Description: Raiden is in his metaphorical tent, as the cries of the planet grow into a cacophony. Recovering from his ambush from Akuma, the thunder god finds company by two of his worshippers: the Ainu maidens, Nakoruru and Honoka. The pair of ladies come for more than hosannas, however. They bring rage and anguish over the destruction of their people and their homes, and find their faith tested by the Thunder God. Raiden must teach his followers the vision he shares... and how they can help bring about a brave new world against the treacherous United Nations and Japan alike.
It was two weeks ago when the young woman was taken in by the villagers. Quiet, reserved, her attire fashioned after antiquated patterns of the Ainu traditions - an ankle-length white robe, with geometric azure and crimson patterned borders worn over white pants. She seemed almost lost when she was found by the sentries at the fringe reaches of the hidden village, unable or unwilling to state her name, where she was from, or where she was going. Though armed, the raven-haired young woman seemed a stranger to the world, her peaceful bearing putting the normally wary recluses at ease and she was welcomed to enter past the wards keeping the small, reclusive settlement hidden.
Those hidden here came from all walks of life. Freaks. Rejects. Broken souls with no where else to turn. Some were humans with a heart that bleed for the downtrodden. Others would be considered monsters that would find no acceptance in the world but for those likeminded separatists that walked their own path and established this remote sanctuary.
Kindly, they gave the young nomad a tent of her own and a share of their food. She was a subject of some curiosity, for while she was often questioned about what events were shaping the world outside of the haven in the woods, she once more seemed unable or unwilling to speak to such matters. She took to the proffered tent where she spent her days since being invited, but she was no recluse. Those who came to speak with her would find the enigmatic wanderer happy to talk to them, to speak of events of the distant past, of wars, battles, and sacrifices of some of history's most renown heroes.
She was visited on the second day by a venerable man of humble yet respected bearing, his face bearing the avian features of an owl blended with humanity, speaking through a sharp beak and watching through wide, all-seeing eyes.
"You may stay with us, sister." he had spoken as the two chatted.
"For here, you are among kin, yes?"
The kindly man was offered no confirmation of his conjecture, only a wistful smile and expression of gratitude from their young visitor. As the days went by, oft times she would be found out in the opening, gazing at the tower around which the village huddles.
It was a week ago that the wards fell and the mood of the encampment changed. There was tension in the air, whispers, and fear. The visitor never spoke of it as eyes of all shapes, kinds, and sizes turned toward the tree lines, rumors of shadows moving beyond the borders, and concerns about what the collapse of the wards signified. Some started to speak of the need to fight, to take up arms, and to prepare for the worst, while others continued preach hope that their safe place in the world would go unnoticed as nations vied against nations, and powerful men around the globe had larger issues to distract themselves.
Two days ago, the young woman in white left her tent to walk with those who patrolled and kept watch on the borders. "A special visitor is coming," she explained when they once more idly asked what it was she was looking for. "A champion of the Ainu, she will be drawn here. Please... welcome her when she comes as you welcomed me. She is no danger to you, she will not betray your secrets." Her own focus had wandered back toward the grand shrine, "But it is our obligation to plea in person at the feet of the gods."
This evening, the sunset over Hokkaido is an awe inspiring blend of red, golds, violets, and blues. In the distance, the golden orb sets, hidden but in a few places by far off wispy clouds. Directly overhead, the last rays of light stretch out to leave swaths of blues and violets through the thicker clouds that hang heavy.
Nakoruru waits at the foot of the Sky Temple, seated on the bottom step of the wooden stairs ascending into the entrance, just beyond the torii that one must pass through before approaching the seat of a god. She has been sitting there for a couple hours now, showing no need to fidget or any indications of impatience. The mood in the encampment is tense, a sense that has only been escalating as the days have gone by, but she has sat apart from the talks of fighting, of leaving, or of hoping the gods above eradicate all the possible threats from the world as a whole.
"A god's power is not deployed lightly," she had responded, voice reflecting quiet melancholy, when two of the attendants of the temple asked her thoughts about invoking Raiden's wrath upon the world. "Ask instead that you might be instruments through which their mighty hands might work."
The two had gone on their way, lighting the lanterns that now glow alongside the great stairway leading into the interior and leaving the young petitioner to her quiet, lonely vigil.
Ancient Ainu legends were only rarely written down. Ainu are living beings -- and anything made by the hands of mankind will inevitably be flawed, imperfect, and subject to the ravages of time. For centuries, the Ainu had left their history in the hands of the most reliable, most trustworthy medium around: the village chieftains and the yukar-singers.
Stories shift over time, as changing circumstances inevitably steer the legendary characters and their deeds to change along with them. The legends grew to meet the needs of the people who revered them. And there would be no way of knowing that there was even a change, if not for the shisam welcomed into the villages with open arms. If not for the missionary John Batchelor, the Ainu would have never known of the existence of gods other than their own and those of the Shinto faith. If not for the recordkeeping of prescient university scholars, even more of their historical record would have been lost in the unending march of progress. If not for the wise Ainu who saw the changing winds, even the stories themselves might have been lost.
It is the record of Chiri Yukie which Honoka Kawamoto has been studying. Not in book form -- for the Ainu have no written language of their own. No, two white cables drape from her ears into a cellphone clipped upon her sash. Technology stands in stark contrast to the humble robes she wears -- similar in form to a kimono, but more closely resembling those of the raven-haired woman who had come to the village two weeks prior. The intricate patterning on the seams of Honoka's garment communicates little, but expresses much; each of the squared-off, rectilinear lines of dark scarlet is sure to have some hidden meaning known only to the wearer. Another unusual addition to her attire is a quite modern neck brace -- plastic shrouds with foam padding held in place with canvas straps and buckles. That, and the shorter length of her raven-black hair, are two fashion changes she can thank her last KOF opponent for.
The juggler moistens her lips as she steps foot into the village, passing meaningful looks at each of the guards to the hidden village.
With the wards down, the guards have been particularly stubborn to let just anyone into the gate.
And yet, even without words, Honoka is allowed in -- as well her traveling companion, a woman who looks to be much older than the Twilight Star Circus performer, garbed in similar attire.
Honoka quietly makes her way through the village, removing the earbuds so that she can listen to the rumblings within the village in all their glory.
Heads turn as she and her companion pass -- and yet no one near the two seems to put up much of a fuss.
Perhaps her reputation as a champion of the Ainu people was enough.
