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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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    [X] You catch more flies with honey

    "... I just don't understand," you say, a little more softly than before.

    You can tell she's listening even if she doesn't look up. She isn't on the verge of tears anymore, but it really could go either way.

    "I know we won't see each other again after this trip, and I know it isn't any of my business, but..." You swallow, feeling less like a professional kunoichi of Konoha and more like a confused teenager every second. "But I feel like I need to know why you... think the way you do."

    Nabiki sighs, and places her book in her lap. She smiles sadly, and there's that weird note of affection again. "You've changed a lot, yellowhair," she says. "You've grown into a much kinder girl than I would have expected."

    "But-" She reaches across the table and pats you gently on the head, "- that might not be such a good thing."

    ... okay. Well. Now I just have to figure out whatever the hell that means. Nabiki clearly isn't up for continuing this conversation, and even you aren't enough of a bitch to intentionally harass someone until they cry just to satisfy your curiosity.

    You raise an eyebrow. "I have to ask: yellowhair?"

    "You have only yourself to blame," she replies, going back to her book. "It isn't as though you took the time to introduce yourself when we first met."

    "You had ten years to give me a nickname and the one that stuck was yellowhair?"

    She glances at you over the top of the book. "It is the only one that is even vaguely complimentary."

    "Heh. Fair enough."

    =

    "Why have we stopped?"

    "What does it look like? We're setting up camp before nightfall."

    "What?!" You stare at Kiba in disbelief. "We're camping? I thought we were going to stay at an inn, we have a delicate noblewoman with us and everything!"

    "It will be so wonderful to sleep out under the stars again," you overhear Nabiki chirping brightly to Tsuruhiko.

    "Not in the budget, Ino," Asuma says, shaking his tent open in one fluid movement.

    "But I didn't bring a bed or a tent!" you protest.

    "You'll be sharing with Ami."

    Ami's eyes bug. "What?"

    "No way!" you declare. "She hogs the blankets!"

    "Blankets?!" she says in disbelief. "You sit up reading manga until midnight, laughing out loud at all the jokes, and then you hog the entire mattress, you greedy lunatic! One time I woke up with my entire left side pinned underneath you."

    "I'll take first watch when we bed down," Asuma says wearily, "then Kiba and Akamaru, then Ino and Menka, and then Ami and I. There. Now it doesn't matter who sleeps where."

    "How very broad-minded of you, Asuma-san," Nabiki comments, approaching. "Katsuhiro-san and I are going hunting for our dinner, if any of you are interested in joining us."

    "I'll go with you, I guess," Kiba says, 'casually' resting his rifle over his shoulder. "I'm a pretty decent shot."

    The elder retainer sniffs, a quiver of arrows slung across his back. "'Pretty decent' with a rifle nets you one kill and scatters the rest of the game, boy."

    The boy grins in that particular way he knows shows off his canines and makes him look more badass than he actually is. "I haven't met a type of game yet that could outrun an Inuzuka's nose." His eyes flicker ever-so-momentarily in Nabiki's direction.

    You resist the urge to sigh. Your teammate has no moves.

    Fortunately for him Nabiki appears to have a sense of humour about a twelve-year-old boy hitting on her and lets it slide.

    Ami gathers tinder and firewood while you construct traps around the perimeter of camp and try unsuccessfully to fend off mosquitoes.

    "I hate the wilderness," you grumble, removing your sandals to shake out the pine needles.

    "What? Why?" Ami asks, incredulous. "It's beautiful out here."

    You ignore her. Clearly she's one of them. You sip from your water bottle and try not to think about what your Mom is cooking for dinner tonight.

    Whatever that may be, you end up dining on venison. It's not so bad, but nowhere near as good as when Shikamaru's dad makes it - you make a mental note to request that recipe next time you see him.

    You spend the rest of the evening

    [X] stargazing with Kiba and Ami

    [X] playing shogi with Asuma

    [X] chatting up Tsuruhiko - maybe he knows what's up with Nabiki
     
  2. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] So many squares where you can go, so many promises*

    "Check!" Asuma says with considerable satisfaction.

    You try not to smile, but duh, jounin, he notices right away.

    "One day," he declares, examining the board for whatever it was he missed, "you're going to have a student smarter than you, and this is going to seem much less funny."

    "Ya think the Hokage would let me have a job that has anything to do with kids?" you ask, sceptical.

    "Konohamaru might."

    You make your move. "Aww, so I have to wait until Hokage-kun grows up to start corrupting the warriors of tomorrow?"

    Asuma's eyes flick in your teammates' direction. "Apparently not."

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    He takes a pawn. "When I spoke to Tsume-san about Kiba's little hobby she said he picked it up from you."

    "I didn't expect him to get so into it," you say. "I just asked him to help me test out some modifications I'd been making and it sort of grew from there." Click. "Anyway, what's so wrong with making guns actually combat-viable?"

    "There are people who'd argue it opens the door to an arms race between the villages," Asuma says neutrally. "And that, when the ratio of destructive power to level of experience and training in each individual shinobi becomes unbalanced, the overall standards for calibre of training drop, resulting in a less effective officer class."

    You give him a considering look. In all honesty, you still don't know your sensei very well; unlike Ami, most of your individual training - and Kiba's, of late - has been based around clan techniques, so you only really spend time with him on D-ranks or for group training.

    Most of what you know relates to how he plays shogi. He knows all the classic manoeuvres off by heart, and yet seems to dislike actually using them. Even in a situation where something like the Flight of the Turtle would be the ideal counter to your last move, he'd rather spend ten minutes trying to come up with another way to handle the situation.

    What he comes up with usually sucks.

    Okay, granted, that's not fair, you learned the game at the knee of freaking Nara Shikaku; lots of totally legit moves look lame compared to what that guy can do. Even so, when Asuma improvises, half the time he ends up hamstringing himself and leaving you free to carry on.

    But when it comes to shogi partners, you wouldn't call him a step down from Shikamaru. Far from it. Games with Asuma are always fun, because you genuinely don't always know what he's going to do next.

    "And what do you think?" you ask, watching him.

    Click. "I think if someone's main concern is escalation, they know nothing about shinobi history at all," he says flatly. "Setting aside the true geniuses of each generation, in a fight between a given member of your graduating class and a member of my graduating class at the same age, you guys would wipe the floor with us."

    "What?" you ask, startled. "Even Naruto?"

    He considers this thoughtfully. "That would actually be one of the more even matches; I don't know the kid well, of course, but he seems to be about the same general strength level as the middle of the pack from back then."

    "... Naruto didn't know what chakra was until Sasuke told him two weeks ago," you say, as calmly as you can manage.

    "I didn't say he was a good student," Asuma says, "just that he seems to meet the essential criteria we used back then."

    o_O "How the hell did we win two world wars?!"

    "War isn't like a back-alley slapfight, kid; it's less about what each individual person can do and a lot more about how-"

    "No, I mean, I get that stuff, but we were the- you know," you gesticulate awkwardly, "the clan kid class. All of us ended up there either because we're from shinobi families or because we have special talents, like Ami's. Aren't we expected to be the leaders and elite jounin of Konoha in another ten or fifteen years? Like you said people worry about with the whole gun thing, our level of education has to be held to a higher standard."

    "It is. I'm saying that Uzumaki Naruto meets it," Asuma says bluntly.

    "He can't even produce a basic bunshin!"

    "And he strikes you as the kind of guy who'd be sent on missions where bunshin are in any way useful?"

    ... hm. You take one of Asuma's rooks, and think for a bit.

    "Did you know that before the village system came into being, the henge was a secret technique?" your sensei asks.

    "... I did, actually." Your mind makes connections you're honestly surprised it hadn't before. "So you're saying that the relative stability that the Hidden Villages provide gives us the opportunity to devote more time to chakra-related research, which means that even if I gave up researching guns, my grandkids and their enemies will still be better at tearin' shit up than we are, so the arms-race argument falls apart?"

    "Yes," Asuma says simply. "That, and chakra just gets weirder and more prevalent the more uses people come up with for it."

    "Hm." You frown. "That's... comforting is the wrong word. At best this just means that I won't get blamed for upping the bodycount."

    Your teacher laughs darkly. "Well, not by shinobi anyway."

    [X] Ask about Nabiki. Indirectly, of course, but still.

    [X] Ask something else

    [X] Skip to tomorrow evening and your arrival in Tanzaku Gai
     
  3. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Parent-Teacher Night

    "So can I ask what you and Ami have been up to? You seem to be giving her a lot of your attention."

    "Aw, and I thought you didn't like me. Does this mean you and Kiba want some teacher-student bonding time, too?" Asuma asks, amused.

    You bite your lip and wait until the urge to laugh has passed. "... never, ever use that phrase in front of Ami."

    His brow furrows. "She did seem kind of put off by it. Do you know why that is?"

    Oh, god, this is so not supposed to be your job. How is this your life?

    "Sensei..." You try to think of a way to phrase this subtly, then finally give up. "Are you familiar with a certain series of light novels written by a certain Sannin?"

    "... no."

    You wince, and nod. "Yeah."

    "No."

    You pat his hand. "Yeah."

    Asuma stares at Ami for a long moment, then turns back to you with a carefully neutral look on his face.

    "Yeah."

    "... I see."

    "She and her dad mostly avoid each other," you say. "It's not as bad as it could be."

    "I see," Asuma says again, calmly lighting a cigarette. You become very conscious of the sweat on the back of your neck.

    Noticing the anticipatory gleam in your eye, he immediately tucks the rest of the pack back into his pocket. "Forget it, spacecase. Good hustle, though; nice to see a genin taking an interest in narrative conventions."

    "What the hell does that mean?"

    "Ami's been working on her chakra control, to answer your question," he says.

    "All right," you grumble, "if you're not going to resolve one jounin mystery, can you at least clear up another?"

    He grins around his cigarette. "Depends what it is."

    "Why'd you get assigned the three of us? Why are we all on the same team? What's our speciality?"

    He smirks. "Why should we have a speciality? You're a bunch of genin."

    [X] He's obviously trying to gauge your observational and analytical skills here, so have at it.
     
  4. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Now don't have me break this thing down for nothin'...

    "Well," you say speculatively, "that's the thing I don't get. We seem like we could go in a bunch of different directions. Straight-up fights we have melee and ranged support covered - or we will, if and when Kiba and I manage to design a gun that can fire more than two shots without needing to reload." You wince at the memory of a blacksmith taking one look at a design of yours, laughing his ass off, and going back to listening to his radio soap opera. "Ninjutsu was the one thing Kiba was better-than-average at in the Academy, though, so even if that falls through we should be okay.

    "Maybe... are we maybe infiltration-based?" you ask, talking more to yourself now than Asuma. "After all, I am the omniscient Empress of Let's Pretend who can talk to alleycats, and Ami comes from a civilian background anyway. But that leaves out Kiba. No, wait," you correct yourself, "Kiba makes sense if we're a seduction squad." At Asuma's poleaxed look, you elaborate: "I know, I know, he has no game. But go easy on the guy, he's only twelve. I'll whip him into shape in no time, don't worry."

    "Forgive me if I don't trust a twelve-year-old to tutor another twelve-year-old in seduction," Asuma says flatly.

    "So that is what you meant by student-teacher bonding!" >:D

    "Got any other guesses, or can I return to a world where I don't have to think about my students having sex?" -_-

    "There's always tracking," you say, shrugging. "Kiba's family is famous for it, my dad's no slouch at it from what people tell me, and Ami's there for additional muscle."

    Asuma cocks an eyebrow at you. "Well, that's an awful lot said about Kiba and Ami, and your dad, who isn't even on this team. What about you?"

    "Oh, I'm your sidekick," you say, a cheerful blend of matter-of-fact and welcome-to-hell. "I'm here to anticipate your orders, improvise when you aren't around, keep the other two from killing each other, and basically be the brains behind their brawn."

    He smiles. "Never occurred to you that they're here to keep you from getting too high on the smell of your own shit?"

    You blink. "Isn't that what teammates are supposed to do for each other anyway?"

    Asuma snorts. "You'd be surprised. Not everyone grows up in a preselected trio, spacecase; most kids are free-range."

    "... so? How'd I do?" you ask, eager to get back on topic. You're happy enough working with Kiba and Akamaru and Ami, but you'd be lying if you said you weren't still getting used to the last-minute shakeup.

    Asuma shakes his head. "This team has Ami on it because I'm a master of weapons ninjutsu and she has a natural aptitude for it, and Kiba ended up with us because one of your classmates graduated at the last minute and we had to reshuffle a few names. You're here because I requested you."

    "Seriously?!" Whatever you were expecting, it wasn't that.

    Asuma shrugs. "Like I said before, you're a bunch of genin. Why should you be specialized already?"

    "Why would you ask for me?" You think back, but you can't remember ever meeting Asuma before he showed up in class to pick you guys up.

    Unless...

    You can just shut up, you tell yourself. Stop hoping. They don't even look that much alike.

    "And not Shikamaru and Chouji along with you, you mean?" Asuma asks, his voice much gentler than before.

    You flinch. "... it's a legitimate question," you say, defensive. "A Sarutobi is supposed to teach the Ino-Shika-Cho."

    "Do you always do what you're supposed to?"

    Click.

    "Check," you say quietly.

    The game goes on.

    =

    Timeskip to arrival in Tanzaku Gai?

    [X] Yes

    [X] No

    If no,

    [X] Back in the carriage again, you engage Nabiki in conversation.
    -> [X] About what?

    [X] Up front with Tsuru. Get the goods from him; what the hell is Nabiki's deal?

    [X] In the front seat with old man Katsuhiro. Maybe if you ask he can fill you in on this civilian taijutsu-freak subculture you've stumbled across?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
  5. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Highway Chile

    "Mornin', Tsuru-kun."

    Tsuruhiko flinches almost imperceptibly as you fall into step beside him.

    "Good morning, Ino-ojou-sama."

    You blink. "Whoa. You're pretty suave, Tsuru-kun." You smack him on the back encouragingly. "As expected of a capital guy!"

