Fightfest 2023 - Seeds Of Faith

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Description: Have faith in God; God has faith in you. - Edwin Louis Cole

The Meian Jinja - the Shrine of Light and Dark - is far enough away from the metropolis of Southtown that the noises of traffic, crowded streets, construction projects, or other contributions to the cacophony of city life can no longer be reached here. Spring brings with it a new bloom in the sakura trees lining the path leading to the walled in structure, unleashing a steady drifting rain of pink that lands on shoulders or scatters around the passing feet of those who walk the path.

The Spring morning air is crisp, the sky visible over the shine itself bright and blue, though largely hidden from view when passing through the surrounding forest.

It is clear at a glance that the shrine dates from a time when it had to serve both as a holy sight as well as a sacred refuge, a fortress against the dangers that stalked these lands in less civilized times. Now days, its walls might seem a relic of the past - thick stonework rising around twelve feet into the air surrounding the entire compound, their sense of protection weakened some by the fact that the old wooden gates hang open. Only once in recent history have they ever been closed, though all evidence of the bloody sunset has long since been cleaned up and repaired by those who diligently keep this place in order.

The central building is large for a shrine, especially for one so far removed from the more famous sites in larger cities throughout the country, but that can be attributed to the fact that it actually houses multiple shrines within - the primal powers of air, fire, water, metal, and earth are each represented by their own dedicated chamber within, each dedicated to the old names:

Seiryuu - The Blue Dragon of the Air
Suzaku - The Vermilion Bird of fire
Byakko - The White Tiger of Metal
Genbu - The Black Tortoise of Water
Kouryu - The Yellow Dragon of Earth

Adjacent to the courtyard, accessed through a small gate in a smaller wall, is a large garden expanse. Flowers in well maintained beds, rock gardens with ripples radiating out across the surrounding sands, and dropping willows dipping their fronds into a brook that flows steadily through the garden.

Morning at the Meian Jinja is a time for chores, and everyone must contribute. Some tend to the garden, others move through the interior of the shrine, lighting candles, making sure benches are properly placed, and that everything is ready for visitors to come by throughout the day.

Ayame Ichijo herself is no exception even if she is the most well known among the living Ichijo family, a lineage that has occupied the shrine since it was constructed centuries ago. This morning, she sweeps at the walkway connecting the entrance gate to the area in front of the shrine. The clothing she wears is in the style of a traditional miko - a white kimono style top with long sleeves rolled up to her elbows and held back by straps that connect behind her upper back in a large red bow, a red rope belt tied into long loops that hang down from her waist, and a long pleated skirt down to her ankles. Her hair, the color of sunkissed copper, is decorated by a large ribbon tied into a bow behind her head. Ankle high white socks and open sandals cover the priestess's feet.

Her expression would make it difficult to read if she finds the chore she's engaged in enjoyable or annoying, relaxing or aggravating, as she goes about the process of sweeping away dust from the stonework with a sort of methodical but detached perfection, moving slowly toward the gate as she works.

It's more likely her thoughts are elsewhere - of some work ahead, of some new discovery in Onmyoujutsu that she's trying to crack the secrets of, or of some other mystery that she will be turning her efforts toward as soon as she's contributed her fair share to the efforts of maintaining a tidy, visitor-ready jinja.

The sun beams down golden and warm from the eastern sky, nary a cloud to be found in its endless blue expanse. From within the compound come the gentle sounds of mundane life: low voices, the soft swish of the broom, a sudden burst of muffled laughter; while from without come the trilling songs of birds about there morning business, rising high and musical above the low susurration of leaves dancing in the breeze. It is upon that breeze that the pink pedals of the Sakura trees dance, their gentle fragrance perfuming the green taste of the air.
A quiet day.
A perfect day.
And yet despite the clarity of the sky, a faint rumble shivers its way through the heavens, so low and subtle as to be felt more than heard. The grumble of a sleeping giant stirring upon its plateau, restless but not yet willing to wake. Perhaps there will be rain?
The sharp snap of wood on stone drifts upon the shifting breeze, followed soon by another.
Closer now, the sound resolves itself into the staccato rap of a staff measuring strides upon the approach, its shadowy owner nearly visible through a graceful swirl of obscuring blossoms.
A shift of the wind sends delicate blossoms gusting through the open gate to dance within the courtyard, both beautiful and terrible in that they are one more thing the Ichijo girl is going to have to clean. However, they are not the only visitors to the shrine on this beautiful Spring morning. For amidst the cascade of pedals strolls a man in a heavy grey robe, his features hidden beneath the brim of a conical straw hat. In his right hand he carries a worn old staff slightly taller than himself, its butt rapping the stones to the beat of every other step. He is not a large man, neither overly tall nor broad, his feet clad in a pair of simple bamboo sandals. Dust clings to him in places, and pink blossoms cover his shoulders and the rim of his hat. Still more are sprinkled throughout his hair, which hangs down his back in a mass of snowy white.
An old man, perhaps. Old, and either rude or ignorant, for his sure stride carries him down the center of the path and beneath the towering arch of the torii.
"Good morning." greets the stranger as pink blossoms drift between himself and the sweeping girl. She being the only person currently in sight, he lifts his staff and rests it across his shoulder, sandals scuffing his languid approach across the cobblestones. At this distance it is easy to see his face, weathered but still somehow youthful in an ageless way. Despite the color of his hair he could be anywhere from 30 to 60, features some mix of East Asian if a bit strong boned.
"Are you excepting visitors?"
Something about the question seems to amuse the man, for even as he asks it a slight smile touches the corners of his lips. Not mocking or sarcastic, but fond, as of someone thinking back on a particularly pleasant memory. It's a nice smile to match the voice. Quiet but strong, with a faint crackle that might be age.

