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Zetsumie Aku

Money can't buy you happiness but it can buy you assasins.

0 · 384 views · located in Zetsukuro

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

Description

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Name: Zetsumie Aku
Date of Birth:
Age: 29
Race: Human

Height: 6’4’’
Weight: 215
Build: Tall and lean with sizable muscle. He possesses a body with fine definition and solid stature.

Skin Color: Bronze.
Hair: Zetsumie possesses ink black hair and fashions it in to a French or fish tail braid.
Eye Color: Golden Copper.
Facial Features: Being that of a well seasoned warrior, Zetsumie has several scars that mark his body. Three of which are upon his face. One vertically from above his left eye and runs down his left check. One horizontally fro his right cheek that run up and over the bridge of his nose and crosses the first scar. Then a small ‘X’ shaped one is on the right side of his chin. Narrow predatory eyes and a crooked nose with a chiseled look.

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Typical Attire: Hakkamas and sleeveless Gi tops. Zetsumie also tends to wear head bands.

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Synopsis: Zetsumie has Trained Masao as his apprentice.
Zetsumie is an experienced warrior who has proven his value to the leadership of the Shinzui Kitsune Clan in many important missions and difficult negotiations.
Zetsumie uses the same fighting style as master Toshi. That requires wide open spaces to move with deadly strikes, and is over all the best style for Zetsumie if the amount of space can be taken care of.

reble-pejoratively, that described shinobi who were to operate independently and often outside the strictures of the Council.

Zetsumie is a wise and powerful Master and teacher. Unlike other, more conservative masters, he values living in the moment as the best way to embrace his beliefs and yet that is not the only thing he believes in. He believes life should be cherished. While other masters respect him, they are frequently puzzled by his unorthodox beliefs, and ultimately deny him Council. It is stated that Zetsumie has been in conflict with the Council several times in the past. The Council often marks Zetsumie as reckless and wild, and care careful what sort of missions they send him on. Zetsumie has proven to be a great asset and have proven himself responsible in the stead of others. It's only when it comes to his own well being when caution is thrown in to the wind. If he sees the opportunity he takes it.

Personality

Personality: Zetsumie is very contradicting in his own way. He has a strange sense of humor that leans more toward cynical. He's a man of his own beliefs and he tends to be pretty hard headed when it comes to doing things. He's the kind who sets his mind to something and gets it done. He's not keen on lies and believes in the honest truth. That's not to say he isn't facetious in any way. He's not high on religion what so ever. Zetsumie tends to come off as rouged, and some what intimidating. For the most part is the quiet type with a nasty bite. Cold and calculating.

Zetsumie is a very concerned care giver yet comes off as old fashioned and may seem distant when it comes to how he interacts with his charges

At times he may exhibit a slightly vulnerable side to those he sincerely trusts.

Zetsumie loves to use nick names as well as pet names.

However these gentle words should not be mistaken for something more ominous if you do not step lightly.

As a hard worker he believes people should earn what they want; Not have it handed to them. He likes talking but rarely starts conversations, being that of an opportunist.

Due to his observational skills he is good at reading people’s emotions.

A strict disciplinarian and an over protective father at time he seems to be a bear of a man ready to tear down any one or anything that threatens his family or loved ones.

He is a loyal friend to those true to him, with a barbaric code of conduct that often marks him as more honorable than most samurai and upper class he’s met.

Zetsumie can be considered both Analytical(Get It Right), and a Driver
(Get It Done),

Fears: Caligynephobia- Fear of beautiful women.
Pediophobia- Fear of dolls.
Parthenophobia- Fear of virgins or young girls.

Background: Born on a battlefield and is the son of the village blacksmith. Zetsumie matured quickly as a youth and, by age fifteen; he was already a respected warrior who had participated in the destruction of the Demons Hall Massacre. Zetsumie took it upon himself to strive for excellence. His face and body are marred by the faults he's made in the past and he's certainly learned from them but they do not prevent him from walking the edge.

Talents: Singing, cooking, dance.
Skills: Good with a whip and Kurisarigama.

Kusarigama Jutsu ( Rope Kama)
Chain.
Intonjutsu (the art of entering and exiting buildings)
Sui-ren (water purification)
Naginata Jutsu
Kyusho-jutsu
Taijutsu- Karate and Hungar
Weaknesses: Excludes feelings from decisions. Goes too far; perfectionist. Too rigid or demanding of self/others. Has trouble operating with others. Does not take time to consider other perspectives. Domineering; too focused on doing it "my way".

