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Cosmos Quest (Naruto/Lupin III)

Discussion in 'Quest Archive' started by FurikoMaru, Mar 3, 2013.

  1. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    The first thing that catches your attention is the noise.

    Specifically, it exists (again? There was noise before, you definitely remember that), and there’s a lot of it; would someone go check on that baby? Sounds like someone’s beating it with a cat. You seem to be contributing to the din, but you can’t quite figure out which voice is yours.

    Until you realize you’re being held easily in someone’s giant arms.

    ... what?! No, seriously, what the hell is going on?

    “Congratulations, Yamanaka-san; it’s a girl. And with an exceptionally-strong set of lungs. You have the loudest baby I’ve ever heard.”

    There is a moment of hysterical laughter before a tired, mildly frazzled voice says, “Oh, marvelous.”

    The giant passes you to another giant, and you briefly wonder why your eyes aren’t working properly (lights, lights everywhere!) before being enveloped in softwarmlovegoodsmell.

    ... Mom?

    “I told you she was a girl, ” the giant-who-is-probably-your-mother (but no way, how is that even possible?) smugly informs someone. “That you did, ” a new voice answers. You think you like it; it sounds sort of... grounded. Sensible, but not in a boring way. It reminds you of someone.

    “Isn’t she beautiful, darling?” Warm fingertips stroke your sparse hair. “Welcome to the world, my Ino.”

    What?! You’re seriously naming me Pig? You try to protest, but all that emerges from your mouth is louder wailing.

    Your last thought before you tire yourself out and go to sleep is a succinct, but honest, ... crap.

    Former Identity: Arsène Lupin III

    Current Identity: Yamanaka Ino

    Gender: Female

    Age: Six Months Old

    Class: Freight.

    Alignment: Chaotic Baby

    Birthday: September 23rd

    Intelligence: 4.5/5
    Strength: 0/5
    Speed: 1/5
    Stamina: 0.5/5
    Taijutsu: 0/5
    Ninjutsu: 0/5
    Genjutsu: 0/5
    Handseals: 0/5

    Contortionist – You’re double jointed everywhere you have joints. You can fold in ways too gross to be politely discussed. Any space where you could conceivably fit something your size, you can squeeze into.

    Exit Stage Left – You are an escape and evasion savant. No matter how many times your mother checks the child-safety lock on your playpen, you will always be able to get out whenever you want to.

    Pervert! – At such a young age this perk is dormant save for curiosity about sexual biology and a fondness for pretty nee-chans and nii-chans. At puberty it can become something of a liability, but if you survive to chuuninhood it can give you up to a .5 increase in your speciality. Those of us in the business call it the Kishimoto Bonus. (Note: Clearly A Joke Perk. Don't expect me to write any sex scenes or even particularly detailed musings. Think Kakashi-level perversion; no Miroku-style groping, even if for some reason all of you vote for it.)

    You Cannot Comprehend My (Mind’s) True Form – Your mind is a complete mystery to everyone but you. Your father has given up on ever trying to do traditional Yamanaka parent-baby psychic bonding rituals because every thought you have is coated in a thick fog of loud noises, bright lights and bizarre imagery that make your head unnavigable. You essentially have naturally-occurring S-rank thought-concealment. You are, however, still incapable of throwing off genjutsu; you’ll have to learn kai just like everyone else.

    Sense of Aesthetics – Beauty matters to you far more than to most people, giving you a keen eye for detail. Unfortunately, if something or someone particularly beautiful comes along, you can be easily distracted.

    Sensor – You’ve inherited the family sensing abilities. Your range is currently limited to people and things you're actually touching, barring chakra sources you’d have to be blind to miss, like the Kyuubi.
     
  2. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    Six Months Old

    You’re beginning to wonder if this whole ‘having a family’ thing is really going to work out.

    Every day, you call for your mother to come pick you up, and she always takes way too long to get there. And she always seems annoyed that you called her! It’s morning and you want to get moving and do stuff, is that a crime?

    “Ino, sweetheart, when are you going to sleep through the night?”

    Five-thirty am is still the morning! Don’t try to tell me it isn’t, Dad goes to work at this time every day!

    When you finally get rescued from the crib, she then takes you downstairs and straps you into the next torture device, the high chair. The straps are really itchy on your shoulders, and the chair itself is just not comfortable. And then she wonders why you’re so squirmy while you eat. How are you supposed to enjoy your meal under these conditions?

    And then, to add insult to injury, the very next place you’re put is a playpen in the shop, behind the counter.

    Yeah. Another cage. Does she think you’re a zoo animal, or something? You wanna be with Mom! You don’t care if she’s in the same room, she’s paying attention to other people – strangers! – not you. At the very least she could introduce you!

    Finally, one day, she does.

    “Ino, this is Shikamaru. Say hello, Ino.”

    Hey, it’s a kid your age. Wow, you don’t see many of those in the shop. You wave at him like you do to Dad when he leaves for work. The kid doesn’t wave back. He seems kinda zonked out on his mom’s shoulder, to be honest.

    “Shika, ” his mother says sternly, “say hello to Ino-chan.” Ooh, she’s pretty! you notice. Your mom is pretty too, but this new mom is a different kind of pretty; a sharper kind.

    Shikamaru... moves his hand? It’s kind of a wave, you suppose. Amused, you mimic his slo-mo hand jiggle and laugh. He blinks, and for a moment he actually looks awake. But then the moment passes, and he’s back to his droopy-eyed self.

    “I swear, Takae-san, sometimes I wonder if I’m going crazy. When he’s alone with Shikaku and me he waves at us whenever we leave the room and waves whenever we come back, and stands up while holding onto the table, and understands his name when we talk about him, and all these things, but in public it’s as though he’s behind the curve instead of ahead.”

    “Perhaps he’s just shy, Yoshino-san; I’m sure he’ll outgrow it.”

    You wait until they’re across the room and get to work on your project for the day. You’ve had enough of this being-away-from-the-action shit. Shaking out your right pant-leg, you grab your special-spoon and start slicing away at the mesh wall furthest from the chatting ladies.

    Your mom never lets you around knives, despite your dad’s protests that you have to learn how not to stab yourself sometime. However, she has been careless enough to let you have access to spoons, once you proved you could use one without throwing your food all over her in delight.

    All in all, you’re impressed with yourself for only doing that twice.

    You spare a glance for Shikamaru; he’s obviously watching you with a certain amount of interest, but he doesn’t look like he wants to help out or call for his mom. Satisfied with this, you turn back to your work.

    It isn’t long, a mere matter of seconds, before the hole is large enough to go through. Jubilant, you do so. It’s a bit of a squeeze, but it only lasts half a sec and then you’re out. Animal crackers and Mom-snuggles, here you come.

    Shikamaru sits up in surprise. Slowly, he gets to his feet, and toddles unsteadily over to the hole, peeking through it at you.

    If you could, you would whistle appreciatively. You’re walking already? Lucky!

    You’ve decided. When you do something cool, mom rewards you with animal crackers. Walking is pretty cool, not to mention hard, so when you get the animal cracker box down from the counter, Shika’s gonna get half of them.

    You pull open the bottom drawer in the counter as far as it’ll go, then get the next one above it slightly less open. In moments you’ve made a makeshift staircase.

    The climb is a little tedious, way worse than the steps from the kitchen to upstairs. But soon it’s over.

    You sit down on the counter for a moment and enjoy the view. There’s a lot to enjoy; now that you’re closer to the height the displays are meant for, you see that what you thought of from below as a mass of green is actually a riot of every colour in the spectrum. Lilies, carnations, roses, lotuses, and those pretty, wistful cosmos flowers all smile up at you in their floral splendour. It’s a very peaceful feeling, taking all of that in. You sigh contentedly.

    Seeing new things is the very best.

    Mom and Shikamaru’s mom are still talking in the corner over tea; Shikamaru isn’t standing up anymore, but he’s still watching you. You smirk down at him, and give him another not-wave. Once the box of treats is in your hand, you climb carefully back down, and land with an oomph! on your bum. Undaunted, you open the box and reach in for a victory cracker. Ahh, monkey. Your favourite. Munching happily, you reach back into the box, dig around for another monkey-shaped cracker, and hold it up to the hole.

    Somehow this shakes Shikamaru out of his reverie; apparently he understands sharing food, even if he doesn’t get why you did everything else. Hey, he can smile, who knew? As he grasps the cracker, your fingers touch.

    Closeclosecloseyoungmaleenemyenemyenemy... enemy?

    No, neutral.

    ... no! Friend! you insist weakly.

    Hey, your moms came over to see you guys! Apparently when that weird wave of information hit you cried aloud.

    Both the adults seem to be confounded by the idea that you aren’t right where they left you, but neither of them look worried, so you suppose you’re fine.

    Shikamaru looks so shocked, still holding his cracker, that you burst out laughing. That snaps him out of it; he pouts, and manages to get a good bite out of his snack before his mom takes it away. Good for him.

    “I’m ever so sorry, Yoshino-san, but I’m afraid we’ll have to cut our visit short today.”

    Shikamaru’s mom makes a sympathetic noise. “Of course. We’ll come back another day.” She scoops up her son and gathers her things. “Let me know if you need the address of a shop that sells seal-locked playpens, ” she says as she heads out the door. “Shika’s broken so many we upgraded last week.”

    “Thank you, Yoshino-san; that would be much appreciated.”

    ... you know, you think furiously, you’re a really troublesome guy, Shika-chan.

    When Dad comes home, Mom intercepts him before storytime.

    “Darling, I think Ino might be ready for daycare.”

    “What did she do?” he asks, amused.

    “She smuggled a spoon out of the kitchen, sharpened it to an edge somehow, carried it into the playpen, cut a hole in the mesh the size of her head, somehow got through it, pulled all of the drawers open, climbed up them to the counter, got the box of animal crackers, climbed back down, and proceeded to share the crackers with Shikamaru through the hole she'd cut.”

    “... so what you’re saying is, you’re ready for daycare.” D:
    —-
    So~ It's about a week after the events of the last post. Your mom has to run an errand and has left you with some genin. You're currently in your shiny new fuuinjutsu'd playpen.
    [X] Escape! Duh! By The Power Of Special-Spoon! (Where do you go?)
    [X] Waaaaait a second... there's some kind of energy coursing through this cage. Might wanna take a look at that, it's interesting.
    [X] Take a nap. The one time your mom isn't there to take advantage of it by getting time to herself.
    [X] Write-In
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
  3. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Waaaaait a second... there's some kind of energy coursing through this cage. Might wanna take a look at that, it's interesting.

    Hmm. It seems to be all around you, so it's difficult to get an idea of the source. You lay a hand on the playpen wall, and start moving it around. Somehow you know what you're feeling for; it's not quite a heat, it's more like a... a pressure, or a fullness. It's kind of like how, when you hug mom, you can half-hear-half-feel the blood pumping through her neck.

    After a few moments, you figure out that there has to be something on one specific side of the cage - the feeling-sound gets louder and thicker the closer you get to it. Poking at that wall, you eventually find a spot where all the energy seems to twist together in a knot before stretching back out into the rest of the playpen.

    [X] Untie the knot
    [X] Examine the knot further
    [X] Fake hunger/need for a diaper-change/injury and make the stupid genin unlock this thing. It's not like they're mom, how're they supposed to know you're faking?
    [X] Write-In
     
  4. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Examine the knot further

    Sucking on your tongue in concentration, you poke the knot with your left index finger.

    mmmmmmnnn

    ...!

    Little Sprout Containment Unit

    Biolock

    Submit sample

    Processing...

    Incorrect. Resubmit or consult admin. You have one attempt remaining before contents become unavailable.

    ... what the hell does that mean, contents become unavailable? Oh. You're the content of the cage, aren't you?

    Wait, did Mom set you up to be disintegrated?!

    In retrospect, maybe you shouldn't have thrown that food at her those times.

    All right, all right, calm down, think about the rest of it. Biolock. Bio has to do with life, right? Of course it does, it's right there in the kanji. And a lock is obvious. So the lock opens when stuff to prove you're alive goes in it. Now, what proves you're alive?

    Blood. Sweat. And maybe... chakra? You're not really clear on what chakra is - you used to think it had something to do with meditation and traditional medicine, but the way you hear other people talk about it, it sounds more like...

    You facepalm. If anyone were looking (the genin are currently arguing about whether it's ethical to drink the pop that's in the kitchen fridge and seem to have forgotten you're in the room), they'd d'aww. Of course. That's what this energy is. That's what the knot's made of.

    You wonder if that means the cage is alive. What a creepy thought! You could be in its stomach right now.

    Hmm. Maybe if it's made of chakra, it needs chakra to open? But you don't know how to show the stupid thing your chakra! Argh, this sucks!

    Okay. It said whatever you did before was incorrect. What did you do? You touched it. You felt its... chakra, you guess, okay. What did the chakra feel like?

    Pressure. So maybe if you press harder, you'll push out some chakra and the lock will open.

    But! It also said you get one more chance, so it can't be just any chakra, if everyone has chakra.

    Maybe it's only chakra belonging to your parents?

    ... god, y'know, going by how much mom seems to like knowing where you are at all times, maybe only her super-special momkra can open the thing. You smile despite yourself. It's touching, the way she worries about you.

    The genin have left the room, probably to get that pop. You estimate their return time as somewhere between 2 seconds if the curly-haired one realizes she forgot about you (she's got 'the responsible type' written all over her) and a full minute if 1) she doesn't realize, 2) they go for the cola at the back of the fridge instead of the ramune on the bottom shelf (you know you would), and 3) they all have a glass instead of just the redhead who said he was thirsty. You might stretch that to two minutes if someone drops a glass and they have to clean up, but let's not hope for miracles, here.

    Whatever. It's go time. Fortunately, you work fast. How do you want to unlock it?

    [X] You're pretty sure mom wouldn't actually disintegrate you. You two love each other, right? If you input the wrong information again, you'll probably just be 'stuck in here' (*snicker*) until she gets home, which wouldn't be any change from before. Touch the knot again.
    [X] Apply pressure?
    [X] See if you can somehow ask the knot questions. Hey, it's alive, right?
    [X] Write-In. Maybe someone with actual computer-fuckery experience can come up with something good.
     
    Tranquil Zebra, ijnt and assana73 like this.
  5. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Computer-fuckery: Hmm, the seal seems to contain 3 main pieces: the Cage, that holds you in. The Lock, which controls the Cage. And the Governor, the 'intelligence' of the seal that controls the User interface and the Lock. There may be more, sneakier pieces (alarms, telltales and the like) hidden in the array because Ninja. But you think that if you can put a small spike between the Lock and the Governor you can tell the Lock to open the Cage, whilst leaving the Governor thinking that it's still locked.

    Right. Thiiiiis is gonna be tricky.

    Pressing your ear against the playpen wall, you analyse the points at which the flow rejoins the knot.

    Huh. Iiiiiiinteresting; seems it's not so much a knot as it is a junction. The veins of energy come together, wrap around each other without actually constricting each other, and continue out the other side. There aren't four arteries making up the knot; there are two.

    So maybe... what's needed here isn't pressure, but ease. A silence to be filled by the vibration.

    Very, very gingerly, as quick as you can, you place all four fingers of your left hand on each of the entry and exit points, and without moving your arm, move ever so slightly back in yourself.

    Arararara, too much, too much, you think, panicking as the energy enters you; it kind of hurts, the way the booster shot you had two weeks ago hurt, and you think your hand's about to go numb.

    You focus the pressure at your wrist, damming the foreign flow into the receiving-fingers and back out into the cage-circuit. It takes a second to take effect, but the pain evaporates, and the chakra seems to know what's expected of it. There's still a good bit of numbness in your hand, but you don't intend to keep this up much longer.

    With a flick of your wrist, you jerk the vein-ends down, and spiral the arteries back together.

    It's a moment's work, and when that moment is over, you hear a small, satisfying kchuh~!

    Elapsed time from plan's conception to completion: 10.3 seconds

    Where to, kiddo?

    [X] To the park! It's a beautiful spring day!
    [X] To Hokage Monument! If looking at the store from the counter was cool, the view from there has to be even better!
    [X] To the city limits and beyond! Maybe when we're a nuke-ko Mom'll understand how much we hate being penned up!
    [X] Write-in
     
  6. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] To Hokage Tower! And the Mountain!

    Time for a nice stroll around town.

    [embed=425,349]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zjj7_AKWM-A[/embed]

    It's kind of... weird, being out here alone. Everyone's kind of tall and scary, and the floor outdoors is really hard. Plus none of these people are looking at you; that's just wrong.

    For a moment you think about going back in and playing with your babysitters, but then shake your head. Hell with that; you're finally free!

    It's difficult to tell your way around at your height; from this angle, the people and the buildings are about the same size... except... ah. That one, over there. It's about a head taller at this distance from even the tallest person in the street.

    Your mouth waters at the thought of how good the animal crackers on top of something that tall have to be.

    You make good time getting to the Tower, although you notice with envy a few people who can avoid street traffic by hopping from rooftop to rooftop.

    You're mounting the steps when- UCHIHA INTERRUPT

    Fast-! is all you have time to think before you're scooped up.

    "Hello, Yamanaka-chan, " the young man says calmly. His dark hair falls long and loose about his face, and there's a shiny black badge pinned to his green vest; a four pointed star with one of those two-flavoured lollies inside it.

    You glare at him. Only Mom and Dad are allowed to grab you! Who's this bozo think he is? And why's he wearing candy on his chest? Candy is for eating, not for wearing! Dumbass! Eyesore! Fils de pute!

    You kick and scream all the way home, but back home he takes you nonetheless. For his part he seems like he's angry right back at you.

    Fuck you too, man, I didn't descend on you from above and ruin your day! You can go straight to hell!

    When the two of you arrive, your mother is standing in the front garden.

    ... ho, shit. You have got to learn how to glare like that; it's like sunlight reflecting off snow. She isn't even really frowning - the only thing about her expression that would let you know she's mad are her eyes, and as you can plainly see, the eyes are enough. The curly-haired genin is almost in tears, even. The redhead looks like he wants to throw up.

