KOF 2017 - Guardians of the Balance

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Description: Or, "An Unlikely Ninja." Wherein the enigmatic shinobi Ryu Hayabusa and Kasumi pay a visit to a stronghold of the Sacred Order of the Holy Knights and recruit a like-minded psychic to their cause, drawing Alma's struggle for peace and justice out of obscurity and into the public light of the grand tournament: King of Fighters.

The castle is not so lonely as it seems from afar. The sun remains balmy in the early summer evening, guiding the eye to unexpected flashes of color in the stony expanse of the outer courtyard, flowers blossoming from ancient brickwork.

A young man has stopped as though to contemplate one, his red-tinged hair its own bright spot. He smiles slightly and murmurs something into the wind, and only the keenest of eyes would catch a faint glimmer from the flower before it quickly fades.

"Farewell, little one."

Alma's life has changed dramatically in the previous year, but only beneath the surface. By all appearances, he remains a successful artist, traveling internationally and displaying his paintings, reknowned for his on-the-spot productions which enter the realm of performance art. He returns to Southtown to train with his teacher Rose, but his psychic training has reached a plateau for some time.

Instead, his endeavors with the Sacred Order of Holy Knights have dominated his efforts, and so far they seem to tolerate his interpretation of their requirements. Strictly speaking, the Sacred Order is fundamentally adversarial toward supernatural creatures, privileging the status quo of humanity's general ignorance of them. But Alma has taken this as a means of protecting those supernatural beings which mean no harm to humanity, and spends most of his time safeguarding beings large and small, including the littlest flower sprite, whom seek only to live in peace. Alma's willingness to fight seriously against humanity's supernatural foes has kept him in the Knights' good graces.

And thus he is here, paying a respectful visit to one of the Order's semi-secret meeting places in case a message has been left for him. His interaction with a supernatural being right under their figurative noses-- well, from his perspective, that's no contradiction at all.

It seems in any case that nothing has been asked of him this month, and his allies are nowhere to be seen. He will savor the peace of this place for a little while longer. For all his small adventures, he has been at peace for some time.

And no visions of the past have bothered him for months -- though that, in its own way, itself bothers him.

For as long as Ryu can remember, the Hayabusa Clan has dominated his efforts, taken the bulk of his focus; demanded the most alarming of risks and at times.. great sacrifice. It's a far cry from the boy who began his trek into the deep mysteries of ninjutsu who now bears the name and responsibilities of his Clan into the field-- and thus far, they respect and tolerate his interpretation of their ancient charge. Like Alma, the young and often solitary ninja finds nothing monstrous about much of the supernatural world-- and sometimes, far too much malice in the corruptible hearts of men.

While the Sacred Order's historical reputation is far from pristine, for all the philosophical preaching the Hayabusa do about the Balance, extremism and hate crop up in every social circle. But seldom, paradoxically, within their most brutal and reliable warrior.

The ninja wears an ensemble that's at once modern and traditional, sleek body armor melded to the black and silver garb of a ninja assassin, crimson scarf surging behind Ryu as he strides forth, fluttered aloft by breeze and momentum alike. His helm is carried in the crook of one arm, his mask, pulled down off his features.

It's likely a deceptively versed veteran like this young shinobi can sense the warding in place that betray his passage as he walks through the portcullis into the courtyard-- but he readily trips that warning system, anyway. Alma's solitude is interrupted by the magic that guards the ancient fortress, whispering a truth in his ear through its warning: they have a visitor.

Said visitor reaches the courtyard, breathes in the air, and waits-- drawing in the energy of the natural beauty amidst this aged stonework, whilst his own formidable presence ghosts amongst those currents like the white-topped crest on the waves, naught but a whisper on the wind.

It's not a flashback. Not quite deja vu. But for the first time in a long while, Alma feels a flicker of what once haunted him, that familiar unfamiliar, the past not his own.

When the ward is triggered, Alma, unhurried, turns. There is nothing visible that would indicate to a casual visitor or lost tourist that this is the abode of some secretive organization. But the striking individual who emerges into the courtyard is one whom the psychic that tell right away has a practiced control over his presence. It is obvious in more ways than one that the scarf-clad man has been detected because he wishes to be.

And then comes a whisper from within rather than without: beware of those with such control. Yes, there was one he fought with such training. Who was it? Was it the same one he caught a glimmer of in his contest against the shrine maiden Ayame a year ago--?