As Honoka looks up at the mighty terraces of the Sky Temple, the expression on her face is mostly neutral, but probably closest to a frown.
It will not take her long to seek out her companion.
And it will take her only a moment's study to decide upon her course of action.
She seats herself beside Nakoruru, folding her hands upon her lap.
Makaotari stands behind the pair, lacing her fingers before her. She passes her gaze up to the temple, saying nothing, as is usual for the aged elder.
The light, almost invisible frown on Honoka's face fades away, replaced by a content smile, as she too begins to look up to the temple's pinnacle.
She may not have Nakoruru's patience.
But the juggler allows herself to be inspired by the warrior maiden's hope.
The air is crisp but damp, portends of more inclement weather to come, perhaps. The breeze blowing through is intermittent, still for long moments, but picking up on occasion to tousle hair or push the flame in lanterns into leaning toward one side. Seemingly content to observe the subtle nuances of the air currents or study the slowly stretching shadows of pending sunset, Nakoruru remains seated, hands clasped in her lap as she is joined silently by the half-Ainu young woman.
Glancing up from whatever thoughts must have occupied her mind all this time, she looks toward Honoka, a supportive faint smile at her lips, her eyes reflecting concerns too profound to put to voice in that moment. A slight nod of acknowledgement is offered, a silent greeting between two who have already shared much with each other in recent weeks.
How she knew to wait here, how she knew the one person she wanted at her side to ascend the temple floors, would come this eve is not spoken but the relief that her premonition proved true is also reflected in the way her posture relaxes slightly, expression brightening just a little even in the shadow cast by the great tower.
The meeting of the three outsiders has certainly drawn its fair share of attention. Villagers not otherwise occupied with more pressing duties have taken to lingering within line of sight, too polite or nervous to outright stare, but also too curious as to be able to reset making furtive glances toward the trio of Ainu-blooded strangers. Nakoruru seems to make no notice of being a spectacle of interest for the refuges that call this encampment home. For now, she merely studies Honoka, eyes lingering on the unflattering brace her tournament teammate has been forced to wear while her body mends from a most brutal conflict. Her study shifts from the brace back to Honoka's face, smile lingering but muted with worry.
But there is no time to be lost in catching up. The one she had waited for is here. The world bleeds, nature cries, and war looms in the horizon. IT is time to get to work. The young warrior maiden stands, rising slowly to her feet and turning, eyes coming to rest on the elder woman that provided a traveling companion to the awaited new arrival. Steel-blue eyes study the old woman, her expression initially unreadable but quickly showing faint signs of confusion and recognition. Her mouth opens slightly, eyes blinking as she takes a step forward, right hand lifting just a little before falling to her side. Mouth still open, the Time Lost Warrior blinks again, "Ma-... Makaotari..." she whispers, voice choked.
The surprised young woman shakes her head slightly, looking to the side as she takes a step back down one stair before looking toward the old woman once again. "But you..." Eyes close then, head bowed, hands clasped in front of her tightly, "Forgive me," she requests with humility, "For living on while you and the others..."
Her hands clasp tighter, shoulders falling before she finally manages to look up again into the aged face of one who had appeared so much younger when they last stood shoulder to shoulder, placing their lives upon the altar of battle for Earth's sovereignty from Outland. She glances toward Honoka then, searching the young woman's face as if to glean the answers she must already be concluding.
The warrior matron's eyes glimmer as their gaze falls upon Nakoruru. As Nakoruru remembers well, the matron had been in the entourage that attended the Mortal Kombat tournament two hundred years prior. Now, she is a reflection of the past, reforged into a new form with the corrupted sorcery others would sooner turn away from than embrace. Aged significantly -- for while those chosen by the Kamui may be able to escape the ravages of time, Makaotari and those resurrected alongside her were not able to.
The quiet, matronly woman's long, wavy tresses tremble as she shakes her head in dismissal. Her head tilts to the side -- and then she abruptly steps forward, wrapping arms about Nakoruru in a tender, wistful embrace.
Her voice is just as Nakoruru would remember it: warm and inviting, with the slightest hint of mirth.
"There is nothing you have done that demands forgiveness. It is we who should ask you for forgiveness, for falling in battle -- for delaying our success at the tournament for two hundred years."
Stepping back from the hug, she tilts her head towards Honoka: "For, thanks to you, your perseverence, and our Champion, we were able to save Ainu Moshir after all. I have no other regrets."
Makaotari steps back though, returning her gaze to the high peak of the temple. As touching as the reunion between the two warrior women must have been, the circumstances could be... less grim. And Makaotari is painfully aware of the audience.
"Speaking of our Champion..."
Honoka practically finishes the sentence for her companion. Even though her gaze up to the temple had never broken, the gifted psychic is something of an expert on reading the emotions of those around her.
"... Makaotari and I have spent a great deal of... time, trying to figure out why Kamui Kanna has undertaken such a punishing... such an -irreversible- action. And no matter how much we've talked about it, we're no closer to finding an answer."
Makaotari collects her breath, as if to add a statement of her own...
Only to be interrupted by Honoka speaking again.
Honoka extends an open palm to the top of the terrace. "Yes, yes, until we arrived here. Now, though?"
Makaotari smiles, folding her hands behind her back, and stepping backwards. "I place my faith in you two. I shall remain here until -- unless -- you need me."
Only now does the half-Ainu juggler flash a sidelong grin at Nakoruru -- and only now does she extend her hand to Nakoruru, hoping to clasp her hand around one of the warrior-maiden's own.
"You're welcome -- and thank -you-, sister. I can't think of a better partner to climb these steps with."
For once they are side-by-side, the two will begin the ascent together. The humble moccasins make scarcely a sound upon the stonework -- and it becomes clear that Honoka still seems to be a bit stiff from her convalescence. But she makes no audible complaint about the voyage once it begins, keeping her eyes skyward.
The walk seems like an eternity. And yet, unlike eternity, it has an end. The trees planted atop the temple are lit by flickering lanterns, their shadows soft and phantomlike in the dusk. And the lightning rods cast their own shadows -- long, and wavering.
Honoka's voice rings out loud and clear -- with hardly anything around to deflect the sound.
"These two humble Ainu seek an audience with you."
And Honoka sets her jaw, grimacing somewhat as she forces herself to drop to one knee. She'd angle her head downward in a bow, but that's frankly impossible with the neck brace, so she does the best she can.
