Date: December 9, 2016
Anzu and Shuuren set out on their journey after a tearful farewell with Matsuri.
"Awake The Snake - Pt. 3"
Miati Forest - Clearing [Land of Fire]
It's the morning after the late-night meeting between Matsuri, Shuuren, and Anzu. They're up early, or at least Matsuri and Anzu are, because they have to attend to their usual chores. Though this morning, Anzu has been spared the preparations for breakfast and the other guests who will be getting up in an hour or so. Instead, she is free to pack. Because her decision has been made, and while Matsuri doesn't want to rush Shuuren and Anzu out the door at the crack of dawn, it seems more prudent for them to be on their way as soon as possible.
Danger suddenly coming to Matsuri's little safe zone for the lost and abandoned had instilled into her that sense of urgency. And it has also impressed upon her the need to improve the defenses of the 'Inn ~The Mist~' beyond just 'being in a remote location'. Which is what she approached Shuuren about last night, when it was just the two of them.
She wanted to be taught the summoning technique as well. Not for the same contract and same animals as he and Anzu would be using if she agreed… She would seek out her own contract, on her own time. But the hand seals for the jutsu, she wished to know, so that she could make the inn a safer placer for those who call this place home.
It would also help to hopefully reduce any distraction Anzu might have in training, being worried about her family… Even if they'd remain in communication as Shuuren promised.
A small favor, though a valuable one. Matsuri doesn't know if Shuuren will agree to it or not, and the favor is contingent on Anzu agreeing to help Shuuren in turn.
With that agreement, however, the forest (still dark and misty given how early it is and the trees that block out the rising sun) remains the path ahead for master and disciple, teacher and student. A hot breakfast was served, warm baths provided, and now they stand outside the inn. Matsuri, despite all her many misgivings, all her concern for Anzu, is ready to say good bye… Hopefully just for now.
It's chilly on this autumn morning. Anzu is all bundled up in her kimono, with the few belongings she has that would actually be useful on a trip to learn ninjutsu and maybe help protect a daimyou. This means she is traveling pretty light. The answer she gave to Shuuren over breakfast was that she would go with him, and do her best to prove she could be a good student of the ninja arts. That she was grateful for all his offers of help, and would do everything she could to repay him.
And now, here they are, in the dark and foggy woods, out in front of the inn, preparing to go… Somewhere. She hugs her mother tearfully, despite having told herself she wouldn't make a big scene, burying her face in Matsuri's bosom for what may be the last time in a long while.
She sniffles a bit, half out of the sadness of separation and half because the cold weather after a hot bath is wreaking havoc on her sinuses. "S-so we'll be in touch, right? We can still talk and stuff, right?" she asks for the umpteenth time from Shuuren and Matsuri.
The duo who are about to depart is actually more of a trio. There is an enormous white snake traveling with them. He has a 'neck warmer' of sorts, but he is understandably sluggish in these early morning temperatures as he lies coiled nearby, watching the humans and tasting the air for any signs of trouble.
Shuuren would have easily enough agreed to teach Matsuri the summoning technique, but it would come with a quite serious warning that using it without having first signed a contract could have unforseen consequences. At the very least she should have someone formidable alongside her in case things go wrong. Still, given all that they're trusting each other with, teaching her the technique she's requested is an easy enough request.
With the coming of morning, the Daimyo stands outside the inn with its keeper, her daughter, and the mysterious white snake. Though a gentle smile rests on his face as he waits patiently while the two embrace each other and say their goodbyes, every so often his eyes would move to that snake. What happened to the three Kumogakure shinobi that vanished makes a lot more sense given his presence. That could mark the snake himself as an enemy in a way, but Shuuren settles for the idea to simply keep an eye on him for signs of treachery since he and Anzu are most likely to be inseparable on this trip.
"Of course. I'll make sure you can send messages back and forth regularly," he assures Anzu with a smile, offering a nod as well. "When you're ready, we'll need to move to a pretty large clearing to catch our ride to where we're going."