The miko goes through the sweeping exercise on autopilot, eyes lowered but hardly focused on the dull minutia of the shifting of dust from one location to another. Her thoughts sift rapidly through a number of concerns, reflections, and plans. Piecing together an idea for a new talisman, puzzling through the clues concerning recent activities civilians are blaming darkstalkers for while she remains skeptical to the claims, and processing the techniques demonstrated in the last video she had seen on FightTube, mapping out how she would unravel and dismantle the featured combatants were she to ever face them herself. And all the while, she goes through the sweeping motions with routine perfection.

The girl pauses for a moment, lifting her eyes to the sky briefly, brow furrowed, something pulling her from her busy thoughts. The temperature is nice today, Spring's chill lingering in the morning with promise of gentle warmth in the afternoon. The hot summer is still months away. There is a thought, that it would be a tempting change of pace to really appreciate a day like this - to eschew work, to find a place in the forest to sit and read a book for enjoyment rather than research, or to visit friends and pass away the hours talking or doing something fun together.

But it's nothing more than an errant thought. She has no book to read for leisure. No friends to drop in on. And any day she spends 'off duty' is a day some potential tragedy happens that she could have prevented if only she were more diligent.


The Ichijo scion glances left then right, then looks back down and resumes her sweeping.

She doesn't look up at the sound of wood tapping against stone at the pace of a slow but steady approach. It is early but hardly out of the ordinary for people to make their way to this shrine at the crack of dawn. She does wish she had already finished up out here and moved to sweeping the porch behind the main building just so that she wouldn't be caught having to engage in agonizing small talk with whoever this new arrival might be, but she has the discipline to suppress her anti-social tendencies well enough. Not to mention her exceptional acting abilities.

It's only as the Stranger draws near to the gate that she glances up, arms still moving through the methodical process of sweeping without missing a spot. Her eyes narrow slightly as he passes through the center of the large torii framing the opening in the wall. Foreigners can hardly be expected to know the traditions of the local temples, and even the younger generation of citizens are probably lax in their understanding of the old ways. But this Stranger is neither of those. He should know better.

The priestess stands upright, putting her sweeping on hold to watch him step fully into the courtyard of the Meian Jinja.

The squint of scrutiny she gave him a moment before has already given way to a smile as bright as the sunshine warming them both, eyes sparkling with a cheer as the girl delivers a friendly greeting, "Who am I to say whether the kami will or will not receive you. Visitors are welcome at all hours, though assistance is only provided during the daylight hours."

Hopefully he'll just move on to the purification basin and be on his way inside, she thinks to herself. Then she can get this task done and get on with her day.

"What a smile." the stranger observes warmly, his secretive grin providing the merest reflection of her professional sparkle. If his own manner were any less genuine it might come across as sarcasm, and yet...
An easy wave of his hand dismisses any concerns the Kami might have, staff lifted free of his shoulder as he steps forward to trap the young priestess in dreaded conversation.
"I am sure they won't mind," he assures the girl with quiet confidence, planting his staff upon the stones and leaning his weight upon it. Hands braced just beneath his chest, he studies Ayame's features with dark eyes, a fond light twinkling in their ancient depths. It is not the look of someone enamored with her appearance, as she has no doubt had to deal with in her jobs as a priestess. Nor is it the look of the elderly doting upon someone precious. If anything it brings to mind grandparents changing diapers, or the fond way an owner might greet a playful puppy who has covered itself in mud.
"I was not asking if the temple was open to me, Ms. Ichijo." And there, once again, is that faint flash of mirth, as if the idea were connected to some private joke. Eyes lifting from their study of the girl's face, he glances toward the prayers that hang nearby, a few stray pink peddles dropping from his hat as he watches the wind stir the painted messages. "I have come to request your service. You have some experience in the field of martial tournaments. You are, in fact, a champion yourself. I would like you to join me in sponsoring fighters for the New Fighting Generation."
Well, at least the old man is direct. Unless there are other, more important things he is failing to mention.

Her expression doesn't falter as his focus seems to linger on her. Pretending to be friendly when acerbic thoughts spring to mind, faking interest in things she couldn't care the slightest about, and presenting the expected congenial cheerful persona expected of shrine mikos when she'd rather just glare at people until they went away... all of it comes easily to her - from the ready smile to the spark in her eyes and slight cant of her head, everyone would be fooled. Well, almost everyone.

Holding her broom in front of her by both hands, her expression shifts slightly as the stranger identifies her by name, but she doesn't look defensive or wary, feigning a hint of delighted surprise. After all, it isn't too odd for a stranger to know her name by recognition even if she's certain she's never seen them before. While not a prolific public fighter, she does have some renown in the larger venues. And even if someone wasn't a fan of competitive combat sports, simply looking up the Meian Jinja online before planning a visit to it would likely lead to one finding links and references to its most famous living priestess.

Which has her mind considering behind her mask of unwavering politeness - which is he? This day and age, even the older generation can handle looking things up on devices as the technology has become nothing if not insanely accessible over time. But maybe the visitor is more a fan of watching matches. Perhaps he had seen one of her and finding her her is more by happenstance than expected outcome... It matters little either way, it's nothing more than a game she plays in her mind to pass the moments by waiting for him to finally figure out what he's here for and get to it and leave her alone.