Certain gestures transcend the barriers of culture or the obscuring mists of time. The hug Nakoruru finds herself pulled into certainly qualifies as one such universal form of communication. The motion is returned, the younger looking of the two resting her face against the old woman's shoulder as her arms wrap around her. She is quite for the duration of the embrace and words, and when the two finally stand facing each other again, she answers Makaotari's words with a smile and dip of her head, "As you say, dear friend. It was my fortune to bear the lantern through the centuries, to keep dim hope burning until our long test finally came to an end." She glances toward Honoka, right palm hand resting over her chest, "But of course... she did not make it through the ordeal alone. You still had a part to play from beyond the veil."
Nakoruru falls quiet then, glancing back toward the temple itself. Time was of the essence, now that Honoka had arrived, and the urgency does not seem lost on the recuperating fighter. There is a slight nod, "We will find no answer among ourselves." She takes Honoka's hand, fingers tightening, looking toward the old woman at her side, "No... entrust this task to us, my friend. We will not trouble you with a climb so steep." She smiles a little, her voice still wistful, eyes reflecting worry as the moment of truth has finally arrived. She nods toward Honoka then and moves into the temple with her to begin the long ascent to the consecrated place of the Sky Temple's roof.
She is quiet through the four story climb, looking lost in thought, up until the two step out from the candle-lit interior to the open roof. The task of beseeching she leaves to her friend, however, though she does bow her head at the appropriate moment. The gesture will have to suffice for them both.
There are many who walk the world claming to be gods among men. Fighters of exceptional caliber, grand masters who have risen far beyond their peers. To these few elite, having the power to destroy is what they claim makes them a god.
If only they knew the truth.
years of performance no doubt help the wounded girl to project, her ringing call shattering the somber quiet of the twilight garden. A faint breeze sways the trees in their pots, leafy branches rustling softly together as the ancient name echo's across the rooftop.
The sky quivers beneath the weight of a soft grumble of distant thunder.
"Two Ainu, this is true." comes the soft response, words spoken from the deep shadow cast by a gnarled old oak not 20 feet in front of the pair. The voice is an odd mix of gentle patience and crackling intensity, a slightly hoarse murmur that none-the-less carries easily to the ear. And, if either woman were to look, they might spot the dim silhouette of an average-sized man in a loose grey robe leaning tiredly against a tall metal staff, eyes hidden beneath the brim of a conical straw hat. Aside from the reflected glint of his staff, the brightest point on the otherwise drab figure is the long, snow-white hair that falls in thick waves around his back and shoulders.
"And one of them is truly humble." Finishing his thought, the shadowed figure shows his teeth in a slightly wolfish smile, the expression not quite matching the solemn gravity of his tone. Still, whatever the smile means, it is gone soon enough, face once more indistinct and shadowy.
"I had wondered when the two of you would come. Nature's Avatar. Earth's Champion. You are welcome in my temple."
Stepping slowly forward out of the indistinct shadows, the simple, slightly stern features of the god come mostly into sight. Though his eyes remain hidden, the rest of him is now plainly visible. Unfortunately, he doesn't look like much. An ageless Asian man, medium olive skin, moving a bit stiffly as if favoring a wound. There are certainly no arcs of power coming off of him, nor does he throw out an aura overwhelming to the senses.
"You have come to demand an explanation for what I have done to your homeland." Lord Raiden continues, sandaled feet pausing their slow advance once he is within 5 feet of the champions. He does not sound upset, nor surprised. Defensive or apologetic. If anything he seems slightly warn, folding both arms around his staff and allowing it to once more take his weight, braced firmly in the crook of his right shoulder. His expression is pensive, words remaining a quiet crackle as he gazes down at the two, "I have done all that I can to save you. If I had seen the signs sooner, perhaps I could have done more. You are looking upon the likely end of the realm."
And again, he smiles. Perhaps the expression is ironic. Maybe not.
Makaotari nods quietly -- first to Nakoruru's clarification of the tournament, secondly to the assessment that some answers must be sought beyond the small council of Ainu elders. Makaotari has never shied away from saying things that need to be said, but as her age advances, she often prefers to let other people come to conclusions on their own -- and only to correct them if they happen to be in error.
"May the Kamui provide the answers you seek."
Honoka retrieves her hand before it becomes an inconvenience to Nakoruru's independence. Her head and shoulders turn towards the voice -- had Kamui Kanna been a man, she'd have spotted his presence long beforehand. But as it is, the voice and realization come as pleasant surprises, garnering softened features from the half-Ainu woman.
Coming from anyone else, the accusation that the Ainu woman lacks humility might be taken as a grievous offense. But coming from the lips of a Kamui...
Honoka can only cast her eyes downward, moistening her lips in shyness: guilty, as charged.
Any explanation she could offer for her false humility would seem presumptuous at best Instead -- she offers only honest humility, swallowing her pride in the face of her smiling accuser. She knows she has done well for the Ainu people -- and her outspoken nature has provided her people with growth thought to be unimaginable in past years. And if he knows of her past, then surely she does not need to belabor the point.
Besides -- while a Japanese man smiling in a formal conversation might be considered rude, the Ainu and the Kamui are bound by no such societal stigmas.
And yet, the humility can only last so long in one with such a fiery personality as Honoka's. Her eyes lift, her jaw setting firmly at the notion that she would presume to -demand- an explanation from the Kamui themselves. Her head shakes -- and her shoulders, bound to the action, shake as well. And yet, she does not raise her voice in protest -- allowing Raiden to speak.
"... Kamui Kanna, we have mourned the lost."
Her voice is sad; somber. And yet, she is determined to make her point -- to reiterate things from -her- viewpoint with confidence and clarity.
"Four hundred Ainu souls have left us as a result of Japanese treachery -- an act Ainu have specifically fought against with the very core of our being. Our numbers dwindle, shrinking every day despite our best efforts. And the ones who survived the tragedy are the ones who despoil our land, who seek every opportunity to wreak havoc and undo the glory of the Kamui."
Honoka casts her eyes to Nakoruru, as her nostrils flare with a renewed breath.
Eyes return to Raiden, a moment later. "We come seeking an explanation, but we do not demand one. But, moreover, we seek to avoid further loss of Ainu life in following the will of the Kamui. If you ask for us to engage in war -- we shall. If you ask for us to expel the unworthy from our lands -- we shall. But -- if I may be so bold -- it is my belief that idleness and piety have earned us this mess, and we seek your guidance in reasserting control.
