Description: After the battle against Noboru, Team Thunder rest on Mount Shasta overnight. Beneath the stars they cook soup and discuss what they have learned, what they have done, and what is yet to come.
The treetops of Mt Shasta are bathed in the gentle light of a half-moon. Every so often a breeze whistles through, stirring the boughs into motion. A perfectly tranquil night, coming on the heels of a terribly turbulent afternoon.
The trio of Team Thunder adventurers had decided to retrace their path down the mountain a little ways. They might not be at the summit as they'd planned, but with the two elder fighters waterlogged from their unexpected combat, spending the night in a crook of the mountain. Sheltered from the winds by tree cover, it made a reasonable place to pitch a fire that wouldn't blow out immediately, and still -- technically -- meets requirements. A fire has been burning for quite some time; damp clothing has been stretched out to dry.
Chevelle, in her spare set of clothing, is curled up in a blanket by the fire. It wasn't really meant to hold up for -the purpose, but it will do for now. Unsurprisingly, she's chewing on a poptart, while some soup is stewing in a cookpot.
"I... I'm starting to feel my fingers again. That's good, right?" She gives a soft, but weary, chuckle. Seated lotus-style by the fire, her knees shake every so often.
At the beginning of the journey, Ichika had been very intense about the scheduling. She didn't want to spend the night on the mountain. It was desperately important that they stick to the timing and the plan so that they could all get back safe and sound.
Now, though, the girl seems almost serene. Totally at peace with the fact that her plan has been thrown into disarray. There was simply no way she could predict almost anything that has happened today. At the beginning, just the lessons from Buck on the nature had felt like a prize. There were still little facts that she's so happy to add to her repository of knowledge. But as the sun dips below the horizon, and the sky becomes a field of beautiful stars?
Ichika's smile only broadens as she sharpens her sword. She'd used it to cut firewood without a second thought; the blade is more than just a crowbar, after all. It is a hatchet, a lever, and the finest knife she could ask for.
"A very good sign!" She agrees, cheerfully. "I think my side will be tender for a week. Ah, what I wouldn't give for a good hot spring..."
She sighs softly, "They will start climbing Mount Fuji in five days, you know. But. As amazing as that was, there were so many other people. Just the three of us and the Mountain... it makes it feel, intimate, don't you think?"
Luckily, or perhaps more from experience, Buck had packed assuming a possible overnight. Insisting on enough food and cooking equipment, as well as a tarp that could be strung up for at least some shelter.
He sits by the fire lost in his own thoughts, dressed in a spare tee and the swim trunks he had brought along just in case of a nice cool mountain spring. That frozen lake was not what he had in mind, but it works for now while his pants dry.
He chews on a piece of jerky, stubbornly, as he's still occasionally wincing from that blow to his jaw. But he's also starving. It's one problem with his ability, it always leaves him ravenous afterwards.
"So, we all know Sensei knew what we were gonna find, yeah?" He mutters the words, but he doesn't sound upset. "Least it was good trainin' but I'm gonna have to lay up for a while if I'm gonna be any good for my next match."
He stretches his feet a bit more towards the fire, glancing at them as he wiggles his toes. "No frostbite, at least."
He glances over at Ichika and nods. "This is how I like it, quiet. Tourists are annoying." He adds with a laugh.
Now that the anxiety of the fight has passed, Chevy's in a much better place to appreciate the calm serenity of the mountain. It may not be the summit itself, but it's still an awesome sight, completely removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Most of all, though... the elder teenager can appreciate the transformation of the younger. Chevy smiles, brushing forelocks of hair out of her face, as she turns to Ichika. "Yeah, I saw a brochure for a mineral spring not far from here. It might be a good stop on our way back..." (It might be, but probably not on their budget...)
She does, however, start to wonder about something Ichika says as she finishes off her poptart. "... wait, -who's- gonna be climbing Mount Fuji? Did I miss somethin'?"
Wiggling her fingers -- and pleased at the return of sensation -- she casts a glance over to Buck. "... Buck, I didn't know squat. I didn't even know about the trip till I heard you two makin' plans about it." She grins faintly, nodding to the thoughts offered by bother her companions. "... Yeah. This's good. We can just take it easy from here on out. I hope there's nothin' -else- in store."
