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Old 01-11-2019, 05:56 PM   #11
Seikon
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As she recited the inscription, the ghostly flame of the basin seemed to swell and pulse. It crept forth from its container, lighter than a feather on the air. It swirled about her like an incorporeal vapor until its glow bathed the entirety of the room, first cradling and then totally passing through the girl as if she wasn't really there. In shock, she pulled her finger from the communication unit, unaware that she had relayed the grim message to her partner. She drew a heavy breath as she regained consciousness, during which time an authoritative voice began to speak directly to her. The voice seemed to come from the wisps of flame, as if they were one and the same. It consumed her mind, and echoed through the halls. It was nowhere and everywhere at once.

It called to her by name.

Ishikawa Eiko – the place on which you stand is Holy ground

The girl struggled to speak, in total awe that such a thing could be possible. Considering that it might have all been an elaborate illusion, she pressed her fingers into the handseal for Genjutsu Kai to no avail. For all her interest in spiritual matters, she was still the skeptic type, but here and now she could not deny that the entity which addressed her did so across space and time. The language of the Tottori seemed so foreign in its spoken form, and yet, she understood each and every word as if it had been delivered in her own tongue.

"What do you want with me?" she asked in disbelief.

I have seen the desecration of this temple by your ancestors, Eiko;

Behold, I shall be with you when you go to reclaim the relics of my people;

And if they will not heed me, I will stretch out my hand and smite them, with all my wonders;

Through your vessel, I will send forth my sword upon your nation;

And every firstborn of your nation will perish from the earth

It was too much for her to process. Her mind raced in an attempt to keep up. She stuttered, desperate for further revelation.

"B-but how will I know what was taken?"

You already possess the knowledge that you seek;

Go, now, for I will be with you.

The fire's glow grew intensely bright with the entity's final word, and in the next instant, the room grew darker as if the flames had never left their crucible. When she came to, Eiko felt herself collapse in a slump with tears streaming down her cheeks. It was the most discomfort she had ever experienced. A surge of inexplicable emotion washed over her, greater than any she had felt when she was accepted into the academy; greater than the pain she had felt for the loss of her brother. Confused and violated, she shook her head. But, just as all hope seemed lost, the images of the items in question were fresh and vivid in her mind's eye.

By blade, and by crook...

Determined, she found the strength to rise. She proceeded into another of the tunnels which connected the burial chamber with the rest of the temple, as if somehow guided in the direction of her partner. She clicked the communications unit on again, doing her best to compose herself.

"...Isamu, we need to leave."
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Old 01-11-2019, 09:15 PM   #12
Based Kiba
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Yasuhiro Isamu was an understanding young man. The past three years of military service had served him well. He had learned beneath veritable masters in his field. His own teacher was renowned across the world. He had learned to stand his ground, to be fearless, to think as fast as he could, to judge with a higher morality upon his shoulders. He had confronted curses, evil priests, and powerful genjutsu.

Yet, nothing felt as worrying and altogether other-worldly to him than a fountain of blood. He could not decide whether to be afraid or revolted, or both. Above all, he felt something deeper than either fright of disgust. He felt... familiarity. In many ways the feeling confused him. As he stared into his black-red reflection, he felt how he did when his friends would say his name from afar, or when Hitoko would pat him on the back. In a way, it felt like the fountain knew him and called out to him.

That's crazy.

It wasn't until Eiko's voice returned to his ears, her tone the familiar one that he knew, that Isamu realized he had been staring at the pool of red liquid for an indeterminate amount of time. The only thing that had moved in the past minutes had been the tips of flame on his torch.

"Leave. Yea. Right." Isamu blinked once. "Leave. That's right."

The young man turned his flaxen hair away from the fountain and finally took in the rest of the room; four hallways, all thinner and shorter than the one he had entered through lined the back of the room; small piles of sand sat beneath each open-air window, the windows having been invented before glass techniques, from the looks of them; along one strip of wall without a doorway was a ramshackle pile of what looked to be carpentry tools.

Tools? Isamu, free of the grasp of the nearby fountain, moved towards the side of the wall. He swallowed a few times, returning saliva to a dry mouth. Had he been staring with his mouth wide open? The air in the room tasted particularly stale.

