Description: Her curiosity piqued by an ancient blog post (two whole years old), Ichika finds herself filled with an urgent need to talk to the author. Trusting social media is a risk, leaving Sunshine City is a risk, and traveling so far all on her own is a risk. But the young student is determined to get the answers she seeks, and as luck would have it, Rei Hazuki is in the mood to give them. After a fashion. What level do you get Lightning Bolt at, again?
Try to imagine Ichika Kasumoto asking you to like, subscribe, and [voice drops an octave or so] find those droids and the stolen data tapes.
That is not PER SE what happens, but after her hopes of the simple solution for finding the mysterious author of a not-quite-dark-web blog post do not pan out, her (relatively sensible) plan is to crowdsource the effort, using her newly-acquired NFG popularity and social media presence to ask for whatever info she can get.
Contrary to popular belief, there truly is not a superhacker who is really into watching newbie fighters livestreamed. However, global popularity is a much more useful tool than you might think. She doesn't get any CSI-esque 'we tracked the geotag of the burner phone's IP' results or anything, but she DOES get a twitter DM from @suncityfightstan mentioning that a friend of theirs that works at a cafe in a neighboring city has been watching a regular who's been staying in the city for weeks now, and who looks... well. 'Distinctive,' in the way that professional fighters are often distinctive, and who has been coming in regularly for lunch and writing distractedly in a beaten up-looking leather journal, by hand. The friend, who is coincidentally fourth-generation Chinese-American, noted the primarily English writing occasionally threw in a smattering of Mandarin and Japanese characters, including recurring use of 'qi'.
Is it the gangbusters breakthrough Ichika would have been hoping for? Probably not. Is it a better lead than the lot of nothing she has before that? Definitely.
That brings us to now: 12:40pm on a beautiful summer Sunday in the northern hemisphere, at a cafe called the Naughty Fox, attached to a hotel in Avalon, California, a resort city on Catalina Island, accessible by routine ferries from nearby Sunshine City.
Sitting alone at a table, as reported by a friend of a fan, is a short, red-haired individual, alternating between nibbling on a sandwich and making notes and corrections in a small, leather-bound journal.
Ah. The distinctiveness of fighters.
Ironically it was something that she had been asked to work on following the absolute destruction of her beautiful kimono, and it was during the work with Lyraelle's team of fashion experts that the girl had found the blog post which started all of this. She's trying to be more active on social media - something which, frankly, as a young woman in the public eye is not something she particularly enjoys. It's better than the hours and hours of measuring, listening to people discuss every flaw (and every good aspect, to be sure, but those stick in the mind less than the critical aspects of the assessment) and when she had stumbled across the obscure blog post, it had eaten hours of her time. She'd read and re-read it over and over again. Because, yes, this makes SENSE to her. And, just like always, she wanted *more*.
Her socials were already alight thanks to the team she's working with posting teasing shots - hint of a leather jacket here, gold lightning bolt pin there. It had caused a bit of a stir when the girl had said she wanted to make a post on her account herself for once. And when that tiny, brittle lead had come through... she's faced with a dilemma. Does she stay with the others, doing what she is supposed to do, or does she go?
Of course there's only one choice.
The bus trip was painfully expensive for her. Money is always a problem. But she'd left a note explaining that she wanted to see more of America than just Sunshine City; that she would be back before the evening, and that she was going to the Naughty Fox cafe because she liked the sound of their 'fox plate'. Whatever that was supposed to be.
She had then tucked her earpods in and lost herself in the music as she reread the post on the way. Perhaps this was foolishness. Perhaps this person was completely unrelated. But she needed to take steps on her own, didn't she? If she only followed the path laid before her, the Warrior's Road she walked down would not be her own.
It's fair to say that the new outfit attracts a fair amount of attention. At least the kimono had looked classy. This? This really does make her look like she's ready to thrown down at any moment. A walking advertisement for the New Fighting Generation and, especially, Team Thunder. As much as the process of getting it had been painful, now she had it, it leant her a lot more confidence. What mugger is going to try and take advantage of her now?
Walking into the Naughty Fox, Ichika lets her eyes sweep across the room. Where is the one who looks like a fighter...? Ah, yes. There. Red hair, changshan, fingerless gloves, and most damningly - the kung fu slippers.
She steels herself, and then she approaches. And given her outfit, she sounds surprisingly respectful.
"Excuse me. I hope I am not bothering you. I have a bit of a strange question for you."
