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Mashio Miyazaki

A child prodigy all grown up, and learning that she must change.

0 · 453 views · located in Zetsukuro

a character in “Zetsukuro: Shinzui Kitsune Clan”, as played by Wrenn

Description

Name: Mashio Miyazaki
Nickname: The Scarlet Slash
Sex: Female
Age: 21
Race: Human

Height: 5'7"
Weight: 114lbs
Build: Tall and slim, like a fine dancer's body. Some muscle, though not very defined.

Skin color: Peach mochi
Hair: Chestnut brown, kept long in a ponytail
Eye color: Chocolate
Facial Features: A very youthful appearance. A smooth, pale oval in which large eyes and small features sit. Her mouth doesn't often express her emotions, but her eyes can flash in delight or rage.

Image

Typical Attire: Form-fitting black pants and bodice trimmed with scarlet, with black gloves that nearly reach her shoulders, looking like lacy detached sleeves. A long-tailed scarlet cowl that can form a hood when needed.

Personality

One of those children whose natural talent has for so long put them ahead of their peers that they never truly learn how to grow up, or fit in when they're no longer unique. Now a full chunin, Miya's talents are still impressive for her age, but with so many other shinobi and kunoichi as talented as she is (and more so), she struggles to find her new identity. Where her talents made her seem courageous as a youth, they are now seen as reckless, even immature in the eyes of her adult peers. Unable to cope with her own perceived inadequacies (like many child prodigies she is her harshest critic), Miya can be hostile, even spiteful, as a defense against future embarrassment. When she lets her guard down she can be fun-loving and charming, but this happens all too rarely.

Fears: That she is not as special as she once thought.

Background: Born into the clan by parents who achieved great esteem from their peers, Mashio Miyazaki had the advantage in training over many of the other youths who were brought into the Spirit Fox Clan unaware of the world in which they had now been placed. With her parentage, natural talents and early experiences in the village she quickly set herself apart from the others in her age group. She passed the Night of Foxes at fourteen, and had many successful missions with her fellow genin and leading chunin. Only now, in her early twenties and a chunin herself does she find the true tests of her character, for which she may not be ready.

Talents: Fast, quiet and agile, Miya is great at nighttime infiltration. She can kill if necessary, but often finds that she can sneak to and from her objective without being noticed.

Skillls:
Ninjato
Throwing darts
Field medic (minor)
Poisons (minor)

Weaknesses:
Physical: Like most kunoichi, in extended combat with an armed, armored foe Miya will quickly be overtaken by superior strength. She must be careful to attack and win quickly.
Mental: Mentally she is a grand, towering structure, but one built on a weak foundation. If she grows to doubt herself then it will come crumbling down.

Strengths:
Physical: Fast, accurate and skillful in combat, she can often win decisively within the first few seconds, or handicap her foe in the first exchange, so that she can defeat him or her easily at her leisure.
Mental: She is skilled at changing her fighting style to suit her opponents.

Misc.
Hobbies/interests: Pressed flower craft

So begins...

Mashio Miyazaki's Story

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Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
The slim young woman removed her hooded cowl as she entered the hidden village, wearing the scarlet fabric loosely around her neck and shoulders. Her face was bared, revealing young pristine features at odds with the stern glint in her eye, the heavy cast to her brow. As she moved through the common grounds, a small group of young kohai darted past, bumping into her as they played their game. "Mind yourselves!" she called at their backs as they ran on, laughing and shouting at each other.

With a sigh, she continued on her way -- heading for the briefing office to see if there was a new mission for her. This last week there had been nothing, and so she'd retreated from the Spirit Fox village to the seclusion of the surrounding woods, there to train in solitude. Now that she was a chunin, the young kunoichi felt uncomfortable with anyone seeing her train -- she was supposed to be the best of the best! Despite her expectations, she had not distinguished herself as a chunin the way she had as a youngling, or even genin. So she continued her training, but did so in solitude.

"Ho! Miya-chan," came a voice from the briefing office, as the man stepped out from the doorway, to stand outside the office as he prepared a pipe to smoke. "Don't call me so informally, idiot!" she growled. Aoyama Tomoki was from her age group in childhood training, and was a junior officer now, although still a genin. He helped his masters prepare the missions -- he verified the secret code that the missives were written in, to ensure there were no errors in the transcription.

"Sorry, Miyazaki-sama," the young man said with a bow, although his smile and the way he flourished his pipe with his bow made it obvious he was joking around. Miyazaki glared at him as she stepped into the office. When she came out a few minutes later, she was demure and composed once more, as she turned to him with a batting lash.

"Tomo-kun," she cooed sweetly, moving as though she was either going to kiss him or tell him a secret. When the boy leaned forward expectantly, she grabbed his ear. "Where are the good missions!?" she shouted. "You're hiding them for your friends, aren't you!" He pulled himself from her grasp, cleaning off the front of his robes that had spilled kizami tobacco down the front. "Of course not, Miya-chan," he growled as he rubbed his ear. "There were plenty of missions on the board -- just not any good ones for a chunin of your rank. Maybe if you..." he trailed off before finishing the sentence, and the hotheaded kunoichi didn't know if he was purposefully taunting her or not. It was true -- there had been some three- and four-star missions, even a rare five-star, but nothing posted for her current second-rank status.

"Why don't you take a genin or two with you?" Tomoki asked. "That way you can be cleared for a higher mission rank?"

It was a fair point, but not one that Miyazaki wished to think about. She'd never led a team of genin on a mission before, and she couldn't explain why. She acted like it was because they would only slow her down, but she feared that deep down, this was just an evasion from the truth. That she wouldn't be good enough to do it.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
Sugahara Matsu, happy as the fat old scholar and now miserable with his new mission into the world, wandered aimlessly through the hidden village's common ground. He occasionally greeted an old acquaintance here and there, but more often he uncharacteristically ignored their salutations, such was his fret. Eventually his feet led him to the briefing office, where shinobi and kunoichi could always be found gathered, waiting to take on new missions.

"Tomoki," he greeted as he climbed the wide, shallow steps that had been built into the small knoll on which the simple hut sat. The young genin waved in wordless greeting. Aoyama Tomoki was thirty years Matsu's junior, but his carefree spirit was a nice match for the older man's kindliness, and so they had become friends of sorts although they didn't associate much. Matsu saw next to his friend stood a slim young slip of a kunoichi, wearing distinct scarlet cowl loose about her neck and shoulders, which placed her to him as Mashio Miyazaki -- the Scarlet Slash, as the youngsters had taken to calling the newly-raised chunin. Matsu's nicknames unfortunately had generally been jests if not outright insults, but he gathered that the girl had been something of a prodigy of her age group.

