Description: Before departing on a cross-continental voyage, it's important to ensure that you aren't taking along any excess baggage.
Ichika had spent her last night in the Hotel Southtown. At least, for the near future. Who knows? Perhaps one day she will be able to afford to stay in a place like this on her own. It's one of the lesser perks of being a tournament fighter that she hadn't even really considered. Between all the lessons learned, friendships made and rivalries begun, the fact that she had all of her laundry done, all of her food prepared, the softest bed, the nicest shower... well, they didn't register until it was time to bid them all goodbye. Team Thunder would be providing the living facilities from now on, and whilst Ichika didn't at all mind pitching in - in fact, she'd be happy to - she doubted she would be enjoying anything so prestigious as the Hotel's facilities.
Once again she finds herself in the lobby with all of her worldly belongings. One small suitcase filled with her clothes, toiletries and sword-maintenance equipment... and a truly, outrageously large backpack which is stuffed full to bursting with all the reading materials, homework and assignments she would need to complete to maintain her Justice High grades whilst she was on this far more exciting journey. That pack... isn't actually on her back right now. She's set it down in front of her as she completes the checking-out process with the receptionist.
"Thank you, again, for providing such a pleasant home." She says, which gets a little chuckle from the receptionist - most people don't consider it like that, but, seven weeks she'd been living here! It was a very long time indeed.
"You're welcome, Kasumoto-chan. We look forward to seeing you again."
Ah... but she would need to advance much further to make such a thing a reality. She'd seen the prices. She and her family could never afford it at the moment.
On one hand, Minal Panesh has more luggage than Ichika. She'd brought her giant battle gauntlets along for the trip, but ended up leaving them in her hotel room the whole time. So in addition to a rucksack, she also has two smaller shipping containers about the same size to carry along.
On the other hand, Minal has help. Just as Ichika is checking out, Mint is walking to the front desk for much the same purpose, in much the same fashion she's been sporting during her time here: collared polo shirt, khakis, plastic hands. She also has a baseball cap, with the name of the Southtown franchise. Dutifully rolling behind her is a motorized, four-wheeled cart carrying all three of her pieces of luggage. The cart's wheels are knobby and oversized to handle Japan's rugged urban terrain. And the cart has some sort of adaptive algorithm to make sure it shadows Mint's movements without slamming into the back of her heels.
And, at the moment, Mint -was- heading to the front desk. But as soon as she hears the name 'Kasumoto-chan', a frog forms in her throat, and she stops dead in her path; the motorized cart pulls to a stop beside her, a moment later.
Hoping she's not been spotted, she pivots sideways, pulling out her cellphone to look at it. Because, yep, she totally just got an urgent text that looks exactly like her home screen, yep!
Ichika signs the last of the paperwork to confirm that, as far as she could tell, the charges being levied were accurate. She set down her key. She turned, and just as she was beginning to - with effort - heft the backpack... she spots a familiar figure, and she stops dead in her tracks. That... is some pleasing synchronicity, isn't it? She'd interrupted Mint when the woman was checking in; now they are crossing paths again as Ichika checks out.
~Partnering with kids. Sorting out teenage drama. So young she's never been in a high-stakes match.~
All of those words come rushing back for her, and the girl's jaw clenches tightly. She had resolved that she would get revenge for those words. But. She wasn't ready for that, not by a long shot. Besides, impulsively rushing in and causing a scene here in public? That would reflect badly on Team Thunder's faith in her, and it would prove Mint right about her, wouldn't it? But... she also knew that her pained expression had likely been noted at the draft. She couldn't stand the idea of Mint knowing just how deeply she had gotten under her skin.
Even if it was absolutely true.
So, shouldering her immense bag and trailing the suitcase behind her, the girl approaches. She clears her throat when she is a respectful distance away. And, she opens in an echo of the way she had when last they shared this space. Her voice, though, is much more composed. Clipped, even.
%"Excuse me. I hope it isn't too forward of me to ask, but may I have five minutes of your time, Panesh-san?"
The motorized cart is kind of neat. It's meant to split into two pieces, each of which fits into one of the travel cases. But in order to accurately gauge distance, there's a camera unit mounted to the top of a telescoping pole. And that camera unit has an LED lamp that begins to blink in soft yellow, once every few seconds.