Her posture shifts slightly as it becomes clear that his interest is more in her than the compound they stand within and while her expression remains as pleasant as before, her fingers tighten on the shaft of her broom just a little, posture straightening up a little.

As he speaks of requesting her services, her smile finally melts away, the pretend interest fading from her eyes, her expression taking on a somber, severe look. Not quite annoyed, but certainly more serious. Perhaps he is here to request her help with a darkstalker problem?

But he continues quickly to the point of this encounter and at first the only emotion visible on the miko's face is that she's too stunned to come up with any other expression - pretend or otherwise - so unexpected is the request.

She stays stays informed in nearly everything going on in the world of fighting, always keeping tabs on the rising stars, the fading legends, the techniques that might require special handling if she were to ever run afoul of them, or just the intrigue of interesting, eccentric personalities from around the globe. So of course she knows of the New Fighting Generation. Some new publicity stunt in her mind, putting a spotlight on fighters that are far from popular mainstream nor are they even bygone has-beens. This pointless farce instead seems designed to promote never-have-beens and, depending on their potential, likely never-will-bes. It's a silly exercise and one of the few events she had no plans of following that closely.

And yet now she has this inscrutable man here asking her to join her in sponsoring fighters participating in it?

Ayame blinks, lowering her arms slightly, allowing the broom handle to rest against her right shoulder. She waits then, as if expecting the man to acknowledge how absurd the request was and just be on his way. Which is why she just stares back at him for a long moment without opening her mouth. But when it becomes clear that he isn't simply going to go away, she finally narrows her eyes slightly, irritation building, and gives him her answer.


Dark eyes observe the shifting lines of ink that mortals have left in this place of worship, weighing the requests for good fortune, long lives and safe births. It is only once the last of the girl's masks have dropped away to reveal true surprise that he returns his attention to her, still with that mysterious little smile that has yet to leave his face.
"No?" he queries, snowy brows lifting just a fraction. If her tone puts him off he certainly doesn't show it, chin dipping slowly toward his chest as his gaze drops toward the peddle-strewn cobbles between them. "Well. It seems as if my visit here was for nothing..."
And still his tone is light, quiet voice alive with that amused crackle. The faintest shift of his posture seems to suggest he might turn away, retreat back through the arch and grant Ayame the peace she so clearly desires. But he has no more than shifted his weight before something seems to occur to him, face turning to throw a sidelong look toward her out of the corner of one eye. An act, surely. A stance that practically screams Sly, and yet guileless in how dry and playful it is, utterly immune to the blunt disregard of his young opponent.
"And yet," he continues contemplatively, "it occurs to me to ask why? I see the next generation of combatants ready to enter the world, and think of all who will witness their growth. I think of the fighters that will be inspired to step forward in their image."
Though perfectly calm and introspective, the stranger's words conjure thoughts of the types of fighters these events normally attract. Two entire generations molded by the likes of Johnny Cage, Dan Hibiki, and Ryuhaku Todoh.
Brown eyes drifting back to the Priestess's face, he offers her a slight broadening of his smile, teeth gleaming white in the faint shadow cast by his hat. "But," he continues easily, "This is a world for the younger generation. The youth of today will be the champions of tomorrow. Opponents for yourself, not I. With monsters emerging from the shadows into the light, perhaps it is best to embrace them. It may be time to allow skills such as ours to pass into memory."

There is relief at first as it seems her single word denial of the request will be enough to put an end to this nonsense.

"So it would seem."

Ayame's tone isn't hostile, but it certainly carries not one iota of invitation to linger any longer than he already has. Once he's through the gate, she'll even go so far as to bid him a polite farewell, maybe toss in a line about how she hopes he enjoys the walk through the forest or something. No sense in being overly difficult to the eccentric Stranger who clearly had the wrong girl picked out to help in his project.

But he pauses and her brow furrows slightly, corners of her mouth twitching down into the faintest hint of a frown. He glances at her sidelong, posing his question then seemingly to render it nearly rhetorical by providing his own answer to it immediately after.

Pressing her lips into a thin line, the miko listens to his expressed thoughts under duress, never taking her eyes off him as he speaks. Unlike many girls in the land her age, she isn't shy, and she clearly doesn't feel obliged to treat her elders with inherent deference as traditional decorum would dictate. She does, however, refrain from anything overtly obnoxious like sighing as he speaks, or rolling her eyes. She only pulls those tools out when she's trying to rile someone up, draw them into an argument, or to actively annoy someone as a means to an end... when all she wants right now is for this to be over with as quickly as possible.

His argument made and heard, her expression hasn't changed and it's clear she hasn't wavered in the slightest on her already voiced answer.

"Those nobodies are around the same age as me. They are not some undiscovered rising generation with remarkable potential just waiting to be unleashed if only someone would show them the way. Either just now braving the path others like me have been working at most of our lives, or maybe they have already been trying all this time and their current... skill level-"

The word skill uttered in such a way that one can almost hear the air quotes.

"... is all they have manged, either by lack of effort... or lack of ability."

Ayame shakes her head.

"It sounds like you have your reasons for getting involved. I am sure someone will appreciate your philanthropy and assuredly there are senseis starving for students that could help sponsor one of them."

She pulls the broom off her shoulder, both hands holding it still, as if getting ready to resume her sweeping.

"But not me."