    "S-suave?" ._.;

    "Mm!" you nod, smiling wickedly at his sudden sheepishness. "Callin' a kunoichi ojou-sama like that - very smooth. I heard the stories about decadent courtiers seducing their shinobi bodyguards, of course, but I didn't think they had any basis in fact."

    "S-s-s-seduction has nothing to do with it I assure you!" he yells, red-faced.

    "I can vouch for that," Katsuhiro grumbles from his perch.

    "I apologize for addressing your person so improperly before, Ino-ojou-sama," the young man continues, either ignoring the comment or too worried about making a bad impression on you to notice. "Had I known your identity I would never have presumed to speak of you thus."

    Oh, great. You were worried this was going to turn into a thing from the moment you heard you were hired by nobles. "Ami told you I'm a clan heir, didn't she?"

    "Your modesty does you credit, ojou-sama," Tsuruhiko says solemnly. "The Yamanaka are well-remembered for their past services to the nation, to be sure, but it was to your illustrious mother I was referring."

    [X] Why hello unexpected resource on the Takazono front, fancy meeting you here.

    [X] Stay on target, stay on target; Tsuruhiko is an insider on the whole Nabiki thing, but likely not a principal player in the onii-sama/Oshibe-san/weird shit kerfuffle. Stick to what he's likely to have the real goods on.
     
  6. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Just tell us about the damned Takazono already! You've drawn it out long enough.

    "I'll be sure to tell her she's so well-remembered," you say, choosing your words carefully.

    A snort comes from behind you. "Any man in the capital over the age of thirty who doesn't remember Takazono Takae has most likely suffered a blow to the head."

    "That's so, isn't it?" Tsuru says, looking back at Katsuhiro in surprise. "You were present at her final concert, weren't you, oji-san?"

    "Yes."

    ... you don't think you've ever heard a single word sound so heavy.

    His chakra... I mean... wow... there's not being over a chick, and then there's whatever the hell this is. Tsuru, please, for the love of god, kill the mood, I do not need to hear a sixty-year-old samurai pining after the phantom of my Mom.

    "Does she still keep a medicinal garden?" the younger man asks, almost on cue. "Forgive me for being so forward, but the one she designed for the Rouga clan is in use to this day; her remedy for pneumonia saved my life as a child."

    You think of Mom's private greenhouse in the back yard, and the fact that you have never once seen Mom enter it without wearing a breathing apparatus, goggles, long sleeves, and heavy gloves.

    "As a matter of fact, she's well known for her expertise in Konoha," you reply. "She told me the Takazono are only a merchant family, though; I wouldn't think they'd be able to gain entry to court."

    "Oh, of course they can!" All of Tsuru's previous stiff nervousness evaporates, and he looks like a normal, happy teenage boy for once. "They've produced some of the most respected experts in art and music in the country - court wouldn't be the same without them. I believe Kakesu-sama may attend once a month purely for form's sake - he doesn't seem to have much taste for politics - but Asagao-san and her friends make an outing at least once a week.

    "They aren't permitted the highest honours, of course," he adds, "but the truth is, neither are we. In fact," his voice drops to a whisper, "I rather prefer it that way; the mid-ranked halls are much closer to the best libraries, and aside from Their August Majesties and His Royal Highness Prince Edakaku, most learned scholars don't tend to surpass the fourth or fifth rank."

    Considering what little you hear of the daimyo, you'd be inclined to write this off as simple flattery.

    Then you remember who he's married to and shift him back into the 'withholding-judgement' pile.

    All right, so where are you going with this?

    [X] So Mom's 'onii-sama' is probably this Kakesu character. Ask Tsuru what your dear uncle is like; try to get a better handle on the dick who gave your Mom the boot.

    [X] Are you a Yamanaka or not? Let's play this cool; ask questions a normal (if ninja-y) girl would - what does he know about your second-cousin who taught Mom the tessen? Do you have any cousins? Was Mom well-liked at court back in the day? You can segue into the darker stuff from there.

    [X] Some other strategy?
     
  7. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Rumour Has It

    You had wondered before why, even if he is her childhood punching bag friend, Tsuru was sent off with Nabiki. Katsuhiro makes sense, at least, because even if it turns out he isn't trained in that freaky power-up style Nabiki was using, he's obviously served the family a long time and, as an old fella, he makes a respectable chaperon. But Tsuru? From the look of things, he's still the shy tagalong he was at seven.

    As it turns out, what you thought was shyness is actually politeness. Once you get him going, you quickly realize that

    a) this guy loves to talk, and
    b) this guy loves to listen.

    Seriously, it's almost frightening how many anecdotes and family trees and lists of likes and dislikes he can keep straight in his head. Not to mention all the polite questions he asks you, making notes with his eyes the moment you answer.

    All in all, you can think of worse wedding gifts. Congratulations, sweetheart, we wish you the very best, but just in case, have a PR manager.

    Within twenty minutes you've learned that 'Kakesu-sama' is indeed your uncle, that you have six cousins of varying proximities (including your mother's cousins Oshibe and Himawari), that all the Takazono are named after either birds or plants, and that the whole damn family is one murder away from being the cast of a detective novel. Seems like Mom comes by her closed-mouthèdness honestly; every Takazono is hiding something, from the sounds of things.

    Tsuru is not so tactless as to comment on most of the grey areas in the record directly, of course, and in fact does a pretty decent job of covering for his friends.

    For a civilian.

    Great, now you're starting to sound like a Lollypop. -_- But the point still stands! It isn't that hard to play spot-the-secret with someone whose only tactic is disinformation, and the gaps in Tsuruhiko's account tell you loads.

    Kingyosou, the heir, has more of a taste for power games than his father does, but seems to stick to the shallow end of the pool. He hosts all the best parties, charms women of every age and rank, and generally seems to be having a thoroughly pleasant time being a wealthy young man.

    His younger brother Ho'ojiro, despite/thanks to being equally-popular with the ladies, shuns these events; he has close friends only among his fellow scholars. Of all the Takazono children, Tsuru seems to know him the best, thanks to their shared interest in philosophy and calligraphy.

    If he weren't so chummy with him, he likely wouldn't be able to clue you in to the fact that at least two of Ho'ojiro's friends have gone missing in the past year. You'd think he wouldn't bother to mention them in the first place, but no; they both appear as major players in a story Tsuru tells about 'Ho'ojiro-kun's' thirteenth birthday party, and yet they're absent from his list of the boy's best friends not two minutes later.

    The really weird part is that when you ask about what happened to them, he needs a moment or two to work out who you're talking about. When he does, he neither knows where they went nor seems particularly concerned that he doesn't know. Katsuhiro doesn't even seem to be listening.

    If the pair of them aren't under some kind of long-term genjutsu related to those two boys, you will eat your fan.

    (And somehow it's contagious, because you've completely forgotten what their names are. >_<)

    When it comes to Kingyosou, though, your travelling companion is obviously flat-out covering for a friend's embarrassing brother. If the Takazono heir isn't running a bordello on the side, he's at least facilitating the making of a lot of bad decisions. Through the bowdlerising haze of Tsuruhiko's obvious desire to 'shield your innocence', there's no way to tell for sure if Kingyosou's a manipulative dick or just someone who thinks everyone should find true lust and damn the consequences. Shame. Might be nice to find a kindred spirit among your cousins.

    After phantom childhood friends and bedroom bingo, Himawari and her son Aoi seem almost pedestrian. Himawari is the tessen-duelling cousin your Mom calls onee-sama, and Aoi is a noted poet and painter. The only mystery there is who Aoi's father is, because Himawari clearly isn't telling. If it were public knowledge, Tsuru would have included it in the painfully-detailed lecture on your genealogy he launched into once it became clear you didn't know the first thing about your glorious antecedents. Since he didn't, and made no later mention of Himawari being married, divorced or widowed, you're left with no conclusion other than that the kid is an acknowledged bastard. It certainly explains why the lady and her son no longer live on the family estates.

    Asagao sounds like the kind of girl Hinata would tell to loosen up. You get the impression Tsuruhiko only said 'Asagao-san and her friends' earlier instead of 'Reika-san and her friends' out of politeness; it's pretty clear who calls the shots in that clique. And when you hear that Asagao's mother is Oshibe, the woman your mom and Ami met that night at the theatre, the secret there becomes obvious: Oshibe's a player in the Tanzaku Gai underworld and the family doesn't want anyone to know this. If you were Asagao you'd lay low too.

    Well, no, that's a lie.

    As you might expect, Tsuruhiko knows a lot less about the adults. He knows that Himawari is a well-respected duellist and that she used to be your mom's best friend, but aside from that, nothing. And Kakesu's only barely beneath Nabiki's rung of the social ladder, so there's no way in hell Tsuru's going to say anything helpful about him. About Oshibe he knows almost nothing at all.

    But your mother is another story.

    Katsuhiro may have some weird psychosexual fixation on your Mom, but Tsuru's a straight-up fanboy. It's weird, seeing someone who's never even met her gush about her abilities as a musician. You knew from Ami that Mom had put out albums and stuff, but it's one thing to know that intellectually and quite another to realize the lady had a very public life before you were born.

    "Y'know," you say, "if you have one of her records with you, I can take it back to Konoha, get it signed, and mail it to you."

    "Would you really?" he asks breathlessly. "I mean to say, I wouldn't want to impose..."

    "No imposition at all," you say, waving him off. "I'd be surprised if she weren't touched to know she's missed - I know I would be." You lower your voice, baiting the hook. "It's a shame she couldn't have had more time to shine."

    Tsuru looks sad. "Such is life, ojou-sama; I can assure you that no one thinks less of her for falling in love."

    "No one except Kakesu-san," you say grimly. Internally you fire up your victory dance; romantic shenanigans? Tsuru's on the hook and flopping, time to reel him in and whack 'im with an oar.

    "Well," he coughs, "yes, I suppose. But Kakesu-sama doesn't dictate public feeling."

    "I just don't get it." You pout in a manner you know to be utterly adorable, having refined it with the aid of a mirror. "If I had a little sister I'd want her to be happy, even if it didn't make me happy too. Why would Kakesu-san banish my mom?"

    Tsuru bites his lip. "I cannot claim to be privy to his reasoning, but... a family head does not always do as he wills. He has to consider the wishes of the other clan members, as well as the good of the family as a whole." A thought strikes him. "Perhaps he didn't wish to appear insubordinate. A strong brother is more terrifying than ten threatening words, as the old saying goes."

    You quirk an eyebrow sceptically, and throw out a test comment. "Would anyone really think he was getting ideas above himself just because his sister married a ninja?"

    "If that ninja were heir to a clan allied with the Akimichi? I admit it is perhaps far-fetched, but nobler minds than mine have believed in conspiracies with less to support them."

    Whew. Well, that's a relief. You were almost positive Mom's forbidden romance was with dad, but it's nice to confirm these things.

    [X] If you still want to know about Nabiki, you are never getting a better segue than this. Go for it.

    [X] See what else Tsuruhiko knows about your mom.



    [X] Try to remove the genjutsu.

    [X] Don't remove it until you know why it was put on.
     
  8. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "I would have thought it was to avoid a scandal - if Nabiki-chan's anything to go by courtiers aren't the biggest fans of ninja."

    "Oh, you mustn't judge by Nabiki-sama alone," Tsuruhiko rushes to assure you. "She has her reasons, of course, and naturally there are those among the nobility of the sword who like to reminisce about the days when samurai were the only warriors accorded status by the realm. But intermarriages between shinobi clans and the lesser nobility are not uncommon - I know the Kuruta clan are particularly proud to share the same bloodline as the Yuuhi."

    You frown. "So... is Nabiki-chan just a big traditionalist, then?"

    Tsuru hesitates, and he looks to his uncle.

    "There's no reason to hide something any kitchen maid in Hikari-kyo could tell her," Katsuhiro says wearily.

    Tsuruhiko nods (very reluctantly, it seems to you), and when he turns to face you again his expression is solemn. "Ino-sama," he says, "if I explain, you must promise me that you will not allow Nabiki-sama to see you looking upon her with pity. She is a very strong woman, but to be thought of as a- a victim of her fate, rather than its architect, is something she cannot bear." His eyes are so hard, and fierce, and unsuited to the rest of him that under other circumstances, you might laugh. "Promise me."

    "... I promise," you swear, a slight sense of foreboding creeping over you. You were worried it might be something like this. Tsuru's emotional state is already telling you a lot; all you need to hear now are the details.

    "Shortly before we met you in Konoha the first time," he says quietly, "Nabiki-sama's younger cousin Umeyo, of whom she was very fond, was killed by a shinobi from Iwa. Nabiki-sama was in the room when it happened."

    Every now and then, there are words Lupin and Jigen-san say in your dreams that you know are somehow 'bad'. You're not sure how you know this, since none of them are in Gyogo, but you do know you've never heard them say any of them while you're awake.

    They've just now decided to make up for lost time.

    You swallow your first response (For fuck's sake, what is wrong with some people?). You're not an Academy student anymore, and not every village is Konoha. Morals are always flexible where ninja are concerned, that's just part of the job (Who the fuck orders a hit like that? What sick fuck accepts a job like that?!).

    "Was Umeyo-san the target?" It is, however, acceptable to disapprove most harshly of unprofessional conduct, such as murdering children while on the clock.

    "It appears that she was," Tsuru says. "The assassin fled when Nabiki-sama raised the alarm, rather than kill her as well."

    You briefly entertain fantasies of learning the Hiraishin and taking a daytrip to Iwagakure.

    You sigh.

    "Well. I guess I asked."

    "I apologize for the indelicacy of the subject matter." He bows as best he can while walking.

    "There's nothing to apologize for," you say, shrugging. "You aren't the one who killed a little girl."

    [X] Thoughts? Speculation?

    and

    [X] Ask before trying to remove the genjutsu

    [X] Just do it; knowing your luck there'll be a built-in defence mechanic to it if you bring the thing up in conversation
     
  9. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] From my heart and from my hand, why don't people understand my intentions?

    You spend much of the rest of the conversation trying to see where the delusion ends and reality begins, and surreptitiously trying out everything you can think of.

    Unfortunately, you eventually have to conclude that for the moment, you (and, more importantly, Tsuru) are fucked.

