Description: An extended trip to Hokkaido gives Honoka a chance to connect with her past, and a chance to consider the future.
The cooler temperatures of Hokkaido are a welcome alternative to the steamy urban jungle of Southtown. Even when one is stuck in the center of Kushiro City, there are no towering skyscrapers to block the ocean breeze, with only the occasional office complex or hotel to break up the skyline. No -- the rural life of eastern Hokkaido can feel like "home."
And as time goes on, the hope is that it will only feel more like home. Construction is proceeding well upon the large classroom building that will be the centerpiece of the Ainu Revival Academy. If the roofing crews were on duty today they would be putting the large lift to work, but instead it sits unused off to the side. Until the site can be completed, classes are being held in rental spaces elsewhere in the city.
The only completed building is a wide, spacious building which could serve as either a gymnasium or as an auditorium. Right now, as Honoka walks in, it would appear to be the latter -- as a dozen Ainu women are proceeding to rehearse the steps of a complicated song and dance. The vacationing star of the Twilight Star Circus places her hand over her heart as she tips her chin in acknowledgement of the performers -- a heartfelt compromise between the deep and caste-enforcing gesture of the Wajin Japanese and the mutual respect of the Ainu people. For her part, Honoka has taken to styling her hair in a more traditional sense, reining her long sidelocks in with wooden beads, and wearing a beaded headband across her crown. And her clothing is appropriately humble -- an attush styled in pale colors fringed with geometric indigo patterning.
At least one of the lead performers will be familiar. Her hair, too, is reined back with a beaded headband, but her attush robes are considerably more elaborate and formal, owing to her post. Her moves are elegant, her crooning taking on an almost unworldly timbre.
"This way, this way..." murmurs Honoka, ushering her companion alongside the wall to a place where they can observe without feeling totally on display. "You remember Makaotari from the boat ride home, right? She's picked up a few students since last time..."
Zach moves silently along the wall, wearing jeans and a polo shirt. He's not really making concessions to Ainu culture because it's not /his/ culture. Not really, anyway. He has a long coat draped over one arm. He looks around in a way that shows as much vigilance as curiousity. He has not really let his guard down much since coming back from the island. He looks at the woman Honoka indicates with a slow nod.
He's... not entirely comfortable with Makaotari. Or any of the people Honoka brought back with her, for that matter. He's good about it, however. He is civil, polite, and even makes an effort to get to know them. At the end of the day, though, he knows that these spent more time on... the other side, for lack of a better term, than he did. That idea, that these people were dead at one point and now teaching classes and walking among people, does not sit well with him. The fact that the same would go for him has not escaped him either. It's something he is still wrestling with.
"Looks like," he says with a soft smile. The Academy is important to Honoka, so its successful steps are regarded as a good thing.
On the opposite side of the room, there are four rectangles of cloth hung from the wall like banners. Different geometric patterns are woven into each, though the meaning is not immediately obvious. And in front of each banner is a weapon, supported by a wooden stand.
A longbow and a quiver of arrows, in front of white and brown rectangles.
A sword, in front of a pattern of red circles interrupted by rectangles.
A highly polished knife, standing apart from neutral browns and greys.
A spear, and a green/brown background with several right angles.
"I know you're not... crazy about this arrangement," admits Honoka, allowing her gaze to follow the feet of the performers. "But look at what's been achieved already -- we've got several dozen students signed up. By this time next year there could be hundreds. It will be nothing short of a miracle."
Honoka takes a seat, and places her hand on top of Zach's. She closes her eyes, but the direction of her chin shows that her attention is directed towards the weapons in front of the wall.
"Their spirits are moved by the dancing. Way more than the last time I was here. Can you feel it?"
Zach gives Honoka an oblique glance, choosing his words. "I have reservations," he says. "And the fact that I am in exactly the same boat does not escape me." He regards the question for a moment, before bowing his head and closing his eyes. Reaching out to find what he can find. He takes a deep breath.