    Mom's eyes go back to the way they usually are when she sees you. She drops her bags and rushes over, face awash in relief. "Ino!" The two of you hug, both happy again, she to have you back, and you to get that jerk's hands off you.

    "Thank you so very much, Uchiha-kun. I apologize for any trouble she's caused. Say thank you to the nice officer, Ino."

    Thank you for your badge, dickcheese. Uchiha, is it? You just made the list.

    You are quite disappointed when you later discover the lolly is badge-and-paint-flavoured.
    ———
    Timeskip time! What do you want to focus on? Pick three. Please note that you'll do all these things, you're just picking which ones I'll write about.
    [X] Learning to walk.
    [X] Learning to talk
    [X] First Word?
    -> [X] Mom!
    -> [X] Dad!
    Write-in!
    [X] 'Learning' to read.
    [X] Dad and mom are both pretty concerned about how quickly you're becoming mobile and messing with your environment. There won't be any more playpens, but both mom and dad each have a lesson for you to learn in exchange.
    [X] Mom
    [X] Dad
     
  7. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Dad & [X] First Word!

    When Dad comes home from work that night, he and Mom don't have to say a word to one another. She looks at him, then at you, then back at him just in time to see him nod with a deep sigh.

    Oooooh, I think I might be in trouble. You've been aware of the concept of 'being in trouble' for as long as you can remember, but it's never actually happened to you before. You're kind of nervous, now. Dad's said before that people who do bad stuff should be punished, but how can he punish you? You don't even know what you did!

    Mom leaves to start making dinner, and Dad picks you up and sets you on his lap. He looks you dead in the eye.

    "You can understand every word I say, can't you?"

    You are so relieved that before you're even aware of it you're smiling from ear to ear and nodding vigourously.

    You've only been alive six months, but it's been a very lonely six months. Shika-chan is the only person your age you've met who's actually interesting, and he only showed up a week ago. Other than him, your intelligent company has consisted entirely of adults, who prefer their conversational partners to be capable of speech. So unless they were tickling your toes or filling the air between you with rhetorical commentary and gibberish, they basically ignored you. The hurtful possibility that I'm in trouble is an insignificant spec of dust next to the shining golden hope and happiness of He doesn't think I'm stupid!

    "I thought as much." Dad sighs, and gives you a strained smile. "You aren't the first person I've met who was like you, Ino."

    You're a little confused by that; isn't Dad like you? Aren't all the adults? Well, except Uchiha of the False Candy, he sucks harder than any baby ever could.

    Dad carries you over to a shelf on the wall and pulls down a leatherbound book. This in and of itself is enough to command your attention, because Dad and stories go hand in hand like rice and soy sauce. But this isn't your paperback copy of Sage Tales; this book is old.

    Taking a seat with you tucked into one arm, he flips through the pages, and you see it's a book of portraits.

    When he eventually finds the one he wants, he flattens the book out and points. The painting is of a green-haired man with a serious expression. There's a sharp contrast between him and the delicate blonde woman in the picture on the facing page.

    "My uncle Kojirou, " Dad explains. "He married into the family; that's his wife Aunt Kaori. Best kenjutsuka I ever met, and also the craziest."

    He closes the book again. "He used to say it was like floating through life, like having a soft wind to carry you when you're sure you're about to fall.

    "There were others, but he was the first one I met. He was almost a second father to me."

    After a moment of silence, Dad continues, "So I want you to know, I don't think you're a sleeper agent. No sleeper agent would have made for Hokage Tower in broad daylight in the body of a baby, for one thing. Nor do I think you are possessed, a monster, or of unsound mind." He smiles softly. "I think you are my daughter Ino. And that you are a very particular type of prodigy."

    ... wait, you're totally lost. What does this have to do with you? Oh well, Dad seems to be really happy with you; maybe you aren't in trouble after all.

    "And because of that, " he says, expression hardening a trifle "I want you to stop playing with seals for a while. Particularly those intended to keep you safe." He mutters under his breath, "What is it with those people and seals? Every time with the seals..."

    What? What're seals? Wait, is that what the knot in the cage is called?

    "The voices in your head are good for many things, Ino, but their advice is no substitute for actual training and experience." Dad looks downright stern, if you do say so yourself. "I have to wonder what they were thinking, starting you on something so dangerous so early. You were lucky you didn't die, sweetheart, incredibly lucky."

    He hugs you. You'd hug back, but he's sorta squished you and you can't move your arms.

    "You don't have to use a playpen anymore, " he says, and you feel a rush of victory at hearing that, "but before you have free run of the shop, I want you to promise me you won't touch or otherwise tamper with any more seals until you're older and you have a tutor." He pulls back, eyes hard on yours. "Nod your head for yes."

    You nod. Ano, dad? I know how nodding works. I did it earlier, remember?

    "Good." The gentle smile is back, and you share it. "You can have your spoons back at the end of the month, as long as you stop sharpening new ones. We need some of them for eating."

    "Spoon, " you agree solemnly.

    Mom will spend the rest of her life claiming your first word was 'Mom' (which you managed three days later) and that your father made the spoon story up as a joke.

    [X] Mom

    It is the happiest day of your young life when you're carried downstairs and see that the cage is completely gone.

    Then it turns out they kept the high chair. -_-

    Ah, well. One step at a time.

    "If you wish to be in my shop without a playpen like a big girl, " Mom lectures, "you're going to learn something worthwhile."

    You nod vigourously. Who wouldn't want to learn more about pretty flowers?

    "Now, this is Lily of the Valley of the End. Don't touch it, you'll die. These are chinaberries. Don't eat them, you'll die. This is whitefire. Don't eat it raw, you'll die. These are wrensfoot nettles. Don't touch them, you'll die. This is Madara birch. Don't put it anywhere near your face, you will vomit until you die. This is kage's heart. You can eat it now just fine, but don't do so after the age of forty or you'll wish you hadn't. These are featherhead, gloomy nichiyobi, yashatail and stormfriend. Stormfriend and featherhead are fine for human consumption, but if mixed with the others they form a powerful poison that will mimic the effects of severe pneumonia and, in sufficient quantities, send the victim into a coma or the grave with no trace. That one takes a long time to brew, though; I should know, I invented it. Now, those flowers over there look like roses, but no sane person would ever want to mix them up; they've been bred to emit an inhalant truth serum. It works fairly well on civilians, but the real trick to them is that the fumes latch onto the victim's chakra system, so the stronger the ninja, the faster it takes effect..."

    Mom slowly straightens up out of this glib, matter-of-fact tone in surprise. "Why, Ino, dear, whatever is the matter?"

    ...why does everything I love try to kill me? : <


    Over the next year and a half you work out this whole walking thing, learn about botany, and add words to your spoken vocabulary beyond 'spoon' and 'mom'. Soon no one can get you to shut up.

    Now you're a sturdy two-year-old. What shall we do today?

    [X] Shika-chan's mom invited you to the park and out for barbecue with another one of his friends! Let's go let's go!
    [X] You've read all your kids' books by now. Let's go looking for something more challenging!
    [X] Dad's closet bookshelf.
    [X] Mom's closet bookshelf.
    [X] Write-in
     
  8. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    Disclaimer: Not canon-compliant, because I find it a bit odd that Shikaku and Chouza could be bros from way back and not introduce their kids to each other at some point.
    [X] Barbecue with Shika-chan!

    The minute you see Shikamaru, you give him a not-wave, and you're pleased to see him try not to smile in response. You'll crack that reserve yet!

    The boy next to him is kind of fat, staring at the ground, and blushing for some reason. You give him a not-wave too, but he just looks slightly confused. Guess that's just a Shika thing.

    "Yo~ Shika-chan!" you say, slinging an arm lazily around your friend's neck.

    He shrugs you off, but doesn't look terribly annoyed. "-chan is for girls."

    You shake your head, grinning. "Too troublesome to change now! We can be Shika-chan and Ino-kun!"

    He grunts.

    "... hi, " the chunky boy says. Huh, he actually made eye contact for a second there. Wouldn't've thought he had it in him.

    "Hi!" you say. "I'm Ino! Who're you?"

    "... hi?" the kid asks hesitantly.

    Shikamaru rolls his eyes. "Chouji doesn't talk yet. Leave'm 'lone."

    Aw, poor guy. You've gotten to the point where you can make short sentences, but you remember what it was like before. You sounded like an idiot for six months straight. Of course, to hear your mother tell it, sometimes you still do; no one's quite sure where you picked up a Fire Capital tough-guy drawl and the ore pronoun, but when she figures it out, the one responsible will be shitting his heart out through his asshole for a year.

    You grab the pudgy boy's hand, and shake it. You point at yourself. "Ino!"

    He gets the idea, and points at himself. "Chouji."

    "Ehh?!" This guy's name is Butterfly? Goddamn it, dads, get your shit together, you switched our names by mistake, man up and admit it! "So pretty!"

    Ho-lycrap, and you thought he was blushing before. Hee.

    He is kinda pretty, you decide. You'll keep him. He'll go nicely with Shika, since they're already friends.

    Aw, cool, Shika's mom brought practice kunai! They're like your special spoons, but you can play with them around people. You give her your sweetest 'thank you'. She always brings the best stuff.

    Shika-chan appears to disagree. What a shock. If that guy were any more sedentary he'd be dead.

    "Shika, you are not getting any barbecue until you at least go for a walk!"

    You're not sure why Shikamaru's always so pissed at his mom. It's not like she ever asks him to do anything he can't do.

    ... okay, you'll admit it's a little cruel to bribe a guy's best friend to swipe his stuff and then run away with it to make sure he gets some exercise. But it was for a good cause, and she smiled at you! It's not evil if you get paid in smiles!

    Still. This evening is not gonna be fun if it breaks down into round 100 of Smiling Angel vs Pouting Pineapple. You 'accidentally miss' your next shot; your kunai goes flying past the target and into the forest beyond.

    "Aw!" You sic the good-girl eyes on Shika, your signal for I've Got Your Back, Man. "Help me look, Shika-chan?"

    Either he's playing along a little too well or he doesn't get that that's the signal. "Go by yourself."

    "NARA SHIKAMARU!"

    Ah~ there's something so comforting about people who can reach that volume and really mean it. Never fails to put a song in your heart.
    Shika is of course already off and running; you grab Chouji's hand with a grin. "Let's go!" And the two of you head off after him.

    After about five minutes, you realize that you may in fact be completely lost.

    Well, fuck.

    Chouji's starting to look scared again.

    "Hey, don't worry, " you say automatically, "you're safe with me." ^_^

    It's then that the great big cat steps silently out from the undergrowth.

    ———
    Happy Early Valentine's Day, guys. Now what?
    [X] KITTY! ://3
    [X] ... yo.
    [X] ... mraonya?*
     
  9. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    It's always kitty time. ; 3

    [img width=600 height=450]http://frostii.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/lupin_last_job.jpg[/img]

    (Source: frostii.net)

    [X] ... mraonya?*

    "What did you just call me, twolegs?" the cat snaps.

    You blink.

    The cat blinks.

    Then, in stereo,

    "You talk?!"

    Chouji goes bug-eyed.

    "Of course I talk!" you declare indignantly. "I'm a girl."

    "And what business has a girl to speak to me in such a manner?" the cat demands. It looks you up and down. "Your colouration is Persian; are you of the Shir clan, then?"

    "Ara... No... Yamanaka..." you reply awkwardly. You try not to let on how much squeeing is happening in your head; big fluffy kitty is big! And fluff!

    "Yamanaka...? No, girl, " it sighs impatiently, "the other side of your family."

    "... Takazono?" you offer blankly.

    The cat stares.

    o_O "... you're human?"

    "Of course!" you scoff.

    "Yet... you speak Nyango."

    "What's Nyango?"

    The cat massages its face with a paw. "It is no matter. I must nonetheless take my leave now - my mission for the day is nearly complete."

    You perk up. Missions are something you understand. Dad went on one two months ago and didn't come back for a whole week. "Ninjakitty?"

    The cat bristles. "I am no mere kitty! You have the honour of addressing Juusandaime Tora, Head of the Tora Clan of Exiled Cats!"

    Ah! That explains it. A clan head. They never like to be treated casually. You bow with perhaps slightly more theatricality than is warranted, and elbow Chouji to do the same.

    "My apologies, Tora-sama, " you say; you've heard mom use the words before and you like to think you sound just as gracious as she does when you say them. "Had I known..."

    Tora flicks his (you think it's a boy-cat) tail. "Would that other young humans were as well-mannered..." he murmurs.

    It suddenly occurs to you that you still don't know your way out of the woods.

    "Ne, Tora! D'you know a way out of here?" :3

    "You're not well-mannered at all!" ;__;

    "Sorry! We just need to get back to Shika-chan's mom before sunset. There's a barbecue we're supposed to be setting up for-"

    "Did you say barbecue?"

    "Yeah! Wanna come?"

    "I have reevaluated my mission parameters, " Tora says immediately. "As long as I return to the Hokage's office by 19:15, all will be well. You will accompany me in this endeavour, in exchange for sniffing out the barbecue for you." He lays on his stomach. "We will move faster if you sit astride me. Come now, boy, mount up!"

    The sudden order shakes Chouji out of his slack-jawed reverie, and at your urging he clambers onto Tora. You swing yourself on in front of him, and immediately become aware of two things.

    1) Tora has a lot more chakra than any cat you've ever petted in your life, and
    2) HOLY SHIT HE'S FAST : D THIS IS THE MOST AWESOME

    The forest blurs into green and brown; trees turn from obstacles to afterthoughts to non-thoughts. You dip and bob and undulate down every conceivable path, as though you and Tora have become a mighty river of girl and cat, unbound.

    You are vaguely aware that Chouji's nose is digging into your back as he clings on for dear life, but you cannot quite bring yourself to care. Nor can you honestly say you care about the stupid-looking big kid with the shocked expression you just tore past, or either of his little cronies. They're all after you now, of course; which as far as you're concerned, is exactly where they belong. After. >:3 Blazing the trail is best left to professionals.

    This is heaven.

    This is your favourite thing.

    This is the world transformed.

    As you leap back into the park and clear the first and then the second of the picnic tables, you see Shika-chan and his mother come into view, along with another lady who's probably Chouji's mom.

    Shikamaru's mother has just enough time to ask half of a question before Tora comes to a pirouetted-stop right in front of her.

    Chouji jumps down immediately, looking slightly ill.

    You hug Tora and laugh and wish you never have to let go... but then the Nara Angel peels you off with her momkra.

    The genin team, panting and wheezing, collapses a few feet behind you. One of the boys stares at Tora, like a gambler at a dealer, and asks, "... how?"'

    You smile serenely. "We promised him barbecue."

    =

    The Hokage's office is nice. Panoramic view-nice.

    The Hokage is nice. Grandpa nice

    The Hokage's Hat?

    The Hokage's Hat is totally ace.

    The moment he lets his guard down, come hell or high jounin, you're taking it. There is no argument about this.

    The Fire Daimyo's wife is, uh... interesting.

    "OHMYPOORTORORA are you okay woogin? You gon be all right pretty kitty, yes~! yes~!"

    You're beginning to understand why Tora didn't wanna be called a kitty.

    The Fire Lady beams down at you, and winks. "Thank you so much for saving my babby, sweetling."

    You tell her she's very welcome, staring at her many wonderful rings. There's one on every finger of both hands and her left thumb, and all the stones, including the ones in the Konohagakure-symbol one, are genuine.

    Your palms itch.

    As you exit the office, you catch a final glimpse of the Hokage and the Fire Lady shaking hands... and passing notes.

    ———

    So~ You guys have four years til you start at the Academy (sorry, you're the only child of the Clan Head who was busting seals before she was one; you can't make a civie run). Which two would you like to do first?

    [X] Sounds like you have a talent for the Cat language. Maybe you should practice with the neighbourhood cats? You might even see Tora again!
    [X] Now that you can walk, let's see if we can't up the stakes a little bit. (Wall-Walking/Tree-Walking)
    [X] This is an unacceptable amount of loot. Ten ryo and a piece of candy that doesn't taste like candy? Weak! You need to fix this, and you need to fix this now. [Write In]
    [X] Dad mentioned the whole 'voices in your head' thing again recently. When you expressed confusion, he suggested taking more naps. (Memory Unlock dependent on other action selection)
    [X] Write In
     
  10. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Sounds like you have a talent for the Cat language. Maybe you should practice with the neighbourhood cats? You might even see Tora again!
    [X] Dad mentioned the whole 'voices in your head' thing again recently. When you expressed confusion, he suggested taking more naps. (Memory Unlock dependent on other action selection)


    Ugh. What is it with everyone and naps? All this stuff to do in the day and they wanna spend part of it asleep?

    You, personally, have never taken one (as such you're kinda short for a two-year-old; your mother and her doctor friends are a bit concerned). You weren't too excited about the idea before, and now you're friends with Shika-chan you downright resent the custom. He regularly conks out and leaves you all alone in the waking world with nothing to do except read the same kids' books over and over.

    Fine! Fine. Shika's a smart guy, if he gets something out of this whole sleeping-when-you-don't-need-to thing, maybe there's something to it.

    It takes forever for you to finally wind down and get comfy on the couch. But when you do...

    ~~~~~

    "I'm just sayin', Goemon, if you're gonna keep following us around, learning to speak something other than Japanese might be a good idea."

    :eek: Holy shit it's a foreigner! Like, a visibly-foreign guy! And he speaks Gyogo! Your mind = blown. At least Tora is a Fire Country cat - it makes sense, in a way, that if he were going to speak, it'd be in the Elemental Language.

    The foreigner doesn't look anything like that big ethnic group from Kumo you saw in that Child's Geography of the Elemental Countries, the only really-foreign-looking people you're aware of, but he's just as different. His skin isn't quite darker than yours, but... it has a different quality to it; it's like if there's a 'normal' list of skin shades and your shade is on it, his is in the next list over of 'nonstandard' shades in the same relative spot you occupy. That's the only way you could explain it if asked.