Honoka rises back to her full height, her swept-back hair fluttering in the breeze. Her hands clasp at her sides.
"Kamui Kanna, I cannot accept this as the end of the realm. We have fought much too hard for our victories to be merely swept away. And we are willing to fight on, for as long as it takes, so that our people can thrive and prospaer again."
As peals of thunder rumble in the distance, a softer voice, no less powerful, emanates closer by. At the sound, Nakoruru drops to one knee, head still lowered, crimson bow large at the back of her head. One would have to forgive Honoka the inability to do likewise, braced as she is. Only once he has stopped within a couple of strides from the two sojourners does she finally stand up straight to glance fleetingly toward the divine figure.
Ainu stories are full of accounts of how gods have walked among the villages of men in the humble garb of travelers as a test of the people's compassion. That the Kamui Kanna himself stands before them looking like no more than a humble wanderer himself rather than the Lord of not just this temple, but of the endless skies that reign above is something the blue-steel eyed swordswoman would be able to accept without the slightest second guessing... if this was the first time she had stood in his presence.
Even still, her eyes are full of quiet wonder. It has been over a century since she last set eyes on Raiden in the hellscape that was Shang Tsung's Island, when she, among others, was called to fight in the ninth Mortal Kombat tournament. But like white-haired chuckling Lord of Thunder, she does not appear to have aged a day since last she sought council in that ill fated defense of Earth's freedom. There is a slight dip of her head as he states out loud the purpose of their journey to his temple only to blink as he speaks of having saved them, a soft intake of breath at mention that in spite it all, this may be Earth's final chapter.
But it is no surprise that it is Honoka that speaks first between them and when the eloquent young woman glances Nakoruru's way, she meets her gaze and offers a quiet nod of support, encouragement to keep going, before looking back toward Raiden. Her own expression is forlorn while Honoka's speech carries zeal for action.
When Honoka speaks of doing whatever it takes for the Ainu to thrive as a people once more, Nakoruru clasps her hands together in front of her, a brief, distant look in her eyes as she stares toward, seemingly focused on something well beyond the Thunder God himself. With a slow blink, she brings her attention back to the humbly dressed deity made manifest. "Kamui Kanna... The tide of hatred washing over the land, is there nothing that can be done? The Earth cries out in anguish as blood drenches her blessed soil, and the appeals for solace are all but deafening to my ears. Nature weeps tears of mourning as the lands are desecrated by men beyond hope and even now, the rumble of the mountain laid low echoes in my bones. As such, I ask that you will forgive me if the quiet whispers of the kamui have not been heard by me, leaving my mind ill at ease as to what is expected."
Her shoulders fall a little, hands unclasping as she averts her eyes to the side for a moment, then fixes her gaze back on the only one of the kamui she knows to have walked among the people himself. "But please... let my humble plea be heard... not all of your creations are forsaken. I have only begun to see the world Honoka sacrificed on the vile island to defend. And though I have at times set eyes on the souls of fallen... I have also seen so much potential for good, for a brighter day. Is it necessary for innocents to be abandoned for vile men to be stopped?"
Raiden remains silent as both women put forth questions and supplications, lower half of his face once more an unsmiling mask of stern indifference. Like the weather, he is always changing. Unpredictable. But just as the typhoon may destroy one's home, the rain falls to nourish the crops. Which side of the god do they speak to today? The rain, or the lightning?
Hidden gaze focusing first on Nakoruru, he speaks, tone just as soft as before, "Well you know that the fate of this world rests in the hands of its leaders. Clans have grown. They now stretch from sea to sea, bloated and complacent. The weapons they fight with decimate entire regions. And it is not the reasonable or kind that rise to the task of leading. Only those hungry for power. I can no longer afford to be gentle. Such light warnings are disregarded. But you are not commanded to fight."
How unfair it is, to give the illusion of choice. But it is offered none-the-less, the white-haired god shifting his attention to Honoka with only the faintest of frowns.
"As the champion of Mortal Kombat, it is your sacred duty to fight in the defense of all who walk this realm. Loyalty to your people is admirable, but resentment toward others will only poison your heart. I did not intend to punish the Ainu. The destruction of the device on Hokkaido was a warning to all men of the danger of their actions. The creation of false gods is not a new discovery. It is ancient, and has always ended in great tragedy. But never before have they been unleashed on such a scale. If you wish to help me, you will do so for the good of all, but many more will die. There is no way for this to end without the deaths of the innocent. We work to save who we can."
Honoka nods quietly as Nakoruru speaks. The Champion of Earthrealm knows that her more proactive, daresay 'combative' stance is a bit at odds with the belief that all people can coexist peacefully with one another, but the fact remains that Honoka's seen her people's numbers dwindle before her eyes. And that she herself -- a devoted student of history and the old traditions -- has already allowed herself to fall victim to the shallow pastimes of the modern world; she can certainly attest to the attractiveness of electronic entertainment.
Despite their marked differences, though, the Ainu women of two different eras stand in solidarity. There was undoubtedly destruction. But was the loss of life truly necessary?
Honoka's fingers curl, as she draws in her breath. Fixing her eyes solidly upon Raiden's, she speaks with fiery determination, her voice inflections carrying almost as much weight as the words themselves.
"Dozens of lives -- of -Ainu lives- were sacrificed in the construction of the Biratori Dam. Our concerns about breaking our connection to the gods -- our connections to =you!= -- were swept aside with the notion that thousands of lives will be spared by the advent of free and easy electricity! That -lives- would be spared by their sacrifices."
Her brow furrows. "We were told, as a people, to suck it up for the greater good."
Her jaw stiffens -- her posture growing more firmer in proportion.
"Death and discomfort, we were told, were unavoidable side effects of progress. When you wield administrative control over Hokkaido, as they had, there is no need to consult those who might be affected -- it's Hokkaido, after all, not Ainu Moshir. We are just the locals -- free to dismiss at any turn. Uplift the strong -- and ferry the weak to Pokna-moshiri or whatever those uncultured louts call Hell."
So, Kamui Kanna, I have issues with your justification of progress being virtually identical. You say there is no way for this to end without the deaths of the innocent. I would beseech the Kamui to remember to punish the guilty -instead- of the innocent. It is true, that perhaps I lack humility -- and please forgive me in this -- but I =do= insist on knowing why you have -forsaken- us -- the ones who fight in your honor -- in your selfish display of wrath!"