He had not paid attention to where Honoka was directing hers. Even so his head snaps up to look directly at the displayed weapons, his eyes narrowed. He looks over at Honoka. "I..." He frowns a bit. "Are those...?" His thoughts snap to the jewelry and accessories that were in ready supply on the island.
Honoka's eyelids part, glassy gaze falling onto the sword at first.
"They are not soul shards or any such like that. While you were recovering, Aranha and I went around the island, trying to salvage what we could before it all sank into the sea. Most of the Ainu veterans were not as whole as Makaotari and Isonbe. But they still remembered enough to help me in the battles. And what was left..."
She raises her hands, stretching her fingertips out wide. The weapons begin to glow -- ever so faintly.
"Was bound to their earthly possessions. When they were torn from their mortal coil, the sense of self was... consumed by grief and rage, rather than purpose."
While the souls of humans are clear and distinct, the four souls entwined around the weapons are wispy and ephemeral. Thoughts are there, but they are not fully-formed -- like an idea that remains constantly on the tip of one's tongue. The right suggestion, the right impetus, and the right vehicle could set them free. They are more like ghouls than humans -- driven by external factors rather than acting on their own.
"In time, they could be instructors. But they will always need someone else to share their voice."
Zach's eyes narrow at all of this. "That..." He takes a deep breath. "Could prove dangerous to someone not ready for it. We saw plenty of people who were not prepared for the spirits in the soul shards. Like Little, for instance." He turns to look at Honoka. "I'm not saying you /shouldn't/ find someone who can help them tell their stories. But I /will/ say you need to pick the narrators carefully."
Zach is silent for a long moment. "I think I would be willing to be one," he finally says. "If that was an idea you were willing to entertain, I mean."
Honoka looks insightful for a moment -- and then she starts to frown.
That -is- why she had brought him here after all -- someone with a similar set of senses as her.
"My hope," she continues in hushed tones, "was that the Ainu would be able to handle this organically." Her gaze casts back and forth along the performers, dancing with intensity and understanding unlike anything she'd seen while growing up. Their innate connection with the ancient roots is clear -- and yet...
"... but you are probably right... there is a danger of losing oneself. To foster a connection in such a way encourages reliance on it. Dependency." Her gaze drifts back to the weapons -- the longbow.
"It's doubly dangerous because the spirits have forgotten what it means to be human. So the pull would be in both directions -- the lost warriors would not want to let go. It would be cruel to ask anyone to give their life away for this duty in such a way."
She draws in her breath, replacing her hand upon Zach's.
"I appreciate it. But... I am not sure the time is now."
Her hand squeezes lightly.
"If they latch onto a sisam host now, it would be like imprinting -- and we might undo weeks of work or more. It is not just the -host- I fear for, it's the spirit."
"That's fair," Zach says, a certain amount of tension he didn't even realize he was holding easing out of him. Part of him wanted it, it was what led him to say what he said. Part of him, though, rebelled against the idea for a whole lot of reasons. That conflict is the source of the tension. Honoka taking the matter out of his hands, however, made the issue a moot one. "Also, I should point out that not /everyone/ had trouble with the shards. I think someone would need a certain resilience of spirit, even among the fighting community, to resist being overtaken. It... might be difficult to arrive at an organic solution, given the requirements." Zach thinks for a moment.
"Though it seems like collecting unusual swords is becoming a thing with me," he says after a moment.
That's fair? Honoka's response is almost instantaneous.
"It's not a question of fairness, Zach. It's simply, as you say, a process which needs a great deal of forethought."
Her hand lifts up, brushing lightly against Zach's for a moment before returning to her thigh. "I'm aware. I have seen what happens when you give into another spirit's rage. Particularly where swords are involved." She draws in her breath, closing her eyes. "Horokeu -- for what should I call him but 'the wolf?' -- is ferocious and untamed. He is the problem child, and yet, I cannot help but admire his tenacity. But I have lingering doubts as to whether -anyone- I know would be wholly ready to handle him. Whereas the others..."