"Good afternoon," he greeted, prompting Tomoki to make formal introductions between the two. The girl, upon hearing his name, did not successfully hide the dismissive look in her eyes. Matsu did not blame her -- few things clashed as strongly as the up-and-coming of a younger generation with the downward-sliding of the older. Perhaps she even thought him resentful.

"Forgive my intrusion, but if you are here for a mission I have one that you may wish to consider," he said as he reached into the sleeve of his robe, withdrawing the slim black dispatch and offering it to the girl. It was his opinion that the mission called for a certain recklessness uncharacteristic of his many chunin acquaintances. But recklessness was practically synonymous with youth, and by reputation this Scarlet Slash was perhaps just the chunin he needed to lead him on this dratted mission.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
With some reluctance, Mashio Miyazaki accepted the dispatch. Slim, gloved fingers unfastened the hinged lid -- shook out the thin missive written with their village's complex secret code. Read normally, it was a harmless personal letter between two friends; understand the cypher and kanji were rearranged, some discarded and others modified. It took Miyazaki a few moments to transcribe the missive in her head. Aoyama Tomoki glanced over her shoulder, and transcribing the code in as much time as it took him to glance over the characters, he gave an inarticulate gasp of surprise. Too late, the young kunoichi jerked around to avoid any further scrutiny.

"No offense, Matsu-san, but did you steal this from someone?" the briefing office genin said, half-serious, half-joking. Miyazaki had to agree -- Sugahara Matsu was the oldest genin in the Spirit Fox village by far, and they all knew that there must be some reason for his inability to rise to chunin. Some thought cowardice, but Miyazaki guessed incompetence, plain and simple. Glancing down at the missive again, she couldn't understand why this sort of mission would be given to a man such as he.

Still, it had been weeks since her last mission, and Miyazaki was eager to return to the field. If she was to grow her reputation as a legendary kunoichi, she couldn't do it with the occasional two-star mission that dribbled out of the briefing office like thawing snow. No, she would take this mad quest with the fat old scholar genin beside -- and when she returned successful she would be recognized as a full-fledged chunin second to none, and not some burned out child prodigy.

"Very well, Matsu-chan," she agreed, choosing the suffix that would establish their relationship from the beginning: despite being over thirty years her senior, she was the chunin and he the genin, and he would know it. She didn't need some doddering grandfather trying to pull free from her every command. "We leave at sunrise tomorrow."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Seerow
A mild clattering sound marched from within the confines of the Briefing Office. The settling of leather, wood, and metal as it rolled or rocked with the sturdy movement of flesh beneath. A heavy thud as each foot announced their arrival with the next step to follow. The youth with the armor murky as night forced himself out through the entrance, facing the tiny gathering that had accumulated before the steps. Just then as though calling out from on high he spoke, his voice somewhat grave and stern in their opposition.

“Forgive me, did I hear mention of a mission?”

When the gloomy orbs latched to Mashio there grew a disdain in Akimoto’s face. Even the confines of his somen could not soften the disappointment that marched over him. The child prodigy and the faux samurai were defined almost exclusively as opposites. Though he did not hate Mashio, he did resent her natural talent and helplessly decisive instincts. Both were newly minted Chunin and worse still both graduated to their ranks at similar times. From Akimoto’s perspective, he had to fight to gain every inch of ground, and by his mind this girl just floated through on remarkable aptitude. They were not rivals as far as he believed, just opposing lifestyles with unfortunate timing. If anyone had to guess however, Akimoto’s bitterness stem almost entirely from jealousy.

“Perhaps Matsu-sama would prefer the aid of a senior,” the cold eyes ratcheted between the three conversationalists, settling lastly on poor Sugahara.

“Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.”

A personal stab filled with empty words. Akimoto was only a year older, and hardly a senior in his field by comparison. Yet he certainly didn’t act that way. Holding his body rigid and looking over the situation with a false grandiose air. A nose upturned in a bluff. Quietly hoping to pull the mission free and have it become part of his own dealings.

Normally the shinobi would take heed for the rebuke in messing with other’s affairs, but such an opportunity could hardly be passed up. Missions of late held little honor or even challenge, how could Akimoto wear his father’s armor if he wasn’t winning renown with it? For both the village and his love he strove for recognition. If not by his peers then perhaps by those unfortunate to meet him? Feared, treasured, or even hated so long as it gave his nodachi meaning, and cemented the Tsugaru name. A selfish indulgence he realized, but his fame was his clan’s fame and therefore justified by his own terms.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
"O-oh, hello Tsuga-san," Aoyama Tomoki greeted, rubbing the back of his neck peevishly. He was the sort who tried to get along with everyone, and usually succeeded. But when two polar opposites such as Akimoto and Miyazaki squared off, it became difficult for people such as him -- like a river with two opposing mouths, water quickly drained. Still, despite his usual friendliness with the armored-nin, Tomoki was a young man after all, and perhaps could be forgiven for ultimately siding with the young and beautiful Miyazaki in such situations.

Sugahara Matsu on the other hand, knew little of the two except for name and some reputation. "Tomo-san," he asked, "is there an established way that we deal with circumstances such as these, when two parties lay claim to leadership of a mission?" For his wide-ranging education, the fat old scholar knew little of the practical matters in these areas, loathe as he was to ever leave on such missions.

"Hai," the briefing office genin agreed, glancing between the two chunin glowering at each other -- the armored-nin as impassible as a mountain, the kunoichi as unforgiving as a thunderstorm. "A duel can be declared. Muketsu, of course." There were various levels of duels with established names and rules in the hidden village, and muketsu, or 'bloodless,' referred to one that was somewhere between practice sparring and deadly intent. For a muketsu duel the opponents were allowed the full range of their weapons and armor, but were sworn to stop short of serious injury. Still, mistakes happened, which was why muketsu duels were allowed only to chunin and jonin, and always required an impartial judge/witness.

"I dislike having to solve problems with violence," Matsu declared, rubbing the pointed beard he kept neatly trimmed on his chin. "But there is some wisdom in this, perhaps. It will be good to know what to expect of one another out on the field. Akimoto Tsugaru," he said formally, turning to the armored-nin, "unless you wish to withdraw your challenge to Mashio Miyazaki, I will be third-party to your duel." He turned to Miya, whose look was inscrutable.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Seerow
Silence invaded the space between them. Tension took to the air before Akimoto and the stress of a duel already filled his shoulders with a mild ache. The muscle of his arms tightened, and nervousness remained concealed beneath a stoic face. He wasn’t the only one to share in the ambiguousness, and in a way it brought comfort. Already he could feel their match beginning. Observations, planning, all of it was being done even should nothing come of this meeting. They were always considering preparations; ninja were never caught without a plan.