Strengths: Despite his brutish appearance, Zetsumie uses his brains as well as his brawn. He talented fighter, but his travels have given him vast experience in other trades, especially as a thief; he is also a talented commander, tactician and strategist, as well as a born leader.
Physical Strengths: Has incredible stamina, enabling him to go without sleep for a few days.
Mental Strengths: In addition, Zetsumie speaks many languages, including advanced reading and writing abilities: Chinese, Korean, and English

Pain Tolerance : He likes it ~

Misc-

Hobbies/Interests: Gardening, sewing, cooking, poetry, shell collecting, and Singing.

Favorite Food/Drink: Yaki Soba
Favorite Candy: Bontan Ame
Favorite Time of Day: Dusk
Least Favorite Food/Drink: Raw onions
Least Favorite Time of Day: Crack of Dawn
Favorite Animal: Kittens
Favorite Scent: Home sweet home

Oddities in possession / Favorite items:
Slim bamboo rod with leather handle
Whips and chains
Sea shell collection


Pets: Kitten
Name- FurBall
Orange tabby

Social:
Love Interest:
Main Sensei: n/a
Secondary Sensei: n/a
Other Relations:

Small notable events:

Equipment

Horse named Kuro.
Throwing stars,
Rope kama.
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History

The speech all students get as the sun sets on The Night of Foxes.

Tentie or Tatsuo- "Tonight we will be putting your skills to the test as you pass through the chapters of child hood and begin the rite of passage. Tonight you must disappear, become truly invisible. As ninja you should understand that invisibility is a matter of patience, stealth, and agility. Always mind your surroundings, and never forget the importance of tact. You must become fear, and others fear most, what they cannot see. Ninjitsu employs, the use of distractions, or weapons to defend one's self. Theatricality and deception are powerful agents. It is expected of you to engage however many you may come across. To excel in decisive battle and move on. You must be ready to do ALL that is necessary to defeat your enemy.
We hope to see you all display successful qualities. Determination, Diligence, Self-discipline, Enthusiasm, Perseverance,
With determination you focus your energy and efforts on a task and stick with it until it is finished. Determination is using your will power to do something when it isn't easy. You are determined to meet your goals even when it is hard or you are being tested. With determination we make our dreams come true.
Diligence is working hard and doing your absolute best. You take special care by doing things step by step. Diligence helps you to get things done with excellence and enthusiasm. Diligence leads to success.
Enthusiasm is being cheerful, happy, and full of spirit. It is doing something wholeheartedly and eagerly. When you are enthusiastic, you have a positive attitude.
Self-discipline means self-control. It is doing what you really want to do, rather than being tossed around by your feelings like a leaf in the wind. You act instead of react. You get things done in an orderly and efficient way. With self-discipline, you take charge of yourself.
Perseverance is being steadfast and persistent. You commit to your goals and overcome obstacles, no matter how long it takes. When you persevere, you don't give up...you keep going. Like a strong ship in a storm, you don't become battered or blown off course.
I understand that you are tiered, aching, and worn out; This is when the enemy will take advantage of you. The measure of a man is not in how he gets knocked to the mat, it is in how he gets up. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies' collapse, they may recover. A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions wish all of you the best of luck. Strive, to survive the night. "

Zetsumie- " We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training. Tonight will be the toughest training session you've ever had. We will not be gentle, nor will we relent. Tonight your masters will act as the enemy. We WILL take advantage of you and we will brutally abuse your mistakes. Anyone who believes that they truly will fail, will. If you are at someone's mercy; beg...Make them laugh whilst you're stabbing them in the back. If you can't win a fair fight, then cheat. You will all start out without weapons. Either everything is a weapon, or nothing truly is. Possessions can be replaced, a life cannot. And as for fear...Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is little ones. Fear is the true opiate of combat. I have no doubt that you're all going to do well. . . Also; Don't block with your face."

So begins...