"... Besides which, we'd been so busy with the trip an' all... I never got to mention this." She reaches over to give Buck a light clap on his shoulder. "Congratulations on bein' the one of us to -win- a fight this round, Buck." She flashes a toothy grin.
Ichika nods her head just a little to Buck. "I, have been thinking about that a great deal." She says, which can't possibly be a surprise to anyone at this point. "I don't think Sensei knew exactly what would happen. But he is an excellent judge of character. He knows people. Which means, he knew how we would react, and how Miyama-sensei would react. He, had faith in us. And in Miyama-sensei. And I think he was right to do so."
That... may be the first time that Ichika has expressed true and sincere faith in herself. Normally there is so much doubt. And on a long enough timeframe, more will creep back in. Such is the nature of being a teenager who knows enough to know her own ignorance. But for a brief time at least, around the fire with her friends, basking in the receding ache of her injuries, under stars she has seen only a handful of times in her short life, she can believe that this is where she is meant to be.
"A mineral spring would be so wonderful." She sighs whistfully, "But ah. Yes. Many people. Mount Fuji is open to the public from July to September, when it is safe. Hundreds of thousands will make the journey to the top. I went, once. It was not like this, but it was still beautiful."
And then she is grinning across the fire to Buck, "Yes! Congratulations on besting Kuroiwa-san! It didn't look easy!"
Buck nods as Ichika basically confirms his suspicions for him. "I guess he does at that. He's definitely doing his job training us though." He reaches out and rubs his feet, wincing slightly. "I don't think I've pushed myself that far before, and mixing things?" He shakes his head. "I only just figured that out."
A faint smile forms on his lips. "I hope we get back to Japan before October then. I was kind of upset I couldn't climb Fuji when we were just there. Even if it will be covered in tourists." He laughs, which quickly turns into a grimace as he sucks in breath through clenched teeth. "Uhg.. it hurts to laugh."
"Kenzo didn't make it easy." He agrees as a smile returns to his lips. There's a moment of silence as he considers how he fought the ninja. Much in the same way that Noboru fought them, taking the attacks and powering through, but the iron ninja just did it on a whole other level. "I'm just glad I could prove myself an asset to the team."
"Mm..." comments Chevy. "Yeah, I'd agree with that. Miyama-sensei..." The word lingers on the wind for a moment, as Chevy muses. -Is- he a sensei? That's one of the weird things about Japanese language she hasn't completely acclimated to, yet.
But that's for another time, she resolves, and continues. "It sounded like he knew his stuff. And he.... er." She rubs the bruise between her eyebrows tenderly. "He packs a whallop. Head's still kinda poundin'."
It doesn't take long before the redhead is smiling again. "And he did point out I was wastin' some of my energy. I kinda wonder what woulda happened if we'd just eased up and talked a bit, though..." The words might sound like a barb, but from her easygoing smile, she doesn't -mean- it to be.
"Huh. Well, if we -do- go back, I'll definitely climb it with y'all. How was it different, Ichika?"
Chevy seems more than happy to lump praise on Buck. "Heh, yeah, I wanna fight him, just to see all the stuff he's got in his bag of tricks if nothin' else. And yeah, you did great! Good enough to win us a ride in that sweet truck an' all."
Ichika nods her head, "He is." She confirms, "Not in the same sense as Sensei, but he did not fight us all out. He fought us to demonstrate his lessons. The price of knowledge was that we fought as well as we were able. If we had tried to talk, he would not have taught us anything. But if he had been trying to put us down as hard as we tried to put him down? We would not still be standing."
The rhythmic drag of whetstone over steel adds a constant background hum as Ichika gives her take on the man. She's fairly confident in her assessment, though. After he severed her connection to the world, he didn't press the attack on her. If he had, she doubted Chevy could have kept him away for long, and she certainly wouldn't have been able to defend herself. It was similar with the others; he didn't press any advantage, he gave them time to recover, to reconsider. To learn.
She looks out, away from the fire. Those bright eyes of hers brilliant in the flickering light as she considers the question, taking in what she can of the mountain and its view.
"Here, I feel like a visitor. A tourist. I am here to witness the Mountain, but... it isn't, mine. Its heart belongs to another people. I can admire it, but it isn't FOR me."
Her smile has become a little bittersweet as she looks up at the stars.