The sandwich, at close range, appears to be a chicken breast, bacon, and cheese affair, so it's looking like our mystery individual wasn't opting for the 'fox plate' either (having checked the menu, it's a disappointment regardless; are foxes even natural predators for wild pigs?). Without turning to look at the person speaking to him, the red-haired young man holds up a single finger with the hand that isn't currently writing more text in the dense little lines of the journal (his left). "One sec." He finishes a sentence with a flourish, sets his pen down, and then turns in his seat to look at this new arrival.
"Sorry, I just wanted to get that thWOW," he says, starting the sentence before he's fully turned and ending it abruptly upon being confronted with the outfit the young woman is wearing. "Alright, not gonna lie, this is not the outfit my mind conjured up when I heard your accent," Rei Hazuki says smoothly, blinking a few times as he takes in the spectacle that is Ichika for a moment.
A strange question, huh? "Well," Rei says, bringing a fingertip up to his mouth in the universal symbol for 'thinking this over'. "You're obviously a fighter and you're definitely no older than 18, so I feel like I can take some educated guesses about what you might want to ask," he says, in a simple, breezy tone, a hint of a smile playing on his face. "Besides, strange questions are the only interesting questions left in the internet age. All the boring ones are answered on Wikipedia already."
He gestures to an empty chair with one hand, and picks up his sandwich to have another bite with the other.
A faint blush rises on Ichika's cheeks at the reaction. There... was a reason she hasn't sent photos of her new look home to her parents yet. It doesn't seem to have occurred to her that if she's going to wander around in public like this, they're definitely going to wind up seeing them one way or another. Ah. The folly of youth. Nevertheless, she's bade to sit, and so she sits. Removing her earpods -
A faint, tinny: ~justice and metal! Justice and metal!~
And tucking them away as she flicks her phone from the music app over to the blog post. "I suppose there's no denying it any more." She muses, "I... actually tried to avoid that title at first. But, yes, I am a fighter." It feels good to say out loud, helps to take some of the blush back out of her cheeks. She doesn't hold back for long, though. Those bright blue eyes of hers are so damn intense as she slides the phone across the table. "Did you write this?"
And then she realises how it must look. She's stalked him, essentially. She'd been so wrapped up in the content of the text that she hadn't considered how she would explain 'I have tracked you down through my network of weirdo fans that I have because one of my mentors is impossibly gifted at social media'.
"... I apologise if this is, ah, impolite." She says, lamely. "But if you are, I ... I have to talk to you. You might UNDERSTAND."
Depending on her point of view, there may be something either fascinating or off-putting about this individual Ichika has decided to pursue. He watches her as she doffs her earbuds and settles into a seat, continuing to slowly chew his sandwich. He mentioned her not being older than 18, but Rei himself does not look all that much older than her; 20s, tops... at least, going by his facial features. A brief look in the green eyes suggests, incongruously, someone much older than that.
He is still chewing, face in an expression of guileless curiosity, as she pushes her phone forward, sandwich held in both hands. His eyes visibly flicker left to right a few times as he reads (presuming this is the original, anyway), and finally he swallows and puts the sandwich down on its plate, before gently closing the front cover of the weatherbeaten journal he'd been writing in too.
"Now, how did THAT get out in the world, I wonder," he says aloud. Is that a confirmation of Ichika's question? Or does it simply imply he knows who wrote it?
The red-haired head tilts slightly to the left, looking at Ichika's face around the vision-blocking shape of the phone (modern phones... so large). There is, briefly, a potentially disconcerting intensity in the gaze, as if he were analyzing her, sizing her up in... well, the way a fighter does another fighter.
"Wearing a punk rock leather jacket and a crop top," he says, with another trace of a smile, "but concerned that this question is impolite."
A pause, and then he sits back in his chair. "A longer time ago than you might think, but yes. I'd appreciate it if you kept that little bit of information to yourself, however," he adds, with a dash of seriousness. He takes a sip of a ice water from a glass next to his plate, and then resumes looking at Ichika with a catlike curiosity. "You must be in Sunshine for that newbie tournament," he surmises aloud. "Kind of a haul coming all the way here from the mainland on a hunch." Sip.
"So... what is it I might understand?"
Ichika's excitement is written all over her. She's tense, nervous. Wondering if she's wasting her time or, worse, making a truly awful social blunder. But the amusement from the (slightly) older man and the fact that he doesn't immediately freak out helps her to relax. She gives a soft smile of her own at the note. "Well. Ah, yes. I know the look is ... bold, but I'm a student at Justice High, not a delinquent."
Her hand raises, runs through her hair; mussing up those locks just a little bit more, which may explain some things about her hairstyle. She doesn't even seem entirely consciously aware of the fact that she's done it. She nods along at the assumption.
