky can rain demons in these parts.

In the shadow of the tower, she finally finds an opening in the stone wall, though she is forced to duck slightly due to the debris that have built up on the threshold. Her right hand hovers near her back, her left hand extended to feel her way forward as to avoid walking face first into something while her eyes adjust. In the deathly silence, any sound at all is detected by the sharp ears of the huntress, and the breathing heard from the latest victim of the violent kombat playing out across the entire island is detected quickly.

Eyes finally accustomed to the darkness of the interior, Nakoruru glances over the scene of the impact. The displaced kunai are impossible to explain at a glance though it is clear that they had once skewered the flesh of the earthling champion. Moving closer, she drops to her knees adjacent to the injured woman. It is out of reflex that she flicks her right wrist, intending to conjure the divine-blessed cloak, one of the sanctified gifts of her calling. Its mending properties would have been of use here... but as it fails to manifest, the young woman exhales softly, remembering the four armed monster that ran off with it the previous day. She WOULD hunt her to the ends of the earth to get it back, but that doesn't help her right now.

At least the fighter is not actively bleeding out or else this forsaken place might end up being her tomb. Shuffling a little closer on her knees, the somber faced girl extends her hands, each one covered by a glove with a broad, falconer's wrist guard over her forearms. Moving them slowly along the length of the fallen (in more ways than one) swordswoman, palms down, with her eyes closed, the wouldbe rescuer whispers a prayer beneath her lips, the quiet foreign words incomprehensible to all but a dwindling few in the world.

For every individual, the manifestation of the breath of life is unique, reflecting their nature, their personality, their psyche. For her it is, pure life chi, the energy of creation, that answers her call. In the light of a normal day, it might be hard to see - nearly transparent waves of light shimmering with every color under the sun. But here, in the dark corner of this lonely building, the effect is far more vibrant, bathing the room in a kaleidoscope of ever shifting hues as she attempts to will a slight amount of vitality back into the first person she has seen in half a day.

It's almost TOO easy.

This is the thing that someone as attuned as Nakoruru couldn't possibly fail to notice: that flow of restorative chi she is weaving into this body accepts it, adapts to it, uses it... far TOO easily. And with a moment of additional insight, the reason why is obvious: subconsciously, the figure lying on the ground was already doing something similar while they were out, likely the reason she didn't bleed out on impact on this very stone floor. It isn't quite the same as Nakoruru's divine powers; rather than pure life energy, it was a steady adjustment of the internal flow of existing energy, moving it where needed, adjusting. Like an automatic background repair process.

Which is perhaps why it takes an almost absurdly short time before the woman's eyes snap open, jade-eyed gaze fixed glassily at the ceiling -- or more accurately the sky -- before she arches her back and then slams uncomfortably down on the stone floor again, eyes squinting shut. Her breathing, which had been slow and shallow while she was out, suddenly becomes accelerated, even erratic; before anything else, she coughs for more than few beats, the sound of it certainly wet and ragged before evening out toward the end. It's only then that the woman sits up, almost too abruptly, hands braced against the now-cracked stone floor. "She wasn't...!" are the first words out of her mouth, all in a rush, before the woman falls silent again.

"...Aya?" The woman's eyes, which had been widened and taking in the scene, suddenly close for a moment of concentration, before she opens them again. "No good. I guess she wasn't quite ready. Hmmm."

It's only after a moment or two of the potentially unsettling talking-to-onesself that finally the injured woman laboriously turns herself around to face her... rescuer?... with an embarassed smile. "Ah... hey there," she says, brushing a hand through auburn hair that is clearly streaked with dark red; not blood, but as if her hair was genuinely two-toned, possibly dyed. "Thank you."

Over the time she had spent on the island, her gift of mending, of being able to funnel that power of creation into the living, was used on the wretched plant life of the cursed island. Attempts were made to purify the life of the Living Forest only for her efforts to be rebuffed by a nature turned feral, rabid, and twisted. Other endeavors involved trying to bring plant life to this desolate wasteland, hoping that if she could just foster the spark of living presence, perhaps it could, with time, grow to reclaim the desolation. But while she started to see a glimmer of hope there, the first seedling to grow in these lands for an era or two was snuffed out unceremoniously by the unexpected arrival of the selfsame creature running around with her sacred cloak.

Maybe some things simply weren't meant to be.

Going by the calendar, it had been two centuries since she had plied her gift for the benefit of a living person, but it is a time that doesn't seem so long ago to her. The differences here, subtle as they may be, are noticed quickly, giving her a brief moment of pause. It is to be expected, she realizes - many individuals of profound potential around the globe would have been called here. This one in particular seems have a natural healing element to her that seems... curiously directed, active, rather than passive.

Eyes blink open, a hopeful sign in a land painfully lacking in such, and the wandering healer pulls her hands back, continuing to rest on her knees. It is a relief to see a response so soon, the outpouring of energy claiming a degree of her own vitality in the process. What greater risks might she have taken if she weakened herself further?

Shuffling back a little on her knees, she watches her patient sit up suddenly and start taking stock of her circumstances, speaking to herself. A normal condition for this one or a byproduct of her injuries? If there are deeper issues at play, she will be beyond the aid of anything shy of the stolen cloak's ameliorating power, the spirit guide knows.