Mint had indeed taken note of the reaction. And the interaction was occupying her thoughts rent-free for a good part of the intervening time. So she has a -pretty- good idea of what Ichika might want to talk about when she hears that diminutive throat-clearing sound.
Mint glances up from her phone.
She gives a quick assessment of Ichika's expression.
She offers a warm smile. "Kasumoto-san!"
She holds up one finger as a "just gimme one sec" gesture.
She then looks back to her phone.
If anyone was looking over her shoulder -- and it's not hard -- they'd see the Marine was just scrolling her home screen back and forth, instead of anything of actual -value-. Stalling, basically. But also underscoring the sponsor's need to be an adult about this whole matter and pace things out deliberately.
After which point Mint puts her phone back in standby mode, tucking it into its holster. She flashes Ichika a smile -- but not a -big- one. Because it's early and she hasn't had much coffee yet, among other reasons.
"I'm guessing it's about what I said in the draft meeting, yeah?"
Ichika waits. Though, after three seconds she has to take the backpack off again. It would be a struggle enough under normal circumstances - part of her suspected that her teachers' insistence on sending physical books and notes was part of some perverse plan by Raizo to strengthen her by forcing her to lug them all around - but Ariastra's healing had only dealt with most of her injuries. It will be a little while yet before all of the pain the ancient woman had carved into her to fully heal.
She waits. And she doesn't try to see what Mint is actually doing. That would be terribly rude. And when the issue is brought between them, she gives the faintest little nod.
"Yes. Not that I wish to confront you about it or anything." She lies, "Actually, I want to thank you."
She thinks she's being very clever with this approach, but as whip-smart as she is in so many areas - she has no poker face here. In many ways, the Marine's assessment of her had been correct. It wouldn't have hurt so much if she was simply wrong, after all. She IS a teenager. Doing well in this tournament IS the highest-stakes challenge she's ever dealt with. And now those bright blue eyes of hers are ablaze with challenge. *Daring* Mint to ask the obvious question.
It's nice to be the target of attention. But normally, having someone's attention can still mean the target of their gaze drifts. Looking at hands, looking at the environment, looking at other cues than just the eyes.
But Ichika might not be accustomed to someone making intense, unwavering eye contact. No looking down to check an expression. No looking around to check vibes or body language. Just eye-to-eye contact. Because in Mint's experience, when someone says 'not that', it's a tell.
"Thank me?" Mint echoes flatly. Her pleasant smile fades into neutrality as she waits a beat. Still maintaining eye contact. "Two things I told the team right off the top of the bat were: One, we're gonna be tough but fair. And two, if you feel that's not the case, you need to step up and let us know."
Her expression hardens -- particularly her eyes, lids narrowing to half their usual. "You're not in Team Metal, though. And I'm sorry for that: it didn't look like it, but I tried." Roll the tapes: Mint was -not- happy with her teammates on the first round of picks. "But I'd like to ask you to be honest with me just the same, Kasumoto-san."
Staring someone down was a bit of a trick that Ichika had learned. She... wasn't actually expecting it to be turned on her. And the longer she is made to maintain eye contact, the more she is aware of how foolish she is being. This woman is a *professional*. In more than one sense, even. And the advice that she'd given her before, when she had no obligation to do so... it was good advice! It had meant a lot! That's why it had hurt so badly to feel... well... betrayed. The girl's lips press together, and ultimately she is the one to break eye contact first.
"... if you want me to be honest with you, then why are you lying to me now?" She asks, "You said it yourself. You said a lot of things, actually. But the main thing was that you didn't want a child on your team. So. You never saw me as a realistic prospect. Or were you lying then? And ... if you were, then, how can I trust what you say now?"
It's a total diversion from the cutting remark she had so meticulously prepared... but her heart just isn't in it. When it came down to it, a war of words just... wasn't her. She hated lying and deception. She wanted to be honest.
But how could she be honest without making a spectacle of herself?
Mint keeps her eyes locked on. And Ichika's free to break her gaze away. But the next moment she looks back at Mint, she'll see that Mint never -did- look away. Because the eyes are the window to a person's soul, and Mint wants to make damn sure she gets as much intel as she can here.
"Tell me the lie, then?"