"I am Kasumoto Ichika. It's a pleasure to meet you, Sir." She says, dipping her head respectfully. "And of course, I won't tell anyone." What would she say, anyway? If he doesn't reciprocate the introduction, all she knows is how he looks and apparently one of his favourite places to lunch.
But the conversation turns to the reason she is here, and that has her straightening in her seat.
"This section." She says, scrolling, and then reading aloud without actually... looking at the phone. "'What is, perhaps, less understood is the relationship between the resulting manifestation of chi and the mental and emotional state of the user.' Ah. Well. I have been trying to work this out for myself ever since I first picked up my sword. Sometimes, my chi manifests without me even wanting it to. But almost from the first time I swung, I could direct my attack at distance, and I didn't understand HOW. The way I have been thinking of it, it is like..."
And here, she struggles. The gaze falters and her brow furrows, looking down at her hands. Annoyed at herself for still not having a clear way of phrasing this. "I have, dreams." She says, "To make the world a better place. To be seen and acknowledged. To wake others up from their delusions. I can, take these dreams, and ask the world to make them true, and it feels as though, the world answers. With violence. ... Ah, and this, this is what I don't understand. I, I have some video clips..."
It's so rare for her to have a conversation and not be able to navigate her own thoughts clearly, but this is a puzzle she has struggled with for a long time now. It is constantly on her mind, in one way or another. But there was so much in that essay which made it sound as though this person was an expert - and it was old! Surely, he had more insight since then...?
"Oh god," the redhead says, when he gets called 'Sir' complete with the almost certainly audible capital letter, laughing helplessly. "I am definitely not a 'Sir'. It's nice to meet you, Miss Kasumoto," he replies, face still alight with amusement, opting for formality himself, just in case. He is, after all, part Japanese himself, and a longtime resident of Southtown. The cultural norms are not lost on him. "My name is Rei Hazuki. Just Rei is fine." He fully anticipates a '-san' getting added, and thus says nothing.
She emphasizes that she's a Justice student, not a delinquent, and in perhaps the worst possible social move, Rei actually laughs out loud, a little louder than he intended, in fact; a couple people turn and look, and beneath the freckled cheeks he looks properly abashed, clearing his throat and saying, in a to-the-room tone, "Sorry about that." Looking back at Ichika, he smiles. "I worked that last bit out for myself. You don't really have that Gedo vibe," he adds, giving her a little breadcrumb about who he is and what he knows and where he's been. "For starters, you didn't demand my wallet when you first walked up to me."
And then, well... she's got a story to tell. A long-ish story, by 'talking to a stranger at a cafe in California' standards. To his credit, Rei listens with that same expression of guileless, cat-like curiosity as she talks. After all, what sort of sage doesn't enjoy hearing the dimensions of a particularly thorny problem? A bit like solving a word problem on a math exam: reading the paragraph, getting the facts, sorting what information is needed and which is just the stammering additions of nerves and anxiety.
She seems about to dig her phone back out for FightTube links when Rei brings up both hands and says, in a firm but reasonable tone, "Okay, stop. Deep breath." He very literally waits for her to, hopefully, actually TAKE said deep breath, before continuing, fingers on his left hand drumming idly on the cover of the closed leather journal. "Obviously, you want answers. But if I may, I think you should take a step back and look for the QUESTIONS." He smiles, maybe a little ruefully. "I know: irritating self-help book stuff, right? Bear with me. You want a lot of answers, but I think what's important right now is for you to articulate your question instead. After all, an answer and a question exist in a balanced dyad. The answer has no meaning without the question, and a question with no answer is incomplete, after all."
Ichika looks utterly dumbstruck by the laugh, but when the explanation comes, especially with the shot at the proclivities of Gedo students, she laughs herself. A bit more restrained, definitely, but she's grateful for it. Even dressed as she is, she doesn't come across like some sort of criminal. That's a huge relief. She does love the aesthetic, so much, but she'd be the first to admit that it does come with some... unsavoury connotations. She just can't help the way that it makes her feel; the energy and, especially, the freedom that she simply doesn't have in her own life. At least, until her life became one where she could impulsively travel for hours on the hope of meeting someone in a strange place to answer a stranger question.
She does stop when asked - but it takes her a moment to realise that he is being literal. Feeling a little foolish, she does take the breath, and then her teeth are sinking into her lower lip, gnawing. Her hand runs through her hair again. "... that is, a good point, Rei." She says quietly. And, indeed, there's no -san. She's trying to obey the social mores of America whilst she's here; she's not always successful, but the name thing is something she can do, even if it feels unconscionably rude to use a first name right away.