But then she seems to take notice she isn't alone and addresses her directly, the greeting and expression of gratitude answered with a quiet smile and nod, "Hello." she offers soft reply, her voice conveying a sense of relief. She searches the face of the newly awaken fighter, eyes tracing over her curious hair. Something seems slightly off though she can't quite put her finger on it. She has not had much exposure to modern fashions, but she is learning to take them in stride every bit as much as she resists confirming to them herself, so it must be something else.

"You're welcome." she continues, bowing her head briefly, eyes straying to the stone floor for a moment before she lifts them, continuing her gaze upward toward the person-sized hole in the ceiling. "The battle appointed by the Divinement... I imagine it could have gone better?" she inquires more as a statement of fact with a bit of a grin.

Leaning to the right, her fingers close delicately around the kunai left resting on the floor before pulling it to herself to study the small, bladed weapon. "Hmn..." She had seen who had been assigned to which battles. "The other swordswoman, it appears she knows how to use more than just that giant blade at her back. A dangerous opponent but a good ally to have." Her attention strays upward again; it would be easy to tell she's looking at the embedded kunai curiously, trying to piece together what could have happened.

"Well..." Aya starts, bringing a hand to the back of her neck and rubbing it briefly, seeming almost... embarassed? She turns a bit to look up at the Kombat Tomb on the second floor of the tower -- the railing over which she spilled is still distantly visible even from here, and even with her... his?... 'borrowed' body, those memories remain fresh. Fresh and really, really freakin' painful. Turning back to Nakoruru, she gives a sheepish smile. "I mean she's... I'M... not dead. It coulda been worse. But the 'accidentally propel thrown knives into your softest parts and fall off a building' part, not so much."

Following the Ainu woman's gaze, Aya looks down and sees the kunai embedded in the stone floor with curiosity, both eyebrows going up in surprise. "How did... oh, I get it. I suppose that's why s-- *I* didn't break her... my..." A pause, and then she brings both hands up to her temples and rubs them, as if trying to dispel a headache, and then there's a moment of silence before the woman clears her throat.

"Look, I'm gonna keep screwing up pronouns and I can already sense that you've got considerable spiritual power and may have noticed something weird *already* so let me just say, up front, that there are two souls in this body and the original owner is currently, uh... let's say 'resting'. She overexerted herself during the fight. You could say I'm her 'other self', for now."

She extends a hand to Nakoruru, a curiously Western gesture that hopefully the other woman has encountered, lest things here get any weirder than they already are. "Her name is Aya. Mine is Frei. It's a pleasure to meet you either way."

The struggle with pronouns is definitely noticed and immediately suspicious. Possession, perhaps? She is quiet about it as she slowly places the blood-dried kunai on the floor behind her back, putting it out of sight either out of respect for its victim or a subtle precaution in uncertain company. As the swordswoman continues and the misspeaking only seems to get worse, in fact, her beribboned company begins to tense up slightly. Not going so far as to shuffle backward, she does recoil just slightly, her right arm tightening, the tips of her fingers sticking out of her white and red gloves rubbing together slightly.

Perhaps she is no stranger to stories such as this.
In her experience, they never have a happy ending.

But before she can decide for herself what it is she is dealing with, the open admission is provided - a direct frankness rare for possession. As the declaration begins, she looks even more wary, as if expecting a surprise twist of 'I'm actually a body snatching cannibal, oops.' Her right hand slips back near her slender waist, the protruding end of a black handled weapon visible beneath her long raven-black hair.

But as the explanation continues, and there is no sudden leap for her neck, nor an attempt to reach for her sheathed katana, the cautious traveler relaxes slightly, finding herself introduced to Frei and Aya simultaneously. The hand is offered and she glances down at it though does not extend hers immediately, looking between the hand and those intense jade eyes as if judging them. The moment does not linger for long - she is familiar with the Western gesture - and rather than being ready to draw her own blade, she finally reaches out to rest her hand softly against Aya's, offering the typically limp handshake common to the island nation of Japan.

She's still guarded in the look she gives her fellow fighter, but it seems to be more of a social wariness rather than concern that she need defend herself against attack anymore. Withdrawing her hand to rest in her lap, it is with a slight cant of her head that she answers.

"A story dear to me is of a shrine maiden. She thought she could save her land by conquering a demon only to become the fiend's host. What followed was a hundred years of suffering and a catastrophe that nearly destroyed the world."

She opens her eyes, raising both eyebrows, her expression becoming a questioning look as if inviting this 'Frei' individual an opportunity to offer a less dire explanation than the possession story the quiet girl shares.

The handshake, when it happens, seems to put this person at considerable ease compared to beforehand, as if muscles that she didn't know she was tensing suddenly felt that tension drain out of them. Aya settles back on the ground a bit as she takes her hand away, not quite able to bring herself to sit seiza right now; everything hurts, though she does an admirable job of not showing it.

And then, instead of her name, the Ainu relates the story of a demon possession she is familiar with, which causes Aya to blink a few times in surprise. She is at least able to bite the words 'nice to meet you too' back before saying anything stupid; whoever it is that's in control of that body right now -- Frei, apparently -- might *seem* inoffensive, but they've been around the block a few times; Nakoruru's hand slipping toward the hilt of her blade was a noticable gesture. No sense in upsetting people.