    His nose sticks out from his face and comes to a point, and he has a scraggly beard that also comes to a point. You're really curious to know what his eyes look like, but they're hidden under the brim of his hat. It's not as nice as the Hokage's - no hat is nicer than The Hat - but it's neat-looking; really seems to suit him. It matches the rest of his clothes, which are also pretty strange; the collars on his shirt and jacket are both sort of folded over on themselves in weird triangular shapes, and you're not sure what's up with the white strip of cloth he's got sort of knotted around his neck. Your sensor abilities aren't very refined, but for some reason he feels like a friend. Oddly for an adult, he has about as much chakra as a kid. A control-type, you guess - there's nothing civilian about that combat-ready casualness.

    The man he's talking to, Goemon, you suppose, is... wow. He's really handsome, that's what he is. Pale and composed, with refined, aristocratic features and long dark hair, he reminds you a little bit of those creamy-eyed people you've seen around town. He certainly has that same slight frown, but his eyes are more like Shika-chan's. Besides, something about the face shape is wrong; it's too long for him to be one of them.

    He feels... antagonistic, but... well-disposed? You don't know, it's like he's still coming to a decision about it, he's a confusing guy. He doesn't seem to be wearing a hitai-ate, but he has a sword, and his chakra reserves are a little above average for an adult. It's like his body is humming inside your head. You kinda like it; it's comforting.

    "I speak English," he says, irked.

    The two of them are sitting on either side of a low table between two sofas. The foreigner sighs, and rests his feet on the table (so rude! your mother'd kill 'im), leaning back against the cushions. "Knowing how to say 'prepare yourself' and 'die' does not constitute fluency. And another thing," he adds, pointing across the table (your mother would resurrect his corpse to kill him again!), "you've got to start eating more types of food. Once you get further than fifty miles from the ocean it's not sushi anymore. You're gonna get food poisoning."

    "Or worse," says a third guy, entering from the next room, "you could always starve to death. What're you gonna do if we go to Bombay? Come to think of it," he interrupts himself with a quirk of an eyebrow, "what did you do when you followed us to Nairobi? They don't even have ramen stands in Nairobi."

    "I fished," Goemon says. The other two look incredulous.

    You like the third guy. You don't even have to think about it. He just gives off a friendly vibe, y'know? Like he's not just a friend of yours, but a friend of everyone. His chakra reserves...

    ... okay, not doing that again, you think, feeling slightly queasy. You've had you ups and downs with your sensing, but that's never happened before. You can't get a sense of how much or how little he has, or what the yin to yang ratio is, or anything. You can tell he has chakra, like everything does, but when you focus on listening, it's like loud static on a radio, with stations creeping in on either side, and a single, high note, suspended above it indefinitely.

    Never before has chakra been so irritating.

    Is it a kekkei genkai or something?

    He doesn't look quite foreign, exactly (though there's something about his nose that is, and his jacket is cut like the other man's) but you can tell you won't be seeing anyone else like him in the Elemental Countries. He's not as overpoweringly attractive as Goemon, but you really like his eyes; they look warm.

    "As expected of an Iga-nin," he says, his laughter rolling through the words as he pats Goemon on the shoulder (Igakure? The Village Hidden In The... Well? Is there a Well Hidden Village? [You feel a sudden urge to laugh and have no idea why]). "You should've ambushed us at the restaurant; we could've ordered you something better'n campfire fish."

    Goemon swats the man's hand away. "You should not concern yourself with my eating habits, Lupin Sansei. I am the one who will take your life. That is all."

    Hey, it's like one of Dad's stories.

    "Oh, don't give me that!" the guy groans. "You've been travelling with us off and on for a year and a half! When are you gonna go home? It's gonna be New Year's next week, don't your stupid elders miss you yet?"

    "I made a sacred vow not to return until my task is complete," Goemon replies, resolute.

    You're torn between thinking that this guy is basically the coolest dude you've ever seen, and wondering what the hell kind of assassination mission involves telling the target you're going to kill him.

    "All right, genius, if it's so important to you that I die, why is it that the last five times we've met, it's been a case of you saving my ass?"

    Well that answers that question: the kind where you don't wanna do it. It makes sense now; you feel like Goemon's both an ally and an enemy because he is.

    "I cannot permit you to die by a hand other than mine, " the man insists.

    The foreigner in the hat is grinning, but you don't think Goemon's noticed yet. You join in; that line appears word for word in Ninja Princess Kurogiku when she confesses her love to Shinpei.

    Suddenly this whole situation looks a lot clearer.

    "Mou, this is such a gloomy topic, and it's all your fault for changing the subject!" The man in the red jacket puts on a look of annoyance, but it's mostly for show. "We're going to Rome for New Year's. If you haven't figured out how to eat spaghetti and say Excuse me, Hello, Goodbye, Where's The Bathroom and Hey There Cutie in Italian by then, we're leaving you behind."

    "Hmph." Goemon draws his sword. "The language of the blade is universal."

    [img width=600 height=430]http://mangadrawing.net/users/imagecache/image_display/image/23345-lupin-iii-ishikawa-goemon-xiii.2d727136845d89f4c65da48150e446e4.jpg[/img]
    (Source: mangadrawing.net)

    You gasp.

    That sword.

    That sword.

    It's perfect.

    You don't have to look twice, it's perfect. The mokumegane, the edge, the way it catches the light, the way it sits in his hand.

    You think of your special spoons, and suddenly, you are ashamed of them.

    The language of the blade...

    ~~~~~

    "...no? Ino, what's the matter, why won't you wake up?!" Your mother is shaking you, frantic. You pull away and open your eyes.

    "Are you all right?" she asks.

    You nod. Silly Mom. You don't know why she's freaking out. You actually feel really good! Is this why Shika-chan likes naps so much?

    Your father is looking at you from the chair where he goes over his paperwork. He smiles. "Any news?"

    "The sword..." you say, but stop. How are you supposed to describe that?

    "Figures, " he mutters, shaking his head, and he goes back to work.

    =

    The next few weeks are spent trying to talk to cats.

    The operative word being try. Turns out most cats in your neighbourhood won't talk to humans even when they try to speak cat; they just stare for a minute and then run away. If you catch them, the best you'll get is a scratch for your trouble. One cat did actually say "Let go!", but then you let go in surprise and she took off faster than before.

    Then one day you get lucky.

    You're back at the park reading while Shikamaru stares up at the sky (honestly, doesn't he know it's way better when the stars are out?), when a flash of fur darts through your peripheral vision. Looking over, you see two white kittens play-wrestling at the edge of the forest.

    Grinning, you check to make sure Shika's distracted (he thinks it's mean of you to keep bothering animals that clearly wish to be left alone), and then creep over to the balls of fluff. All this cat-chasing has made you really sneaky, so you can get close without them seeing or smelling. You stay back about three and a half feet, though; for cats that's polite.

    <"Hello, "> you say, one of the few words you definitely know.

    The two kittens are immediately on their feet, and they look surprised. Maybe even scared.

    <"What you?"> the one with the black mask-markings and paws asks. You think. You don't have a lot to go on, between your comprehension issues and him being nearly as young as you are, cat-wise.

    <"Person!"> you reply. You learned early on that saying 'human', specifically, netted you kind of a mixed bag of reactions, mostly built around the theme of "Prove it. Feed me."

    The two kittens seem to decide you're okay by them, because they relax a bit. The all-white one even comes a little closer. Ooh, look at those eyes! They're like grass in the rain.

    <"What person?"> he asks. Oh. Hell, how are you supposed to say your name in Nyango?

    <"Nnnyo, "> you try.

    The masked one narrows his eyes in the cat version of laughter. Great, apparently now even the cat knows you're named Piggy. Unless Nnnyo means something even worse.

    All-White stretches out a paw and pets your lips. You don't move, trying not to squee. Finally he seems satisfied, and he darts back over to Mask. His brother, you guess.

    <"Late!"> he says, and, looking back at you, the two of them run off into the forest.

    Following close behind, you eventually come to a clearing between two large maple trees, and are unable to keep a small " kyaaaaa~ " from escaping you.

    It is full of kittens.

    Better yet, it's full of kittens sitting at attention, with wooden swords held in their tails. You didn't think cat tails even bent like that.
    Oh, gods, and they've got little sheaths on their backs!

    They're focused on two cats on the far side of the clearing, also holding swords. One is white and sleek, like the two brothers, with a black splotch on his right side shaped like the kanji for 'evening'. The other is an auburn ball of fluff.

    <"Late!"> the fluffball snarls, before noticing you. <"Who?!">

    <"Person!"> All-White says. <"Nnnyo!">

    Oh, crap, why are they all looking at you now? You're trying to be polite, really you are, but thirty kittens just looked right at you and tilted their heads to the side! WHY SO CU~TE?!

    "How did you come to meet my brothers?" the white cat asks, sheathing his sword and approaching.

    Uh oh. Why are you suddenly reminded of Mom? There's nothing overtly threatening about the way he's moving, but you still get the sense you'd better answer fast. In haste, you blurt out:

    "I was reading in the park and I saw them wrestling on the way here so I went over and tried to talk to them because they're cute and Tora said I could speak Nyango and I thought if I followed them I could meet more cats and I did and you're all so cute~!"

    The white cat stops, apparently surprised.

    <"I knew it! Human!> Food!" demands All-White triumphantly. You sigh. Here we go again.

    <"Food?"> the white cat asks calmly, and all of a sudden All-White doesn't seem to be too interested in you.

    Damn. That's impressive.

    "I apologize on their behalf, " he continues, "they haven't met a Speaker of the Tongue before."

    "That's okay, " you say sheepishly, "I'm not really a speaker."

    "On the contrary, " the cat replies. "You mentioned tono-sama, but He has mentioned you. Ino, 5th of her name, of the Yamanaka, are you not?"

    You blink. "Ano, I'm Ino, but... I don't know how many Inos there are."

    He nods. "We have been told to expect your coming. You are welcome to observe the lesson." He bows. "In my own tongue I am Rrnyan; humans call me Yuji. My brothers are in your tongue Shirotama and... Menka, " he finishes, apparently embarrassed.

    "It's Kamen reversed!" Menka says helpfully.

    "Clever, " you comment politely. He rubs his face against your leg in glee.

    You thank Yuji-sensei and grab a seat on a fallen log.

    The lesson is brief. Synchronized drilling for a minute and a half, followed by ten minutes of paired matches determined by and critiqued by the teachers, followed by a free-for-all for another five minutes, followed by the students bowing and dispersing. A few stay behind, including you. There's something you want to ask Yuji-sensei...

    ———
    [X] I earnestly desire to learn the language of the blade. Who would you recommend I seek as a teacher?
    [X] I earnestly desire to further my studies in Nyango. Who would you recommend I seek as a teacher?
    [X] What, in your opinion, is the most perfect sword in the world?
    ———

    So as you may have guessed, I'm kind of blending all the Lupin canon into one big thing for this quest; Lupin isn't the slightly cruel manga version, but Goemon was still assigned to kill him and keep his filthy mitts off the Iga-ryu teaching scroll/Zantetsuken formula.

    As for Jigen being a foreigner, my headcanon strikes again. To me, he's always gonna be a dude from Brooklyn named Jigen Daisuke... who looks exactly like his Italian-American mom, plus a beard.
     
  11. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] I earnestly desire to further my studies in Nyango. Who would you recommend I seek as a teacher?

    Yuji-sensei cocks his head to one side. "To what end, may I ask? Do you seek the Cat Summon Contract?"

    You blink. "You have to sign a contract to be friends with cats?" You didn't know that. No wonder all the neighbourhood cats ran away from you.

    The cat sniffs curiously. "Well... not as such. The contract merely states that all signatories may call the Cats of Nekomata's Fortress to their aid in battle."

    "Battle?" you ask in disbelief.

    His ears twitch. "Do not judge the Fortress-born by those you see in the lands of humans, Ino-dono; we are but a fraction of their size and power. They are the Elite among cats."

    You shake your head. "So people only call them when they want to fight? That's crazy. They don't... I don't know... ask them what being a cat is like? Read cat stories? Hang out?"

    "There have only ever been seven signatories, really, " Yuji says, approximating a shrug. "All ninja. In my admittedly limited experience, most Fortress-born and humans have precious few things in common, besides a love of food and battle."

    "And they're fine with knowing some person can just tell them to drop what they're doing and come help fight?"

    You don't know what a cat would be doing, exactly, but presumably they have lives and stuff.

    "Not in the least, " Yuji replies. "But there are benefits to holding a contract with humans. Aside from the obvious opportunity to fight new and interesting opponents and taste their flesh, making oneself available to a Summoner ties one's life force to the contract. Unless the contract is destroyed, the original animals who drew up the agreement will retain their youth forever, never to die from disease or age, falling only in battle. Even their offspring will live many times the length of a normal life."

    Wow. That's a pretty massive benefit.

    "Well, I don't know about signing this contract, " you say. "I'll have to think about it. But if I learn Nyango, can't I just ask you guys for help when I need it?"

    Yuji blinks. "Well... that is... I suppose it could be worked out, on a cat-by-cat basis, yes. Most would expect payment, but I don't suppose it would be anything extravagant for a human.

    "You are an interesting child, Ino-dono, " he says after a pause, and leaps onto your shoulder. "I have decided. If your elder sibling approves, I and my brothers will be your teachers. In exchange for lessons you will feed and house us. When the lessons are complete or you expel us from your home the agreement will be considered fulfilled. <Come!>" he adds to Shirotama and Menka, who've been wrestling in the clearing all this time. They disengage reluctantly, but seem very amused to see their brother riding around on you.

    Yuji's lighter than you would've expected of a cat his size. "Ano, I don't have any siblings..."

    A soft tail tickles your face. "Ah, I forgot, the human manner of things. Very well, take us to your birth-givers."

    Mom is apparently quite a cat person (who knew?), so thankfully there's no trouble on that front. Dad just stares thoughtfully at Yuji for a moment before making you promise not to talk with him where anyone can see you, in Nyango or Gyogo.

    "You're the heir to the Yamanaka, not the Uchiha. Our secrets stay secret."

    You begin to agree, but freeze. "The Uchiha... are a clan?" When your father nods, you wail, "There's more than one of those guys?!"

    Chouji is fascinated by the kittens, and spends a lot of time chasing them around. Shikamaru just looks at you the first time he sees your new houseguests, as if to say, "Is this what you've come to?" But other than that he seems cool with the situation. Yuji likes to sit on him, and Shika-chan likes to let him.

    Your lessons progress rapidly; you find that Nyango is a snap to pronounce, but the grammar is a total pain to keep straight. Menka and Shirotama talk with you at breakfast every day to practice, and Yuji holds your lessons about an hour before bed every night.

    The first time you hear Menka call Yuji his 'mraonya', you descend into a fit of giggles and refuse to tell anyone why.

    Now, what do you want to do for the next few weeks to months? Pick three.

    [X] Ask Yuji-sensei for more details about the Cat Summoning Contract and Summoning Contracts in general.
    -> [X] Which details?
    [X] It's sad that you've gotten your most detailed readings off people in a dream. Spend some time developing your sensor abilities.
    [X] Take a stroll... to the ceiling.
    [X] Your dad said you couldn't be seen talking to cats. He never said you couldn't talk to cats, period. Let's make more friends!
    [X] Whyyyyy are you so poor~? Let's go get some cool stuff!
    [X] That's it, if you read one more kiddy book you're gonna start turning your brain to mush. Time to seek out more difficult material.
    -> [X] Nonfiction reference: recent world history
    -> [X] Nonfiction reference: Mom's botany texts
    -> [X] Nonfition reference: Mom's herbal medicine/poison texts
    -> [X] Nonfiction reference: an up-to-date Bingo Book
    -> [X] Fiction: a collection of classic poetry
    -> [X] Fiction: a novel about a gutsy shinobi
    -> [X] Write In?

    Funny thing about the Summoning Contract issue; in all the discussion in the first thread, no one stopped to consider whether having any of them is really Lupin's style.

    In this edition, you'll notice I made a slight change to the immortality clause. It now only applies to the original animals who made the contract; their children and other later additions still age, just much more slowly. This doesn't solve every problem, of course, but I think it's a start.
     
  12. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] It's sad that you've gotten your most detailed readings off people in a dream. Spend some time developing your sensor abilities.

    You ask Dad about how to improve on this front. He's pleased you're showing an interest in your natural talents as the Yamanaka heiress instead of falling for the lures of the sword, and even takes an afternoon off work to teach you the basics of chakra harmonics.

    Your range still sucks, but Dad says what's most important in sensing is clarity. You have years to expand your range, but you need to learn the fundamentals of interpretation while you're young, or you'll never get them.

    [X] Take a stroll... to the ceiling.

    You're out shopping for Shikamaru's birthday with mom when you see them.

    A genin team, taking turns running up a tree and falling on their asses.

    "Nice, Ban, you almost got it that time!"

    No he didn't, you think, frowning. This seems stupid even by genin standards. From the looks of things, all three of them are just running straight up the trunk. You think it'd make more sense to run up the wall of the shop right next to the tree, jump backward, and twist yourself around to grab for a branch. It'd almost certainly be faster than whatever crazy bullheaded method they're using.

    You'd go over and test out this theory, but mom has been watching you watch them.

    "We still have to wrap the gift, sweetheart, " she murmurs before you've put even one toe off the path home.

    Momkra is such bullshithax. -_-

    When Shikamaru's gift is all wrapped (you got him a sleeping mask shaped like a hitai-ate), you retreat to the back garden to think some more about what you saw earlier. Winding your way down the garden path, you eventually come to what you're looking for; the back wall, and the big willow tree next to it. They aren't as close together as the wall and tree with the kids was, but you aren't too worried. The principle is the same.

