Description: Hiding from the vengeful eyes of the Mugen Tenshin, Kasumi seeks to live under the radar while still surviving and honing her craft-- and she's found by an even more dangerous ninja, with very different aims for the marked nukenin. (KOF 2017 Team Formation)
From pampered clan princess to runaway urban ninja, the last half-year has been unkind to the young exile. From the moment her hands closed over the sheathed Shrouded Moon - symbol of leadership in the Mugen Tenshin - and she took flight on a bridge burning quest for vengeance, the idyllic if austere life she knew was no more.
Never again would she be next in line for leadership over the elusive clan of powerful elites. Never again would she see anything less than murderous rage in her father's eyes. Never again would she sit at her mother's knees and learn of the histories and politics of the great clans.
In the end, when the haze of revenge cleared, and the man who put her brother in a coma lay dead, she found herself an outcast - a nukenin - with no one less than her own half-sister tasked with using any resources at her disposal to inflict the absolute punishment clan edicts required. On her own, she created a new life for herself.
Kasumi, next in line to lead the Mugen Tenshin, was no more. Instead, she was Airi, a Senior at Taiyo High, that worked part time jobs to afford her inner-city apartment and never, ever, did anything remotely remarkable or worthy of drawing attention to herself. At least, that's all most seemed to know of her. An average student, with average grades, who seemed to eschew the attention paid to her by attentive school boys.
To those who work in the shadows, however, she was a gifted mercenary willing to apply her extensive skillset in exchange for contract work. Investigations, tracking, spying, and even the occasional body guarding were how she truly got by. Conducting her business entirely online with the alias of ShadowDancer, she never met her employers in person, but her reputation for getting covert jobs done kept her finances more than comfortable.
Tonight was one such job. Rent was due in three days and putting in the four hour shift working at an ice cream shop after school wasn't going to cover that bill. The site - one of the many skyscrapers in downtown metro. The job - to lift passwords from executives by planting keyloggers on their personal devices. Status - objective complete. Current location - on the roof of the building, where a poorly secured door had provided her access to the upper floors without having to get through the extensive security of the lower floor.
She would be back in three days to collect the logged data in person. She couldn't risk the IT department detecting an attempted uplink of the data. Then she could turn the findings over to her current employer, get paid, pay rent, and then take it easy for a while.
In the shadows of the building's roof, she changes out of the janitor's uniform she had worn inside, slipping into something easier to ninja in - a black leather bodysuit with hard leather shin and forearm guards, black gloves and feet coverings; the perfect attire for moving at night unseen. A black mask is pulled up over the lower half of her face and the final item pulled from the small gear bag is a sheathed blade, crimson tassels dangling from its handle. Attaching the weapon to the belt at her waist with practiced ease, she zips up the bag and lifts it to a shoulder before turning to move toward the side of the building. The next skyscraper over was within jumping range - it would be via rooftop hopping that she would make her way toward home again.
Hopefully she didn't end up sleeping through first period again tomorrow.
There's a thing about Ninja Clans and secrecy. Most... don't farm those jutsus out to the high bidder. Those that do? Well, many of them have a modus operandi that identifies the activities of the Clan to the onlooker in the know. The residue of certain magics... the branding of hidden sigils.
Not that Kasumi-- the Shadow Dancer-- is the only nukenin in the world. Far from it, in fact. That fact is perhaps the only reason this meeting has taken as long as it has. The bird of prey that stalks her this night was relatively sure of her identity when she slipped in so deftly along her skyborne route. 85, 90%-- somewhere in such a realm of certitude. She disguises her features, and her form, but both are familiar... and there's an undertone to her motions that tells the master watching her more still.
Lurking in deeper shadow now, nearby indeed, certitude approaches its maximum when that finely honed blade is strapped back into place. A shadow cutting the moonlight without motion, simply not present one moment, and a dull dark shape the next, is likely the catalyst that would sooner or later prompt Kasumi's subconscious to warn her she's not alone.
Atop the hutch that holds the door which leads back within the tower, a lithe, muscular frame bisects the crescent moo, its diffuse light forging a dully luminescent silver-grey aura about him.
The man is wordless, clad head to toe in the largely unassuming blue-grey costume of a nighttime assassin; not unlike her. The kanji ornamenting his mask and hood speak to a familiar Clan, to Kasumi, however-- and perhaps offer some relief to the imminent doom that might be crossing her mind.