Taking a deep breath, she scratches absently at her cheek, looking off to the side. "Well I can promise you that I'm not a demon and so far the only thing I've managed to be a harbinger for is bad luck for Aya," she says, face falling a bit.

'Will you... help me?' she had asked. 'Work together with me.'
He'd been surprised. 'I... can try. If you let me.'
She had.
It didn't work out.

Clearing her throat, Aya turns back to Nakoruru. "You wouldn't believe the story of how I got here even if I knew all of the details to tell you. Trust me on this. There was... ah, it was..." Blowing a breath out sharply from her bottom lip in frustration, Aya's bangs flutter a bit. "Aya didn't ask for someone's disembodied spirit to share her body. And so far apparently all I've done is really screw up her life. But she..."

A sigh, and Aya turns and looks back at the Kombat Tomb up on the tower. "Apparently she's been chosen to defend 'Earthrealm,' whatever the heck THAT means. She was in a fight, and was in a tough spot, and she... asked for my help. So I lent her... ah, I guess you could say, I unlocked a bit of her true potential. But she couldn't control it, and ended up hurting herself." Aya shrugs at Nakoruru, spreading her hands out palms up, in a 'and so' gesture. "So here we are."

Steel-blue eyes follow the recuperating woman's every move. She doesn't look ready to attack anymore, there just seems to be a certain reluctance to trust inherently. Then again, given the nature of the unnatural island the two are meeting on, perhaps it's just normal survival instinct at play. She is no longer recoiling at least, and her expression has become neutral, lips a thin line as she weighs the account offered.

Frei explains that the situation was not one either seemed to ask for and once more, the forthright seems to do the trick of cutting through the careful healer's suspicion. She is quiet for a moment once there is an end of speaking before averting her eyes to the side, resting her focus upon the stone floor of the meager shelter.

"There is another story I know all too well - of a young warrior reluctant to answer Kamui's call, unable to make the hard choices, choosing the survival of the one in front of her even if it meant the death of many elsewhere..." Her voice is soft, her words slow and deliberate as she glances back up to meet Aya's eyes, and continue. "In her was another that could make the grim but necessary choices, was not paralyzed by indecision when faced with life or death moments, and, on more than one occasion, interceded to save the life of the hesitant girl. Eventually, the young child grew strong and where there was once two minds only one remained. In the end, the warrior maiden was more resilient to her mission's challenges than she had ever would have been on her own."

She smiles faintly, elaborating on her story no further. "My name is Nakoruru. Pleased to meet you."

She reaches up with her arms to the straps on her shoulders, shuffling the satchel on her back to the floor. Undoing the cord keeping the top flap closed, she flips it open, pulling one dead, cleanly cut thin log and placing it in the fire pit at her side, then another, and another, until four such dry, bark covered chunks of wood are placed. Reaching her hand to the bottom, she produces one handful, then another of dry straw to tuck under the pyramid of wood for kindling.

"Perhaps eventually, you two will become as one. It is hard to say." Reaching to her waist where a small pouch hangs, she produces a block of flint and a small dagger for steel. Leaning forward, she busies herself with creating sparks to get the kindling going.

"And yes, you- she either came here willingly or was pulled here due to being chosen. Every day on this island will be a battle to survive." She glances up, eyes flicking over the kunai stuck in the wall. "Some days more literally than others. This is not a frivolous war we fight. The danger is quite real."

She leans back as smoke begins to seep up amid the wood, the straw igniting with an initially slow burn that would, with luck, become a full fire eventually. There is not enough wood to last the night, and there is certainly no firewood to find in the dead land outside, but it should help a bit at least. Stowing the flint and dagger, she looks the swordswoman over again.

"To persevere, you may need each other more than ever."

"You seem to know a lot of--" The rest of the sentence dies on Aya's lips. She had been about to comment on the number of different stories that Nakoruru appears to know, since she appears to like using them to make her point. But somewhere in everything she just said, uttered so casually that it didn't stick out until Aya... or more accurately Frei... was processing everything she said. Then, like a bolt from the blue, it all comes back in an instant. A sergeant named Cassie Cage, a forest, and 'the Dahlia' half-sardonically, half-reverently talking about an Ainu 'defender' with an otherworldly power who interceded on Cage's behalf.

The swordswoman is quiet for a moment, then inclines her head somewhat at Nakoruru. "I was going to say that you seem to have a lot of these stories, but since you're from the land where the gods live, I guess that's to be expected." It certainly explains a number of other things: her unusual aura, the nature of her rather rare chi affinity, and a handful of other things. Green eyes regard Nakoruru thoughtfully, though not unsympathetically; the gaze lacks the clinical hardness of someone being sized up. Perhaps she's merely curious. "I admit I don't know as much about the Ainu as I'd like, but I know oral storytelling is important to them."