    Fifteen minutes and a repeatedly-stubbed toe later, you wonder if you shouldn't just leave this for another day. Those kids were twice your height, after all. Just because you can't do it doesn't mean they can't.

    ... you snarl.

    Brain, if that's your idea of making me feel better, I don't think we can be friends anymore.

    Invigourated by a sudden rush of frustrated anger, you launch yourself at the wall at top speed, kick off with your good foot, and...

    ... hook your fingers around the lowest branch.

    Aww, yeah! Getting a better grip, you swing a leg up onto the branch and, panting from the effort of lifting yourself, enjoy a well-deserved view. Hey, you can see into your bedroom from here!

    "Ino? How'd you get up there?!"

    Looking down, you see Menka and Shirotama emerge from behind a bush at the turn in the path.

    "Are you stuck?" Menka asks. <"Do we need to get your mom?"> 'Tama adds.

    "Nah," you say breezily. And it's true. You just don't know how to get down yet.

    Any concerns they might have had disappear in a flash. That's something you like about the Shiroi Brothers, they don't worry about you.

    "Well, come to dinner, you're missing it!"

    Getting down, it turns out, requires some impressive shimmying that leaves your clothes covered in dirt and strips of bark and a bit of moss. Mom is well and truly appalled to have you in the kitchen in that state, and sends you off to change before you can eat.

    When Dad asks what you did with your day, you proudly tell him of your accomplishment, beating those genin at their own game. He laughs, and says they weren't trying to get up the tree just to get up it; they were practicing using chakra to climb. He explains that while what you were doing was using chakra to push off from the ground and then the wall, the genin were channelling their chakra into the tree to bind it to their feet.

    You, meanwhile, are kicking yourself for not putting two and two together. If chakra can be used to make a magic knot, why shouldn't it be used to make magic glue?

    After dinner you go upstairs, resolved to figure out this new skill. You don't care if it takes you all night; you will prove yourself the superior of those ditzy little third-rate childcare providers.

    ... well that was anticlimactic, you think thirty seconds later, looking over your shoulder at your bedroom floor.

    You walk up and down the wall a couple of times, just for the fun of it.

    You do a little dance.

    You stand on one foot and dangle the other one over Menka's head. He bats at it, and you giggle.

    You walk all the way up and stand on the ceiling, shading your eyes from the light shining about a foot away.

    I knew it couldn't be too hard. Those guys were just

    ~~~~~

    [img width=600 height=337]http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/17so7b95pmqgzjpg/xlarge.jpg[/img]

    (Source: img.gawkerassets.com)

    She's falling.

    Without a moment's hesitation you launch yourself after her, reaching, swimming through the very air.

    This is not the first time you have done this, and it will not be the last.

    You will reach her, because you must. You will shield her, because she cannot shield herself.

    For these rare few seconds in an often selfish life, you do not spare a single thought for yourself. There is no you.

    There is just the girl who will die without a miracle.

    [img width=600 height=311]http://i564.photobucket.com/albums/ss86/FurikoMaru/Clarisseiscaught_zpsa7401a6e.png[/img]

    Someone calling himself Lupin III can't go around letting people fall!

    ~~~~~

    You roll over and stare up at the ceiling, panting. That was... you don't even know what that was.

    The sword has nothing on this.

    I caught her. A rush of victory floods your body and spills out your mouth in a relieved laugh.

    You are not some dumbass genin. You were smart enough to try this exercise right over your bed, like a sensible person. As you lie there, reflecting on what you've just been through, Yuji-sensei leaps up beside you, and licks your hair out of your face.

    "My congratulations on your success, Ino-dono, but I would request that you be mindful of your limits in future. Frequent bouts of chakra exhaustion are injurious to the long-term development of the mind."

    You nod. He nestles into the crook of your arm, and you pet him idly. You both understand this is not a time for words.

    <"That was awesome! You even landed properly! It takes humans forever to learn that! Ne, you should come back to sword practice, I hear it's good for human chakra development-">

    Menka, unfortunately, does not. Luckily 'Tama whaps him in the head before he kills the mood completely.
     
  13. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Whyyyyyy are you so poor~? Let’s go get some cool stuff!

    I want that.

    You think this thought every single day.

    You think it when your mom sells a particularly beautiful potted orchid; you think it at the library until you find you can’t carry any more books without falling over; you think it when you eat lunch in the park and see another kid with something tastier; you think it at night when the moonlight pours into your bedroom through the window. It is such a normal, routine part of your thought process that you barely notice the feeling’s existence.

    Well. Save for rare occasions.

    “Nabiki-sama, please!”

    Except for the Fire Daimyo’s Wife’s rings, the hairpin is much nicer than any jewellery you’ve seen in Konoha before. It’s made of white gold and shaped like a leaping wolf, with a single, perfect garnet serving as its eye. You think of Ninja Princess Kurogiku, of her garnet-adorned crown, and of the incantation that charges its henge. Crimson rarer than diamonds and darker than blood, take this maiden under your guidance and grant her victory! Blossom Release: Blade Over Heart!

    “Don’t whine, Jiro; you’re here to serve Nabiki, which means you’ll do as Nabiki says!”

    You’re snoozing on a treebranch at the park, drifting in and out of sleep (Shikamaru was initially surprised at your sudden change in policy on naps, but seems to have decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth), when you see it. It’s pinned into the hair of an older girl; the hair is mint green, and the girl is about ten. You can’t get a good look at her face, as she’s standing beneath you.

    She doesn’t notice you, however; her attention is entirely focused on the boy in front of her. He’s closer to her age than yours, but he’s still a head shorter than her. He looks very worried, and doesn’t see you either.

    A girl of good family and her retainer, your mind fills you in automatically upon taking in their clothes. You notice that little habit about as often as you consciously notice wanting things.

    “But Nabiki-sama, if we’re caught, your father will be so mad at us!”

    Nabiki sniffs. “Papa will be happy that Nabiki made money off those rude ninja girls. They weren’t so tough, after all.”

    “But they weren’t even kunoichi!” Jiro wails. “Shinobi wear forehead protectors, my lady, those were just ordinary girls-”

    Nabiki’s best comeback is a slap in the face. “Don’t contradict Nabiki! This is a ninja village. Besides, ” she adds haughtily, “if they weren’t ninja, why did they agree to fight Nabiki?”

    “You didn’t give them a chance to say no- OW!”

    “Stupid Jiro! Papa is taking Nabiki shopping tomorrow, and if he finds out she spent all her pocket money already he’ll scold Nabiki and won’t let her leave the hotel! Now let’s find another girl and we’ll be all done.”

    As amusing as this drama no doubt is, it’s time for you to make a decision.

    [X] A woman with her priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve to wear such a fine work of art. Yoink!
    [X] Hey, she can’t hit him just ‘cause he works for her! That’s mean. Let’s distract her – by taking the hairpin!
    [X] Wait a bit and follow her at a distance. If she attacks someone else and gets distracted, then take the hairpin.
    [X] Kick her ass and take the hairpin! See how she likes it.

    -----------

    Rouga Nabiki is a character archetype I’ve been thinking about ever since Sakura finally got shunted into the ninja courses in Pink Blossom Quest and it looked like she'd have to give up on her merchant-ing. Obviously she’s named for the infamous Miss Tendo, but her personality is modelled after Martina from Slayers Next, Kiryuu Nanami from Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Sudo Mizuki from Tokimeki Memorial: Girls’ Side. I think she’d make a good foil for Big Sis Sakura – a warning that a focus on material goods can set you free from the constraints of shinobi- or samurai-hood, but in turn it can make you think you ought to have no constraints at all.
     
  14. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X]Wait a bit and follow her at a distance. If she attacks someone else, then take the hairpin.

    You let Nabiki stalk off, Jiro trailing behind her, and shake your head. This chick is insane! Why the hell would you beat someone up for their money? It's sitting right there in their pockets just waiting for you!

    You decide to follow her and correct her thuggish understanding of the world.

    Sliding down the trunk of the tree, you...

    [X] Follow her immediately. You don't want to lose sight of her.
    [X] Wander off down an apparently different road that joins up with the one she took at a couple of spots; no need to risk her or her servant catching sight of you. And you'll certainly hear them if anything interesting happens.
     
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  15. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Wander off down an apparently different road that joins up with the one she took at a couple of spots; no need to risk her or her servant catching sight of you. And you'll certainly hear them if anything interesting happens.

    Sure enough, it's not even five minutes before you hear a brief, girlish shriek from the next street. You race down the nearest alley and poke your head out to see what's going down.

    Jiro is propping up an angry Nabiki into a sitting position from where she's fallen, staring up in shock at their assailant.

    The genin standing over them looks far more bored than angry. He's got his hands in his pockets, even. His two teammates are with him - a pair of older boys, one with wild black hair and the other with straight blue.

    "I think I liked it better when older ladies used to run over to pinch your cute cheeks and pat your hair, " Wild-Hair grumbles, kneading his brow. "At least they weren't suicidally stupid and completely inescapable."

    "Perhaps you should have considered that before enacting your brilliant scheme, " the boy replies calmly.

    "It should have worked, damn it! If they were in any way human it would have worked!" Wild-Hair turns to Nabiki with a weary expression. "Look, ojou-chan, Itachi doesn't date civilians, full stop. The defeat-him-for-a-date offer is only open to shinobi of the Leaf. Sorry, but a future Clan head can't have a wife who isn't strong."

    Damn. You thought you had it bad with Piggy. What kind of lame Clan names their heir Weasel and tells him who he can and can't date?

    Nabiki snarls, shrugging off Jiro and getting to her feet. "Wife?!" she roars, falling into a taijutsu stance. "What self-respecting woman would marry shinobi scum like you?!" She dives at Weasel-boy in a flurry of punches and kicks. He makes little to no move to defend himself, mostly dodging, and you can see why; the punches are fairly strong, sure, but they're so slow she might as well be fighting underwater.

    "Oh, crap." Wild Hair facepalms. "It's a Rouga. A tsundere Rouga. We're gonna be here all fucking day..."

    "You're right to worry, " Nabiki declares imperiously, not even looking at him nor letting up from her assault. "Nabiki underestimated you before, but now you face the full might of the Dim Sum School of Turtle-Style taijutsu!"

    She leaps back, baring her teeth and apparently preparing for a more powerful attack. She's now within range of your sensing, and you wince.

    Her chakra reserves... are pathetic. They might even be lower than yours. She's civilian through and through. If Weasel gets annoyed enough to end the fight he could lay her out in one punch and really do damage.

    [X] She's so close! Go for the hairpin!
    [X] Well, Wild-Hair seems to think she's tough enough to delay them here all day; let's see what she can do.
    [X] Let her get hit! It's no worse than what she's been doing to other girls all day!
    [X] You'll be goddamned if you let a genin act like a bigshot in front of the tourist. Stop the fight! [Write-In: How?]
     
  16. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] You'll be goddamned if you let a genin act like a bigshot in front of the tourist. Stop the fight!
    -> [X] Embarrass the genin.

    You sigh, conflicted.

    She's pretty mean. And kind of an idiot. But... Your eyes flick over to Wild-Hair, and you frown. That asshole's twice the idiot! Did he seriously just say there's an agreement that anyone who can beat up Weasel can date the guy? And he's surprised that didn't faze a town full of kunoichi?! What the hell did he think was going to happen? Hell, Weasel is barely a step above normal Clan-shinobi levels of handsomeness, but the minute you heard he only dates girls who defeat him you gave him an immediate second look.

    ... it's not right, you think suddenly, surprising even yourself with how firm the opinion is. No matter who she is, they've already made their point, that Weasel's way out of Na-baka's weight class. But now, the way they're hanging around like this, dismissing her as just another admirer - like that's the only reason a girl could possibly wanna punch these guys in the face - practically goading her into embarrassing herself again... it'd be different if they were all friends or something, or if she'd actually managed to do anything to them, but this...

    "Kyaa~! Kurogiku-hime~!"

    With this as your war cry, you glomp the completely baffled green-haired girl's leg and smile angelically up at her.

    :D "You're here! I can't believe you're here~! Is there treachery afoot? Do you need any help? Is Renge here too? Are you two gonna kick the Military Polices' asses? Can I help? Oh, shoot, can you not tell my mom I said ass? Do you need a place to stay? You can use my room, I'll sleep on the couch!"

    You hear one of the genin cough softly.

    Nabiki looks annoyed, but she hasn't shaken you off yet. "... please let go, " she says instead.

    You do so, nodding vigourously and taking a knee. :3 "Of course, ohime-sama; please forgive my forwardness. I was so happy to see you that I forgot myself." You bow your head, stifling a giggle as you switch to what you think of as formal-mode. "I welcome you to the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Please let me know if I may assist your august personage in any way."

    You wish you could see the expression on her face; she's pretty obviously staring at you.

    Finally, she turns back to the genin. "It seems our match will have to be postponed, " she says, sounding terribly disappointed. You hide your grin as Jiro lets out a quiet sigh of relief.

    "That's good news, " Wild-Hair says cheerfully, "'cause unlike Itachi here, I can date all the civilians I want! Let's go get lunch-"

    There is a kunk!

    "Stop it, Shisui, " Weasel says.

    At least one of them isn't a complete idiot.

    "Nabiki-san, " he adds in farewell, and the three boys continue on their way.

    "Well that went well, " blue-hair mutters as they pass you.

    "Yeah, " Shisui agrees, "I especially like the part where you said nothing at all."

    You turn your head to make sure they're actually heading away, and blink in surprise. Shisui and Weasel both have Uchiha lollies on their back.

    So. Dickishness is a genetic trait. Who knew?

    "Nabiki-sama!" Jiro runs over to inspect his charge. "Are you injured at all?"

    "Stupid Jiro, " she scolds him, "Nabiki is just fine.

    "Now, " she says, crouching to your level with an only-slightly fake smile, "who're you, little girl? What're you doing here?"

    [X] Time to drop the charade. "Stopping that jerk from beating you up, Na-baka. What were you thinking, picking a fight with ninja? I know they're just genin, but geez."
    [X] Milk this cuteness thing for all it's worth. ^__^ "Playin' pretend. Wanna play too? You can be Kurogiku-hime, and I'll be your loyal okashira Renge and that guy with you can be a bad guy working for the evil daimyo of Bloom."
    [X] Take the hairpin and run.
    [X] Write-in
     
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  17. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Milk this cuteness thing for all it's worth.
    —> [X] The pin!


    The wolf-pin, despite all the jostling, hasn't budged a millimetre from where it was before the scuffle. It takes less than a second for you to pluck it out (under the pretense of pulling a clod of dirt out of her hair) and slide it up your sleeve.

    ^__^ "Playin' pretend. Wanna play too? You can be Kurogiku-hime, and I'll be your loyal okashira Renge and that guy with you can be a bad guy working for the evil daimyo of Bloom." Despite yourself, you're actually a little curious to see what kind of friend the brat makes. You've never played with another girl before.

    A shadow passes over Nabiki's face. "... why would you want to be a shinobi?"

    The question is like getting hit by a snowball in summer. For a moment you don't have any idea how to respond. Why would you want to be a shinobi? It's like asking why you want to grow your hair out and pin it up like mom's, or why you want to get as good at sensing as your dad is. Going to the Academy, getting a jounin-sensei, and taking missions are all just a part of growing up.

    "'Cause they get to travel and see new things, " you say, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. After a moment's thought, you add, "And they stop bad guys." You're not sure where you got that idea, but it feels right somehow.

    In an instant Nabiki is on her feet, fists clenched. "THEY DO NOT!" she yells, stamping her foot.

    You blink.

    "Nabiki-sama..." Jiro says hesitantly, eyes darting back and forth between you and passersby, "please recall where we are..."

    "Shut up, Jiro, " she growls, eyes locked on yours.

    You stare back, wide-eyed.

    "I don't care what they tell you here in Hidden Leaf, " Nabiki says angrily, "but shinobi are horrible, cruel people! They kill for money, sometimes people who didn't even do anything! They'll do anything you pay them to, no matter how vile! They're torturers and murderers and-"

    "Nabiki!" Jiro shouts, grabbing her shoulder.

    [X] Run. Run now. This is too much, what she's saying can't be true, you want Mom and Dad, you want Yuji-sensei, you wanna go home-!
    [X] Call her a liar. Dad wouldn't do that stuff!
    [X] Ask her how she knows this. She's not very bright, after all; maybe you can convince her she's wrong.
     
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  18. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Call her a liar. Dad wouldn't do that stuff!

    Even as you say the words, a tiny flare of... something... catches your attention.

    It's Jiro. His chakra (what little of it there is) just struck a discordant note. You worry for a moment that realizing you're from a ninja family has made him decide to get the police involved, but when you look at his face, he just seems... sad.

    ... pity?

    "He'd do whatever your Hokage ordered him to do!" Nabiki insists, oblivious to the interplay between you and her servant.

    "'Cause the Hokage's a nice old man who's really smart!" you retort. "I'd rather let him be my boss than you. I'd get fewer bruises." You nod at Jiro, who shrinks back with visible embarrassment.

    "Don't talk about things you don't understand, you little demon!"

    "I understand better than you, Na-baka!" She reels back as if struck; you wonder briefly if anyone's ever called her names to her face before, then decide you don't care. "I understand that I just saved you from getting the stuffing knocked out of you and you're paying me back by insulting my dad!"

    "'Na-baka'?!" she shrieks, and grabs for you; you dance easily out of reach. "You will address me as Nabiki-sama! Didn't your mother ever tell you how to talk to your betters?"

    [X] "Yeah! And she also taught me how to talk to haughty samurai and merchants with delusions of grandeur. But you're not even that! You're just someone's daughter."
    [X] "Didn't your mother ever tell you ladies don't beat up people weaker than them and mug them?"
    [X] "Yeah! Shame there aren't any around. Abayo~!" C-rank Disengage, bitches.
     
  19. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "Yeah! Shame there aren't any around. Abayo~!" C-rank Disengage, bitches.

    And with that, you dash back down the alley.

