Description: Mai and Fumiyo track down Alma, of the hitherto unknown Towazu clan of ninjas, in the back garden of a Hokkaido ryoukan to determine what exactly qualifies their fellow King of Fighters competitor to join a team with Hayabusa and Kasumi. Alma cannot admit that it is his affiliation with the Sacred Order that gives him common cause with Hayabusa. How will he ninja his way out of this? (Answer: with a ninja. Nice save, Ryu.)
The souzu taps resoundingly against stone, its bamboo tube tipped past equilibrium, and the water flows out to join that of the sculpted stream that passes through this garden. Here, in the back of one of Hokkaido's understated traditional inns, there is space to savor the mild summer heat of Japan's northern island.
While this ryoukan's hot spring sees more use in the harsh wintertime, its cool outdoor bathing pool is not only pleasant in this season and at this hour but has a charming feature: water flows into it from a little artificial waterfall, caused by the aforementioned stream. The amenities here are otherwise sparse and spartan, so the price is right, but the proprietors put time and care into this soothing courtyard, and it shows.
Said proprietors are also fairly discreet, meaning that when Ryu Hayabusa and his party checked in to rest for an evening before beginning their mountain training -- or whatever else the enigmatic ninja scion has planned for Alma -- any word that spread would be from passerby. But at this point, the world knows that Alma, psychic and painter savant, has joined Hayabusa and Kasumi's King of Fighters team.
Naturally, our lovely hero was not recruited for bearing any resemblance to a ninja. It's publically known that he is a student of Rose and is skilled enough to fight well against Athena, but the reason for Hayabusa's interest in Alma -- his work for the Sacred Order -- is hush-hush. So there is quite a bit of speculation online as to what Alma is doing on this particular team. Alma, for his part, is characteristically bemused by the hubbub.
But it seems to him he ought to make his best effort to fit in. And so he may be found with his legs crossed, clad in one of the inn's white robes, meditating under the garden's adorable miniature waterfall.
Eventually, he opens his eyes, blinking through the water more or less trickling through his hair and into the pool before him.
"...I may be missing something."
A pair of completely ordinary woman checked in to the inn as well, a little while after Alma and Ryu Hayabusa and any other personnel did. After making it into the room, Fumiyo had remarked - even as her snake tattoos slid out from where they'd been 'hiding', in a peculiarly animated way - "It always feels weird to hold them in like that, but how else are we gonna get into a spring, right?"
"Maybe so~" comes a voice that sounds like rough silk coated in honey.
Arms come down around Alma, slim and clean, crossing in front of his chest as bare breasts press against the back of his head and then down lower along the cloth of his tasteful white robe. A sandalwood-forward perfume with peculiar floral undernotes comes at about the same time as Fumiyo saying right behind Alma's ear, "But I won't tell anyone if you won't."
There is a calculated, low chuckle from the woman, and then her arms squeeze lightly. It isn't an attack. In fact it's the exact opposite of an attack. One hand turns to slide into the robe and touch skin against skin, /if not prevented/.
"Hmmm~ I feel some glamour muscles here... Here, come have a feel," Fumiyo says, her voice somehow carrying an audible pout. Who is she talking to??
"That seems a little extreme without even a proper introduction," says a second female voice. Not a moment has passed since she's spoken before a brunette drops down from somewhere to land, perfectly balanced, atop a stone. She's dressed in her red and white ninja uniform, leaving little to the imagination (especially with her generous figure), but at the time she's still clad a bit more decently like the woman who has appeared behind Alma.
The brunette draws a fan from the gap in her cleavage, then snaps it open to hold it in front of her face coyly. She maintains eye contact with Alma despite it.
"And besides, I think maybe you're more of the expert than me?"
See, Alma, *that's* how you make meditation more challenging.
The psychic's only indication of surprise is a single blink, though it seems clear he's been taken entirely unawares. Spending time with Hayabusa and Kasumi has acclimated him a little to those with the ability and training to conceal their presence, a talent that negates most of Alma's hidden advantages. He relies greatly on his aura sight, and implicitly on most people -- even fighters -- not being aware they *have* auras to be seen. But he is not trained in psychic anti-ninja countermeasures, if such a discipline exists, and it shows.