And then it passes in the next moment, and Alma remembers that there never was any such battle, that he never met any such person, that he has never before encountered a man with mental training such as this.

"Good evening," he says, eyes gentle and smile soft, though he gaze does not waver from the newcomer. "Have you come for the view from the castle's walls? The sight of the setting sun takes one's breath away when the clouds are sparse."

You'd think it would be obvious that a person dressed like Hayabusa is here for less casual reasons. But Alma doesn't judge such tastes. And sunsets are for everyone.

"Have you heard tell," he continues carefully, "that spirits sometimes dwell in this place?"

Being open-minded doesn't necessarily entail naivety.

"Spirits dwell in nearly every place." The stranger offers, in melodic Japanese that rolls mellow and placid from his tongue, belying the intensity of his bearing, the sheer subtle strength of the master ninja's presence. "Often even in the voids created where man thought to purge each and every one." The coolly collected warrior executes a deep, practiced bow, full of frank respect and an almost sacred view of the brotherhood it implies.

"I am Hayabusa Ryu." An auspicious name, confident parents indeed to christen their infant with the brands of both dragon and falcon; but then, the unassuming young man -is- ninja royalty, a prince in his own rights amongst the right people.... infamous and legendary in equal measure amongst those who hunt monsters.

Straightening himself, orbs of gold-flecked emerald once more settle evenly on Alma, those eyes reflecting that same paradox once more. They see the beauty that Alma focuses on in the world, hold warmth and compassion for life and love-- yet have seen scores fall, belonging to a man who's slain more beings than some entire standing militaries.

"You are of the Order, yes? Your people also safeguard the Balance against those who would disrupt this realm." He knows it, as much as asks it. No accident has brought Hayabusa here. "I sense a disruption, and fear it may be tied to the King of Fighters." The master shinobi doesn't beat around the bush, polite introductions aside.

"Will you join with this stranger in common cause for our greater purpose?" It's a straightforward but weighty query-- with something deeply valuable but unspoken behind it beyond the obvious curiosity the ninja's eyes now speak.

"The King of Fighters?"

Alma is startled only by this. The gravity of this man's manner and name is not lost on the painter, but he appreciates it without revealing much on his features, returning the bow gracefully. The mention of the tournament, by contrast, takes him aback. It's been some time since he partook in any sort of sanctioned fight. His loss to Athena established him from an unknown to a credible talent, but since then he has appeared to care more for art than battle. Obviously, the ends to which he has lent his combat abilities have not been made public.

If anything, he had somewhat forgot that it was a way of life, one that he would not be begrudged for living, by the Order or anyone. But it is not a life he has ever lived.

And again, this thought vaguely unsettles him.

Whatever the cause of Alma's hesitation, he quickly gathers himself in response to Hayabusa's question. "Any defender of the balance of this world is a friend and ally of mine," he says, warmth entering his words as his odd emotions pass and a smile reaches his lips again. He is well aware that he knows nothing of this man's true nature, but Hayabusa could not have found a quicker route to Alma's trust than acting with his natural unforced decorum. "I am no leader of the Order, nor privy to its inner workings. But if you seek only the assistance of the like-minded--"

Alma's smile widens into a grin.

"Then pleased to meet you, Hayabusa. I am Alma Towazu, painter ... and psychic."

Only then does he glance briefly back toward the castle entrance, his grin becoming faintly wry.

"But I am no mind-reader. Would you tell me more of your suspicions? I regret I may offer little in the way of hospitality, but--" He turns toward a shoulder bag that he has left against the wall near the flowers he was previously admiring, and takes from it a simple thermos. Unscrewing the cap reveals it to be a servicable cup, and from it wafts a grassy, subtle, faintly sweet aroma. "Tea?"

Much as Alma chooses not to speak on the psychic tremors that reverberate within the depths of his psyche, the stoic Hayabusa makes little sign as he takes note of the subtle shifts in the painter's demeanor. Indeed, one may wonder if the analytial youth observed anything of meaning at all, so contrary to that reserve is the warm smile that greets Towazu's ready acceptance of the proposition.

"I could not agree more." Ryu murmurs softly, with a soft note of relief to the utterance. "If all could see this as clearly, our job would have been done some centuries ago." Metaphorically speaking, at least-- the both of them know that such metaphysical trials are an everpresent recurrance in the cycle of the mutiverse. On one level, or another...