The Dragon Sword is sheathed at his back, a quartet of weaponblacked kunai similarly visible; but he wears not his unique battle armor, carries no heavy armament, and indeed-- did not announce his presence with the point of a weapon.
A long, crimson sash is caught on a sudden breeze, its hues like shifting blacks as the ornamentation flutters outwards adding further confirmation to the hunter's identity...
The shoulder strap holding the bag over her shoulder is adjusted, tightening the black canvas satchel securely in place. The front of her body suit is zipped up the last bit to her neck. And with that, she moves to leave, showing no reservation about the sixty-seven floor drop she is about to leap across. Her movement is graceful, relaxed, but far from carefree.
Another step forward is taken and then she spins, the sound of steel on leather as her blade is drawn, her right hand dipping to a sheath of kunai fixed to her left thigh as she leans toward the source of the new shadow. Caramel brown eyes fix on the perched individual, lips pressed to a thin line beneath her mask, her right arm holding the heirloom sword at an angle in front of her.
Usually, the choice between fight or flight must be made in an instant. One of the Mugen Tenshin's most gifted, the exile can take many threats to her well being head on, especially if it's a single individual who thinks to be the one to take her down at last. On the other hand, there are those she would do anything to avoid fighting, to be forced to ply her skills against family, or battle those dangerous few she knows full well are beyond her.
But as quick as she is to react, she's equally fast to observe, to take in the sigils, the posture, the stature of the man in the moonlight.
Standing slowly, she lowers her left arm, her right arm dropping just a little such that her gleaming, moon-reflecting blade is no longer poised to parry the strike that won't come.
"Hayabusa-sama..." she murmurs from behind her mask, tone respectful, voice laden with thought.
The legendary ninja, friend to the Mugen Tenshin, and one of the most dangerous men alive. She considered herself difficult to track, especially when she took to the high places in the city, but if one person could keep pace with her, it would be the one she looks up at now.
The sash-tousling breeze whips at her long ponytail and the azure ribbon that keeps it in place. She breaks eye contact briefly, bowing her head, letting her guard down for a moment in a way she would do for few people alive these days. When she looks up again, she continues -
"I did not expect to ever cross paths again. Not since..." She glances down at the sword in her right hand. Of course, she never did know of his assistance from the shadows against the monstrously powerful Raidou.
Her left hand lifts to pull down her mask, leaving it to hang around her neck, its black cloth blending in with the supple leather she wears.
"I hope we are not at odds this night."
"The laws of the Mugen Tenshin are clear. Inflexible and sacrosanct things, they tell me." The legendary demon-slayer and manhunter observes, his voice as calm and even as Kasumi might recall from more peaceful times. "The will of the council absolute, its decrees and decisions... final." None of which sounds particularly promising to Kasumi's wish to remain out of the fray, and -well- out of Hayabusa's crosshairs, frankly.
Beat "However, they are still the laws of the Mugen Tenshin." And Ryu Hayabusa is not of her clan. The small smile touches his eyes, flecks of gold and green catching the limited light as he drops from his perch and steps forward, taking a moment to survey the exiled kunoichi with different intent than before, as she invaded this place, and prepared to take her leave.
"A few minutes ago would have been the far wiser ambush if I were hunting you." By way of comfort or assurance, it's unusual-- but there's little arguable about the matter-of-fact assertion. Waiting for her to prepare and arm herself might be the honorable course, but the sort of monster Ryu finds worthy of meeting his blade? Is often well beyond such politesse.
"Your actions were rash, but easily predictable." Which is an observation voiced with some measure of suspicion. "Your exile and its accompanying sentence? More about politics than justice. The Hajinmon have gained much in pushing this outcome, in shaming your bloodline, both in clout and control." Hayabusa delivers the news in neutral tones, neither condemning nor lauding the truth of the matter.
However: "I am /not/ a political tool, here to be manipulated or sent out like a dog on a hunt." No matter how much certain envoys tried to convince Hayabusa he -ought- to be. "They will find you, though. Sooner, then later, and again, until there is nothing left but memory, a story of the sentence carried out as ordered. Running, selling your skills, you will never be free of this malus. You need to be better, sharper, not only in body or mind but in spirit, or your Clan will gouge its own eye out one day very soon."
Those intent greenish orbs narrow as Hayabusa lifts a hand to guide his own mask clear of his features, his expression stoic, the exposure seemingly simply to ask a deceptively simple, potentially horribly complex question.