So in this case, Alma's mild-mannered calm stems not from any precognition but from his basic personality. And when his hand darts up to catch Fumiyo's as it threatens to slip tantalizingly into his robe, that is pure reflexes and physical training without any psychic assistance. Instead of attempting to grab or snatch her hand away, however, he manages to clasp it in an almost professional way.
"Hello," he says, and shakes her hand, still looking straight ahead. "I'm Alma."
Is someone politely shaking the hand of someone else sitting directly behind them without making eye contact a completely ridiculous sight? You decide.
"Now, if you tell me your name," he adds helpfully, "we've had a proper introduction." He hasn't shifted from his meditative position, and with Mai's arrival, that's probably prudent. Yet Alma meets Mai's eyes without any apparent difficulty and, if with anything, with polite interest. "Are you two friends of Hayabusa-san and Kasumi-san?"
Now, you may be wondering: how is Alma able to maintain his air of relaxation and unflappability throughout this ordeal? Is it iron discipline? Have he and Hayabusa been training by secretly peeping on Kasumi? Well, there's no evidence to the contrary. But! In this situation, Alma has an unknown secret weapon. He is not asexual; he is *aurasexual*, fascinated by beautiful and lively auras. And ninjas are trained to conceal their auras!
Who knew his weakness would so quickly become a strength.
"I think they are out right now," he continues, pausing a moment before judiciously appending, "though I can never entirely be sure."
Fumiyo laces her fingers with Alma's even as she produces a well practiced, glossy-sleek noblewoman's laugh, not too loud, at the handshake. "I don't know if you could call us friends," Fumiyo says as she unpeels herself from Alma's back and then manages, somehow, to walk around him without actually ceasing being in contact with his body at any point.
However, since he's in his damn bathrobe, this is just the typical kind of thing. After this she walks like she's in heels despite being in bare feet to go sit down near the stone where Mai is perching. Fumiyo /is/ technically dressed, because she has a fundoshi style cloth wrapped around her hips and in between.
Settling down on the stone, Fumiyo crosses her legs at the knee. She watches Alma with extreme focus even as her voice remains light. "You could say we're going to have our fates entwine soon. So, you're in the tournament, right...? You can call me Fumiyo," she adds, with a quirk of one eyebrow.
(To Mai, very quietly, 'I don't think the perfume's hitting him. That or I sweated it all off already.' Externally this looks like a brief whispering aside, though at least there's no post-whisper laughter.)
(Mai answers Fumiyo, fan concealing her mouth to prevent lip-reading. "Hm, really? It is pretty steamy in here. I knew it was smart not to hear the sneaking suit.')
Mai tugs a black, sleek, ninja suit up to her hips, wear it gets firmly stuck. She jumps up and down, trying to get it to progress further, but to no avail. She moves to the bed, still struggling to squeeze into the stealth suit.
"I could have sworn I wore this thing not too long ago," Mai fumes, before finally giving up and snatching her Shiranui fighting uniform off the hangar instead.
"And I'm Mai Shiranui, Japan's most beautiful woman!" replies the other, still perched on the rock. As she introduces herself she swings the fan outward in a flourish, pointing it at Alma. Fumiyo's taking of a seat does not throw her off balance in the slightest, even with the pose.
Alma watches Fumiyo walk away, as any red-blooded man would, though Alma's blood is probably cherry-blossom pink. He smiles sincerely when she turns to face him. "Then I hope to be well-prepared for my fate," he replies, "now that we've already been entwined." His smile broadens, evidence that this was in fact an intentional joke, before sniffing and absent-mindedly reaching up to rub his nose.
Now, you may be wondering what sort of contrived and overly convoluted reason there is for Alma not being affected by Fumiyo's ninja perfume. To explain that, it's best to go back about two hours ...
Hayabusa places the vials before Alma, upon the tatami mats where the both of them kneel. "In the mountains," the ninja intones, "yokai dwell. Their powers to ensorcell men are diverse and deadly. Should we encounter them, you must be physically and mentally prepared." He carefully uncorks one of the vials. "Smell this."