    Ten seconds later, you realize, much to your disappointment, that neither Nabiki nor Jiro are chasing you, and you slow down to walking pace.

    When you get home, you...

    [X] Talk to Dad.
    -> [X] "Dad... do you kill people? Is that what shinobi do?"
    -> [X] "Dad... why are the Uchiha such assholes?"
    -> [X] "Dad... who're the Rouga? Are they a clan like us?"

    [X] You're not sure you wanna talk to dad about this kind of thing; you haven't been in trouble before, but dad's pretty sharp, and you do have a vague understanding that some people don't like it when you take their stuff. Best not to bother him. Let's ask Yuji-sensei!
    -> [X] About shinobi
    -> [X] About the Uchiha
    -> [X] About the Rouga
     
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  20. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "Dad... why are the Uchiha such assholes?"

    "Don't let your mother catch you talking like that, " he warns with a stern look.

    "But they are!" you whine. "That one who was in the military police grabbed me without even asking when I just wanted to see the view from the top of Hokage Tower!" You decline to mention the animal-cracker-logic you'd been following at the time.

    "And how was he meant to know about your special circumstances?" Dad asks, amused. "From his point of view you were a normal baby crawling around a busy street, with your mother and I nowhere in sight. He was trying to do the right thing."

    Hm. You hadn't thought about it like that before. Still...

    "But it's not just him!" you persist. "A couple of their genin were being mean to a civilian girl today. Well, okay, Weasel didn't say a whole lot-" your father chokes back a laugh "-but that Shisui guy was just lame! It was like he didn't think of her as a person at all! Why are they such... butts?" you catch yourself in time.

    Dad sighs, and motions for you to have a seat next to him at the kitchen counter.

    "Ino... have you ever noticed that ninja women, like you, and Mrs Nara, and the kunoichi customers in the shop tend to be... prettier, on the whole, than civilian women?"

    "Yeah! Especially those milky-eyed people! Even their boys are pretty!"

    "Those are the Hyuuga, Ino, " he says, looking slightly uncomfortable for some reason. "Do you know why they're pretty?"

    "Because they're cool?" you ask.

    Dad blinks. "Interesting. What makes you say that?"

    "Pretty women like cool guys, " you say authoritatively, "and pretty women have pretty kids. So if a cool guy and a pretty lady get married and have babies, the babies will be pretty, and then their babies will be pretty."

    Dad chuckles. "You're very close, Ino. The fact is, the stronger a ninja is, the more likely they are to be considered 'cool' and catch the interest of a pretty wife."

    "... does that mean you and Shika-chan's dad are cool?"

    Dad smirks. "When we work together with Chouji's dad? We're the coolest."

    That makes sense. After all, you're pretty cool; you have to get it from somewhere. "But what about Chouji's mom? She's not ugly or anything, but..."

    "Kimiko-san is Chouza's wife because the Akimichi don't just look for physical beauty. They need to be on the lookout for someone who'll bear children who can withstand their very demanding nintaijutsu style." Dad tilts his head to the side, curious. "Tell me. Do you think the Uchiha are pretty?"

    You frown. "Maybe one or two are? They're all kind of half-pretty - sort of normal-looking but not quite. I haven't seen a lot of girl-Lollypops in the police force, but some of them are pretty." You then make the connection.

    "Sorry, but a future Clan head can't have a wife who isn't strong."

    "The Uchiha look for strong wives?"

    Dad snorts, but nods. "By their definitions, yes. No Uchiha of the ruling line has married a non-shinobi in thirty generations. Since the Founding of Konoha, only two have even married non-Uchiha, so devoted are they to their ideal. They respect and honour martial prowess above all else; they don't even consider their children adults until they master a C-rank fire jutsu.

    "And that is most likely why they were rude to the girl, " he says, pushing a stray hair out of your face. "If your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles tell you your whole life that being a good fighter is all that matters, you'll come to believe them. Civilians aren't good fighters, so to Uchiha it's a waste of time to show them respect."

    "That's so stupid!" You're actually getting worked up now. You think of Shisui talking to your mom the way he talked to Nabiki and growl.

    "It's just their way, " Dad says. His expression, by contrast, says he's proud of you, for some reason.

    After you get yourself a snack and give the matter some thought, you ask, "... Dad? What's the Yamanaka way?"

    He grins. "To marry the person who makes you happier than anyone."

    =

    Shikamaru's birthday comes and goes. You were cool with him not wanting a party, but you and his mother both put your feet down when he tried to say he didn't want presents. He actually gives you a full smile when he sees the sleep mask, and thanks you. Mwahahaha! Victory! You are the best gift-picker in the history of birthdays!

    Your own party the next day is a pretty small affair; Shika, Chouji and the Shiroi Brothers are your only friends, after all.

    Shirotama provides the fish you end up eating for lunch; he's just mastered catching them and wants to share his new skills with everyone.

    Menka (though doubtless Yuji's the one who paid) gets you a bokken, obviously still hoping you'll come back to sword class.

    Shikamaru seems kind of embarrassed by his gift, and when you open it you can see why. It's a full set of training kunai and dulled ninja wire.

    "My mom wants us to practice with them, " he mutters. You pat him sympathetically on the shoulder and tell him he can help you use them to rig up a hammock in the backyard for more effective napping.

    Chouji got you the latest two volumes of Kurogiku-hime, how nice of him to remember!

    Your dad's gift makes your jaw drop. It's a handsome, polished game board of solid mahogany. It has to have been ordered from the Capital, and at great expense - luxuries like imported wood in a nation known for its forests would never sell in a Hidden Village. Shika perks up visibly, and asks if you play.

    "Play what?" you ask blankly.

    He looks annoyed. "Hm. Troublesome."

    "I called in a favour from your dad, " Dad tells him. "He's gonna be teaching Ino to play. Help her out, will you?"

    Shika grunts in assent.

    The box mom brings downstairs is nothing like the other gifts. For one thing, it's wrapped in silk cloth tied up in intricate knots, not in paper, and for another it's longer than you are tall.

    Even more odd, when she sets it in front of you, she proceeds to unwrap it herself.

    The box within is of lacquered wood, painted with a symbol you've never seen before; a circle with some kind of blossoming flower inside it.

    As you and your friends lean forward in eager curiosity, she lifts the lid to reveal an enormous stringed instrument.

    "Do you know what this is, Ino?" she asks. When you shake your head, she lifts it from its box and places it on the floor, kneeling beside it and beckoning for you to come down as well. You do, curious. The instrument is of very fine make, if you're any judge; it's of paulownia wood, less rare than the mahogany of the game board Dad bought, but one of the prized hardwoods that have made lumber Fire Country's most valuable export. Inlaid in the top are mother-of-pearl designs; that blossom symbol that was on the box, various shapes that look like clouds, and tiny soaring birds.

    "It is a koto, " Mom says softly. "Among music aficionados, it is known as the Azure Dragon, because of the instruments of mankind, it is king." She runs her hand along it, smiling. "It was a wedding present to your great-grandmother from her father, and many years ago, on my fifth birthday, she passed it down to me. It's the only thing I took with me when I left to marry your father."

    You glance up at her in surprise. “You can play this, Mom?”

    “In my own small way, ” she says, a blush touching her cheeks. “I had lessons for fifteen years, but I never achieved her grace with it. Obaa-sama was a true artist.” For a moment she is lost in thought. She plucks a string lightly. “I hope you will make good use of it.”

    “Will it take fifteen years to learn?” you ask.

    She laughs. “That depends entirely on you, sweetheart.”

    You kind of get where this is going now. It’s no surprise when Yuji-sensei’s present turns out to be an ink-and-brush set.

    The Four Accomplishments. You’ve heard of them before, always in a list; Painting, Shogi, the Koto, and Calligraphy. You aren’t clear on why they’re so important, and you definitely don’t know why your family wants you to learn them.

    Later that evening, once everyone's left and you've helped clean up, you settle on the couch with your new manga and relax. Good birthday.



    What do you wanna focus on for the next six months or so? You can pick up to three, but the recommended choice is on Accomplishment and one non-Accomplishment.

    [X] The Four Accomplishments
    -> [X] Painting sounds interesting. Let’s start there!
    -> [X] Shika-chan says Shougi is really fun! Let's play!
    -> [X] Mom kept that koto for all those years; it must mean a lot to her. Let’s become a Musician!
    -> [X] Yuji-sensei says Calligraphy is the most elegant of the Accomplishments. Let’s learn some brushmanship!

    [X] More Sensing - hear all the chakra!
    [X] Further Nyango lessons
    [X] Just hang with Shikamaru and Chouji
    [X] Write-in?
     
  21. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Do re mi fa sol la ti do~

    The day of your first lesson, your mom puts you in a dress that's basically a smaller, blue-er version of her usual attire. In place of one of her brooches, you have a small pin shaped like the blossom-and-circle symbol that was on the koto's case.

    When you complain about how restrictive it is, she merely says, "All koto performances require formal attire. When you play for an audience you'll be representing the Akegami School; better you get used to our traditional garb now than be distracted by it later."

    Then she hands you a blind-fold and tells you to tie it on.

    "The foundation of music is an educated ear, " you hear her say as you finish the knot, and then you are hit by a warm wall of sound.

    [embed=425,349]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L24Nb4CJzV4[/embed]

    ... if this is mom's idea of 'okay', what the hell kind of goddess of music was great-grandma?

    When the song draws to a close, you clap loudly and enthusiastically. "Am I gonna learn how to play that song today?" you ask eagerly.

    Mom just laughs, and sets about teaching you the scales, putting your tiny fingers to each string and each position over and over, relenting only to remind you to keep your head up. She seems pleased at how fast you catch on.

    By the end of the lesson, you promise yourself you'll grow out your nails. The painful indents in your fingers demand it.

    Yuji-sensei seems a little disappointed you aren't that fussed about Calligraphy, but he and 'Tama are both fond of koto music, so the two of them often lie in the sun next to you as you practice. As the months pass, whatever objections Yuji may have had are lost in a sea of contented purring at your long-nail-enhanced scratches and pets.

    =

    Shikamaru's dad finds you a slightly frustrating pupil at shogi.

    -___- "Shogi is like a mirror; it shows your true personality. You're all instinct and impulse - that's how you live, and that's how you play."

    ... slightly frustrating.

    Shika-chan wins every match you have.

    =

    [X] Hear all the chakra!

    1d6 = (2) = ?

    Dad is greatly impressed by the speed at which you're refining your sensing. He credits your koto practice, and encourages you to keep up the good work.

    This is perhaps because he doesn't know you also practice your sensing at night when you can't sleep.

    It's on one of these nights that, sitting up in bed, staring at Menka lying on your feet in the moonlight, you notice something curious.

    His chakra is as bouncy as it ever is, dancing even when his body is a rest, but... there's something about the 'chords' that it gives off. You never noticed it before, but when Menka's energy plays its song, there's always the same melody underneath. No matter the variations, no matter the shifting harmonies, it always returns to the same tune.

    Intrigued, you strain your ears to see if you can find out more about this melody.

    ... hey, what the hell is that?

    The melody is moving through the cat. No, wait, all chakra does that, this is different - it's like the notes are each coming from a different part of Menka, like a cart hitting potholes on a long and winding road.

    You remember the playpen, and the veins full of sound.

    As soon as you hear it, and understand it, you realize something.

    Your body is doing the exact same thing.

    Shocked, you head over to where 'Tama's curled up by the door. His body is doing it too. So is Yuji-sensei over on the windowsill, who looks rather amused at your sudden activity.

    "Is all well, Ino-dono?" he asks, scratching an ear.

    "'Wherever there is life, there is chakra, '" you say to yourself, repeating what Dad told you when you first started sensing training.

    "Yes, " Yuji-sensei says, with a strangely alert 'smile' and a nod. "And what else?"

    At the back of your mind, you remember that normally he teaches warriors; whatever you've just found out, he likely knows what it means.

    "... and chakra flows along the same paths in every cat," you finish. "I guess humans are the same, but I only have myself to go on for now," you add. "I wonder if mom and dad would be mad if I snuck into their room to check?"

    Yuji-sensei falls off the windowsill.

    =

    The next day, you:
    [X] Tell everyone about your exciting new discovery
    [X] Only tell dad
    [X] Only tell Shikamaru
    [X] Keep it to yourself for now; you are the heir to the Yamanaka. Your secrets stay secret.
    [X] Write-In preference?

    As for what to do next...

    [X] The Four Accomplishments
    -> [X] More koto! Mom says if you work hard you can be playing proper full-length songs by the end of the year.
    -> [X] Painting
    -> [X] Calligraphy
    -> [X] The only one more sick of you losing to Shika than you is Shika. Let's get a good foundation in shougi.
    [X] Even more sensing! Let's expand your range.
    [X] Nyango
    -> [X] Try talking to some neighbourhood cats. Menka and 'Tama want to introduce you to some of their friends.
    [X] Hang around with Chouji and Shikamaru
    [X] Write in?
    (Pick whatever number of options you like, short of all of them.)


    Yeah, you guys don't wanna know how lucky you were with RAG's roll. I assigned various interesting results randomly and included number 2 as a joke because I couldn't think of anything else to fill that spot.
     
  22. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "Hey dad! Guess what I can do!" *play dad's chakra chords on the koto*

    You get about a minute in before his expression changes.

    "Ino, " he interrupts, "how did you come to think of that song?"

    Your grin is as massive as it is shit-eating. "It's coming from you!" you say, pointing to each of the notes' sources on his body in turn.

    He turns white.

    "You can hear chakra-tunes?!" Menka exclaims, leaping down from the kitchen counter and bounding over. "Play mine next!"

    "I thought you said the koto was boring, " you retort.

    "That was before I found out you can play life music! Ne, play mine, pleeeease!"

    "<Menka!>"

    Shirotama bounds down the stairs and bats his brother in the head. "<Think before you speak, will you?>" He turns to you and bows. "<Ino-chan, I'm sorry, but please don't play any of our melodies.>"

    "<How come?>" you ask, a little disappointed.

    "<He's just being a dog of tradition, >" Menka says dismissively, hopping on your shoulder and licking your face.

    That throws you off a bit. Normally Menka prefers to speak to you in Gyogo; it's his goal to speak it perfectly one day, just like Yuji-sensei. It's exceedingly rare for him to switch back to his native tongue unless he's explaining something to his little brother.

    "<What tradition is that?>" you ask 'Tama.

    He hesitates before responding. "<It is a matter you should discuss with mraonya, or better yet with tono-sama, should you see him again.>"

    "<Why do you always defer to> aniki <but never to me?>" Menka asks irritably, tail twitching. To you, he adds, "<When a cat of the Tora clan comes of age and is acknowledged as a knight, Ruri-sama, tono-sama's mother, meets with them in private and sings them the melody of their chakra. It's a whole big thing.>" He sticks his tongue out at 'Tama, a human gesture he picked up from you. "<But there's nothing that says you can't hear it beforehand if you get the opportunity!>"

    Tama looks uncomfortable, and is about to reply when Dad holds up his hand for silence.

    "Ino, " he says weakly, "I know I said expanding your range could wait until you got to the Academy... but if you're hearing the source of the individual notes, I think if you train your ears any harder they'll fall off."

    "It's okay Yamanaka-san!" Menka says. "If they do, I can be her ears instead; I'm gettin' pretty good at sensing."

    You and your dad both stare at him. He shrugs.

    "What? You don't think I seriously take naps, do you?"

    =

    You don't often get to see Shika-chan surprised these days, but every time you do, it's totally worth the effort.

    He finally leans back from the board and smiles. "'Bout time you caught up, "

    You stand and stretch out of character with a grin. Feels good to smile again after all that seriousness. Picking up your bokken and resting it on your shoulder, you turn to go. "Good game. Farewell."

    The cool effect is kind of ruined when you trip on your hakama.

    =

    It's a warm Sunday in May when Yuji nuzzles you back into consciousness a full hour before your usual five-thirty wake-up time (Mom has never managed to train you to sleep in).

    "Ino-dono, " he whispers, "please forgive me for disturbing you, but tono-sama has just sent word that you're to be invited to an event of special significance."

    You sit right up at that. "Tora's here? He's back in Konoha?"

    Yuji nods. "We must leave quickly, however; it wouldn't do for us to be late."

    Nodding, you listen for a moment to make sure this is really Yuji-sensei; you overheard Mom and Dad talking last week about an intruder at the Hyuuga compound and you're still on guard lest some idiot get confused and think pupil-less eyes are the same thing as the Byakugan. When you're certain it's really him, you hop to your feet.

    You dress quickly in your koto-playing outfit; if you're going to sneak out to meet with a cat-noble, you figure Mom's less likely to kill you if you dress appropriately. "What about Menka and 'Tama? Are they coming?"

    "I'm afraid not, " he replies. "Those still considered kittens are barred entry from such meetings."

    You blink. "Wait, then why am I invited?" You're older chronologically than the younger Shiroi brothers, sure, but relatively you're about ten years their junior.

    "There has not been a true speaker of the tongue for over thirty years, " Yuji says, opening the window. "Their presence at certain times is considered a good luck charm. Doubtless tono-sama wishes all to proceed smoothly."

    His chakra seems a bit fluttery for that to be the whole truth, but you don't press him.

    Before you leave your room, you decide to bring with you...

    [X] The large pin with the crest. The dress is incomplete without it.
    [X] The hairpin. If you're going formal, you're going formal.
    [X] Your training kunai and their pouch. There might still be kidnappers out and about!





    The words in maroon are ones you don't have a real grasp of yet.

    As for why Menka uses a Gyogo word to refer to his older brother, it's because he thinks aniki sounds cooler than the Nyango word.

    Yes, this makes him a weeaboo kitty.

    Dad rather understandably asked you not to tell your mother about just how precise your sensing has gotten. He hasn't said anything about not telling Shikamaru or Chouji, though; he's a big believer in the Ino-Shika-Chou bond.
     
  23. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] The crest.