"All of the people make it hard to really, spend time, on Mount Fuji. But when we reached the summit, my family and I, it was just before dawn. We saw the first rays of light rise and touch the peak, and... ah. Here, I am accepted, but I am an outsider. There, I was embraced by my home, and just for a few moments I could see all of Japan, and it could see me, and ..."
She stops sharpening her sword. Runs her hand through her hair with an embarrassed, self-effacing little laugh.
"At the time, I felt silly for being moved so much. I thought, it is not as though the Kami are *real*, and if they were, what use would they have for a precocious child like me? But... I would very much like to return, now that I... I think, I know better. It is only a shame that it is impossible for us to have such an intimate trip."
"Well.. Kenzo got a rental, too. So I didn't need to win." Buck offers with a smile and a small laugh, then looks to Ichika. "Actually, the dealership owner's daughter is an exchange student at Taiyo. She's quite the Kenzo fangirl." He had been paying attention enough to pick up on some of the schools around Justice and seems amused by the situation. After all, his hometown only has one high school.
He shakes his head. "Places are tourist attractions for a reason. Either it's good advertisin' or else its a place that just has somethin'. No reason not to feel moved. I felt the same way the first time I climbed a mountain. And in the.." He shakes his head and doesn't finish that one.
He looks at his hand and gives his fingers a little flex then sighs. "Still worn out." His smile is still there, though, faint but present. "I heard the best way to grow strength is to push it to the limit. Maybe we should make a habit of looking for mountain hermits to battle."
Digging in his bag, he pulls out another strip of jerky as he stares at the soup pot, willing it to cook faster.
Looking back at the events of the fight, Chevy is amazed at the way her mental patterns had changed. In her fights with Tamaki and Djamila, she was able to stay conversational, even -friendly- with her opponents. Even when she was on the borderline of saying something downright -rude- to Big Buford, she managed to keep herself in check, much like at any party or social function. But the stakes changed in their recent battle with Miyama Noboru. And she changed with them.
"Mmm... yeah, that's true." She doesn't push back on anything Ichika said -- for Ichika has spent countless hours studying zen masters, and the art of the Blade. Chevelle and Buck may have the practical experience of living as young adults, but it doesn't hold up to the aggregation of centuries of meticulous study, insofar as the study of martial arts.
Here, though? Chevelle rocks back, warming her hands by the fire. It feels nice on her skin -- like Buck, she was in summer mode, and her emergency clothing was a t-shirt and a pair of running shorts. (Her boots, not far from the fire, are still soggy.) It's sobering to enjoy the fire, despite her affinity to its contrary element. But after the day's events, she's happy for it. Her stomach rumbles too. It's not as happy. But at least soup is on the way.
"I warn't ready for this one, and I definitely wanna be for the next one. So I'll be fine waitin' for at least a lil' bit." She chuckles softly.
Still... she looks over at Ichika, an amused smile on her face. "Really? After what just happened, you still think there's something that's not possible?"
Ichika repeats the word, and some of the smile leaves her. "I thought I could escape all that, here. Hmph. She should be supporting Team Blaze, though. They have the Taiyo mentor, such as she is. I suppose that's what you get when you're so... undisciplined."
It's a half-hearted jab. Even the tone of her voice makes it clear that she doesn't really have any conviction in it. In Southtown, the rivalries of the schools were something she strove to overcome constantly. She, had to. Justice High needed to set the example, prove that they had learned from the mistakes of the past, and be the shining beacon that all others looked to for the future.
Hearing that some Taiyo exchange student had wound up in this city just to root for 'the wrong team' was... well, it made a joke of the whole thing.
Then Chevy says something truly scandalous.
"B-but it's against the law!" The girl blurts, a hot blush rising on her cheeks, "The Government take it very seriously! You can't just, wander in whenever you like. It's, dangerous. And disrespectful. And, and there's probably other reasons as well, that we don't know about!"
Flustered, she looks at her sword. The cheap weapon has served her well, and despite everything she has put it through, it still gleams in the firelight. She sheathes it once again, and clears her throat. "Anyway. Ah. Whilst, I really would love to take you both up there, I doubt we'd find any fights. There certainly weren't any dangerous people around when I visited with my family."
