Fightfest 2023 - From First Principals

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Description: Suffering from a sudden bout of manic purpose, Ichika's visit with the principal of Justice High takes an odd turn for the better. How easy it is to forget that the first step to solving a problem, is determining whether or not there is a problem to be solved.

Ichika had likely barely been on Raizo's radar before the NFG kicked off. The girl was as unremarkable as a Justice High student could be. Oh, she's academically gifted; gifted enough, in fact, that her fees are being covered for her. Her family simply couldn't afford them. And if she has anything that makes her stand out amongst her Justice peers, it is her lack of specific talent and her broad skill. She is not the top in any of her classes, but she is more than average in all of them; sometimes much more. History, Japanese, English, Mathematics, Science, even crafting and physical education... she applied herself to all of these things with a ruthless determination to prove she had what it took to belong... but no clear idea as to where her place would ultimately be. She had no focus.

Until now, it seemed.

The girl had frantically demanded to speak with the Headmaster the previous night, something that would be a terrifying breach of protocol under normal circumstances, and an agreement had been made that she would present her case in writing and then come back. Not, plead for an immediate decision then and there like the sky was falling. And yet. For a girl who had done everything she could to avoid the notice of her Headmaster - who she genuinely found intimidating in the extreme - she had faced that fear head on. There was an uncommon determination in the girl's eyes. And though she couldn't have slept much herself that night, the essay was waiting for the Headmaster on his desk the very next morning.

Now, she waits in the hallway outside the Headmaster's Office. Never in all her life has she faced detention or even a strong word; this is an entirely new experience for her. And there's so much more riding on this than her after school time. The girl's uniform is perfect. She checked it over three times, making sure that not a single thread was out of place on the black and orange design.

Pity that her hair still refuses to obey. She's brushed it twice whilst waiting with the comb she keeps in her pocket. Still, after a few moments, those stubborn locks ping back up haphazardly. But surely, he won't make his decision based on her hair... surely not...!

Before Ichika lies a door both large and heavy, its dark wood surface polished to such a sheen it seems to glow with its own inner light. Or, perhaps that's the nerves. After one night of frantic writing and an interminable day of mundane classes, it is only now, as other students are off escaping into the bright summer sun, that the principal has daned to see her.
"Ms. Kasumoto!"
The voice that emerges from behind the door is as much a roar as human speech, as ferocious to the ear as the aging principal is to the eye. There is enough time for a last check of her appearance in the gleaming brass plaque, her face slightly distorted by the letters spelling Raizo Imawano in the western style.
And suddenly, there is no time at all.
Beyond the smoothly oiled hinges of the door lies an office turned upsettingly cave-like. Light is provided by two tall lamps with yellowing paper shades that flank the door at either corner, insuring that her side of the room is lit while all beyond the broad wooden desk is thrown into dim shadow. The suggestion of mass shifts within that darkness, a great squat bulk seated within the impression of a tall-backed chair. Positioned precisely in the center of the desk, at the extreme edge of the light, a sheet of white paper practically glows against the dark wooden surface, her own name staring back at her from the topmost line.
"Please, Come in! Close the door behind you."
That great bear's growl of a voice booms throughout the room, echoing off of the stone ceiling and filling the empty space between desk and exit. There are no chairs set in the dim pool of light, only an empty expanse across which to walk, all the while a pair of mismatched eyes watch her from the darkness, one large and silver, the other reflective red.

It's every nightmare she'd ever had coming home to roost. To be here, to learn from the very best, to be a student at Justice High... this was all her family had aspired to, why would she question the way things run now? Why would she try and get that exemption? Why had she entered the tournament at all? Was it not enough that she WAS here? She could graduate, go to any university in the world she wanted, obtain any career, be the Super Elite --

All of this rushes through her head in the moment before she opens the door, and then her hand closes around the handle and she pushes her way through. No. She had done it. She stood by her words. She would see them through.