    Ordinarily, the best way to release a genjutsu's hold over people who can't dispel for themselves is to poke them with some of your chakra. This causes their body to circulate energy double-time to flush the foreign chakra back out, a process which usually simultaneously disrupts any subtler attacks the central nervous system may be under, like genjutsu.

    The second-best way to get someone out of an illusion is just to give them a minor wound. A small cut, a hard punch - anything that divides the person's attention between whatever it is they're hearing and seeing and what they're feeling will snap them out of it.

    The chakra-injection method is considered the more refined skill, knowledge of which easily boosts an Academy student into the top half of their class. Of all your classmates, the only other person you know of who knows how to do it is Hinata, and that's because all Main Family Hyuuga learn how to do it before they even get to the Academy; it's the hole in the ground that lays out the shape of the foundation of all the best Jyuuken techniques.

    These methods are the ones most commonly taught to people who have trouble suppressing their chakra, because the vast majority of genjutsu are for short-term, single-purpose use only; they are meant to last for the amount of time it takes to close the distance between you and your target and kill them dead, or to get someone pursuing you lost for the five minutes it takes for you to get away, or to cover the smell of the dead body you stashed in the wardrobe just long enough to get the chief inspector of Bumfuck, Wind Country out of your hotel room. Most ninja who don't have genjutsu as their primary focus can't manage to fool more than two of the human senses at once, and those two are usually sight and hearing rather than touch. So the small-wound method is an idiot-proof dispel for any genin.

    This illusion is decidedly not short-term. After considering for some time, you're not even sure if it counts as a genjutsu, strictly speaking. Genjutsu is a way to subvert someone's perception of reality, yeah, but it works from the outside in; you tell the eyes what they're seeing or the ears what they're hearing or the tongue what it's tasting. This...

    Well, let's not beat around the bush: this is, at the moment, entirely out of your league. Someone went into Tsuruhiko's head and, while leaving his memories of two friends completely intact otherwise, made him not only not know what happened to them, but not care.

    You can think of quite a few people who could manage this feat, including your dad, but not many who would bother. It's not really worth the expense of hiring a specialist just to alter a teenager's memory when a threat would work just as well, unless...

    Unless.

    Unless.

    Oh dear. There are three unlesses.

    Unless what happened to those two boys is a secret someone would spare no expense to conceal.

    Unless the person who wanted the secret hidden was already proficient in memory-alteration.

    ... unless they found a missing nin willing to work on the cheap.

    You grimace. What is this, an Ino's Childhood Retrospective?

    "Are you quite well, Ino-sama?"

    "Please," you say, sighing, "just Ino or Ino-chan is fine, Tsuru-kun."

    When the caravan stops for a break, you

    [X] share what you've found with Asuma-sensei.

    [X] check your genjutsu-themed memory palace for any information that may be helpful.

    [X] check out Nabiki's memory. Maybe she remembers the kids. Fuck, what are their names again?

    [X] take a break. Duh.
     
  10. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Yeah everybody wear the mask but how long will it last?

    "... I even turned the conversation to kunai and 'accidentally' nicked him, but his eyes didn't refocus and he didn't take a deep breath or any of the normal signs-"

    "So what you're telling me," Asuma interrupts, "is that you tried to release someone - someone who is not our client - from a genjutsu, without conducting any research into why it was put on, without knowing who put it on, without knowing the nature of the delusion, without consulting with your superior officer - without so much as discussing it with the victim."

    You frown. "I didn't do anything more advanced than an ordinary pulse-"

    "This isn't a question of ability, Ino, it's a question of business ethics." Asuma has never looked so pissed. "What if Nabiki-san's family were the ones who paid to have that genjutsu put on? What if I put it on him?"

    "But you wouldn't," you argue. "It's about his personal life, it has nothing to do with the mission."

    "Exactly."

    "... what, was I just supposed to ignore that someone stole part of the guy's memory?!"

    "Yes," Asuma says simply.

    It's a very near thing, but you manage to resist the urge to yell the profanities that spill out of your mouth. Instead they emerge in a furious whisper.

    He drops the cigarette he's been nursing for the past few minutes and grinds it into the dirt. "Did you think that because you were top of your class in genjutsu you know everything about the discipline?" he demands. "The most conservative estimates state that nearly half of all illusory techniques currently in use are completely undocumented and unstudied by anyone but the people who invented them, and that isn't from lack of trying. You could have kicked open a trapdoor the caster set up and given the boy irreparable brain damage or gods know what else.

    "And even if you had managed to remove the thing," he continues, "without bothering to figure out what it could be concealing, how do you know he'd be better off remembering whatever it was? What if he found those boys' murdered, mutilated bodies and went into catatonic shock until the genjutsu was applied?"

    "Is it better that he should keep living a lie, thinking his friends are still alive?" you ask, glaring.

    "Whether it's better or worse isn't for you to decide," Asuma's voice is even, clipped, and cold. "You are a shinobi of Konoha, paid to serve a specific purpose that has nothing to do with Tsuruhiko at all. If you can't keep your personal feelings about long-term genjutsu from clouding your judgement, I will put you back on D-ranks the minute we get home and keep you there for the rest of my tenure as your jounin-sensei."

    You flinch.

    "Understood, sir," you finally grind out.

    "Good to hear. Dismissed."

    With a sharp nod, you turn to go.

    "Ino?"

    "Yes?" you answer in a frostbitten tone, turning back.

    Asuma lights up another smoke. "... I'm sorry it isn't what you dreamed."

    You blink, and stare at him, anger blending with confusion. "... you didn't have to say that," you state, unnecessarily.

    He shrugs. "No one else is going to. I thought I might as well." He casts a sidelong glance your way. "Don't expect to hear it again in hurry."

    =

    Well, you... aren't as mad as you were. But you could still use some cooling off before you get back on the road.

    Unrolling a storage scroll from your backpack, you pull out a notebook and pen and write on one of its pages, in code, "Genjutsu on Tsuru. Two boys, disappeared in the past year, delusion possibly contagious as can currently not recall their names."

    "Ino!" Menka says, bounding out from the undergrowth, dragging the corpse of a snake in his mouth. "Check it out, I killed a vampire! Think Ami'd like a snakeskin belt for her birthday?"

    "What makes you think I wouldn't?" you ask.

    "Since when do you wear pants?" Menka scoffs. "We're in the middle of the damn woods and you're still in hakama. This isn't the Warring Clan era."

    "Oh~?" you trill, a smile creeping across your face. It's nice to bicker with him sometimes. "Well, if you think so little of my fashion sense, maybe I should make something more utilitarian from your kill - like a collar and leash."

    He shudders. "Don't even joke about that; Indara would never let either of us hear the end of it."

    You pull out a smaller scroll (one of the storebought ones you use to carry food; you aren't so great at seals that preserve things from rotting yet) and, emptying it of the last of the hard-boiled eggs, stick the dead snake inside. "Is it still a 'collar' if's strung with the fangs of your fallen foe?"

    "... that one'd go to the judges, I think," Menka says thoughtfully.

    =

    You reach Tanzaku Gai an hour before midnight. An old couple snaps a photo of you as you go by, but for the most part the revellers on Castle Boulevard don't even give the carriage a second glance; traditional gold plating and flaming red paint are too tasteful to elicit stares in this town.

    The Edajima mansion and dojo is in a neighbourhood that probably used to be quiet, back when it was built. Nowadays the 'mansions' on either side are a mahjongg/massage parlour and an apartment complex whose occupants swear so fluently and so loudly that Ami winces.

    Considering the surroundings, you aren't at all surprised to see that the Edajima School of Turtle-style has over two hundred pupils.

    What does surprise you is that someone dragged them all out of bed (their own or someone else's) to bow to Nabiki as she descends from the carriage. You notice more than a few poorly-suppressed yawns, and at least one of the older students is unsuccessfully trying to hide the fact that he's holding up his pants with one hand.

    "WELCOME, NABIKI-SAMA!"

    Nabiki smiles beatifically, and returns the bow. "Thank you all ever so much. I don't believe I've ever had such a warm welcome."

    And just like that, she has half the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand. You have to admit, as a professional pretender, you're impressed.

    From among the teachers standing on the steps to the dojo, a man descends.

    He's much broader than you would expect of a martial artist, and he's taller than anyone in the courtyard by at least an inch. He isn't old, but he's very definitely older than Nabiki. He's past the point where you could call him a young man, at least. But he's handsome, there's no denying that.

    Now if only he'd smile, you think. He clearly wants to; his insides are doing the dance of Do Not Screw This Up.

    Sadly, his face retains its solemn, serious look, and the closer he gets, the more uneasy Nabiki gets.

    He comes to a stop in front of her, looming over her by a good two feet. Tsuru gulps beside you. Even the students are riveted, staring at the strange tableau.

    "I am Edajima Hisui," he shouts, "head of the Edajima School of Turtle-style taijutsu."

    Nabiki blinks.

    Two of the teachers begin weeping manly tears. The student body is divided between the facepalmers, the snickerers, and the boys who're embarrassed on their sensei's behalf.

    [X] 'Translate' Hisui-san's introduction for Nabiki.

    [X] Fuck that, let's see where this is going. :))
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
  11. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] De doo doo doo, de da da da, is all I want to say to you

    "He's delighted to make your acquaintance," you inform Nabiki.

    Everyone stares at you, including a very relieved Hisui. You shrug, and gesture promptingly at your employer.

    "I thank you for such an enthusiastic welcome," Nabiki manages awkwardly.

    "Mm," Hisui says, blushing slightly.

    "He's in awe of your grace and beauty," you elaborate.

    "And he's worried I can read his mind and see all the stuff he-mmph!" you try to add, only to be cut off by Asuma-sensei's helping hand.

    "Thank you, Ino-chan," Nabiki says, a trifle primly. And she and her fiancé mount the steps, side by side.

    =

    The night you spend in the carriage is comfortable enough. Ami takes the queen bed by default, since Asuma's on duty, Kiba has some sort of thing about sleeping in a girl's bed, and Ami flat-out refuses to share with you. You curl up on one of the banquettes with Menka instead.

    The next morning has Ami and Kiba on guard duty, so you and Asuma go off to get everyone some breakfast.

    You quickly discover that Edajima School breakfasts are... odd.

    One wall of the dining hall is set up like a soup kitchen, with a large pot of rice steaming as a young man in a chef's hat and an apron that might once have been white doles out its contents by the bowlful to a long line of boys in navy blue gi. Further down the counter you can see (if you stand on tiptoe) another man giving out tiny cups of tea and soy sauce, and another giving each of the boys a slice of pickle and a small bowl of miso soup.

    ... wait, that's it?

    Asuma joins the line without hesitation, and you follow suit. A ripple of murmured conversation rolls through the room, and the man distributing the rice looks dumbfounded.

    "Ah, shinobi-san," he whispers earnestly to your sensei, "you don't have to eat this stuff. This line is for students. The Master has granted permission for you to eat with the teachers."

    Oh. So that's what smells like maple-broiled salmon and fresh fruit. You suppress a scowl.

    "An indulgence for which I thank him most heartily," Asuma replies mildly, "but which I'm afraid I must decline." And he holds out his tray pointedly.

    Clearly unsure of what else to do, the man gives you your bowls of rice and sends you on your way.

    Sensei's carrying Ami and Kiba's breakfasts, and you have the morning off. You decide to:

    [X] Go eat with your teammates.

    [X] Grab a seat in the dining hall. Let's make some friends.

    [X] Head out into the city to find a restaurant or something.
     
  12. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] The New York Times Affect On Man

    "This is really the best they've got?" Kiba grumbles. He eyes Akamaru's meat hungrily, and the puppy growls, putting his paws protectively around the bowl.

    You snort. "They've got better, but not for students."

    Your team, minus Asuma (who's off doing whatever it is jounin do when they aren't teaching their genin), is seated on rough wooden benches in the stable.

    "Well, this school clearly isn't doing very well," Ami says, blowing on her miso to cool it. "If anyone's going to have meat why shouldn't it be the teachers? Without them there wouldn't even be a school."

    "'Cause they aren't the ones running obstacle courses and sparring all day while going through puberty," you point out, slurping down your own soup. "I mean, I know you haven't really taken a look around here yet, but this place looks like it's at least as physically strenuous as the Academy. I passed the path from the dorms on my way back here - there were explosive tags plastered all over the fence around it and tiger traps every ten feet. Can you imagine running that every day on this?" You offer your pickle to each of your friends in turn, and Kiba finally takes you up on it. "This place must suck to attend," you conclude.

    "It's not that bad," a voice says, and the boy it belongs to enters through the open door. He's about average height, with dusty blond-brown hair that musses in the front; all in all, a very normal-looking guy.

    The other two who follow him in are considerably more noteworthy; one of them's about six and a half feet tall and as handsome as anyone can be with such prominent muscles (bleh), and the other's got an X slashed across his face. It's really weird; it can't be a scar from a fight, 'cause it's just about perfectly even, so the only conclusion you can draw is that he cut it in on purpose, either 'cause it has some sort of religious significance or just out of a desire to look cool.

    Also he's prematurely greying. This isn't like with Sasuke's teacher, either, this kid's natural hair colour is clearly black and it's clearly going silver at the sides. Poor bastard can't be older than fifteen.

    "We came here to become men," the blond continues, "and real men don't complain about privation. Ain't that right, Momiji?" he adds to the tall friend, who nods, folding his arms as he leans against the door frame, smiling a small smile.

    Kiba frowns.

    [X] "I'll bet they also don't brag about not complaining to impress girls," you note impishly.

    [X] You grin. "Hell no they don't. Can I take this to mean there are systems in place to hook a lady up with some salmon?" Hey, you're supposed to protect the dowry, right? If there's an established smuggling ring at work here it might be handy to know about it.

    [X] "Still, it's not cool that they get meat and you don't," you commiserate. "Whatever happened to leading by example?" Now is as good a time as any to get some dirt on the teachers. It'll be easier to investigate a robbery down the road if you know something about your potential suspects.

