Description: Michael and Honoka have a lot of things in common, and yet until this point, their paths had not crossed. But there is -one- thing that can bring the two together...
According to the Ainu, animals are gifts from the kamuy. When an animal is killed, one must offer thanks to the kamuy for this gift. For one can never be sure whether they have slain a simple animal, or a vessel hosting a kamuy temporarily for some greater purpose.
The kamuy can inhabit any body they choose, but common sense would suggest avoiding the game animals -- deer, and fish. No, the kamuy work in mysterious ways -- which means they'd pick the animals no one goes out of their way to kill. The numerous: Birds, bugs, rodents. Or the elite few, the rarest of their ilk: wild stags, bears. Killing one of those is a big deal to the Ainu. Especially near Kushiro City, home to a modern-day renaissance of Ainu customs as of late.
Locals had been keeping track of a bear in preparation for the annual Iomante festival, only to find that the bear had mysteriously disappeared. As foul play was suspected, the matter was referred to the elders of the Ainu Revival Academy, and almost immediately, a woodlands tracker and one of the Academy's highest-ranking officials were deployed to seek out the truth.
And while the Ainu are all about the old ways -- the younger crew are loathe to give up their modern technology. The official wears a puffy, bright orange vest and warm water-resistant winter clothes. And a scarf, wrapped around her neck and shoulders. She carries a long walking stick in her left hand. Her shoulder-length black hair is held back by a matanpushi, a traditional Ainu headband.
"The trail's gone cold," she comments into a cellphone head close to her face. "I mean, maybe you could find somethin', but I don't see anythin'." Honoka Kawamoto -- star juggler of the now-defunct Twilight Star Circus -- is not much good at the techniques generally associated with Ainu trackers, but she has her own methods. She glances sideways -- and then, abruptly, narrows her focus to a set of parallel scratch marks near a tree. Her gloves light with a golden energy as she traces her gloved fingertips over the markings. "... Hold up, think I found some marks after all. Looks like the marks made by like... ninja climbing gear or somethin'..."
Honoka purses her lips. And stares into the distance. Her scarf flutters in the light breeze.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are..."
For thousands of years, the Ainu have claimed the northern reaches of Japan as their home. The history of the people may not be something that is known beyond the shores of Japan, but for those who were born here or have spent a large enough portion of their life within the realm of the Children of the Sun? The basics are fairly mandatory.
Basic numero uno: You don't hunt on their lands without permission.
Basic numero dos: You had better observe all traditions.
Basic numero tres: See above two basics.
The renegade Koga Ninja Michael G. Weller unfortunately has flubbed the hell out of basic numero uno. Which means he's pretty much ignored the rest of the basic rules. Then again, it's not with malice he watches the Ainu Juggler from the shadows. His scent is masked by that of a large bear pelt that rests over his shoulders.
Since the end of the last King of Fighters tournament, the American Ninja has hidden himself in the one place he figured that none of the other Shinobi Clans would really want to go trouncing around. While he's certain they know just where he is, he's betting on the fact that none of them want to risk running afoul of the Ainu themselves, and possibly angering their guardians who have walked these lands for eons.
Yet, while Honoka Kawamoto may be investigating the marks, the sudden growls of a nearby large dog may prove distracting enough for her to notice the pelt clad man for the briefest of moments before he dips back into the shadows once more.
Honoka's brows lower as she scans the forest around her. She's anxious -- and yet her tone is level and measured as she speaks into the phone. "Do me a favor, Itak: sing me a song."
The person who goes by "Itak," on the other end, hesitates for a moment. There is a hint of alarm in his voice. But he soon begins to croon, as bidden. He may be at a fair distance -- a kilometer or two -- but the song lets Kawamoto know that he's not dead, at least.
Kawamoto lowers the phone from her ear, content to hear the song at a more muted distance. She presses a button on the phone display. Presumably the mute button, because the next thing she does is call out into the forest.
"It's useless to hide, you know!" Honoka speaks loudly and crisply, her voice carrying long and far in the otherwise abandoned stretch of forest. I happen to know exactly where you're at. Let's have a nice ol' fireside chat, shall we?"
When she first spoke, she was looking away from Michael. And as she spoke -- she swung side-to-side, covering a sixty-degree arc. This girl's just -got- to be bluffing.
But then the growls start. Honoka whirls about a quick 180, orienting to the sound. She raises the walking stick in one hand, curling the other hand close to her in readiness. "A wolf...?" she murmurs, mostly to herself. "C'mon out, chicken. Show yourself!"
Of any replies that Honoka may have expected to receive, Michael is a million percent certain she did not expect to receive that one. Yet, a hundred feet away from the tree and once again behind the Ainu Juggler, the Greatest American Ninja stands. This time he's not bothering to dip back into the shadows. Raising his right hand, he crooks a finger towards the girl, beckoning her to follow him.
