The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 2 - Damning Memories

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Description: Recovering from his unsettling encounter with Relius Clover, Rei Hazuki finds a moment of reflection at the SYFI. However, it is soon interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a time-lost scion of Order, who has his own grievances with the NOL...

Most municipal buildings, or other public structures, can look a little sinister in the dead of night, when their purpose isn't being filled otherwise. The demonstration dojo at the Southtown Young Fighters Initiative is no different in that regard. At close to midnight, the space is decidedly unused; even the building's permanent staff are rarely in here at this hour, let alone anyone who USES the center. The tall windows that look out on the surrounding gardens let in the cold white light of a moonlit night, casting a pale sheen on the wooden dojo floor and the empty observer seats.

Of course it's perfectly normal to be in here at this hour if you happen to have the master key to the building.

Rei Hazuki does, in fact, have such a key. And thus here he is, despite the late hour, despite the lack of people. Alone, he sits with one leg extended and one knee bent upward on the wooden practice floor, in the shadows just outside the silvery rectangle of the moon's light coming in through one of the windows, his red hair making him easy to spot despite the light and his dark clothing. But he isn't really... DOING... anything. Or rather, his gaze is on some distant point rather than anything in the room.

He is merely thinking.

There's a lot to think about, now, after his encounter with Relius Clover. There's a few good reasons for him to have not been in this building much; his face isn't exactly on any bounty posters, but the sennin knows that Relius would have put the word out, making him a person of interest to a shadowy multinational organization with poorly-defined jurisdictional boundaries and very little regard for basic human rights. Maybe not the best situation for being around teenagers, especially teenagers who might be on a hair trigger and are learning the martial arts.

He isn't sure of his next steps. And some of the things he felt and sensed, in the basement of the NOL's Southtown branch... they unsettled him, more than he expected them to.

An August moon shines
light upon his troubled thoughts
the wheel of fate turns.
Perhaps it is a trick of the fickle moon, but as Rei sits, staring off into nothing, the air before his eyes begins to ripple and shake. Space twists, the staggered seats behind the distortion appearing to fold silently in upon themselves with impossible geometry. Only if one were to look into the depths of the madness, deep into the heart of the lurching shift in perspective, could a shadow be seen, growing more distinct with every breath.
And then, he is there.
Reality snaps back into place with savage rapidity, bringing with it a host of new sensations. First among them is a sense of rigid order. A feeling of foreign will rolling across the area that forces light and shadow to separate, and sounds to grow sharp and distinct. Tastes gain an edge that they never have. Colors blend only reluctantly. The world is made simple, hard. Seen through a kaleidoscope of order where few things are allowed to overlap.
Second, comes the figure. Nearly seven feet of battered white armor plates layered over black fabric, long silver hair trailing down its back. Two angled horns stick up from either side of a featureless helmet, its face an expanse of white with no openings for eyes or mouth. But, the figure does have eyes. At least a dozen studded across shoulders, gauntlets, and shins.
Third comes motion.
Lurching forward into this world, Hakumen drops heavily to one knee, armor thudding into the wood with ground-vibrating force. Hunched forward with his left hand pressed to the chest of his badly cracked breastplate, he leans his weight against the hilt of an extremely long, silver-bladed sword. A sword that seems to have buried itself nearly a meter deep into the wooden floor, having sliced through so quickly and cleanly that only a scratch mars the polished wood stretching out before him.
From within his armor can be heard a quiet grunt, voice hard and electronic, as every eye swivels toward the only other figure in the room, dropping upon Rei with all the weight of the avatar of Order.

He really does look innocent, even harmless, really. A freckled face, no palpable aura of power, no armaments, no special costume. It is an undeniable fact that most people who meet Rei don't think much of him at first glance, sometimes even at second glance. His typical demeanor doesn't really help that.

But... looks aren't everything.

The meditatively quiet sennin's eyes only open when the sword enters the floor. After all... it's an expensive floor? But no. Hakumen's arrival announced itself in ways that the mere five senses couldn't perceive, but Frei rarely trusts only five mundane senses. And for someone so intimately connected to the flow of life around him, the White Blade's appearance is... well. Jarring, to say the least. His eyes might not have opened, but his brow did crease, his nose wrinkle. His inner eye squinting at the sudden and -- in a way that would probably annoy the hell out of Hakumen if he heard it said so -- chaotic disruption in the fabric of the world itself before it snaps back into place. Or maybe more accurately, is *snapped* back into place from the outside.

But all of that was seen with the *inner* eye. The outer eye... well.

Green eyes widen as Rei takes in Hakumen and says, with a combination of curiosity and intense disbelief, "Rako... Saze?" A beat, and the redhead's gaze hardens. "That can't be right."