    [X] Write-in
     
  13. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] "Still, it's not cool that they get meat and you don't," you commiserate. "Whatever happened to leading by example?" Now is as good a time as any to get some dirt on the teachers. It'll be easier to investigate a robbery down the road if you know something about your potential suspects.

    The blond frowns. "There's not a lot we can do about it; tuition here's already pretty high, just 'cause of Edajima-sensei's rep."

    "Oh?" you ask mildly, sipping your tea. "What reputation is that?"

    He looks surprised for a moment, then light dawns. "Sorry, I forgot not everybody's in on the fight circuit. Sensei was king of the tournaments when he was younger, and before that he was the boss of the Crazy 88s in Hikari-kyo." Ami tenses, but Blondie is oblivious in his eagerness to gossip. "Nobody messes with Edajima-sensei. I heard one time he pulled out an illusionist's eye and cooked it and ate it right in front of the guy. And this other time-"

    "Hey, Jou, what're ya doin', tellin' ladies about nasty stuff like that?" X-Face retorts. His eyes widen as though even he didn't expect himself to say anything, and his cheeks go bright pink. "Sorry about him," he mumbles without looking at you or Ami.

    "It's fine," you assure him, waving off his concern. "We aren't exactly delicate flowers."

    "I'm Miyamoto Mirioni," he says with a jerky bow.

    Characterization vote:

    [X] Fujiko-mode: Huh. So. It begins. Shame he's not handsome, but it could be worse. Time to milk him for every last bit of information he has.

    [X]The Overprotective Hypocrite Has His Say: ... this... is kinda weird. Isn't X-Face- okay, Mirioni - kinda old to be interested in a 13-year-old girl? He's like 15. You wouldn't date a fourth-year Academy student. Well, no reason to be mean to the guy.

    [X] In Which A 13-Year-Old Girl Acts Like a 13-Year-Old Girl: Eww~! A teenager? Pass! They're so immature. Still, maybe he knows something.
     
  14. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    Creatively unfulfilled Furiko is creatively unfulfilled and antsy. Time for snippet.

    Furiko's Omake Theatre~!

    Meanwhile, in River Country...

    -_- "Of course it's ramen. It must have been a fit of purest optimism that made me hope the moron could possibly know how to cook anything else."

    You swear, if Sasuke makes one more snide remark under his breath, you're kicking his ass, Rookie of the Year or no. It's been like this every day since you left Konoha; he's like a stuffy mother-in-law on a sitcom! And why does he always say this crap to you? The little jerk needs to wake the hell up and realize that without his friends around to do his apologizing for him, there's no reason for anyone not to punch those precious eyes of his into his brain for the things that come out of his mouth!

    Unfortunately, internal bravado aside, the simple fact of the matter is that there is a reason not to.

    At least, for you, there is.

    A ceramic ladle pokes Sasuke in the nose. "Hey, what's that supposed to mean, you bastard?!"

    For Naruto there isn't.

    "Uchiha-kun," you finally say, adjusting your glasses, "it would perhaps be best if you refrained from sharing your running commentary with us in future. As you may have noticed, it puts unnecessary strain on morale."

    The black-haired idiot stares at you in disbelief. You stare back.

    Clan politics within Konoha aren't as complicated as popular civilian soap operas would have people believe - ninja have enough enemies as it is without feuding recreationally with their allies. The Uchiha and Senju were the exception in the present day, rather than the rule; modern rivalries are almost exclusively between individuals, not families.

    Still. The fact remains. You're the heir to the Aburame. The Aburame are already Clan Creepy (though how you got that designation in a village with the Yamanaka and the Hyuuga in it you will never understand) - no one wants them to be led by someone with an uncontrollable temper, least of all the other Aburame. Especially if you can't even restrain yourself from telling the Uchiha Clan-head-to-be to go perform an act which is anatomically impossible.

    So over time, you've learned to control yourself. You speak in measured, even tones every time you open your mouth, to be sure that you've really thought about what you're saying before you say it. You explain, as plainly and patiently as you can, the reasons that people should not commit acts of blatant stupidity or say utterly tactless things - along with the reasons you know stuff, since being treated like you're basically a witch doctor for actually paying attention to the world around you is incredibly aggravating.

    Happily, your overall stress levels have dropped recently, thanks to a certain living relief-valve known as Uzumaki Naruto.

    Said walking emissary of catharsis is currently shaking his ladle at Sasuke. "If you don't like my ramen you can shove that grumpy look where the sun don't shine and make your own damn dinner! There'll just be more for me an' Shino an' sensei!"

    "Is that dinner already?" Kakashi-sensei calls, appearing on cue from behind a tree. Very quietly, you sigh in relief. You were worried for a moment he might wait until a blow was struck to make his presence known. Your teacher is such an odd mix of competence and irreverence that you never know quite what he's thinking, or how much of what he says and does is his true self as opposed to a performance. Even his teaching style is so hands-off as to be almost non-existent. The man is unreadable.

    According to your mother that's a not uncommon problem with elite jounin. You suppose you'll get used to working with him eventually. It's not like you can't appreciate the desire to keep some things to yourself.

    =

    Kakashi-sensei says he'll take first watch and sends the three of you off to bed. Sasuke, as usual, goes to sleep almost immediately, his gentle snoring filling the tent even as Naruto starts rolling around, kicking and shoving at both of you, trying to get comfortable.

    After a long while, your teammate taps you on the shoulder. "Hey, Shino?"

    "Yes?"

    "What's it like having bugs inside you?"

    The inevitable question. At least he doesn't dance around trying to phrase it 'delicately'; some people honestly cannot tell the difference between condescension and tact. "I don't know," you answer honestly. "My hive was given to me when I was a year old. I lack any conscious memory of a time without my partners."

    "Oh." Naruto goes quiet for a moment. "So you didn't get to choose whether or not to take them?"

    You roll over to face him at that. "Why wouldn't I want them?" you ask, already knowing what the answer will be, anger already simmering ever-so-slightly in the back of your mind. You've seen girls your age edge away when you walk by. You've seen people intentionally crush insects of all kinds without so much as a thought, beyond mild satisfaction at destroying a peaceful organism for the crime of inconveniencing them.

    Your anger readies its weapons; the statistics, anecdotes of dozens of declassified missions where kikai have saved the lives of their hosts and their hosts' squadmates alike, documentation of which you can produce upon your return to Konoha.

    You like Naruto. But that doesn't mean you'll let him talk about your friends like they're a disease.

    "'Cause of how people treat you 'cause you have them, I guess," he says quietly.

    "... nevertheless, had I been given the choice, I would have accepted them," you reply, when you get over your surprise. "Why? Because my family prizes our relationship with the kikai beyond all other ninjutsu, and rightly so. Without my partners, I would lack sufficient versatility to back my teammates to the full extent of my potential." After a moment's hesitation, without fully knowing why you feel the need to add it, you say, "And I would be lonely without them, I think."

    "N-no way...!" Naruto sits up at that. "They can talk to you?"

    "Not individually, no; their brains are not complex enough." You struggle to describe what for you is as natural as walking; no one's ever asked you about this kind of thing before, so you're not sure how to explain it. "The hive can... speak, at times - my mother has been teaching me meditation techniques to strengthen my listening skills in that regard."

    Naruto digests this fact, apparently lost in thought.

    "So the stuff people say doesn't bother you?" he asks.

    "It would be foolish of me to ascribe any weight to the opinions of the ignorant," you sidestep, not surprised that his questions would tend in this direction, given his reputation. "Hatred of insects is irrational."

    "What about, like, poisonous insects?" the other boy persists. "It's not wrong to hate something that can kill you."

    ... this bears some thought. Even more than usual, if he's really talking about himself. True, he's never tried to be subtle before (he appears to lack the knack entirely, outside of combat), but if there were anything that would make Naruto settle down and talk seriously, you're sure it would be whatever it is that makes adults treat him like a stray dog.

    You don't know what that is, and no matter how curious you might be, you can't ask.

    So what can you tell him?

    "No," you say finally, "it is not wrong to fear something that can kill you. But it is-" You hesitate to use the word 'wrong' in relation to a moral issue, and finally settle on, "not constructive, to hate an entire segment of the natural world. Insects poison their prey and those who threaten their welfare; they act out of necessity, not malice. Any human would do the same."

    "What if..." He shifts in the dark. "What if your bugs hurt someone you cared about?"

    It's strange now to think that when you were assigned your team, you thought it'd be Naruto you'd have trouble getting along with, not the Last Uchiha. It wasn't until you'd been on Team Kakashi a month or so that you realized the reason Naruto doesn't know how to talk to people is that Naruto doesn't know how to talk to people; he's less prepared for complex social interaction than some third-year Academy students you've met. You don't know who's in charge of Konoha's childcare network, but someone somewhere along the line really dropped the ball.

    Because it isn't that he isn't trying. He is. He so clearly is. He can barely remember the names of the four Hokage, but on Monday morning you overheard him telling Sasuke not to zip up the flap all the way when coming back into the tent from a midnight pee, because "Shino says his bugs like to spend some time out in the night."

    You told him that three weeks ago, in the middle of a conversation it took you ten minutes to remember you'd even had.

    "I would be angry at myself, I suppose." You stifle a yawn, and crack your neck. "Why? Because the hive depends on me to keep them from miscalculating. Any mistakes they made would be partially my fault.

    "However," you continue, before Naruto can interject, "it would be wrong of me to linger on that self-hatred. Harm caused in the past must be acknowledged, of course, but it cannot be erased. The only thing that can be changed is one's behaviour in the present; that is the correct way to demonstrate one's sincerity in acknowledging one's failures."

    You hope that makes sense; you tend to get philosophical when you're drowsy. That last bit is just what Dad told you that time he found out you hid the cookie jar under your bed, but you think it's still applicable here.

    Naruto sighs, and in the dark you can't quite tell if it's out of frustration, disappointment, or relief.

    "Thanks, Shino," he says, lying back down. "Sorry to talk about weird stuff while you're tryin' to sleep, I was just thinking."

    "A fine habit to get into."

    "Hey!"
     
  15. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Vin's write-in

    "Yamanaka Ino, the Fifth," you reply. "You okay, man? Ya look a little flushed."

    Let it never be said that you are not evil.

    "N-no, I'm quite fine," Mirioni stammers. "Thank you for asking, Ino-hime."

    Ha! No, no, don't laugh, Ami's probably already miffed. "Not even remotely a hime," you say, shaking your head.

    Jou, the blond, shrugs. "Closer'n we usually get around here. You came in with Nabiki-sama, after all." He grins. "Say, how did you know what Sensei was trying to say? Most of the time only Momiji or the teachers know what the hell he's talking about."

    "It's a gift. And whaddya mean 'closer than you usually get'? There are at least two lady teachers here." Both of whom are quite dishy; Asuma-sensei's a stronger man than you, passing up a chance to have breakfast with them.

    Jou laughs darkly. "Meiyaku-sensei and Sukaha-sensei ain't ladies, they're demons."

    You smirk. "What happened to 'men don't complain'?"

    He goes beet red. Kiba stifles a laugh, and Strong and Silent over there by the door smiles. Huh, he should do that more often; it suits 'im.

    "No, you don't understand," Mirioni whispers, eyes wide. "Meiyaku-sensei has no feminine gentleness at all; she's like a yuki-onna."

    Jou shakes his head. "Are you crazy? A yuki-onna at least pretends to be a real woman. Meiyaku-sensei is more like a burly oni waiting for challengers in a mountain pass, or butcher looking over a pen of pigs in a marketplace."

    "Or a teacher on the hunt for a truant student," a cool voice says dryly.

    The two boys go pale, and slowly turn around with a shared sickly expression.

    [​IMG]

    ;D Brunettes are so hot.

    The two boys don't even attempt to apologize. They just stare, trembling in fear.

    The statuesque brunette casts a withering gaze over them. "Jonouchi-kun," she says, "I believe Kuroashi-sensei is waiting for you in the kitchen."

    "YesMeiyaku-senseithankyouseeyoulaterMirionibye!"

    Wow. That is cold, right there, leavin' a buddy to face the rap alone.

    "Miyamoto, it's your turn for one-on-one tutoring." She stalks off, and a slump-shouldered Mirioni trudges off behind her.

    [X] Follow 'em! If she's as bad as they say you wanna make sure he doesn't get pulverized just for talking to you. Besides, this is your best lead so far on the whole what-are-the-staff-members-actually-like thing.

    [X] Yeesh, the last thing X-face needs is a girl he likes watching him get his ass handed to 'im. Stick with your teammates for breakfast at least.
     
  16. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Follow 'em! If she's as bad as they say you wanna make sure he doesn't get pulverized just for talking to you. Besides, this is your best lead so far on the whole what-are-the-staff-members-actually-like thing.

    The tall dark-haired boy shakes his head, and with a nod at your team, strolls casually after his friend.

    "I'll be right back," you tell the others.

    "Lemme know if she's as good as Nabiki-san," Kiba says in reply, cheerfully taking the last of your breakfast.

    Momiji turns to see you follow him out. "Aren't you supposed to be guarding the carriage?"

    "Not 'til this afternoon." You give him an appraising look. "How come you didn't tell your friends you know what we're here for?"

    "If you want to laugh at Miyamoto's pain," he says, expression unchanged, "I have one request: don't do it in front of him."

    "Hey!" you protest indignantly. "What kind of girl do you think I am? I just wanna make sure she doesn't leave him in traction over a stupid comment made in private."

    "Hmm?" He actually looks somewhat impressed by that, you note happily. Wait. Why do you care that he's impressed? "He won't suffer any permanent damage. Meiyaku-sensei doesn't intentionally try to kill her students."

    "And that's why they don't let her teach the seniors," a tall, red-haired woman says, slinging an arm over Momiji's shoulder. This disturbs you a tad, since you didn't hear her approach.

    "Good morning, Sukaha-sensei," Momiji says politely.

    "So this is why little Mirioni tried to ditch?" she asks, looking you up and down. She grins. "Yeah... you would be his type, wouldn't you?"

    You frown. "What's that supposed to-?"

    "Jou talked him into it, actually," Momiji says. "We were all interested in seeing the new mistress' style in action before her first lesson."