"Sorry, Eiko. Spaced out a little bit. But I can hear you better." Isamu reached the wall and knelt down. "You must be getting closer. If you come to any stairs, I'd suggest you take them. I think I'm at the highest point of wherever this is."

His free hand gripped the cold, dusty handle of a chisel. It had looked as if it had been thrown haphazardly to the ground, it's chisel point not facing any particular direction. A hammer sat nearby, it's metal head having ignored any passing of time. Aside from the dried wood handle, the metal looked untouched and barely used. Smaller than a carpenter's hammer. It looked like something one would use for crafting, perhaps jewellery. Isamu surmised they were a part of a set, their handles sharing stylistic similarity.

With little pause, Isamu stuffed the items in his pouch and looked closer at the mural above.

"I'll be waiting for you here."

The mural was at it's most brilliant in this room. And there, at the edge of one particular vignette, Isamu began to create his own hypothesis. His torch's flame licked at the wall and caught one small shadowed groove in the mural face. Small, maybe an inch long and a few centimeter's deep. It veined off at the top and bottom of the groove, as if whatever had made it had been forcefully wrenched out before it's job could be finished.

Without hesitation, Isamu retracted the chisel again and tried it's tip in the groove. Above he heard booming thunder, as if on queue with the chisel tip. He pulled it out immediately in fright.

A whisper echoed into the room.

"Bingo."
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Old 01-12-2019, 12:15 AM   #13
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Isamu's voice became much clearer through her headset, but then, Eiko was not all that surprised. Before he was finished speaking, she had already ascended a staircase and traversed another long hallway before spotting the boy wielding a makeshift torch. His words reverberated in her ear and off the walls around her – an unwelcome flashback to the discussion she'd had with the Tottori leader only minutes ago. She wore a grim expression; her heart was heavy with woe. She'd ignored the fountain of blood as she entered the larger room to rejoin her partner. Thunder overhead seemed to signal her arrival.

She was unsure of how to tell Isamu what had happened to her in the temple undercroft. By the looks of it, he was a bit jumpy, but not completely broken by what had come to pass. She admired him for that. The plagues and the discoveries she had made below would likely haunt her for some time. But all of them combined were nothing compared to what had been promised. She knew from his file that he was, like a vast majority of the rest of Sunagakure's shinobi, a firstborn. Eiko thought it was perhaps best if she kept news of that plague to herself, but she could already feel it eating away at her... as if the blood she'd partaken of really had transformed into centipedes in her gut.

Any findings they might share with one-another would need to wait.

Preferably until we're as far from here as possible.

Whether or not it actually made a difference, the girl was ready to do just about anything to put herself at ease.