With the outlandish horned armor, long hair, and oversized sword, Hakumen could very well have stepped right out of the pages of a manga, or possibly even off of a metal album cover. But the warrior that now kneels upon the damaged floor is far too real for that.
Head cocking slightly to one side, the avatar of Order stares back at Rei with every eye but those keeping watch from his back, free hand curling into an idle fist. Despite the weight of his presence and the violent chill of his aura, he does not appear innately inclined toward striking random young men. No. His soul is a hard one, unyielding, but undeniably just. The only question, then, would be who's justice does he serve?
For a beat, there is silence, hard and sharp as tempered steel.
"You show wisdom in restraint." Hakumen informs the boy cooly, pushing up from his kneel with the quiet crunch of splintered wood. Where his knee had impacted there remains a shallow crater, splinters poking out of it in oddly even intervals. "But, you appear to have confused me with another." This, more than anything, draws the faintest note of subtle introspection into his otherwise harsh voice, as if the towering figure were talking more to himself than the boy before him.
A casual lift of his arm tears Okami's blade free from the floor with another loud 'CRACK', the gleaming sword coming free of the ground much less gracefully than it entered. And, with it free, the battered knight is able to turn more fully toward Rei, handling the oversized weapon with offhand strength.
"I know not where the Grimalkin's tampering has placed me. Nor do I know of whom you speak. It can not be that there is another who wears this suit?" The words are not friendly, but it is hard to imagine a voice as hard and electronic as his doing well to project such. There is, however, intensity. Whatever Rei's response, it is clearly expected, the armored warrior's pose caught somewhere between stoic interrogation and looming aggression.

"Ha, yeah, that's me. High WIS/CON, maybe not so great DEX," Rei jokes, in a way almost surgically tailored to fly so far over Hakumen's head he has no chance of getting it. As he's speaking, the redhead slowly pulls himself to his feet. At five foot six, he cuts a diminutive figure next to the rather tall armored individual, tilting his head upward to look at the faceplate of Hakumen's helmet, tilting his head to the side and putting a finger to his chin thoughtfully. "No... no, not Rako," he mutters, then shakes his head and gives Hakumen a wan smile. "Apologies. You just... reminded me of someone I met, once, in another life."

For a second, he swims in those memories: of the once-white armor of Rako Saze, of a scarred and defiant Alma Towazu, of the machinations of Seishirou Ryouhara deep below the earth in China. Another life. Another *world*.

Better to focus on the here and now.

He looks pensive at the word 'Grimalkin,' especially since in its own way, the capital G feels audible enough. An archaic term, but is that all that surprising, coming from a tall, pure white armored being with a slightly robot-y voice that teleported in unexpectedly? "'Grimalkin'?" Rei repeats, letting his curiosity get the better of him. "Did... you have a run-in with a particularly vengeful and powerful cat? Maybe a nekomata?" This IS Japan, after all.

Still, the longer he's in the same space as Hakumen, the more Rei's sixth sense is nagging at him, trying to tell him something important. The robot-y swordsman hasn't made any aggressive moves yet, and so the sennin feels no real need to be afraid... but he cannot stop giving Hakumen an intense gaze. There's... something. Some unique power, some disquieting force, that is putting the normally placid sage on edge.

Rei's strange admission of poor dexterity does indeed seem to fly right past Hakumen, the towering avatar's eyes shifting to track his movements while the rest of the armored suit remains eerily still. And though still he may be, the legendary hero is not at rest. His aura remains sharp and oppressive, will pressing out at the world around him with near physical force. It is hard to imagine a being such as he sleeping.
"Kokonoe. The daughter of Nine and The Cat. Born from such a union, her power is to be expected." Hakumen responds, each ambiguous name spoken with what must be decades of weight and history. However, the armored monster is not just talking, he is watching. Studying Rei's reactions with those glowing red eyes of his. Gauging how much this boy might truly know. There must, after all, be a reason that their paths have crossed.
Mustn't there?
The blunt tip of Hakumen's sword leaves a second divot in the wood flooring as he allows it to drop, red eyes lifting from Rei to scan out in all directions, studying the area immediately around him. Roving over walls, floor, and ceiling, his many-eyed gaze absorbs all that their is to see in a moment, chin lifting to focus his blank face up and away.
"What game do you play, Grimalkin?" the armored figure murmurs mostly to himself. "For what purpose am I here? Or, perhaps..."
All eyes fall once more upon Rei as Hakumen returns his attention to the younger warrior, tone blunt and forceful as he gives one simple order.
"Tell me all you know of the Novus Orbis Librarium ."