Zetsumie Aku's Story

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Quietly a large man rode through a dense forests that surrounded the small port town. The soft sounds of the usual day's hustle and bustle were calming down as the last few hours of precious day light were fading away. The air was little with a faint assortment of delicate sounds that floated upon the ocean's breeze. Treetops swayed in the wind causing a soft rustle as twigs and leaves brushed up against one another. The thumbing stamp of his fine steed's heavy hoof as it came down against the soft soil of the forest floor. Every so often crisp snaps and pops came from the twigs and leave being crushed under the thick hooves. Bird song chiming in a tender melody as the avian creatures began to settle for the coming evening. The rolling crash of waves against the shore line soon met the man's ears joining the forest's song. The splashing of heavy waves was but a whisper in the distance. Voices soon came in to ear shot, giggling of young-lings, chatter of the bartering crowd, shots from the merchants. All theses sounds seemed to come in to play about the golden-bronze man, took in this delectable array of audible music being played by the teeming life that surrounded him. He opened those stone-like amber eyes looking up as the sounds of Fabric rustling on clothes' lines met his ears. He half heartedly took in the site of the town more so relishing in the colors of sound about him. In truth this raven haired giant was feeling apprehensions rising in his chest.
It had been but only two weeks since his previous apprentice was taken from him by a sharpened knife. Having lived a short life It seemed to be a terrible waste. The boy had been far too head strong, and much too full of himself. The heated temper, and outlandish behaviors didn’t help much either. Zetsumie sighed heavily shaking his head to dispel the sad thoughts. He shifted those somber eyes downwards on to the sandy grass decorated ground, as he rode further in to the town. The forests edge was now becoming more visible as he left it's snare. The sun’s beams splayed out from the distant horizon. The scent of fresh sea air wafted over him accompanied by cool ocean breezes, brushed over the lush vegetation that surrounded the Town. The towering statue of a male paused here as he fingered the rough leather reigns with in his large calloused hands and dismounted leaving the horse to wander on it's own. He settled those eyes on to the unkempt display ahead of him, eying the dainty creatures that was pushed out on to the stage for display. He simply glanced over setting that piercing gaze of amber upon the unkempt boys and girls. men and women, eying them over, taking in every last detail from head to toe. Their horrid state along with the ragged clothing was nothing short of vile. He turned his gaze way and he started to scan the surrounding area. Zetsumie started towards the stage and easily made his way through the small crowd that had gathered. His sculpted muscles were hidden beneath a black over coat. Heavy, and coarse Hakammas went down to his ankles and he stood on large geta making his towering height even more so imposing upon the smaller folks about him. The markings on his face, along with his height seemed to intimidate anyone who so much as looked his way.

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Zetsumie watched as a grime encrusted child was dragged up on to the stage. They were small, frail, and sickly looking with oddly colored hair. The person was youthful and yet their hair, although filthy was noticeably white-Like an elder. Perhaps this slender figure was a female- The hair was awfully long and they possessed very delicate facial features. Those large eyes and queer coloring only garnered hatred from the crowd. This slave was a freak. The nail that sticks up get's hammered down. It was common to pick on that which was most different. Although the thought of youthful girls left Zetsumie uneasy he rather started to become keen on the idea of raising up a young female. Perhaps she would be cooler headed than his last student and be willing to obey orders and listen well. Zetsumie started forward up to the wooden stall where the auctioneer was trying to sell the pale youth off. The audience seemed to want nothing to do with this accident of nature.

Zetsumie dropped a bag on to the wooden table, currency spilling out of its mouth. Without saying a word it seemed he had won over the tiny 'female' who was currently on stage. Not a person seemed to want to try and out bid him. The smaller was soon pulled off the stage and his rope binds were offered to Zetsumie. Sill silent as the grave he took the coarse rope in hand and started to walk away from the auction dragging the smaller with him if he had to. He headed through town not so much as glancing at his newly purchased child. It wasn't too long before the tiny creature was being pulled towards a building. The towering statue of a man paused here as he fingered the rough rope with in his hands. He simply glanced back over his shoulder setting that piercing gaze of amber upon the unkempt boy eyeing him over in his horrid state along with the ragged clothing. He turned his gaze away and he started to scan the surrounding area. Not a word was spoken from the man since the purchase.

Upon entering through the nari curtain the frivolous scent of flowers filled the hair. He walked over to the shop keeper who was incidentally an elderly woman with a pleasant smile. "Clean this sow's ear up good." He ordered in a gruff deep tone of voice, as he placed some currency upon the counter. He then glanced back at the boy pausing to just gaze down upon him for a few moments. Zetsumie turned upon the young-ling completely and setting his other hand on the rope pulling to boy incredibly close. The dark male came closer, bending a deal, nearly eye to eye with the younger. "You will behave and let them work," Came the next order. It was curt and simple. He pulled the rope at the tie making the coarse, harsh, bit of binding in, in an almost unbearable manner before he continued. "If you do not behave. . . " he simply trailed off before suddenly the binds broke releasing his the child's hands completely. "There are worse things than rope." he assured. Zetsumie had a concealed knife in his hands just barely glinted as he slipped it back in to the pocket that lined his inner sleeve. He straightened and set a hand on the boy's shoulder turning him around gently to face three other women. These were much younger and seemed to be waiting for him. Zetsumie gently ushered the young boy forward-a silent signal that now it was time for him to go with them. "Be sure to clean him up real good: He needs to be pretty." Zetsumie called to the bath house attendants, as the girls attempted to lead the boy in to the back and away from Zetsumie.