"Where is your -heart-, Kasumi? The -only- reason you prevailed against Raidou." Even with a touch of help....
He speaks of the edicts - unbendable rules drilled into her thoughts from the time she could understand the spoken word. She knows full well that the moon-framed man before her has taken countless lives, that his hands are stained with the blood of the corrupted, whether they be human or monster. Compared to the singular life taken at the conclusion of her vengeance quest, one might wonder if their lives are as different from each other as they are from the lives of the people living ordinary lives down below. Her fingers tense on the sacred blade's grip.
Rank and file ninja would have no prayer of chasing her down should she bolt. But it is no ordinary individual who addresses her now. Her eyes stay fixed on him, spying easily the shift in demeanor, the release from the hanging implication of his initial statements, and her hand relaxes slightly. She stays put as he drops down to step closer, standing up straighter now, finally sliding the sword of questionable ownership into the sheath along the back of her waist.
She dips her head slightly at his observations concerning ideal ambush, confirming that he had been watching at least for a while. If there was one who could track her unseen...
Finally, she looks to the side as her exile becomes the central topic - a subject that has no doubt occupied her thoughts every day since she grabbed the Shrouded Moon and ran. There is a self-consciousness to her expression, her lips pressed together, jaw set with quiet resolve. As always, the master ninja's words demonstrate an acute understanding of clan politics even if it isn't his own. A clouded look comes to her normally sharp eyes as he speaks of the Hajinmon's machinations. They were always supposed to be the secret weapon... the hidden blade kept in reserve. But a grab for prominence? "I didn't know," she admits softly, focus returning to Hayabusa.
She's quiet as he continues, the inevitability of his prediction clearly weighing on her shoulders. Her clan... her family was relentless. There had been a few close escapes, narrowly slipping past some of their number, but since blending into Southtown's day to day mundane life, things had been quiet.
He asks a question then and she lowers her eyes, right hand lifting, fingers curling into a small, loose fist that rests over her heart. "My only regret," she murmurs, "Was that my sist-... that Ayane could not fight at my side to destroy that monster. It was every bit her right. But I could not wait." She closes her eyes for a moment, shoulders rising then falling a little, before she opens them again, "I know I will never see my home again. But I will never lift my hand against the Mugen Tenshin. It was for them that I left that day, and even if they can never forgive my offense, I will never stop living for them even still."
She studies her ally's face for a moment. "In exile, my obligation to fight against evil has not waned... I still carry that burden in my heart. But alongside that duty exists the responsibility to survive... and I will never cease in doing my best to do so."
"For your Clan-- perhaps. In part." Hayabusa isn't entirely convinced. "But if the Mugen Tenshin had been your primary focus, you would have seen that in the chaos and upheaval your uncle caused, with your brother taken down and your people cut down by one of your blood, only a steady hand and patient choices could right an already wayward ship." Sympathize with her or not, the legendary ninja is disinclined to leave any illusions about the path.
"But neither were you purely selfish, acting out of love for your brother, duty to your family. In that moment, there was no choice, only a single path that you felt obligated to follow, no?" One dark brow arches, and while there was no visible tension in Hayabusa before, some is nonetheless released when Kasumi relaxes her own stance. He is as good as he's reputed to be through preparation, alertness, caution.
... The kind of patient analysis he now suggests might have led to more satisfying triumph over Raidou. "Your emotions are understandable, but do not make you blameless. Who urged you on this path, anyone within the Clan? There may not be any path back, but you may yet find one forward; a way to show the honor they feel has been spurned."
Ryu smiles, a touch sadly, "If you have an obligation to survive, an obligation to serve as hunter and protector, and an obligation to stay your hand if faced with the Mugen Tenshin's assassins, you are in a predicament worse than I anticipated, Kasumi." Which really doesn't seem to worry him much-- it should, perhaps, worry the fairer ninja more.
"The world's strongest gather once more, and the thunder can be heard beyond that contest. Come with me, test yourself against whatever we might find. Perhaps, you might even figure out a way to stop three seemingly divergent goals from pulling you in opposing directions while your limbs are still intact." If there's an easy answer to that? Hayabusa does not share it. Perhaps part of the logistis thereof are wrapped up in the invitation.
A soft breath escapes through her nose as she finds herself reprimanded, albeit with remarkable patience. His keen senses would detect a certain pride to her demeanor, whether a defensive front or a true, if thin veneer of ego is less transparent. There is a struggle in her eyes - a wrestle with the undeniable truths the perceptive, wide for his age ninja states. No doubt, she's considered those truths on her own, but have they taken heart?