"You see?" Ryu's query is not directed to Alma, but over one shoulder and upwards, towards the decaying rampart overlooking this section of overgrown courtyard. Hayabusa's smile returns as he shifts his gaze to take in the approach vector of the ninja who tripped no wards, before returning his attention to the psychic artiste with a singular nod. "Tea would be lovely." Ryu concedes as he moves to sit with Alma amongst the lush vegetation.

"My comrade is Kasumi, and as you have gathered, we come here perhaps not in peace but with no quarrel with you. I wish I could give you a specific certainty or answer-- the vision was unclear, I merely look to one of the world's foremost stages for the chaos it suggests." Whilst cleverly making a very conscious statement to the Mugen Tenshin, of course.

Ryu Hayabusa ;]

A small disturbance to the right of Hayabusa, a swirling helix of gossamer, rose pink blossoms, heralds her arrival an instant before she is there. Body low, right knee just shy of touching the ground, the fingers of her left hand pressed softly against the courtyard grounds, there is almost no sound to announce her arrival but for a subtle creak of the supple ebony black leather covering her form.

She rises almost immediately to stand at Hayabusa's side, caramel brown eyes lifted to study the markedly taller stranger.

Her attire is certainly not casual street ware, but serves well for one who moves through shadows as a means of survival. Her hair is long, restrained only by a rich azure ribbon that ties her silken strawberry-blonde strands into a lengthy ponytail, and a matching blue thin sash is worn around her neck to hang down along her back - a petite sibling to Hayabusa's crimson own.

"Forgive me," she states with a dip of her head toward Alma. Her demeanor is reserved, almost to the point of openly wary compared to the composed tranquility of the master ninja at her side. "I needed to see for myself the welcome we might receive within these walls." A smile tugs at the edge of her mouth, her voice a curious blend of firm gentleness, of confidence tempered by a warm personality, "You may not number among the Order's leadership, but..." A second slight nod of her head, "You represent your organization well."

She lifts her right hand, a loose fist, to rest lightly near the base of her neck. Hardened leather protects her forearms and shins, and a sheathed weapon rests behind her back parallel to her waist, crimson tassels still swinging from her sudden arrival. "Pleased to meet you, Towazu-san."

"Pardon my indescretion in speculating," Alma replies to Hayabusa's apparently sincere statement of relief as he pours a well-brewed cup of tea into his thermos's cap, "but I suspect that if I didn't see matters as you do, I would have advanced higher in the Order's ranks." He's still grinning.

It's a peculiar blend of pragmatism and idealism that fosters Alma's perspective, and perhaps one that Hayabusa shares. IF one's goal is to preserve the world's balance, what inherent value is there in tradition or loyalty to one's faction? If the purpose of one's faction is the balance, then is not casting aside one's tribal affiliations for the sake of the balance itself a higher form of loyalty, or at least a higher virtue? Perhaps thinking thusly is the luxury of one who works independently. But perhaps it is also the proper mindset of a warrior -- not that Alma has ever thought of himself as such.

"As I possess only one cup, let this serve as toast to our alliance," he says mildly, as likely serious as joking, before taking a sip of the tea and reaching out to offer it to his new compatriot.

I-i-indirect kiss!?

It is as though a million fans squeed at once and then were silent. Briefly. Before the sound of furious typing, and then multiple simultaneous uploads to Fightfiction.org.


Yes, this is the training he had detected earlier as possibility, now as actuality: a woman appears whose aura he had not sensed at all, her presence skillfully concealed. Having just announced himself as a psychic, Alma's flummoxed expression is a little ridiculous. But he recovers himself if only out of good manners to rise and bow to the new arrival.

"Your words mean much to me, Kasumi." Time will tell whether or not his superiors see matters similarly. "And please, call me Alma."

He takes a moment to glance between his two impressive guests. He has no desire to pry, but these individuals are truly fascinating, and unfortunately, there's very little he can tell about them from reading their auras. He thus has to rely on typical modes of interaction, i.e., conversation.

"Are the both of you members of the same organization, then?"

That should be a safe question.


Log created on 22:23:07 07/30/2017 by Alma, and last modified on 11:43:07 07/31/2017.