    Sukaha snorts. "Gods save me from the delusions of sophomores! Sometimes I wonder why we were so optimistic as to include Cultural Studies on the curriculum at all." She glances at you again, nodding at Menka beside you. "You aren't even trying to hide what you are, are you?"

    "No point," you say, shaking your head. "Why would anyone hire a bunch of preteens as guards if they weren't ninja?"

    "And that, sadly, says it all." The redhead grimaces at your shabby surroundings. "Hisui's too proud for his own good."

    The small courtyard where Mirioni and Meiyaku face each other lacks even lines in the dirt; it's pretty clear that it's a garden that's been converted into an arena.

    "Good morning, Sukaha-sensei," Meiyaku says, without turning from Mirioni. Mirioni gives the other teacher a quick half-bow, and grows pink in the cheeks at the sight of you before hastily returning his attention to Meiryoku.

    Sukaha shakes her head. "Poor bastard." She nods at a student standing beside a round table. "You want green tea or café au lait, Longscarf?"

    "Café, sensei, thank you."

    "Two cafés au lait," the redhead tells the student. Without a word, he bows and enters the building behind him. Sukaha takes a seat at the table and rests her cheek on her hand to watch the fight, smiling like a grandmother.

    Meiyaku's arms are crossed and her legs together even as Mirioni slides into a ready stance. The scarred boy's eyes are fixed on his teacher; despite Momiji's earlier assurances, you can't help but notice the terror in his face.

    [X] Hey, a nice seat in the shade with a pretty lady who can probably tell you how everyone here can hide their chakra from you. Don't mind if you do!

    [X] Stick with Momiji. Neither of you got an invite to sit and he can probably tell you some stuff too.
     
  17. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] The bare necessities of life will come to you.

    Momiji tenses up slightly as you pass him on your way over to the table.

    "Mind if I have a seat, Sukaha-san?"

    She shrugs, not even looking at you. "Help yourself."

    You hear the boy behind you let out a sigh of relief. You sit, grinning in thanks at your tablemate.

    "Begin!" she barks suddenly.

    The volume gets cranked so fast you almost jump out of your chair in fright. And- wait, no, what the hell? How did he get over to her without you seeing him move?! You were looking right at him! That wasn't a shunshin, shunshin don't sound like that! He- the sound didn't move when he did, it was like a record skipping!

    Okay, calm down, calm down, it's over, we can analyze it later, they're just having a normal taijutsu match now.

    Both combatants being oblivious to your jangled nerves, Meiyaku kicks Mirioni skyward and it happens again; now he's back on the ground. And not in an impact way, in a cheaply-made-movie-jumpcut way; he didn't even land, as far as you can tell.

    Completely insane parlour tricks aside, Mirioni shows about the level of proficiency you'd expect from an Academy student - not for the first time, you wonder exactly how much difference having shinobi ancestors makes in how early someone can take on physically-demanding tasks. Meiyaku is almost certainly as skilled as an average active-duty chuunin her age; she isn't even winded, casually sidestepping Mirioni's clumsy charges and gracefully ducking around his wild haymakers, calmly giving verbal corrections to each of her student's faults in footwork even as the pace of the fight quickens.

    Of course, you can't be entirely sure of anything until you figure out what to look for. Is this what fight analysis is like for non-sensors? How do they not go nuts?

    [X] Ask Sukaha for a basic rundown on Turtle-style taijutsu.
    [X] Keep observing.
    -> [X] Employ elemental meditation and focus on the Wind chakra around Mirioni in case he teleports again.
    -> [X] From the look of things Mirioni's a one-trick pony; try to listen to the Wind chakra around Meiryoku to see if it can tell you anything about why you can't hear any of these martial artist people.
    [X] Write-in
     
  18. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Hot breeze, old cheese, slippy-slappy fishie tails...

    ... hey, that's neat. The air that Mirioni breathes out is different from the air he breathes in.

    A moment after thinking that you give yourself a mental dope-slap. Of course it's different, that's kind of the point of having lungs.

    What you mean is that it feels different, spiritually. You don't know what it is, but the notes stray from the normal expression of the give-and-take of breathing in and out; it's like the relationship between his respiratory system and the rest of the Wind in the world has its own theme song. It's hard to make out the melody itself, since from the sound of things Meiyaku's breath has one of her own, and so does Momiji's, and so does-

    "Well. A Yamanaka, even."

    Concentration broken, you turn to Sukaha, who has lost interest in the fight in favour of studying you, apparently. She nods, though it's hard to tell if she's approving or just confirming something to herself. "That's nice to know; their standards have always been among the more stringent in the shinobi world."

    [X] "Um... thank you?"

    [X] "I wish you'd tell my team that; Ami thinks my parents have spoiled me rotten." : P

    [X] "Glad to know you think Nabiki-chan's dowry is in good hands."
     
  19. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Sugar in my coffee, oh yeah, makes me mean

    You grin. "I wish you'd tell my team that; Ami thinks my parents have spoiled me rotten."

    A student carrying two mugs of coffee on a tray emerges from the door and sets the beverages on the table. Sukaha nods in thanks, then asks you, "What are you drinking, kid?"

    The student stares at you like just appeared out of thin air; even Momiji's eyes flick away from the fight for a moment.

    You blink. "Fruit juice, if you've got it. Thanks."

    "No trouble," Sukaha says. "Anything else? Toast? Smokes? Some salmon for your friend, there?" Menka mews.

    [X] Holy shit she just said the magic word. :eek:

    [X] Sweet nicotine Oh, this could not possibly be more of a trap.
     
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  20. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Wow, Admiral Ackbar! Wow, Admiral Ackbar Cereal! ;D

    A nervous giggle escapes you. "N-no, just the juice is fine," you force yourself to say.

    "You sure?" Sukaha asks, smirking. "You look like you haven't had a snout in years."

    Wait, what? "I've never had one," you say, frowning in confusion. "I'm only thirteen."

    "Of course." She gestures at the student with the tray. "We're gonna need some juice, here, when you get a chance."

    The student finally snaps out of it and heads back inside.

    "So," she says when he's gone, "to answer the questions that're most likely on your mind in order from most relevant to least: no, I won't tell you how Mirioni's doing what he's doing, and neither will he, yes, I can tell you how Turtle-style works, no, I don't have any plans to hold you for ransom, and yes, there are people trying to steal little Nabiki's treasure chest." She takes a sip of her coffee, and waits for your jaw to stop hanging open. "Ask a question, get an answer."

    [X] You heard the lady.
     
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  21. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] A blind date

    You seriously regret not taking her up on her offer of tobacco.

    Licking your lips, trying to regain your composure, you say, "Well... mission business first, I guess. Who exactly is after Nabiki's treasure?"

    "Pen and paper?" Sukaha offers.

    You shake your head. "I've got a good memory."

    "Cherish it," she commands. "You won't know how important it is until after you've lost it."

    Who the hell is this chick, anyway? She's obviously a martial artist of some kind, if she's a teacher here, but she doesn't give off an imposing air like Meiyaku (who at the moment is giving Mirioni some kind of pep talk off in the corner); in fact, she doesn't appear to give off any kind of an air at all. Beautiful though she is, you're starting to notice that your eyes slide off of her if you aren't focusing. This may be the school of dead air, but she's like a television test screen while you're waiting for the picture to come back on.

    "So," Sukaha begins briskly, "first off, you want to be on the lookout for a blond senior named Sorato. A massage girl next door promised that she'll marry him if he brings her a nice enough piece of jewellery. You can expect him a few hours before dawn tomorrow morning. He's a fuckup, but he's a lucky little fuckup, so don't underestimate him. You hear me?"

    "Yes'm," you say meekly.

    "Good. He'll be dressed in black, so he should be easy to spot. Also, don't let him touch your bare skin if you can help it."

    "Why not?"

    "Because things will go badly for you if he does." Somehow she manages to be blunt and vague at the same time.

    "If you don't mind my asking," you say, "why don't you just order him not to try anything? He's your student, right?"

    Sukaha smiles serenely. "There comes a time in every student's life where they must leave the classroom and encounter reality."

    The addendum "Preferably at terminal velocity" is unspoken.

    You shift uncomfortably under her gaze. "If you want us to handle him permanently, you'll have to take it up with Asuma-sensei." Tough talk to Nabiki or not, you'd really rather not kill someone on your first C-rank.

    "Oh, bless your heart!" Laughing, she pats your hand, a grandmotherly gesture that seems somehow natural for her, oddly enough. "No, that won't be necessary; Sorato just needs a little field experience, that's all."

    "Blond, dressed in black, don't let him get up close and personal, got it," you say, nodding in confirmation. "Is there anyone else?"

    The redhead shrugs. "There are a few staff members with gambling debts to pay off, but the brat is the only one around here with the right combination of balls, talent and stupidity to think he has a shot at getting away with stealing Hisui's fiancée's property. He might have a couple other students as backup, but he's the one who'll give you trouble."

    "... why are you telling me all this?" you ask.

    Sukaha leans back in her chair, and smirks. "They're so precious when they don't know yet," she says to the air in general.

    To you, she says, "I tell you this because it will be funnier if you defeat him than if someone else does." She winks at you. "And because you haven't had a proper challenge in years. Don't want you going soft."

    All at once, before you can ask why the hell a strange woman who never met you before today should care about whether or not you 'go soft', Meiyaku comes over to drink her coffee, the student waiter arrives with your fruit juice, and Momiji and Mirioni materialize on either side of you, the latter eagerly asking what you thought of his fight.

    "Miyamoto," Meiyaku says, "perhaps our guest would be interested in the Tournament Hall."

    And that, apparently, is that. The last you see of Sukaha is a toast she raises as you and the boys round the corner into the main courtyard.

    =

    After about twenty minutes looking over the portraits of various winners of title matches, intercepting weird looks passing between Momiji and Menka, and politely listening to Mirioni tell anecdotes about the history of the school (which isn't all that hard, as it's actually kind of interesting), a lull in the conversation prompts you to ask a question that's been on your mind.

    [X] "So how does Sukaha-san fit into all this? Where did she come from? Is she single?" How do you know you can trust her?

    [X] "How do the mechanics of Turtle-style actually work?" Even if they lie about it, it should give you something to go on.

    [X] "What's the story with Sorato? Is there anything else I should know about the guy?" No point in asking in front of Mirioni; get him to take your glass back to the kitchen for you and ask Momiji.
     
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  22. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] How do I even begin to explain Sukaha?

    "She's an old friend of Edajima-sensei's father," Momiji says, adjusting a crooked picture on the wall. "Her school and ours have been linked since before the Utai era."

    "So she has her own school, then?" you ask.

    "In the mountains somewhere," Mirioni says, nodding. Then he frowns. "But one of the seniors might've said it's on an island. Hey, Momiji, which is it?"

    "Sukaha-sensei's a very private woman," Momiji replies, neither scolding nor uncertain.

    Inside your head, you pout. How are you supposed to get accurate intel if even her allies don't know jack about her?

    Menka rubs his head on your ankle in support.

    "C'mon, man," Mirioni wheedles, "you've gotta know; where're we gonna send your mail next year if we don't even know your new address?"

    Momiji frowns in mild annoyance. "Oi. Don't get carried away. I'm only up for consideration, there's nothing definite yet."

    "Who else is she gonna take?" Mirioni asks, scoffing. "You're the best of the second-years. And none of the seniors have anything on you."

    "Consideration for what?" you ask.

    "Sukaha-sensei visits the school about once a year, and under certain rare circumstances she'll take an apprentice or two with her when she leaves," Momiji explains. He eyes Mirioni. "But she took Meiryoku-sensei's daughter just last year, so it's highly unlikely she's already looking for a new student."

    "He's making a joke, Ino-hime," Mirioni tells you with a snicker. "Either that or he doesn't remember how fast Asuka-chan can drive someone nuts. If she were my apprentice I'd want ten more, just to keep a buffer zone between me and her."

    "Can you really say that any of us deserved the opportunity more than she did?" Momiji asks, tilting his head ever-so-slightly to the side.

    Mirioni holds up his hands defensively. "Hey, far be it from me to second-guess the woman who trained Rouga Noki and his wife." After a moment's consideration, he says wistfully, "Man, Nabiki-sama must really be something with grandparents like that."

    "Grandparents?" you ask. "Wait a minute: How could Sukaha-san have trained Nabiki-chan's grandparents?"

    The x-faced boy turns suddenly sheepish. "Sukaha-sensei is well-preserved," he mumbles.

    "I should say so," you reply in disbelief. "Where did she grow up? I need to know so I can go bottle the air and sell it."

    "She says she's from Wing Country."

    You frown. "Where the hell is Wing Country?"

    He shrugs.

    Do these guys have no curiosity at all?!



    [X] Ask some more about Sukaha
    -> [X] Like what?
    [X] Fucking Turtle-style, how does it work?
    [X] Ask about Sorato
    [X] Ask about the other teachers
    [X] Ask about the other students
     
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  23. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Take My Breath Away

    "What does Sukaha teach, exactly? More advanced forms and stuff?" you ask.

    "Well... no. Turtle-style doesn't really have a formal system of kata," Mirioni says, sounding rather embarrassed. "We don't have a single lineage like other taijutsu traditions; it's less a style and more like a bunch of different styles that're connected by family ties and friendships and stuff. We just all get grouped together 'cause we share techniques with each other sometimes."

    "Like the way you all hide your chakra levels?" you say.

    Mirioni looks blank. "What's chakra?"

    ._________.

    Okay, at this point the universe is officially mocking you.

    Thankfully Momiji comes the the rescue. "It's that personal energy the samurai and ninja use."

    Mirioni's eyes widen. "But isn't that really-" he begins.

    "Sukaha-sensei's tutelage has a stronger focus on weaponry than the Edajima school does," Momiji says. "She's more concerned with taijutsu's place in matters of war than with its uses as a tool of justice or spirituality."

    It's your turn to stare blankly. "What does taijutsu have to do with spirituality? Is punching a guy in the rocks supposed to be a religious experience?"

    "Sorry," the tall boy says, shaking his head, "I can't explain more than that. Even if you weren't a ninja, Miyamoto and I haven't achieved the right of transmission yet; no one's allowed to teach Turtle-style until they reach master status, especially not the philosophy. We'd be expelled."