Zetsumie watched the boy go a bit nervously yet very willing to obey after a small incident like that. The girls took him in to the back where they had steaming baths' drawn. The lead the younger male over to a washing station and offered him a stool to take a seat on . His clothing being taken off and set aside. A bucket of scrub brushes and all sorts of instruments were soon brought over. He was going to be primped like a prized pet it seemed. A warm bucket of water would soon be dumped over his head to help loosen up the grime. One girl getting to work on his Hair, another on his hands cloning an, cutting, and filing his nails, the other on his feet working out any grime from beneath his toe nails. Any calluses would soon be sanded away his nails would be buffed to perfection, his body scrubbed, His wounds dresses and his hair cleaned. The girls were good at what they did and they were as gentle as they could be trying to make light of the situation. Mean while Zetsumie had left and headed back in to the market place in search of better attire for the boy. The first little area he came across was selling beautiful kimonos and Yukatas. Zetsumie selected a shinny one made some soft silk. It was a soft white in color with cornflower blue, and lavender flower and butterfly patterns speckling the edges the airy garment. It had a stunning fade effect. The center was the lightest and the edges faded in to violet. A soft blue obi and a hair sash to go along with it as well as some silk china shoes with cream colored tabi. This would surely be more than comfortable. After purchasing the garments he took them back to the shop and asked that they be put on the boy and his current clothing be burned. Hopefully he decided not to give them too much trouble. It wasn't too long before he was dried off and the girl brought in the soft silken set of clothes. The young ladies went about their work quietly as possible speaking only to inform one another over small details or to pass a tool or something. The gently treated what wounds they could and bandaged them nicely. They slipped on the tabi and shoes. It was oddly a near perfect fit- perhaps a smidge loose. The top came next and that was tied neatly before they stood him up and tied the obi in to a butterfly bow. His hair was combed out and tied back in to a nice ponytail with the blue sash. Rose Oil was soon rubbed in. It was relayed to the boy that the man who brought him had given the set of clothing to be dressed in. It was strange that there seemed to be no undergarments accompanying it. This seemed to have the girls all giggly. Once he was fully dressed in the soft clothing the girls seemed to do a once over as if to make sure everything was in proper order. The girls giggled ever so softly offering their opinions on how cute he looked before one of them offered to escort him back to the front. The elder male had went to retrieve his steed. He left the large black beast outside as he waited patiently for the boy to be returned to him.
Once Masao was escorted out Zetsumie simply shifted his attention on to the tiny creature. The tall man didn't seem to have a pleasant expression.
Zetsumie raised up his free hand all the way up to the smaller's face and ghosted the back of his knuckles over the his face, right above the eyebrow. He turned his hand and softly stroke the side of that cheek. The elder had a few scars that marred his own visage, and sevral hidden beneath his clothing lacing his body. Three visible ones on his face were the most noticeable. However they looked as if his own eye shouldn't still be around and yet it was. It looked to be in perfectly normal condition where as the scars for the past foretold an entirely different story. "This... will do." He stated simply and set his heavy hand upon the boy's shoulder. He suddenly plucked the smaller up and carted him back outside where Zetsumie seated Masao on the horse's back. The animal seemed calm and sweet with an nonchalant behavior about it. The animal must have been used to carrying heavier weights as it paid no mind what so ever to the young boy who was just seated upon it's back spreading Masao's legs over the saddle in a semi compromising position. "You'll stay there; least you get filthy once again. " He explained and took the horse's reigns in to his hand. He started towards the forest's edge once more getting away from any signs of civilization. "If you feel like you're going to fall don't be affright to grab on to the saddle or Kuro's mane... he's used to children pulling on him." Zetsumie explained. It should have been apparent that Zetsumie wanted him to look the way he did and that he wanted him to stay free of dirt. Rather than continuing to drag him along he actually placed the boy upon his own animal and walked himself. It was as if Zetsumie was treating him as something special, something to keep good care of.