Dutifully, Alma leans in and takes a sniff before doubling over, gracelessly coughing and retching, covering his face, forced to wipe away the tears streaming from his eyes. Hayabusa, expression unchanging, corks the vial and uncorks the next. "Now, smell this."
Alma, eyes still damp, lowers his hands and leans in, a little slower this time, to take another sniff. "I don't smell anything," he manages, slightly choked-up.
The psychic abruptly claps his hands in realization as Mai strikes her glorious pose. "Of course! I know of you." He smiles again. "Rather, I know of your lingerie brand." It's not his fault Mimiru leaves them around the apartment.
"You're both competing in King of Fighters as well, then? It's an honor to make the acquaintance of my fellow competitors. This will be my first major tournament," he confesses guilelessly. "I aspire to live up to the example of my skilled allies."
Step 1: Waterfall training. Check!
"These rooms are too tiny," Fumiyo said from her slouch on the bed. She had been playing phone games while in the near occasion of involuntary peach slam. It /almost/ happens twice. But never quite.
HERE AND NOW
Fumiyo glances at Mai when a lingerie brand comes up. Then back to Alma. Her position shifts uneasily - If Alma is focusing on her rather than the Queen of Brasseries, he would see that for a moment she is slouching in a totally relaxed but balanced way, before resuming her Flirtatious Pose in a slightly different key.
"That's what we wanted to talk to you about, Towazu. You see... what we know about you is that you like to paint, and that you're commonly associated with that pop singer..."
(Fumiyo looks at Mai now. She is not used to interrogating people at this distance and/or still technically wearing clothes.)
"My l--" Mai pauses for a moment, remembering signing what she initially thought was an autograph. She grits her teeth and snaps her fan closed, squeezing it in a fist until there's a cracking sound as she realizes she hasn't even received a royalty check.
"Yes!" Mai says perhaps too sharply before catching herself and cooling down slightly. She glances down at Fumiyo. "It's a pleasure, though I'll admit that I'm equally looking forward to meeting your teammates."
"--or should I say mentors?" Mai quirks a brow, snapping her fan open again. It starts to fall apart from the earlier squeezing, prompting Mai to swiftly draw a second one from her top to replace it. She snaps it open to resume her more practiced pose behind it.
"I've never heard of a Towazu clan of ninja, but clearly you must be interesting if you've drawn such interesting teachers."
Alma nods as Fumiyo begins. Art world fame is a bit too bourgeois to be common knowledge, but his association with the Psycho Soldiers, of whom Athena is the most famous member, is public. But his eyes show a glint of heretofore absent understanding when Mai follows up.
He's managed to simply ignore the general chatter, but it's a little awkward to be directly asked what in the world he's doing associating with Hayabusa and Kasumi. He can't admit that all of them defend the world against the predations of dire supernatural threats because he cannot reveal his association with the Sacred Order. Being a guardian of the balance is not a plausible hobby. And Alma would be a poor liar if he ever tried, which he doesn't.
So he can't say he is a ninja, and he can't say he's not a ninja ...
"It's understandable," he says carefully, "that you've never heard of a Towazu clan of ninja. In many respect, I do consider myself a beginner in comparison to my allies. But they have honored me by treating me as an equal."
Alma's a veritable politician sometimes.
"Perhaps," he supplies, as though as reassurance, "they assumed you were too busy with your business ventures to assist them, Mai."
And sometimes not.
Fumiyo's lips quirk to the side. She is perhaps not entirely pleased that Alma is focusing his attention on Mai, although this is a pique and not a profound offense. Leaning forwards with malice aforethought, she says, "I'm not exactly their bosom buddy, darling, but it seems like this suggests a certain kind of strategy, doesn't it?"
She cups one hand under her opposing elbow, the tattooed hand gesturing forwards without much tension. "So why don't you tell us about your secret bloodline arts, hm? I'd love to know what secrets you're hiding, underneath that robe." Her eyes half-lid, even as she rises from her seat and saunters forwards, a leisurely forward approach.