    "... wait, you're a ninja?" Mirioni blurts out, aghast.

    You scowl. "What does that have to do with anything?"

    Momiji shrugs. "Ninja are sworn to serve their Kage. Legitimate martial arts practitioners are sworn only to defend the innocent from injustice. Since we aren't allies, why would we tell you how we do what we do?"

    That... hurts. It's not like when you and Nabiki were kids - there's no brazen declaration that 'ninja are the bad guys, grr'. There's just the calm, almost neutral statement of fact.

    Which is, naturally, worse.

    "Shinobi protect the innocent all the time," you protest. "Some career genin even get permanent gigs as police officers and emergency personnel in small towns - hell, thousands of Konoha-nin gave their lives to protect the civilians of Fire Country in three world wars and to defeat the Kyuubi no Kitsune!"

    You make all of these protestations, but you feel awful just saying them.

    Konoha is your home; it's not wrong to want to defend your home and your friends. You know that, and you know Momiji probably knows that.

    But Konoha is a business. If a shinobi saves someone, it's because they expect to get paid for their efforts. If they put down a ruthless business empire, it's because that business' monopoly is bad for their village's traders. If they assassinate a corrupt official, it's because the daimyo tacitly requested it. Money rules everything, and everyone's trying to get some of it. Being a good person is what you do on your own time. That's what's made Konoha great; a concerted effort made to incentivize caring about the people around you, in order to foster teamwork and a community spirit and channel that united strength into preserving the whole. In the shinobi world this is nearly heresy.

    Apparently in the martial arts world it's considered the bare minimum.

    "So... you're not a lady-in-waiting?" Mirioni asks sadly.

    "Why would you think I'm a lady-in-waiting?" you ask, genuinely curious. You haven't been playing demure in the slightest; it's been ore this and da ze that all day.

    "You're dressed as one!" he says.

    You boggle. "And this didn't tip you off?" You tap at the hitai ate around your neck.

    ._.; "I thought it was a fashionable necklace."

    You suddenly understand why you were the only person in your year who bothered to sign up for the general Infiltration class.

    "Well, it isn't, and I'm not," you say, shrugging. "I'm Yamanaka Ino the Fifth, heir to the Yamanaka clan and a genin of Konohagakure no Sato."

    As though you just flipped a switch, Mirioni and Momiji snap to attention.

    "Miyamoto Mirioni, heir to the Miyamoto clan of Tanzaku Gai, student of the Edajima school of Turtle-style taijutsu," Mirioni declares, bowing stiffly.

    "Tsurugi Momiji, student of the Edajima school of Turtle-style taijutsu," Momiji says mildly. He doesn't bow so much as casually incline his spine.

    A tiny thrill, certainly not the first of the day, goes through you, and now you get why. He's cool! A genuine cool guy, here of all places! Well, okay, yeah, sucks that he apparently doesn't trust ninja, but who cares? He's cute!

    [X] Make an excuse to follow the two of them to their first class (which is apparently on art history, from the way they describe it).

    [X] Head back over to the stables to fill everyone in on what you've learned.

    [X] Hell, your shift doesn't start until after lunch; time to hit the town and see the sights! You've got souvenirs to buy.
     
  24. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] The burning ghost without a name

    All it took was a mention that you like art for Mirioni to fall over himself to invite you to class. You feel kind of bad for the guy; if he's like this when you're just being yourself you can imagine how much of a doormat he'd be if you'd actually put effort into charming him.

    "... which, when contrasted with the most popular themes in their devotional art from before the war, presents us with the dual nature of the Water Country priesthood's relationship with their ocean-kami patrons..."

    Culture Studies, it turns out, is not just art history, but rather history and cultural anthropology rolled into one class.

    In other words, shiny-thing central; it's like someone opened up your Annotated World Atlas of Art History, turned it upside down and shook out an instructor to go with it. This unit they're doing on the island nations has already brought two private collections you've never heard of to your attention and introduced you to the existence of Water Country whale-ivory armbands, which, aside from being beautiful, apparently enjoy a brisk trade on the black market.

    Mirioni looks like he's having trouble staying awake. Momiji is slouched in his chair in the back row, like a barbarian king on a throne, but his attention is focused on the teacher, so sadly, no chance for a nice chat during the lecture. Oh, well; at least all the new info you're getting means this wasn't a total loss.

    The teacher places a fresh sheet on the projector and adjusts the magnification. "Now, when we examine the religious art of the Whirlpool Diaspora, what do we observe?" He scans the classroom. "Shinpei-kun?"

    A boy with a rattail hairdo jumps awkwardly to his feet. "Um... well..." He squints. "That looks like the God of Knights again. Is that the same guy as before?"

    "What makes you say that?" the teacher prompts.

    "Well, he's in dark clothes like he was in the other pictures," the boy goes on, a trifle uncertainly, "and... I don't know, I'm sorry."

    The teacher nods as Shinpei sits back down. "Tachibana-kun?"

    "Is it because he's got the usual cloud under his feet, but he doesn't have any specific symbol, like the other gods?" another boy guesses.

    "Correct," the teacher says, pointing his walking stick at the god in question. "The Kishigami is always depicted without distinguishing characteristics, to emphasize that his relationship is not with any one group of warriors, but with every fighter in the world. Does anyone else have any observations? Yes, Jounouchi-kun?"

    "He's at the centre of the painting," the boy from earlier this morning says. "In the other stuff we've looked at he's always been off to the side."

    "Which implies?"

    "They thought he was more important than Water Country people thought he was," the blond declares confidently.

    "Partially correct," the teacher says. "Can anyone tell me another possibility?"

    There is an embarrassed silence.

    "The subject of the painting is the Diaspora story itself," Momiji says. "The Uzumaki Clan did revere the Kishigami as their patron deity, but Islander art traditionally places whoever the main subject is at the centre of the work, no matter who they are otherwise, with the events depicted around them. The Kishigami is centred here because he's the centre of the tale being told."

    Uzumaki? You cock an eyebrow in surprise. You know the Shodaime's wife's name, of course, but you didn't think she was part of a proper clan. Shouldn't you guys have covered that at the Academy?

    Come to think of it, you don't know much of anything about Uzumaki Mito besides her name. She was a kind-hearted lady, you suppose, since when she died she stated in her will that all the orphans in Konoha were legally entitled to the use of her maiden name if they wished. But that's the only historical factoid you can call to mind about her - there're dead enka singers from Bird Country you know more about than that. Something doesn't add up here.

    Listening to the ensuing discussion, you learn the sad tale of Whirlpool's downfall. In a nutshell, the Uzumaki were a powerful clan of ninja who, so the story goes, tried to cast a spell (you just barely manage to avoid rolling your eyes at the teacher's references to 'ninja magic') to bring their god into the physical realm. The result was the decimation of the island's population, human and animal, and the scattering of the survivors to the four winds.

    Now that you do know something about - at least, you know the rumours that there's a pirate outpost somewhere on Whirlpool Country's south coast that was once a hidden village.

    The class goes on, comparing the few surviving Whirlpool depictions of the Kishigami from before the Diaspora to those made after the exile, and really, the whole thing looks like an obsessive cult or an overenthusiastic fuuinjutsu researcher (or an obsessed cult of fuuinjutsu researchers) temporarily took over the island; the pre-Diaspora art includes a handful of pieces, though not enough to prove anything one way or the other, where the god is actually marked with a spiral and a few indecipherable symbols, as though someone were trying to shift him in the people's minds from everyone's god to just Whirlpool's god. But the moment the refugees make it to Fire or Lightning or wherever, the normal, mark-less Kishigami makes a comeback like nothing happened.

    Eventually the teacher dismisses the students for their next class, and two or three of them come over to ask you questions; what it's like being a ninja, are your parents cool with you being one, why is there a cat following you around. The kinds of questions civilians always ask ninja when they aren't scared pissless of them.

    Mirioni looks a bit glum when he realizes that he's literally the only person aside from Jou who didn't realize your profession at a glance, but he sticks around for the ribbing anyway because "Meiyaku-sensei left you in my care; if I can't even keep these apes in line, how could I face her again?"

    Meanwhile, you are having the weirdest fucking day of your life and it isn't even lunch yet. What are you gonna do next?

    [X] Actually, lunch sounds wonderful. Go grab an early bite to eat at a café and do some souvenir shopping.

    [X] Stick around here; Momiji mentioned offhand that that Sorato character is in his next class.

    [X] This is gettin' heavy; go tell your team what's what.
     
  25. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Now man is born to come a-lovin'

    You decide to stick around to size up your future opponent. Well, hopefully it won't come to that; people tend to be less likely to steal stuff if there's a good chance they're expected.

    People other than you, you mean.

    "Is that Whirlpool story true?" one of the guys asks you.

    You shrug. "How would I know? I'm not from Whirlpool."

    "Yeah, but you're a ninja," he persists. "You guys always have stuff goin' on that you don't tell normal folks about."

    "Maa..." You wince, embarrassed. "That's true, but it's not like we're all in some secret club where we tell each other everything. Who's gonna tell me about secret magic experiments in another country? I'm a genin; I'm lucky if Asuma-sensei tells me why he gives me the orders he does."

    "That's awful," a young female voice says.

    Looking to your right, you see a violet-haired girl with a worried frown on her face.

    Oddly for you, the first thing you notice about her is her makeup. But then, her makeup itself is pretty odd; there's none of the youthful playfulness you see on most teenage girls, no impish attempts at a daytime smokey eye or a shimmery blush. Just perfectly-lined coral-coloured lips, pristine matte foundation, a neutral brown eyeshadow, immaculately-curled eyelashes, and - you notice when she reaches up to remove her sunhat - the kind of manicure your mother calls 'white lotus' but which your mind insists on referring to as 'French'. Her dress continues the trend; almost certainly designer, definitely custom-tailored, and exactly what's in style, no more, no less.

    "Some big-shot's daughter."

    "Kept woman longing for excitement."

    "It's always 'kept woman longing for excitement' with you!"

    "Call me an optimist! You gonna take the bet or what?"

    "Why hello there," you say with a smile. "Who might you be?"

    "My name is Mei," she says, before elaborating on her earlier theme: "It's terrible that your teacher treats you like that! You're not a pawn!"

    You blink. Hello, projection, fancy meeting you here. "Of course I'm not. What I am is a rookie. You hafta admit, it'd be really stupid to let a greenhorn thirteen-year-old run around doing missions by herself."

    "What's so stupid about that?" a new voice says, sliding up from behind Mei and wrapping an arm around her.

    The voice is attached to an unassuming-looking young man with blond hair..

    "Sometimes you do your best learning on your own," he continues, adding, "well, at least, I do."

    "There's a reason for that, dumbass," Mirioni mutters, and Jonouchi smirks. Mei shoots them both a glare.

    "True enough," you concede, a small smile playing on your lips, "but if self-improvement were my game, I'd've joined a Toastmaster's circle. I'm in this line to travel, see the sights." You wink at Mei. She just looks confused.

    "But if that's the case, why not become a merchant?" Blondie asks, smiling a charming good-boy smile. "Or an actress - you're certainly pretty enough."

    Mei stiffens for a moment, then relaxes as if nothing happened.

    [X] Oh, what the fuck. "Oi. In case it's slipped your mind, your girlfriend is right next to you. That's no way to treat a lady."

    [X] "I know." You smirk. "But actresses only pretend to have adventures. Kunoichi get to experience the real thing."

    [X] Past life pop-culture-reference-machine, SWITCH ON:
    -> [X] *shrug* "Oh, you know. They were hiring? And it was only a two-week course."
    -> [X] Write-in
     
  26. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Just a Mason-Dixon Valentine

    You shrug again. "Eh. Some things are in the blood."

    "Good of you to worry about me, though," you add to Mei with a grin. "Thanks."

    She looks embarrassed. "I'm sorry if I misunderstood."

    "Don't be sorry! You're a very kind person. Most people'd be too afraid to say stuff like that." You stand, and gesture to your chair. "Please, have a seat. Didn't mean to take up another student's place." Well, sure, she totally isn't dressed for taijutsu, but then, neither are some of the ninja you've met; no point in assuming.

    Mei glances hesitantly at the blond boy, who laughs.

    "Oh, Mei-chan isn't a student here," he chirps, "she's with me. Who're you with?"

    "The bride," you say, before turning back to Mei. "So, visiting your boyfriend in class? How romantic! Are the two of you going out for lunch afterward?"

    Mei blushes.

    "We sure are," blondie says, squeezing her and gazing into her eyes. He cocks an eyebrow at you winningly. "Wanna come with? Beats the hell out of cafeteria food."

    "Nah, I wouldn't wanna intrude," you demur, wondering if this guy is suicidal or just incredibly stupid. He doesn't sound like he's too infatuated with you to make rational decisions, but he doesn't sound worried, either.

    On the plus side, the girl isn't giving off any waves of animosity. On the negative side, she is obviously pretty conflicted about what's happening.

    "It's no intrusion," he says, oblivious to your inner musings. "I'm buyin'~" he adds playfully.

    [X] "Well, if it's fine with Mei-chan..." ^_^ (Step your game up and get a free meal out of it.)

    [X] "Sorry. I have to be on duty at 12:30. *to Mei* Will I see you tomorrow at the wedding?" :3 (Dial things down a notch, but don't lose sight of your goal, here; snub the shit out 'im.)

    [X] Write-in
     
  27. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Now the line forms on the right, dear

    "Sorry," you lie, "I have to be on duty at 12:30." You shake Mei's hand gently (ignoring your first impulse to kiss the air above it - what even is that? o_O). "It was lovely to meet you, Mei-chan. You comin' to the wedding tomorrow?"

    "Of course!" the blond interjects gleefully. "She's been wanting to wear that new party dress I made her for ages."

    You're torn between being impressed that he can sew and being incredibly skeeved out over the way he keeps answering questions you've been asking Mei.

    Before he can say anything more, the door of the classroom opens and Meiyaku steps in, a briefcase in her hand.

    "Find your seats," she says sternly. "That includes you, Shinyuu."