The girl's gait is nevertheless stiff as she closes the door behind her and walks to stand before the desk. Her back is ramrod straight, her hands folded just below her abdomen. She bows to exactly 45 degrees, and she holds it for a long moment.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Imawano-sensei. I am sorry to have to intrude upon your time."

She manages to keep her voice - and more importantly still, her knees - steady. That is good. Until she had made it to this point, she genuinely had no idea if she would be able to do even that.

The noise that emanates from the darkness is 65 percent thoughtful hum, 35 percent blood curdling growl. Up this close, the suggestion of a broad, flattish nose dominates the great figure's shadowed face, bushy white beard catching what little light makes it to him and reflecting it dimly back.
"Yes. Well. For what purpose does a Principal exist if not to correct and guide his students?"
Those gleaming eyes regard her for a moment longer, taking the girl in from messy hair to rigid bow, while the clawed tip of a finger raps twice against the surface of his desk.
"So," he continues after a moment, unreadable gaze dropping to the small stack of papers resting at the center of his desk, "It seems that you have something on your mind. Perhaps, you should start from the beginning?"
As he speaks a huge veiny paw slips its claws beneath the essay and gently flips it, resting it face-down between them in what might be some horrifying dismissal of all the thoughts held within. Or, maybe not any of that at all.

Ichika stares into the darkness. She really can't, see, the man. She knows what he looks like, though; can imagine all too clearly the huge figure regarding her now. One hand lifts, and the mystery of how her hair gets like that is at least partly answered. She doesn't even seem aware that she's running her fingers through the locks, mussing them up as she tries to decide how to approach this situation. Behind those bright eyes of hers, her mind is running through countless different approaches she could try and take to overcome what she is perceiving as an obstacle. Flattery? Directness? Bargaining?

In the end, perhaps wisely, she settles for honesty.

"The beginning." She repeats, softly. "That is, not an easy thing to pin down, Sensei. I suppose... in the beginning, it was a flight of fancy. Who doesn't dream of being a professional fighter? But, I also used to dream of being a rock star, or a supermodel, and..." She gives a small, self-depreciating laugh, "... I am not Asamiya-san. I did not think it was, realistic. I still do not know that it is." There's a faint clench of her jaw at the admission before she adds, with determination, "But I wish to try. Realistic or not, I can't... stop. Not now."

Silently that mismatched gaze returns, gleaming at Ichika from the gloom with some sort of interest. Hunger, perhaps? Is she enough of a failure that the principal might just spring across the desk and eat her? It wouldn't be the first time the thought has entered a student's mind, been whispered from ear to ear at the back of a class.
"You do know, Ms. Kasumoto, that Justice High accepts only the most devoted of students."
Sinking deeper into his chair, the indistinct outline of Raizo's face dissolves into featureless shadow, great paws coming together to steeple claw against claw where the square mass of his chest once loomed.
"We expect not only academic excellence, but a drive that extends beyond the classroom..."
The rough growl of his voice trails into silence then, hands separating as if to frame the space left open to her. Soon, however, even the gesturing hands fade away, eyes blinking out of the darkness in expectation that she continues.

"... Yes, Sensei, I am aware ..."

The sense that she is failing sits heavy in the pit of her stomach. Strange to think that a few short weeks ago such a feeling was new and foreign to her. Not that success came easy; it didn't. Unlike many of her fellows, Ichika has to work hard to maintain her position. The classes are always challenging, and she always rises to meet them. But, perhaps this is a step too far. Perhaps by even voicing that she wishes to pursue this extracurricular activity she is jeopardising her place in the school entirely.

Still. The silence demands that she fill it, and so she continues. "I have too many questions. I need to know how far I can travel. The people who have beaten me... I need to know if I can learn to overcome them. Every fight I have had, I have seen so many new things. My strategies are... not, perfected. My tactics need work. Ah, that is..." She flounders, fearful that she is making it sound as though she is hopeless.