"Well, she was more enamored of ninjas than her classmate I guess." Buck says with an easy laugh, then a grimace as he remembers the Blaze mentor. "I wonder how she got picked as a mentor anyway." It's not really meant to be a question, but even the ever optimist Buck has aome sour opinions.
"Ain't exactly like this is mountain is more my home because it's in the US. We're still a good distance from where I grew up." He stretches his arms over his head, making sure his sore muscles don't stiffen up too far, or he'll be a statue come morning.
"Don't let the organizers hear you, they might just plan a team fight on Fuji just to spite us." He barks a quick laugh. "Though I don't think any of the other teams have had quite the practice fighting as a unit as we have. First the soup kitchen, then here.." He shakes his head.
"Maybe we should be wary more of side trips."
Still holding out his hands and flexing them, he finally manages to get his nails to sharpen, just a little, and he sighs softly.
Chevy wrinkles her nose. Inter-school strife is still fresh in her mind -- high school wasn't -that- long ago. To write off an entire school is one thing. But to call them undisciplined too?
The redhead shrugs mildly, letting Buck answer before she slides in with her own take. "I think Buck's right, she was there for the ninja. There's school pride, and then there's goin' for what actually -interests- you, right?"
Ichika's disproportionate response just makes Chevy's eyes grow as wide as saucers. Not out of rage, or frustration, but... just generalized -surprise-.
She remains silent. And lets Ichika say her peace, wearing just the -biggest- grin. "Heh. You say it's agains' the law, and then you swing back around sayin' there'd be no one to throw down with us? It sounds to me like a trip to Fuji would solve both those problems."
And she does -not- expect that to go unchallenged. But that's the fun of it!
Chevy holds up her hands after that remark, laughing amiably. "Haha, just playin'! I don't got any particular interest in rilin' up the law. All I meant was, is there some kinda list we could get on? Even if there's a big waitin' list, there's gotta be -someone- with some pull who can get us in."
She looks over at Buck, getting his nails to sharpen. She flashes an inquisitive look for a moment, but... doesn't really know how to phrase the question.
"... I don't even get it though. What's so bad about Taiyo High?"
Going for what actually interest you...
That gets Ichika looking down at her own outfit. It's true that Justice High could be restrictive, even stifling at times. The demands were extreme. But so were the potential rewards. And anyway, hadn't Imawano-sensei given her the freedom to pursue what she thought was best when she proved that she had the aptitude for it? Luckily, before she can get too lost in those thoughts, Chevy needles her again, and the poor thing splutters, "Y-You shouldn't joke...!" She starts, only to pout when it becomes clear that the joke is very much on her.
"Hmph! Well... I mean, I know that there's special exceptions for the temples who tend to the Mountain, but, I don't think they usually allow visitors. Ichijo-sensei is, probably the best person we could talk to about that, really."
Not that she's in a rush to broach the subject with the Miko. It'd probably not make a very good first impression.
"... I, suppose you wouldn't know about all of the, unpleasantness." She concedes with a sigh, "We kept it quite closely under wraps so... it's probably only the school students ourselves who know. But. A few years ago now, there was, ah... an incident. Imawano-senpai was... manipulated. It's complicated to explain, but Justice High, we, ah, well. We would have taken over Japan. By force. But all of the other schools, especially Taiyo, stopped it."
It's clearly difficult for her to talk about this; even moreso as the girl quickly follows up, heated, to explain why this means she views the rest so negatively!
"But they think we're evil, and we're not! Gedo is run by a bunch of lawless thugs! Gorin are meatheads! Pacific has no roots! Seijyun are stuck in the past! And Taiyo... Taiyo... has no discipline, they put themselves first, selfishly, always! It's only Justice that has the vision we need to make the world a better place and, and that's... that's why, I'm so proud to have been selected. It would be very ungrateful of me to, to feel any other way."
Buck is just kind of staring at Ichika as she goes on her rant about the other schools. "Take over Japan?" He asks, looking utterly baffled by the whole thing. "A high school?"
He leans back, planting his hands on the ground behind him to prop himself up. "And here I though our high school football rivalries stateside were bad." He snorts softly, breaking out into his beamingest grin. "I mean, not that there's much else to do somedays."
He glances over at Chevy, trying to see what her take on that whole thing is, one brow arched quizzically.