As the flint and steel catch, and a spark finally leaps to what little kindling there is, the swordswoman watches it distractedly for a moment, before reaching out with a hand, palm out into the air. She makes a few small, tight gestures -- nothing more than curls of the finger, small turns of the wrist -- as is twisting a piece of string around that hand, but from the embers of the fire's humble beginnings, tendrils of fire suddenly twine upwards in time with those gestures, coming together to make a full, genuine fire catch that much faster. "I wasn't sure I could still do that," Aya murmurs, seeming pleased. For a moment, she watches the fire, bringing her hand back, then turns to look at Nakoruru. "Memory's a funny thing, isn't it? It's funny that all the knowledge I had... it still works. All of it, even if it's coming to me through unfamiliar channels." A pause, then a sigh and a long, slow exhaled breath. "Maybe we do need to work together, like you say. But... I don't know. Something tells me if Aya relies on me, then things aren't going to go well. I think... things went wrong on the tower because... well."

The auburn-haired woman clears her throat. "She asked for my help. So I opened up her awareness a bit. Most people... when they try to manipulate chi, they tend to think they can control it, by which I mean, that it's in their power. But that only gets you so far, as I'm sure you probably know," she adds, inclining her head curiously at Nakoruru, wondering if that supposition is true. "You shape, and guide, and sometimes even ask... never 'control'. But you still need a tremendously strong sense of self for that to be effective. Otherwise you lose touch of what's 'you' and what's everything else. She needs... she needs to know who SHE is first."

For a moment, after saying that, the swordswoman is silent, before hesitantly opening her mouth again. "Tell me something. WHY would someone be chosen for this tournament? Who makes the call on defending Earthrealm?"

The mention of her penchant for story time earns Aya a quick, quiet smile, as if just the fact that she seems to have an inkling of the Ainu culture and that she speaks of it with polite respect is enough to brighten the mood in this otherwise grim environment. A slight dip of her head confirms the swordswoman's assessment. She doesn't elaborate further, quietly looking to the fire she is trying to get going. As if even the thought of living flame in these lands is offensive to whatever dark conqueror laid them to ruin, even the dry, feathery straw seems to struggle to burn, as if the fire was being sapped by the air itself.

The extension of a palm and compatible request of the element of warmth and destruction seems to make all the difference, the wood soon ignited in a gentle, slow burn that looks like it will last a while at least.

The successful effort is clearly a moment of focus for the guardian from the past, the orange glow of the warming flame illuminating Nakoruru's look of appreciation and quiet contemplation as Frei expresses some surprise at being able to call upon the element's aid so naturally.

She is attentive at the expressed concern about how well the two souls can actually work together, hands once more in her lap as she remains kneeling. Her eyes flick to the side occasionally, as if considering the words thoughtfully, turning them over in her mind, evaluating them from different angles. But before she comments on the line of thinking at all, a request is made, a question posed, and she lifts her right hand to her chin, resting the knuckle of her pointing finger there, bowing her head in silent contemplation.

"There is - was, at least - a mighty spruce tree in the forest surrounding the village of Kamui Koten." Is it story time again? Yes, it's story time again. "It rose above all other life around it, proud and tall it lorded, a living green spear stretching up toward the heavens in defiance to the Kamui. The trees that lurked in its shadow reached only half as tall, out of deference for the Kamui that rule the skies." She lowers her hand from her chin to join her left to gesticulate as she relates the tale on her mind, looking up at the ceiling as if to represent the sky, lifting her hands and stretching them apart as if to reference the heavens themselves.

"One night, the skies flashed with the judgment of Kandakoro Kamui, he who gives us the skies." She sweeps her hands down and to the left, fingers wiggling as if to represent the fated storm. "In the morning, we found seven trees surrounding the proud spruce burnt to ash, yet the condemnation that splits the clouds with its brilliant white light passed the haughty spruce over." The Ainu storyweaver shrugs with a slightly apologetic look as if to say 'Who knows. Elder Gods, amirite?'

"There is a reason for each individual, but it is not for me to say what it might be. In you is power, knowledge, and... perhaps the need for an opportunity. I hope that you discover why you are here for yourself, in that answer must surly lie a message from the Kamui to you."

She rests her hands in her lap again before continuing. "Stories are how we continue after our lives have run their course - the greatest stories imbue their characters with immortality unrivaled, but even the most humble of tales bears repeating and sharing, that the memories of our lives never cease to echo across eternity. Your story must be a fascinating one to tell. I... hope someday to hear the tapestry of your own experiences woven from spoken word."

Nakoruru leans forward slightly, eyebrows raised in concern, "To that end, please understand, to work together means for both to become strong. You cannot carry her through the trials ahead. Some things..." She bites her lower lip as her voice fades then shakes her head. The satchel becomes a point of interest again as she opens a pouch separate from where she had carried the wood with which to share a warm fire. An apple is produced, wiped at with her sleeve, then offered. "You need to keep your strength up. Both of you." she recommends with a grin.

Frankly, Aya -- or her body at least -- is famished; she's not going to turn away food, especially since eating that apple gives her something to do while the Ainu defender of yore tells her tale. The longer Nakoruru talks, too, the more that Frei-in-Aya's-form is beginning to understand that she Kinda Doesn't Belong Here. There's something in the way she talks, the structure of her sentences, the nature of her stories... even the way she talks about time. The tale of the spruce is certainly a roundabout way of digging into the generally accepted maxim that supernatural beings of terrible power and influence rarely bother to explain to mortals why they do anything.

