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Old 03-17-2018, 04:34 PM   #11
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“Good.”

The jounin eyed Takai’s mess of bandages, smiling over his shoulder at the other two.

“Pretty much the same page.”

He wouldn’t praise Hiryo’s tactical deduction that the bandits owned the tavern. Nor would he remind Eiko that, if the rockslide did in fact exist, removing this piece from the board could significantly weaken their opponent’s position. He would not risk tainting the clarity of their evolving thought processes with premature veins of satisfaction or admonishment. These were light bulb moments best left for the children to experience organically — discovered, not bestowed, and therefore earned, learnt, remembered.

Whatever happened when the squad reached the end of the road would bring fresh answers, as well as fresh questions, but Takai had the right of it in this regard.

“Pragmatists then; equal parts cynic and optimist. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes here, a lot to speculate on, meaning a few things that don’t sit right with me either.”

He spurred the cattle on with a fresh snap of the reins and a chuckle.

“Sometimes, no, most of the time, out in the field, you’ve got to rely on your instincts to guide you, whether you’re new to the job or a seasoned vet. And all three of you seem to be doing that just fine. Never stop questioning what you perceive, but stay in control of the process. Don’t let suspicion take you for a ride.”

That’s my job.

“In the meantime, might as well prep your barrels, you two. Sorry again about the accommodations.” This close to the tavern, Tanryoku resisted the urge to look over his shoulder a second time, in case the caravan was under surveillance. Instead, he bit back his grin and reached up to clap Takai’s shoulder lightly.

“Less than a mile until we get all of you into some proper shade.”

As they passed further into the ravine, the rock walls grew steeper, taller, and yet the sun still found a way in, relentless, heating up the sandstone on both sides, which roasted everything caught between. The bulls continued to groan as if to belabour this point, their heavy hooves on the empty road the only real sound until a few minutes later.

Echoes of voices, maybe a dozen, spread out. The SHINRAI couldn’t be sure at this range. Mostly men, some women. Those, he could discern. Loud but industrious. The cart clattered around the bend and the landscape changed. The sky erupted as the rim of the ravine widened dramatically, bowing out to the right while levelling off into a straight line on the left. Nestled in the central lea was a peculiar-looking tavern, white-walled and turquoise-roofed, built over several floors with exposed wooden beams, and a loading bay where the rear of the building squared off against the unassailable rock face.


Disappearing around the next bend was a treacherously steep shelf hewn into the wall — the High Pass, most like — while below and between milled the owners of the dozen or so voices, pushing wheelbarrows and carts into and out of sight, tending to parked wagons and hoisting a particularly lengthy item wrapped tightly in brown canvas into an upstairs window: the very vision of everything he had expected to see. Mostly. There were definitely a few foreign architectural influences at work here too.
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Old 03-27-2018, 02:08 AM   #12
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Impartial. They were heading into the den of their enemy, and their sensei was being impartial. That was the habit of useless cowards. It was unclear whether the man just didn't have a thought of his own, or didn't want to disturb any of his genin. Either way, Hiryo nestled back into his barrel, and scowled.

They were getting closer to people now, he could hear it all happening from inside. Unfortunately, he didn't have a lot of ways to see anything while stuck in there. There were holes in the barrel where he could look out, and he took the chance to peek as they got closer.

It was a strange little tavern. But they weren't under attack, and there were workers moving with the industriousness Hiryo expected of people in Wind country. That was good, it was a positive sign. It meant that if there was any ambush here, then their own disguise ruse had a chance to work to their advantage.

Hiryo let out a small grunt as he worked his collar loose to cool off. They were going to boil if that man called their sensei didn't move all of this along. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but it would definitely put a dent in their combat effectiveness!

"Quaint," Hiryo whispered, "Quiet. Yet for some reason, I'm not calm. Where are these bandits? Why are they waiting so long to show themselves?"