    "Just improving diplomatic relations with Konohagakure," he quips with a grin.

    Dear god, if the Irony gets any thicker in here I'll have to stick him in a suit of armour and call him Taisho.

    "See ya, kunoichi-chan!" he says, before doing something that honestly shocks the ever-loving shit out of you.

    He and Mei head over to his desk, he takes a seat, Mei takes the seat next to him, and they immediately start making out.

    And Meiyaku begins the math lesson without saying a word about it.

    ... what the actual fuck?!

    You pull out a small pad of paper and write a note to Mirioni.

    Who died and made that guy god?

    Upon reading the message, Mirioni's head jerks up to give you a completely poleaxed look. Then a massive grin spreads across his face, and he prods Jounouchi, showing him the note.

    "Something you'd like to share with the rest of us, Jounouchi?" Meiyaku asks as the brunet guffaws loudly.

    "I- no, Meiryoku-sensei," he says, getting himself back under control, his mouth a firm line as his cheeks redden in suppressed mirth. "I... had a frog in my throat."

    The return note has a marriage proposal from Jou written across the top, but Mirioni has scratched it out.

    That's Shinyuu Sorato. His old man left a lot of money to the school on the condition they let Shinyuu attend. We're stuck with him until we graduate.

    You're kidding. Does he neck during the martial arts classes too? A part of you — and you don't know how potent that part might be — is roiling with jealousy.

    Banned for blinding a senior during a spar in our first year.

    You swear under your breath, glancing at the oral hygiene orchestra over there. Granted, you're probably going to be doing a lot worse than blinding people once you get promoted the chuunin, but geez. Maiming an ally. In a fucking sparring match.

    Sorato catches you staring, and winks.

    You shudder.

    [X] How'd he blind him?

    [X] Why'd he blind him?
     
  28. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Why oh why do you wanna say goodbye

    Long story, tell you after class.

    'Long' is ominously underlined.

    =

    Oof, civilian math is rigorous. The later years of the Academy math curriculum were given over to ninja applications for the subject, like determining the arc of an arrow, or measuring the concussive force of an explosion, or just balancing a budget on a limited salary. The Edajima school's take on things involves a lot more abstract stuff. What the hell is trigonometry and why do you somehow know how to do it despite never having studied it before?

    (o_O "You're helping yourself cheat at high school math now? Isn't that kind of a waste of this gig?"

    -_- "Trig is the Devil incarnate and I'm not learnin' it twice. She can fill the extra brain space with song lyrics like a normal kid.")

    As soon as the bell rings, Mei and Sorato are out the door, arm in arm and leaning on each other like an elderly couple.

    Not ten seconds later, Jou and Mirioni converge on you.

    Before you can say a word, Jou grabs your hands. "Thank you," he says fervently, "thank you thank you thank you thank you. You don't know how good it feels to know there's at least one girl on the planet who doesn't think the sun shines out of Shinyuu's ass."

    You stare, perplexed. "... what."

    "I know!" he says, the relief of validation brightening his face. "He's the biggest douche in school, but every chick I know thinks he's some kind of prince among men! My mother has a crush on him." He puts on a high falsetto: "'Oh, why can't you be friends with that nice Shinyuu boy? He's such a gentleman!'"

    If you were drinking something you'd have done a spittake just now. "In what language is 'gentleman' a synonym for 'moron who flirts with complete strangers in front of his poor girlfriend'?" you demand, incredulous.

    "If it exists, every girl in town speaks it," Mirioni says, sighing. "They're always hugging him and posing for him when he wants to draw-"

    "He draws?" Well, there's a possible explanation for the hubbub. Artists get cut an ungodly amount of slack thanks to the hotness factor. "Is he any good?"

    Mirioni shrugs the shrug of a man who has given up on understanding the difference between 'art you like' and 'good art' and is happier for it.

    "He says he's influenced by Expressionism," Momiji remarks. "But what he draws looks more like an attempt at Northern Mannerism, with a few odd colour choices."

    "Ararara~?" You straighten up in your seat, eyes gleaming. "You're certainly well-informed, Momiji-kun. Do you draw at all?"

    "No," he says. "I don't have the talent for it. But I do take photographs on the weekends."

    "Really~? Think I could sit for a private portrait before I leave?"

    "Oh, hey, I thought so; he left a sketch here," Jou calls, having gone over to Sorato's desk to check. He brings over a piece of paper and hands it to you.

    On it is a drawing of a smiling Mei, and you can see what Momiji meant by 'an attempt' at Mannerism. The sketch captures all the details and contrast at once, like the shadow of her hair on her neck and the particular shape of her ears, but nothing is said about these features; they're just presented, as though each of them were drawn individually for an anatomy study and then blended into one picture. You can't even call it a realistic work, because though the details are there, they've all been... idealized is the wrong word. Upgraded, maybe; they're lit in a decidedly unrealistic fashion, like a leading lady in a movie.

    Curiously, Mei herself, as a whole, is not. There's nothing to the drawing that gets across any sense of the relationship between the artist and the subject - it's like the artist doesn't exist. Or worse...

    "... it's like he woke up one day and said, 'I'm gonna learn to draw so girls will like me'," you say, disgusted. If there's one thing you can't stand, it's dumbasses trying to exploit loopholes in the dating game. Cool guys are cool because they care about what they do, whether it's art or fixing cars or swinging a sword; doing something 'cool' just because coolness gets you laid is cheating, damn it!

    "That offer of marriage is still open," Jou says, only half-joking.

    "Anyway," Mirioni says, "you wanted to hear about what happened to Hazuki-sempai, right?"

    "Mm," you affirm. "First of all, was the blinding permanent?"

    "In one of his eyes, yeah," Jou says. "The left one got some vision back a few weeks later, but he's still legally blind."

    "Hey, am I the one tellin' this story or not?"

    "Geez, sorry."

    "That's what I thought."

    =

    The thing you gotta know beforehand, Ino-chan [Apparently ninja don't warrant a -hime, you note with amused disappointment], is that Hazuki-sempai isn't the most personable guy around. He talked in class and when you talked to him first, but mostly he kept himself to himself. We didn't really give him a hard time about it; his parents died in a house fire about a year before he came to school, so no one expected him to be the life of the party or anything. He didn't like loud noises, and sometimes he could be downright rude, if he thought you were bein' too crass or whatever. But that's just how he is, y'know? He likes to be alone. Even now if you ask 'im, he'll say his hobby is napping.

    As you can guess, a lot of the guys didn't like him, and Shinyuu flat-out hated his guts right from the start. He used to complain all the time about how Hazuki-sempai thought he was better than the rest of us, and how he was supposedly a jerk to women. Crazy, right? Considerin' who we're talkin' about. Hazuki-sempai had a few female admirers back then, 'cause he was kinda handsome, I guess, but he wasn't interested in datin' 'em; he was here on a scholarship, and he didn't wanna fall behind. I don't think I ever saw him say more than three words to a girl.

    So anyway, we have open matches every October; anyone in the younger grades can challenge the seniors. Shinyuu challenged Hazuki-sempai. Now, Shinyuu doesn't completely suck at fighting or anything - at least he didn't back then, dunno about now - but he is definitely not what you might call a 'natural' at taijutsu, and Hazuki-sempai was and is; back then they were talking about hiring him as a teacher after graduation. So the fight was pretty one-sided, and it wasn't long before Hazuki-sempai had Shinyuu on the ground.

    As he was getting back up, he said, "You're so smug, standing there looking down on everyone else!"

    And, I'll never forget this as long as I live, Hazuki-sempai just answered, calm as anything, "Not everyone. Just you."

    So Shinyuu pulled a little bottle out of his pocket and threw it at his face. Hazuki-sempai's, I mean, not Shinyuu's.

    I don't know what was in it, you'd have to ask him yourself, but when it shattered, Hazuki-sempai started screamin'. Shinyuu got in one punch before the teachers separated them, and the second they declared the fight over he let out this... this happy whoop, like a little kid at his birthday.

    Hazuki-sempai wasn't more than ten feet away. We could all still hear him crying, still see him thrashing while the nurses were holdin' him down to sedate him, and here was this kid doing a victory dance without a care in the world.

    Shinyuu's good mood lasted about as long as it took for Edajima-sensei to disqualify him and ban him from studying Turtle-style ever again. I've never seen the teachers so angry before or since. He only managed to keep from getting expelled by telling them what was in the bottle and paying Hazuki-sempai's medical bills. To this day, he still says he won that fight and the teachers only disqualified him because of favouritism.

    Hazuki-sempai's okay now, though. He owns a veterinary clinic, him and his wife. He still competes in tournaments sometimes, but only for charity events.

    =

    "... well," Asuma says. "Charming day you've been having."

    Showing a massive amount of good sense, he is not smoking as he says this.

    "I asked if the nurses who treated Hazuki-san were in town," you say, and hand over a business card. "One of them works at that clinic, the other moved away. I used the phone in the headmaster's office to make an appointment for four o'clock today; she sounds like she's willing to discuss it. The chemistry teacher who Sorato said gave him the idea for the acid-in-the-face tactic resigned in disgust when the kid wasn't expelled, and none of the boys seem to know where he took up work after that."

    "Are we allowed to kill this guy?" Ami asks with a scowl. "He doesn't sound like he's likely to become any saner the older he gets."

    "Don't talk about killing so casually," Asuma says sharply.

    Ami flinches, and protests, "Didn't you hear what Ino just said, sensei?"

    "Did you?" Kiba asks bluntly. "That Sukaha woman didn't hire us; Nabiki-san did, and her orders were to take any thieves alive so she could question them."

    "Besides, we only have Sukaha-san's word for it that he's going to try anything at all," you add. "My sensing can barely do anything around these taijutsu specialists."

    Ami looks troubled. "... but he's evil. He's a clear threat to the public good," she says.

    "Yeah, he is. And I for one am gonna enjoy stomping the shit out of his crazy ass," Kiba replies with a mirthless grin. "But killing him shouldn't be our first plan."

    "Well, what is our first plan?" she asks, looking over at Asuma.

    "Excellent question," he says. "You tell me."

    "... but..." Ami is clearly floored, her mouth hanging open.

    "I'll be back in half an hour," he says, heading out the door. "The out-of-town guests'll start arriving at 3."

    "... did he just Kakashi us?" Ami asks you indignantly.

    "Looks like," you say, grinning.

    "What does a scarecrow have to do with this?" Kiba asks.

    "Kakashi is Sasuke's jounin sensei," you explain. "He does this kind of thing a lot."

    "He does?" Kiba's expression brightens. "Well, hell. I guess karma really does exist."

    He dodges Ami's first slap, but doesn't see her followup until it's too late.

    [X] What plan are you going to propose?

    -----

    Artistic terms have been adjusted from what they actually are in-universe to the closest real-world approximation. Sempai/senpai no longer looks like a word.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
  29. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Oppa Rihaku Style (or, the Amalgamated Plan, part one)

    "Okay, here's what I think," you say, feeling a little giddy. It's exciting, being on the other side of a raid for once. "The important thing is that the dowry stays in our hands until it's time to hand the trunks back over to Nabiki-chan. Even if someone's just planning to snag part of the treasure for a gag or to impress the headmaster's new wife by 'retrieving' her favourite necklace, our reputation'll take a hit. And as you like to remind us, Ami," you add, "reputation is everything in this business. If we don't get to tear Sorato a new one, I'll be just as disappointed as you, but our job will go much more smoothly if he's out of the picture before he even has a chance to attempt a robbery."

    "... and we can't do that by righteously stomping him out and dumping him behind the kitchens after school?" she asks wistfully.

    You shrug. "You can try, but bear in mind the next beating you experience'll be your own possessed fist punching you in the face for being an idiot."

    She glares. "Noted."

    "So if we can," you continue, "I'd like us to see if we can't slip sleeping pills into his food at dinner. If he sleeps right through the night, we won't have to worry about him. But first I was thinking that we need to do a little recon to find out who might be coming aside from Sorato and what they're packing. Until we have that information, we're making part of a plan, not a whole plan."

    "Yeah," Kiba says, nodding slowly with a frown, "we still need to confirm that acid-boy's even coming. I'll go talk to that nurse at four, but in the meantime I'll go challenge that Jou kid to a spar."

    "I thought we'd agreed we weren't going to beat up annoying people just for being annoying?" you ask, exhasperated. At least, not on this mission.

    He waves you off. "Not like that. It's like... How can you trust a guy if you've never rough-housed?"

    "... I guess that makes sense," you say after a moment's thought. "That's pretty much how Ami and I became friends."

    Ami snorts, but doesn't argue the point.

    "Okay, so, you're checking out the gossip chain," you say, "and Ami should find out what she can about Sukaha-san from the library, see if she might have a reason to want to frame an inn- to frame Sorato for something he didn't do. Or to get us in trouble with Nabiki." You turn to the purple-haired swordslinger. "You'll want to look up general biographical data first; where she was born, who raised her, whether she's had contact with the Shinyuu family or Konoha before..."

    Ami groans. "Why can't you do it? You're always complaining that my notes don't meet your lunatic standards."

    "Because I'm on duty and I told Sorato I would be. If I'm wandering around he'll know something's up."

    "Shouldn't we put a tail on him?" Ami asks. "Make sure we know where he is for the rest of the day? Menka-sensei, you up for it?"

    Menka rolls over, exposing his belly for rubs, and you oblige as he answers. "I think it might be best if we give that assignment to Akamaru, to be honest with you."

    The tiny dog quirks his head to the side in askance, and whines.

    "You can't be at Kiba's side every single second, kiddo," the cat scolds, then elaborates. "Sorato's never seen you before, so with a roll in the mud you'll register as a cute stray puppy, nothing more. He's already seen me with Ino, though, and if he sees me again, following him around, the jig could well be up. I could probably take him - and three more just like him, mind," he adds, "but not without provoking awkward questions, like 'Who the hell are you mysterious handsome human' and 'Why are you tailing my students', and then it'll be your word against his."

    "Speaking of his word," you say, "where does Ms Fiancée, the massage girl, fit in? We should talk to her."

    "I just figured that was Mei," Ami says, shrugging.