Then when all the apprehension ebbed from his mind, Akimoto snapped to attention returning to the steps of the office. He nodded in acceptance toward Aoyama. He wasn’t sure if the Scarlet Slash would return such eagerness.

“I will not lie to you Miyazaki-san. I want muketsu not only for the right to the mission, but to prove that you are unworthy.”

Calmly and perhaps with great audacity, Akimoto began to unsling the great nodachi from his back. There was no sheath and the long blade was bound in thick cloth, wrapped with silken ties and fastened lastly by rope. It was a weapon of important ceremony to the armored-nin the blade that had drank of blood before he was born. He hefted it gingerly and laid it lovingly against the office building.

“I believe you are a child still. That your talents will fail you, and the lives of those in your care will be endangered by such indulgence.”

A deep breath heaved through his chest. The air was still crisp and smelled of the earth and surrounding forest. His fingertips flowed down his armor, masquerading as a check for weakness or loose ends. In truth he was adjusting the kunai stashed beneath his garments for easy access. Honor dictated he could not draw his nodachi unless against a foe. He would require other methods of defense, and it was important to be ready.

“You will prove me wrong, or admit your incompetence.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Masao Character Portrait: Tatsuo
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Zetsumie sat almost deathly still watching the young child before him cautiously begin to eat the supper Zetsumie prepared. The dark skinned man did not make one move towards the untouched cup and bowl. He seemed content to simply watch Masao nervously pick at his supper. In truth he was making observation and jotting down mental notes and little things he would have to help this boy improve upon.
Masao kept offering shy little glances towards the man over looking those brutal scars on what would otherwise be a rather handsome face. That serious predatory look left Masao feeling unsettled as he just stared him down. It was like a viper staring down a cornered field mouse. He surely thought this man liked to pick fights or was truly reckless in the face of danger. Something about those healed over wounds kept Masao wanting to stare almost transfixed by such an uncommon sight he'd never seen before and never that close. He did look away feeling ashamed however when he noticed Zetsumie locking eye contact with him. Once the boy finished his bowl Zetsumie pushed the still untouched bowl towards him. "Keep eating- your too thin." In truth Masao was looking rather ghastly on the verge of emaciation.
Zetsumie reached in to his coat and pulled out a small bound set of papers and a bit of charcoal and scribbled a few things down. He then moved to stand. "Stay here." He instructed before making his way through the building. He needed to inform the seniors of his new charge and the new member to their family. Most children avoided Zetsumie and many others preferred to simply step out of his way without notice. He had the sort of effect of an executioner walking through a crowed. Although Zetsumie's own master was associated with the council very much it was more often than not he was doled out the worst missions rather than favoritism. And for those that were voluntarily Zetsumie often opted for the most dangerous sorts. A few times he'd come back several days later than any of his comrades after having injured himself.
He paused stepping outside and seeing the little group congregating just outside the one building Seniors and Council members often chose to conduct their business, condensate, and plan. He was hoping to talk to his own master, Tatsuo rather than the actually clan leader- Tentei. Zetsumie often made a point of avoiding Tentei. Tenyei wasn't quiet old enough to be a senior and in fact was seen in his prime. However he was a great leader and wise well beyond his years; his qualities, contributions, and willingness to hear others out have helped him in gaining his current role as Clan Leader. The man also had no trouble putting his foot down with people like Zetsumie so certainly there was friction between the two, even if Tentei was only a few years Zetsumie's elder.
Zetsumie breathed in a breath watching the two young pups who seemed to be rather full of uppity energy judging by their body language. Zetsumie moved along the decks rather than stepping out on to the ground making his way towards Matsu. He had a feeling he was about to see a playground scuffle between the two pups. What they may have been squabbling about was still unclear to Zetsumie after all he only just arrived. But then again when he saw those younger than himself about ready to brawl in the middle of the compound Zetsumie couldn't help but intervene just a smidge to see what was going on. From what he knew of these two he had Mashio pegged as second blood and Akimoto as a first blood. Meaning Akimoto was more than likely an instigator where as Mashio was willing to step up to a challenge. "Hello there Matsu-san; Rained on ground hardens . " Zetsumie greeted putting on a somewhat strained smile which melted in to a slightly mischievous smirk. Like poking at a sleeping bear Zetsumie cleared his throat and called in a sickeningly sweet tone, "Aki-kun~! " He was teasing him even though he was only perhaps seven years his elder.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
The young kunoichi's pretty oval face stained red with rage at Akimoto's words, and she made an indignant, inarticulate response somewhere between a spitting tomcat and a hissing viper. "Challenge accepted," she grated. For all her anger, she knew that the armored-nin was wholly honorable and that she would be safe with a muketsu duel. "I will make you eat those words."

She turned to stalk away toward an empty patch of grass on the common grounds, when Zetsumie Aku showed up -- instantly recognizable because of his size and distinguishing scars. The legendary shinobi teased Akimoto, and Miyazaki would have been pleased were she not slightly terrified of Zetsumie. Despite wanting to prove herself as legendary as he one day, for now she was happy being beneath the notice of those penetrating copper eyes.

She continued on toward the grass, sure that Akimoto would follow. When she reached the area that was clear of obstructions and other villagers for several dozen paces, she turned back around. Before the duel she spent a few moments preparing herself, chiefly by removing her distinct scarlet cowl. It would serve no purpose in such a duel, except for the long tail to give her opponent something to grapple. She rummaged through her hip pouch to take a quick inventory, then unsheathed her ninjato from its jet black, lacquered wooden scabbard.

Seeing that the armored-nin had discarded his nodachi, she assumed the sorasaya stance, which would give her strikes the longest reach with her modest sword. "Ready," she declared to Sugahara Matsu, the duel's required judge. If and when Akimoto Tsugaru declared the same, the fat old scholar would announce the fight with a sharp cry.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Seerow
It was well that Mashio was upset. Such words were not given without truth, for he was to always speak it. It served another purpose in angering his powerful opponent which could distract her from minute details. In their world, such minor things could determine the outcome of even the greatest conflicts. Akimoto did not think himself guaranteed victory however, Mashio was still a seasoned kunoichi. A simple clever trick like that had its use but was easily recognizable.