"I have so many questions." She admits, and as her eyes focus once more on the man's own, he may even be able to see them there. His eyes look old. Her eyes look *hungry*. Not for power, or violence, thankfully. Those appetites are all too common in the fighting circuit, even amongst its novices. But her eyes are hungry for knowledge. And every step she's taken in the Project has only added to her hunger, not diminished it in any way.
"If I have to choose only one." She says, "Then I suppose it would be... why am I like *this?*" And because that is, itself, a ridiculously broad question, she clarifies. "My teammates can control water or shape their own bodies. I understand why in both cases. I... just have blue energy. Why? If chi can be anything, why is mine so..."
She trails off. It feels disrespectful to say it. She knows that having any capacity at all is a gift she should be grateful for, but the implication is clear in the young woman's voice.
Well, she doesn't do anything by half measures, that's for certain. And while Rei is AWARE of Japanese sociocultural and conversational norms, he's not always great at FOLLOWING them, which is why Ichika finally arrives at one question and the redhead quite literally gives a whistle, the sudden up and then down sound used the world over for 'oh boy that's a LOT', among other expressions of surprise or shock.
"Geez, kiddo," he says at last, picking up the glass of water and taking a rather larger swig of it than he intended. "Could ya give me an easier one to start with, maybe?" He sounds exasperated, somewhat, but he IS still smiling, which is maybe a good sign, or at least a sign calculated to make her less likely to flip the fuck out given this response. She IS just a kid, after all, though LONG experience working with young fighters definitely prompts him to go no further with that than offhandedly calling her 'kiddo'.
He clears his throat, sets the glass down on the table, and gives a little nod, bringing a more serious expression to his face, meeting Ichika's gaze. "I'm sorry in advance, but I'm gonna keep answering questions with questions." He pauses, then grins. "That's the privilege of us mysterious mentor types. We can get away with it."
Unexpectedly, he extends his hand across the table, palm up, as if he were holding something. With a slow breath out, a little light -- nothing more than a will-o'-the-wisp -- appears in the palm of his hand. It's a shade of blue, somewhere between sky blue and cobalt. Not a perfect copy of Ichika's by any means, but it's blue energy. The redhead moves his fingers back and forth, and the little wisp changes its vaguely amorphous shape a few times, before settling back into the vague ball-like form it started in.
If and when Ichika looks up from that display, Rei's green-eyed gaze locks with hers. "So you've got blue energy. Okay. The way you said it strongly suggests you want it to be something ELSE. So... what do you want it to be?"
Ichika's blush returns full force and then some at the whistle. Strangely, being called 'kiddo' doesn't... actually get to her, the way it normally would. She's perhaps a little more self aware on that level than she would like to be. Ordinarily, she felt like she was the one leading the conversation with her teachers; she knew a lot of things about a lot of things, but in this? No. She's read everything she can find, and she's still come away more or less completely baffled. It infuriates her. Makes her feel... well, childish.
The fact that she literally is a child does not help soothe that in any way.
"I..." She starts, only to trail off as he casually creates that bright spark. Whatever she had been about to say dies on her lips as she stares. She knew other people could do that, of course. But for her it seems like such a wild thing. Her chi is only violent; she certainly can't make it dance, prettily.
"I, don't know." She admits, weakly. "I've thought of many things. Lightning would be fast and help cover distance more swiftly than I am currently able. Fire is, impressive. Moore-san." Okay so when someone isn't in the room with her it feels weirder. "Uses his to control space with infernos. Ice could slow people down so I can close more easily with my sword. All of these things would be tactically very useful. But it doesn't matter what I try, my energy just... remains, blue."
Poor kid. She lists off all of the things that come to mind when he asks the question, and the answer is, very genuinely, exactly what he expected. Which is good; it means, in his eyes, that perhaps he can help her, just a little bit. At the very least, his reaction to her litany of potential options -- fire, lightning, a bunch of things -- is a sort of peacefully knowing nod. So, at the very least, she shouldn't feel like Rei secretly thinks she said something stupid.
"Well... okay. All of those," he says as he brings his hand back to his side of the table, tiny blue wisp disappearing in the process, "are reasonable things. But, and I hope you'll forgive me for saying so, none of those are actual answers to the question I asked."
Rei clears his throat, and realizes that he's about to make a much flashier demonstration than he would like to do with someone he's only barely just met, until some corner of his brain says 'there's video online of you literally fighting Ryu, why be coy?' and he relents. He throws a few American bills down on the table with a rueful smile at a nearby waiter (who is probably used to this by now), slips the journal into a pocket, and stands up. "Okay. Come with me."