For a while it seemed as though they traveled in silence. They had passed through the dappled lighting of the forest. The scent of the ocean soon whipping it's way back in to the air. The sound of crashing waves against the shore soon came from the distance. It was starting to get dark. They walked for a nice long while atop the cold sands of the beach. The sun setting in the far distance painted a beautiful picture across the sky. The soft sound of birds settling down for the evening could be hear around them. It was a rather tranquil feel. Mountains could be seen in the distance along the shore line. After a deal of travel it began to grow dark as the sun fully nestled it's way beyond the horizon. Large rocks had appeared near the forest edge. This is where Zetsumie stopped. He slipped the long verdant sash from his attire and mover towards the boy. He gently turned him about and tied the shad nicely blinding the child. "You are not to take this off." He explained before stepping away and soon the horse was moving again. "What is your name child?" He asked as the terrain shifted from the smooth sand on to something rougher.


Masao was certainly frightened of the man. He honestly didn't know what to think. He was just bought and dolled up- now he was lead in to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. He did his best to remain silent and behave well and prayed he would not be subjected forcefully in to being the recipient of carnal desires. He swallowed hard and replied in a raspy voice. "Masao..."

As Zetsumie lead the large animal he spoke, "My name is Zetsumie ( Death). Zetsumie Aku ( Evil ).You will refer to me as /Master/. You are expected to obey all the house rules. You are expected to obey what directions I give you, and you are expected to follow them closely. "You will not attempt to leave the compound under any circumstances. And I'm looking forward to working you /hard/." It would be several minutes before they'd slow down as the approached a large set of statues standing before an impressive stone maze. The entrance was in the form of a grave yard. Upon the large stone out front which appeared to be a grave marker. Zetsumie took a breath and read the words aloud as he moved taking up the reigns with in his right hand. "The young fox cried, looking to the sky, up on kurai mountain. If you dare to step inside, your entrance will be denied. It's here where the Fox bestows his wrath, on a dark and lonely path, on a dark and lonely night, a thousand spirits circling a burning light, a flower's in the hand that holds the chopsticks, beware there may be a few nasty tricks. I am but a messenger who brings this tragic tale, heed my words you who may try to steal my treasure, for I'll haunt you forever and ever. . . " And with that the sound of the horse's hooves met stone as Zetsumie lead them through it was only a few more minutes before he paused. They were through the stone maze and at the entrance of the Spirit Fox's compound. Zetsumie untied the blind fold and set it atop the saddle for the time being. They were at the large gates and the night watch over top sat up lighting a small fire. Soon the gates were opened for them and Zetsumie started in side. Someone was there to take his horse from him. A quiet and quick offered words of welcome home were given as Zetsumie handed off the reigns. He plucked the smaller off the horse and set him on his feet upon a small graveled path way. It was as if they were in a large complex. There were a few people about in the distance lining the walls with dim lanterns. Most of the lights in the buildings were out. "This is your new home." He explained gently. "Everyone here is now considered your family." He watched patiently letting the boy take in his surroundings and letting his words truly sink in.

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Zetsumie placed a gently hand atop the boy's head. "As my /apprentice/ I expect a lot from you." He offered in a soft tone of voice as he started to pet the pearly locks. What was that word he just said? Apprentice? Apprentice for what? just what was it this man did for profession? "Dry your eyes child. . . You will be kept safe within these walls." He explained gesturing to the massive stone that surrounded them. Zetsumie slid his hand down the boy's back and gently comforted the boy as he rubbed a hand over his shoulders and back. "Be brave; You are now my eldest apprentice. "He explained as he decided it was time to start moving once again. He gently pressed against the silken tunic. "The last child who held such an honor is no longer within our realms. . . I trust that you'll behave accordingly and you'll heed orders well. " He explained knowing full well that when orders were followed you survived. "You must be starving..." he said as he steered the smaller male towards their kitchens. "I'll get us something to eat and you may rest until the 'morrow. " It was strange how Zetsumie seemed to have become so much more talkative. "Then I shall bestow upon you the house rules. In public you will never be allowed to utter the words of 'shinobi' or 'ninja'." he explained stepping up on to the wooden deck just outside the building that would lead in to the kitchen.