She closes her eyes. Her knuckles are white, from the degree which she clenches her hands tight. But as she speaks with such fire -- and quite possibly heresy -- she exhales.
And around her, motes of purple light begin to flicker, scattered about like dandelion seeds unsettled by a passing breeze.
"I confess limited understanding of the modern destructive powers in play," Nakoruru answers softly to Raiden, dipping her head slightly, "But if it the leaders that must be laid low, then let me be directed their way, that Nature's wrath may be made manifest." She lowers her eyes then, hands closing at her sides. As the god has uttered, the command will not come from him. Reserved, she stands in silent contemplation, only glancing back up to absorb the words offered for the benefit of her ally in arms.
The Lord of Thunder mentions again the loss of lives, and of the dangerous hooked chains of hatred that perhaps have entwined the heart of the modern champion. And the stark warning that no matter what, the lives of innocent are inevitable collateral of any battlefield.
Her attention shifts toward Honoka next as the young woman speaks of the lives lost in the construction of the very location that was destroyed by the wrath of one thousand heavens. Her declarations building momentum, still the gifted speaker continues, heedless of the risks. Finally, her companion escalates to confrontation and Nakoruru turns her face away to the other side, eyes closing, right hand briefly lifting to flick a finger near the level of her right eye.
She opens her eyes a moment later, taking in the image of small lights of ambient power building, passions forced into the the visual spectrum by the curiously unique filter of the woman at her side. With dampened eyes, she looks back toward the young speaker, "Honoka..." she murmurs.
But after a few seconds of studying her, the sword maiden's focus shifts back to Raiden. She doesn't rebuke or contest the words of her teammate. If anything can be read of the pained look on her face, it is that she has to be wondering the same thing.
"Kamui Kanna... please... there must be another way. We cannot fight-" her voice chokes slightly and she pauses to swallow, "-if our family is to be sacrificed in the process. If there must be blood consecrated upon the altar of war, let it be my own."
Her right hand lifts, closed into a small fist that she rests against her chest near the base of her neck, "To this end have I given up everything. Please let it not be in vain."
Honoka's steadily building tirade crashes over Raiden without visible effect, the god standing stoic in the face of her rage. In stark contrast, the near tearful plea of Nakoruru works to undermine the god's stance. To touch upon his sympathy. Perhaps it is not meant to be an attack, but so often conversations are as battles.
A sad smile touches the corners of Raiden's mouth as he gazes down upon both champions, both his robe and his hair oddly still in the cool dusk breeze.
"Honoka. While I admire your passion," the god states with quiet blandness, "your comparison is false. You focus too closely upon the lives of one people. When I destroyed the generator, so few humans died. It was nothing more than a shove, to push you away from power you could not hope to control. One that I regret now. Had I known that false gods had already been created, I would not have acted so harshly. A warning is of little use to one who has already completed a crime. But now they have been awakened, and can no longer hide from my sight."
Shifting his weight away from his staff, Lord Raiden lifts his chin, the sparking white pools of his eyes coming into sight beneath the low brim of his hat. Contemplating some far off point, posture relaxed despite Honoka's visible rage, he draws in a slow breath.
"This is not a punishment. What I must do next is not born of wrath." choosing his words with slow deliberation, he continues with quiet intent, "The army of, gears, that has been created is beyond my current power to destroy in direct kombat. But they are not beyond the means of a ritual. It is within my power to summon a storm strong enough to punish all responsible, and destroy this army. To give humanity time to correct its mistake. But such power comes with a cost. Forty days, and forty nights of rain, released across the world. Stories are still told of the devastation wrought when last this storm was unleashed."
Closing his own eyes then, the great lord seems to consider, deep lines of worry creasing his ageless features. He does not look like a wrathful god out for vengeance. But how many can claim they have actually seen such.
"This is not a decision I make lightly. To avoid this is why I have acted with such decisiveness. You have seen only a fraction of the destructive power these false gods can unleash, and your control over them is only temporary. When they are free, they will fall upon the world with all the fury of the once enslaved."
Eyes flicking open once more, Lord Raiden focuses their sparking depths fully upon Nakoruru, stepping stiffly forward to close the distance between them. Right remaining braced on his staff for support, he reaches out with the left, attempting to grip her shoulder firmly in a paternal gesture of support.
"I do not doubt your willingness to bleed in protection of the innocent. But this is not a problem so easily solved. I will need guardians to protect me while the ritual is prepared. if you choose to aid me, I can make only two promises. There will be time for each of you to go forth and warn the realm of what comes, to save as many as will listen. And, I will not release the storm unless all seems lost."
There again is his smile, still sad, but with a core of something else behind it. Something impossible to read.
"If we are fortunate, the mortals of this realm will show their strength, and correct this evil. But if we are not, this ritual is the only hope humanity has of surviving what comes."
Honoka is peripherally aware of Nakoruru's mute pleas for her to mind her tone -- to remember the decorum that is supposed to accompany one as they speak with a literal god. And yet, the actual words do not spill forth -- only tearful silence.
The psion is not ignorant of her companion's sorrow -- she is emboldened by it.
She remains silent as Nakoruru speaks. She nods quietly -- as Nature's Avatar does not -contradict- her empassioned plea, but rather adds to it, augments it -- and provides a reasonable alternative rather than hollow frustration.
So few humans died.
So -few humans died-.
The number is 468 -- a pittance in terms of over 7 billion, but a significant fraction of the estimated 25,000 Ainu souls walking the Earth.
Honoka trembles with rage, moisture saturating her eyes. The swirling motes of purple light do not gain any further speed, though the dust begins to spin in circles at her feet -- the sphere of her storm's influence spreading. And yet, this is the limit of her anger for now -- balled fists, and zephyrs of distributed rage.
She shakes her head.
"You wish for mortals to grow stronger. And this is a good end. But if you seek to -flood us-, allow me to tell you how our most wicked will survive. Our most wicked have learned from the Great Flood -- and they have built boats. Our most wicked have learned from the furies of the past -- and they have proven very adept at steering around them.
"You speak of fortune, and you say you have not made the decision lightly. But I urge you to think further upon it -- for if you seek mortals to grow stronger, rest assured, for every hundred innocent who perish in your grand flood, you can count on three wicked men rising to meet your criteria. Your problems will multiply -- and you'll have done Outworld's job in their stead."
Honoka shakes her head and shoulders from side to side, even as tears begin to stain her cheeks.