Kokowhatnow. Nine? The cat? Well of course the kid of a cat is a grimalkin. It MEANS 'cat'. But none of this makes any sense, and Hakumen's rather... direct admission of all of that information really blindsides Rei for a moment. The sennin's expression of confusion is momentary, like a cloud passing over the sun, and then he gives Hakumen a more pointed and, in truth, somewhat dubious expression. "I don't know who any of those people are," he says warily, "But that kinda sounds like the answer to my question was 'yes', so I'm just gonna... take a second to process that a giant white mecha dude was teleported into my dojo by a very powerful cat."

Well when you say it like THAT it sounds kinda nuts, right?

But then Hakumen goes and ruins it by mentioning the NOL, which -- in a pretty understandable way given recent events and his situation -- triggers an immediate and undisguised emotional response in the red-haired man. Rei takes a step backward and his whole body visibly tenses, the fingers of his right hand curling and uncurling anxiously, the green-eyed gaze boring into Hakumen with a singular intensity he hadn't shown so far. "The... NOL..."

And that's when he realizes it. Hakumen's aura isn't necessarily as... sinister or disquieting as Relius's, but there's no mistaking it. Whatever supernatural thing, whatever unknown source of power or touch of energy Relius had encountered, the person in front of him has too.

Rei is a calm person, by nature. He's survived what now feel like countless serious tragedies and disasters. But all he can feel, right now, is what it felt like to have Relius Clover literally try to drill into his very *soul*, the pain and -- more importantly -- violation that he felt. His body moves on instinct, dropping into a defensive stance, his eyes hard. The sennin's aura, which until now had been restrained and placid, surges; there are depths to this person that do not show until they're provoked.

"Stay... away from me," Rei bites out, as angry as he is scared. "I don't know if he sent you... or what. But leave me alone!"

It is one thing to stand stoic and unmoved in the face of amiable discord. it is quite another to remain so when that discord turns sour.
Red eyes stare fixedly into Rei as he retreats into a much more reasonable stance, power swelling in response to danger that is only now realized. They do not blink. Do not waver. There is only their unbroken stare, and the unyielding will that dwells behind them.
Sword tip lifting slowly from the ground, Hakumen shifts the weapon off to one side, holding it as lightly as a duelist might his rapier. But there is nothing light or elegant about his stance. Feet planted, claws clinched to dig into the wood, he leans forward slightly, intensity ratcheting up several degrees now that his words have provoked some sort of reaction.
"I know not of whom you speak." Hakumen begins, words growing colder and harder with every syllable. "But you will give me the answers I seek. You will tell me how the Novus Orbis Librarium came to be in this world, or you will fall to my blade."
And so it must be. With the decree given, Hakumen stares down the much smaller figure. He will give him this chance to speak. And if he does not, the avatar of Order will fulfill the promise he has made. That much is certain.

Rei's very anxious mental state turns to outright disbelief as he stares at Hakumen. "Tell you how... ha!" Okay, a sharp, barking laugh was probably not the response the avatar of Order was expecting, though despite apparent amusement, the sennin's stance doesn't ease a bit. He is clearly still very much on edge. "Now there's a question *I* wouldn't mind the answer to myself, so somewhat unfortunately I don't have an answer for you."

But perhaps to both people in this conversation, logic is going to flash a fin and start to argue for things making more of a kind of sense. For example: isn't Jubei a hero in this world? Shouldn't the cat of unparalleled martial skill be a household name? Yet Rei clearly doesn't know who he is.

But that runs the same way. Rei has no idea where the NOL came from in this reality, because when it was formed -- to the best of his knowledge, anyway; his knowledge of the NOL starts and ends with their sudden appearance after the Gear war -- he wasn't even in this body, or a person at all. He was a collection of memories, thoughts, and feelings... a soul riding shotgun in the body of Aya Hazuki. But if Hakumen were around, wouldn't he know all this? The names he rattled off -- Nine, 'the Cat', Kokonoe -- aren't familiar to Rei, either.

He might be anxious. He might feel nauseous as he subconsciously replays trauma in his head. But the sagacious immortal isn't *stupid*. Something doesn't add up here.

So, he takes a little leap of faith.

"Humor me," the redhead says, guardedly, watching Hakumen's imposing red stare. "Where are you from? Like, really from."

