Description: In the lobby of Hotel Southtown, a chance meeting between Ichika - literally weighed down under the expectations of Justice High - and the outgoing Corporal Mint results in a heart to heart. Bonded by their mutual admiration for each other's failures, Mint has some wise words for how the young Kasumoto 'heir' should view her current frivolity.
Corporal Panesh has many reasons to visit Japan. NFG just so happened to be the deciding factor for why she'd selected Hotel Southtown as her home away from home -- the opportunity to witness fights live and in person.
She's off-duty though, and as such, she's dressed down a bit, wearing a matcha-colored polo shirt and forest green capris. The chain of her dog tags is barely visible beneath the polo shirt collar -- perhaps the clearest sign of her allegiance to the US military for those who aren't familiar with her curious arm appendages. As this is a social visit and not a combative confrontation, she's chosen a set of lime-green prosthetics to serve as her hands today: plastic frames with clear lexan windows to reveal the servos, motors, and electronics lurking inside.
At the moment, the dark-skinned American is stopped at the front desk for one matter or another. Routine talk, it seems like: in between bouts of the desk agent diving through labyrinthine service menus on their workstation, Mint is free to look around the hotel lobby with a detached smile.
Ichika is spending more and more time in Hotel Southtown. Her teachers have extended her considerable freedom for this as the extent of attention from the New Fighting Generation has become impossible to ignore. It's not as though having high level fighters attend the school is anything new, of course, but it's rare for the spotlight to be trained so much on one so young and inexperienced, and by mutual agreement it's been decided that they ought to give Ichika the space she has requested so that she can concentrate on the opportunities represented by the project rather than her school demands.
Though this has resulted in a quadrupling of homework.
It's as she's collecting her mail this Saturday - a huge backpack filled with her assignments being fairly lugged along by the girl - that she notices the person at the desk. And, stares. Which Mint must be used to for all sorts of reasons. But as the girl approaches, it becomes obvious very quickly that this isn't about the prosthetics; at least, not in quite the way that some take it.
"Ah, excuse me." She says, "I hope it isn't too forward of me to ask, but am I right in thinking that you are Minal Panesh?"
It doesn't take much to grab Mint's attention; she's visited Southtown enough to broaden her sense of self-awareness. But then again, she's also standing at the front desk, and it'd be very likely that Ichika was just someone who wanted to form a nice, orderly queue behind her. So while Mint makes eye contact, she doesn't consider it a full -conversation-, per se, until Ichika speaks up.
At which point she gives the Justice student her undivided attention.
It helps that Mint doesn't need to look up very far.
"Hm? Oh, um... yep! You're right. You got me!"
She flashes a broad grin, resting one elbow on the front desk while turning to face Ichika more directly. The thumb of her other hand starts toggling back and forth for a moment, as she takes a closer look at the person asking her name. And then she smiles, with recognition.
"And that would make you... Kasumoto Ichika-san... yes? You've been doing well in this tournament thing!"
Ichika actually looks a little startled at the revelation that, yes, this person who very much looks like the person she has spent a lot of time watching on TV is, in fact, the person she thought she was. She sets down her bag with a heavy *thump* because she suspects they're going to be talking for a while, even if that means the line is going to be held up. She can't very well let an opportunity like this pass her by!
"Ah, I... don't know about that." She says, "I was knocked out in the first round. So far, my only victory is against Buford-kun and... well, it's arguable the degree to which that actually counts..." She shakes her head quickly, though. She really should have just taken the compliment!
"But, ah, I have been studying a lot of Neo League battles. Your performance in the last season, it really was very impressive! Do you have time to maybe talk about things a little, Panesh-sama?"
Mint nods slowly as Ichika speaks -- she's not -disagreeing- per se, just acknowledging that Ichika is indeed speaking. Which is good! "Mm-hmm? Right..." Typical 'aisatsu', showing she's familiar with Japanese conversational norms.