    "What?" you ask, scandalized.

    "What, you don't think they dress all skimpy when they're off duty, do you?" she asks scornfully. "They aren't slaves, Ino, it's a job; they can wear what they want, just like we can. Actually," she adds, "better than we can, because they make a lot more money than we do."

    "No, I know," you say, "it's just... she's so shy. She barely spoke, and when she did she was blushing. Don't girls in that line of work usually get tough or get out?"

    "Well, I'll ask around next door," Ami says, unconvinced, "but I think you're making this more complicated than it needs to be."

    "The world is more complicated than it needs to be," you say with a cheerful grin. "I'm just trying to keep up."

    "So we investigate, sure," Kiba says, "but what're you two gonna do back here?"

    "I'll do a second sweep of the stables, see if I missed anything when we were setting up camp," Menka replies. "Any additional possible points of entry I find, Ino and I set up extra traps. Sound good?"

    "Here's a thought," you say, inspiration striking. "Later, if we find a good hiding spot, we could move the boxes out of the carriage and replace 'em with dummies full of costume jewellery. That way even if he gets through our defences, we still win."

    "I approve," Menka says immediately, eyes bright, "provided I get to sleep on top of the real thing."

    "Gonna play lord of the Fortress?" you tease him.

    "If you wouldn't sleep on top of a hoard of riches given the chance, I'm not sure I wish to know you."

    "Where're we gonna get a crate full of fake jewellery before dawn tomorrow?" Kiba asks incredulously.

    Ami rolls her eyes. "Poor, naive Kiba-kun. We're in Tanzaku Gai. The problem isn't finding fake jewellery, it's making sure we don't accidentally end up buying a year's worth of old newspapers and someone's soul into the bargain."

    "Fine! You handle it if you're so clever."

    "I was going to anyway! There's no need to be so rude!"

    "Who's being rude? You're the one who keeps treating me like an idiot!"

    "Why are Mommy and Daddy fighting again?" you ask Menka in mock-sorrow.

    He just sighs, and uses your head as a launchpad to toss himself up to the rafters.

    =

    [X] Be Ami

    [X] Be Kiba

    [X] Be Ino

    [X] Woof!
     
  30. FurikoMaru

    FurikoMaru Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Now I wanna be your dog

    "You're pretty tough for a kid," Jounouchi pants, elbows resting on his knees.

    You nod, too out of breath to answer, and chug some more water. "Haven't had a fight like that in a while," you gasp out when you're done. It's not a total lie; sparring with Hana is way tougher just 'cause she and the triplets aren't afraid of hurting you, but as far as fights go with opponents outside your family and without Akamaru, this was damn good.

    You're sitting on the wrap-around walkway of one of the outbuildings, with the cool breeze giving your sweaty skin a nice chill. The fight was held indoors, away from the blistering heat of the early afternoon, but now the sun's rays beat down on your dark hair.

    You breathe in, and the thousand foreign scents of Tanzaku Gai swirl up to your brain to be counted. Someone's making takoyaki down the street - not at a restaurant, you can tell from the amount of cooking oil used, and man does someone love onion rings - and in the other direction someone else is getting a head start on fall and cooking yams in a firepit. A car went down Castle Boulevard about half an hour ago, which is a surprise; you thought they weren't allowed inside the gates. Its stink is finally starting to dissipate, though the two guys nervously stealing a smoking break behind that shed over there are doing their best to keep up this school's usual unpleasant funk of sweat and things burning.

    You're upwind of Ino, so you don't know what she's up to, but Ami's citrus perfume (fine, 'eau de toilette', whatever, who cares) is wafting gently by. She's clearly left the library sometime in the last five minutes; she must have found something on Sukaha-san.

    "How do you fight in that thing?" Mirioni asks suddenly, indicating your coat.

    "It stretches," you say simply, pulling on a sleeve. "See?"

    He looks impressed. "Huh. That's kind of neat. But I meant, don't you get really hot? There's fur on that coat."

    "Just on the hood and the cuffs, not on the inside." You shrug it off to show him. "It's not to keep me warm so much as lock in my sweat and keep the scent from giving away my position when I'm hunting."

    You also think it makes you look like a total boss, but that's beside the point.

    "So I've always wondered, how does ninja training actually work?" Jounouchi asks, clarifying, "Not whacha do to train, I mean... is it true you apprentice with an older ninja right from the moment you can walk?"

    "What?" you blurt out. "No way, that's nuts! I mean, yeah, we get clan training, if you're from a clan, but we aren't sent into the field until we've graduated from the Academy."

    "Huh. Guess my old man was shittin' me. He said once when he was a kid he saw an elite ninja who was only ten."

    "Well, during the war there were a few people like that, I guess," you mumble. History isn't really your strong suit.

    "War?" Jounouchi blinks.

    And apparently it isn't his, either.

    "The Shinobi Wars, Jou, geez!" Mirioni says, incredulous. "Didn't you ever see Battle Wizards?"

    You suppress a sigh. Here we fuckin' go. No one cares if you can turn into a friggin' werewolf, all they wanna hear about is some time-travelling pretty boy with the Dragon Summoning Contract and a library of 'SSS-rank' jutsu that don't make any goddamn sense.

    "Oh, yeah!" Jounouchi says, apparently remembering. "Kazama Arashi kicks ass." He looks back at you eagerly. "Can you guys really bring the dead back to life for celebrity grudge matches?"

    "If we could, why would we bother training anyone new?" you ask.

    Jou looks disappointed. "Aw, man. At least tell me you can create tidal waves in the middle of a freakin' desert, that scene was killer."

    "Yeah, some jounin can," you say grudgingly. "Ya gotta have a water affinity and crazy amounts of chakra for that, though."

    "That's somethin' I don't get," Mirioni says, frowning. "How do ya-"

    "Dude, don't." Jou cuts him off sternly. "We can't tell 'im about our energy, it's not fair to ask 'im about his."

    "And if it's a technical question, it's Ino you ought to talk to," you say, trying to slowly but surely steer the conversation in an acid-in-the-eyes-related direction. "She's the one who's good at all that theory crap."

    "Smart and a looker. Is there anything she can't do?" Mirioni asks, smiling like a loon.

    "Shut up for longer than ten minutes?" you offer, smirking.

    "Oi!"

    "Yeah, she's got a mouth," Jou says with a grin. "I'm surprised she didn't go all out when Shinyuu tried to put the moves on her."

    "Oh, yeah?" you ask, trying not to sound too concerned. "I guess he got shot down?"

    "Birds get shot down; this was more like she stepped over a cow patty that was in her path," Jou replies gleefully.

    "Yeah, that sounds like Ino," you say. "He isn't gonna be showing up later to take revenge, is he? She tends to bring that kinda thing outta people."

    He snorts. "Shinyuu? Take revenge on a girl? Nah, if anything he's gonna try to hit on her again. I don't think he even noticed she dissed him."

    "Seriously?" You shake your head. "Man, that's kinda pathetic, hittin' on a twelve-year-old girl. Can't he get a girlfriend his own age?"

    "Try two," Jou says bitterly. "They're twins, even."

    "Are you kidding me?" you ask, mouth agape. A girlfriend and a chick on the side who don't know about each other is one thing, but there's no way a pair of sisters wouldn't figure something out eventually. Which means they're probably cool with it.

    Ugh. You think you liked it better when you just hated the guy; stirring envy into the mix just makes this whole thing extra-fucked.

    "... she's twelve?!" Mirioni says, horrified.

    You blink, then remember that he tried to flirt with Ino, too. "Well, yeah. She's thirteen in September."

    The X on the poor guy's face bends in a few different directions as his expression switches back and forth between shame and disappointment.

    "Hey," Jou says, in a kinder tone of voice than he's used before, "look on the bright side, Mitch; at least this time she's actually a she."

    Without a word, Mirioni stumbles away in a daze.

    Jou shakes his head, obviously trying not to laugh. "I don't know how he thought he had a shot; she couldn't keep her eyes off Momiji all through class."

    "Sorry," you interrupt, "I still can't get my head around this. This Shinyuu guy is dating two sisters at the same time? Do they both know he's dating each of them?"

    "Oh, they know," Jou says. "Crazy, right? To hear him tell it, it was their idea. He's even buying out Sei-san's contract on Monday." He hmphs. "Lucky son of a bitch. Those girls must be nuts."

    Hello, Ms Fiancée. "Contract?" you ask.

    He nods. "She works next door. He spends more time over there than in class." He lowers his voice. "But I'll bet you already knew that, just like you already knew who Shinyuu was when I mentioned him."

    ... ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

    "Do you really think all civilians are morons?" Jou asks, rolling his eyes. "Sheesh. At least Ino-chan was subtle about it. I didn't even work out what she was doing until just now when you perked up at Shinyuu's name." He gives you a look. "So. What's your interest in him? Who has he pissed off now?"

    Ami is going to kill me and Ino is going to take humiliating pictures of my corpse wearing stupid hats, you think glumly.

    "He's a suspect in an ongoing investigation," you say, trying to put a little bass in your voice. But... shit, you're thirteen; it goes about as well as could be expected. Fuck puberty, seriously.

    Jounouchi scoffs. "Well, yeah, 'course he is, but what are you investigating?"

    You wince sheepishly. You've fucked up enough today; if you're the source of a genuine leak, you won't have to worry about Ami killing you, because your Mom will do it first. And that's if the mission is still a success. "Can't tell ya."

    "Figures." He tilts his head back, and lets the sun blaze on his closed eyelids. "Ninja never make allies without bein' able to hold somethin' over 'em."

    "Hey, asshole," you say angrily, "you try keeping your friends alive in a place you've never been to before by trusting every random jackass you meet. See how long you guys survive."

    "That's exactly what wandering martial artists do, you posturing little twerp," he fires back. "Some of the 'random jackasses' Edajima-sensei met on the road back in the day are teachers here now. That's how sane people get allies; by showing trust, you gain trust."

    "What the hell do you know about ninja politics, anyway?" You scowl. "You wouldn't even know we've had three world wars without seeing it in a retarded action movie!"

    "First of all, short stuff, Battle Wizards is not a retarded action movie - it is the god of retarded action movies," Jou says sternly. "Second of all, I don't need to know the politics to know that people are more willing to work with ya when you show that you respect 'em. That's just common sense. How you guys expect to enforce the law when you act like a bunch of shifty bastards-"

    "Are you gonna answer any more questions about this Shinyuu dick, or are we done here?" you ask finally. Fuck this; from now on Ino can do her own damn recon.

    He sighs. "Ask away."

    "Does this Sei girl have expensive tastes?"

    "Haven't really met her," the blond guy says, "but Shinyuu does. He's always givin' girls jewellery - his money's the only thing he's got going for him."

    Well, that makes the scenario Sukaha outlined at least plausible.

    "Does he have any friends?"

    "Couple of underclassmen follow him around, but no friends, no. Not here."

    "Anything we should know about if he puts up a fight?"

    "Normally I would say he's a tricky bastard and to expect the unexpected, but hey. I'm sure the brave Konoha-nin will protect us from his evil schemes."

    "Thanks." And with that, you snatch up your coat and head back to check in with Ino, silently fuming.

    You know what you just did is unprofessional, and you don't give a rat's ass. Over-grown kid hiding in a schoolhouse acting like he understands anything about the kinds of things your mother and sister have been through or what Iwa and Kumo have done to Konoha for three generations! What right does he have to judge you?

    You never thought you'd be so glad to hear Ami's annoying soprano voice. Even the whoosh of her sword as she does her daily 200 cuts is a relief after dealing with that jerk.

    "... like she's just always been here," she says to Ino as the stables come into view across the way. "The school history says she was one of the people who trained Edajima-san's great-grandfather!"

    Paranoid, you wonder for a moment if everyone else can hear their conversation - but then you relax. Mom warned you about this during The Talk (Inuzuka Edition); while your ears are growing more refined you're gonna go through a period where you won't be very good at judging what's too quiet or too loud for normal people.

    "It could be a relative; we don't know if Sukaha is a family name or not."

    "Look, all I can tell you is what I found."

    "What about ninja links? Or to Sorato's family?"

    "Y'know, that was weird, actually; there was speculation in one book about her being an Uzumaki. What does Naruto have to do with this?"

    "It's a Konoha tradition-"

    "Acid-boy is in a three-way relationship with twin sisters, one of whom is an erotic masseuse," you announce.

    Ino and Ami stare at you.

    "... nice," Ino says.

    Ami thumps her with the flat of her sword.

    "OW! Careful with that hunk of metal, Happy Homemaker-san, I have a very delicate complexion!"

    "You are revolting," Ami says, and goes back to practising.

    "The rest of Sukaha-san's story checks out, too," you say, taking a seat on one of the benches. "He's a big spender and he's buying out the girl's contract on Monday."

    That catches Ami's attention. "That sounds like the actions of a man of his calibre," she says contemptuously, switching to a chuudan run-through. "Owning her contract would mean he'd be her boss until it runs out, and if she quits not only would he have the right to sue, her options in the job market would be limited; no one wants an erotic masseuse who leaves when her clients are too unpleasant."

    Ino frowns a frown you've never seen on her before. It disturbs you a little, and it takes you a minute to figure out why.

    She's quiet.

    Ino is never quiet when she's mad. When she's pissed about something, people for blocks in every direction learn about it in fairly short order.

    You're about to ask if she's okay when Asuma arrives.

    "You have sake?" Ino asks in surprise, turning on a dime. "Where'd you get sake? Aww, man, did they have the wedding without us?"

    "Long story," Asuma says, corking the bottle he's been sipping from and tying it to his belt. "So," he says, "have you got a plan?"

    [X] Yet Another Plan Write-in.

    Ino has already removed the valuables from their trunk in anticipation of the receipt of the costume jewellery; currently the contents of Nabiki's luggage are crammed into the seal Ino's been using as her own suitcase after she made a few quickie adjustments to its capacity.

    Ami has not yet bought the jewellery or spoken to Sei.

    Kiba has not yet spoken to the nurse who tended Hazuki.

    Akamaru is still presumably tailing Shinyuu Sorato.

    Wat do?