Their duel was underway when the most uncommon of shinobi made his presence known. Zetsumie was a name affiliated with great wonder and fear. At times elders would spin fictional tales of his accomplishments bemusing themselves to terrorize ignorant Genin. As you grew older, Zetsumie became less fantastic but more deadly. Highly respected, but taken with caution he was after all a killer, and one of the best the clan had ever produced.

Worse still he was toying with Akimoto. The young man froze in place and his head bobbed slightly masking his face from view. Perhaps a jest but Akimoto saw the remark as insulting. To be a junior to Zetsumie wasn’t unusual, but to be taunted as though he were a child was hurtful to his pride. Especially when given by someone of such high regard, even if Zetsumie was more infamous than anything else.
Akimoto wheeled about on his heel and faced Zetsumie. His dim orbs swallowed the brilliance of the sun in their reflection, leaving nothing exposed behind them. Steadily those gloomy eyes locked with the illustrious copper of the fabled shinobi. A smile creased his lips etching itself through the somen and produced such an uncanny expression that none could believe the sincerity of such a grin.

“Good morning Aku-sama! Forgive me, but I must be on my way.”

There were some that would have considered such small talk a dangerous omen. To so casually address death itself and to look him in the eye, others could not do such a thing. It was an uninformed thought; the shinobi was flesh and blood like everyone. Given the situation Akimoto simply had no time to address even a man with ability like his. So off he went, placing his back to the office building. A scowl reforming the moment he was sure Zetsumie could no longer see.

When he at last arrived to the destination of his duel he found his adversary making final adjustments. He mimicked these actions and quietly ran a few mantras through his mind. Once Mashio declared herself ready, Akimoto revealed his opening move. Both of his arms rose up with open hands, the right leading out ahead. His off foot positioned back and the entirety of his lower torso was bowed, both knees bent to allow fluidity. To those with a keen eye Akimoto was taking a type of Aikido stance. A martial art primarily used to disable an enemy without harm by using their own force and momentum against them.

The ninja claimed no mastery to any school of combat; he remained a dabbler of many techniques and philosophies. He was known for his capabilities in both Kenjutsu and Taijutsu but remained independent from specific arts. Instead he mixed and matched as deemed appropriate and while this served to give him great flexibility, against a true master he would find himself outpaced.

“… Ready.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
With Sugahara Matsu's sharp cry to declare the start of the duel, Miyazaki thrust her hand into her hip pouch as she darted forward to close the distance between them, throwing two smoke pellets with a swift underhand motion without breaking stride. Her aim was for her opponent's chest, but two pellets at once made for a less accuracy. Whether or not her attack succeeded in hindering Akimoto's vision with thick black smoke she would follow through with sword thrusts -- quick jabs and strikes of the ninjato here and there aimed at various parts of his body, none of which she committed her full strength or balance to. Her objective was not to break through his armor, but to probe her opponent's defensive maneuvering before forcing a mistake in his positioning and footwork that she could then exploit.

The disadvantage to such a sudden flurry of strikes and thrusts is that, if you are not careful you can find your own positioning turned against you, so if Akimoto were to withstand her initial lightning attacks without giving her an opening, she would attempt to disengage and leap back a few paces, to reevaluate her strategy accordingly.

***** *****

The fat old scholar gave the signal for the muketsu duel to begin. Keeping his eye on the fight, he spoke to Zetsumie with a conspiratorial whisper. "Are you interested in leading a mission of mine, Zetsu-san?" If the legendary shinobi said no, then the winner of the duel would be none the wiser. If he agreed -- well, either Miya or Akimoto were welcome to challenge him for the leadership. Matsu's small lips twitched with a smile at the thought. Duels with Zetsumie were quite rare, but the quick bouts were always as entertaining for the spectators as they were educational for the loser.

Some might see dishonor in asking Zetsumie to take leadership despite the duel being contended, but the success of the mission and the security of the clan as a whole trumped such considerations.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Seerow
A deft strike turned the pellets aside their usefulness, however, was not nullified. The impact still set loose the billows of black and gray engulfing the ninja in a shroud of choking clouds. As his vision just began to adjust the first blow erupted from the smoke. The glint of steel and the force of flesh launching through the veil as if some swarm trying to overtake the armored-nin to press against him till he was crushed beneath the weight of the lightning that tore through.

Yet, he held. The blood that rushed through him felt as though a thousand horses were running the course of his veins. Mashio was so fast, and he had even less then a second to react. Many times he gave up blocking and allowed a blow to bounce from his armor. The impact stung, but he could find no solution at times within the haze and the fury it held within. His feet found ground however, and he would offer no purchase.

At once he found himself compromised, his legs uneven unable to keep his strength rolling up through his torso. Awkwardly he stumbled back, and just as he realized his fate the ninjato lashed out like a viper. A second late was more then enough time to shinobi, and while Akimoto threw himself from his vantage the sting of metal bit into his shoulder. Quietly he cursed to himself and hopped back once more letting fly a kunai hilt first into the smoke where he believed his opponent was hiding.

Shortly the Scarlet Slash emerged opposite himself, and he watched idly in their waiting. The cut that dug into his left shoulder wasn't anything to be worried of, but it would cost him when the judge made his choice. Without effort he withdrew another kunai and held the blade down flat to his wrist, knowing well it could be used to block the ninjato.

The faux samurai bounded toward Mashio knowing well that she was far faster than himself. Rather then attempt to corner the kunoichi he employed a different kind of tactic. Opening into combat with an obvious fist, but throwing it low intentionally, using the leverage gained to turn his body and let fly a kick from above. With any luck his heel would come crashing down on its intended target, but it hardly mattered for Akimoto was ready to keep into melee combat. With his blocking arm raised to intercept her blade, he would continue to push the fight toward a physical brawl, where he believed he held the advantage.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
The Scarlet Slash leapt back to disengage, and even before her feet stopped sliding the kunai burst free of the dissipating smoke, flying toward her with the faint hiss of cutting wind. She jerked her ninjato in line in time to deflect the missile, sending it clattering to the ground beside her. Akimoto Tsugaru followed a split second after, closing the distance with an odd, low-thrown punch. She smirked at the tactic, ready to deliver the counter that would end the duel.

Her eyes widened when the armored-nin revealed the feint, as his weighty kick came flying from above. Even as she attempted to block or evade she marveled at her rival's speed and power, knowing she wouldn't be able to block the blow in time. She grunted and fell to her knees as the strike took her in the shoulder -- only by dropping and turning it into a roll was she able to safely absorb the bone-breaking force, but pain shrieked through her shoulder nonetheless as she rolled back to her feet, ninjato discarded in the grass.