He starts walking for the door, and the open cobblestone area outside the cafe overlooking the marina, without bothering to look back to see if Ichika is following him. Again, the privilege of the mystery mentor type asserting itself. "I mean, I believe you when you say those are attractive options. But that's all they were: options. I honestly didn't hear any conviction behind them that says 'yeah, I want THIS'."
When they're both outside, Rei stretches -- a very typical arch stretch, fingers linked as he pushes his hands up over his head -- and only THEN turns to Ichika. "Consider the things you mentioned. Fire?" He holds his arm and hand out again, and a bloom of scarlet flame flashes into being in his palm. "Lightning?" With his other hand, Rei 'pulls' at the fire, almost like someone pulling taffy, and the flame elongates, thins, becomes a snake of violet lightning instead. "Ice, even." Another gesture, and the lightning coils in on itself and then scatters into glittering motes of frost dancing over his palm. "It's like I said in that thing you read. Chi is just... stuff. It can BE anything, really, if you give it a little nudge. But... hmm. Okay. Let me try a different question."
He brings his hands back together. "Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons?" Rei, what the fuck? "Starting with 3rd edition, though frankly I think that's a game older than YOU might be."
How in the HELL is this relevant?
Ichika opens her mouth to object - they ARE answers! - but he clears his throat and that is enough to silence her for a moment. She follows, of course, but she's lost in silent recrimination. Had she misunderstood the question? How else could she possibly read it? The deep frown etched on the girl's face betrays her. A poker player, Ichika is not. There are so few things in this world, academically at least, that she didn't grasp - if not in their totality, then at least enough to know what she doesn't know. Chi has not been like that. And it pains her.
When he explains that it is a lack of conviction, the girl's expression returns to a more neutral state at least, and then... open wonder. The demonstration definitely has a dramatic effect. Shifting one form to another; that's concrete evidence that the theory described in the blog post was right. Chi really could be anything. So why, then, did it take one shape for her and another for someone else? It has to be in the emotional and mental state, doesn't it? Or...
And then the question.
"... Dungeons and Dragons?" She repeats, utterly uncomprehending. "You mean, the dice game? By Gygax-san?" Her bafflement is utterly clear; her jaw literally drops for a second before she catches herself, closes it, and shakes her head, "N-no, no I... I am *aware* of it, vaguely, but only from its importance as a literary piece in the development of wargaming, I... I've never had time for such frivolous things."
Yes, this girl dressed like a punk rocker out for a samurai showdown definitely has no time in her life for anything frivolous. Rei has, however, managed to do something almost impossible.
He's completely derailed her train of thought away from chi - the subject that fascinates her most in this world right now - to, tabletop roleplaying games? What? What even is this?!
Thankfully Rei is not SO self-absorbed that he is not aware he just asked a young Japanese schoolgirl, in 2023, who came to him to learn about the maniuplation of life energy, something that amounts to what is probably an insane-sounding question. He smiles a little at her from-Wikipedia answer, with a note of sheepishness to it, and clears his throat. "That's... almost scientifically correct," Rei responds carefully. "Just a note that Gygax was a JERK in real life and I would definitely not oversell its important in the history of tabletop gaming." A pause, a clearing of the throat. "ANYHOW."
Rei walks over a few feet to the edge of a fountain and has a seat on the outer ledge/lip, where there is plenty of space to do so. "I know that question sounded insane. You're going to have to trust me for a bit."
"D&D is a game with magic in it. And there's all sorts of magic in that game. There's divine magic that priests come to through prayer to gods that actually exist and grant favors, for example. And if you think about it, to the AVERAGE person," and here he gestures to a handful of tourists off to the side, who are still gawping at him after that lightshow, "chi might as well be magic. Making fire out of thin air? A human being leaping 10 feet straight up or shrugging off a bullet wound in a matter of hours, instead of weeks? No wonder normies are cagey about folks like us."
Reaching up, the redhead briefly rubs the back of his neck with one hand. "Anyhow. This is about two types of characters in D&D: wizards, and sorcerers." He looks at Ichika, holding out both hands palm up, as if weighing something on scales. "Wizards use magic like it's science. They study it, make formulas, patterns, recipes. In terms of game stats, wizards use magic via their Intelligence."
One hand lowers, the other comes up. "Sorcerers, on the other hand, don't. Their big stat is Charisma, and in D&D, 'Charisma' is really about how forceful and directed your personality, your sense of self, is. Sorcerers need to have high Charisma, because they do magic through sheer force of will alone."