Mint folds her arms behind her back. Parade rest, just as when she was done airing her pitch to Buck in that fateful moment.
"Were you paying as much attention to me than as I am to you now? Did you notice that there were three -other- people at our table with their own agendas?"
Mint has more to say. But her mouth got her into this mess, and she clamps her jaw shut to hear what Ichika thinks, first.
Ichika is determined not to make a scene. She's rapidly coming to understand just how badly prepared she is for this, though. She's not one of the popular kids who can deliver a few cutting remarks and then walk off into the distance with an 'oh ho ho' and an entourage of hangers-on to fawn over how witty she was. She's too earnest. That's her whole problem. She often tried to hide behind a mask of etiquette and proper behaviour, but ... when she actually *cared*... she couldn't do it.
And she does care.
"I've never spoken to those people before." She runs her hand through her hair, tries to marshal her thoughts, regains eye contact.
"I, would have been fine if you had just not picked me. I was, stunned, that I was picked first. It's scary, actually! When I thought it was just a tactical decision it was okay, but did you know she actually is what she said she is?!" There's an edge in Ichika's voice now; she needs to pull it back, she's going to sound hysterical, but, "I was only middling! I expected to be picked when there were few other options. I can't argue that you were wrong to choose Nixie over me, she's a better fighter! It's just a fact! But..."
Her nostrils flare, and she sucks in a deep breath.
"... if you didn't choose me because of who I am, instead of because of what I can do... that, that is something I can't accept, Panesh-sama."
Did she even realise the title had slipped? She can hear her heart in her ears, thundering louder than when she was at the edge of consciousness. This was a horrible idea. Why didn't she just walk away?
The most compassionate thing the dark-skinned Marine can do is listen: whole-heartedly, and without judgment. There is a gigantic misunderstanding here, and properly unraveling it will take time.
She maintains her unwavering focus on Ichika's eyes -- unwilling to give any suggestion that she -isn't- laser-focused on the young prodigy. She can see that Ichika's starting to lose composure -- and it's important to face that head-on.
And Minal would love to step forward and close the gap. To show her compassion in another form. But that would just add even more complication, once the cross-cultural divide factors in.
So she maintains her distance. She lets a few moments of pensive silence pass, for the heartbeat to be heard, for the pounding to be -felt-.
She did catch the drop though. "I don't think I deserve the -sama, for one. Definitely not after what was said."
She pauses for a moment, in consideration. "-Team Metal- did not pick you," she emphasizes. "I wanted us to. But drafts aren't votes, they aren't endorsements of character. You called it yourself: tactical decisions."
Finally, she closes her eyes, breaking off the eye contact as she sucks in a deep breath of her own. "Everything I said for Buck's pitch? That was meant as a last-ditch effort for Team Metal to pick up Buck."
When her eyes open again, it's with a softer expression: a slight frown. "I'm sorry for how I said it, Kasumoto-san. I'm human, I make mistakes." She resists the urge to say something glib. Or anything at all - for she wants to see how Ichika processes that first.
Of all the things that she thought might be said, an apology was not one of them. For all her thinking and overthinking, Ichika always seems to forget the possibility of the thing that happens. It... could be a lie, some horrible, insecure part of herself tells her. Mint could just be saying what she thinks needs to be said to calm her down. But, she doesn't get that sense from the marine. How often was it that an adult apologised to a child at all? And... considering the very nature of the things that had hurt, the sense that Minal just didn't take her seriously, the simple apology goes an awful long way.
"... I see."
Ichika makes herself meet the woman's eye again, and, yes, some of the ferocious energy and hurt has definitely left her. "Like I said, I... really *can't* complain about not being contested. I'm not a very good fighter. Yet." She does give herself the 'yet'. She's starting to believe that one day, that might actually change. Things are happening for her so quickly, after all.
"If you truly don't think less of me for my age... then, you should also know, you've already been one of my tutors, whatever team I have been selected for." She smiles softly, embarrassed at herself as she confesses. "I was... I was going to say something mean, but, the truth is that if you hadn't given me the advice you did, I wouldn't have had the courage to make my case to Imawano-sensei, and, actually, I might have given up. All of this has been, very hard. And I can see how much harder it is going to get from now on. But, you made me feel as though I can face that without fear for letting down my family, so."