    You wall-walk down to the ground, Yuji in your arms, and follow his directions around town.

    Konoha has a different feel at night; the air is clearer, somehow. And with your burgeoning sensing powers, the empty streets are very soothing.

    Empty? No. The closer you get to wherever you're going, the more you notice various cats heading in the same direction. A smoke-grey pair you've seen frequently around town, but never together; a trio of tortoiseshells walking single file along the roofs; a filthy bundle of bones whose actual fur colour is indeterminable under the grime, darting every few seconds from dark corner to dark corner; the auburn-coloured ball of fluff Sabi, Yuji's fellow instructor in kenjutsu; all of them are following the same route, like a motley parade.

    If an Inuzuka looked out the window right now, they'd shit bricks, you think to yourself.

    That's something interesting, too; you're actually walking right through the area of town where the dog people live in the greatest numbers (they don't have a compound like the Hyuuga or the Lollypops; they're more laid-back than that). You don't mind - you like dogs just as much as cats, despite some kids on the playground trying to make a 'thing' out of it - but you are curious. If Yuji's told Menka and Tama once, he's told them a hundred times; Inuzuka territory is not a place cats go without an invitation, full stop. The two species don't have a blood feud going, but in a way that makes their relations all the more delicate and face-obsessed.

    At least, on the cat side of things. You can't imagine an animal that basically shouts to the world its likes and dislikes every time it opens its mouth cares all that much about keeping up appearances.

    "<So this is she?>" the lead tortoiseshell asks Yuji, looking you up and down. "<She's barely a child! Has she even learned to manage her waste yet?>"

    "<I have so been toilet trained!>" you say indignantly. Well, kind of. You've started. Shut up, it's just not as easy as walking or talking, okay?

    The second tortoiseshell laughs. "<She certainly has pride. I can see why tono-sama is interested.>"

    "<Not I, >" says the first, "<it's disturbing, hearing someone that young speak that well. And without a tail or anything! It's like talking to an automaton!>"

    "<She can't help being shaped wrong, Rukura, >" the third speaks up.

    "<If she's learned the tongue this fast, no doubt she's a long-tailed lady or lord reborn, >" the second muses. "<That would explain->"

    "<Hey!>" you interrupt, turning to face them, "<don't talk about me like I'm not here!>"

    There is a pause as they look you over once again.

    "<Our apologies, Ino-dono, " the lead cat, Rukura, says with a bow, her sister and brother following suit. To your surprise, the apology is sincere.

    "<It's okay, >" you say, returning the bow. "<Sorry for snapping at you.>"

    The three promptly run on ahead, clearly looking for a place to continue their chat. You giggle. Oh, cats. Never change.

    "Those three are the Nishibutai family, " Yuji informs you in a low voice. "By the time we arrive they will have informed everyone of your coming."

    "Why am I such a big deal?" you whisper back.

    "Do not pitch your voice so high, " Yuji says patiently, "lest you wake the dogs."

    "Sorry, " you say, switching to the most bass you can manage. It's not a whole lot.

    "Are we going to an acknowledgement ceremony?" Your conversation with Menka has stuck with you; it sounds like a really neat event. You wish your koto were portable.

    "Far more significant, " he replies. "But it is ill luck for any but tono-sama to speak of it until the party has begun."

    You huff. Cats are so superstitious! Bad luck, good luck, feng shui, blah blah blah. Even Menka is always going on about not eating one fish until you've caught two and warning you not to wander around in long grass lest a vampire get you.

    On the other hand, you're officially going to a grown up party. That's pretty cool.

    The pavilion is in a large vacant lot nestled between a shrine to Moro no Kimi and the Naka River, right at the heart of this Inuzuka neighbourhood. You'd ask Yuji-sensei why this is, but the atmosphere is a lot more solemn now than it was on the way over, and you think it's best if you just stay quiet for now.

    You enter the tent. It's nicer than it was outside, though not by much; the cloth and cut indicate when it was new it was a merry, festive structure, but the years have not been kind to it. The only real hint of colour comes from the cats who fill the space, seated on cushions at long low tables. There are at least a hundred of them, in a riot of breeds and hues. You spot the Nishibutai family near the head of their table, far toward the platform at the back of the pavilion.

    And on that platform sits Tora himself. Flanked by a black shorthair and a fellow ginger tabby, and dressed in a proper black kimono and haori, you nearly didn't recognize him.

    He's young, you realize, surprised. The last time you saw him he was such a massive cat that you just assumed he must be an adult, but now you've spent more time around the Shiroi brothers and have a better eye for judging ages, it's obvious; Tora might even be younger than Yuji-sensei, and Yuji's the cat equivalent of a twenty-five-year-old.

    Your aforementioned teacher hops down from your arms and leads you to a seat at the end of one of the tables, amidst the hubbub of conversation. Across from you sits the dirty stray you saw earlier; she's staring at her paws like she expects to be thrown out of here at any minute. You feel a stab of pity. Her chakra has the hurdy-gurdy sound dad says is indicative of illness; you wonder when she last ate. A year ago you'd have tried to pet her, but experience has taught you that you'd likely get an immediate bite or scratch for your trouble. No cat, no matter how weak, takes well to being patronized.

    As the last cat enters the pavilion, Tora rises to his feet, and all conversation ceases.

    "<My people, >" he says, "<tonight marks a month since the birth of my heir. I have the honour of naming her Tora-no-Miun, daughter of Mree the Blacktail.>"

    There is a warm sigh of contentment at this; cats don't really go in for applause.

    "<Congrats, Perrunya-chan, >" someone at the foot of the dais calls, "<now bring on the free hooch!>"

    Audience participation is another story.

    As hearty laughs (by cat standards) fill the room, Tora, smiling with what looks like relief, ushers in several cats carrying beer, sake, and a third liquid in a gold-painted bottle you don't recognize.

    "<Nepetajochu. Catnip-flavoured shochu, >" Yuji says when you ask, immediately adding, "<not that it is any of your concern, as you will not be consuming any alcohol-"

    "<Hora, hora!>" an older cat beside you, blue (seriously? Blue?) with an eyepatch and half an ear missing, interrupts. "<What's this about not drinking, Yuji-kun?>"

    "<Ino-dono is still a child by human reckoning, Tsumujikaze-san, >" Yuji replies coldly. "<Her digestive system cannot be expected to handle->"

    "<What is this clan coming to?>" blue grumbles, tuning out the lecture entirely. "<First you hog the speaker all to you and your brothers, you don't introduce her to anyone at all-"

    "<If you will recall, Tsumujikaze-san, no one knew for certain that Ino-dono was a speaker until I had been teaching her for over six months->"

    "<-and when you finally bring her to court, you sit her with the cripples and the old men at the back->"

    "<It's the only place she won't obstruct everyone's view!>"

    "<-and then you deny her even the opportunity to drink Miun-chan's and Tora-sama's health?>" Tsumujikaze shakes his head, and pours you a small glass of sake. "Hai, ojou-san, " he says, passing it to you.

    [X] It would be rude not to drink. Down the hatch!
    [X] It would also be rude to throw up on people you just met. Sip it.
    [X] This stuff stinks! I'm not drinking it!
    [X] Write-In?

    Also, engage in conversation with:
    [X] Yuji
    [X] Tsumujikaze
    [X] the stray


    And now you know why canon-Tora is female and Juusandaime Tora is male. He's her dad.
     
  24. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "<I accept the drink in the spirit it was given, but I sadly can't consume it>."

    Yuji lets out a sigh of relief. Tsumujikaze looks slightly put out.

    "<Yuji-sensei's correct to say my... digestive system? isn't up to it. I don't wish to be ill and ruin Miun-chan's birthday party, >" you say apologetically. You privately wonder if the old fellow's already had a few; why would he offer rice wine to someone who doesn't even have her permanent teeth yet?

    The blue tom seems to have come to the same conclusion, if his look of embarrassment is anything to go by. "<Sorry about that, ojou-san, >" he mumbles. "<You're right; nice girls shouldn't just drink whatever's offered them.>" You get the impression that if he were human, he'd be blushing.

    After a moment, an idea comes to you. "<What if I were to toast Miun-chan and Tora, and then give my share to you to drink? That way I can still wish them luck and happiness and all that good stuff.>" :3

    Tsumujikaze brightens. "<Excellent suggestion!>"

    The two of you drink a few toasts. "May Miun-chan's whiskers never steer her wrong!" is one you come up with that the big blue cat finds particularly charming; the traditional "May Tora-sama live ten thousand years and never feel the touch of rain!" is one that gets called from various tables from time to time and always gets everyone to drain their glasses.

    "<So why is this gathering taking place here, Tsumuji-san?>" you ask. "<Kind of a strange place for a kitty party.>"

    "<Best place in Konoha for it, >" he replies, refilling 'your' glass. "<Tora-sama's great-great-grandfather had the right idea, buying this land. Sure, we have to tell the dog-faced humans before we use it, but better them than those Fortress bas- erm, people.>"

    "<Fortress people?>" Your conversation with Yuji-sensei on the day you met comes back to you. "<You mean the Fortress-born? The ones with that contract?>"

    "<Bunch of idiots who think a castle shaped like a giant cat is a great hiding place for ninja, >" Tsumujikaze says with a snort.

    "<I doubt hiding was what the Dragon-Eater had in mind when he commissioned the Fortress, >" Yuji comments dryly.

    The blue cat scowls. "<The Dragon-Eater's been dead for seven hundred years, and in all that time not one cat has been born who equals his deeds, if we're to believe all that's written. The line->"

    "<Tsumujikaze-san, >" Yuji cuts in, in the voice of someone who knows where this is going, "<perhaps before you launch into a lecture, you could give Ino-dono the chance to ask a few questions?>"
    Tsumujikaze's one eye gives Yuji a hard stare. "<You mean to tell me you haven't told her anything of our history?>"

    "<I repeat, >" Yuji says with a sigh, "<we did not know for certain that Ino-dono was a true speaker until just over a month ago. It would have been unwise to->"

    The grey eye rolls. "<Spare me the dilemmas of the nobility.>" He turns back to you with a grin. "How about it, ojou-san? What would you like to know?"

    [X] ???
     
  25. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [​IMG]
    (Source: api.ning.com)

    [X] Hey, everybody! An old cat's talking!

    "<Are you gonna tell me a story, Tsumuji-san?>" you ask excitedly. "<Are there pretty ladies and cool guys in it?>"

    "<The coolest guy, >" Tsumujikaze exclaims delightedly, with a smug look thrown in Yuji's direction.

    He launches into the tale of Hnmao the Dragon-Eater, first of the bakeneko. He explains that a bakeneko is a very powerful size-changing cat whose tail is split in two near its end. He extols the virtues and strengths of Hnmao, tells you how he began as a simple defender of his sisters against vampires (what is it with cats and vampires? Is he telling you history or the bedtime version of history, here?) and quickly rose to organize and lead the fighting force that drove them out of Cat territory. According to legend, he was immune to all poisons, because in the final battle to rid his nation of the vampires, he found the strength within himself to grow larger than he ever had before and ate the vampires' leader to death, a fearsome act which gave him his title.

    "<Eating vampires makes you immune to poison?>" you ask curiously. Human legends don't mention that. You think if they did, mom would have a vial of vampire blood somewhere around the house to test on things.

    "<Well, certainly to their poisons, >" Tsumujikaze says reasonably. "<Personally I've always thought it was a metaphor for all the research he put into developing antidotes; his notebooks and papers are still on file in the Fortress library. At least, " he adds darkly, "they were. Knowing Nekomata-no-Rrao, I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to make a sleeping mat out of them."

    "<... was Hnmao-sama fluffy like Tora?>" you ask to lighten the mood.

    Tsumujikaze smiles. "<No, ojou-san. Hnmao-sama was sleek and white, with black stripes. They say his mother was a tiger who fell in love with a local boy.>"

    The main dish arrives; tender, barely-cooked chicken livers, sashimi, and... steak tartare, your mind fills in helpfully.

    You try the sashimi and this 'steak tartare' stuff. Both are pretty tasty, though the texture of raw beef is kind of weird.

    The undercooked chicken you plop onto the stray's plate with no preamble. "<Eat up, >" you tell her in the same tone Yuji uses on Menka when he won't sit still for dinner. "<You look like you could use some extra.>"

    She stares at you, expression unreadable. After a moment she mumbles, "Thank you, " and daintily starts eating.

    You blink. Where does a gutterstray learn to speak Gyogo?

    Tsumujikaze, apparently not paying attention to all this, goes on to describe the raising of the Fortress on the northern border of Fire Country to draw the vampires' attention toward it rather than the homes of normal, unintelligent cats or the hunting fields of Hnmao's people ("<No, ojou-san, it does not have fur.>")

    "<Those were happier days, >" he sighs finally. "<Every year more and more cats ascended to bakenekohood, the rivalries between families were amusing diversions instead of pointless but deathly serious blood feuds, and game was plentiful in the woods and on the plains.>" He shakes his head. "<Back then holding the Cat Summoning contract meant something. It meant the human in question knew us, respected us, and in turn had earned our respect. You probably don't know, ojou-san, but making as much progress as you have in Nyango ordinarily takes decades for a human to manage. Holding the Cat Summoning contract used to mean a human had learned how to make formal requests in Nyango, and studied our culture, and proved a worthy partner.>"

    Oof, the atmosphere is getting heavy again. "<... what happened?>" you ask timidly.

    "<Uchiha Hiraku happened, >" Tsumujikaze says bluntly.

    "<Uchiha...>" You say it as though the word has something nasty on it you don't want to catch. "<So I take it they're assholes to cats, too?>"

    Wow, whaddya know? Tsumujikaze and Yuji do agree on something, and it's that well-bred young women don't swear.

    When they finish stressing this point to you, Yuji muttering to himself about having a 'friendly chat' with Menka later, Tsumujikaze is forced to concede that your assessment is essentially accurate.

    "<We didn't know so at the time, of course, >" he says with a snort. "<Everyone thought they were a godsend; Hiraku knew the Song of Rrhaer backward and forward within a month of seeking us out, and he soaked up grammar like a sponge. One of the features of their Sharingan, you know, >" he adds as an aside. "<When it activates, it can memorize anything it sees and provide instant recall to the user on command.>"

    You are unimpressed. As far as you're concerned, that's what eyes are for.

    "<The Nekomata of the time was sure Hiraku was the next speaker; someone who takes to Nyango and other cat specialities like teeth to meat, making them an ideal partner for our leader or any one of us.>" Tsumujikaze very politely pretends not to note the jolt that goes through you at this. "<But the prophet at the time was unconvinced. Superficially, the signs would seem to match the prophecy for the next speaker; he was black of hair, a ninja, he had the drive to succeed that we demand in our contract holders, and he came to us on a cloudless, sunny morning in June. But there was something that wasn't quite right to the prophet; when you read his autobiography it seems almost as though he thought Hiraku dimwitted, or at least overly-friendly.>"

    "<Eventually he left with the summoning contract, but without the title of speaker, and from then on we heard little of him but the battles he had been in.>

    "<Then, on a cloudless morning in June, two years after Hiraku left us, his elder brother Chiaki arrived on our doorstep.>"

    You are riveted, not wanting to miss a single word. "<... so it was his brother who was the speaker the whole time?>"

    "<Yes.>" Tsumujikaze hesitates, clearly unsure of how to phrase the next part of the tale. "<He came to us by way of a reverse-summoning, a technique that allows a human to find their ideal summoning partners. But it was clear he hadn't been looking for a contract. He was trying to escape.>

    "<From what?>"

    "<Hiraku.>"

    You stare.

    "<According to what few notes I have available on the subject, we did what we could for Chiaki, >" the blue cat continues, "<but that wasn't much. The records indicate his injuries were extensive, and he died a few days after he arrived.>"

    You think on this for a long, quiet moment. You know as horrific as this story is to you, it must have been even worse for those who were there. The bond between siblings among cats is considered even more important than that between parent and child.

    "<Why Hiraku was permitted to remain a contractor, I don't know, " Tsumujikaze says after a long drink of nepetajochu. "<But I suspect it was thanks to the intervention of the Nekomata, either out of affection for the young man he had mentored, or fear.>

    "<In either case, the result was the same; we've had three summoners since Hiraku, and all of them have been Uchiha. The children of the Dragon-Eater are shinobi now, and as long as the few remaining bakeneko bar themselves up in the Fortress and launch vendettas against each other, that is likely what they will remain.>"

    He lets out a humourless laugh. "<They wear hitai-ate marked with the word 'Sincerity', did you know that? And people say irony is a lost art.>"

    "<I think that is quite enough history for today, >" Yuji says firmly. "<Thank you very much for your insight, Tsumujikaze-san, but please recall that you are at a naming feast.>"

    "<You switched to 'they', >" you note, ignoring Yuji for the moment. "<Before you said 'we'.>"

    "<I did, >" Tsumujikaze confirms.

    To hell with all this tiptoeing around. "<Is the Tora Clan Fortress-born?>"

    "<Ino-dono, please, this is hardly->"

    "<We were.>" Tsumujikaze interrupts. "<Until Nekomata-no-Rrao banished Kyudaime-sama and all his retainers and removed their names from the Summoning scroll.>"

    "<She's just a child, Tsumujikaze!>" Yuji-sensei explodes. As a few heads turn in your direction, he lowers his voice. "<For the love of all that's holy, let her be one a while longer.>"

    "<Time is a human luxury, >" Tsumujikaze retorts. "<Have you forgotten? Ours was taken from us.>

    "<... that said, >" he turns to face you, and bows, "<I apologize for monopolizing the lady's attention. I hope she will forgive an old soldier his droning.>"

    "<There's nothing to forgive, Tsumuji-san.>" You try to smile. "<I like learning new things. It was a really interesting story.>"

    A note is passed to you by one of the cats circling with booze. It's from Tora, saying he would very much like to speak with you sometime before the end of the party.

    [X] You go to him right away. He's the whole reason you came to this bash, right?