"Aahh," comes the stranger's quiet exhale, hatted head nodding in somber understanding. Only now has his smile began to fade, though his eyes continue to dance with secret amusement. "How dare they. To think of all that you have accomplished, and with so few opportunities."
The old man doesn't even sound sarcastic, despite the obvious implication of his words. Eyes shifting slightly to the left, then the right, he calmly takes in their surroundings, the warmth and beauty of a place full of love and culture. He does not smile, does not inject his tone with significant pauses or caustic bite.
"And yet it is true. You possess a singular dedication to the causes you deem worthy. That, is why I have come."
A lone blossom catches the edge of the breeze and tumbles free of the stranger's hat as he speaks, drifting past his nose as that faint smile of his returns. Voice as dry and crisp as autumn leaves, he lets out a soft puff of a sigh, sending the sakura peddle tumbling toward her before pushing upright from his lean.
"There is much potential hidden within people that will never be discovered. I can see it within them, and you. Often that which is discarded as weakness is strength, never to be unlocked."
Taking a single step backward, the stranger shifts his staff into his right hand and braces it against his shoulder, butt planted just outside his sandaled foot. Still smiling, tone light as ever, he makes what is probably his final offer.
"You may call me Peng You. Your involvement in this training would have a much greater impact than you know. It is worth your time, and the frustration you would face. But it will require your full dedication. You will have to trust in my judgment, and impress that trust upon others, or it will be for nothing."
Smile growing a tad mischievous, Peng You sizes the girl up, then turns his left hand over, callused palm bared to the sky. It is a gesture of offering, of acceptance. Open and inviting whatever the ill tempered girl might have for him.
"I do not want your faith blindly, Ayame Ichijo. For this to work, you must be certain in my judgment. And so I will give you this last chance. Present me a challenge, and I will answer it. Refuse and I will depart. Whichever you decide, know that the decision is final. I am sure you can appreciate more than most how rare and precious are second chances."
A restless wind stirs slowly through the courtyard, rustling the trees beyond the walls. All about them the world seems to hold its breath, the sound of voices gone curiously silent, birdsong nowhere to be found. In the distance, a low rumble sets the ground aquiver.
"Choose wisely."

The subtle jab at some of the circumstances that have contributed to her own status as a fighter is not missed. A safe place to live, train, and study. And two parents, each with their own skills to pass down to their only child - her father's skills with a staff, and her mother's talents with more mystical arts. But it doesn't seem to bother the girl in the slightest as Ayame releases the broom shaft with her right hand and lifts her arm up, bent at the elbow, palm raised skyward in a half shrug of minimal effort.

"Life isn't fair. Anyone hoping otherwise is in for bitter disappointment."

Her arm lowers against her side, her expression still reserved, both tone of voice and demeanor not quite laced with irritation that she's still stuck dealing with this persistent Stranger, though it's easy to tell that it isn't far from her thoughts either.

Her head leans to the right slightly, right hand shifting to rest against her hip as he continues. The breeze toys with the bow-tied ribbon in her hair as it sends whispers moving through the trees surrounding the shrine outside the walls and the miko keeps her eyes on the enigmatic visitor with little more reaction now than the occasional blink of her eyes.

The Stranger introduces himself and Ayame continues to regard him with unshakable indifference. The name isn't one she recognizes. Not that she would claim to know every combat capable individual out there, but she does keep tabs on almost any who have ever appeared in public bouts. Though she can't place his age - it's possible his best years were before the modern rage of globally consumed combat sports... there was a time before the internet after all, where masterful martial artists were rarely known outside their local regions with only a select few rising to worldwide prominence. She can't rule out that he is one such relic of that time and the possibility piques her curiosity even though one would hardly tell by looking at the deadpan look she's giving him.

He promises it to be worth her time. She can't imagine how. Money has certainly not been a motivating factor for her if one were aware of the girl's penchant for humble means of conveyance. And at last, he presents an option for her to be done with this with no further ado. Good riddance.

But he also presents something. An offer almost equally tantalizing as the thought of being rid of this annoyance all together. A chance to cut through the talk, to make him prove the ability his claims would require. She looks at him for a long moment, seeming not to mind seconds ticking by in the unusual silence looming over the courtyard, eyes blinking as her brow slowly furrows.


Ayame finally breaks the silence, head straightening, right hand returning to grip the broom in her hands. Her posture shifts, left shoulder turned toward him as she slips her feet over the rough stone surface and angles the broom in her hands such that the upper end juts out toward Peng You.

"You have until I land four clean hits - no shins or arms - to convince me." Her expression shifts, eyes focused, lips pulled into a half smirk. She expects this will be quick.

"Worry not - I will try not to break anything."

For as vexing as she has found him to be, she still doesn't want to hobble the man. She just needs to put those whole matter to rest so she can get back to more important things.

"Either that... or leave."

COMBATSYS: Ayame has started a fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Raiden has joined the fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Raiden

"That long?" Peng You queries softly, continuing to smile as Ayame settles her stance. He does not seem at all threatened by the prospect of a fierce brooming, but perhaps he simply hasn't experienced one taken to the full extent of its potential.
"Your terms are accepted."
An easy flick of the aged warrior's hand pops his staff several inches into the air, fingers closing loosely around the mid point. A glance is given from the weapon, just over 6 feet of sturdy wood as weathered as its owner, to the fierce implement of cleaning. Shoulders lifting slightly, he tosses the staff underhand toward the priestess, expression just a touch wry.
"Perhaps this will serve you as well as it has me." Peng offers kindly, robe rustling in the gentle morning air. Stance remaining loose and comfortable, the arrogant old fool clasps his now empty hands neatly behind his back, chest expanding in a long, slow breath drawn in through his nose. Dark eyes drifting closed, he seems completely unprepared for a sudden bludgeoning.
It has to be an act. A taunting laziness meant to lull her. If it isn't, this man is simply insane, and obviously deserves whatever might happen to him. He does seem relaxed, however. Centered. As light and loose as the blossoms upon the breeze.
"Now," he muses allowed, still not bothering to open his eyes, "How to convince you. Perhaps we should discuss a deeply held secret? Aah, but which, and where to start...?"