If Honoka so chooses to follow, she'll be led through the trees, heading further and further into the mountains. Yet, if the girl does manage to lose track of Michael, she'll have a constant companion not to far away from her. The large husky that most whom have met are assured is far more intelligent then the ninja she is partnered with will stop, waiting for the Ainu to catch up. The growls have stopped, and if Honoka were to look a bit more closely at the husky, she'll notice that the tail is wagging non-stop.
For nearly an hour this sort of chase will go on, until Honoka will find herself standing near an old Ainu chise that's seemling been uninhabited for over a century. Yet, the obvious signs of repair are easily noticed as life once more inhabits the house. Smoke gently curls up and out of the center of the chise's roof, mixing into the darkening clouds that would signal that snow is about to start falling.
Within the chise though, the most surprising thing of all is the attention to detail. The shrine has been cleaned and fully repaired, with offerings placed upon it. Freshly lit incense burns as a fire burns brightly within the central pit, as a large pot with water slowly starts to warm within.
"Bwock bwock bwock." And there, just on the other side of the pit stands Michael, the bear pelt neatly laying next to him as he flaps his arms like a chicken at his 'guest'.
There are games Honoka enjoys playing. And ninja games are not among that list.
Honoka glowers at the sound coming from behind her. She tenses, setting her jaw firmly. And at first, she's unwilling to turn immediately toward the sound.
But, reluctantly, she turns -- just to see a man raising his hand at her.
He wears a bear pelt.
But he's blonde. Maybe a bit scruffy.
And despite ninjutsu... he's using the Western style way of saying 'come along'.
Maybe the net sum isn't... negative, here.
"Alright. I'll bite," she comments, following Michael into the dense forest.
After a minute of this, she allows the frustration to etch itself upon her features. The expression grows into irritation after just five -- at which point she realizes there's still the sound of singing from her phone -- which by now is getting a bit hoarse. "Itak -- sorry for that." The rest of her conversation with the Ainu tracker follows in hushed tones as she walks -- though if Michael wanted to eavesdrop, perhaps he wouldn't be staying out of strangulation distance.
As it is, Honoka gives chase. She gives the dog a level stare whenever she sees it, not wanting to harbor any illusions of her being a dog person. Even if it -is- wagging its tail happily. She is -decidedly unhappy- whenever Michael may deign to look her way -- doubly so when he uses that archaic and borderline -rude- gesture.
But then she starts seeing inau. And signs of civilization -- however long-ago it may have been.
Nope. Still irritable.
Even when she steps into the chise, it's with a smoldering glower on her face. The scarf had been loosened long ago, the vest unzipped. And in the hand that -isn't- anchored by the walking stick, a bright purple yo-yo flicks back and forth.
"Sorry, have we -met-? Usually I have the favor of a name before bothering to chase someone for an hour, but as it happens, you're the person I need to strangle -- er, -talk with-."
The yo-yo snaps out, and she sends it flying in a high arc overhead before summoning it back to her hold. "Oh, and before you think about saying 'bwock' one more time, you should know I'm close enough to fry your brain now." Cloying smile ensues.
As the yo-yo menacingly snaps back and forth, it's quite obvious that Michael's weighing his options on tempting fate once more. Usually a self-preservation instinct kicks in for anyone who isn't a certifiable idiot. Usually they'll start playing by the rules of casual conduct once obvious threats of brain frying are delivered.
Usually, a calming reply and an offer of tea would be suitable to try and stave off any threats of impending violence.
None of these things seemingly apply to Michael G. Weller. His eyes focus on the yo-yo, only for him to lift his left hand up, arcs of electricity dancing across his finger tips. "If you'd kindly look down, you'll notice nice big brown lines all across the floor. That would be copper wiring. Which you're currently standing on. Fry my brain, I fry you." While there may be brown lines all across the flooring of the chise, it's just stains that conviently look like copper. It's a big bluff for sure, but it's one that if it came down to, most persurers would be unwilling to take the chance to further provoke.
"Why are you out here? Why are you looking for me? Which clan sent you this time?"
As Michael does his best to be intimidating in his own right, the Husky wanders past Honoka, casually sniffing at the Ainu girl's legs, only to lose interest and flop down upon the bear pelt. Leave it to the dog to fully give away any sort of edge her owner may infact have.
The yo-yo snaps out, reaching its maximum extent, and then entering a spinning free-fall before landing soundlessly in Honoka's awaiting palm.
Still with that cloying smile, the juggler seems unfazed by the threat. "Don't care. Rubber soled shoes." Sure, she idly glances down at the lines, but she offers a mild shrug afterwards. She's honestly more put out by the dog that's walking up to sniff at her -- as evidenced by her taking a wary step backwards before remembering a distant memory that -retreat- tends to egg on a dog's violent tendencies. Grinding her heel into the nearest brown line, she similarly grinds her molars as the dog's sniffer goes off.
She breathes a sigh of relief when the dog flops over. And then a 'Hmph.'