Before she was able to retrieve another kunai, Akimoto was upon her, pressing his advantage with a series of blows that she did her best to avoid or deflect. If her earlier attacks had been a lightning storm, his were an avalanche, and she found herself giving up ground with every step to avoid being buried. Pushed farther and farther back in the area they had cleared for the muketsu duel, Miya desperately countered with the occasional jab or kick, whenever his slower attacks gave her faster strikes an opening. These attacks fell uselessly off his armor like drops of rain off a mountain summit.

Hoping that his strength would soon be flagging after the assault, Miyazaki rode out the attacks as best she could, waiting for her chance to end this. Unable to use her right arm without considerable pain, she was forced to defend with her left and dodge whenever she could. Finally an opening revealed itself, and the Scarlet Slash countered with her injured right arm, hoping the move would be unanticipated.

Pain flooded through her shoulder, and light-headed she vaguely wondered if it was dislocated. Her vision tunneled as she swooned, and her last thought was of whether or not her blow had even landed. She would find out when she came to just a few moments later.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Seerow
When Mashio would once again return to the waking world she would no doubt spot the heaving crumpled form that was Akimoto. Though visibly he appeared fine his chest was heaving and he gulped furiously for air. Down upon one knee and holding his body steady by the ends of his fingers digging into the soft earth. He was balancing himself precariously and working toward a full stand but only easing into such one bit at a time. The blow had landed, and it had temporarily incapacitated the vigilant Akimoto.

It was a feat that very few had ever accomplished, for his armor was thick and his determination thicker. Still there he was drawing heaving breaths and clutching at his chest. At once he pulled his helmet from his head, and lobbed the kabuto aside. Allowing fresh air to help sooth his nerves and ease the adrenaline.

Eventually he came to stand and faced Mashio once more. The features of his face going taut and stern. There was much to remark upon, but he refused to give any transparent views into his personal thoughts. The shinobi had always been this way, and so it would continue. Yet as difficult as he was to approach or even understand one could not deny that his conduct was always at least proper. He gave a deep bow of respect, and had felt no reason to continue the duel. The prodigy was mightier then he guessed, and by his own shortcomings had he felt defeat.

Of course the duel had yet to be judged, but his honor and pride already decided. He had failed to overcome the kunoichi and the only solution would be to train. Suddenly the mission felt insignificant now having tested the limits of his capabilities. Of course he would not decline if offered to take the mission, but the importance of outpacing Mashio just grew dramatically.

"Do you require medical attention?"

There wasn't a hint of concern nor kindness in his voice, he had asked more as a customary obligation. Already guessing the appropriate response while watching Mashio's movement. Theirs had been a glorious duel, it would be a shame to lose a decent opponent because of some silly complication.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
"No," the young kunoichi replied, when she felt collected enough to do so. She gritted her teeth as she rolled to her good side and climbed to her feet. Without looking at Akimoto at all, she moved past him to retrieve her ninjato from where it lay from she had been disarmed. With a somewhat awkward motion she resheathed the small, straight ninja blade in the black lacquered scabbard at her side. "Well fought," she mumbled formally, still not making eye contact. She busied herself with minor actions such as dusting herself off, checking various fastenings, rolling her shoulder -- anything to avoid the inevitable.

Like the armored-nin, Miya was her own harshest critic, and where two good friends would have congratulated each other on their successes, it appeared that these two could only see their own defeat in the duel. Finally, unable to postpone any longer, she made her way over to Sugahara Matsu, ready to hear him declare her defeat. That it was the fat old scholar as the judge somehow made the anticipated blow sting all the more.

"11-9 Akimoto-sama," the scholar declared, pointing to the armored-nin as the winner. Miya tched, angry at hearing the results though not surprised. The numbers themselves didn't mean anything -- it was the ratio between them that told the story. A decisive victory could have been two-to-one, or maybe even a three-to-two ratio. Anything smaller was hardly conclusive, and barely even worth the title of victor. 11-to-9 was essentially tossing a coin to declare the winner. Let the faux-samurai have his hollow victory, she thought bitterly.

((Not sure if Zetsumie will agree to lead the mission or not, so I'm leaving it there. Depending on Zetsu's response, Matsu will either give Akimoto the black dispatch with the missive inside, or tell the two chunin that Z's in charge.))

***** *****

The missive was simple. Any child could read the basic characters that spoke of a man who was going to be going to the city to look for work. In it he asked for his love to be given to the recipient's family, and made other sentimental gestures before concluding. Rather a simple message, to hide such a fateful mission. Translated from the code that the Spirit Fox clan used to encrypt their missives, and the small paper scroll said something else entirely. Even now, despite having verified the message numerous times, Matsu wondered whether or not there had been some mistake.

Investigate and verify claim that Emperor Hasegawa's son Shuhei is gripped by a kami-spirit.
Depending on outcome, hold position and report for further instructions.
Leave no trace of presence.


Even this transcribed message seemed laden with unspecified undertones, although Matsu was no expert on such things. 'Leave no trace of presence' never needed to be stated to a Spirit Fox shinobi -- when it was specified it generally meant that there was a possibility of assassination. He trembled at the thought of being involved in a mission to kill an Imperial Prince, especially the 10-year-old Shuhei.