Her face sours, oh so slightly, when she hears the last two syllables of Ichika's request. Waving it off with her lime-colored hands, she insists:
"... Oh, please, that's embarassing. 'Panesh-san' is fine! Just give me -one- moment, okay...?"
She bows at the waist, then turns to complete her business with the desk -- just a confirming glance, which Mint answers with a quick: "Thanks! 'ppreciate it!"
Mint steps out of the line, juuuust far enough to allow people to queue around Ichika if need be, and returns her full attention. "Mm... so yeah, let's talk about fighting! So... I just wanna follow your train of logic here. You think I did well. I don't think I did very well at all. Can we both be right about this?"
Ichika's features flush just a little with embarrassment at the correction. The girl's discomfort is obvious, but she can hardly argue about it without seeming intolerably wound up, so she makes herself nod. "A-ah, if you insist, Panesh-sama..."
She sidesteps to let a tutting patron past, and then her blush only deepens further. She looks even more uncomfortable, the tension visibly knotting in the poor thing's shoulders - but lying has never been her strong suit. If it were, her life would have been much easier than it has been.
"There isn't an easy way to say this..." She says, "... and I don't mean to sound rude at all, but, ah, I didn't say you did well. I said you were very impressive. And, you were! There were many things I have taken from your fights. But, I agree... you and I have both, not performed well, in a pragmatic sense of the word. I hope that isn't too rude of me to say."
It'd be easy to be offended.
But Mint so isn't.
She's actually on the verge of -laughing-, because it takes a huge step of confidence to correct a complete stranger's assertion like that. But she doesn't laugh -- she just rubs the back of her head, playing into acceptance with a shy, chastened smile.!
"Okay, yeah, that's totally fair. And I appreciate your honesty!"
She thinks for a moment, and wags her finger slightly. The tendency to 'lecture' is strong, and yet -- Ichika's the one who initiated the conversation. And she's already shown a willingness to be -far- more outspoken than many Japanese students her age. So Mint's happy to hand the reins to her for the moment.
"And that, that right there, is why I don't think I deserve the -sama treatment. But anyway! We can agree that you've had an -impressive- run, yeah? What would you like to talk about, Kasumoto-san?"
Honestly, Ichika doesn't know what to expect in terms of reaction. The public persona Mint puts on seems very relaxed, but she knows that the image one sees for the camera is often very different to the reality behind it. The woman could have turned out to be a total diva, she could have been extremely offended - heck, she could have decided to knock seven kinds of hell out of Ichika for her presumption, and really, the schoolgirl wouldn't have been able to complain about any of that!
But she's pleased that none of those things happen. Some of the tension leaves her body and she lets out the breath she had subconsciously been holding. She's also so, so grateful that Mint is willing to stay on a surname basis. It's, hard, to overcome a lifetime of etiquette for foreign sensibilities, even if she has made the effort!
"Thank you, Panesh-san, I ... I will concede to that much." She agrees, and then she gets to the meat of the issue, those bright eyes of hers shining with curiosity. "One of the things I have noticed as a common thread in all of your fights, with Karmala-san, Brown-san and Darkheart-hime is a willingness to accept powerful blows and even clash against them with your own. May I ask... how have you overcome your fear of pain? This is, something that I am afraid has held me back several times."
More people needing the services of the front desk means more people uncomfortably close to Minal and Ichika. Mint listens to Ichika's line of reasoning, nodding along and murmuring as socially acceptable, and nods with a bit more encouragement as she finishes the question. But almost as quickly and subtly, she starts leaning over to pick up Ichika's overstuffed backpack.
"Hey, lemme help you with this. We should probably clear out of the path, yeah?"
And without any discernible effort, Mint plucks the backpack off the ground one-handed, slinging it over a shoulder.
And then she guides Ichika to a much more comfortable place to sit -- a small bench, alongside a raised planter overlooking the hotel entrance. As she walks, she relates a story, with a faint smile.