"Well, sometimes a fight broke out at a game, but that was usually the parents. Not that I couldn't whip all their butts now." He sounds like he's joking, surely that grin of his means he is. "That expectation though." He shakes his head. "I wouldn't want it. Then again, no one really expected much of me to start with."
"Mm, yeah, we really ought to try touching base with her anyway, though, yeah?" After all, Chevelle is on record saying she'd love to train more under the reclusive miko's watch. It's true that she might not want to immediately pivot into a request for something like tickets for Mt Fuji, but just seeing how a 'normal' human approaches the subject of their martial arts training might be a refreshing change of pace.
There is a time for levity, and there is a time to just hold back on the snickering. And that time usually corresponds with 'right after asking a serious question.' Chevy is... well, -amused- by the degree into which Ichika launches into an exhaustive takedown of -each- of Southtown's best-known high schools. Beaumont's got no dog in the race, so she can keep an amused, if distant, smile as she listens. Her mouth parts as she considers a reply, but -- with Buck looking at her, the farm girl falls back into her kinder, gentler smile.
"Yeah, rivalries can be fierce, but the worst that ever happens is the goalposts at the ol' stadium gettin' torn down."
She rubs her forehead -- and then remembers that it's still a little raw. "ow."
In lieu of a more stinging barb, she offers, "But like... how old is this girl, anyway? The exchange student?" Chevy might not be great at math, but she knows Ichika can't be -that- old. "Does she even remember that takin' place? Was anyone still at Justice even -involved?-"
Ichika squirms a little uncomfortably at the implicit question from Buck. "... We ARE the Super Elite." She says, "Imawano-senpai alone is, impressive. If we weren't outnumbered four to one..."
And then, she looks even more shamefaced, because Chevy's question involves a confession. "Definitely." She confirms, "Truthfully, I don't... remember an awful lot about that period clearly, myself. It was a strange time. Passions were high. And it was before I had even thought about picking up a sword so, mostly, I remember being very excited and then being pushed into a locker by some, delinquent."
But. More important than dwelling on her embarrassing past, the girl sees an opening to bring the focus back on someone else.
"But to answer your question, Buck, all of that is probably why some students are sponsors, here. I don't approve of their styles, and I doubt we would be compatible, but Sakazaki-chan and Tokugawa-chan are doubtless, competent. After a fashion."
Then she is leaning forwards a little.
"... And you understand that I have great expectations of you, yes? Your abilities are incredible. As are Chevy's. We are getting better by the day. For now, we must focus on the path in front of us. But for all of us, I think, the Warrior's Road will not be a short one. There will come a time when we have to take the stage and do more than entertain a crowd."
"We may have abilities." Buck says, going surprisingly serious as he regards Ichika. "But if I was wacthing the fight I think I was, you landed the most direct blows. Not to mention Chev's counter attack. I got manhandled like a trout in a stream." He manages to grin. "You two carried the fight." He doesn't sound hurt or bothered by it, he's simply offering his opinion. If it bruises his ego, there's no sign of it.
"I don't think someone has thrown me around like that since I was a kid and tried pickin' a fight with Bear." He rubs the back of his neck, wincing slightly.
He puts his hand back on the ground and look up at the sky, humming to himself as he lets his thoughts filter through his mind.
"Whatever the past is, you're my teammate now so you have my support." It's as simple as that to him, and he sounds like he means it, too. "I've seen nothin' but someone who just wants to be the best she can be, even if she is a little too hard on herself."
Chevy... frowns. It's still a lot to take in, the whole idea that a 'super-elite' high school could even come within striking range of taking over Southtown, or Japan, or... the -world-. But she can see it in Ichika's determination to be the best in class. A whole -school- of kids motivated to a singular focus would be nigh unstoppable. "That's pretty scary," she comments, "for a whole city to have reason to fear your school."
Soberly, Chevy starts to rise; like Buck, sometimes she just needs a stretch. Curling the blanket about her shoulders, she glances to Buck. And grins. "Aw, you were our heavy hitter though. And truth be told we couldn't have done it without all of us working -together-. And I'm pretty sure that's what Sensei was -really- on about when he suggested this trip."