COMBATSYS: Raiden enters a meditative state.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0           Raiden

She didn't really figure he would leave after she dictated the conditions by which she'd perhaps be convinced of this mad fancy of his. For whatever doubts she had of this Peng You, an apparent lack of conviction was not numbered among them. So she is not surprised when he accepts her terms. It is as she expected.

That he tosses her his staff is not what she expected. She's still more than capable of snatching the slow underhanded toss of the staff out of the air with her left hand, her right hand remaining clamped around the broom handle she was perfectly content to use to thwack him one if he proved to be any less capable of defending himself than he seemed to imply.

Perhaps suspecting at first it was a feint to distract her, she merely holds the weapon, her left arm extended, her eyes not moving from him, watching for the slightest hint that he was hoping to distract her so that he might catch her off guard in an instant. But when no such threat manifests itself, she finally shifts slightly, left hand spinning his staff once over the back of her hand before clasping it firmly in the center, holding it out in front of her horizontally, eyes drawing along the length of it, giving it a swift but thoughtful consideration.

The wooden weapon is worn and bears marks that make it clear that it has been used for more than merely a hiking stick. The girl's right eyebrow rises slightly.


Without relaxing her stance, the miko flicks her right arm back, sending the broom into a low arc to land angled against a fence, bouncing once on its bristles, before coming to rest nestled into the crook of one of the posts.

Next she whips the staff into another spin with her left hand, twirling it once over head, before bringing it down to angle across her right side, both hands gripping it equidistant from the center.

When fighting for real, she would always bath her trusted weapon in a shroud of softly glowing, crimson fire, projecting her inner energy along its surface to add force to her blows. But for now, she does no such thing.

"I have no interest in your secrets," Ayame replies, body tensing before she rushes forward. Peng You's weapon is turned against him as the Ichijo scion sweeps it upward, the lower end rising up with a swift strike toward his undefended torso. She'll whip it back in an instant, bringing the other end down from overhead toward his shoulder before stepping into a quick pivot to the left, the first striking end brought scything toward his side.

None of the blows are delivered with crushing force, but they are swift, airs wishing around the wooden weapon, and the movements are such that there is hardly an opening between them where she can't easily shift the staff to defend against a counter strike.

Tight. Controlled. Precise. And if she gets her way, potentially three strikes all at once.

COMBATSYS: Raiden dodges Ayame's Quick Strike.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0           Raiden

Breath huffs from Peng You's nostrils as he chuckles close-mouthed at Ayame's response. Chin dipping toward his chest, he listens to the swift approach of her sandaled feet, gauges the angle of the first strike by the rush of air parting around the staff's battered surface.
"You have not earned the rite to my secrets." The old man chides reprovingly, right leg bending at the knee as he sways from the path of the first blow. However, with his feet remaining planted and hands clasped behind his back, this lines his skull up perfectly for the swift whirl of her follow up.
"All that you have done," he continues, leg straightening to sway him upright into a single backward step, the second blow carving a diagonal line through suddenly empty space, "Is touch the surface of the truth."
The dips and sways of the old warrior's motions, as a warrior he must be, have shaken loose the majority of blossoms that clung to his robe and hair. The delicate pink pedals dance between them as he creates that brief extra space, before swirling apart as Ayame's final strike slices through them on a collision course with the chatty man's side.
Face having fallen into deep shadow, with the bowing of his head, Peng You offers a glinting flash of white teeth as he steps forward to meet her. He does not lean forward into a dash, there is no blur and rush of speed, and yet with one step he closes the distance until she can feel the brush of his robe across her knuckles, staff whistling in toward his body at extremely close range.
And then he is past her, a second step carrying him beyond her rear foot and into the clear, Sakura peddles tracing the sweep of her staff blow as their sides are neatly switched. Something that, does not feel it should be possible. Had space been somehow warped? Time twisted to suit this man's needs? Or, if played back in her mind, will it show the simple truth of someone moving so precisely as to be exactly where they needed to be at each step of the conflict...
Back turned to the Priestess, Peng You offers another white flash of teeth over his shoulder, shadowed features giving a touch of omen to his soft crackle of a voice.
"Mortal Kombat is but one of many duties the guardians of this realm must attend. And yet it was not your first glimpse into what lies beyond. Yet still you question. Have you truly learned so little?"

COMBATSYS: Raiden takes no action.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|==-----\-------\0           Raiden

With the emphasis of her strikes being on speed rather than crushing force, the required follow through as her final staff swing fails to connect against anything solid is minimal, allowing the priestess to complete her combination an instant later. She knows he's behind her on an instinctual level and reacts without hesitation by jamming the lower end of the staff backward under her right arm as to counter-strike into a potential ambush from his advantageous angle. But there was ambush and the distance between them is more than enough to keep her from connecting with Peng You.

Ayame spins then, red skirt swirling around her legs, sending pink petals spiraling away from her as she returns the borrowed weapon to a defensive angle. Leaning forward, one foot out front, both hands gripping the weathered pole, the Ichijo scion frowns slightly.