Matsuri strokes Anzu's head and says soothingly, "That's what the Daimyou of the Land of Tea has promised." Shuuren confirms it moments later. She's trying to put a happy face on this. To not let on how difficult it is for her as well. By acting like this is just a short trip, and something to be excited about, it may be easier for Anzu. Matsuri looks to the large snake that has been living with them for the past few years. It has tenaciously guarded Anzu, wouldn't be separated from her when Matsuri initially found the girl half-dead and as unresponsive as a marionette with its strings cut lying in the woods.
Matsuri is certain that if anyone aside from Shuuren is going to keep Anzu safe, it will be this snake. Snakes aren't ordinarily what one imagines when one thinks of a loyal animal companion, but whatever its reasons and origins, the serpent that Anzu calls 'Astarot' can be considered loyal.
She even smiles at it and says out loud, "Keep an eye on Anzu-chan, okay?" She knows Astarot will. But it's all part of making it seem safer and less full of worry for the young kunoichi.
She bows to Shuuren and says, "Thank you for all your assistance. Please take care of yourselves." Then, as she waves a hand and smiles cheerfully, calling out, "Have a nice trip!" she can feel herself starting to break down.
Anzu shakes her head, steeling herself, and tries to put on an adult face. Not that she knows what it's like to be an adult right now. She does think when Matsuri speaks to her reptile companion to gesture in his direction and say to Shuuren, "Ah! Shuuren-dono! Or, I guess I should call you Shuuren-sensei now… Shuuren-sensei! This is Asutaroto. He's been protecting me for at least as long as Okaa-san. Maybe even longer if he was with me… Um… Before." She's still not sure what to think about the news of her past.
But she knows that between Shuuren and Astarot, she should be safe for now. She's more worried about her mother and her 'sisters'. She isn't dumb, and realizes that the people looking for her might cause trouble here after she's gone.
But her mother's private assurances that she would be working to make the inn safer so she wouldn't have to worry are promises she wants to believe. So she focuses on the matter at hand instead. Which is a huge snake.
She starts to walk away, turning and waving over her shoulder and trying to force a smile as her mother waves good bye to them. "Bye, mother! I love you! I'll write to you every day!" She keeps waving for as long as she can before she has to take her eyes off the inn and wipe the tears from them.
Then she tries to laugh a bit as she asks, "Nani? You need an open area? Are you going to summon flying snakes or something? Haha!" Then she pauses, seeming concerned, and asks, "Wait, are there actually flying snakes? Like maybe they inflate themselves and float on the wind or something? Or snakes with wings?"
Astarot has silently uncoiled himself and begun slither along beside and slightly behind them, keeping an eye on both Anzu and Shuuren at the same time. There isn't much in the way of expression to judge what his feelings about the Daimyou are, but it is probably safe to assume he will prioritize Anzu's safety over Shuuren's if it came down to it.
Looking over to Astarot as they are introduced, Shuuren nods in greeting to the serpent and actually speaks in serpent tongue to greet him. ~A pleasure to meet you.~ He then looks back to Anzu and chuckles a bit. "You can call me whichever is most comfortable for you. I truly don't mind."
He turns his attention back to Matsuri and smiles. "You be safe as well. If there is an emergency and you need us, let us know through the messenger snakes." He bows his head lightly to her. "We'll see you soon, Matsuri-san."
Turning on his heels then, he says, "Anzu-san, Astarot, let's move westward." He begins walking then, moving pretty quickly, though not so fast as to leave either of them behind. The Daimyo chuckles a bit at her question, saying, "There are some with tricks up their sleeves pretty close to flying, but that's not how we'll be traveling today."
As Shuuren scans around for the presence of any others aside from himself, Anzu, and the large snake accompanying them, he will likely detect there is someone coming. And rather fast, though perhaps not so much by ninja standards. They aren't making any attempt at stealth, and seem to be running at a frantic pace. Further, and this is the part that will cause this sensory impression to probably not alarm Shuuren, the Chakra matches Matsuri's.
She comes running up holding the lower part of her kimono in one hand so she doesn't trip, and calls out as she approaches. "ANZU-CHAN!" Is something wrong? No. She just… Couldn't say good bye that way. She practically tackles Anzu, but manages to slow enough to not be THAT extreme as she skids to a halt and throws her arms around her daughter.