"It is like when I began to play Go." She says, "I understand the resources now. I understand the shape of the game. But I have not found where I excel, yet. And unlike Go, I cannot learn this with books and thought exercises alone. I must study in person. As they are available. Or the only practice I will get is in the fights themselves..."

She lets that hang in the air. She's not saying that she will definitely lose if that is the case. She has just enough faith in herself not to believe that is true. She might win anyway. But. Will she do as well as she could?

A long, soft sigh emanates from the indistinct bulk of her shrouded headmaster, twin points of his eyes blinking shut as if in deep meditation. Is he disappointed? Frustrated? Perhaps he doubts her ability to follow through.
....And, isn't one of his eyes covered by a monocle? How do you even...
Such mundane quandaries are swept away as the bright afternoon sun floods into the room, banishing the darkness in a wash of near blinding brilliance. Where once the walls were distant and shadowy things, they now reveal themselves to be hung with all manner of portraits both big and small. Previous headmasters gaze sternly down amidst smiling graduates, hand-written letters, and signed photographs from all generations of the school's storied existence. A pair of worn, leather-bound armchairs are set off to her left of the desk, arranged in a much more conversational manner than speaking across its foreboding surface. A great clock ticks away in a rear corner, while the other is filled by a tall book case stuffed to bursting with volumes of all kinds.
And most importantly of all, the hulking form of Principal Raizo looms before the large arched windows set into the rear wall, arms spread wide in the act of sweeping aside the heavy curtains.
"Ah!" the bearish roar fills the room once more as sunlight gleams off of the aging man's shiny bald head, white hair radiating out in a snowy mane that would put the girl's most tragic hair day to shame. "Much better."
Just how such an enormous man could have gone from sitting in front of her to half way across the room without her even noticing is a mystery easily forgotten as he turns to face her, clawed hands smoothing down his tan suit jacket over immaculate white shirt and a tasteful glimpse of polka dot tie. Monocle gleaming in the sunshine, he focuses a look upon Ichika that crinkles the corners of his eyes almost...fondly?
"You misunderstand me, Ms. Kasumoto. I had merely wondered why you seem to hold my judgment in such low regard. Did I not select you for this academy? Are you not here based on your merits as a superb student?"
Left hand lifting to his face, he uses thick thumb and pointer to adjust his monocle with delicate precision, peering down at the comparatively tiny girl with wry amusement.
"Why, I wonder, would I lose faith in you just as you find that thing which truly speaks to your soul? I would be a poor teacher indeed if I did."

The sudden revelation is almost blinding. Not just because it, literally, brings light flooding in so rapidly it almost makes her eyes hurt, but because of what it shows about the man she had been so afraid of. Ichika is awkward and anxious a lot of the time, but she is not stupid. It doesn't take her long to take in the room's decor, and what it means. This man, as imposing as he might be, cares. He really does. And for a moment, she can only gape at the room and the giant of a man within it. She stares, and then... she looks down at her shoes.

She knows that she will continue on this path. She wasn't lying about that. In fact... she's honest perhaps to a fault, because what should be hypothetical questions with no real answer, she faces head on.

"I think, extremely highly of you Sensei." She says, softly. "And of my tutors here. And that is why I am scared. Because, I do not know if I am making a mistake. I know that even if I am, I am too stubborn now to stop making it. But I was not admitted here on the back of my fighting skill. I was admitted here, because I have a very good memory and I am good with numbers."

Is that really how she sees it? That she just has a couple of tricks that she leans on?

"I thought, you might think I am being irresponsible. To jeopardise the things I know I am good at in pursuit of something that I have... well. I have failed at. I can talk about all the things I learned, and, all of that is true, but a cold look at the rankings tells the story. I am an average fighter. Middle of the pack. What if... I learn that, after all of this, that is still what I am?"

She had shared similar doubts with Minal Panesh, and the woman had done a lot to reassure her - pointing out all those transferable skills. But it is still a fear. To be accepted for so much potential in so many other things, and to dedicate herself to something she may fail at regardless?