"We start on the morrow," he said to the others involved. Although the oldest of them all he was by far the least experienced in field work, and a genin besides. He was glad to hand the reins over to the new mission leader. Still unsure of why the his old sensei Arashiyami Kozaburo had sent him on this mission, he would do his best to stay out of the way and leave the work to the more skillful of the party.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Masao Character Portrait: Tatsuo
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Zetsumie had heard the offer from Matsu yet didn't quite respond. He watched the dual as it took place before them. "I'm curious as to whom the dispatch officer was." he stated rather than posing his words as a question. "If you were only told to bring one other, my concerns rest on the idea whether or not you were looking for a child to baby sit or looking for someone /to/ watch children." He said almost suggesting that if he were to take one of the two dueling he'd be putting himself up to the test of watching over them. If he wanted Zetsumie to come Zetsumie was taking it that he would be watching over some one. If Matsu wanted to bring all three Zetsumie figured Matsu would be watching over one of the two dueling and Zetsumie would be watching over the other.
Zetsumie pushed off the wall and took a few steps before he hopped down from the walk way and started towards the pair as the duel came to an end. An ever so faint smile lacing his lips on that marred visage. To be honest smiles really didn't suit the man and tended to give people and eerie feeling. "Aki-kun; you did well." he praised lightly as he stepped on over to Miya.
Without warning or ceremony he reached out and took her wrist and with surprising gentleness, turned her arm this way or that giving her a once over.
"Ichigo and his 'imp' may be queer but I'm sure you know as well as I, that the pair can help with many ailments. " Zetsumie said before gently returning to her, her arm and wrist. Zetsumie didn't quite care much for that short imp Ichigo kept by his side. Ever since he was younger he stayed clear of that short boy who still as tall as a nine year old runt. Nekura Naraku (Dark natured Hell)was the name of that strange 'creature'. The elongated ears and vivid flaming red locks were strange enough paired with those vivid green orbs. But the two preferred to live in a separated building in the compound off near one of the far walls. Now that Zetsumie was older he could look down upon that strange imp. Even Ichigo was a strange one. A flamboyant male with exceedingly maternal actions. It was no wonder he chose to heal their wounded or sick. Ichigo was willing to brave vicious storms that ripped trees from the ground to visit a sick member of the clan. A willowy slim build partnered with vividly bright kimonos and yukatas meant that Ichigo could often be mistaken for a you Maiko (Apprentice Geisha). It wasn't any of these qualities that struck Zetsumie off guard and made him cautious of the pair. It was the fact that time seemed to ignore the two. When Zetsumie was much younger he knew Ichigo looked to be in his very early twenties and Nekura looked to be a youthful eight year old at most. Now that Zetsumie was a deal older Ichigo still looked to be in his early twenties and Nekura has seemed to have aged a year if at all. "Even shinobi with otherwise fatal wounds are returned to near perfect health upon visiting them."
Zetsumie added as he turned on his heel and returned to the sanded wooden decks. "Matsu-san I've brought home a new child and I've yet to inform the council. I've already a child to look after for the evening. Come the morrow if you wish for me to accompany you, I will." He offered. Zetsumie was leaving this choice entirely up to Matsu If there was some sort of test involved Zetsumie wouldn't be meddling. Although he assumed by tomorrow he would be able to find someone to keep a watchful eye upon Masao if Zetsumie's presence was requested.
"Though a word of advice. . . " He trailed. "If the missive calls for physical skill as well as mental I suggest a sure decision where no wear or tear on your accompanying partner take place... Perhaps a little 'childish' but I think stone, parchment, shears would have sufficed. " He explained. A team should be well rested and ready to go with as little distractions as possible. " he concluded as he made his way towards the his destination.
Zetsumie poked around the council building and found Tatsuo nowhere in sight. With a heavy sigh of annoyance he headed off in search of the fossil. Zetsumie poked his head in to several dojos and saw a few different activities going on from grappling, to target practice. It was indeed nearing the evening as the sky continued to change. Zetsumie peered about through many areas indoor first before heading out side and spotting a small group gathered around a large Balance beam. The familiar sight of slightly crooked posture accompanied with a cane. Zetsumie paused and watched for a moment or so before slowly approaching the class that was more than likely soon to be coming to a close.
The hour was near of dinner time as Tatsuo walked around the balance beam, two of the students in his class demonstrating their balance while sparring. Ever so often the ebon haired sensei would give them a push with his cane to correct their stance, something the kohai had adjusted to. As the sun began to sink beneath the horizon, Tatsuo paused his pacing and gazed at the sky, set ablaze with orange subtly darkening with each passing moment. He lightly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He then quickly turned and thrust his trusty cane out to catch one of his students as they lost their balance. With a careful push in the right direction, he got them back up onto the beam, "Mind your footing, kohai. Look only to your opponent, or the next thing you see will be the ground." His voice was gentle, not even a slight bit of scolding as he gave his correction, "The better you do, the sooner we can all go get some dinner. And I don't know about you," well, he did actually, "But I am famished! So," He gave the sparring kohai a light bop to the head each with his trusty old walking stick, "Try harder."
Soon enough Tatsuo noticed Zetsumie's approach, and he smiled, turning towards his oldest pupil, "Ahh, if it isn't my most hard-headed student. Have you come to train with the rest of the kohai?" He paused while the younglings failed to restrain a bit of giggling, "Or perhaps you come to inform us that dinner is ready?"
Zetsumie looked about to the mats they had on either side of the beam and raised an eyebrow. "I don't think they will ever learn that way Tatsuo-sama. " Zetsumie said not quite responding to such a jab. "Though I do believe supper is ready. " he added. "Some nice fried rice and steamed pork buns were what I saw when I was there. I have come to request audience with you master."
Tatsuo chuckled at Zetsumie's disapproval of the matts, "Why do you say that? As I recall, you learned rather well." As the younger teacher started to describe dinner, he could practically hear the collective rumble of his class's tummys. He... ignored it for now, instead more intrigued by Zetsumie's formality. Perhaps he simply wanted Tatsuo to send the children away, and deny the elder his most enjoyable hobby; embarrassing his oldest students, "Class is nearly done, my stubborn student. After that I will be happy to speak with you." He cleared his throat and turned back to his students, "Come now, we're almost done."
"Did I mention the tempura black tiger shrimp? Oh and I believe there was some crab Rangoon, Ichigo dafuku, Eel sishimi, fried dumplings, dango...." He trailed with a small shrug raising an eyebrow knowing full well what his words were doing and the power they held. "Oh and I believe tonight's green tea is sweet ginseng with jasmine. " he added in there recalling all the delicacies they were cooking up in the heated kitchen.
Tatsuo listend, and sighed in defeat. He could practically FEEL the burning, pleading gazes of his students peering at him from all directions. Acknowledging Zetsumie's check mate, Tatsuo motioned towards them, "I believe that's enough training for now. Go on, children, but remember to save some for your dear old sensei!" After a small stampede of hungry pupils, the two teachers were alone. He gave Zetsumie a light smack on thigh with his cane, "Well played."
Yes, seemed the stubborn little kohai had learned well over the years. Tatsuo always found ways to embarrass Zetsumie in front of the younger students, because Zetsumie was always his star pupil. The boy had tried keeping his distance and waiting till the teacher was alone to speak with him, but Tatsuo would just call him over. Zetsumie tried to hide, but Tatsuo always found him. It wasn't until Zetsumie was a sensei himself that he learned the art of avoiding Tatsuo's detection until he wanted his old master's attention. Now it was like a game of cat and mouse. Today, Zetsumie won. Tatsuo would just have to REALLY get him next time, "What can I do for you, my child?"
"When I learned I was over a water fall- when I fell I fell twice. " Zetsumie said if only a slight bit sour at Tatsuo for that. "Tatsuo-sensei I've come to inform you of something rather important- seeing as you are a council member and elder and all." Zetsumie explained.
"Eh, the water was blue, the matts are blue, close enough." Tatsuo smiled. Perhaps Zetsumie knew it was because Tatsuo had more confidence in Zetsumie's abilities, or perhaps not. The elder was fine with either way. When he heard something important, however, he nodded, "Come, walk with me. Tell me what is on your mind, my most stubborn of students." and Tatsuo started towards the gardens. Refering to Zetsumie in such a way was actually a term of endearment in Tatsuo's mind, but the elder could see how not many would see it that way. It was his hope that Zetsumie knew him well enough to know what was meant by those words.
Zetsumie nodded and followed Tatsuo along to one of the many garden paths of their compound. "I've brought home a new student to take care of... A new apprentice." To have an apprentice was something a bit more important than training an 'unclaimed' Kohai. To have an apprentice meant you were training someone to eventually fill your shoes. It was much more personal. You took care of your apprentice like he was your own- because they were. The last Apprentice didn't do so well.... or perhaps Zetsumie was to blame for not doing well enough in training his reckless pupil. "This one is shy, and quiet... very obedient I've mistaken him for a girl at first." Zetsumie admitted. "I'd like to make formal note that I have decided to take on this new apprentice." Zetsumie said knowing to topic held heavy on the good qualities as well as the bad.
"Apprentice?" Tatsuo repeated as if to be sure Zetsumie was clear. Carefully he listened, deep in thought a moment. Few were the losses the clan experienced that did not weigh heavily on Zetsumie's heart, but Zetsumie's first apprentice was particularly hard to lose. It was like watching his son raise a boy of his own, and Tatsuo allowed Zetsumie as much freedom as he could in teaching the young one the ways of their clan. Perhaps Tatsuo had allowed his own apprentice, Zetsumie, too much freedom. He did not blame the other sensei, at least he tried his very best not to, but it would taste a lie to say that he didn't feel responsible himself. If he had been more involved, maybe things would have been different. After a bit of thought, Tatsuo nodded, "Good. A new apprentice would do you some good, I think. I should very much like to meet the boy that my most thick-headed son will be taking under his wing." He nudged Zetsumie almost playfully, "Make sure he isn't too delicate to endure your training."
Zetsumie smiled feeling a touch of melancholy. "His name is Masao. . . and he looks like an apparition."
"Apparition, huh?" Tatsuo raised a brow, tempted to make a joke about that being a bad sign, but he opted to keep that to himself, "I'll have to see when I meet him. Is there anything else you wish to discuss with me?"
Zetsumie nodded. "Would you perhaps be willing to do me the favor of watching over the child on the morrow?" Zetsumie asked. "I may be called upon and I believe you possess the sort of gentle nature to show such a fragile boy around. " Zetsumie stated. "I think he needs a softer introduction to our family then what I have given him." Zetsumie was either cryptic or blunt.
"You've barely had the boy and already you need Grampa to babysit?" Tatsuo replied, "Though I suppose you have a point. He would indeed be in need of a more kind welcome to our family." He smirked, "Besides, it'll be fun to spoil the boy and send him home for you to deal with; actually... You'll probably break him if I do that, huh?"
Zetsumie chuckled, "Aye you can have your fun with spoiling the boy whilst I'm gone. Thank you."