"Take care of yourself, Anzu-chan! Be safe! Remember to brush your teeth after every meal, and to change your socks and underwear every day! Bathe thoroughly, and eat healthily! You're not old enough to drink yet, so don't even give any alcohol a single sip! Be cautious of strangers, and while you shouldn't be afraid to help those in need, you shouldn't accept all words at face value. There are bad people in the world that might try to take advantage of a kind soul like you." Tears start to stream from her eyes as she rubs her cheek against Anzu's head, reciting all the motherly advice she can think of. "And… And pace yourself in your training. If it starts to hurt then STOP and rest. There's no point in pushing yourself to the point of injury and then losing your progress during recovery. Dress warmly in cold weather, and keep hydrated in warm weather! If you have to leave your beverage unattended at a party, get a new one. You never know what someone might do to it while you're not there! And… And…" She sobs a bit but tries to regain control of herself, pulling back and smiling down at Anzu even as she reaches a sleeve up to wipe her eyes.
"And… Be good, okay? I love you."
Astarot just flicks its tongue out and says nothing in response to Shuuren. Anzu listens intently to Shuuren's explanation, though she blinks and turns towards Shuuren when he sends out his pulse of Chakra. She tilts her head curiously. "What was that just now? It felt like you did something with Chakra." She frowns and closes her eyes, trying to concentrate. And then she does the same thing Shuuren just did.
Did Anzu learn how to actively search for Chakra just from seeing and feeling Shuuren do it? Her eyes open quickly enough though as she turns in response to both the feel of her mother's presence and the sound of Matsuri's voice calling to her. "Okaa-san?" she asks initially, wondering if something is wrong. But then Matsuri glomps her and snares her in a tight, warm embrace. The snake girl's confusion and surprise soon melts away, her mask of cheerfulness dissolving as she hugs back and begins crying as well. It seems they really couldn't part on such fake terms after all.
Anzu rests her cheek on her mom's shoulder and nods her head to each instructions she's given. "Mm! Mm, I will! Hai. I'll make sure to d-do all of those things…!" She sniffles and rubs her eyes with one arm when Matsuri finally pulls back a bit.
She looks into the older woman's eyes, and manages to smile back. "I love you too, mother. I promise I'll be on my best behavior." Then she looks towards Shuuren and says, "Sorry, Shuuren-sensei. I know you wanted to get going, but it looks like we weren't done saying our good byes after all."
Shuuren blinks a couple times as he feels that increasingly familiar presence approaching and wonders what might be causing her to barrel this way so quickly. He holds off from doing whatever he was about to do and looks over just in time to see Matsuri practically tackle Anzu. He quirks an eyebrow slightly then smiles as he realizes what's going on.
He clasps his hands behind his back and waits patiently as Matsuri goes into her motherly spiel of advice for Anzu while she's gone. Some parts he finds amusing just a bit, like the leaving a drink at a party bit. They're definitely unlikely to take part in a party in Ryuichi Cave, but then again the Elder may assign a mission for her to prove herself before he'll let Shuuren present her the contract.
"There is nothing to apologize for," he assures Anzu with a smile. "I'm happy you have that kind of connection and concern on your side. There are plenty in the world that wish they could have that."
Eventually Matsuri regains her composure and takes a deep breath to steady herself. "I know you wanted to keep where you were going and all that a secret. If I'm interfering, I apologize. I just… Needed to see her off properly. I'll head back to the inn." She looks to the snake that has been Anzu's constant companion for these years since the pale girl has been part of the pale inn matron's family. "You look after her too, okay?" she says, even if she isn't sure whether the snake truly understands human speech.
Unless she is told she can stay, she turns and begins making her way back after giving Anzu a kiss on the forehead.
Anzu looks at Shuuren oddly when he remarks on how there are many in the world who wish they had what she has. She resolves to find out more about Shuuren, if she's able, and to do what she can to provide concern for his well being and a connection if he desires it. It's not as though she needs to take special effort to do so. She cares about others in the first place. But if he needs someone, and has no one, then she wants to fix that. Even if she didn't owe him for all he has done, she might have felt that urge.