He puts down his hands, and looks at Ichika carefully, a more serious expression on his face. "Now imagine you're a sorcerer. You want to attack a goblin that's about to kill your friend. You gather up the magic inside you, and you throw your arms out..." He mimics the action, in a goofy, LARP-y way, "...and then go, 'well, fire would be nice. Oh, or maybe lightning? No, no, ice!'."
A pause, and he brings his arms back, and gives Ichika a little grin. "I know that sounds like I'm making fun of you, but I'm trying to get a point across. You know?"
If Rei hadn't demonstrated such an incredible aptitude for changing the elemental forms, it is likely that Ichika may just have walked away as he talked. But, he had. And he'd written that essay, which explained things with such clarity on so many levels. He's earned his right to confuse her further with his metaphor. She remains carefully composed, though; the girl's expression moving to smooth blankness as she makes a conscious effort to stop showing every last piece of her puzzlement on her face.
"... certainty." She says, at last, nodding her head slowly. She sucks in a deep breath, and exhales it slowly. "Fighting is... it is a balance. Your body's energy. Its, resilience, and your fighting spirit. Those three things are linked. I understood THAT very quickly. It's all about, marshalling your resources. Assigning them in the proper, shape, to overcome your adversary."
She pauses, thinking things through. "So, I have been... a sorceror, because my dreams, respond to what I need. And that is why I can't control the shape. I shout out 'give me power!' and this is the shape that my, magic, takes. If I want to have more, control, then I need to become... a wizard..."
She is at least trying to follow it, more or less, and the blank impassivity has given way to more earnest thoughtfulness by the time the explanation and her thoughts on it are verbalised. She's glad she stayed; it was hard to see the relevance at first, but it DOES feel as though understanding is closer.
Oh dear. Well, this is the challenge of teaching: you cannot simply put it in their heads. You have to give them the tools, and let them build the house. Sometimes, the house gets finished, and they shut the door, and it instantly falls over like a house of cards. That is just how the learning process works.
"Well... not exactly," Rei says, as patiently as possible, watching Ichika carefully. "I asked you what you WANTED your chi to be like, when you manifest it, because knowing what you want is the start of doing ANYTHING succesfully in life." He stands up, stretching his arms again, and takes a few steps so that he's squaring off with Ichika... a gesture that would from any other person probably seem very threatening, but there truly is very little indication Rei is suddenly going to leap at this young woman fangs proverbially bared.
"It IS true that I think your chi shows up the way it does now, because you are operating on instinct, but I think you're under the misapprehension that operating on instinct is somehow BAD." He rolls his head on his neck a little, and then gets into a fighting stance. If she's the type to recognize them, it's a very loose, 'soft' kung fu stance -- probably something like Tai Chi or Wing Chun.
"Hit me with your best shot, Miss Kasumoto. Let me see how you do it firsthand." A brief smile follows, somewhat sardonically twisted up at the corner of his mouth. The guy does NOT look like he is built to take hits in any meaningful way. "I can take whatever you dish out, I promise."
Ichika purses her lips thoughtfully. "You're right." She concedes, "I hadn't really, examined that. But you're right. I DO think that acting on instinct is bad compared to acting with intention." Her mind drift back to her last two fights; in both of them, her chi had exploded out to protect her, she had tried to redirect it into offense, compromised her own defense, and failed as a result. Hrm. "That... that is, an interesting premise." Just trust her own instincts? The idea seems preposterous. But Ichika is anything but stupid. Now that the underlaying assumption she'd been missing is laid bare, it is easy to look back at her previous fights and see the pattern.
Nevertheless, he is squaring up to her, and she does indeed recognise some aspects of the style. Enough for her curiosity to very much be piqued. "I've not fought anyone with a great deal of formal training before, other than my mentor." She says, smiling. "Ah... well. Thank you, Rei. I can't pass up an opportunity like this!"
Oh yeah. Those tourists are definitely breaking out their phones now. Forget her parents finding out about this outfit; the whole dang team is going to find out what she really snuck away to do. But. That's a problem for another time.
Her hand curls around the hilt of her sword and she takes a long, slow breath. "This is... the first thing I learned to do, with chi." She says, softly. "The easiest..."
And then the blade is flashing out - one smooth motion, and to most of the gathered crowd, it just looks like the light catches the steel at first.
No doubt Rei can sense it though. The girl's chi pulls across the steel and is then unleashed from the tip; a small spark of it no bigger than a golfball streaking towards her mysterious teacher, aiming to catch him right between the eyes if he isn't careful!
COMBATSYS: Ichika has started a fight here.
COMBATSYS: Frei has joined the fight here.