And she bows. Low. Hands neatly clasped in front of her.
There's a time to listen, and there is a time to speak. The time to listen is when Ichika expresses the doubt she bears over her own abilities. Mint had parted her mouth to fill in there -- but Ichika caught herself by adding the 'yet.'
Mint almost interjects a second time, right as Ichika suggests that Mint doesn't think less of her for her age. But, again, she lets her facial expression do the talking for her. And even smiles, as Ichika does, letting her guard down just that one little bit.
"You won't, Ichika. And I don't think any less of you. And wouldn't. We've got every intention to help our team folks in every way we can."
Mint lowers her hands to her sides, bowing in response to the low bow. Not -as- low as Ichika, to appreciate the deference to her position, but a bow all the same.
"I'm just glad you're on a good team. Team Thunder's got some folks that can help you with that mystic energy stuff. All I got is some weird-a-- " She catches her vulgar language, and corrects. Poorly. "--weird-apple power that makes me cold when I throw a punch, sometimes." She shivers, just thinking about it, shrugging it off. "So there's a good chance I could be askin' for help too!"
"Point bein', though..." She clasps her hands in front of her, lowering her chin. "I didn't see that at the time, but I think Team Thunder's the perfect fit for you. Especially after Sensei showed me the -right- way to talk about another team."
Ichika straightens, and she can't help but laugh. It's a surprisingly gentle noise from the girl, given how tense things had been just moments before. Weird-apple. There's, definitely some influence her age is having on the Marine, she can see that, but, she doesn't feel condescended to. She can see that Mint genuinely was sorry to have hurt her, and that... well, that's all she really wanted. If they had never had this conversation and Ichika had demanded satisfaction in fury when she felt ready to claim it, it would only have been to achieve that same end.
"It's, like the school." She says, shaking her head slightly. "I mean no disrespect when I say this, but. After seeing the way the other sponsors behaved, it was obvious that Team Thunder is the team with the most skilled teachers. Which, is not to say the most skilled fighters. But, they knew how to comport themselves to sway their students."
She looks up at the ceiling, and lets all her breath out in a heavy, rushing sigh. "It is ungrateful of me to say this, but as much as I know you are right... I still wish you had contested me. I would have gone to you, and I would never have known that I am for some reason the first choice of the team with the greatest expectations placed upon it. I could have just learned from your grit and determination, and maybe your cool powers as well."
She looks back, flashing a grin at her lame little piece of wordplay, to try and dispel the seriousness of the situation.
"But, that is not the life that the Gods have chosen for me. I will just, work, and hope that I can prove everyone's faith is not misplaced. To let down my family is one thing, to let down my school is another, but to let down Sensei and the others..."
As Mint said, they had all heard him speak. He only needed a few sentences to quell an entire room of furious hearts.
Mint's half-smile shows she isn't altogether upset at Team Metal's downgrade on the Teams Ichika Kasumoto Thinks Are Skilled Teachers list. Probably an accurate assessment, really! And she nods along with the note about comporting themselves. Though -- with fondness, she remembers that Djamila was -really- happy with her phrasing. Perhaps that's why there was static between Djamila and Ichika...
She grins at the mention of her 'cool powers,' as well. That means it's okay to be glib again, right?
"You won't let anyone down as long as you keep trying your best, Ichika." Though, a plastic finger rises up. "Or... close enough to your best to fool people." She gives a brief laugh. "But... it's past, you know? We can think about what coulda been, and how it shoulda been, but at the end of the day, I still think you got the best possible solution." Mint rests her hands on her hips. "Isn't that what we're after?"
Ichika gives a second little laugh at the joke. Not, that she would know how to give anything less than her absolute all to everything. For all her faults, a lack of work ethic was... not one of them. Quite the opposite in fact. But she is glad that there is less stress between them now. She liked Mint a lot; admired her, even. She hadn't liked the idea that she had been wrong in her initial assessment.
"The best possible solution." She muses, pursing her lips. "I suppose you are right. Besides. As much as it is hard to think about it right now... one day, the New Fighting Generation project will end, and all of us prospects will have to decide how we are going to continue to forge our legacy."