She whistled a short array of non-threatening notes to get the boy's attention from the passage she climbed out of. Her suggestion that they vacate the accursed region seemed a bit crazy. Looking out from the entrance to the Tottori tomb onto the surrounding lands revealed that, much like the tablet had described, fist-sized chunks of ice fell from the heavens through a thick red fog, exploding into liquid-like flame on the desert floor. But Eiko urged Isamu along, advising him to keep close. As they descended and exited the temple, the rust-colored cloud cover parted above their very heads. The howling of the wind and the crashing thunder also momentarily subsided, granting them safe passage southward towards Zoukei.

~~~

The genin persevered through the evening and arrived, weary and hungry, at the city-limits of Zoukei. Eiko payed an inn-keeper for the first two-bed room they could find and fell into a deep slumber. When she awoke, she found Isamu kneeling over a coffee table, organizing a collection of photographs strewn about its surface (honorably and quite obviously averting his eyes from Eiko's general direction). She felt embarrassed that she had slept until midday, and further still when she realized that she must have taken off all but her smallclothes before passing out. Bundling herself in the blankets, she tiptoed over. Isamu greeted her cordially, and thankfully, did not look up from his work. Sometime that morning, he had excused himself and found a place in town to have his roll of film developed.

The events of the night before were still a blur to her – the images in the pictures the boy had taken seemed strangely unfamiliar. She couldn't help but notice that a sizable stack of them were photos of a cat. Snatching one, she felt a tiny smile ease its way across her face until she submitted to a fit of giggling. The fact that she'd spent her first night alone with a boy was far from her mind.

"Your pet?" she asked.

"Yep. That's Grapefruit, alright." confirmed Isamu, beaming wildly like the proudest of feline fathers.

It was certainly a strange name for a cat. Isamu then motioned towards a new water gourd and half of a large citrus – a ruby red grapefruit – that he'd gotten for her from the nearby market. The girl laughed even harder, thanking him between her chuckles, and collected her things from the lazy pile at the foot of her bed. She changed in the bathroom, securing her affects to her person. When her fingers touched the scabbard of her o-tanto, though, a nightmarish stream of memory played itself back in her head.

By blade, and by crook...

She splashed cold water on her face from the sink as if to cleanse the thought away. She stared blankly at the image of herself in the mirror. A shower might have done her well, but there was no time for that.

She spooned chunks of the sour fruit into her mouth like it was going out of style while Isamu detailed what he'd come across in the Tottori temple. It was evident, by the boy's findings, that archaeologists had stripped the temple bare of any riches it might have once held. Of course, Eiko knew that only two items really mattered.

Interesting as the photos were from historical and academic standpoints, what caught her attention was Isamu's mention of a set of tools he'd found. When prompted, he pulled them from a pouch on his person and laid them on the table. Eiko had seen craftsmen using tools like them before, far to the south in the city of Garasu. Eiko surmised that the relics they were looking for were probably part of some private collection – if they were lucky, they would be on display in a museum. Isamu, already on the same trail, had done much of the groundwork on his own while the girl had slept. Zoukei, an industrial coal and oil city, had little to offer by way of the arts, but Garasu was world-renowned for the very same. And so they went southward still.

Another day passed and the pair found themselves empty-handed in the coastal cliff-side city. Most of the art to be found there was modern, with little respect for antiquity. A prominent mason examined the chisel which Isamu carried, but was not sure where it had come from – only that it was a few decades old and in great shape despite its age. The genin thanked him and discussed where to try next. While Eiko wouldn't have put it past the yakuza families of Bouryoraku, she assumed the town was too remote. And Dedashi, chimed Isamu, was probably too poor altogether to even have a museum within the city-limits. Together, they reasoned that the sister cities of the Fringe were less like towns and more like a unified collection of farmlands.

Enkaku seemed like the next logical step. Eiko felt stupid. In retrospect, they should have tried there first.
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Old 01-16-2019, 04:35 AM   #14
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It was obvious, after their collaboration of thoughts, that Enkaku would be the most promising target for their search. In Zoukei, Isamu had proposed unconventional transport, to make the passage through Wind's central wasteland easier. After a little convincing, he had covered both his and Eiko's feet in glass skates and, after ten or twenty minutes of choppy movement watching over his comrade, the pair were cutting their travel time down by a third and wasting half of the energy.

The glide across the dunes was accompanied mostly by Yasuhiro Isamu doting again upon the glory of his cat, Grapefruit, as ever since Eiko had laughed in the inn, he had surmised that she was as big of a fan of the feline as he was. He poured out stories of his ridiculousness, explaining the night he found the cat in an alley, taking care of one of his friends who had accidentally gotten drunk. He avoided talking about how that friend was dead now, and most of the painful accents in the story, as ever since the trip in the sand-submerged temple, he had felt that Eiko was struggling with something.