"It's funny," she says, around a mouthful of apple. "In the Greek version of that story, the spruce flies too close to the sun and its wings melt, because the Greeks felt that pride cometh before a fall." There's a brief pause, the apple halfway to her mouth again, before Aya pauses. "In the Greek story it's not an actual spruce tree... this is really complicated. I wasn't prepared for comparative literature today so let's forget I said anything."

For a moment, she is content to bite the apple in silence, thinking about Nakoruru's words, chewing with thoughtful and deliberate motions of the jaw. Eventually, however, Frei speaks, tucking Aya's knees up and resting an arm across them, apple dangling a third eaten from one hand. "Human beings experience life as a narrative, honestly. People as characters, life as events, settings, twists and turns... we understand ourselves because we are constantly creating and re-creating stories together. But you know..." Here there's a pause, before the green eyes turn to Nakoruru with a faint smile. "The problem is, this means some stories eventually acquire a kind of gravity. Instead of being something we think we can alter, they become this orbit that pulls us in and doesn't let us go. It's all about--" The apple comes up, a bite is taken, and chewed for a moment, "--balance. Knowing when to go with the story and when to start all over again."

Somewhat unexpectedly, the swordswoman grimaces, leaning forward and putting a hand to her forehead in the international sign for 'ow this hurts'. "I think... Aya is waking up. I'll tell you what," she says, smiling. "If everyone gets out of this, I'll buy you dinner and tell you the whole thing. Nice meeting you... Nakoruru."

The changes takes... barely a moment. Her head is thrown back, eyes closed, though the expression of pain is gone. The wind kicks up, but rather than the whirlwind that delivered her here, this is more gentle breeze than anything else, and as the zephyr blows past her, the red streaks in Aya's hair fade away until it is once again a uniform auburn hue.

Eventually, she brings her head down, then opens her eyes, blinking erratically for a moment. "I... actually remember all of that," is all she can think of to say, for the moment.

As the echo of a man renown for his wisdom stumbles over the narrative correlation, the lone audience in the room lifts her right hand to her mouth, fingers over her lips, releasing a girlish giggle at the thought of a spruce tree's wings melting for flying too close to the sun. Shifting her gesture, she holds her right arm out to the side, pointing finger raised, "Yes." she nods, sharing a knowing grin. "Icarus." It seems her knowledge of Western lore is not non-existent at least.

She is politely quiet as ever at the response Frei provides through the borrowed vocal chords of a very... /very/ distant relative. Nodding slightly, she lifts her right hand again, finger raised, "There is a lodge in my village where important relics of my people are stored." She lowers her hand and meets her left in the middle before moving them apart, "Inside is housed a pair of antlers of great size - the yukar of Moshirikara Kamui that teaches us how the earth was created identifies those antlers as belonging to an avatar of the Creator, it claims that they are the largest antlers to be found in all the world."

She lowers her hands to her lap again, shaking her head slightly. "I have travelled far and wide. I assure you, they are not the largest antlers in the world. I question their divine origin." she finishes with a faint, almost self-effacing grin, a surprising thing to say for one so seemingly steeped in the religion of her culture.

"Just because words say a thing does not make it true. Perspective... " she finishes with another nod before a look of alarm crosses her eyes. Lifting her right hand as if to reach out for the swordswoman, she pauses when an explanation is offered - so this one's time beside the fire is coming to an end for now. Relaxing, the smile she offers at the promise of hearing the tale of Frei is soft, warm, "I look forward to that day. Sleep well, Flame Weaver."

She is left to sit quietly and watch the transformation, subtle but quite real, the stone chamber filled with a gentle, refreshing zephyr from within - it speaks of life and energy, a stark contrast to the dead world outside. She waits, hands in her lap, looking for signs of renewed cognizance, finding herself meeting a second individual without the room's occupants seeming to change in the slightest.

The first words of the woman suggest immediate recollection, an understanding of what was happening while she... was not the one in control. "Mn..." Nakoruru reaches to her side and stuffs her hand into the second pouch of her satchel, producing another shiny red fruit that she offers eagerly. "Apple?"

The proffered fruit gets a brief, distracted glance, before Aya brings her hand up and cups her face with her palm, head leaning forward a bit. It's almost as if she's trying to contain feeling sick, though she makes no noises or any other indicator that it's about to happen. Maybe she doesn't like apples? But after a moment she brings her hand away and takes a deep breath, turning to Nakoruru with a tight smile that's somewhere between rueful and embarassed. "I think one is enough, but thank you. Besides, with all this talk of stories, I can't help but think of Snow White, given that outfit."

One might wonder, considering it's the same face, the same voice, if there would be no way to tell who's in the 'driver's seat' in this situation... but in fact, for someone of Nakoruru's level of perceptiveness, it's actually quite easy. The timbre of the voice, the cast of the expression... all of it is different. Not *markedly* different -- this isn't "The Exorcist" -- but perceptibly so if you've seen both personalities at work.