He didn't want to think of the alternative. They were sneaking into this little tavern area for no reason. The bandits could be somewhere up the pass, locked on the other side of the rock slide. It would be infuriating if true. No, this was their ambush, it had to be. Then he could strike, and get this fight over with.
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Old 04-06-2018, 11:25 AM   #13
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"You're so impatient Obama--jeez!",Takai muttered mostly to himself, "Merchants don't hire shinobi for nothing...if these were regular degular schmegular bandits who moved obvious there'd be no need for us..."

Takai's mind was turning and he took a brief pause. What was the point that he was trying to make here? Had he just been irked by how cool and arrogant Hiryo had been? It wouldn't have been the first time that the Obama had gotten into the Renchishin's head and left him crying in pain on the ground. Still he couldn't just end off on regular degular shcmegular bandits...

It sounded stupid and juvenile even within his mind.

"Respect the enemey, we're rookies here Mr. Avenger....if they weren't clever we wouldn't be needed. A SHINRAI wouldn't be needed. All I'm say--"

"Oi! You guys are wanna come over here! This is where you dock your wagon!"

A group of workers beckoned the shinobi to a docking area where they appeared to be taking direction from a foreman. Takai quickly shut his mouth and brought his bandages back on with much haste. Takai then immediately got into subterfuge mode and the 6'8" pre-teen was not exactly subtle in any sense of the word. Subterfuge mostly meant him looking ahead as they approached the foreman. Takai did not hear much of what Tanryoku said to the man or what the man said but he was able to discern a few things...

Namely that the workers planned to work all night and that the high pass would not be available until morning. He advised them jovially to hitch their wagons and Tanryoku seemed to acquiesce without much argument. The two of them would hitch the wagon containing the hidden cargo of Eiko and Hiryo and then go in an inn.

When the team was finally pointed to a private area and began unhitching Takai finally spoke to his sensei with some unease and questioning...

It sounded frighteningly Obama like.

"Well it appears that we gotta stay here...", he said uneasily, "If there's a trap, it'd be here, wouldn't it? Separate us from the cargo and get us in the inn unawares?"

He sighed...

"Or maybe that's just paranoia again. Something needs to happen sometime soon."
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Old 12-10-2018, 03:08 AM   #14
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Eiko had been dissociating, equally lost in thought and overwhelmed by the heat inside the barrel for so long she hadn't realized when she stopped listening to Hiryo's whining and Takai's (admittedly cute) steps through a progression of logic. When she came to, she put the back of her hand to her cheeks and forehead, dabbing the sweat which had collected there.

She could only guess how her face looked--cherry red, to match the crimson of her cape. The temperature and anticipation were getting to her. She wiped the same hand off and used the corner near her thumb to un-stick the hairs that had pasted themselves to her forehead. She resisted the urge to burst from the barrel in a silent fit of fury. She cursed herself for being so stupid... this whole time she could have just transformed herself into a barrel. She probably didn't even need to go that far--she could have waited until someone came around to check on the wagon's contents and used a different technique to disappear from view completely.

Hell, she thought, as even Obama's ravings started to seem halfway sensible. Better that they did just get on with it...

Takai was right--something needed to happen.

Maybe that was their plan after all, she thought, of Takai's supposition that they'd try to separate the merchants from their wares. Could their sensei have known that all along? She felt like she should have been able to put that together, heat or not. For all the years she'd spent preparing for this life, she felt disappointed that it was not going as smoothly as she would have hoped.

She looked up at the lid of the barrel and let out a silent, exasperated sigh, in some ways begging the universe to cut her a little slack on her first mission with her team.
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Old 02-03-2019, 06:41 AM   #15
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“Easy does it, lads. Big man’s carrying some delicate wares.”

Even with the boom of the foreman’s voice, the wagon jolted as the animals were unhitched and the wooden shafts locked into a stable frame. The soles of Tanryoku’s boots sounded clunky and unbalanced as he climbed down from the driver’s box and landed with a grunt.

"You say it’s still a day until the workforce here clears the pass?" The Jounin’s impatience was made clear, as well as a light wheeze.

“That’s correct.”

"Then you lot move on to the next job, I imagine?"