Rei's question is initially met with cool silence, Hakumen's armored form remaining very still. There is a looming sense of attention from the figure, as if he were going to make good on his demand and force the issue, attempting physical persuasion where threats failed. Or, perhaps he just isn't used to being laughed at. Reading the mysterious warrior's mood is not an easy thing.
"Your ignorance is answer enough." Hakumen replies bluntly, harsh and unamused. He does, however, straighten from his forward lean, chin tilting downward just a fraction in a posture that is almost pensive. "I do not sense that you hold the truths that I seek. But surely you have encountered at least one of the evils I feared must dwell within the Librarium. This is good. My instincts remain sharp." The last bit seems, once more, addressed mostly to himself, the armored invader apparently having something of a habit.
It is only once this is out of the way that Hakumen's attention returns once more to the question at hand, and he turns his sword over, lifting the blade so that the flat clanks diagonally across his shoulder.
"I am Hakumen. Leader of the six heroes. We once fought to save a world much like this one from a creature known as the Black Beast. By my hand it was slain, its rampage ended. But soon after we were betrayed by one of our own. I sacrificed myself to defeat him, and was lost in the Barrier outside of time." The story is delivered with stoic intensity, voice full more of rage and disgust than anything resembling pride. "The Novus Orbis Librarium was founded by Nine, the greatest of mages, to combat the Black Beast. She used her magical knowledge to develop powerful weapons that would allow those less gifted to harm it."
Pausing there, the many-eyed warrior stares through Rei to some distant point that only he can see, thinking back to that long forgotten time.

Well, that was a lot to take in.

The story that Hakumen shares, once he's convinced enough that Rei isn't holding out on him and doesn't perceive him as a threat, is something right out of a fairy tale, complete with fantastical names like 'Black Beast.' It'd be easy for someone else, hearing this story, to dismiss the entire thing as mad, even if it IS coming from a very tall man in a robot-looking suit of ornate armor.

Rei isn't most people, though, and so he pays very particular attention to the details of what the White Blade is telling him. The words 'a world very much like this one' are enough to make an expression of surprise register on his face, one that becomes pensive at the mention of a 'barrier outside of time.' The redhead's hand comes up to his chin and he glances toward the floor, thinking carefully about things. Relius Clover seemed to know about the possibility of worlds other than this one when they--

For a moment, the sennin grimaces, shutting his eyes tight, something that might be confusing for Hakumen considering the avatar of Order didn't say anything particularly grimace-inducing.

There are two conclusions here, though, for Rei. One is that the Novus Orbis Librarium is dangerous, considerably more so than he first thought. The other, though...

Rei looks at Hakumen (or the armor's faceplate, anyway) and gives a wan smile. "So you're... from 'somewhere else'," he says, the quote marks more or less audible from the stress in his voice. "But, not the 'somewhere else' I'm from. That's... I can't tell if it's fascinating or terrifying."

"Where we are from matters little." Hakumen replies with predictable bluntness, empty face plate giving nothing away. In fact, very little about the towering warrior can be easily discerned. Sure he is powerful, and aggressive posturing is a near universal language. But the person behind the suit is surprisingly opaque. There is no vibe that can be gained from his aura other than rigid control and an incredible will. What is clear is the complete lack of reaction at Rei's wincing display.
Having lifted Okami from its place against his shoulder, the swordsman slides it away into the home on his back, hilt coming to rest atop the scabbard with a final 'click'. And though it is the simple act of a warrior housing his weapon, there is something extremely final about the action, as if the possibility of bloodshed that had been hanging in the air were only now allowed to abate.
"However. It is clear to me that the world you are from did not experience the Black Beast. If that is true, it would have had no reason to form a mirror version of the Novus Orbis Librarium." Hakumen's words remain cool and harshly distant as his many eyes seem to stare a hole through Rei's face and chest. "That this world has formed its own must mean that others have crossed the barrier. Having seen the twisted intentions of this Librarium, I have grown suspicious that those who formed it are related to he who betrayed us. If this is true, then they must be stopped at all costs."
Pausing, Hakumen allows Rei a moment to absorb that, hands at his sides and face plate lowered slightly. At a guess, the posture is one of frustration, though there is no real tension to be read in the set of the shoulders, and the tone remains cold if faintly angry.
"It is also clear that you have had some experience with this Librarium. Tell me what they have done, and who has done it. This information is likely of some value."

'Hey, could you share the details of your abuse with me?'

Hakumen has no way of knowing that this is what he accidentally asked, and Rei knows this, but it's impossible for him to mask -- for a second or two -- that flash of pain and frustration he feels upon hearing it. The sennin takes a long breath in through his nose, eyes closed for just a moment, before he exhales just as slowly, clearly trying to center himself.

"No, where I'm from we never had a 'Black Beast.' At least, not that *I* ever encountered, and given how often I seemed to get tangled up in apocalyptic disasters, I feel like I would have, had it existed." A world-ending calamity? Plenty of those, but no 'Black Beast.'