That said, Aya is clearly breathing... purposefully. Not heavily or raggedly, but there is something deliberate about the intake and exhalation of breath that suggests she's devoting more than just her autonomic nervous system to it. Eventually, she looks around her and, discovering the sheathed katana still lying nearby on the groud, picks it up, her expression calming somewhat in the process. "Someone told me about you," she says to Nakoruru offhandedly, while she retrieves the blade. "An 'Ainu defender' with special powers that saved a girl."

With saya in hand, Aya stands up... or rather, unfolds upwards slowly, still sensitive to muscles and joints that were stiffly and haphazardly bent while her body recovered from some relatively severe injuries. But once she's up, she's up; there's no indication that the auburn-haired swordswoman is going to tumble back to the ground, unsteadily. Instead she busies herself with securing the sheathed blade to her belt, talking all the while.

"I must be one of the ones you said were 'summoned'. My invitation was waking up on this damned island in tattered robes surrounded by eight silent... monks? Servants? They may have been statues, for all I know."

Drawing her hand back as the proffered fruit is not immediately taken, Nakoruru pauses, looking worried for a moment - this isn't the first time someone looked like they were getting sick around her on this island, but the last time she knew quite well that it was the side effect of inhaling some poisonous fungus spores. This time, maybe it's some kind of shock from the transfer of control that's upset her stomach? But in the end, an explanation is offered, the apple turned down with a reference that easily escapes the Ainu collector of stories judging by the slow blink of quite consideration followed by a brief glance at her own dusty clothing.

The moment passes, a faint smile returning, a one-shoulder shrug offered as she sits up straight and bites into the crisp apple, content to enjoy it herself if the swordswoman is not in need of it. It's abundantly clear to her that she's dealing with someone else - the rightful owner of the body as she's come to understand it. What a curious life she must live. She's patiently quiet as Aya focuses on her breathing over conversation, not going so far to ask her if she's 'okay'. Considering what she's been through, as evidenced by the scattered kunai, hole in the ceiling, and account given by the soul passenger she bears, that would be a ludicrous thing to wonder out loud.

Finally, she seems ready to talk, Nakoruru having gone through three bites of her apple in the meantime. Swallowing, she blinks once, eyes cast to the side, "I suppose that description fits," she allows. "This," she sweeps her right hand to the side, gesturing to the island as a whole outside of he walls. "Does follow certain rules, but the opposition is always looking for ways to circumvent them. I was able to prevent one such abuse, fortunately, but I cannot be everywhere at once."

She remains kneeling as Aya gets to her feet, watching her with that same quiet concern she exhibited earlier, as if expecting that her balance could betray her and quick action might be required accordingly. But once she seems steady enough, the Ainu Defender shifts off of her knees to lean closer to the fire, right palm against the ground, her legs tucked under her at her side. "Yes, many would have come as you did. Others would be afforded... less demeaning transportation. But all who are chosen end up here one way or another, to fight for their world, and in many cases, die in the attempt."

She exhales, cupping her apple in her left hand as she gazes into the flames, dark eyes reflecting the orange and golden dance of light over the wood. "Of the guards, summoners, and stewards, I can offer little explanation. Whether they serve at their own will or are thralls to a mastermind, I have never been able to tell. I have observed that they do their duty diligently and without complaint, they seem human, yet they never seem to need to rest from their tasks. That is all I can say concerning them. Other than undoubtedly derailing whatever plans you might have had, I have never seen them interfere unless harassed first." Another partial shrug is the best punctuation to her thoughts Nakoruru can offer for now.

Looking over her shoulder toward the standing Aya, she asks, "You should have received a crystal of some kind in your fight - a tool for the battles ahead?"

Everyone doing their duty... on the surface. That certainly seems to fit Aya's own impression of the situation, as the thoughtful but unperturbed expression she wears during Nakoruru's explanation suggests. She remains standing, looking out over the dust plains to the nearby forest, of which she's heard only rumors... all of them bad. "No sense in beating around the bush, as you appear to have had time to talk with... my 'friend'," Aya says carefully, still not entirely sure how to refer to Frei's possessing spirit at this point. "I wasn't even aware of his presence until very recently, perhaps only a month or two. But ever since then, my awareness of... certain things is improving. _Rapidly_ improving."

She folds her arms across her chest, continuing to look out over the distance. "I wouldn't have thought anything of the fact that there were 8 of those... servants, or what-have-you, present when I woke up. Eight is as good a number as any, don't you think? Could have been six. And they were strangely positioned, but I woke up in a different place than where I went to sleep wearing different clothes so why would that be weird?"

Shrugging, Aya gently lowers herself back down to the ground, sitting with her back straight, her knees bent... almost like a camper ready to sit around the campfire telling scary stories, which is true enough regarding the current situation as it is. "But how fortunate that I have someone who apparently knows more about this than I do. For example..." Here, she leans forward into the space between herself and Nakoruru, placing her index finger tip-down in the dirt. Steadily, she draws a shape: A rough square of six horizontal lines. The top three lines are unbroken; the bottom three, separated in the middle so that there is a gap. When she's done drawing the shape, she sits back up and looks at Nakoruru.