"You claimed that I seek to favor a kind -- and I will not deny some sort of bias. But no -- I simply feel it is a better -- and less muddied -- response to send a handful of guilty to Hell than wagons full of the innocent to Purgatory."
"The burden of proof is on you now, Kamui Kanna. Convince me that you are a god worth revering again, and not a black fox clothing himself in the garb of the kamui we saved from the Cowardly King, Shang Tsung."
Nakoruru presses her lips tightly together, listening as the Thunder Lord answers her companion. With every word, the severity of the situation becomes more clear. The hurricane that precipitated this audience was but a glimpse of what the final solution to the scourge of manmade gods will be. It is a plan she could not have imagined, but the ways of the kamui had often been difficult to discern for one who had answered their call. How had things already fallen so far awry that this can be their only answer?
Quietly, Nakoruru observes Honoka again, watching the outward indicators of a war being fought within. She had warned her that this day might very well be coming - the day the gods give up on their creations, when at last the heavens cease to weep as rain upon the mountains, and instead deliver desolation and ruin. But having been a herald of such future does not make its pending arrival any easier to swallow.
"The power of the kamui lacks a delicate touch," she murmurs softly as the ramifications of Raiden's rite are made clear.
His hand rests upon her shoulders and she looks up in the partially shadowed face of the Stormbringer Dragon himself, her mouth opening partially as he speaks of guardians to keep others away from him as he settles into summoning the calamity to wipe the slate clean. She says nothing then, mouth closing, eyes losing their focus as she becomes lost in thought.
She does not interfere as Honoka speaks, watching Raiden as if trying to study his reaction to the emotions surging within the trembling frustrations evidenced by the Mortal Kombat champion.
Only when the demand for proof is issued does she look toward Honoka, an expression of some alarm on her face, eyes blinking as if uncertain of what she had just heard. One needn't dig deeply into the stories of old to find mention of the consequences of demanding proof from the gods. Those stories rarely end well for the demander. Yet...
"Kamui Kanna," Nakoruru states softly, gentle urgency in her voice, her focus returning the Thunder Lord with another deferential dip of her head, "There is wisdom in my ally's request. She asks to know, beyond doubt, to whom she would be giving her trust. She has just cause to be wary in the face of such a drastic proposal... for centuries, the faith of our people has been deceived... and she stands here now, on the cusp of leading our downtrodden toward a better future, the heir to generations of betrayal. One can hardly blame her for..."
Nakoruru closes her eyes for a moment, pausing for a breath, "Imploring for confirmation."
There are many ways that a god might respond to being called an imposter, and very few of them end well for the mortal that chooses to do so. Even still, Raiden does not immediately turn on Honoka. All of her rage, all of her disrespect, tolerated as if it doesn't matter.
Maybe it doesn't.
"It is best when mortals fight for themselves. But sometimes, they make a mess that is beyond them to clean." Raiden murmurs softly down to Nakoruru. The words seem meant only for her, private despite the proximity of the other champion. "All power has consequences. It is the way it must be."
Lifting his hand from the ancient Ainu's person, Lord Raiden turns slowly to face Honoka, taking in her wrathful display with an unreadable look. He certainly doesn't seem intimidated. In fact, as he stares at her, he lifts his left hand, and it flares with a sudden surge of near blinding power. At first, the electricity that surges around his wrist and hand is blue-tinged and chaotic, sparking with enough force to cause the hair along both women's bodies to stand suddenly on end. However, as he begins to speak once more, there is a shift in the power. A rolling manifestation of divinity that causes the air to grow calm and the bolts of lightning that writhe around his hand to blaze pure and white.
"It is not I who's intentions are in doubt." the god states, with the hint of an edge slicing through his crackling tone. "I have explained to you my reasoning. To prevent the creation of monsters that would destroy you. This is a worthy reason for the loss of life. That it was in vein, I regret. But my intentions have always been pure. I serve light and truth. If you seek one full of deceit, you must look no further than yourself."
Even as he speaks, Lord Raiden takes a slow step forward, closing on Honoka with steady intent. Only two and a half feet separate them, the divine lightning wrapped around his hand near blinding at such a distance.
And then, he touches her.
With a crackling 'SSHHZZZZZSHT' the lightning gathered around his hand rushes out through his palm, flowing into Honoka's body where it makes contact with her sternum. But where one might expect such a discharge to bring with it unimaginable pain, the sensation is instead invigoration. Every nerve within the young woman's body sparks to sudden life as fatigue, aches, and wounds both old and new are swept away in a flood of godly might. Not only will the neck brace be rendered useless, but the young champion will feel fully awake, energized as if by a combination of good sleep and better coffee.
To the outside observer, the enraged woman is briefly consumed by a flickering mass of white that flows out of the god's hand and over her body, before grounding itself in the temple beneath, leaving the two of them standing, unharmed, the god's palm still braced between her breasts.
Removing his hand from Honoka's person, Lord Raiden gazes down at her with a look of paternal fondness, tone losing its hard edge in exchange for something softer, more understanding.
"It is difficult for you to see the world as I do. But where you have tasked yourself with the care of the Ainu, I am tasked with the care of all creatures, men and beast. With the health of the air, and the soil. All of these things are threatened by the coming danger. But do not misunderstand my words. You have mistaken the rain for the storm. The ritual I plan to summon will bring my wrath to every monster who stands against this world, human or gear. The rain is the price that can not be avoided for the use of such power. But if I am to save this world, this is the path I must take. I will give humanity as much time as can be spared. To fight for itself, and to prepare. Send the Ainu to the mountains if you wish. But recall that you do not fight for them. You fight for the survival of all life on Earth."
Honoka has... a number of personas to present to people. Most of the world sees her as she was on the grand stage of KOF -- a juggler with an uncanny ability to stand toe-to-toe with the world's greatest martial arts champions. The seamy underbelly of Japan sees her as the Dahlia, a capricious meddler with a grand vision who isn't keen on sharing.
And then, there are those atop the Sky Temple who see both fused into one -- a powerful presence with a fiery temper, determined to protect her people when she feels no one else is willing to.
As Nakoruru's mollifying tone demonstrates -- perhaps calling out the Kamui to demonstrate his might was a bit too far to reach. Doubt creeps into her expression for a flicker of an instant, before it is replaced with tempered restraint. In a few simple statements, Nakoruru has soothed the ruffled feathers back into place and brought out the -sentiment- of Honoka's message, sifting it out of the fiery bluster.