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Seerow
The missive was snatched with little care by Akimoto's hands. Zetsumie's words were well heard, and noticeable irritation ebbed through him. It was one thing to respectfully decline a mission after such a rocky victory, quite another to freely offer it whilst the duel was underway. He believed such actions radical and outright rude, if the old man wanted Zetsumie to lead, then he simply should have asked him in the first place rather then waste their time.

Once his eyes transcribed the words in the letter he began to understand the hesitance in Sugahara. Such an order was unfitting of the old genin and Akimoto began to sense the dread surrounding the small black print. A kami was no laughing matter, for they possessed knowledge that were beyond this earthly realm. Their minds were alien, and their abilities or intentions were strange and most of the time dangerous.

"They're hiding something..."

It was all the armored-nin had left to say on the matter before casually discarding the scroll. Heading back to retrieve his nodachi and carefully slinging it about him. The morning would mark the start of an irrevocable journey. It was not everyday they engaged the likes of royalty. He silently pondered upon the steps where their adventure started. Starring out into the day with his thoughts meandering around behind his face of stone.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
Sugahara Matsu recommended that they all spend time in preparation and meet back at the mission office within the hour. Actually, he didn't recommend it so much as phrase it as a question -- his habit whenever in the tricky situation of speaking to juniors who outranked him. Still a genin despite his middle years having come and gone, the fat old scholar found himself in that tricky situation an awful lot.

He returned to his hut and gathered a few things that he wouldn't want to leave without, but as the pile grew larger and larger he spent a comparable length of time paring the selections back down to a manageable weight. After this he tidied his room, knowing he might not be returning to it for several months. If at all... he couldn't help but add. Not for the last time he wondered just why he'd been picked for such a mission -- one so obviously out of his depth.

After leaving his small hut Matsu ventured to the stockpile, where a small clutch of people stood in line, requisitioning the many communal items that the clan stored. When his turn finally arrived, he asked for a few weapons that he felt most comfortable with, but the bulk of his requisitioning was in the form of food, supplies, maps and other more practical provisions. Sure he packed several kunai and a staff that looked like a peasant's walking stick, but combat simply wasn't his forte and if the likes of Zetsumie, Akimoto and Miyazaki couldn't defend themselves, it was unlikely that his efforts would change the tide.

He returned around the time agreed upon, and waited for the others. Their mission would be a long one -- even reaching the capital would take weeks of hard travel -- and they would have several hard choices along the way. Starting with the direction and manner of their travel...:

"I propose that we travel east to the port town, and commission a coastal boat or fishing trawler that will take us north along the coast and then back west along the river to the capital. Longer, perhaps -- but safer by far." Whether or not the others agreed, he didn't know. His opinion wouldn't weigh heavily in their minds, that he knew.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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For Akimoto a the mission was a bit of an enigma. Such dangerous opposition with undocumented abilities combined to make one of the most exciting and terrifying ventures the shinobi could ever hope to embark upon. Of course it stood to reason that there was some kind of misinformation. It certainly would explain their choice of delegation to Sugahara, and would actually make for a rather bemusing joke. Yet he couldn't help but allow himself to fantasize about the nature of their mission. He could return home as Akimoto, the blade that tore through a kami. At the same time, it wasn't so far fetched an idea that he could never see the village again.