"That is unless you fancy the idea of being burning alive, dragged to death by a horse, or worse; then be my guest... We do not speak of our profession freely." He explained as he stepped in to the dim lit kitchen. "Sit down." He gesture towards a seating area. In no time and got out what he needed to prepare a nice hot meal for the two of them even brewing some tea. "As for other apprentices..." he trailed. "I have none." he explained. " I'd say you are about two or three winters the youngest I've had. " Zetsumie explained gently as he poured some oil in to a large wok, the sound s of sizzling soon filling the evening air. "You shall meet with the elders soon: For tonight you shall be bedding with me... tomorrow and then on you will be placed in to your own room." He said avoiding using a name.

For now Masao remained rather silent and offered his attention intently being eased in to this vast amount of information.
It was good to finally be home. Zetsumie thought.

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Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Masao
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The young boy simply eased himself as it seemed people were going about everyday tasks. Masao turned those curious roseate colored eyes about watching a small ground of kids heading off towards the sleeping corridor fussing with an older teenager. Masao winced as he took notice of some older members talking in a hushed tone as they seemed to be observing or judging Zetsumie and Masao. The pale boy certainly was an oddity- being dressed as a young girl also had some suspicions raised. It was extremely unusual for Zetsumie to willingly offer to train or teach many of the girls in the compound let alone bring one home and so queerly colored too. Masao adverted his gaze feeling nervousness creep up inside him and he stared down at the his hands which were placed neatly in his lap sitting formally as he waited quietly. He knew what Shinobi were and he knew society saw them in a quite blunt manner, 'freaks'. Masao now new he'd be a freak among freaks. He didn't know if he would be accepted or ostracized. This realization only allowed his nervousness to grow exponentially.
Zetsumie finished the meager meal and placed a bowl before Masao and one across from him. Soon two tea cups were placed. It seemed that since Zetsumie had learned the boys name he eased in to a more comfortable state. He didn't quiet feel at rest among the more feminine girls around the compound. They made him uneasy. The thoughts of making a fool out of himself in front of them bothered him greatly and he avoided particular ones. The more boyish rough types however he didn't seem to mind. It was just something about girls that didn't settle right with the man. He had Masao pegged as a girl at first but now he was starting to like the idea of what seemed to be a very servile boy. And at such a young age the chances of training the lad would work well in his favor. "Eat up." He said. Sitting near the end of a table in the dining hall meant others could join them or sit further away if they didn't want to intrude.

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.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu
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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.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku
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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.”

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu
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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.

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu
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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.

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 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."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu
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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
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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
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#, as written by Seerow
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
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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
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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.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akimoto Tsugaru Character Portrait: Mashio Miyazaki Character Portrait: Zetsumie Aku Character Portrait: Sugahara Matsu
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#, as written by Wrenn
"That seems to be the best solution," Matsu agreed, gathering up some of his beard between his teeth to chew on fretfully -- an absent-minded habit he sunk into when worried. He wasn't afraid of getting muddied of course, nor was he particularly concerned about climbing the rope back up the other side, but the fat old scholar was worried about how the others would perceive him. He would have thought that in his old age that others' opinions of him wouldn't matter -- but he was so conscious of being unsuited for a mission such as this, that he couldn't shake the feeling that each of the others harbored those same doubts about him.

He looked up from the ravine to see Miyazaki climbing down from the far-side tree, having safely made the crossing. "Throw me the rope!" she called, so that she could anchor it to the tree for the others to scale the steep, loose mud wall. Matsu stepped back to give Zetsumie room. "It will be difficult to bring the work horse along," he acknowledged. "I hope Akimoto-sama finds another way across." It would be hard enough for Matsu to climb the rope himself, much less haul the pack animal behind!

Gingerly, Sugahara Matsu made his way down the side of the slope -- half sliding, half crawling. Nearly tumbling as his foot sucked deep into the muck, but he was able to wrench himself free without going sprawling at the bottom of the ditch. He made his way across the thin expanse to the other side, and grabbed the rope that Mashio Miyazaki had secured. He gave it a few experimental tugs before putting his full weight into climbing.

The muddy walls made the task difficult, but Matsu was surprised and pleased by his relatively smooth ascent. Sure, none of the other three companions were likely to be getting jealous of his skills in the near future, but he hadn't embarrassed himself either. With a groan and a helping hand from the kunoichi, the old genin hauled himself out over the lip of the ravine, rolling onto his back.

"Whoof!" he exhaled, before climbing to his feet and spending a few fruitless moments using handfuls of grass to wipe the mud off his arms, legs and belly.

"I half thought we were going to have to leave you behind, Matsu-sama," the girl joked, gracing him with a quick smile.

"Perhaps that would have been wiser," he laughed ruefully. He turned to watch the others.