"I don't know much about you, so forgive me if I'm stating the obvious, but these are two of the bagua, Chinese trigrams that are commonly used in Chinese mysticism. In particular this is the hexagram 'pi'... meaning to restrain, obstruct, or refuse. If you count my body as one of the horizontal lines, they were arranged in *this* shape, standing with their arms out for the long lines. And since you asked..."

Reaching into her shirt, Aya withdraws an object hanging around her neck on a black cord, which -- until it's revealed -- could have been any piece of standard jewelry. In this case, it is not: it's a magatama, the comma-shaped talismanic gem common in Japanese mythology, carved out of pure and polished citrine. Some inner light gives the entire thing a sunlight-esque glow that, were she to know its true purpose, Aya would find quite ironic.

"In Japanese culture, as you probably know, magatama are associated with spiritual powers and the soul. So... what're the odds that all of this is coincidence?" she finally asks, the sardonic tone in her voice marking that inquiry as almost certainly rhetorical.

Eyebrows raise a little as Aya refers to the other presence she is learning to deal with as a 'friend', her expression somewhat questioning the term, as if she's just as unsure if it applies as the one who said it is. But otherwise, she's quiet, attentive, taking another bite of her apple. She nods slightly at the mention of becoming aware of matters most would consider too esoteric to take seriously in recent weeks - an interesting detail that says more about one she was speaking to earlier.

She follows the speaker's movements as she returns to the floor of the warming shelter, and then leans forward to watch the shape being drawn in the undisturbed patch of dust serving as the closest thing the two have for parchment for now, then meets Aya's gaze when she looks at the Ainu warrior again, nodding along with the explanation. It is impossible to tell from the way she reacts if she is familiar with the Chinese symbolism or is just indicating that she understands - one might the impression that the ambiguity might be intentional, maybe even an unconscious habit in trying to improve her odds of not sticking out like a sore thumb when references that should be obvious completely escape her.

Finally, eyes settle on the magatama, an icon more likely to be familiar in her part of the woods. Shifting back to her knees, resuming the posture she had before Frei earlier, she takes one last bite of her apple and sets the core aside. "On one of my travels, I had the opportunity to discuss matters of destiny and purpose with a wise man from the Ottoman Empire." That might date her a little bit.

"In the course of our discussions, the scholar pointed out that their word for coincidence is synkyrian - a combination of two smaller words; sun, meaning together with, and kyrios, meaning supreme in authority or god." She lifts her hands, pressing them together then pulling them apart, "Thus you have, together, with god." She lowers her left hand to her lap, her right hand lifting to rest her pointing knuckle at her chin, glancing to the side.

"I can't say for certain. But... this thing we are all a part of... when it happens, Mother Earth trembles, and the unusual and strange becomes common place, the impossible possible." Lifting both arms to fold her hands over each other atop her chest, she exhales softly, "It is why and why I am here. And it could be why events in your life have lead you down the path they have."

Lowering her hands back to her lap, she gives Aya a faint smile, "This tournament... it has not gone well every other time it has happened. This is our last chance. While I struggle to understand how some of those I have found here could possibly be Kamui-sent, in the end, there must be be a purpose each individual has ended up here. With the stakes such as they are, our world would not chose her representatives idly."

Nakoruru mentions both Mother Earth -- with audibly capitalized 'M' and 'E' -- and either God (for the Ottomans) or the gods (for the Ainu) in short order. The talk of some sort of higher power makes her visibly uncomfortable... perhaps even annoyed, though if that's the case she is at least polite enough or calm enough to not let it show. The comment about meeting someone from the Ottoman Empire doesn't pass without a raised eyebrow, but given her circumstances, the swordswoman is disinclined to press the issue further... especially given Nakoruru's old-fashioned way of talking.

Weirder things have happened.

"You know," Aya says, looking up at the awful purple sky, devoid of signs of life like birds. "As of now I have incontrovertible proof that there is life after death. You would think this would be some kind of spiritual awakening for me, right?" She pulls her head back down and gives the Ainu warrior a curious, penetrating look; despite the obvious differences, it's those green eyes... they, regardless of who seems to be 'driving' at any given moment, are the same. "And I can *feel* what you're describing, somehow. This entire island is wrong. I don't have any other way to say it. It's WRONG. Half the time it's like..." She pauses, struggling to find the words, brows furrowed in concentration. "Half the time it's angry, like it wants all of us to leave. And then I'll feel like it's a lost child, that it wants someone to help it. I don't even know what the words I'm saying MEAN anymore. Words can't even really convey it."

Taking in a deep breath, Aya shrugs her shoulders and folds her hands, one atop another, on her raised knee. "But none of this is going to make me believe in destiny or mysterious gods manipulating us. Everything in this world has an explanation." She raises a single eyebrow. "I know he didn't tell you the story, but a priestess -- an exorcist -- told it to me for him. That he's from another world, an entirely different history, with a handful of others. He was the only one who had died, so maybe that's..." She pauses, the brings a hand to her forehead and runs it anxiously through her hair. "My POINT is that even the fact that a dead distant relative from another dimension, the most science fiction-y nonsense I've heard outside a manga, is currently possessing my body *has an explanation*. I won't be satisfied with less when it comes to whatever's going on *here*."