And yet -- as Earthrealm's Champion, Honoka felt as if she had earned some latitude. She nods, tacitly, allowing Nakoruru to speak her wisdom.
And then, Raiden ruffles her feathers yet again.
'It is best when mortals fight for themselves...'
She just left an island where she did exactly that.
And she -was determined- to sort this out for herself, in a much less sorrowful manner than Raiden had.
Anger begins to build.
And then it hits her: the thunderous clamor, and the silent calm which ensues afterwards.
In Honoka, the dam of self-control breaks. Withdrawing a pace, she raises one hand in a warding gesture, fingers spread wide. The motes of purple light do -not- budge -- so sudden was the upswell in lightning that she had not even the time to rearrange her gesture.
And yet -- the clamor dies down.
Which brings about a perplexed expression on the young woman.
Didn't she just get what she asked for?
And now, Raiden questions her intentions -- yet again.
The expression which flits upon her face is panic.
Raiden let loose a stinger -- and he's now stepping close to her with a hand full of lightning.
And yet, somehow, she is not prepared for the approach.
She has been literally touched by a god -- and the experience defies all explanation.
The instant Raiden releases contact, the Ainu Champion begins to sink to her knees. Catching herself with her hands upon the temple, she looks up at Raiden with a mixture of awe and bewilderment - but also a fair share of self-doubt.
The second demonstration of proof could have come in a much worse form, she understands.
She blinks, nibbling upon her lip as she looks down, feeling the warmth and vitality spreading all throughout her. To think that such a glorious reward could result from such impetuousness is enough to shame her into a silence -- sure to give the patient Nakoruru a rest.
She could get angry again.
But the answer was right there all along -- she was simply too consumed with misplaced frustration to see it.
With all the lightning -- tears fall like rain from Honoka's eyes.
"... I apologize for my disrespect, Kamui Kanna."
A breath is drawn in -- ribcage heaving not from pain, but from the bewildering rollercoaster of emotions, made even more tumultuous by being stuck between the more emotional Nakoruru and the relatively opaque wall of will known as Raiden.
"I... I need a moment to think..."
In this moment, Nakoruru is but a bystander. Her attempts to intercede, to mollify, or to clarify no longer matter. The Thunder God has heard the words spoken by her ally and herself, and has made his decision. Both hands lift, clasped together against her chest as she watches Raiden shift from her side to draw nearer to Honoka. Blue-steel eyes widen as lightning is made manifest, the power of proven destruction crackling over the divine being's fingers, but as its strength grows, she is force to squint rather than look away, left hand lifting instinctually to guard her eyes from some degree of the blinding light.
The power to take life, to destroy, to vaporize. And with it in hand, the man-shaped kamui extends his reach to make contact with her friend.
But in her worry, she had forgotten the other power that answers the creator being's call. The power to heal, mend, and invigorate. Extremely powerful individuals can amply demonstrate what it means to destroy, but it has always been mankind's limit that they cannot recreate the power to restore to such a drastic degree.
As his hand draws back, her own hand lowers, joining her right to resume clasping near the base of her neck in a prayer-like gesture. Growing accustomed to the comparable darkness in the aftermath of the display of power, she glances between the two, standing by the side to let them speak without her interference.
This moment is for Honoka and her alone.
That she appears to be in awe rather than dust is perhaps enough for Nakoruru to finally relax just a little.
In the end, her fellow supplicant asks for time and Nakoruru shifts her gaze to the divine intercessor. "This plan," she speaks softly, "Is it the will of all the kamui, or are you left alone to act in this matter?"
She pauses for a moment, reflecting, before pressing for more information, "Under what circumstances will you hold back the Storm of Ruin? What... criteria would you deem acceptable to leave these affairs to be resolved by imperfect mortal hands? What is the message you would have us impart?"
Slowly, she lowers her arms to rest at her sides, eyes closing for a brief moment as she exhales, before opening to fix upon Raiden once more.
"What would you have us do, that life might be preserved?"
Honoka's collapse to hands and knees leaves Raiden standing over her, chin tilted down in quiet observation of the aw-stricken girls' tear-filled face. At this moment, with so much crashing down upon her, a single well-placed phrase could do immeasurable good. But if the wrong words are offered, they could so easily turn to poison.
"It is not yet too late."
The words are gentle, voice hoarse and calm. Just what he is talking about, whether it be the fate of humanity, or something more personal, is for Honoka to decide. But out of all the words he could have picked, those are what he has chosen to offer.
Turning then, the white-haired god begins to walk slowly back toward the deep shadows beneath the trees, metal staff clacking against the cobbles with each step. His pace is measured, gaze lifting toward the quickly darkening sky in quiet contemplation of Nakoruru's words.
"The gear army must be shattered. its leader destroyed. If this can be done, the storm will not be necessary."
Lord Raiden's outline grows oddly indistinct as he steps into the shade of the great tree, accepting the shelter of its low-hanging branches. It is from the darkness beneath that he next speaks, words an odd mix of mournful and sad.
"Only one other supports me. Fujin, my brother of the wind. The majority have decided to remain neutral, believing you to have brought this upon yourselves. I go next to speak to the Elder Gods. Perhaps they will offer aid in your time of need."
She needed a moment to think. And, as she listens to Nakoruru, she realizes how close she -is- to her Ainu sister. With tear-filled eyes, she watches as the warrior maiden asks the questions she desperately -needed- to ask, but could not while trapped within her blind, misdirected outrage.
Twice she has met Raiden -- and twice she has been consumed with anger. First under the delusions of Shang Tsung -- and now under the madness caused by what she feels to be an avoidable oversight. And yet, both times she was greeted with the same gentle tolerance a parent would give to a tantruming child. If she had managed to draw him into combat -- would she have even had the chance to blink before her life had ended?
The spinning wisps of dust still. The purple motes begin to flutter down, dispelling into mist before they can even reach the ground. And with long, slender fingers, she reaches up to rip open the velcro bindings at her neck, tearing the brace apart. In a calm, gentle motion, she leans to the side and pulls off the plastic, tucking the brace beneath her left arm.
And then she bows her head.
Quietly, and respectfully.
It is -not- too late: This news is met with a wracking tremor through her chest, as guilt descends upon her anew for not realizing the true import of the Kamui's words.
The Gear army must be shattered: An objective is made clear. Guilt is supplanted with purpose, as one hand reaches up to smear the salty moisture away from her cheeks.