The yo-yo slips from her hand, as she commences a 'walk the dog' motion -- apropos for the dog -behaving-, one would suppose. "Listen. You're wearing a bear pelt. It's nice that you made a token effort, but the fact of the matter is that if you'd talked to the locals, they'd have told you bears are a no-go." She gives another mild shrug. "It was three Ainu clans, but I'm not spilling." She flicks her thumb towards the rug. "Just wanted to know what's up with their bear."
The yo-yo lazily falls into an around-the-world motion. "Why, are you supposed to be someone important?"
There is a brief pause as Michael absorbs the information. His jaw goes slack as the realization that it was NOT infact a shinobi clan that was after him, but the actual local clans is something he truly finds relieving.
"Oh man. You... really had me scared for a minute." Lowering his hand now, he steps away from the bear pelt and dog, and grabs a couple of tin camping mugs, as well as a bruised and battered box of tea. Making his way now towards the fire and now almost boiling water, he sits and moves to start filling the two mugs with water. A tea bag is then placed within each mug, and then the ninja offers one to the Ainu juggler. It's completely obvious that he no longer finds Honoka some sort of threat.
"Michael. Michael G. Weller... and what do you mean a no-no? I thought it was the deer and eagles that were... aw shit..."
Realization suddenly dawns upon him as he realizes just where he messed up, and why the locals are choosing now to suddenly look into his incursion. "Uh... crap. Would it help if I said that I didn't let anything go to waste?" A loud chuff comes from the husky behind him, which causes him to snap his head back in frusturation, "Hey! You're just as guilty as I am! So don't pretend you're not involved either!" The only reply he gets from the dog however, is a dismissive snort as she makes herself more comfortable on the bear pelt, and lazily closes her eyes.
Honoka lets the condescending act go as Michael expresses relief. She's generally got a good read of how people are feeling, and she's -not- getting a truly threatening aura from this man. Especially when he grabs tea from a box as well-loved as -that-. Not finding one another as a threat can... mostly be a two-way street.
"Michael G. Weller," she repeats with a good-natured smile, lightly dusting her cheek with the back of her glove. "... Didn't recognize you with all the scruff." She offers a quick wink, returning the favor of a name: "You can call me Honoka."
"... As for that, uh -- -all- living beings are sacred. But that bear in particular was sacred 'cause the clans had chosen him for capture in a two-month ritual starting, uhh..." She glances at her phone. "... Next week. So." She shrugs non-committally. "Two weeks of pampering and fattening up, and -then- the villages would've made with the not-letting-anything-go-to-waste bit." She rubs the back of her head sheepishly as the man argues with his dog.
But then she pointedly glances around to the rest of the chise. "The rest of this your doing, though?" She seems impressed, enough for her to swing the yo-yo and its string into a cradle. "It's a pretty good restoration, aside from that 'copper wire' upgrade you talked about."
"Nice to meet you Honoka." The blonde man sets the second cup down on the side of the fire, in case Honoka does decide to take it. Sipping quietly from his own, he follows the Ainu's gaze around the chise. "Yeah. It's.. not the first time I've been in this region and had to sort of make due with what nature has reclaimed. Though the last time..." He shudders slightly as he remembers getting the beat down of the century from Nakoruru. "Besides, it's fairly easy to repair so long as the base structure is intact. It's almost as if someone kept this one ready just in case of an emergency."
The comment however, about the copper wire is enough to make him flinch. He could yammer on about how he's having to make due with what he has, but in the end it's pointless. She has a cell phone. The Ainu now know he's here. That means his self imposed exile is going to have to come to an end while he tries to figure out another place to hide. That is of course, until he can find his way back to the States. "God.. Takehiro must be absolutely livid with me..."
Being 'non-threatening' is one thing, but sitting down and having a drink with someone she's supposed to be dragging in for punishment is... well, it's -fine- but it needs more thought. In this case, it's not until Michael draws attention to the cup a second time that she recognizes it as something that she needs to politely attend to.
And she does so, using the walking stick to lower herself into a polite seated position. She removes her gloves, curling both bare hands around the cup of tea. "Thank you for the tea. I'll... credit it towards your debt to me for the wild goose chase." The juggler winks back at Michael as she makes herself comfortable.
The name, though, receives an arched eyebrow. The name -- she's able to place it instantly. Though she does wonder what Michael could possibly have to do with... -his- cousin. She ... simply addresses the spoken issues, rather than the litany of -other- issues talking with -his- KOF teammate could bring up.
With a vapid sense of concern, she asks, "... Catch me up, here, Weller-san. What reason does Takehiro have to be mad with you?"
The blonde man stares dumbfounded at the Ainu Juggler for a few moments as she seemingly knows the person who he's speaking about. "Do.. you know Takehiro Glenn?" They say it's a small world, and that some random stranger is also bound to know some of the same people you know. However this coincidence is almost far to much for Michael to really handle at this moment.
"Uh.. Sorry. I just.. find it fairly odd that out here, in the middle of nowhere in Hokkaido, some random girl just so happens to track me down, who happens to know someone I do?"
