The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 1 - The Weapons' Dawn

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Description: A contingency plan put in motion, Ayame finds herself having to face the conundrum of helping one she doesn't trust in order to save one who has put his trust in her. At least she has the solace of a fancy new toy to make the situation more palatable.

It has been a couple months of reconstruction around the Meian Jinja following the siege of Gears toward the end of the violence in Japan. The walls have been restored, the main shrine building repaired and patched up, and the courtyard long since cleaned of the broken Gear bodies and debris left by the battle. Things have not quite returned entirely to normal around the compound, but it is quickly getting there.

Ayame Ichijo's mornings can finally return to normal routines of study, training, and planning. Even with the Novus Orbis Librarium now completely moved into Southtown, there's still plenty of work to be done for independent monster hunters... provided they're willing to play ball with the Librariums' policies. As impossible as the miko of the Meian Jinja can be, she knows when to pick her fights and the NOL is not an organization she wants to cross and as such, she's made a show of working within their rules thus far.

In the early morning hours, she can find solitude within the garden. While some of the shrine workers are up and busy getting the complex ready for any visitors that might come during the day, or resuming maintenance or repair efforts, Ayame can focus on her own pursuits in peace and quiet. Occasionally, she has been spied going through her boujutsu kata with her staff - an intricate dance that is both offense and defense in one as everything about the girl's fighting style tends to be.

This morning, she is pursuing another interest however. The garden section of the compound is in possession of a number of quiet ponds of varying sizes. Situated between two of the larger bodies of water filled by schools of golden koi is a small island with a little white gazebo on it.

Under the gazebo on a white painted, wooden bench, Ayame sits, leaning over a table positioned in front of her. Atop the table is a long, wooden stringed instrument, the Chinese Guzheng. Each of the girl's long, white sleeves is tied up above her elbows, leaving her hands and forearms free so that she can pluck at the several rows of tightly wound strings, creating individual notes that would sound at home in any Kung Fu flick.

On her lap sits an open binder with notes and she frequently looks down at it as if double checking what it says before looking back up to pick at a series of strings once again. Given the deliberate repetition of only a few chords over and over it's clear she's just trying to learn the large instrument. Going by her expression alone whenever she looks up from the notes on her lap, she doesn't seem to be enjoying the experience.

Maybe she thought it would be easier than it's proving to be.

No one else appears to be about in the garden area. It will be a couple hours still before anyone comes to start raking the rock gardens or weeding the flower beds or making sure the rows of edible vegetation get their due share of water...

But for now, it's quiet, but for the staccato sounds of Ayame, her hair golden red in the morning sun, plucking at the large stringed instrument or the occasional bird cry.

Visitors are fairly rare at the Jinja. One, though, gets notice for two other reason. The first is the bright red hair that is clearly not from a bottle on his very Japanese head, and the other is the fact that he is carrying a fairly large case. He asks, with perfect manners, to see one Ayame Ichijo on a business matter.

Eventually, he is escorted to the courtyard. He perks up at the attempts at music as he walks towards the gazebo. Once there, the young man sets the case down and waits patiently. There is something... that Ayame would find familiar to her, but it might be difficult to place at first.

Takehiro Glenn, no stranger to long waits, but he might be challenged here.

One of the shrine workers busy in the courtyard is happy to escort Takehiro Glenn to the garden off to the side of the main compound, but her company ends at the threshold. He is given a polite bow before she excuses herself, slipping back to the task at hand. Probably sweeping. There's never any end to the sweeping to be done around shrines.

Maybe if Ayame felt more comfortable with her mastery of the instrument occupying the bulk of the table in front of her, she'd carry on with a demonstration born of pride the moment it becomes clear that she's no longer alone in the garden. The gazebo is connected to the shore of the large pond by a small wooden foot bridge with no railing, the path wide enough to accommodate two people standing side by side and little more. It had been smaller once, but the resident oni tried to make her way across the too-narrow support with some kind of disastrous balancing act end ended up shattering it. And so now, the newer, wider, reinforced one affords the visitor his way across the calm pool of water.

Ayame paused from the time he arrived at the entrance, glancing once over her shoulder as if to take stock in who has come to see her - for why else would they be guided to the garden at this hour - before going back to studying the notes open on her lap.

Takehiro's wait is thankfully short on this occasion, though the brown eyed miko does study him for a long moment before getting to her feet, her hands reaching up to unbind her sleeves, allowing them to spill back down over her forearms and nearly conceal her hands in the process.

"You already know who I am," she states, clasping her hands together in front of her waist. She offers nothing in the way of a friendly smile or even a warm greeting like one might normally expect when visiting one of Japan's many great and historical shrines.

"So let us skip to the part where you explain who you are."