"I meant I have a new sword," he says quietly. "Just... showed up at my place while I was doing that thing with the belt." He reaches into a pocket, pulling out a piece of paper. "Came with a note.'
The note reads: "Thanks for the help. This doesn't make up for the trouble I brought into your life, but it'd be cool if you considered it payment for services rendered. -Glen." Zach pulls out his cell phone, and brings up a picture of a fairly ornate wakazashi that looks /exactly/ like the one the shade wore at his hip.
"There's no attendant spirit in it," Zach says quickly. "But there /is/ a lump of power that I can tap into if I wanted to."
Honoka looks away from the four weapons, realizing that Zach wasn't talking about the sword in front of her, but the sword she's already well enough aware.
"... That's..." She blinks once, then a second time, then a third time just to make sure the point was communicated properly. "He left a -note?-"
She starts to form another thought, but instead creases her brow in a mix of frustration and wry humor. "Well, yeah, you sure don't need another sword right now," she admits with a faint smirk.
It's only after a moment of looking back at Zach's face to realize levity might not be the best path to take. "... But I'm drifting off message, I guess," she starts, expression growing more somber. "So he's... he hasn't come back?"
"And the sword," Zach says. "I don't think he plans to be back at all. He was there specifically to figure out why Raiden wasn't doing his job, which leads me to think that something would be going epically wrong for him to become at all involved." He snorts, pulling an ornate envelope out of his coat pocket.
"And on /that/ note..." he says dryly. "Got one of /these/ in the mail this week."
"Well. He's not my -favorite- voice of reason, but he was a'ight, I guess..." comments Honoka, rubbing the back of her neck.
She does seem a bit more concerned as Zach snorts and reaches into his coat pocket. And then... that envelope. It looks familiar -- and as Zach talks about its origin, she realizes she hasn't checked her mail recently.
"... I suppose it -would- start up again, right now as we're hitting our full stride with this project. What are you thinking of doing for it?"
Zach shrugs at this. "Find a team," he says, "Figure out why the tournament is happening. Maybe put a stop to it if that needs to happen. Haven't figured out who to ask yet." He glances at Honoka, a little hopeful. "You're busy here. This," he spins a finger to indicate the facility and the people in it, "Is important to you." He looks away.
"But if you're up for maybe helping me try to solve a mystery, you'd make excellent company."
"... Solve a mystery?"
Honoka looks back to the performers. As Zach says, they're pretty much the most important thing on her mind at the moment. And from the way that she draws inward, closing off her thoughts, it's clear that she'll need to give that particular matter a bit more thought.
"It can't just be a tournament? There has to be some dark secret lying beneath the surface?"
In a sense, this is a new experience for Honoka. The last tournament, Honoka revealed to Zach that she was, in all actuality, a substantially important figure in the inner workings of the Akatsuki yakuza clan. And the door was left wide open to her involvement in the prior King of Fighters -and- the more local RUMBLE tournament.
She doesn't have this luxury of feigned innocence now.
And the frustration forces a wrinkle into her brow.
"I'm... not really sure. I know it might be hard to accept that sort of answer from me, but..."
An open palm is extended towards the performers.
"I haven't really been paying much mind."
Zach is watching the dancers, just taking in the scene. He does give Honoka a slight nudge of her shoulder. "Like I said," he says with a grin that says he completely understands, and more importantly /accepts/, what she is saying as he nods in agreement and understanding. "You're busy here."
He turns, and waggles his eyebrows a bit. "But hopefully not too busy later tonight. For dinner, I mean. And maybe some... other things."
Honoka rolls her eyes, breathing an exaggerated sigh. "I've created a monster..."
Log created on 15:16:09 07/01/2017 by Honoka, and last modified on 19:44:42 07/01/2017.