My lot,” the foreman stressed lightly, “have been working day and night, so they’ll have earned a rest. They’ve earned one already to be fair. Another couple pairs of hands would have made this a lot easier.”

Tanryoku was silent a moment, testing something in the foreman, who commanded a crew. Just what kind of crew was the question.

"Nothing I can do to persuade your people to work faster? I’ve got a deadline of my own an’ a whole day puts me out of pocket more than I’d care to say. These aren’t my wares - I’m just the driver - an’ they mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people." He nodded to Takai. "An’ the enforcer they put me with."

The man eyed Takai warily at this, fixating on his heavily bandaged face, through which the glint of an eye or two was just visible.

“You could help, if it means you get where you’re going faster?”

"Hah." Tanryoku paced to the back of the wagon, wiping his brow with a cloth from his pocket and leaving the foreman up front with Takai. "The old man on the road suggested the exact same thing." He unhooked the box flap and pulled it down until it was level with his chest, at which point he braced himself against it, rolling his shoulders with mild fatigue and drawing out the silence with burgeoning contemplation and hesitation. All entirely natural for a man with extremely valuable wares and a dwindling window of opportunity. The foreman joined him at the back.

“If you’re worried about your stock not reaching its destination in time, I’d say the both of you chipping in would do the job. Would help me out a bunch too. But if it’s the safety of what’s in those barrels you’re worrying about, then stay here. Send your man out to the site. You’re not going anywhere without him, so they’re safe with you.”

Tanryoku allowed a quiet, desperate belief to show in his features, but quashed it quickly, shaking his head.

"And what of the bandits that are said to roam this region? While he’s with me, this guy’s my protector too."

At that, the foreman’s shoulders relaxed.

“Well, then you’d be in luck. The inn’s proprietor had the good sense to hire his own detail, so whoever stays behind will be in good hands.”

The man had an answer for everything. Convenient.

Tanryoku pressed a sigh between pursed lips.

"When I’ve made my decision, where can I find you?"

“Out front, directing traffic. Don’t wait too long, for your own sake.”

With that, he strode back into the sunlight, joined by the pair of workmen that had led the bulls away and been loitering nearby ever since. He threw out a couple of instructions and they split, one heading to the inn’s front door, and another sprinting off around the curve of the ravine, towards the site of the rockslide.

Tanryoku clambered into the shade of the wagon's tarp and sat between the barrels in which Eiko and Hiryo stewed, then pulled on the camouflaged tabs located just under each of the barrels' upper rings and slid open the hidden panels he had installed there for ease of access. Had he forgotten to mention those?

Oops.

"Decision time, gang."

Last edited by Calibur; 02-12-2020 at 04:11 AM..
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Old 02-17-2020, 05:29 PM   #16
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Hidden panels? Hidden panels! Hiryo couldn't even register what their sensei was saying at first because he wanted to berate the man for his complete lack of professionalism. Maybe it was a lack of thoroughness. Whatever it was, he couldn't believe they were made to suffer when they could have easily aired out the barrels during the trip down the pass!

Hiryo squinted at their sensei, and peeked over at Eiko's barrel.

"This seems obvious."

The Leviathan hunts, it seeks out the prey that must be destroyed to protect the people. In this case, Hiryo was sure, that meant finding these people in the tavern and using them as leverage to find the others. Going up the pass was too slow, it let them be the victims!

"The Emerald Drake does not play dead, roll over, or show his belly!" He almost got too loud, and calmed himself down, "we should strike here, at the tavern. That detail here sounds like they are part of this. We squeeze them, we learn where the rest are right away."