That he know she had been on Shang Tsung's dreaded island is certainly a surprise. Once again, she knows she didn't have an exhaustive inventory of everyone who had been present... but she was also not there as a participant in the bloody bouts that culminated in this cycle's Champion conniving and clawing her way to victory. Instead, the miko had stuck to the shadows, pursuing her own agenda, using the tools they had been granted by greater forces than she knew to restore to life as many of the fallen as she could find, all while stockpiling a greater portion of that mysterious energy for herself in the bargain. Even now, a necklace worn beneath her white kimono layers suspends the tiny gold crystal lantern that she had kept as a souvenir from her experiences there, still harboring power negotiated from those she revived.

It's possible he had learned of her presence from another who had been there, but if so, his inquiries into her experiences would be beyond casual interest.

And he was right that it wasn't her first brush with what exists beyond this world... While it was the American Shaman who ventured beyond the veil into the realm of the dead, it was she that made the incursion possible. But only two other people in the world would know of that.

Her expression has become wary.

No longer thinking that she needed to go easy against the Enigmatic Wanderer, the priestess of the Meian Jinja concentrates, projecting life energy into and along the weapon in her hands. Normally she could only do so easily with weapons that she had built herself - weapons that she had become attuned to in the process of crafting them, making sure that each iota of their design was compatible with her crimson fire so that she could sustain it with easy.

It was not a feat she could accomplish with weapons she wasn't familiar with. Yet somehow she knew it would not be an issue with the worn wooden staff held in her hands this moment.

"You are no stranger to a fight." Ayame observes with easy acknowledgment. "But I have seen such alacrity before. Idol singers that can move across distances in an instant. Shinobi that move with the speed of lightning..." Of course, normally such speeds were seen in the younger fighters and not... however old the Stranger was.

A faint smile quirks at the corner of her mouth for a fleeting moment before fading, her fingers shifting around the weapon as energy flows over it, visible in the bright light of morning but too dim to cast its light elsewhere.

"I cannot answer for certain how you knew of my presence in the periphery of Mortal Kombat... but there were many who did see me there."

Her knees bend, feet bracing. Her last attack was not fast enough it would seem. She would need to be faster and for that, she would need to strike with real force.

When she advances this time, it is with one quick step. With her hands gripping the staff near the center, its hypothetical reach would not be much beyond three feet, leaving her shy of the distance needed to actually reach the hat wearing traveler. But relaxing her left hand and slamming her right hand forward, pivoting to the left in the process, she slams the blunt end of the weapon out with fierce speed, more than compensating for the distance between them with her initial strike for his unguarded sternum.

Her left hand releases, leaving room for her right arm to extend to its full reach, before her free hand clamps down near the base of the weapon closest to her. She continues with the momentum of her turn to the left, pouring all her arm, torso, and leg strength into a full force spin threatening an a nearly ten foot diameter diameter two handed swing of the staff, motes of flickering energy left in its scything wake!

COMBATSYS: Raiden blocks Ayame's The Sunrise of Broken Dreams.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Ayame            0/-------/-------|==-----\-------\0           Raiden

With but a flick of her will the Shrine Maiden's spiritual essence surges along the staff, crimson energy flowing through harmonic channels in the wood. The sensation is not quite the same as weapons she has crafted herself, power flowing far more freely, rushing through the staff without limit or direction. It is exhilarating in a way, to have such an effortless conduit through which to project. And yet, were she to pour everything she had into the weapon it would burst forth without resistance, blazing bright and draining her in moments.
Sandals scuffing softly against stone, Peng You turns to face the girl square on, hands remaining clasped at the small of his back. The faintest curve of lips can just be seen within the shadow of his hat, head tilting graciously as she confirms his skill.
"Well. Imitation is the highest form of flattery." the stranger replies simply, head tilting as if to get a better view of the Miko's face as that fleeting smile graces her features, tone once more light and playful.
That is all the god chooses to say, however, lapsing into a brief moment of silence as she prepares to strike. And to her credit, when the blow comes it is fast. Fast enough that the stranger brings his hands into play, left whipping up to crack against the tip, guiding the opening thrust up and over his right shoulder.
It is in that brief brush of contact that she feels the first spark of something resonating back down the weapon, an impact against her projected essence that hums across the outermost limits of her senses. But whatever it is, the sensation is gone in a flash, lost in the whirling rush of power that is her twirling follow up.
Between the start of the priestess's spin and the arrival of the strike, Peng You has enough time for a single step. So it is that he has once again closed the distance, left palm thrust out to catch the arc of the swipe just inches from where her fingers are clasped, a cracking flash of light exploding out from the point of contact. The residual force of the block vibrates physically along her arms and spiritually throughout her being, the precise release of energy charging the air and setting small hairs to standing on end.
"Hah hah..."
The dry little chuckle cuts through the silence that follows, an off beat shimmer of mirth from the stranger that accompanies a light shove against the staff. Barely anything, really, something care free and playful in the gesture. Less playful is the twisting pivot that brings all of Peng You's weight onto his left foot, knee bending low as he brings his right shin scything forward in a snapping sweep toward the young woman's calves.
"You begin to believe. Perhaps another secret...A truth?"

COMBATSYS: Raiden successfully hits Ayame with Sweep.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Ayame            0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0           Raiden

The Stranger's deflection of her spearing strike isn't of particular concern to the miko trying tenaciously to land a hit on him. It was a probing attack at best, with the real speed and effort poured into the long ranged spinning blow that comes next.

Of course, with such an aggressive attack, there is a brief blind spot where her her back is to him, an instant in time where he is able to move in to intercept the weapon with his left hand where the weapon has the least force behind it. Both staff and girl are brought to an immediate stop, Ayame's long hair swinging from behind her back to drape over her her right shoulder, her long pleated skirt swishing around her legs as it continues with momentum not arrested by Peng You's aggressive form of defense.