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////////////////////////////]
Frei 0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0 Ichika
COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Ichika's Brilliant Spark.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////////////////////////// ]
Frei 0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0 Ichika
Sometimes the only way to learn is to do it. Actually, in almost EVERY case, eventually the only way to learn literally is to do it. So, Rei invites her to do just that. While schoolgirls are an unknown quantity when it comes to fighting power -- especially in Southtown, where their abilities range from 'talented normie' to 'tactical nuclear seifuku' -- he really IS confident that Ichika isn't going to be likely to hurt him very severely with whatever she tries.
The blade comes out, the motion happens, and a little blue sphere streaks across the distance between the two fighters. Rei's green eyes never leave the young fighter's form, even as the attack comes streaking at him, and when it would get close to his face, he reaches up, palm out, and effectively 'catches' the orb, which splashes against his outstretched hand in a little burst. An impact, certainly, but his defenses are up to the task of shunting the force aside.
Weirdly, before he starts speaking again, the red-haired xian is looking... at her hair.
"Huh," he mutters. "Weird."
A pause, a clearing of the throat. "Okay. Good. Textbook, really. Now, do it again, but this time... explain everything you're doing. Even your state of mind. What you're thinking. Why you're doing it. A running narrative."
He drops back into ready stance, again. This is a challenge he's laid before her, though perhaps not one that many might recognize.
COMBATSYS: Frei takes no action.
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Frei 0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0 Ichika
Ichika huffs faintly, self-conscious, and runs her hand back through those messy locks. It isn't exactly the response that she'd expected. But watching the way the man had so easily snatched her spark out of the air, she can't help but feel impressed. The gap between them is obvious to her, even in so swift a 'clash' as that. Certainly none of her peers in the Project would be able to respond so smoothly to the attack.
"O-okay. I will try."
She resheathes the sword, steadies herself, and focuses. "I grasp the hilt of my sword." She says, "Right now I am thinking 'I want to strike this Master'." It's, maybe a little embarrassing to use that term, but she's trying to be precise - and that's exactly how she is thinking of this strange green-eyed man who has put so many mysteries into such strange, but illuminating, words.
"I draw my sword."
And she does - she needs to do it fast! And again, the burst of light, this time... more sluggish though, more erratic in its path as she says:
Because she DOES strike but, talking about it, thinking through the steps, rather than just doing them? It's throwing her off.
COMBATSYS: Frei just-defends Ichika's Brilliant Spark!
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Frei 0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0 Ichika
Another blue orb, and this time Rei's defense is a little more tricksy, perhaps enabled somewhat by the awkwardness of Ichika's strike. Rather than catch the ball in his palm, the redhead reaches out, pushing his index and middle fingers 'into' the sphere, which effectively... unravels, turning into blue and white threads that spiral off and dissipate like mist.
Turning to Ichika, Rei puts on the gentlest expression he can think of, because, well... he set her up to fail, as it were, and that's usually the worst feeling in the world, for a student. You can't just leave them hanging afterward. "That probably felt extremely bad, didn't it?" he asks, giving a sheepish grin. "A bit like trying to walk but controlling all your individual muscles at the same time, right? It feels bad and awkward because what I just asked you to do, is extremely against your nature," he finishes, inclining his head toward the young woman. "When you simply trusted yourself and your instinct, everything clicked into place, right?"
And then, in a probably quite unexpected move, Rei says nothing more than "Think fast!" and ducks in toward the young girl with a palm strike to her stomach, his hand wreathed in red-gold flame, warm to the touch. He's pulled his punch, proverbially; striking at a speed she should more than be able to handle. But it's definitely unexpected.
COMBATSYS: Ichika blocks Frei's Weakened Quick Punch.
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Frei 0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0 Ichika
Ichika's eyes widen considerably when Frei defeats her attack like that. The expression of wonder on her face is something else. Being set up to fail? Maybe. But to see her attack dismantled in such a beautiful way is genuinely affecting; she hadn't even known that such a thing were possible. She has, a lot to learn. Very clearly. And far from being disheartened by it, the girl grins from ear to ear. So much to learn! And all of it so much more difficult than anything she's tried to learn before!
She loves it.
"It felt, awful." She agrees, nodding her head as she resheathes her blade. "I, hm. I th--"
The blade comes out again, but it is (thankfully) the horizontal flat of it that meets Rei's palm. The metal reverberates between her fingers, one of her hands braced against the bottom, the other holding the hilt firmly in place. A look of genuine astonishment crosses the girl's features, and then she gives a delighted laugh.
"Amazing! I, think I see what you are driving at. Ah. You know, some Samurai spoke very highly of the 'no mind state'. I, don't like Samurai very much, but, I think, perhaps... perhaps this is something I need to..." What does she need to do? *Think* about how not to think? "... investigate." Is the word she settles on. It isn't much better.