He was sure of it, that had to be the right answer. The fact that he had sweat through his clothing had nothing to do with his urge to get out of there as fast as possible. Besides, with his Jounin with them it was likely they could make quick work of anyone that got in their way. He would at least be good for that, hopefully. He was Shinrai after all. They were supposed to hold to a high standard!
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Old 03-25-2020, 02:38 PM   #17
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Indignation wasn’t quite the word to describe the expression on Hiryo’s face. Incredulity might have been more accurate. Tanryoku let the boy’s vehement eagerness wash over his own patient demeanour and merely raised an eyebrow. Truth be told, he was impressed by the Spartoi student’s restraint. Eiko, bless her, was using the moment to cool off. In hindsight, it might have been a touch harsh to force his new students undergo such a gruelling transit. But the life of an active shinobi didn’t leave much in the way of comfort. Theirs was ever the path less travelled, and the one less predicted. For professionals who worked in the shadows, success was determined by whomever could bear discomfort the longest to outlast their mark’s expectations or get them to lower their guard.

This, he reasoned, had now been achieved. The foreman hadn’t let on that he suspected anything more than the story Tanryoku had fed him. If anything, he seemed a little too accommodating.

"You’re probably onto something, Hiryo-kun. That detail does sound suspicious. Like Takai said earlier: we’re the ones to sort this out because the people making the problems have complete control over this vital choke point. Some people get through, others are never heard from again. So we know they’re being selective. The ones who make it through are the small traders with inexpensive wares. That pattern has emerged. And they mention this place also, a helpful waypoint bustling with activity. But no mention of the bandits they expected to see. That rumour, in fact, appears to be just that. Planted, no doubt, so that merchants who can afford guards do. And it's more cost effective to hire guards less often, so you'd want to have the ones you're paying guarding bigger, more valuable caravans so you can still make your deadlines. Those are then the ones waylaid by unexpected hinderances."

He pinched his chin, brow furrowing for a moment as he mentally checked off a suspicion before continuing.

"I told the foreman on our way in we had a precious cargo. Delicate stuff. Almost immediately he fed me a line about the rock slide taking longer to shift than they’d anticipated. An update on what that water seller told us, maybe. But could also be a convenient fabrication. Though it doesn’t confirm my theory, it definitely raises a flag."

He paused again, curious. Eiko was the first to break the silence, peering over the lip of the barrel. With her thick, part-dishevelled hickory mop all but masking her currant-red eyes, she jutted out her lower lip and exhaled upwards in a sharp puff, blinking away perspiration and stray hairs.

"Then we probably know all we need to know," she said, matter-of-factly. "Anything else we can learn by watching their movements, can’t we? Especially if they don’t suspect us. I mean, if it were up—" she continued, then realised all eyes were on her, although Takai's were hard to see. She freed up a hand, smoothing her hair back into place.

"To you?" the Stork offered, taciturn.

"Well…yes…then I’d suggest we stick to the plan. Nothing changes. We remain in the barrels, an armed cargo to catch them red-handed, like I said before. You and Tanryoku-sensei can then do as you please: enter the inn or investigate the rock slide. Both will probably yield answers — although I’m even more convinced now that the latter is less a pile of rocks and more likely a band of opportunistic cutthroats. So…I stand by my choice not to split up, if at all possible."

She shrugged and sank back. Takai was nodding slowly. And Tanryoku knew Hiryo’s position.

"Then we do that," he said.

It might even be the best of both worlds, if he could manage it.

"You two stick in out in here. Use the panels when you have to, but get familiar locking them in place to go incognito. Don’t immediately engage if someone takes it upon themselves to move you. Track any movements, lie in wait. I trust you to figure out the right moment to make your presences known. Takai-kun and I will head inside, see what’s what. Put a squeeze on anyone who doesn’t feel right."

He would have clapped the lanky boy on the shoulder if he could reach him, but Takai hadn't moved from the driver's bench, merely swivelled in his seat. So instead, clasping his hands around raised knees, Tanryoku cocked his head back so that his voice travelled up.

"Stay alert, Takai-kun. You’ll have fewer facial tells for obvious reasons, so don’t let your body language give anything away. You’re my bodyguard and we’re there to take the opportunity to rest. We won’t be volunteering to help. I want to see how far we can take this precious cargo ruse."

He glanced at Eiko’s tuft, where her hood had slipped from the crown of her head.

"Don't worry. We won’t be splitting up."

Last edited by Calibur; 03-25-2020 at 02:55 PM..
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