There is another loud chuff from the large husky behind Michael, which causes the ninja to grimace slightly. "Shut up Pity. I need your input about as much as I need a hole drilled into my head..."
Yes, Honoka -- /do/ you know Takehiro Glenn? Perhaps she does, but from the doe-eyed expression on her face, it'd be hard to draw that conclusion. "... Who?"
Honestly, at this point it's more of an insult to the internationally-acclaimed fighter's prestige that Michael D. Weller doesn't recognize -her-, rather than whether she knows about her ex-boyfriend's weaponsmith cousin. But the woman's a good liar, and one key to her success is not actually saying the lies.
"Haha, yeah... crazy, right?"
The only real impediment to worming out of explaining that she knows Takehiro is... Pity, whose random sound causes her to snap her gaze sideways to him, her spine stiffening sharply in reaction. The panic lasts but an instant, but her gaze cuts back to Michael. Or rather, a point on his chest, as she avoids his gaze directly for some reason. "R-really though, you're the one who threw out the name, I was just wondering why he would be -mad- at you. Like... is he Ainu or something?"
As Honoka flounders as hard as a teenager who is attempting to buy beer with their first fake I.D., both Michael and Pity stare at the poor girl. Obviously, Honoka's ability to fool human beings is one thing, but animals? Well that's another. The husky gives a loud snort to the Ainu's reply before going back to pretending to sleep. Everyone has their secrets, even a dog.
"Yeah, I mean, it'd just be too much of a coincidence.. Then again... it wouldn't surprise me. Nakoruru knew 'em. So maybe more Ainu know of Takehiro Glenn." The blonde man gives a non-comittal shrug of his shoulders as he sighs loudly at Honoka's query.
"What? No. At least, I don't think so? He lives in Cleveland, but... I kind of lost touch. Especially after the King of Fighters tournament. It was bad enough the Mugen Tenshin had already found me.. but after that... Ugh... everyone started coming out of the wood work. You name a clan, there they were ready to stick something pointy in me. That's why I came back up to Hokkaido. The clans don't like coming up here and messing around with the Ainu, so it's fairly safe to hide and figure out your next move... usually."
Too much of a coincidence? Honoka nods agreeably to that idea, without actually saying anything for or against it.
The con artist definitely wouldn't say she was -floundering-, per se. She's just letting the talkative American set the pace for the conversation, by making ambivalent and easily-defended statements.
The only pressure in this circumstance is that of the canine sort; the Ainu woman starts almost every time that Pity makes a sound. Because otherwise, tea wouldn't be splashing about in the hands of a master of balance like herself.
Otherwise, she's more than happy to keep up the small talk on topics that -aren't- tied to her identity. "... The Mugen Tenshin? Wow, you must'a pissed a lot of people off."
As for whether this is a good place to hide? "Usually," agrees Honoka. Who is now ready to pivot back to the original topic. "... But then there's the matter of compensating three Ainu villages for their inconvenience. Generally this comes in the form of a fine."
"Uh... I.. suppose you could say that."
Michael's voice trails off as he tries to find a way to change the subject from 'How in the world did you piss off every Ninja clan?' to 'What's the weather forcast for tomorrow?'
And then, the miracle is handed to him on a silver platter as Honoka mentions a fine. This is something he could work with. Even if he's broke, that's better then admitting as to WHY he's on the run yet again to a random stranger.
"So.. how bad of a fine are we talking here? I mean, I'm hiding out in the middle of nowhere, even by what I guess would be Ainu standards. But it's not like I couldn't find ways to work it off! So long.. as it's kind of kept quiet I'm here."
Suffice to say, Honoka isn't terribly judgmental about people omitting the truth, so long as it's not the particular truths she's interested in. Like recognizes like, here, as she focuses on the happiness of a piping hot cup of tea in the middle of a cold and frosty forest.
"Oh, you want to stay off the books? There's a cost for that, too." For a moment, the Ainu conwoman had dithered on whether to get -truly- mercenary with her responses, but it seems she's okay with passing that off as a joke -- as she offers a faint, non-committal smile with that statement. "Probably a few hundred thousand yen if you pay at once. I can see if they'd be willing to deal you in, in exchange for stuff like splitting logs or something." She sips her tea, then adds, "But you're right. The Ainu aren't all about bloodlust and vengeance. The Kamuy are the judge and arbiter, after all."
Honoka glances over to a blissfully peaceful Pity before speaking again. "... They've already selected another bear, after all. So this deal's only valid as long as you can keep your ursine bloodlust at bay, naturally."
"No problems there. I mean, bear is a bit too fatty anyways. Plus, it gives Pity gas, and if there is anything that is truly vile and evil in this world? It's dog farts."
Michael's voice trails off as a low rumbling growl eminates from the husky behind him, who is now staring daggers at her owner, teeth bared in warning. "Oh hush. When it's bad enough even you run away from it, then you've got no room to t--- GACK!"