While she hadn't anticipated his next move, it doesn't seem to have thrown her off either, her balance retained perfectly with no awkward scramble to recover from the sudden stop, feet shifting to correct for it without a thought. Relentlessly training for almost ever permutation of staff defense and offense, this is only one of many outcomes that she is able to seamlessly transition into on a subconscious level.

That doesn't mean the reverberation along her arms isn't felt, however, a numbing thrum perpetuated by the collision of forces absorbed by her limbs, accompanied by another presence, electric, threatening in a way, exhilarating in another. There is no time to pay it any heed, however. If she is going to land a hit, this moment where they're in close proximity is one of the best opportunities she'll have.

It's clear she isn't going to fight him for control of the weapon. She knows from experience against opponents stronger or sturdier than her that trying to wrestle her staff from their grip rarely works out in her favor. But she keeps her right hand on it, fingers tightened with enough pressure as to not completely release it, but not so hard that she can be easily moved around by it.

Her left hand moves as a blur, releasing the shaft to slip into her right sleeve and draw back out, a talisman held between her ring and middle finger, pale yellow parchment with pink ink drawn runes. Visible for an instant before it pops, releasing a loud sonic crack in the narrow space between them - promising no threat to either of them but potentially quite distracting in a fight if one isn't expecting it.

At the same time, she's already planted her left foot, turning to and leaning slightly to the left, drawing up her right leg, knee bent beneath her flowing skirt that flows readily enough that it doesn't limit her range of motion in the slightest. All she needs is for him to flinch for an instant and that should be enough time for her to drive her heel out, delivering a solid side kick toward Peng You's stomach.

She's fast - from drawing the talisman chambering her kick happens in a split second.

But the timeless visitor is faster still. She realizes he's a step ahead too late to do anything about it, too dependent on her left foot remaining planted in that moment to flex into any kind of defense. The miko's left leg is swept out from under her, robbing her of all potential of driving her heel against his torso as she falls unceremoniously to the ground, landing seated on her rear with a girlish squeak, her legs bent up at the knees in front of her, her hands planted against her side and the staff along her right.

With something falling between a grunt and a growl, the priestess wastes no time making her move to retaliate, fingers of her right hand clasping tightly around the staff as she gets her feet under her and rises to stand. It might look briefly that her left hand is moving to join her right on the weathered wood weapon, but instead her fingers dart into her right sleeve a second time, this time producing a light pink talisman with white inked glyphs covering its surface.

Gritting her teeth, Ayame swings her left hand out in an arc as the talisman breaks into thousands of swirling pink blossoms in the space between her and Peng You.

Another distraction, perhaps, as losing sight of her for even an instant might give her the time to deliver the crimson fire infused staff overhead smash she tries to follow it up with!

COMBATSYS: Raiden blocks Ayame's Fall of the Mourning Star.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Ayame            0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0           Raiden

"A secret, and a truth."
The decision is murmured into the silence between squeak and growl, Peng You relaxing upright with a soft rustle of his heavy grey robe. Whatever defense was conjured to repel her has faded as quickly as it appeared, the aging warrior standing before her as simple and unassuming as ever, though even from her seated position his features remain vague and shadowy beneath his hat.
"I wonder," comes the crackling murmur of his voice, tone light and thoughtful in the face of her aggression, "Have you figured out who I am?"
Much like her attempt to startle him with noise, the sudden appearance of artificial blossoms does not seem to draw the wanderer's attention. It is clever, as to be expected, but as the staff comes hurtling down through the obscuring curtain it is caught in a loose curl of Peng You's fingers. Another bright flash, this time accompanied by a crackling hiss, and the weapon is guided sideways and down past the master's left side. Still, it is likely she could whirl the weapon around, harness the downward momentum into a second strike or flip it into an instant guard if not for that little bit of extra force accelerating the tip earthward.
A slight shift of his weight, and the old man's left foot intercepts the staff in mid descent, pinning it firmly between sole and stone. Were she to twist it firmly enough it would likely spring free, but for a moment of time it is stuck, and the stranger uses that time to continue, weaving his words like a spell.
"I have given you proof of my sight. You may dismiss it if you wish, but now I give you proof of my intentions. Answer my question honestly, and you may keep my staff. It will serve you well once shaped by skilled hands. Be my champion in this upcoming trial," and here he pauses, foot rising from the weapon as his hidden gaze shifts, observing the intersections of fate as only one such as he is able...
"And I will aid you in your search. It is not within my rites to tell you where, or who, but I will set you upon the path."

COMBATSYS: Raiden enters a meditative state.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Ayame            0/-------/-----==|=======\-------\0           Raiden

The staff pinned in place, Ayame shifts the angle of her grip, hands positioned to provide lift rather than downward force. Rather than try and twist the weapon free of his foot, it's clear she intends to lever it upward. It is sturdy enough to hold - of that she has no doubt - and with physics on her side, she might just be able to force him off balance if he makes the mistake of committing too much of his balance on his left foot.

But she pauses, looking up from her leaning posture, hands readied but no pressure applied by her arms to force a wedge between foot and ground. The Miko of the Meian Jinja listens, tension leaving her body, and by the time Peng You decides to move his foot off the wooden shaft, the flickering crimson fire that once coated its surface has already waned, leaving no trace of its presence.

The look she gives him bears a blend of wariness and curiosity, lips pressed into a thin line, eyes narrowed slightly, brow marked by a faint furrow.

"Who you are?"

She echoes rhetorically.