The surely priestess studies her visitor without reservation, unusually forward and direct for a native of the island nation. The large case is observed next, her head canting to the side slightly, before her eyes shift back to focusing on Takehiro.

Takehiro bows formally, in his nice but not very expensive suit, before facing the young woman. He smiles a bit as he follows her glances.

"My name is Takehiro Glenn," the young man says in an unfailingly polite if uncheerful tone. "You've worked with my cousin before. I'm the one who makes most of his gear. It's a pleasure to meet you finally. Your book was very helpful."

Then he looks a bit nervous. "I don't know how much you know about Zach," he says after a moment, "But after that thing he calls Mortal Kombat, he had set up a... procedure, I guess you'd call it." He glances away, concern clear on his face. "If he were going on a trip, he'd make sure I knew where he was going, and then make it a point to call in every couple of days. If he didn't, there were people I was supposed to contact, to share information."

He looks squarely back at Ayame, "The list changes depending on what is going on, but your name is =always= on that list, and that I am supposed to tell you everything I know. Zach initiated the process, said he was going on a vacation with Honoka Kawamoto," Takehiro fidgets with his tie. "He hasn't called in. It's been a week."

The reaction in the shrine priestess at the mention of his name certainly looks mixed. On one hand, the stiffness in her shoulders melts away slightly as if she's relaxing a guard she wasn't even letting on she had been prepared to execute on. But the look on her face also suggests a certain snap of focus. He has her attention now.

She bows her head slightly, inclining her torso a little at the waist, before standing up straight again. The mention of the book she had left for Zach seems to provoke the slightest hint of a smile from the severe young woman as she nods her head slightly in acknowledgment. "I am glad," she begins, pausing for only a heartbeat before continuing, "That it did not go to waste."

As the man works past whatever uncertainty that seems to be plaguing him, she responds with almost a bemused tone, "I know a lot about Zach Glenn." But the flicker of amusement in her eyes fades as he continues on to discuss the protocols his cousin has put in place. A cautious man. One might even say paranoid.

She could appreciate that.
She would call it just being smart.

And then he mentions the name that brings an immediate frown to her lips, her hands unclasping to clench at her sides. Honoka Kawamoto. Just one of her many aliases. Ayame had seen the web the crafty half-Ainu had woven about her many lives, she was aware of many of the impacts her machinations had brought about, of individuals vanished or exhibiting sudden changes in behavior as if in fear of their lives or that of their families.

Breathing out a slow exhale, she unclenches her hands. A week. Four days past due on checking in. She glances to the side, seeming to contemplate in silence for a moment, before focusing back on the fidgeting engineer.

"Tell me everything you know."

The delay is not entirely Takehiro's fault; he was out of town when the deadline past. He frowns at this; he should have been here. "One week ago," the young man says evenly, "Zach told me he was taking a cruise to Cabo San Lucas with Kawamoto." He regards Ayame carefully for a moment. "I am going to assume that you know that Honoka is more than she appears to be. That she's also in charge of the Akatsuki group of Yakuza. I know about it because Zach told me about it. So when Duke Burkoff destroyed her leg, he was basically declaring war on her and her group."

Takehiro takes a deep breath, it kind of feels good to finally be able to talk about it, "She claimed that the situation with the Syndicate was getting too hot and that it was time for a trip. Zach forwarded the text message." He frowns a bit, picking up on something. "When I asked him why I should share this with you, what he expected you to do about it, he'd just laugh and proceed to not answer the question." He raises an eyebrow. "But now that I've delivered the message, what is it you plan to do exactly?"

"An interesting time for a vacation in Mexico," Ayame replies dryly, putting together a timeline in her head. He expresses an assumption about what she must already know concerning the woman known as Honoka and Ayame lifts her right hand, her sleeve slipping down to her elbow as she waves her hand back and forth, "Please, do not give me too much credit, I not know every aspect of Honoka Kawamoto's activities. I do understand the general idea of it to be as you say, however."

He references the incident between Duke and the Scarlet Dahlia and Ayame nods her head slightly. Her line of work requires keeping her ear open to all kinds of avenues of black market information. While gang activity has never been her particular concern, feeling her purpose lay in contending with matters of far larger consequence, that doesn't mean she can't pick up and tuck away interesting pieces of information along the way.

Takehiro conveys the fact that Honoka wanted to get out of Southtown - that Syndicate was getting to her and that Zach should go with her. It's to be expected, Ayame considers, the two had some kind of unhealthy alliance, understanding, and relationship she couldn't personally understand. Maybe that's why she refused to ever let anyone get close to her...

"I knew the situation between their organizations was violent, but it is not like her to simply run. Especially since her strength is in the north," Ayame muses out loud, her right hand moving to rest at her chin, her head bowed slightly in thought.