Samurai, zanshin... for a moment, Rei thinks of his mother and her early-life lessons for him, and suddenly wonders if she should introduce this girl to Aya. Maybe not; Aya seems pretty happy living her life away from professional fighting now, and more power to her.
Pulling his hand back from the sudden punch at the young swordswoman, the redhead smiles at her wolfish-seeming grin, falling back into stance himself. "You'll notice, on the defensive, you didn't hesitate or overthink it, either. Your body knew what to do all on its own. Even your aura -- your natural defense against chi -- 'turned on' all on its own."
He hops on his feet in place for a second, and then drops out of fighting stance, wiping a hand across his brow. Hopefully, a little practical drove the lesson home a bit better. "I'm sorry if the wizard/sorcerer thing misled you. The most important thing in the world when it comes to harnessing and using your energy is flow. It's not that 'being a wizard' would be better, because like you just saw--" And here, he makes some motions similar to Ichika's when she threw her sword-based projectile; notably, his fake grip is surprisingly very on point for a Japanese swordsman's, as if he knows a bit of that himself, "--acting with TOO MUCH intention can hobble you. When I say that hoping your chi would be fire, or lightning, instead of what it is, is answering the wrong question, that's what I mean. When you use chi when you fight, you're... becoming a conduit, basically. Like... like an electrical circuit. You're a medium for something to move and flow through."
He smiles, putting his hands behind his back. "Don't take this the wrong way, but it's clear that you're very new at this. Someday, your chi might become lightning, or fire. Or it could stay bright blue energy. It all depends on how you develop. Just, you know, don't think too hard. Sometimes doing what comes naturally is the most important thing."
COMBATSYS: Frei has left the fight here.
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Ichika sheathes the sword again, and this time, she thinks that it is likely to stay sheathed. As much as she would like to challenge Rei... it would be a selfish thing; she certainly couldn't teach him anything, and in all honesty, if he came at her with everything he had, she would only learn what it is like to be bludgeoned into unconsciousness by his particular style. Nevertheless, she smiles, and she bows - low and respectful in a way that the more rebellious aspects of her outfit make look... perhaps a little silly.
"I'm not offended at all." She says, honestly. "This is week... ten, since I picked up a weapon for the first time and thought that I could use it. It is unreasonable of me to grow so frustrated at myself that I don't grasp everything right away, but..."
She hesitates for just a moment - and then she strikes again; not with her weapon of course, but with her words. "Your explanation truly was excellent. I didn't understand the relevance of the metaphor at first, but I think I begin to see it now. I will probably be thinking on that for a long time because... I can't, turn my brain off." A self-effacing little laugh. Really a kind of feint, and then:
"I hope you will let me show you where it develops from here. I don't, have, very much money, and I can't promise a very interesting fight as I am now, but, perhaps, in a year, or two, we could meet again and I could share what I have learned? If you would be willing to let me trade contact details with you?"
COMBATSYS: Ichika has ended the fight here.
'I can't turn my brain off.' At that, the red-haired xian gives a very genuine and unexpected laugh. "You and me both, lady," he says with a conspiratorial grin. Internally, though, he's very reflective. The SYFI center back in Southtown... he helped get it off the ground, but the truth is, once it was functioning, he all but left. It dawned on him that it was, despite the genuine positives it offers to the community, an attempt on his part to make a past that is gone come to life again when that's no longer a possibility.
It's been a long time since Rei did anything like teaching a young fighter about the ins and outs of... well, basically anything. And despite himself, he finds himself feeling pleased that, on this particular day, this unknown young lady got on a ferry to an island she'd never been to, to find a stranger and ask for his help, based on a blog post that Rei frankly barely remembers writing, let alone putting into the world.
"Let me see your phone," he says, extending a hand to Ichika. If she provides it, he puts his name and number in her contacts, before handing it back to her. An act of strange trust in the eyes of the Americans around them, but perfectly familiar to two Japanese people. "I can't promise I'm available day or night or anything like that," he says, scratching his forehead idly in an embarassed gesture. "But now, at least, if you have a need, you know a way to find me. Or how to start finding me, at any rate."
With a satisfied nod, he gives a little wave and gets ready to leave. Where? Who knows. They're on an island in the Pacific off the California coast, after all. Why was he even here in the first place?! "Nice to meet you, Miss Kasumoto. Good luck out there."
And just like that, he slips into the tourist crowd, and is gone.
Log created on 23:39:13 06/17/2023 by Ichika, and last modified on 07:08:12 06/18/2023.