History had proven to him that the best thing he could do was simply put on a smiling face and insist everything was alright.

And it worked all the way to Enkaku.

"So, Eiko-chan," The diminutive was new, another addition to Isamu's assumption of their shared opinion about his cat. "This brochure says there's a handful of historic attractions in town."

It made sense that one of the oldest villages in Wind Country would have the higher proportions of wealth, history, and culture. The fact that Isamu had barely taken any advantage of such things, as a street urchin turned shinobi from Sunagakure, made equal sense. Trimming the brochure down visually, he found the section he was looking for.

Standing in front of the map of Enkaku at the Visitor Center (likely the cleanest Visitor Center in Sand) Isamu relayed brochure facts while poking at the large standing map in front of the genin.

"Says here the Historic District has a number of small museums...." Here, Isamu's hand drew invisible lines, stopping momentarily over small symbols. "Fashions... Weapons... Martial Arts Historical Venue... Ha!

"Betcha thirty ryou that we're gonna find the best clues in The National Museum of Wind Country History."

Isamu smiled and met Eiko's eyes gleefully. He was desperate to snap the girl out of this funk, if only to console him that those weird words he heard her say in the temple were not a sign of a carnal shift in her. With a clap of his hands, the glass skates broke cleanly off of Eiko's feet and melted into sand. Isamu's feet, on the contrary, still shone with a crystalline edge.

"Last one there has to buy the winner ice cream!"

With that, Isamu pushed off, brochure in hand, big cheesy grin drying his teeth in the wind.
Technique: Hari Kuuchuukassou
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Old 01-16-2019, 06:12 PM   #15
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"N-no, wait!"

Eiko was finally getting used to the motion required to propel herself forward on the glass skates when Isamu returned them to the dust from whence they came. As he sped off, she sprinted after him. Their speed was roughly the same, and for few seconds, she managed to keep pace with the boy. But the closer they came to the Historic District, the heavier she felt her body become; slowly and surely she could feel herself being crushed under the weight of responsibility which had been bestowed upon her by the departed Tottori. Isamu's frictionless gliding atop the stone-slab streets looked so effortless and free. In the moment, Eiko envied him.

She eased off the recruit's trail, effectively conceding in their little race. She spied a vendor working out of a mobile freezer-cart off the main road towards the museum and paid him for a cup of swirled vanilla and yuzu custard, sprinkled with sea-salt. Not far from their destination, she made her way to meet him in an alleyway near the building's main entrance. A pulse resonated within every fiber of her being, similarly to how she was able to know the location of the boy while within the temple – the Tottori relics were close at hand and it filled her mind with unease. There was no hiding it, either. The girl wore a sullen expression as she delivered the treat as promised, albeit earlier than the boy might have expected.

"To the victor go the spoils... sorry if it's a little melted."

In central wind's heat, that could scarcely be helped. The change from a larger bill, roughly thirty ryou, was also handed over.

"Isamu... I'm sorry... I should have told you this sooner..." Eiko continued, staring at the shaded ground of the alley. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes as she fought back against the wave of emotions she had suppressed for the better part of two days.

"Something happened in the temple... I don't..."

She was unsure how to say it without completely losing her composure.

"...We're looking for two items. I'm not sure exactly how they look – a small knife, and a shepherd's crook – but I would know them if I saw them."

She shot a furtive glance toward the bits of paper money. A consolation prize for having made a bet with her that she understood Isamu could not lose.

"You were right, they are here. Somehow I know it."

Two individual tears left streaks running down either side of her face.

"It took control of me... spoke to me... promised terrible things."

Eiko choked back the rest of her tears.

"I can't... if they refuse to cooperate, I'm worried that something awful might happen."

She wrestled with the idea and still found difficulty in telling him the full truth. Even being in the general vicinity made her feel like she was a major liability. But for the sake of the mission, she would need to see them for herself, and depend on Isamu to get them out of the curators' hands. She quickly devised a plan to confirm the location of the relics between sniffles.

"I don't think they'll just let kids walk in unsupervised, even if we're ninja."

Waiting until the coast was clear, she formed a – Henge no Jutsu – and her appearance rapidly changed. She still looked very much like herself, but older, taller, more developed and equally refined, dressed in a scarlet kimono adorned with a pattern of white datura flowers. In this form, she looked much like the other high-society young women who made the posh city their home. With a more mature-sounding voice, she relayed the details of her scheme.

"I'm going in alone. I'll be able to make you a map, and I'll draw some sketches of the items in question once I've seen them. But I'll need you to get them out, later, by yourself... I can't ask for them."

Eiko presumed that, if she was involved in the recovery process in any way, there may be dire consequences. Isamu would have to handle that part on his own. She forced a sad smile, hoping he enjoyed the ice-cream selection she'd made for him. If things went wrong, it might have been his last.
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