"She must have had some kind of plan in mind. But why feed Zach less than the truth." She glances back at Takehiro, "Did he ever express that he felt like he was being kept out of her business before? I know his eyes were open to the truth of much of her activity... but I suspect on this occasion, he was not given the full story."

She cants her head to the side slightly, the first hint of an actual smile at her lips, "I suppose I will do what it is I always do. Fix everything." She sighs softly, looking up at the clear blue sky for a moment, her right hand lowering to rest at her hip, "It pains me to think that investigating this may result in me getting that woman out of a disaster of her own making, but... if Zach is caught up in it, I have no choice but to act."

Her focus returns to Takehiro, "If the Syndicate does in fact have them, they will not have killed them... well," she frowns, her tone subdued as she continues, "They will not have killed Honoka. They will make her fate very widely known if they have her in their grasp. She is the linchpin that holds her deck of cards together. If they prove to the cartels that she is dead, her empire of blood will will run through the street... and down the drain. Hopefully they would hold onto your cousin until the whole affair was put to rest, in case they need to use him as some kind of leverage."

Ayame folds her arms over her stomach, her hands hidden in her sleeves now, "So first, figure out if the Syndicate has them. I have a few points of contact to pursue, none of them pleasant. If they do have them, then there is no choice about what to do next. If they do not..." Ayame frowns, her brow furrowed. "Well... do you know anything at all about the ship they took, the time of day they left, or what port they departed from? That may be our only clue to work with if the Syndicate is not behind their disappearance."

"Oh," Takehiro says with a trace of bitterness in his voice, "He knew for a fact that she was keeping him in the dark on some things. He never argued the point because he didn't really talk about aspects of his job with her for security purposes. There was symmetry in the arrangement." Takehiro thinks for a moment.

"The only departure information was Yokohama, Pier 47, at 8:30 seven nights ago," he supplies. I checked with the harbor master... more specifically the harbor's surveilance systems, when I got back in town, there were no large ships at that pier all evening. Just a two-engine boat that showed up at that time and left about five minutes later with Zach and Honoka on it. No signs of a fight. It's entirely possible they met with a larger ship out at sea, but I was unable to track it once it got out into international waters." He trails off for a moment, some obvious statements just hanging there.

"If you're going to start digging into this," he finally says, bending over to the case, "You might want this." He flips it open, turns it toward her, and steps away.

Inside the case is what could be described as a work of art. A single length of polished wood, with a very slight curve, leading up to a shining metal curving blade. The edge gleams in the light for a moment, and there is an odd sheen to the pale metal. "Mithril blade," Takehiro explains as he brings the weapon out for Ayame to take, "Hand crafted wood from a sacred grove in Ireland. The weapon has been prepared for channelling ki," he says, "Though I needed help for that. I tend to work with psychic energy more often, but I made sure to have it tested before I brought it." He takes a deep breath.

"Please understand," he says after a moment, "This wasn't intended for any kind of payment for this matter. It was supposed to be a thank you gift for the book. Like I said," he says a bit sheepishly, "It was really helpful."

Ayame's expression is neutral as Takehiro describes the mutual secret keeping between the two missing people. She knows something of keeping secrets or only parceling out what she thinks someone can know. Perhaps it would be too hypocritical even for her to condemn such an approach to their relationship.

She listens as he describes the information he was already able to find out pertaining to the departure, her lips forming a faint frown. An off shore boarding... even harder to trace, "That does not sound like a real cruise and more like the retreat she claimed it was," she remarks bleakly, that potential lead looking less promising by the moment. She exhales softly, shoulders rising and falling with the breath. It's bad enough trying to find someone who doesn't want to be found. It gets a lot worse when someone who doesn't want to be found also falls off completely off the grid. That's two layers of obfuscation at work, at minimum!

Her attention comes back to the visiting weaponsmith when he shifts focus to the case itself. Even she can't help but be curious. Eyes blink as she looks curiously at the contents of the revealed case, focus moving up and down the length of the finely crafted weapon before lingering for a long while on the bladed end of it.

Moving closer, she doesn't reach out to touch it, and the look of quiet awe is far from hidden on the face of one who normally reveals so little about what she's thinking. She is slow to glance up as he speaks, making eye contact to show that she in fact taking in every detail. The exquisitely rare mineral that has gone into its craftsmanship, the powerful wood forming the shaft... and the attention to detail to fine tune its abilities to channel and augment chi through it.

At that statement, she gives him a faint smile. It seems he might know something of her as well. Free standing energy manifestations were a rarity for the miko. Across two lives she had never been particularly good at it, requiring carefully crafted weapons or prepared talismans to project her precision chi control along in order to get much mileage. Had Zach noticed that facet of her fighting style and passed it along?