Before the blonde man even has a chance to finish his sentance, the husky has already tackled him from behind, and is using the full power of her weight to pin him to the floor as she covers his head with her furry body. The Ninja doesn't last long before he's slapping his hand against the ground in submittal, the husky standing and returning to her bear pelt bed.
The Koga-Ryu ninja spends a few moments trying to get the dog fur out of his mouth, before grumbling loudly. "There's few more chise a few kilometers east of here that look like they haven't been used in a long time. I'll gladly repair them so the villages have a place to camp when the spring hunts begin. Would that be an acceptable trade?"
There's only so much Honoka can say about a couples' dispute in progress. She sips her tea thoughtfully, while passing her gaze over the rest of the chise. The ways in which Michael restored the facility are... quite impressive, really. Even without seeing a "before" pic, she can tell what's been spruced up, according to the proper Ainu traditions. She can't expect a blonde sisam to have gotten the proper incantations correct, but the Kamuy have been known to accept sweat equity as an occasional substitute.
As she was already thinking about the chise, it's fortuitous that Michael offers that as an alternative. Warming her hands on the cup, Honoka nods cheerfully. "I think that would be acceptable, yes. I'm sure the hunters would appreciate having something more akin to a 'home' out here."
And for a moment, it looks as if that might be the end of business.
But then the bundled up, modern-day Ainu tilts her head. "So this Takehiro person, he's in Cleveland, you said. You're more concerned -he's- mad at you than these countless ninja clans?" She purses her lips for a moment. The question is -phrased- innocently enough, but that's a tenuous balance.
The conwoman tips the scales in her favor by keeping on the offensive pressure, adding a simple barb with a bemused grin. "Ex-lover, perhaps?"
The cup falls from Michael's hands as he is visibly struck by Honoka's words. Yelping slightly from the sudden splash of hot liquid upon his body while he fumbles to catch the cup, the blonde snaps his head up finally and stares at Honoka with disbelief.
"No, nothing like that! It's just... he's the cousin of the guy who was one of my partners in the King of Fighters tournament. Zach. Zach Glenn. We also partnered with Rust Howard. There was... a fourth person but with how everything ended... I uh.. forget. Anyway... Takehiro was doing me a major favor. It's more important to me then any of the clans sending their heaviest of hitters."
The words flow out of Michael's mouth like a dam that's suddenly burst. It's obvious he's been stewing on all of this for quite some time, yet it's also something that he knows better then to just willy nilly tell the whole story. That could be bad. Especially for someone who he doesn't know.
"Look. Everyone has their secrets all right? This one isn't one that I should really tell people about. Especially a stranger."
Honoka isn't startled by the cup falling, or the splash, or the yelp, or the staring. She just keeps flashing Michael that bemused grin.
"Oh, right... the yeti?" She laughs. And then, she talks about the fighters to prove she actually -has- some knowledge about Michael's KOF team, she adds with good humor, "That guy was hilarious. I thought he was just your team mascot or something, until I read a news article about him being the best in his clan."
She smiles and sips at her tea -- with the cup being just about empty now. "I'm just askin' questions, I'm not writin' news articles about you or nothin'. Is it gettin' to be a bother?"
"That's right, Sasquatch. Yeah. He's really funny. And it's no joke either! Dude packs a mean punch!"
The blonde ninja nods his head feverently as it starts to come back to him. Yet when Honoka starts to lay on the guilt about it only being casual curiosity, Michael starts to crack.
"Look, I mean I can tell you but I don't know you but you seem like you can be trustworthy then again I thought Ayane was trustworthy and she stuck me like a pin cushion but you're doing me a favor by getting me out of trouble with the Ainu..."
Jesus christ Michael. Take a breath. Learn to breath. No one can understand you when you suddenly go on a rant without stopping.
Slowly, the man regains his composure. It's fairly obvious now that being up in the middle of nowhere with no human contact and only a dog to talk to has him slightly off balance.
Without missing a beat, Michael suddenly pulls off his gi, revealing the numerous scars from the many sharp pointy things that have been stuck in him like a turkey on thanksgiving, but the most prominent is a scar that matches the crest of the Koga-Ryu ninja. "I'm a nukenin. I kind of took something from the clan that was mine, but wasn't. The clan, well.. they still aren't too happy with me..."
Honoka covers her mouth with a hand as Michael doth protest so very very much. "Haha, this is rich, the bear-slayer slash chise-squatter wants to talk about -me- being trustworthy. I don't even -have- anything pointy to stab you with, do you think I'm gonna club you with my yo-yo?"
Still. She finishes off the last of the tea, setting the empty cup aside and putting her gloves back on. Her cheeks turn a bit pinker as the blonde American sheds his gi, but, lowering her chin, she keeps control of her tone. "That's... Man, that's a lot of scars." She offers a mirthless laugh: "I don't really know much about ninja clans, to be honest. But yeah. You wanna talk about -me- being trustworthy." The laugh that follows has some mirth to it.