"You are someone who is in possession of knowledge not easy to come by but not impossible. There are a few alive that could have armed you with knowledge of the things you have said to me - some I trust and others I never will."

The girl cants her head to the right a little as she continues to consider him.

"Your prowess in combat certainly qualifies you to train others in the art."

His defenses proved to be rock solid, she knows, and while he never really plied his strength in offense, she had enough close brushes with the power beneath the surface to have no doubt that the old visitor is among the more powerful individuals she had stood before.

Her tone continues thoughtfully, weighing her observations and the circumstances surrounding them.

"But even if you came across what you know of me by more mundane means than the Sight you want me to believe, that you have taken interest to such a degree makes you either a dangerous enemy not to be trusted, or someone truly committed to the purpose you claim brought you here."

Eyes narrow slightly as she lifts the staff to rest against her shoulder.

"You have given me no reason to distrust your intentions..."

She blinks once slowly before gesturing with a half shrug with her right arm and shoulder.

"So I suppose, for now, you are Peng You, a man strangely devoted to the idea of involving me in your bid to guide and train one of these newly acknowledged fighters to the point that you have come here, armed with knowledge and-"

She taps the surface of the resting staff with her left hand.

"An offer."

Ayame inhales slowly then releases a soft sigh of resignation, closing her eyes and shaking her head.

"If you are half as interested in helping one of these fighters out as you are in convincing me to participate, then perhaps something worthwhile will come of this after all."

She is quiet for a moment before declaring, voice more direct.

"I will help sponsor whoever you decide is worthy for the duration of this event."

Face concealed behind a mask of deep shadow, the strange old man listens without interruption as the girl voices her many deductions. Hands sliding into the opposite sleeve, he adopts a stance of easy patience, looking more like a symbolic representation than a flesh and blood man.
"I am glad," he states, just the faintest touch of amusement audible in his tone, "That you have changed your mind."
Turning slightly, Peng You begins to wander a slow circle around the girl, head remaining bowed as if contemplating the truth of her conclusion. Is he merely who he says he is? And more importantly, is that who she believes him to be?
Or, is it something else entirely.
"In time, you will think back upon this conversation and know truths that are yet hidden to you. The path you must walk is not an easy one, and yet you will choose to walk it regardless."
Stopping once more before the girl, he lifts his head just enough to give an impression of a warm smile, the expression both fond and encouraging. The shifting breeze blows gently between them, scooting discarded pedals against the walls and plucking at their long hair, rippling it too and fro.
"You, Ayame Ichijo, are exactly the person I was looking for. As it is not the paths we have traveled, or those yet to be that define us. It is that which we choose to travel now."
And with that, Peng You reaches up in an attempt to press his left palm lightly to Ayame's right shoulder, stepping carefully past her on his unhurried way toward the open gate. As before his pace is relaxed, hidden face lifting to peer toward the sky as he strolls right beneath the center of the towering Torii.

COMBATSYS: Raiden has left the fight here.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ayame            0/-------/-----==|

At mention of her changing her mind, Ayame grunts a soft, short 'Hmn', but doesn't interrupt, keeping a level gaze on Peng You. Following with him with her eyes and a slight lean of her head, she doesn't turn to track the contemplative man as he circles around her, finger tips rubbing against the weathered wood of the staff she has been offered to work with. Inherently wary of anyone she hasn't fully figured out, she's pretty confident that he isn't a danger to her in the moment.

Her eyes pick him up as he comes back around, having listened to his forecast of events to come. A faint smile tugs at the right corner of her mouth but it doesn't reach her eyes, instead coming across as a one of forced patience.

Of course her path will never be an easy one - she has seen to that so far already and has never anticipated a time when it would get any easier. As far as reflecting on this exchange with perhaps a different perspective sometime down the line... she'll believe it when she sees it.

The miko is still looking straight at him as he shares a brief smile and something about the expression seems cut through her stubborn resistance, the strained half smile melting away to a neutral expression that somehow looks more accepting without it.

He declares she's the person that he's looking for - whether by her words, actions, history, or a blend of many factors and the girl blinks once before finally breaking her eyes away to glance to the side.

"Very well," she replies, her tone sounding as if she intended to come across huffy but muted enough that she sounds open-minded to this ridiculous proposition she has agreed to. It's more than just idle curiosity that has her on board with the whole thing, after all, and she somehow feels that feigning things she doesn't truly feel is wasted effort on this one.

She doesn't fight his reach for his shoulder, instead holding still as he passes her by along with the touch of his palm, only turning to watch him go when his hand is free.

"I will hear from you then," she states, not actually sure what to anticipate in terms of communication concerning next steps but figuring that it will work itself out somehow.

As he came, he leaves through the center of the unusually large torii, his eyes raised to the sky and removing any doubt that it's an accidental choice. Ayame's eyebrow twitches at the sight - not because she has personal stake in anyone following such timeless traditions, but because of the bold audacity of someone else to clearly be aware but seem to choose to ignore them.

The man is trouble, she tells herself. But this path forward is the only way to come to understand more about him and just how much trouble he is.

"Tch," she exhales, turning away from the gate, attention shifting down to the proffered shaft of wood as she holds it horizontally in both hands. It will need a little work to be ready for use, some very careful run etching and other detailing. But the stock itself is the most promising she's ever held.

Regardless what else happens in her interactions with Peng You, she has no doubt -

"This will be interesting."

COMBATSYS: Ayame has ended the fight here.

Log created on 01:39:41 03/27/2023 by Raiden, and last modified on 19:01:37 05/30/2023.