She snickers, though, at the earlier thought. Pulling the blanket snug, she turns to Ichika: "You're like... really into this school rivalry thing, huh? Would you even be talking to me if I showed up in the NFG with a Taiyo t-shirt, or Buck in Pacific colors?"
Ichika shakes her head just a little to Buck. "I was struck only twice. One more blow would have been enough to finish me off. You took much greater punishment. In terms of power... well, just think back to our fight. True, I set the pace through most of it. But if Sensei hadn't stepped in, I suspect you would ultimately have won. We are all, more or less, equal in terms of proficiency. It is just that each of us has strengths in different areas, which is what allows us to function so well as a team."
Though, Chevy just can't leave the school situation well enough alone.
The question gets a pained expression drawn across the girl's features. She doesn't like this new way of thinking about things. But she's also not blind to their differing social stations; if they WERE the same age and lived in the same town, there's no way that Chevy or Buck would be part of Justice.
"If it was for the tournament, I'd do my best." She says, slowly. "But, you have to understand, it goes both ways. If you were both at the other schools, we'd all distrust each other immediately. Maybe we could overcome it. I'd like to think so, but. If I am being honest? I... don't know. I've never had any friends at other schools."
Her eyes drop into the fire there, and she adds, a little more quietly.
"... I don't even have any friends at Justice, really. All of my friends are adults."
"I think you think I'm a better student than I was." Buck says with a chuckle to Chevy. Sure he's technically a college student right now, but who knows what his grades actually look like. "I think this is just one of those cultural things I ain't gonna get."
He leans forward, pulling his feet in to sit cross-legged. "I was in my school cause it was the only one around. Not like there's a whole lot of school pride there." His shoulders rise and fall in an easy shrug. "I guess it don't matter though. It's not a problem so why worry about it?"
He scrunches up his face and looks at Ichika, mocking looking completely offended by the words coming out of her mouth. "Who you callin' an adult? Psshh, I ain't any more mature now than when I was sixteen." He can only keep the sour expression for so long before breaking into a grin. "I think my ma calls that having an old soul. Good thing about adult friends is you get there yourself eventually." He taps the side of his head as if he just offered a great pearl of wisdom.
Chevy sees Ichika's response. And... her heart sinks. For she's always tried to be the uplifting one, the one who cheers people up, who makes things better. She'd hoped a little bit of levity would help Ichika understand her point of view a little better.
But before she can get -too- bogged down in self-reflection, Buck's there to save the day with his signature charm. And -- yes. 'Old soul.' That good ol' phrase. "Ha! Yeah, I'm still a teenager for at least... " She counts off fingers as she walks around the campfire, but makes a show of giving up on the counting. "Oh, however many months!"
Chevy traipses over to Ichika, draping a blanketed arm around Ichika's shoulder and giving her a gentle squeeze. "Yeah, face it girl, you're stuck with us now. We might not stand a chance at whatever Super-Elite tests they throw at -you-, but we're gonna be by your side no matter what, now."
Chevy smiles, breathing in the fresh mountain air. She shakes her head with the brightest smile. "I dunno. Way I see it, things are lookin' better and better from here!"
Ichika gives a soft laugh at Buck, and smiles at Chevy's antics. When the woman wraps her arm around her... she doesn't even flinch. She just leans into it. She can see that the pair are trying to reach out and make her feel better; she does have a terrible habit of falling into her own head about these things. But Buck is right. It isn't a problem that they have to deal with, why spend any time worrying about it? They have plenty of things which are actual challenges which they do need to worry about. Besides. Even if more of the rivalry had come with her than she thought, Southtown was still a long, long way away. Maybe she should try and leave those grudges at home.
"You're right, both of you." She says, "I have... I have had a lot of doubts throughout all this. It's easy for me to get hung up on my failures and not see the bigger picture."
She squeezes Chevy back, resting her head on the older woman's shoulder. "You have both helped me become so much better than I was. Maybe the others will continue to outperform me. Maybe not. But we are walking the Warrior's Road together. And, even if I lose every fight, I don't think I will ever stop walking it."
She lets her eyes drift back to the flames. The way they flicker and dance, pushing the soup towards perfection.
"I, need, this. I see that now. And I can't wait to see where this journey takes all of us. Together."
Log created on 15:55:14 06/26/2023 by Ichika, and last modified on 18:47:28 06/28/2023.