"Did they follow you when you were in the King of Fighters? I mean, seems like it'd be a pretty obvious place to take you down, when you're in front of the world stage."
"Before the tournament. During the tournament. After the tournament. I like to think that I'm pretty fast. Though... not fast enough at times."
There's a visible grimace as Michael pulls his gi back over his head. After a few moments of fumbling while trying to get it adjusted, the blonde ninja reaches forward and refills his cup with now fully boiling water. There is something however that does start to bother him as he lets the silence start to fill the chise.
"Why would you laugh at being called trustworthy? Normally there's a good reason for why people do stuff, and maybe I'm just horrible at reading people, but you don't seem like you'd willingly betray someone. I mean, you're out here in the middle of nowhere discussing with a complete stranger ways they could make repirations with the Ainu clans in the area."
Honoka reaches forward to fill her cup as well -- the hot tea is a large part of why she's decided to stick around the bear-slayer for as long as she had, really.
"I'm laughin' 'cause you make it out like trustworthiness is important to you. An' yet you're literally just now tellin' me about how ninjas across the world are movin' heaven and earth to find you -- because you -stole- somethin' of theirs." She blows on her refilled tea cup. "It don't bother me none. But if you can't laugh at that, what -can- you laugh at?"
She pulls the cup close to her face, basking in the warmth. Honoka nods slowly. "Even animals can learn to trust one another. For without it, there'd be no such thing as civilization. So yes. I hope you can trust me. Because I've put my faith in you that there's no poison in this cup." And without further ado, she takes one sip.
The Ainu woman lets the second round of tea warm her throat. Much better. And then she quirks another smile.
"So what'd you pinch? Lemme guess -- the sword's a family heirloom?"
The blonde man may be a bit on the niave side. Really. Common sense isn't a huge thing a lot of people tend to associate with him. He teamed up with a crazy psychic, a somewhat smelly construction worker, and a Yeti for an internationally televised event.
Yet, when Honoka mentions it being a sword, Michael's eyes narrow slightly. "I.. never said it was a sword." A few tense moments pass before something finally dawns upon Michael as he finally takes the time to get a good look at Honoka.
There's something familiar about her. He knows for a fact he's seen her before now that he actually starts to think about it. Furrowing his brow, the ninja remains silent as he struggles to remember.
Then it hits him. Suddenly leaping to his feet, he points excitedly at the woman as it all starts to click into place. "You're Honoka Kawamoto! You're from the Twilight Star Circus! You're also Ainu Spangles! Oh man!"
"Well, no, that's why I -guessed-. It was worth risking your life over, and worth not just giving back as an 'oops, my bad.' It's either gotta be your family sword or some other kinda heirloom that won't fit inside your shirt." She grins, bringing the piping-hot tea close to her face. "Plus, that reaction tells me I'm right."
It's that smiling, confident face that he gets to stare at for a good long while, before leaping to his feet with realization. The shock -could- have jarred the cup right out of Honoka's hand -- if she weren't already bracing for it.
The first name she expects. "Haha --"
The circus, she expects. "... Well, yeah--"
The third brings a raised eyebrow, and pursed lips. "..."
She waits a moment to ensure Michael doesn't recall another name. ".... Wait, you actually watched that?" She awkwardly turns away. "... But yeah, didn't I say so? I mean, I might've left off my family name, but isn't 'Honoka' enough? How many famous Honokas can there be?"
Taking a sip of her drink, she looks back to Michael. "Still... kInda puts my Ainu works in perspective, though, hmm?"
"Well.. yeah I watched it. I even was at one of the last shows before the circus stopped performing!" If it were humanly possible, there would be stars within the Blonde Ninja's eyes as he stares at Honoka now.
Sitting himself back down, Michael drops another tea bag into his cup, doubling up just to make it a bit stronger. "Though, I have to admit it wasn't as good as the first show I went to. That was a long time ago, and I got to see you do a trapeze act. The last one though.. It was meh. Which is why I really didn't remember you until I took a good look."
Letting the comment slide about there being other famous Honokas, he takes a deep breath. "The sword wasn't just a family heirloom. Nor was the journal. The journal was written in an obscure dialect of Japanese, and now that I think about it, it makes complete sense /she/ was able to read it. But the sword.. It belonged to Galford D. Weller. He was a companion of Lady Nakoruru and Haohmaru. He was also the first foreigner to be trained by the Koga-ryu."
Honoka looks down, shyly -- perfectly in character for the Honoka off-stage experience. "A.... a true fan! It's been forever since I'd been up on the trapeze, ahaha..." Her gaze lifts afterwards as she gives an apologetic bow. "The show had been a bit in decline, yeah, I'm not gonna lie. We weren't the best at keeping up with our audiences' tastes, I s'pose." She self-consciously sweeps loose strands of hair back into her hood. "I'm glad we got to meet, though! Even if it... was with me being a debt collector rather than the circus star you'd be able to recognize and all. ... It probably didn't help that I'm wearing a few more layers."