If the redhead is discomfited by Hakumen's piercing gaze, it doesn't show... or at least, it's not apparent that the *gaze* is the issue. It might be better to say that, with some wounds still raw, Rei is on edge as a kind of ground state to begin with.

"Most people I've met don't know anything about the existence of realities other than this one," he says, slowly, trying to work up to answering Hakumen's question. "Except people who are actually FROM one. But before you, I've only ever met people like me... who remember the same, different world. One that ended." That right there is existentially terrifying, but not unexpected. If there are two worlds, why not two hundred? Two thousand?

Shaking his head, Rei grips one elbow with the opposite hand, looking around the room. "Do you know the name 'Relius Clover'? He works for the NOL, though in what capacity other than 'creepy bastard' I genuinely don't know." A pause. "I encountered him, recently. He, ah..."

The feeling of phantom fingers on the spiritual equivalent of bare skin. The velvet insistence that this is 'our secret.'

It's a moment or two before he can start talking again.

But at the last, Rei turns his gaze back to Hakumen, unflinching. "He's not from my world. But he knows it existed. And he's... interested in that." A pause. "And he has a killer robot wife and a fursona mind control chair and I doubt either of those things makes a damn bit of sense to you but, believe me: they were terrifying."

To ask someone to bare their shame is a complex and troubling thing. But even had the avatar of Order fully understood the depths of Rei's suffering, would it really have made a difference? The being in white might have once been a man, but he is that no longer. He certainly didn't dress this latest demand up as a question, and there is little in the way of sympathy shown while the sennin takes a moment to gather himself.
"Only the foolish would deny the existence of the obvious." Hakumen states, disregarding roughly six billion collective opinions like so much worthless garbage. Still, his attention remains focused on Rei, chin lifting and right hand curling into a fist as the young man continues to speak.
"I see."
If Rei were hoping for some grand burst of emotion, a call to action, or perhaps sympathy, he is doomed to be disappointed. Hakumen's tone remains flat, words cooly introspective as he absorbs the rough outline of the redhead's torment.
"I knew him by a different title, but it is as I suspected. Those who survived the fall of my world have arrived in this one. A situation similar to your own, it seems. I do not know the true intentions of the Librarium. Whether it has been created to stop a Beast that is thought to be coming, or to serve some darker purpose. But I see no sign of the Black Beast here. It is likely that a darker force is in play. One that I was promised had not yet escaped its prison."
Only now does true rage begin to creep into Hakumen's voice. Where once there had been only the hard edges of ice, the thought of this unnamed person causes his electronic voice to deepen, words vibrating with barely suppressed rage. And with the rage comes pressure, the presence within the suit seeming to slither forth from some unknowable void and become more grounded in this reality. He seems taller. more dangerous. The curve of his horns more ominous. The difference between seeing a lion with its eyes closed from 100 paces away, and seeing one with its teeth bared at arm's length. Up until now the legendary hero had been mostly elsewhere. unfocused. But he is here now. In the moment.
"You have given me much to think about." Hakumen informs Rei, eyes shifting away even as his face tilts back down toward the boy.. "I will investigate further into this matter. If you are wise, you will leave this place. When next my sword is drawn, it will be against those who betrayed my world."
And with that said, Hakumen takes a single step forward, armored foot thudding heavily against the wood as he makes to circle around Rei toward the door some ways beyond.

Don't be here when the bomb goes off, in other words.

Hakumen's words are ominous. And to Rei's eyes, the 'Black Beast' could be a lot of things. For a moment he thinks of Jedah Dohma, the Darkstalker lord, and the demon noble's smooth-voiced assertion that all worthy souls will join him in time. The connection between the NOL and Jedah, in Rei's head, is Daniel Little, and for a moment, the sennin can't help but think about the various and unpleasant permutations of what it is this means for the future.

Daniel could very easily be called 'a black beast,' without the capital letters, after all...

"Well..." the redhead says, slowly. "Thanks for the warning. And... good luck, I guess." What else do you say to the mecha from another timeline that dropped into your dojo, warned you about a potential apocalyptic threat, and then left?

Nothing stands in Hakumen's way outside, though hopefully he'll actually use the doors and not smash them down instead. But the sennin watches him go from the center of the dojo floor for a long time. "If I'm wise I'll leave, huh..." he murmurs, mostly to himself. For a long while, Rei is alone with his thoughts about leaving all of this behind, going somewhere isolated and lost and forgetting about all of it. And then, with a sigh, he goes to clean up and prepare to make a call to have the floor repaired in the morning.

Log created on 18:11:54 08/15/2018 by Frei, and last modified on 14:13:11 08/26/2018.