But now, as her mother departs, Anzu focuses on Matsuri, hands held close to her chest, right over her heart, as she watches the older woman become more distant. She can't keep watching though. So she turns around and faces away. They said their goodbyes. The right way this time. She doesn't really need to be in tears again.
For his part, Astarot did not indicate understanding, let alone agreement, when spoken to by Matsuri. But it's safe to assume he isn't going to suddenly stop protecting her when he's been dedicated to such all the years.
Anzu takes in a shuddering breath and let it out, steam pouring from her mouth in the cold morning air. "Okay. I'm ready."
"Think nothing of it. Be well, Matsuri-san," Shuuren says with a smile, nodding to her then glancing to Anzu as he notes that look… Once Matsuri has left and he is certain through his chakra senses no one he wouldn't want seeing him use this jutsu is around or otherwise watching by some means, Shuuren taked a few more steps into the clearing and moves his hands through a few seals. He then bends to slam a palm on the ground, calling out, "Kuchiyose no jutsu!" From the place he slams his hand, a circular seal pattern appears on the ground then emits a cloud of light-colored smoke that covers most of the clearing.
As the smoke clears, what is revealed from it before Shuuren is an enormous white snake that makes Astarot look like a hatchling. Its eyes are marked by purple outlines, this serpent seeming to exude regality much like its apparent shinobi partner. It looks down at Anzu and Astarot, slipping its tongue out to taste the air briefly and try to detect things about them before it turns its attention to Shuuren.
"… Shuuren-san… I trust this is the potential apprentice we spoke of?" it asks, its voice having a raspy sound like one might expect of a snake, though much deeper than that of normal human-tongue-speaking Hebisuuhai snakes.
"Yes," Shuuren replies to the giant serpent with a nod. He then looks over to Anzu and Astarot, gesturing toward him with a hand. "Anzu, Astarot, this is Ryutaro, a prince of the Snake Clan of Ryuichi Cave. He is my summon partner and will be the one escorting us to petition that you be allowed a contract with the clan."
Anzu is surprised by the sudden explosion, of course. All the smoke and so forth isn't what she expected at all! The enormous snake, however is… Not exactly surprising. Shuuren had already mentioned she would be learning to summon snakes after all. It only makes sense that snakes would be the ones she would be speaking to about that. And she is fairly accustomed to snakes by this point, even if this one is much bigger even than the huge python-like one that is Anzu's constant companion.
She smiles and bows her head to Ryutaro. "Nice to meet you, Ryutaro-dono! I hope that we will be good friends! Thank you for giving us the chance to prove ourselves to you! This is Asutaroto." She gestures towards the white snake coiled nearby, trying to conserve warmth in this misty cold morning. "He's a snake too," she explains, as though it wasn't obvious. "So, I'm sure you will have much to talk about!"
Ryutaro nods to Anzu then looks down at the smaller but older snake curiously. "A pleasure to meet you both," he says before he looks back to Shuuren. "Quite an interesting pair you've brought us, Shuuren-san… I suppose it's time we find out what your chosen apprentice is made of. Come along." He nods then, though he doesn't lower his head. The regal serpent probably only bows his head in social situations to the Elder himself. Perhaps they're traveling much the same way that Ryutaro arrived?
The answer to that question is answered quickly enough as Shuuren steps over and places a hand on Anzu's shoulder and Astarot's back. Suddenly smoke fills the area again, but, rather than something arriving, it feels as if the world around them has moved somehow. When the smoke clears, they have arrived in Ryuichi Cave and stand in a giant cavern before the throne of a snake that's even larger than Ryutaro but appears to much older.
For once Ryutaro and even Shuuren bow to someone, offering respect to this snake. "Elder, I've brought the one we spoke of," the Daimyo says before he rises back to a fully standing position. "I feel you or another here may know more about her than I had ancitipated. Her body seems to have undergone similar changes to what mine went through when you bit me to complete my training."