She puts on a smile -- though Kawamoto is still cognizant that the other shoe could drop at any moment. Anyone who is enough of a fan of hers to know her from the trapeze era might also know about her off-stage relationships -- one of which could be -very -pertinent. She seems to be paying attention -- but then a few key words jump out at her.
Honoka's eyes light up. And then she pats her jacket down to locate her phone. "Right, right... hold on, I know that name..." Her thumbs scroll rapidly through her photo archive -- and then she holds her finding up for Michael to see: A painting from the Chateau de Colde in France, of a number of warriors standing off against a demon of sorts. An armored beauty named Charlotte. An Ainu warrior priestess named Nakoruru. And a blonde swordsman in blue, with a bright orange scarf.
"And this is why -you- looked kinda familiar to me."
Michael falls silent for a few moments as he stares at the picture. Eventually he looks back up at Honoka. Eyes filled with a sense of sadness, and possibly regret, he reaches forward and gently touches the picture on the phone. Some of the names of the figures have been etched permentantly into his mind.
"Hattori Hanzo, Haohmaru-sama, Lady Nakoruru." Slowly, he scrolls the picture to the far right, the gaze in his eyes slowly growing intense as he takes in the scene.
Eventually, he pulls his hand away, lowering his gaze once more. "Sorry, it's just a lot to take in 'ya know? Yeah. The guy with the orange scarf and the dog is my ancestor... and that dog is her ancestor." He jerks his thumb at the now softly snoring husky, who doesn't seem to care either way about just what exactly Michael is looking at.
"That's why I took the sword. The Koga were happy to let it rust beyond repair. They weren't too fond of the fact that a gaijin was inducted into their ranks. But, if 'ya ask any of the elders? Galford was one of the greatest Koga who ever lived. His feats were legendary and brought great honor to the clan."
Honoka quirks an eyebrow as Michael reaches out to her phone's screen, but figures that the worst that can happen might be him finding other pictures of her with Nakoruru. Which aren't uncommon, considering they fought on a worldwide stage. That one, actually, right in the picture.
She nods slowly as Michael tells of the ancestor. The names are familiar to her, having been studied intently -- but hearing Michael speak them with such reverence has her eyes half-lidding in appreciation. "Oh... believe me, I know how it is. I still get starstruck talking to Nakoruru. It's one thing to hear the legends sung, but something else entirely to meet the heroine of our people in the flesh."
She smiles faintly, as Michael speaks so highly of his long-past ancestor. "If they took such poor care of such a worthy item, it's clear they didn't deserve it, hmm?"
Honoka sips at her cup, relishing the warmth upon her face. She looks down at the surface of the fluid, considering for a moment. And then she speaks up.
"Perhaps I shouldn't be pryin', Weller-san, but this sounds like a tough situation. It can end with your death; it can end with all of theirs. But ain't there some kinda middle ground, where there's, like, maybe no death? Have you tried for a no-death, no pokey-stabby solution?"
"Sure. Why do you think I'm up here, in the middle of nowhere? They're not so willing to rush in to grab me, and I'm in no real hurry to get poked again with kunai. Besides, I haven't just been kickin' back and pretending everything is all good. I'm pretty sure I can at least handle most of what they throw at me now. Unless like the current Hanzo decided to take matters into his own hands. I'd be fairly boned as well if the Hayabusa came after me as well. Those guys are on a completely different level."
Sighing loudly, Michael reaches for his cup and takes a long sip from it. "The only way is to show that I was in the right, and to do that, I still need to get even stronger. Only when I'm strong enough to fend off any who come at me will they stop."
There is a finality to the way he speaks the words, as if he's already worked out every sort of scenerio where he tries to make peace with his own clan. Unfortunately, history doesn't generally favor those who betray their clan, and the list of those who successfully staved off death is extremely short. "I'll need allies of my own. I don't see Zach popping up in my time of need, and my list of friends pretty much ends there."
For the most part, Honoka has been all smiles. Michael's been friendly, and he's shown that he has a heart and has been -trying- to do right by the Ainu. She nods, following along with Michael's narrative.
She does, however, quirk an eyebrow when he sighs. And her eyelids half-lid when he insists that he's in the right, and needs to get stronger. And that this man boasts he can take on anyone who comes at him.
No, for the most part, Honoka's been all smiles -- but she's been listening. And having it all spelled out for her like that... is frustrating.
Her lips part when she hears Zach's name -- and that, for all it's worth, threatens to derail her for a moment. Her comment, "I wouldn't hold my breath, no," is delivered devoid of emotion.
She takes a big sip from her drink, considering. And then she crouches down, setting the cup by the fire before rising once more.
When she rises, firelight dances in her eyes as she stares back at Michael.