Can Alma endure it!?
"Business ventures?" Mai says, her voice rising again. "Where do people get these ideas?" She huffs, snapping her fan closed and then dropping down to seat herself in a lotus position atop the rock. She has to toss her tabbard up in the back to avoid sitting on it, causing it to flutter back down behind her.
"But what I want to know," Mai says, "is how you know so much about my alleged lingerie brand." Wait, no, that's not what she came here for.
Alma's eyes widen slightly as he turns toward Fumiyo, by all appearances shaken up for the first time by her seductive sauntering approach. He seems even to flinch back a little toward the waterfall, forced to blink away the water beading on his long eyelashes. Have the woman's overwhelming charms at last set him into a panic?
"Secret ... bloodline arts?"
This was not mentioned in orientation.
Alma, distracted by desperately trying to figure out how he's supposed to answer this, instinctively reaches up to cover himself, *almost* as though he were hiding some incriminating undergarments beneath this robe of his.
Secret bloodline arts? Is this a trick question? Is he supposed to say that he can't tell her because they're secret? But even if that works, how will he answer any of the other questions? There has to be a way out of this.
"... Very well."
There *is* a way out of this.
"I will show you," Alma suddenly proclaims, rising to his feet as water pours off of him magnificently, his eyes flashing with a new vigor, "one of my most advanced techniques." So saying, he raises his hand before him, his eyes beginning to glow with a pink pearlescent light, before calling out:
He's gone, leaving only a few trace sparkles. This is, of course, the work of psychic power, and it is truthfully one of the most advanced techniques Alma knows, typically worked into his most powerful attacks. But as any formally trained psychic is aware, it typically only functions at a very short range.
Yet he is nowhere to be seen.
Silently, inconspicuously, a few stray bubbles rise to the surface of the pool.
Fumiyo lets out an "Uh!" which is pretty much the penultimate manifestation of her entire saucy-lady act, and then swishes her hips in aggravation while looking around.
"Well, you have to admit," Fumiyo says as she turns around on her heel fast enough to outrace convenient wisps of mist and steam, "that is a pretty good bloodline art, don't you think, Mai?"
Then her eyes cut towards the pool.
Fumiyo starts to circle round, falling silent. She crouches low, crab-walking so as to cast less of a shadow.
Mai blinks several times when Alma vanishes suddenly. She leans forward on her stony perch to see if there's any signs of shimmering or some other illusion, then tilts her head sideways to examine from another angle.
"Well I think so, but I do wonder if it's as good for fighting as it is for vanishing..."
"Is there a problem?" The words are soft, unassuming, without venom or vehemence. Gently spoken, even, and yet somehow-- intense, commanding. There's a weight, an authority to the scion of the Hayabusa Clan's bearing that belies the youth's limited years, as he gracefully approaches the spring.
His garb is a mix of a similar scant covering to that worn by Fumiyo, whilst a robe similar to Alma's hangs open on his form, the lithely muscular master ninja approaching unhidden-- though just how much of the exchange he witnessed is a question for Mai and her compatriot to ponder, later. Or demand answers to now-- Ryu is the boss of neither.
The saya of Ryuken is held loosely in the Ninja Prince's left hand, deceptively nonchalant in the bearing of such a weapon-- he's seldom without it. If the uncannily collected young man is distracted or unsettled by the copious flesh and practiced presentation thereof, there's no sign of it in his gait, or those gold-flecked emerald eyes. They know precisely where both Mai -and- Fumiyo's eyes -actually- are, and the gaze that meets each set is steady, if a touch curious-- to put it mildly.
"Surely -this- sort of ambush is not the way anyone wishes to become King of Fighters..." Is he drily teasing them? Is he serious? What was it he said to Kasumi not so many nights previous? If ambush were what was desired, there are -far- better chances before conversation is joined. In this instance, it rather works both ways.
"That man held his own against Athena Asamiya." Hayabusa says it like it -means- something. Which, to the last scion of the Dragon Lineage, it most -certainly- does. "Questioning his combat prowess would be unwise if not for his alarmingly affable nature." Hayabusa is probably keenly aware, for his part, that he's talking about Alma in front of Alma.