Finally the miko of the Meian Jinja crouches down, reaching out with both hands to close the over the polished wood shaft before rising back up to her feet, holding the large weapon lengthwise across the front of her.

She leans the combat scythe one way then the other, testing the balance and committing its heft to memory, before settling her gaze on Takehiro Glenn directly. "This weapon's design knows no equal for its type," Ayame murmurs softly. She looks toward the bladed end again, its shining metal gleaming in the bright morning sun, reflecting some of the blue sky above.

"It has been a long time since I have held a blade," she remarks thoughtfully. Trying to bludgeon certain threats to death has proven to be an extremely difficult task... always rowing upstream, it felt like, never relying on a method more certain in its ability to solve a problem.

"But I know how to put it to use."

She looks at the man straight on then, standing up, shoulders squared, scythe held at an angle in front of her. "Thank you. I promise I will look into this. I will relay anything I discover... please do likewise. I only have one theory for now, but I will develop others if I find the slightest clues to work from."

This time, the priestess bows forward far deeper than when Zach's cousin introduced himself, head lowered briefly before she stands up straight again.

It might be more that Zach had remembered and passed it along when Takehiro was trying to come up with a thank-you gift. The craftsman returns the bow.

When he raises his head, he has an eyebrow raised. "I might have one," he says. "Zach was concerned that someone he called Vega might be back from the dead," he offers, "Which makes sense, since apparently Mortal Kombat... wasn't exactly mortal at the end, and =he= was definitely up to something in Mexico." At this, Takehiro looks very concerned, "Zach was already on his radar, and he is =always= interested in psychics like the two of them are from what Zach told me. What if they ended up in Mexico after all?"

Ayame pauses, standing up straight again as one more detail is shared. When the name of the malevolent dictator is mentioned, the miko's expression barely betrays a hint of emotion. She's in control once more, her mind getting out ahead of any emotional or instinctual reaction. But all the same, her cheeks pale slightly and her fingers grip the scythe's shaft a little tighter.

"I heard of his fall on that infernal island," she replies, her tone soft but even bringing up that place seems to bother her. "I confess I was unaware of that he was in motion once more, or of his activity in Mexico." Her eyes flick back and forth, digesting the information. The vacation was to a tourist trap in Mexico, or so the message Zach forwarded claimed. Vega in Mexico. Echoes of the tyrant's activities in another time, another setting.

"Be very careful," the priestess advises, her voice returned to its normal severity and volume. "Syndicate problems are one thing... they tend to be focused inward, and both their tech and their... extra sensory options are limited. If Shadaloo is indeed involved, just trying to pry into this may alert them to you and they are not an organization that abides in others spying on them."

Ayame exhales, glancing to the side toward the still pond, its surface only disturbed by the mouth of one of the koi come to take a closer look at what the two people are up to. Her brow furrows, "I will consider that possible angle as well. If they are in Shadaloo's hands grasp, we will need to find allies to extricate them. It is more than I can hope to do on my own."

"And most certainly more than I can do," Takehiro admits. "My next visit was supposed to be to one Charlie Nash, United States Air Force. He's supposed to be heading up that International Task Force that was in the news. Zach seems to trust the man."

Takehiro frowns and looks away. "I'm not a fighter, Miss Ichijo, I just make things. Build things. Patch people up when the moment calls for it. Zach's instructions to me were pretty clear. Hand off the message and then go to ground." He takes a deep breath, then lets it out.

"If you'll excuse me, I need to find Captain Nash," he says, sketching a quick bow, "And I need to see about getting Zach's things moved out of the county. Haven't decided if that's going to be to Cleveland or Scotland, though, so..."

Ayame nods as Takehiro mentions visiting Charlie Nash. She had seen the press release and broadcast announcement. "He was on the island too," she replies thoughtfully. "Was trying to do the right thing back then, I remember. I believe he is trustworthy."

She shakes her head as the engineer denies being able to fight, "I am only interest in your information. Take no chances going anywhere risky. Having two in need of rescue is already enough trouble as it is." Her tone is chiding but there is a hint of good humor to it in spite herself.

She nods in response to the bow, "Keep me informed. That is all I ask."

She turns to the side as he begins to leave. Holding the scythe in one hand for a moment, she extends it out, blade away from her, gripping it with her left hand to test the balance and weight of it.

The musical instrument she was attempting to divine is completely forgotten now. "You and I are going to have some fun," Ayame murmurs, a rare smile crossing her lips now that she's alone once again, twirling the scythe once to grip it with both hands now.

"As much as I'm able," Takahiro Glenn says, nodding as he leaves.

Log created on 21:07:45 06/30/2018 by Ayame, and last modified on 12:36:49 07/01/2018.