"Wouldn't that be... selfish, of me?"

Raizo's disapproving grunt fills the room, cutting across the girl's worries like a hack saw to an infected limb. It appears that whatever her own opinions, the bearish man does not agree, though the continued crinkling around his eyes help to rob the dismissal of some of its sting.
"Ms. Kasumoto. I assure you that nobody at Justice High knows why you were admitted better than I, and your talent with numbers was a relatively minor factor."
Pacing back toward the desk, he places one enormous hand atop her overturned essay and rests his weight upon it, corners of his mouth straightening into a rather stern line.
"Stubbornness, when properly harnessed, is not a flaw, and it is far too early for you to have decided your failures. Let us use the game of Go as an example: you have lost some of your first fights. Do not mistake these matches as boards themselves, as they are merely individual pieces in a greater game. It is not so uncommon to lose stones in a play. The trick now will be to learn from those losses, and refine your strategy moving forward."
Pausing there, the old man narrows his white eye down at her, adding almost as an afterthought, "Without compromising your grades, of course."

The disapproving noise brings Ichika's gaze back up from her feet, at least - there's a pretty impressive flinch from the girl, but she's back to meeting Raizo's mismatched eyes as he explains his faith in her; even reaches out with the kind of metaphor she really does understand. In fact, such a ploy was something she used often; baiting out losses in the early game allowed her to pin her opponent into a position where they had overcommitted to so many small areas of the board that she was free to run rampant in the wider space. It... wasn't something that she was doing deliberately in this tournament, but the explanation really does help quell some of her deeper fears.

"... then, it's really okay?"

The girl sounds wonderstruck. She had been so absolutely certain that she would have to fight for every concession; that the stern Headmaster would put protocol before what she still feared was a childish fantasy. But. No. He is... expressing faith in her? A bright smile tugs onto her lips and she gives a firm nod.

"Yes, Sensei!" She exclaims, straightening up all the way again, as though literally swelling with the pride she feels. "I promise, I shan't let my grades slip at all. I, thank you! I will prove that you are right to put your trust in me!"

Raizo's booming response threatens to knock dust from the rafters if there were any, his great bulk straightening in a very business-like manner. Reaching over to an as yet unseen bear-shaped mug on his desk, the principal plucks forth a pin and flips her essay over, scribbling a short note in the upper right hand corner.
"If you would deliver this to your English professor on your way out, it should be worth 2 points extra credit. The arguments were cogent enough, but three in the morning is not when students tend to do their best work."
Finishing with a flourishing scribble of a signature that would make a doctor wince, Raizo slides the papers across to Ichika and levels a final look upon her, rugged features caught half way between fond patriarch and contemplative monkey.
"I have no doubt that you will."
A faint shake of his head, and he clicks the pin closed, already beginning to turn back toward the marvelous overlook of his arched windows.
"Now, if you would, go get some fresh air and sun. Youth is wasted on the young."

The difference in Ichika is truly something to see. Where before she looked as though she were trying to convince herself to fight a dragon, now it looks as though she is almost ready to float off her feet. She takes the papers, and holds them to her chest. The Headmaster even approved of her essay? Goodness. All of this was more than she would have dreamed. She'd been prepared to discuss compromises, or even to be denied completely and have to devise some way to make everything work herself, but... no. She got everything she asked for. And not because she had to fight, but because the head of the entire school actually, thought, she was doing the right thing.

"Yes, Sensei! Thank you again. For everything. I... I look forward to telling you all about it when I return properly!"

Because, of course, she could do nothing else, right? She would go on with to the tournament, she would give it her all, she would maintain her grades, and, win or lose, she would be the better for it.

In a fluid motion the girl turns on her heels, and though she does indeed run out of Raizo's office, it is not for fear as she thought it might be, but out of sheer exuberant energy; almost unable to hold her delight.

Log created on 13:21:23 05/30/2023 by Raizo, and last modified on 19:03:00 05/30/2023.