This is quite a different sentiment to how she had thought before. Once, she had presumed that some of them would fade back into obscurity. There are still certain Ronin-shaped individuals who she wished that would be true for. But she doesn't think it likely. All of the people she had met had the same fire lit in them; the determination to walk the Warrior's Road. It might not be how they thought of it, but the ones who were not going to go all the way... well, they'd already dropped out.
"Maybe when we do have the opportunity to work together, it will be as equals, rather than teacher and student. I will certainly be striving to make it happen!"
"Yeah..." It's good to listen now. Too many words, too many problems. "As much as I fought for Buck, playing age off age was the only tactic I had. I was serious about giving him a real challenge -- but maybe he wants a little more compassion, and I get that." She shrugs faintly: "Who knows, maybe I was just lookin' for older kids because I myself have always -felt- like a kid. Maybe I ain't cut out to even -be- an adult," she admits with a scoff.
"So yeah. I'm glad you came to talk this out with me, Kasumoto-san." Sucking her breath through her teeth, she admits further: "It... it was gonna be a long flight to Sunshine if you hadn't."
She extends her hand outward to Ichika. "We'll work together sooner or later. I got a feelin' you are only goin' up from here."
In the heat of the moment at the draft, it had been all Ichika could do not to throw up. When she'd seen Mint in the lobby, her mind had immediately turned to violence. And now... now all of that is gone. Because she used her words, reached out for understanding, and found it. She smiles, and for a moment she just has to wonder at how amazing life could be. It wasn't always frightening and stressful. Sometimes, you got a beautiful outcome you didn't see coming.
"I, am glad that I don't have to hate you." She agrees, "Just, please, if we wind up in a similar situation later... try to be more tactful?"
She looks down at the offered hand. Her teeth sink into her lower lip. But. She would be in America soon, and this sort of thing... this was what Americans did. So. She clasps the hand in a firm shake. She wonders if she should go for something pleasant and affirming with the woman's first name as well but, she can't quite bring herself to do it. One step at a time.
When asked to be more tactful, Mint gives a look that suggests she'd just taken a bite out of a lemon. "... Mmm... that's a -grown-up- thing, though..." Grinding her heel into place, she nonetheless lets the act drop after a moment. "I promise that I'll try." After all -- Mint knows that tact -isn't- what she's known for.
Her hands, though -- she's better known for those. The tiny mechanisms in her hand make for a fairly accurate replica of a normal handshake -- sure, it's actually mechanical, but it -feels- like a real handshake. Her engineering prowess goes a long way here, even though a lot of it could be lost on someone who prefers bows to handshakes.
"You've earned my respect, Kasumoto-san. I'm sad that I'd lost yours for a while. But the next time we meet -- yeah. I've got no worries."
Ichika can't help but grin as she takes her hand back. As serious, heartfelt and earnest as she tends to be - definitely a fault in the too-serious young woman - she DOES have a sense of humour. "Of course you're not worried, Panesh-san." She says, breezily. "I have only earned six points so far. I will have to make sure that I give you something to worry about before then!"
She's joking, but... only partly. As she'd explained, the weight of expectation on her is difficult to bear at times. She is acutely aware of the fact that she has something to prove; but, she can smile about it. And joke. Because as difficult as that all is, she lives in a world where magic can spirit her hundreds of miles in an instant and her sword can draw the blood of a woman who has fought for five thousand years. The world is full of magic; sometimes literally, and that's an exciting thing.
She grabs her overstuffed backpack and hauls it into place again. This time, she bears the weight without Mint's help. She grabs her suitcase, and she gives a final nod.
"Until next time, Panesh-san. I hope you have a good flight!"
Mint laughs, shaking her head. Points are points! She wasn't really crazy about that system as it was, but it's clear Ichika puts a lot of weight on it. "Next event's gonna be a brand new start," she notes with good cheer. Minal nods along with an easygoing grace, happy she doesn't have to keep playing the "matura adult" any longer.
"Until next time! Have a safe trip."
She almost added a blanket warning about Sunshine City not being the -safest- place. But she's happy to leave the conversation on a good note, as she nods her head in reply -- and then, as soon as comfortable, moves to the checkout desk for her turn in line.
Log created on 08:31:05 06/04/2023 by Mint, and last modified on 03:56:58 06/05/2023.