"Well, I'm in the Marines, you know. I used to work with folks in explosive ordnance disposal. And when I was first gettin' started, I asked the guy, 'Aren't you -afraid- when you defuse bombs? I mean, like, your nerves have got to be on fire when you're doing that, how do you stay focused on the task of cutting the right wire and whatnot?'"
Her smile shifts into a lazier expression, as she mimics the subject of her recollection.
"He tells me, 'Well, it's easy. I just had to teach myself one thing. Either I do it right, or it's not my problem any more.'"
Shifting back to her typically chipper demeanor, she brings her hands together, and then gestures her hands flying apart in a mock explosion.
"'Cause you either get it, or -boom!- Heh. So like, every fight I've ever been in, it isn't a clean slate. I'm bringing forward experience from every fight I've been in before. I don't have to -think- about that -- I just -do- it. Because if I stop to think about it, that moment of indecision could be the big boom."
"A-ah, I can --" Ichika starts, but she stops when she sees how effortlessly the woman picks up her overstuffed bag. She can't argue with that. She was dreading having to lug it to her room later, so there's a little pang of jealousy to see how easily Mint deals with it, but she's grateful to be taking the conversation to somewhere it can be conducted more comfortably.
She settles on the bench next to the Marine and nods her head seriously with the explanation. It's... very intense. The way she hangs on Mint's words; she might be using -san, but it's still extremely clear that she considers this woman to be far superior to her in terms of fighting experience. She wants to commit everything to memory.
Which, may be a little disconcerting given the levity that Mint is trying to imbue into the conversation.
"Ah, I see..." She says, thoughtfully. "Yes. At the moment, I don't have very much fighting experience at all. It's very different when you are the one in the ring. I try to have a plan, to... find a path to victory, but very often my plans aren't working out. No matter how many books I read, I don't seem to be able to predict what my opponent is going to do next."
Mint is tempted to wisecrack about the -look- Ichika is giving her now. But she won't. Because the Marine really -doesn't- want to discourage her from asking the tough questions through her actions. She's supposed to be the more mature one, right?
Mint rests her arm along the planter, crossing her legs at the knee. "And that... is the context I used when I said you were doing well. Because to me, experience is the best teacher, and I -kinda- wanna say you're getting more out of this NFG thing because of it. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I see your mind at work, I see you -learning-..."
Mint clasps both fists, bringing them close to her heart:
"I see you -trying- to figure out this inner power of yours..."
She then moves her hands to her waist, as if holding a sword upright.
"I see you trying to figure out whether your sword is gonna be better or worse... these are all excellent -choices-. And the only way you're gonna know is by trying it, yeah? Building that library out, things that work well and things that work less well."
Ichika nods slowly at the explanation. She can't argue with that assessment at all, either. She lets her hand rest on the hilt of her sword - it's funny how easy it has been to learn how to shift it so she can sit on a bench or chair without it getting in the way at all - as Mint mimics the motion, and there's a flicker of a smile that touches her lips.
"To be honest, I wasn't even sure I would want to pursue fighting in any way when I begun the project." She says, and there's that candidness again. There are people whom Ichika is extremely guarded around; her words are considered very carefully. But Mint is a professional. It is important that she be open and honest with her if she's going to be able to offer useful advice.
"I joined the project because it felt like a potential means to an end. But now, even after just four fights, I don't think I can stop. Regardless of whether I ultimately have enough talent to be successful... this is what I want. Because you are right. I have learned so much about myself, about the world... I have to see how far I can go, you know?"
She looks away, then, her eyes a little downcast. "A-ah, but still, it might be a mistake."
Mint appreciates the candor -- it's obvious every time her cheeks swell with a smile, each time she provides an encouraging nod. The US military has a reputation as a callous, unfeeling organization -- and there's some truth to that. But the folks that Mint remembers most were sharp, engaged listeners, and she's always made a point of carrying -that- tradition forward to anyone she speaks with.