"I made a choice," she murmurs, voice subdued but no weaker for the reduced volume. "We couldn't wait for Raidou to fully master the Rekku Jinpuu Satsu... even in the instant he saw it, his improvised execution of the technique must have been... formidable to overcome Hayate's own well-practiced version." She wasn't there when the village was invaded. Did the sting of that truth contribute to her reckless choice?
Finally, a faint, rueful smile finds its way to her lips, "No one made me chose to do what needed to be done but me." She says it calmly, with determination in her voice, yet he would know - sensitive to even the most hidden of tells - that she was not being entirely truthful.
She closes her eyes as he assesses quite accurately her grim circumstances - set about on all sides by threats and willing to endanger herself to take on even more. What prospects exist for the life of one who builds only a portfolio of enemies? "I-" she starts, then falls quiet, seeming unable to complete whatever thought initially spurred her to speak. Her eyes snap open as she adds, "I won't expect you to interfere... Even in talking with me... I don't know what repercussions may fall to you, Hayabusa-sama."
But then there's the offer - the mention of the building storm throughout the world and the kunoichi looks caught off guard. Of course, she, with none to call ally, never would have considered entering a team tournament. Lips parting, she hesitates, mouth closing again as her eyes search Hayabusa's face. Should she warn him off being seen with her? Surely, he would be more than aware of the potential ramifications, to even utter them would be to insult his awareness of the messy clan politics he's clearly up to speed on.
Little by little, a smile finds its way into the expression of one who has had few reasons to express joy in recent months. "To fight alongside you..." She bows her head then, completely now, eyes closed for a long moment before she stands straight, "It would be an honor."
"-Did- you now?" Ryu seems less than entirely convinced by Kasumi's insistence that her course of action was independent and true-- and he makes no attempt to hide that dubious clarity from Kasumi herself. Still, he doesn't press the issue; save to make a quiet point, "That is certainly fortuitous for any of those amongst your Clan who wanted to shift the rule away from your bloodline, but the universe is full of interesting coincidences, is it not?"
A small smile traces over the ninja master's features, gone like a ghost as quickly as it appears, "Still, you're not wrong-- your actions kept the Ninpo technique out of some very bad hands, and in the end, that proactivity safeguarding the Clan's secrets... could save your life."
Hayabusa almost says 'should'; but he's long since given up on political machinations coming out on the side of rationality and fair play. The youth is truly far too aged for his brief years... yet somehow, it doesn't ring of cynicism or bitterness. A polite, appreciative inclination of his head comes with Kasumi's consideration of his own consequences in this affair, both the spoken and the unspoken. "Any such repercussions are notably less dire than the ones I court with every other action I undertake in our ancient duty." He observes simply.
"The statement I make this way will ring louder in the ears of the observant and wise than any argument I could give voice, as you and I turn our focus to something greater than this game of cat and mouse; of deadly blame." An arm is offered to the other young ninja, a woman he understands perhaps better than she realizes, with his view from the shadows on this current conflict. "Come on, I've got a safe place, and a stocked fridge. I imagine it's been some time since you truly relaxed, even when sleep does come."
She makes no attempt to counter the perceptive man's implications of another's involvement in her decision and the look she exchanges with him suggests that she knew full well he would see through her inaccurate answer in an instant. Whether it's pride in her choice or to protect another the blame of her folly, she clearly never hoped to deceive the bearer of the legendary Dragon Sword with such a statement.
A brief glance to the side as she processes his words regarding her rash actions betrays some of the conflicted emotions she's carried with her ever since. Right or wrong, it was done. Now there was just the ongoing burden of trying to live with it in the new life she had carved out for herself.
A gentle smile is back on him when he speaks of the risks he is taken, and it is impossible to conceal the gratitude in her eyes when he explains that by fighting alongside each other, it also makes a statement. Coming from one of the most influential figures in the shadows, the significance is not lost on her.
The young woman's hand reaches out for his arm, her head dipping again in agreement with his assessment. What rest has there been since she started down this path? "Putting our skills on display once more," she muses. "It's time to remind the world the power of the shadow clans." It would not be the first tournament outing for either. If these two are showing up to participate, the other fighters had better be on notice.
Log created on 22:55:11 07/29/2017 by Ryu Hayabusa, and last modified on 01:20:25 08/05/2017.