"Weller-san, I want to make something perfectly clear to you. This might be 'nowhere' to you, but it is our home. And by bringing the war you've started to our back door, you risk putting all of us into danger. If you wish to be allies, to -defend- you as more than human shields -- you will need to do more than clean up the occasional home on your spare time."
The Ainu woman prepares her coat and scarf for a return to the wilderness.
"You will need to introduce yourself to the village elders. And be prepared to do as they ask of you. For the Ainu may well need your help -more- than you need theirs."
The man visibly grimaces as Honoka kindly lays into him. He was fairly arrogant to think that it would be fine by him hiding here. He was also fairly stupid to think that no one would even bother looking for him. Yet, here he is, entertaining a famed person of the people whose very land he's trespassing all over.
"I.." Michael's voice fades off as he lets Honoka's words fully sink in. Rising to his feet, he carefully pours the rest of the water out over the fire. Once he's sure there are no embers that would threaten to reignite the fire, he moves over to dog who is now dead asleep upon the bear pelt.
"Pity. Up and at 'em. It's time."
The dog's ears twitch a few times before she too rises to her paws, shaking herself violently as she steps off the bear pelt. Reaching down, Michael scoops the pelt up and walks over to the chise's small shrine, which he then lays it down before it. He kneels before the shrine, placing his hands together as he closes his eyes.
After a minute, the blonde man rises up, and moves towards the back of the chise, carefully pulling out a small rucksack. Once more he removes the gi, reaching into the gi to pull out a sturdier and more battle ready gi. Pulling the new gi on, he slings the rucksack over his shoulder. Another glance is given towards the shrine, the incense now no longer burning upon it, only to return his gaze to Honoka.
"All right Miss Honoka. Lead the way."
Honoka's look remains serious for quite a few moments. Indeed -- she looks unmoved and statuesque right up until Weller douses the fire -- and only then does she let a hint of her earlier smile show through upon her facade.
After all, there is only one driving priority in Honoka's life that ranks above all others -- the prosperity of her own people. And Michael going on about his plans to -run- from a fight he can easily end -- well.
Honoka nods with solemn approval, her scant fraction of a smile turning a bit more whole. "This is the right choice, Michael." Perhaps it's... rude to avoid the family name in this instance, but Honoka feels it appropriate.
She turns back to the snow-covered forest, a shiver running down her spine. Boots crunch down into snow as she takes her first steps into the wilderness. As soon as she hears canine paws fall in line, she would turn to favor Pity with a glance -- but little else.
"You've met Nakoruru, then, is that right? Tell me about that -- we have a bit of a walk ahead of us, ne."
A look of satisfaction crosses Michael's face as the Ainu Juggler finally calls him by his name. Once they're outside however, it becomes a different story. A final look is given back to the chise before he falls in line next to Honoka. Once more he ends the chapter of his own story of self-imposed isolation.
Yet, once the Ainu asks about the being that is known as Nakoruru, he stops. The request is one that has caught him off guard, yet it's one he feels he can tell. Only when Honoka mentions it being a long walk does he actually groan.
"..Walk? You're joking right?"
Turning around, Michael heads back to the chise, only to go around the back. A few moments later, he returns with a crudely made kick sled and harness. It takes a few minutes however for him to convince the large dog to let him put the harness on her, but once he does, he motions towards the sled. "I guess I can tell you about my meeting Nakoruru, but only if we move a bit faster."
Honoka noticed the reception that saying Michael's name garnered, and notes it. Some Westerners want to be all respectful like in Japanese -- and some don't.
But when Michael protests, she blinks and stops herself in mid-stride to turn back towards him. "Uh... well?" Michael turns while she's shrugging.
She avails herself of the opportunity to discreetly call her friend "Itak" and let them know of her impending return -- but when the sled is presented, she offers Michael a relieved look and amends her time estimate.
"Well, it's up to you. I certainly wouldn't mind getting there -before- I freeze my ass off." And, finally, she offers one of her smiles. "Bet you never saw -this- coming when you saw me on the trapeze, ne?"
Michael's tone is rather excited, and a glance at the dog shows that she's trembling with anticipation. Once Michael is sure that Honoka is on the sled, he would tie his rucksack to it as well. Then finally, he gives a single nod to Pity, who slams forward like a cannonball.
The sensation Honoka may feel would be akin to the sudden snap like one would get on a high speed roller coaster. Then, the dog finally settles into a striding gate in order to maximize speed, while preserving her own stamina. She may be a ninja dog, but in the end, she's still a dog.
Keeping pace now next to the sled, the excitment he feels now flooding outward like a tidal wave. This is what he was meant to do. This is how he was always meant to move.
This is who he truly is, even if he doesn't like it.
"I suppose I'll start at the beginning. It all began, in a place not to far from here..."
And so, like many other tales that start that way, the Blonde Ninja from America tells the story of a hidden and forgotten shrine, and the living avatar of Kamuy who happened upon a youth and his dog camping there.
Log created on 20:45:08 02/13/2021 by Honoka, and last modified on 21:55:48 02/18/2021.