"I'm glad you stuck with it."
Mint doesn't like interjecting often, but she felt it appropriate there. The more encouragement she can give, the better!
But when Ichika looks away, and her confidence wavers, Mint pumps the brakes, dropping into a more somber demeanor. Because she knows -all- about questioning one's self-worth.
"That's fear. Fear of making a mistake."
She laces her fingertips together, resting them upon her crossed legs.
"Sometimes it's that, sometimes it's fear of getting hurt, or worse. Sometimes it's fear of letting down people you care about."
For once... the New Jerseyan doesn't have a sentence lined up immediately after that. Give her a couple seconds, though.
"Fear serves a purpose: it keeps you alive. But you have to let fear work *for* you, not *against* you."
She draws in her breath, forging a half-smile in the wake of the glum downturn.
"Fear is the dark side of experience. You did something new a long time ago and it didn't work out." She adopts a sing-songy voice: "'You might do something -horrible- again and it's not gonna be fun!'" Mint returns to her normal register: "You just gotta prove it to yourself, like you just have. Hey, this is a -new- experience. Hey, maybe I -can- do this, and enjoy it too. Maybe I -can-."
Thumping her good knee with the side of her fist, she adds, "Give yourself enough -good- experiences and the fear just runs out of ammo. Yeah?"
Ichika listens - and she's taken back again. Mint isn't at all like she had imagined she might be. The way the woman talks... it's like she sees right through her, into the bundle of insecurities that she keeps bound up tight in her chest. But of course, it's not as though Mint is reading her mind. She's just... experienced. An adult who has been where she is now, and who seems to really understand what it is she is going through. Particularly the idea that she might let other people down...
"At Justice High." She says, slowly, back to picking her words very carefully - not because she is intending to be dishonest, but quite the opposite. She wants to make sure that she communicates her meaning very clearly. "We are tutored to be the Super Elite. The people who will lead Japan, and the world, into a brighter, better future. It is a beautiful dream. And my parents are very proud of me for that."
She looks down at the bag of homework and sighs softly. "And that is what I fear. Yes. Pain is bad. But what if selfishly pursuing fighting means that I never reach my potential? What if I should become a civil servant, or a doctor, or an architect? Do I have the right to gamble on an ... adolescent fantasy?"
Ah, now there's the heart of it. She's never actually dared to say those words aloud. But she has to admit it, doesn't she? What she's doing right now... it's like proudly declaring that she wants to be a rock star and then pursuing it relentlessly. The adults in her life have indulged her, but they must surely think that she is ridiculous...
Mint is surprised as well -- for Ichika's depth of thought on the matter is far more than she would expect. Granted, she hasn't talked with students from the esteemed Justice High all that often, but she still feels Ichika is an exceptional student. But, for now, she resolves against sharing her thoughts until the student lets all of her own out. She starts with a slight hint of mirth in her expression, but manages to swallow that after a moment of earnestness.
"Kasumoto-san," she starts. "Then this is just a fleeting hobby. An extracurricular activity, just like some would figure it always was."
Panesh leans back, lacing her plastic fingers together once more. "So it's just an adolescent fantasy. Big deal! But think about this, okay?"
She ticks off points by extending her fingers. "Civil servants need to know when to balance costs with safety. Architects need to know when to challenge a client who's being a bit of a turd. Doctors need to be honest with the risks to a patient's life. Each and every one of those involves taking -risks-, yeah?"
Mint splays out an open hand. "I'm just sayin'. Fighting trains you to make that risk-reward calculation hundreds of times each minute. You're training your brain to assess risks lightning-fast. You're good at Go, yeah? This is just... like... 'speed Go.'"
Ichika finally looks back at Mint directly when she starts talking. At first, she thinks she sees where it is going to go - the same platitudes that so many adults offer. It's an adolescent fantasy? So just enjoy the springtime of your youth! It's okay to be a little irresponsible! That sort of thing. But where Ichika's self-doubt is prepared for the zig-zag of insincerity, it is completely unprepared for the haymaker punch of Mint's genuine understanding.