    [X] You're not sure you could face him right now; that story was pretty... intense. You think you'd rather stay here for a bit before heading over. You try to calm down by

    -> [X] Chatting with Tsumujikaze about lighter topics
    -> [X] Striking up a conversation with the stray
    -> [X] Write-in
     
  26. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [embed=425,349]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEtbfzMLVWU[/embed]

    "<Hey, there, miss, >" you say cheerfully, "<why the long face?>"

    There's a pause, until, hesitantly, the cat raises her eyes. They only stay on yours for a scant moment before they duck down again, and you'll be damned if that isn't strange. Tora Clan members always look you right in the eye when you talk to them.

    "Are you talking to me?" she asks quietly, her stance shifting as if ready to bolt.

    "Do you see any other sad ladies here tonight?" you reply with a grin. "I know Tsumuji-san here's a great beauty, but I'm pretty sure he's a guy."

    Very, very quietly, she asks the table, "... how do you... talk... to them?"

    You shrug. "I took lessons."

    "Please, Ino-dono, " Yuji interjects, "I beg you not to give my tutelage too much credit. You have a natural talent that merely needed the proper-"

    "Yeah, yeah, save it, " you interrupt, giving him nice scratches to shut him up. "You got me up to near-fluency in half a year; no amount of natural talent in the world can make that happen without a good teacher." You turn back to the stray. "He likes to pretend I'm a big deal."

    And now you know why. The half-thought manifests itself and gets stomped on for its trouble. Later. You are going to think about this crazy speaker stuff later.

    "Oh."

    ... this is one seriously shy kitty.

    "So what's your name?" you ask, a little less boisterously than before.

    "... the little girl called me Miri, " she offers.

    I remember. The first thing I called him was a stray cat.

    You blink the words away. Hm. That's odd. You haven't had a... whatever the heck these things are in ages.

    "Miri-san, " Yuji says, a strange note of curiosity creeping into his voice, "do you have any family in town?"

    Miri looks positively petrified. "Am I not supposed to be here? Should I go?"

    "Oh, don't be silly, girl, " Tsumujikaze rumbles. "It's a naming feast. Bad luck to turn away a guest from a naming feast."

    "No, there's no need to leave if you don't wish to, " Yuji says. "But please tell me. Do you have family in Konoha?"

    "I'm only passing through, " she replies hastily, "and it's just me. I promise I'll leave soon."

    "You don't have to leave, " you protest, protective instincts kicking in right on cue; you're not a doctor, but even you can see Miri is seriously not up to a journey right now. "You can stay with me - well, " you add upon reflection, "you can stay with me if you clean up first, my mom doesn't like dirt except in the greenhouse or the garden."

    "<Ino-dono, >" Yuji says quietly, not taking his eyes off her, "<would you really let a stranger around Menka and Shirotama, just like that?>"

    "<You did, >" you point out, gesturing at yourself.

    His tail flicks in irritation. "<That is entirely different. You had tono-sama as your backing. Miri-san has no one to vouch for her by her own admission.>"

    You pout. "<You didn't have any backing when I let you move in. But I did it anyway because I liked you and Menka and Tama.>"

    "<As far as we know she could be a spy, >" Yuji points out, still staring at Miri. "<Or some foreign ninja henge'd into a cat. Or a violet nacho underpants pizza-tongue.>"

    "Wha-?" You're not sure what's most odd; that Yuji came up with that sentence immediately, that he then actually said it, or that Miri didn't so much as blink when he did.

    He ignores your question, and turns around. "<Sabi!>" he calls.

    A moment or so later, his fellow instructor, looking thoroughly hammered and not at all dignified, arrives at your table.

    "<Whassamatta?>" he slurs, blinking slowly.

    Yuji points at him, and says to Miri, "Describe Sabi-san, if you would."

    Miri somehow manages to slouch even more. "U-um, he's fluffy, and grey, and-"

    Yuji lets out a sigh of relief.

    Sabi looks confused. "<'m not grey. Why would she say grey? Huh?>"

    "<Just confirming a theory, Sabi-san, thank you.>" Yuji nods at a waiter, who leads Sabi back over to his table.

    "<What the hell just happened?>" you ask. "<Am I still asleep back in my room?>"

    "<I have determined she's not a spy, >" Yuji says, "<but that the situation is rather more complicated as a result.>"

    "<Maybe for you, >" Tsumujikaze weighs in, "<but not for me. It's a damn shame, that girl's situation, and I aim to do something about it if she'll let me.>"

    "<What are you talking about? What situation? Why didn't Miri-chan react to that weird stuff you said before?>"

    "<Because she's not a Tora Clan member, >" Yuji explains. "<She's a true stray; a normal cat that has acquired higher thought and learned to talk.>"

    "<You see 'em in ninja villages, mostly, >" Tsumujikaze says. "<All that excess moulded chakra floating around does weird things to otherwise ordinary animals. And, well, humans don't tend to like it when a 'dumb cat' talks back, so->"

    "Can we please stop talking about Miri-chan like she's not in the room?" you interrupt. "If she isn't a spy, then shouldn't we not treat her like one?"

    Miri hops back from her seat with a start, stance defensive, but utterly unlike any you've seen from Yuji or his brothers. This is more primal, slightly less balanced; closer to how you've seen normal cats fight each other, now that you think about it.

    Tsumujikaze laughs. "Calm down, Miri-chan, we had good reason to worry. Tora cats don't have a lot of friends outside of the Clan. C'mon back, there's wine and plenty of meat." As if to emphasize this point, he digs into his third helping of sashimi.

    "I apologize for my lack of manners, Miri-san, " Yuji says, clearly embarrassed now that the potential threat has been fully analyzed. "Ino-dono is in my care as my student, you see; if she were to be injured thanks to my negligence, I would never forgive myself."

    After a moment, Miri gives a small, slow nod, and climbs back onto her cushion.

    "Is this really okay?" she asks.

    "Of course!" you say with a wide smile. The other cats nod.

    The stray gives you a tiny look of happiness and then helps herself to more steak tartare.

    Getting to your feet (trying not to groan at how much your legs hurt from sitting seiza so long), you stretch and turn to your teacher. "Yuji-sensei, I'm gonna go see Tora, but then we've gotta go home before mom finds me out of bed."

    He nods. "I will await your return."

    You head over to the dais, stepping over more than a few waiters and even guests dancing in the aisle. Tora's cushion is empty, but his two guards are still there, just as sober and upright as they were at the start of the party.

    You nod at them, and they nod back. "You may leave through the back flap, Ino-sama, " the tabby says, "Tora-sama is waiting."

    Doubtless there's something he wants to talk to you about, but what do you want to say to him?

    [X] ???
     
  27. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Everybody wants to be a cat.

    There are five people around Tora when you exit the tent, two of whom at least have to be related to him; one of the ladies looks almost exactly like him, with a long stripe down her spine and tail being the only obvious difference. The other... well, what name would you give a green cat other than Ruri? That has to be his mom, who Menka told you about.

    At your approach, Tora indicates to the others that he wishes to speak to you in private. Stripe-spine looks like she wants to protest, but probably-Ruri takes a swipe at her ear and leads her away.

    All the cats look at you as they pass, but none say hello. Stripe, though, has a look of borderline adoration in her eyes that gives you rather mixed feelings.

    When the others have left, you run over to the big kitty and hug his fluffy tail. "Hi, Tora! Congratulations on being a dad."

    "Th-thank you, " he manages to stammer out, "but Ino, if you could please let go of my tail-?"

    "Oh!" You let go. "Sorry. Menka likes it when I hug his tail, and yours is waaaaaay fluffier. I didn't think it would hurt."

    "It's not painful, it's just..." Tora sighs with a small smile. "Never mind. I trust you have been enjoying the party?"

    The two of you have a pleasant enough chat for a minute or two, but you can tell Tora's mostly small-talking for your benefit; every cat you've ever met has had a very to-the-point attitude in social matters. Wasting a cat's time on meaningless pleasantries is considered impolite. You're surprised he's so good at it.

    Suddenly realizing that he must be waiting for you to turn the topic to more serious matters, you decide to go for the big question.

    "Why didn't Yuji-sensei tell me what being a speaker meant before?"

    "I ordered him not to, " Tora replies simply. "If you tell a child they have a natural gift for something before they do any work on the subject, they have no incentive to properly do that work."

    "Hey! I'm not that lazy!" you protest, pouting. "And that's not what I meant. Tsumuji-san made it sound like speakers are almost expected to get on the Cat Summoning contract."

    Tora looks incredibly amused. "I still find it difficult to believe that Shiroi-san willingly sat next to Tsumujikaze-san."

    You grin, despite yourself, but don't let up for a second. "Is that why you let me ride you? I thought it was just the barbecue."

    The ginger cat coughs. "Well, yes, at the time... but spontaneous verbalization is uncommon enough that I made arrangements to be sure that if you came looking for help, Shiroi-san or one of the other nobles would be willing to provide it." He gives you an appraising glance. "In all honesty, I was surprised it was linguistic instruction you requested first, and not sword-training. You are from a ninja clan, after all."

    You shrug. "Swords are really cool, but languages are more important. You can use 'em for more stuff." You cross your arms. "And you still haven't told me-"

    "There is no prophecy, " Tora says finally.

    You blink. "So?"

    "All other instances of speakers of the tongue have been preceded by visions in the dreams of cat prophets, identifying the new speaker as such, " he explains. "According to those who have such dreams, they're characterized by an unusual level of certainty regarding the intended message. When a speaker is about to approach us, they know."

    "And there isn't one about me?"

    "There isn't one about anyone," Tora says, exhasperated. "The next speaker is projected to be born sometime between ten and twenty years from now." He stares at you curiously, sniffing the air in front of you. "Furthermore, there are no recorded dreams about a Yamanaka, a blonde girl, a blond boy, a blonde kitten, a child born in September, a sensor, or any other combination of details that could present you as a person coming into significant contact with the Clan. As far as our admittedly small number of experts are concerned, you are supposed to be a normal human, with no special ties to cats."

    "Maybe I'm just good with languages, " you say reasonably. "I learned Gyogo really fast, too."

    Tora shakes his head. "If that were the case, there would be at least some warning. Tsumujikaze-san informs me that the arrival of Uchiha Hiraku, one of the most accomplished human scholars of Nyango who wasn't a speaker, was heralded by a prophet dreaming of opening a door for him."

    You massage the back of your neck; you're not really into all this destiny stuff. "Could someone have had a dream about me and then not bothered recording it? Or just forgotten it?"

    Tora laughs outright. "I don't think it very likely that a seer would forget a dream about a Takazono. People with a waking connection to seers are famously easier to remember."

    "Takazono? You mean Mom's family?"

    The cat points a paw at the pin at your throat. "They're your family as well, if you bear their seal." He smiles. "The Takazono are extremely well thought of by my people. They were the first to take us in when we were newly-banished; the current family head helped raise my grandfather along with several other cats of his generation. Their greenhouses and gardens supply the Tora and mundane cats alike with hunting grounds, catnip for our shochu breweries, and a safe place in the capital to rest, for those of us without homes. There isn't a Tora Clan member alive today who doesn't owe the Takazono something, one way or another."

    Hmm. So the seal is from Mom's family. Since it came with the dress you just thought it was a koto thing, or an Akegami School thing at most. That's kinda neat. And it makes sense now that Mom was perfectly fine with Yuji and everyone just moving in without warning.
    You're getting off-track, though.

    "So what happens now?" you ask. At Tora's prompting look, you elaborate: "Am I still a speaker? Does it matter?"

    "To my sister it does." He sighs. "She has a theory that your soul is somehow 'outside of fate', and hence invisible to dream seers."

    "Awesome! Does it give me any other superpowers?"

    "Apparently it lets you talk to cats."

    "... y'know something, Tora? You're all right, " you say, snickering.

    "Rest assured, I have no intention of extracting any promises from you, " Tora says, and just like that, he's Srs Clan Head again. "You are a brilliant child, Ino, but you are a child regardless. There are many paths open to you, and it would be unfair of me to limit them so early in your life." He stretches and yawns, revealing dazzlingly white fangs. "I merely felt it prudent to alert you to one of those paths."

    You have a little time left before you have to get going. (Pick 2)

    [X] "Why did the Tora Clan get exiled?" It's been bugging you ever since Tsumujikaze told you about it.
    [X] "The Summoning Contract just seems like kind of a hassle for nothing. I mean, I'm already friends with you guys, and friends have each others' backs, right? What good are some Fortress guys who only like fighting, anyway?"
    [X] Tell him about Miri
    [X] Write in.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
  28. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "Why did the Tora Clan get exiled?" It's been bugging you ever since Tsumujikaze told you about it.

    Tora goes stock-still, and stares into your eyes.

    Oof. Maybe you shouldn't have brought it up.

    Finally, he looks away, and starts to thaw.

    "My ancestor, the Kyudaime Tora, was Nekomata-no-Rrao's chief of intelligence, counterintelligence, and retrieval, " he begins quietly, pacing as if delivering a lecture. "Whenever the spies of the Fortress were sent forth to do their work, it was he who gave the order. He was also the master of the Haunting-Tigress weapons school, head of the second-largest clan at the time, a hero of the Second War of Supremacy, and in the wake of that war, one of the five remaining bakeneko.

    "And it is likely for these reasons that Nekomata arranged for him to die."

    You frown. "I get it... he was too cool. He must have gotten all kinds of girlfriends and Nekomata was jealous."

    Tora lets out an ungentlemanly snort of laughter. "History, ah, does not relate anything on that count, I'm afraid." You smile, pleased that you managed to lift his spirits a little bit.

    He goes on at length (you're starting to notice a trend with cats when it comes to history; their usually-short attention spans triple where pride is concerned, it seems), but the gist is this, as far as you're concerned: the current Nekomata is a paranoid loon from growing up during a civil war, the Kyudaime was alarmingly naive in regards to his childhood friend and loyal to a fault, and when Nekomata ordered him to take on a long-term mission to the Land of Water personally to get him out of the way for a while, he agreed immediately.

    Tora doesn't know the details of the mission, but what he does know is that, while in Water, the Kyudaime found that the merchant-king ally he was staying with had in secret been holding a powerful bakeneko-slaying sword dating back to the time of the Dragon-Eater's wars, presumably as 'insurance'.

    When the Kyudaime stole the artefact without getting caught and returned to the Fortress to report the find (ie, did his job), Nekomata's moon-logic led him to the conclusion that the only reason a powerful subordinate would insult a major international ally by stealing a sword specifically forged to kill his species and bringing it back to base... would be to kick off a coup.

    Thus encouraged, Nekomata revealed he'd already assassinated most of the adult cats of the Tora Clan on the suspicion that this was going to happen, and called in the Rokudaime Ginboshi, bakeneko master of the Adder's Bane weapons school, and the Juuichidaime Juumoku, his greatest student. The Kyudaime was skilled, but his friend's mad betrayal and the combined might of the two masters were all too much for him in the end, and he fell. Revelling in his triumph, Nekomata then destroyed any possibility of retaliation by removing the names of those who had fled from the Summon Contract, dooming them to the lifespan of ordinary cats once more.

    "A day later, the Kyudaime's son and the other exiles arrived in Hikari-kyo, loaded down with all the possessions they could carry, and threw themselves on the mercy of the Takazono."

    For once, you don't have anything to say; your erstwhile feud with the Uchiha seems obscenely childish, all of a sudden.

    Tora is silent as well. In this light, he looks very young indeed.

    Which draws your attention to the sky; it's starting to glow the electric blue of predawn. You need to be heading home soon.

    Before you go, though, there's one thing to sort out. Luckily it provides a change in subject.

    "There's a lady, a 'true stray' Yuji-sensei called her, sitting with him and Tsumuji-san. She's really in a bad way, and-"

    "I shall see to it she finds her way into more pleasant circumstances, " Tora declares.

    Well, that was remarkably easy. "Are you sure? I just wanted to let you know, I mean, I could take her in for a while..."

    He shrugs. "I cannot refuse a worthy request made on the day of my daughter's naming. I will send a message to the capital; your friend will be welcome among your mother's people and mine."

    With a smile, a thank-you, and a final few pets, you head back into the pavilion.

    Miri and Tsumujikaze are chatting amicably enough (or the big blue fella is talking and Miri is nodding and trying to pretend she doesn't exist), and Tsumuji-san seems pleased to hear Tora okay'd the stray's stay in the capital. Miri has a mini panic-attack at the thought of having to meet a whole new batch of cats before she's even had time to get used to Tsumujikaze and Yuji, but Yuji's stories of how massive the Takazono estate is and how many nice places to hide there are calms her nerves.


    Your mother is floored when she enters your bedroom at seven-forty-five to find you still abed. The faint flame of hope that you will one day sleep often enough to give her some time to herself blazes once more in her heart.

    Chouji's birthday is on the weekend. What do you want to get him?

    [X] Write in

    And he wants you and Shika to help decide what you want to do for the day, 'cause he's having trouble deciding. Your choice is:

    [X] A baking lesson! Let's make cookies and stuff!
    [X] A trip to the movies!
    [X] A trip to the public pool! It's finally getting warm enough.
     
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  29. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [img width=600 height=337]http://avvesione.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/lupin_the_third_mine_fujiko_to_iu_onna-08-lupin-cooking-apron-wine-boiling_over-pots-pan-stove.jpg[/img]
    (Source: avvesione.files.wordpress.com)

    [X] Ninja Chef Pretty Ino-chan!

    Chouji's all smiles when he realizes the reason you were so heartily in favour of a baking lesson.

    When you expressed some curiosity to your mother about her family, she took it as an opportunity to pull down one of her cookbooks from the shelf above the fridge and show you some of the pictures within. There were elegant sketches of women in puffy-skirted dresses, and crests - of the Takazono and others - and silly little silhouettes, girls playing bizarre games or cats leaping at frightened mice.

    You were surprised to hear that she'd drawn them herself, and further surprised to hear the cookbook wasn't for Mom.