"Oh?" Nakoruru replies after listening to Aya establish her position on the extremely difficult to explain circumstances she finds herself in. "Well," she states, lifting her right hand, finger raised, "When you find the gods, you can ask them." she declares, her tone expressing the problem as easily solved, though her expression lets on that she's knowingly needling the exasperated woman, with her grin and sparkle in her eyes.

Lowering her hand back to her lap, she considers for a moment. "You won't get anything out of the ones who summoned you here as to why they chose you."

The self proclaimed Earth Defender inhales then exhales softly, shoulders slouching slightly. "I wish Kamui Kanna were here like he was last time... Maybe he could have given you the answers you seek or at least put you on the path to find them. Unfortunately, it seems the one who knows most about what is happening here is Shang Tsung himself, and I would no sooner turn to him for answers than I would ask a jorougumo if I could hold her baby."

She shakes her head emphatically at that, eyes closed for a moment, before focus returns to Aya. "I hope you find what you are looking for either way. I have been exploring this island for days now. Around every corner and hidden in every shadow is a new discovery, some dangerous, some revealing. As long as you don't wander anywhere the guards forbid, you should be left alone... well, by the guards, at least. I can't say the same for some of the other things lurking about."

She closes her eyes for another moment of contemplative silence. Finally, she opens her eyes again, lifting her hand, "I remember a story..." her voice fades out, hand dropping back to her lap slowly, "Of a girl who told too many stories." she finishes, tone shifted, a self-effacing grin replacing the thoughtful expression of a moment prior. "I do hope you find what you are looking for. If there is anything I can do to help, I will if I can."

She really can't begrudge Nakoruru a smile at that last comment, the Ainu poking fun at herself a tiny bit, and so the corners of Aya's mouth turn up a bit, maybe the first time she's made that gesture since she 'took over' again that has any sort of sincerity to it. "If the gods really do exist -- and perhaps they do, for all I know -- when I meet them, I plan to ask why they're not here fighting their own damn battles instead of strong-arming us mere mortals into doing so." A shame that Raiden is somehow indisposed from taking part in this tournament, or Aya could be in for a very rough discussion indeed.

Standing up, she stretches, her hands locking together and making an arc above her head for a moment, palms turned outward. "Whoever arranged this could have had better timing," she says absently. "I've really got a lot going on in my own life right now. And I don't know much about this place, but it's been made *abundantly* clear to me that it's entirely possible to die in this tournament... yet another reason to be upset with the gods, maybe?"

And then, with a swiftness that hopefully doesn't provoke Nakoruru to action -- though thankfully, the swordswoman is standing well clear of the other -- Aya brings her hand to the hilt of her blade and, in one smooth motion, steps forward and does a drawing slash through the air, the blade whistling in a perfect silver arc before its wielder spins it once, then slides it carefully back into its scabbard. She looks out into the distance, rather than back at the Ainu guardian, as she speaks. "I'm no wise sage, nor any sort of spiritual leader, no matter *what* sort of things I'm suddenly aware of that I wasn't before."

Turning back to Nakoruru, Aya tilts her head, expression serious. "At the end of the day I am a human being, with a sword and the will to use it. Finding answers would be nice... but I'm not Sherlock Holmes. Apparently I'm here to save the Earth, so that's what I plan to do."

Tightening her belt, Aya's eyes drift west, across the forest, to the clearly-visible rise of Shang Tsung's palace in the distance. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Nakoruru-san. And thank you for your help. Don't hesitate to find me, if you think I can be of assistance. I think... our goals align perhaps better than either of us realizes."

Why indeed are the divine not here fighting this war, leaving mankind to their fate? Nakoruru is quiet on the question. The other Ainu she found on the island wondered the same thing. Maybe they will get their chance to pose their questions to the source someday. It isn't so easy for everyone to stride forward, carried by faith and a vague sense of what it is they're destined to do, she supposes.

She stays kneeling as Aya gets to her feet and works out some of the stiffness in her muscles. "Well," she muses, "If there are plenty of reasons to be upset with them, we must also consider the reasons we should be grateful. It's only fair." Slowly, she pushes herself up to her feet as well, leaning forward to brush some of the dust from her robe for a moment.

She watches the expert slash of the blade, drawn, swung, and returned to its scabbard in a flash. The demonstration brings a smile to the Ainu warden's lips, a distant look in her eyes. "Your swordsmanship is poetry in motion, Aya. It was a pleasure to meet you too." Hands folded together in front of her, she bows forward slightly, head lowered, before standing up straight. Her own gaze strays toward the hole in the ceiling and the tower visible beyond it, the point of interest that brought her all the way out here in the first place.

"Of course," she finishes, regarding finding her in the future, another nod offered. "Be safe, be careful. I trust you will be needed in what's to come." Taking a step back, she settles to the floor once more, legs in front of her, knees bent up to let her rest her arms around them. A soft sigh escapes her lips. Is it such a good idea to get to know Earth's chosen? The last of these she attended was a massacre... Closing her eyes and shaking her head, she dismisses thoughts of another time out of her mind for now. In the end, it is what happens next that matters.

Log created on 22:56:29 09/22/2016 by Nakoruru, and last modified on 10:14:20 09/26/2016.