The girl's eyes widen a little as that oh-so-smart brain of hers picks apart what the Corporal has said and-- finds it true. She hadn't thought of it like that. In fact, though her mind kept trying to connect the world of Go and the world of fighting, it was the differences she tended to get hung up on. The truth, the useful transferable skills, had eluded her until this moment.
Relief unwinds in the girl, and she bows her head. "Thank you, Panesh-san." She says, "Truly. That... is something I can take with me. Really. That is a huge help."
Mint is glad that Ichika is able to stick with her zig-zagging train of thought; she nods appraisingly as the light shines back at her. Kasumoto's a smart cookie, she'll definitely grant that.
"I work for some very smart people, Kasumoto-san. They know that fighting is... well, -sure-, it's a hobby. But it's survival tactics, it's strategy school, it's physical training, it's mental conditioning, all rolled up into one. Some people learn better from books or classrooms. Some people... just get bored outta their -gourds- with that stuff. We need more of a challenge."
Mint bonks herself in the head with a plastic fist. It's kind of a hollow sound. That's the prosthetic's fault, of course.
"So yeah. I'm glad to help! From one, uh, 'impressive' fighter to another."
The Marine winks back to Ichika with a lopsided smile. It's all in good fun -- and she's not even sure if Ichika's the type to pick up on the jab without taking offense. But she just wouldn't feel right without showing the girl a bit -more- of her typical levity.
With a light slap to her knee, she starts to give signals that she might have business elsewhere -- but doesn't -yet- make a move to stand. In her own way, the corporal wonders if the Justice student plans to ask another bold question. A challenge, maybe?
"But hey, it's been good chattin' with you! I'm really glad to meet you in person! I've got great hopes for all of you in the NFG, it's truly amazing watching you all. I know you're gonna do great if you stick with it!"
Ichika considers this. The US military. It's not exactly an organisation she has given a great deal of thought to. Of course, it's fair to say that the US and Japan have not always had... the best, relations. That might be an understatement actually. And with some of the older clientele at the Go salon she likes to frequent, their views can be quite outspoken. But. That is all in the past, isn't it? And it's difficult to deny that the Americans have produced some truly incredible advancements. There's no shortage of genius fighters in their ranks, either... and people who make sure that those fighters don't need to be deployed at all. Hm.
She does pick up on the 'jab', and though her cheeks colour a little, there's a ghost of a smile that touches them as well. It's a clever callback, and she appreciates that. The slap to her knee, though, rouses the girl from the bench faster than Mint herself - the very last thing she wants to feel as though she's doing is imposing on her time, after all!
"Yes, it has been great to speak with you as well. Thank you for your time, Panesh-san." She gives another bow and then - well. Mint really does have a good read on her. It's not an outright challenge, but there's no other way to interpret her adieu.
"I look forward to the day when we face each other. I am ... very sure, that such a day will come."
Mint really has to wonder if all Justice High students are as wound up as Ichika. She realizes that it's probably got something to do with her candor and outspokenness -- the will to just speak up when the need arises. Good talents to have, and they'll serve her well in -any- career, but exceptionally so in professional fighting. The next generation is in good hands.
"It was my pleasure!" The corporal chirps back as she rises to her feet, brushing a loose bang back into position. She tilts her head, leaning just a smidge closer to speak. "And just... wow. I don't think I'll have to wait long, either. You're gonna have us on the ropes in no time."
Minal flashes her brightest of bright smiles, and dips into a respectful bow. "I'm sure you'll have found new ways to impress me then, just like you had today. You're gonna go far no matter what you do, Kasumoto-san."
A respectful bob of her head follows, as she pivots to step away.
"Take it easy, a'ight?"
Log created on 14:14:11 05/06/2023 by Ichika, and last modified on 17:50:55 05/10/2023.