Zetsumie was coming with them but this did not bring any comfort to Akimoto. The elder ninja was a powerful force but his reputation wasn't in the safekeeping of his comrades. While the details were foggy, it was known that Zetsumie had lost his former apprentice. Through wild speculation or not, the situation was less then ideal. Zetsumie would get the job done if the task before them could be accomplished.

Strangely it was in Mashio that he found a private reserve of resolve. Though he would never admit it to himself, she was still superior in his mind. Yes today he had eked a victory, but he had done so with the addition of intense training. Weeks had been spent and milestones accomplished and it all amounted to little in their duel. Akimoto has the resolve and the nerve to grow, but it was Mashio who had the true potential. Though he hated it, he was gladdened for her company and more importantly her talent.

Preparations were hardly needed he had been in anticipation for an outing in some time. Food and supplies were constantly restocked in hope and all that he had left to accomplish was to ditch his armor in favor of stealth. He gave up the armor reluctantly but understood his mission demanded otherwise. Stealth wasn't Akimoto's strong point but he could fight with the best of them. All that remained would be to gather the various tools that could be needed.

When he returned to the appointed gathering he had said nothing. Moving about in his travel guise and abandoning most anything that resembled the armored-nin's iconic appearance. He had kept his contributions to himself for the time being, their journey would take the path decided by the eldest. Though Sugahara had expressed a wise course of action, he knew it would ultimately be decided by whomever had both the most prestige and loudest opinion.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Wrenn
Every journey changes a man -- even short walks after a heavy dinner can induce the kind of quiet reflections that are the origins of soul-searching. Whenever Sugahara Matsu had real difficulty with his reports -- when understanding simply wouldn't come -- he would put down his work and walk about the shinobi village or sometimes its immediate surroundings, and by the time he'd returned his frame of mind had sufficiently changed where he could suddenly make heretofore unseen connections between the differing and sometimes contradictory reports that passed across his desk.

If such effects could be felt in even the shortest of walks, what then could the old scholar expect from a months-long journey across the land? Was it as his old mentor Arashiyami Kozaburo had quoted? That 'he who returns from a journey is not the same man as he who left'? Sugahara Matsu found the prospect daunting.

Still, as the group began their journey the dark clouds lingering in his mind slowly but surely evaporated, leaving only rays of sunshine and warmth. The land was beautiful, the weather perfect and the company interesting. There was Zetsumie Aku, the living legend; mysterious, dour and capable. There was Akimoto Tsugaru, young and inexperienced but whose brashness was tempered by a quiet and introspective soul that Matsu sensed as being not altogether different from his own. Then there was Mashio Miyazaki, who was like an ornery house cat -- pleasant in limited doses, but fickle and prickly and prone to lashing out.

As their journey began, the company had walked more or less in a loose single file, so that each was in his or her own world, silent and isolated from the others. As the morning sun slowly climbed in the sky, the formation began to change at random -- sometimes Matsu found himself side by side with one of the other three, enjoying a conversation of small talk and pleasantries; other times all of them spoke together in their first real group dynamic. These conversations didn't last long -- as though Zetsumie's overbearing presence required Miya and Akimoto to bristle. One of the two youths would snap at the other, then there would be a short burst of heated comments before both retreated to their solitude once more. Matsu hoped that they would come to accept each other's company as the journey went on. For his own peace of mind of course, but for the strength of unity and success in their dangerous mission.

"Perhaps we can take a quick break here?" he offered to the group as the sun neared its peak in the clear blue sky. They'd been walking for several hours, and while the three chunin were no doubt ready and able to continue for days without rest, the old genin was ready for a good meal and a nap. He would find neither today, as lunch consisted of some root vegetables and a negligible bit of smoked mackerel; and the group was ready to move on almost immediately after the small meal. With a hearty sigh, he licked the grease from his fingers before wiping them on the grass, and moved on with the others.

After the shared meal the group's spirits seemed higher than before, and even the two competitive youngsters shared a few words that weren't snapped off between gritted teeth. Matsu found Zetsumie to be a fount of information when the stoic warrior deigned to speak -- the man was a walking treasure trove of exciting trials and tribulations from his storied past. Akimoto possessed a scholar's mind to be sure, and Matsu found their conversations to be stimulating, although a bit one-sided. And even the tempestuous Miyazaki was entertaining as well, although too eager to see slights where there were none.

"Oh dear," Matsu muttered as the small group crested a hill, where they saw a steep ravine barred their pass. The floor of the trench was no more than four or five paces deep, but recent rains had turned its steep slopes into mud -- the robed scholar didn't much like the idea of struggling to climb up that slippery, crumbling slope, or of falling back to the muddied floor again and again. He scanned up and down its narrow banks, looking for a drier space to traverse. Instead, he saw a short ways along the ravine that there were two trees -- one on either side -- whose high branches intermingled enough where passage could be attempted. Still, even the soft mud floor wouldn't make safe a fall from that height.

The kunoichi spotted the trees as well, and made her way to them. Placing her pack on the ground, she nimbly scurried up the trunk and disappeared into the branches. Matsu heard the leaves rustle and watched them fall to the ground as the girl made her slow progress across, her every footstep accompanied by an ominous snapping noise. Eventually she reappeared above them. "I don't think you three will be able to cross here," she admitted. "The branches barely support my weight."

"Can you cross?" the scholar asked, and predictably the girl stiffened as though at a challenge. "Of course," she snapped, as though daring Matsu to contradict her. When he said nothing she relaxed. "Probably," she added quietly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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For the majority of their trip Zetsumie seemed to trail be hind the group most of all. He was being rather silent and spoke only when spoken to or about. He had brought Kuro with him and had been leading the work horse along. As they neared their first little obstacle He remained silent seemingly observing the others. He seemed to allow his mind to wander for certain subjects abut for now he was focused on the task at hand. "Aki; Take Kuro and check for any alternative routs." He said leading the black horse over to the younger. "Be quick about it." He said before moving towards the tree the young girl scuttled up. "Come down from there we needn't be making any trip back home so soon. "Zetsumie Called up before removing a knife and going to fetch a thin sapling to see just how deep the w mud would sink if prodded in to. If worse came to worse they could always ax down some smaller trees and create a path. Zetsumie paused looking to Matsu as he stabbed the sapling in to the mud. "Don't supposes you're up for rope climbing?" he asked.