A few more bubbles rise up from the bottom of the pool beneath Fumiyo's watchful gaze. When Hayabusa makes his entrance, the bubbles cease, and with them all evidence of Alma's alarmingly affable presence.
But, as soon as the soliloquy ends and silence reigns, Fumiyo's patience is rewarded with the distinctive sight of white rising to the surface. It's--
A robe, unworn.
"Twice in a row ... gives me a headache."
Murmuring this under his breath, Alma, psychic powers spent but now out of sight in the topiary by the stream above the waterfall, up and away from those down by the pool, begins to quietly crawl away in the wake of Hayabusa's entrance. And in the absence of his robe, well--
Someone could use some Mai-brand lingerie.
Fumiyo looks over and up at the incoming form of Ryu Hayabusa. She looks at him in a comprehensive gestalten way; her eyes do not focus on any particular region of him. Her body shifts and now she is, perhaps, insolent, but not flirtatious.
"Hmfph," says the Jatani, who Ryu Hayabusa would likely recognize. Turning up her nose, she saunters off, one hand on her hip.
And what of the Jatani?
ELSEWHERE, A WHILE AGO:
George R. R. Martin says to the interviewer, even as he thinks fondly of pizza, "I drew most of my inspiration for the Targaryens off of the stories of the Jatani Clan in Japan, which I discovered from some of the late-night animation sessions at science fiction cons in the late eighties. Of course I changed a few details around, such as making it red dragons instead of red snakes. The scene between Dany and her brother, in fact, is based on the attested stories of the internal dynamics of that clan."
The interviewer asks: "Does that mean that Jamie and Cersei--"
"Haw! Well, it did inform how I imagine Cersei's martial arts style, for all the good it's done her. And Tyrion's, of course."
The man of New Mexico knows nothing, of course. Fumiyo side-eyes Ryu with extreme intensity on her way towards the ryokan itself, and will likely be in an ill mood for the rest of the day.
Mai seems to temporarily lose her balance, forcing her to plant her palm on the rock. She twists into a handstand, the launches off, gaining enough height to land in a squat on the nearby privacy wall. Having landed smoothly, Mai rises up and puts a hand on her hip, her other hand pointing at Ryu with a closed fan. "It seems like we're not the only ones ambushing people," Mai almost chides, but it has a certain playful flirtiness to it. "But honestly sabotaging the competition is for someone who isn't confident in their skills."
Mai snaps her fan open again, fanning herself. "But there's nothing wrong with a little observation!" It's then that Mai spots the empty robe, then its former occupant. "--err," she bites her lip. "Except maybe when there's a wardrobe malfunction. I think I'll leave you fellows to your team-bonding time."
Mai hops off the wall with a backflip
There's a sudden yelp and a splash from the other side of the wall. She shows up at the ryokan again later.
"It -is- in the job description." The ambush thing. Hayabusa wastes nary a beat trading dry witticism with Mai, and by this juncture, it's likely much more obvious that the deceptively distant man with the ponytail is, in fact, messing with them. A ghost of a smile crosses the ninja master's austere features as Fumiyo takes-- or feigns-- great offense and stalks off in a huff. It doesn't seem to much matter which, which is -sure- to go miles towards improving her mood later.
"I could not agree more." Ryu offers as those green eyes that have both seen and see more than they should return to the buxom kunoichi, the smile fading from his lips but remaining a spark behind his vibrant gaze. "And you, Mai Shiranui, are certainly reputed both confident and skilled." If /that/ is mockery, it rings deceptively matter-of-fact as sincere compliment.
Then she goes and falls off a wall making her exit, and Hayabusa has to second guess himself. The monster slayer -sighs- such a sigh. Then slips off his robe, and slides into the water with a decidedly more relaxed exhalation. Yes, back to teambuilding. Just as soon as Alma finds some pants.
Log created on 21:54:21 08/02/2017 by Alma, and last modified on 01:18:40 08/03/2017.