Only one other Kamui would stand with Raiden: This startling news is accepted with a steady intake of breath -- a sign that perhaps Lord Raiden -was- diverging further from the course of the other Kamui. For better, or -- as already seen -- for worse.
The Kamui of Thunder's voice grows dim, prompting Honoka to lift her head to watch. The conversation seemed like it had taken so long, but now at its end, it seems to have been so short. The acrobat rises to her feet again, the forgotten brace clacking softly to the temple's stone roof.
And she draws in more breath, in amazement at how -light- her body feels, contrary to how it was for the ascent upwards.
"... Thank you for guiding our hands, Kamui Kanna."
Though hesitant in pitch, her voice has no trouble crossing the gulf to the shade-casting tree. Though she speaks with the volume to reach Lord Raiden, she casts her eyes towards Nakoruru, imploringly.
"May we meet again under better circumstances."
Her questions voiced, the young Avatar listens to the words offered in answer, eyes fixed on the back of the being capable of so much potential destruction. Slowly, her hands unclasp, her right arm falling to her side, her left hand reaching across her stomach so that its fingers can close over her opposite forearm as she listens to the crucial message.
Gears - the artificial gods that have stirred heaven's wrath beyond the point of ignition. Living proof of man's open mockery of the divine, living abominations bred and controlled specifically to accomplish mighty works no celestial hand would design to do for them. They are perhaps the result of the most profane presumption - one that both derides the kamui of creation while also lusting after the uncontested control over life or death.
Of course Kamui Kanna would demand to see the obscene golems reduced to ash in order to stay his hand.
But can it be done? It must. The consequences for failure... the fulfillment of the warning whispered to her in the desert centuries ago... is the only reward for failure.
Nakoruru's right hand clenches, forearm trembling even while braced by her other hand. Lips press into a thin line as she gazes after the Lord of Judgement, the Stormbringer Dragon that even now stands ready to bring to end this grand era of humanity's fallen saga upon the Earth.
A slow inhale then soft exhale, a single tear rolling down her right cheek, she glances toward the healed warrior that remains at her side, meeting those entreating eyes briefly, before she slowly sinks down so that one knee rests against the Sky Temple roof, her right hand drawing the sheathed from behind her waist. This close, Honoka would see the frosty sheen on its shimmering surface, the mist that lingers near the mouth of the black leather scabbard.
Head bowed, she reverse-grips the weapon so that its sharp edge faces out from along her forearm as she crosses the limb in front of her.
"Then I humbly pray that in the hour my blade must be drawn against the enemy, it may be blessed with a boon of your vast power, that what you ask may be accomplished, no matter the cost."
She kneels for a moment longer before returning the weapon to its sheath, the azure gem in the pommel gleaming in spite the dim evening glow. Then finally she rises to her feet, her eyes still on the tree where Raiden's silhouette can barely be made out in the darkness.
Finally, the young swordswoman turns toward Honoka, hands reaching out to clasp the forearms of her ally, eyes searching hers, "Come, sister. Our task is set, we have... so much work to do."
Reduced to nothing more than a shadow sheltered beneath the great bulk of the tree, Lord Raiden smiles quietly to himself. From behind, the heartfelt oaths and apologies of two young women are offered to him, but he does not need them. Words are a poor substitute for the warm sense of rightness that accompanies the reparation of a damaged soul. Such a slight change of course, the gentlest nudge, and one thread of life shifts its place in the great web of fate.
Often mortals have wondered just what it is that draws the odd smirk to his lips.
If only they knew.
Returning to the moment, Raiden shifts in the darkness, casting a white-eyed glance over his shoulder. Surely the tree before him hadn't always been so large? The god now seems positively minuscule beside it, a shaded ant with eyes that spark with power as he looks back at them. All at once it is as if they stand upon the edge of the world, the great tree filling their vision. Impossibly large. Far too large to fit upon the roof. yet, somehow...
Flashing eyes lock upon Nakoruru as she grips the arms of her fellow champion, and for just a moment she is given a glimpse into the full breadth of the entity called Raiden. Impossibly vast. Able to uncloak itself and stretch in this place between places. The shape of a man, but that is somehow inconsequential. A mere vessel within which something greater resides.
"An interesting oath." comes Raiden's murmured response, his tone impossible to read. Amused? Thoughtful? There is something there... "One to be made when you are able to uphold it. But I wonder, are you truly ready to draw blood again? Face that demon of defeat that still lurks within you." A slight slash of smile is offered as fate's lines shift beneath his fingers, the ancient being beginning to turn back toward the impossible tree before him.
"You've done a good job of keeping that blade clean. Spare it a little longer. Revisit the spot of your loss, and reflect upon what you must do. This is not a responsibility that can be passed to another."
With Raiden's final word, everything slides effortlessly into place. The tree is just a tree, resting contentedly in its planter. The shadows are just shadows. There is no godly entity lurking in the gloom. In fact, the rooftop is abandoned, save for two young champions and a discarded neck brace.
Honoka kneels before the Kamui of Thunder as well -- but not because she has a sword to bless, but instead because she'd rather not litter.
Raiden's advice is as enigmatic as ever. Though she is still riding high off an upswell of emotions, the tusukur's paranoid, critical mind still picks out one point in particular -- that Nakoruru's blade was not as blessed as she had asked.
Her jaw tenses fractionally, as she closes her eyes. She reminds herself something she had heard often in her youth -- that the kamui never give us what we ask for, that they give us what we -need-.
When her eyes open, they are clear. And they look upon a tree bereft of the Thunder God -- the Sky Temple as vacant as it would be on any given day.
Curling the neck brace in her arm, she rises, turning her gaze back to Nakoruru. The word 'sister' never fails to garner a response from the half-Ainu -- for it was not until meeting Nakoruru that anyone would truly -qualify- for such a term. Not even Elise, her confidant and friend, would resonate so closely as the swordswoman before her.
Her lips curl upward into a smile, as her arms are gripped.
She may not have gotten all the answers she wanted out of Raiden.
Or even a clear mandate to slay the shisam responsible for destroying her people.
But, as she answers Nakoruru with an encouraging nod, and starts to make the trip back to Makaotari and the ground level, she understands the gift she'd received.
She's gotten what she needs to continue.
Log created on 16:59:02 10/12/2017 by Honoka, and last modified on 15:50:04 10/19/2017.