    "I carry the recipes in my mind, " she says, touching her fingers to her temple delicately. "But I wrote them in this book so that you could learn them, and make them for your children."

    "But I don't have any children except Shika-chan and Chouji, " you say.

    Her laughter is warm and rippling, and does something to her chakra that always makes you smile. "Well, I'm sure they'd appreciate something delicious you made."

    The batch of macarons the two of you produce is... all right. Mom seems satisfied, but you're rather frustrated that they aren't anywhere near as good as the ones mom made for New Year's tea with the Nara Angel and Kimiko-san; you can't give Chouji and Shika subpar cookies!

    Disappointed but not discouraged, you quickly decide on another course of action. You'll pick out the recipes you and your friends really like, have mom write them up (you haven't been putting a whole lot of effort into your calligraphy lessons and it shows), and then decorate the book with doodles (your drawing lessons have been going well, much to your mother's confusion, as you never seem to practice).

    So it is that when Chouji unwraps his present and smiles down at it, you can proudly point to the first page and say that the butterfly is him and the (sigh) piggy with the bow on its ear is you.

    :eek: "You drew it?" He tugs on his mom's skirt. "Mommy, Ino drew it!" And he hugs you.

    When it becomes clear you're too choked to even get out a 'you're welcome', Kimiko-san tugs him away. Air! Sweet delicious air!

    "That was a very thoughtful gift, Ino-chan, " Kimiko-san says, beaming. "Now you three go get changed and wash up."

    Get changed? You need special clothes to make cookies?

    Apparently. Chouji leads you and Shika into a walk-in closet, and hands each of you an apron. Both have the 'Food' character that's always on the Akimichis' clothes blazoned across the chest. They're both clearly made for children, but yours is too long, so Chouji helps you fold it up before knotting it behind you.

    You and Shika both have your hair up already, which Chouji says is good, but he wants you to put these weird cloth caps on before you can go in the kitchen. In fact he refuses to let you out of the closet until the pair of you don them and wash your hands in the sink in the corner. He's really picky about the hand-washing, too, gesturing at you with a nailbrush when you come away with nails still less-than-spotless.

    "... is he normally this bossy when I'm not around?" you ask.

    Shika just shakes his head, equally confused.

    Finally you're sufficiently kitted out, and the three of you race down the hallway to the kitchen.
    You gasp.

    You knew the Akimichi were the richest of the Ino-Shika-Cho, but... this room. Is twice the size of your ground floor.

    There are six stoves.

    There are two walk-in freezers.

    The standing mixers - all three of them - are taller than Kimiko-san. They sit on the floor and have mixing bowls big enough to take a bath in.

    Everything is gleaming stainless steel, sturdy sanded wood, or proud, night-dark cast iron. All of it is spotless.

    "Sorry we couldn't use the big kitchen, " Chouji says, embarrassed. "It's only for grown-ups."

    "We are going to make all the cookies, " you declare firmly.

    "Let's make chocolate chip and see where that takes us, shall we?" Kimiko-san says cheerfully.

    Chouji dashes excitedly around the kitchen, opening cupboards and rifling through drawers, gathering all the stuff you'll need. He seems to have the whole place memorized. Even more impressive is when he pulls out and carries a sack of flour as tall as he is with no visible effort at all.

    Shikamaru gets put in charge of measuring and mixing the sugar and butter. He does so without complaint, but with a methodical thoroughness you've only ever seen him display when playing shogi. It's even more boring here than it is there.

    Chouji seems to agree with you; he's huffing and standing off to one side, the dry ingredients already sifted into the bowl in front of him.

    You get to crack the eggs. It's really satisfying, somehow. Kimiko-san shows you how to separate the yolk from the white by passing it back and forth between the two shell-halves over a small glass, and seems pleased by how into it you get. "I admit I was worried when I saw those long nails, but you have very clever hands, Ino-chan."

    When Shika-chan pours the butter-sugar into the giant mixer and you add the eggs (you're reminded of Mom putting together certain poisons where the root of a plant has to be mixed in first and the powdered leaves have to follow at a later time), Kimiko flips the switch and the mixer begins to spin slowly. Shikamaru scoops in the dry mix one cup after another, carefully spacing the scoops out over an even period of time, always waiting for the last scoop to be mostly integrated before pouring in more.

    "Hurry!" Chouji says urgently.

    "Calm down, sweetheart, it'll be fine, " Kimiko says, patting her son on the head.

    "But Mommy, he'll overmix!" the boy protests.

    Her lips purse. "Here, Shikamaru-kun, why don't you let me finish?"

    You watch as she dumps the rest of the dry mix decisively into the mixer with a soft whump. Shika-chan blinks in surprise at this, but Kimiko-san explains that the mixer is powerful enough to shred a man's hand; it can handle a heap of flour. A greater concern is making sure the mixture isn't too homogenized, as this can make the proteins in the flour bind everything too tightly together and make the cookies turn out too tough.

    When the mixing is done, you call dibs on the fun part, as you see it; adding the chocolate chips. Eagerly you dump in a whole bag (more chocolate means better cookies!) and plunge in a wooden spoon to start stirring.

    ... at least that would be the plan, if the damn spoon would move.

    You frown, and strain with all your might. The bowl jerks out of the hand you were using to steady it; the spoon moves maybe half an inch from where it was before.

    "Teme~!" you growl at the spoon. This is bull. You're heir to a ninja clan. You will not be defeated by cookie dough.

    You wrench and pull and mentally curse, until... success! ;D Of a sort; you just barely manage to get the spoon to make one revolution. You grin in relief, but unfortunately, this is when Chouji finally loses his temper.

    "No!" Sighing in frustration, he yanks both the bowl and the spoon out of your hands and starts stirring himself.

    You blink.

    "Chouji!" Kimiko says sternly, grabbing hold of her son's shoulder, "we let you have a baking party on the condition that you would be patient with your friends and not cut them out of everything. Ino didn't boss you around at her birthday party, did she?"

    "... no." :(

    You're ready for the hug this time, so you manage to take a deep breath before Chouji gets his arms around you and tearfully apologizes.

    Your grin is forced, but only due to the strain on your ribs. You gently return the embrace.

    "It's okay, Chouji. Everybody has stuff they're passionate about; I guess with you it's food."

    Kimiko finishes the stirring herself and snaps a lid onto the bowl. "Well! Now that that's all sorted out, we can put this in the fridge."

    "... the fridge?" Shikamaru asks in disbelief.

    "Of course!" Kimiko-san replies. "Chocolate chip cookies turn out better if you leave the dough in the fridge for 36 hours." Chouji nods vigourously.

    "Thirty-six hours?!"

    You and Shika exchange horrified glances. All that work...

    Chouji's mom laughs at your expressions. "Oh, there's no need to fret!" Pulling open the fridge, she pulls out another bowl and sets down yours in its place. "Here's one we made earlier."

    "Mendok'se'," Shikamaru grumbles just under his breath, and you'd be lying if you said you didn't feel like echoing him.

    But a part of you kinda gets it. The fun part isn't the eating - okay, the eating is totally the fun part, but it's not the only fun part.

    It's like with the koto. Sure, learning new songs and remembering which harmonies to play when is an awkward, lengthy process, and every now and then you do get a painful broken nail. But while you do that, you get to have chats with Mom and Tama and Yuji-sensei - sometimes even Dad if he's home.

    You know you wouldn't remember 'The Sunlit Garden' nearly as well if you didn't associate it with short winter afternoons and pulling off your blindfold at the end of practice to see a navy sky, already dotted here and there with stars.

    You wouldn't like that song (a concerto, Mom called it) with a number instead of a name as much as you do if you hadn't been so annoyed at how tricky it was, refusing to take off your blindfold even to eat dinner, knowing you'd go right back to practice when you were done, knowing that come Shinigami or shuriken, you would get that song down and make it yours.

    Really, it's just another way of travelling, you think with a smile as you roll the refrigerated dough into balls and place them on the baking sheet.

    Still, you can't help but be a little dismayed when it turns out the Akimichi are right.

    The overnight-dough turns into the very best chocolate chip cookies you've ever had.

    "Don't worry, " Chouji says when you moan, patting you on the back. "I'll make you lots of cookies, Ino."

    Chouji gets a status upgrade from child to wife, you decide.

    ----------

    You're roughly 3 years, 7 months old. You have two years and five months until you start at the Academy. What do this year?

    [X] Because they aren't called the Four Indolences
    -> [X] Now that you can keep up with Shikamaru at shogi, let's see if you can't surpass him. Be nice to see him actually exert effort at something, wouldn't it?
    -> [X] You're going to be a clan head one day. Is mom gonna be handling your formal correspondence for the rest of your life? Learn proper calligraphy, you chump!
    -> [X] Well, you seem to have natural ability in drawing, but it's a big leap from that to formal mastery of painting. Get to work!
    -> [X] Even moar koto!
    [X] You had fun at Miun-chan's naming feast, but you only really got to meet Tsumuji-san and Miri-chan.
    -> [X] Bug Yuji to introduce you around town!
    -> [X] Let Menka show you off to his kenjutsu friends!
    [X] Dad wants to show you something...
    [X] Let's go exploring with Shika and Chouji! Adventure ho!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
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  30. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Calligraphy

    Even as your grasp of calligraphy slowly improves, your penmanship starts to get messier and more childish. Exhasperated, Mom explains that the idea is to apply the principles you learn in calligraphy to your normal writing. You protest that you are; all that stuff you now know about proper brush-placement and control has made everyday note-taking and stuff go even faster than it used to.

    The resulting argument doesn't go well; Dad and Yuji-sensei both take mom's side, and you finally buckle and agree to try to make your penmanship more fancy.

    You still write your private stuff in chicken-scratch, though.

    [X] Let Menka show you off to his kenjutsu friends!

    "Ne, Menka, Yuji-sensei? Can I come with you to practice?"

    It's a simple enough question, but damn if Menka doesn't perk up and take off for your bedroom like a shot. A few seconds later he zooms back downstairs, dragging your bokken with him.

    "... I suppose you may, " Yuji says dryly.

    The class is smaller than you remember it being; because some of the cats have graduated or because they've been reassigned to other teachers, you don't know.

    As you enter the clearing, a white female shorthair runs over and bows to Yuji. "<Sensei, Kohaku and Potato are fighting again.>"

    Yuji sighs, and strides over to the yowling, rolling lump of fur and teeth. The female looks you up and down.

    "<You're the speaker?>" she asks with no preamble.

    "<Not really, >" you reply, making her start in surprise. "<Tora says it's more complicated than that.>"

    She doesn't say anything after that, turning back to watch Yuji-sensei admonish the two scrappers.

    Menka, who ran over to his friends the instant the three of you arrived, calls you over. He points at the grey tabby, the white-and-grey, and the green shorthair with the white-ringed tail in turn. "<This is Indara, Maika and Seido. Guys, this is Ino.>" The green one bows.

    "<Nnyo? Seriously?>" Indara says incredulously. "<The speaker's name is Mittens?>"

    You sigh. "<It could be worse; my human name means boar.>"

    "<I like boar, it's tasty>" Maika says cheerfully, hopping forward. "<Nice to meet you, Ino! You were right, Menka, she's really pretty. Does she give you food?>"

    Menka very pointedly doesn't look at you. "<No, Maika, Tama and I do our own hunting.> Aniki <taught us, remember?>"

    "<Oh, right.>" Maika pounces on your sandals and bites at them. "<Aargh~! Bleh, these aren't boar! Oh, hey, a flying-thing!>" He goes off to chase a butterfly, apparently forgetting your existence entirely.

    "<Housecats, >" Indara mutters, shaking his head. "<I don't know what they put in dry food, but I really doubt it's anything meant for mortal consumption. So what do you do?>" he asks you suddenly.

    "<I give scratches and warmth and play music, >" you answer promptly. When cats ask that question, they mean 'what do you do for us?'

    "<Yes, Menka-san mentioned that, >" Seido says, staring at you intently. "<He said you can play chakra melodies, like obaa-ue.>"

    "<Maa, I'm not that great at it yet, >" you admit, embarrassed. "<But... obaa-ue? So Ruri-sama's your grandmother?>"

    He bows again. "<Midorikawa-no-Seido, at your serv->"

    "<Oh, no you don't, >" Indara growls, swiping his paw across Seido's head. "<Save that ouji-sama crap for the courtiers, Sei, the rest of us don't wanna hear it.>"

    You continue your chat for the next few minutes, answering questions where they come up, but then Yuji and Sabi finally get the fight (and Maika) settled, and class begins.

    You try to convert the tail moves into ones your hands can do, thinking it'd be a waste to have brought your bokken and not use it. But prehensile tails move in strange ways, and this is an advanced class; each of the cats seem to have separately developed unique interpretations of the style. Seido seems to be focusing on moving as beautifully as possible, whereas Indara and Menka seem to have agreed that precision is the name of the game; their movements are slow, but their blades are steady. Maika, surprisingly enough, seems to favour an entirely defensive style.

    Needless to say, it's not long before you're totally lost. And you still can't lift the wooden sword properly; the tip is always at least three inches lower than whatever stance you're in calls for.

    Afterward, Menka tells you not to worry if you don't get it right away. They don't cover the human stances until later this year; you could always come back for those.

    You raise an eyebrow. "How do cats use human stances?"

    Menka does a quick handsign and turns into a human boy.

    You fall over in surprise.

    -_- "<Menka, you need more than just pants, >" Yuji says without even looking away from the dummy he's disassembling. "<No one is going to believe you're a human if you don't have a shirt or sandals.>"

    "<Aw, c'mon, > aniki, <it's not a fight, I'm just showing Ino! Besides, sandals are itchy!>"

    "Can you show me how to do that?" you ask, eyes gleaming.

    "You'll learn it in your second-last year of the Ninja Academy, Ino-dono, " Yuji says apologetically as he approaches. "I'm afraid at present your chakra reserves are not capable of sustaining the henge."

    You pout. "How do I increase my chakra reserves, then?" You're not giving up. To become someone else at a moment's notice... it's like when you play shogi but a million times better. You have to learn this technique.

    Menka smirks. "With sword practice, " he says.

    [X] Sword practice it is! The language of the blade and the Henge shall both be yours!
    [X] Uh, you kinda suck at swords, remember? Let's ask dad if there's another way to build up your chakra reserves.

    [X] Let's go exploring with Shika and Chouji! Adventure ho!

    The long summer is filled with peaceful, hazy days with your friends. Konohagakure is your playground, and you have every intention of exploring every inch of it.

    Shikamaru resigns himself to being dragged out of bed at the crack of noon with a cry of 'c'mon, Shika-chan!' every day for the foreseeable future. He always has some dry remark or other to make, but he's good to have around; sometimes he comes up with plans you wouldn't have thought up in a million years.

    Chouji is far more enthusiastic about exploring, though he does seem to spend a lot of time worrying about getting in trouble for the stuff you do. You aren't sure why; the guy at that corner store never looks up from his newspaper any time between two-thirty in the afternoon and three-forty-five. He's not gonna miss three 10-mon chocolates, anyway.

    Together you have paper-boat races on the Naka River, play tag with Menka and his friends in the woods, and just mooch around watching the clouds roll by.

    The only sour note comes when the three of you try to join a game of Ninja some other boys are playing.

    "Hey, look, Shikamaru has a girlfriend!" one of the little bastards shouts, pointing at you. The boys all laugh.

    "Hey, look, someone who will never be cool enough to get a girlfriend, " you reply, pointing right back.

    "Ew! Cool guys don't have girlfriends!" another kid yells. "Girls are gross!"

    The calibre of the discussion degrades from there, until some asshole makes a crack about Chouji's weight and you punch him. The kid ends up with a black eye, you end up with a bruised hand, and he gets to go home while you stew in a Lollypop's office with your two partners in crime and wait for your parents to pick you up.

    Mom is severely disappointed that you resorted to violence first rather than try to leave and ignore the boys, and your comic privileges are revoked for a month.

    Dad sneaks you a chocolate bar 'in honour of your preservation of the Old Alliance'.

    [X] Dad wants to show you something...

    The package arrives one weekend morning while you're eating breakfast with him. Unwrapping it, he glances over at you, and then nods to himself.

    "Ino, " he says. "How would you like to start work on a clan technique?"

    "Really?!" You're excited, but surprised; Dad's mentioned before that there's something up with your brain that makes it naturally hard to get into. You weren't sure you could be taught Yamanaka techniques.

    Dad smiles. "Don't get too excited, sweetheart; the first part of the technique requires meditation."

    You sigh. More meditation. If you were a little younger you'd suspect this was a ploy to get you to nap. "Can I do it outside at least?" you ask.

    "Of course. That might actually help." He gets to his feet. "What I want you to do is to reflect on a specific type of chakra; either in the air, the earth, or in the water in the pond. Don't draw on it, " he adds hastily, knowing that's exactly the type of experiment you'd try, "just... think about it. Think about how it sounds, what it makes you feel; what you associate it with."

    You nod slowly. You think you understand what he means.

    Heading out into the garden, you decide you'll focus on

    [X] The chakra on the breeze
    [X] The chakra in the soil
    [X] The chakra in the pond

    It's difficult at first, ignoring all the other ambient chakra that's trying to get your attention, but eventually you settle yourself, and...

    [X] What do you feel? What do you see in your mind's eye? What does it remind you of? What sets it apart from the rest of the chakra? (Write-in)

    [X] Shogi

    Goemon-mode playing was a huge breakthrough, true, but you're thinking it's time to widen your horizons a little bit; Shikamaru's gotten used to your samurai playing style, and he's stopped 'taking a long time between moves because he's thinking about what you did' and gone back to 'taking a long time between moves because he's a lazy ass'. This will not stand!

    You decide to:

    [X] Have a good long nap! Let's see what Goemon-san's friends are like.

    [X] Stop play-acting. Shika-chan does just fine playing as himself; now that you know all the rules, you're sure you can do the same thing.
     
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