Date: September 9, 2016
While guarding a caravan camped new Sukoppu Machi, a wanderer and a missing-nin encounter two mysterious kunoichi covertly searching for someone…
Sukoppu Machi, Land of Wind
The Kazekage found it necessary to expand outside the Land of the Wind for the rebuilding of Sunagakure after the Storm Brigade's flood assault. To the east, past the fortress, lay the Land of Fire, and the plentiful timbers of many sorts there. After a successful purchase, a small caravan of useful lumber had moved west towards Sunagakure, stopping here at the oasis on official business. Dromedaries hauled the weight across the desert, their saddles loaded up on the sides with the smaller parcels, several wagons hauling the heavier portions, pulled by stocky mules.
The caravan is at rest, with those having hauled it here at the oasis, filling their canteens. They appear to be a motley assortment of soldiers and merchants, along with one smaller figure, apparently a young teenager with some military bearing, the sure sign of a Nin. Hango stands with a white cloak fastened around his shoulders and over his flak vest, preferring this for the long journey under the sun, drinking a long draught of water greedily as the team he accompanies refuels here.
Reina has approached during their mission, and spoken with the team leader. Whatever she said must've convinced him to let her come along, for which he stated "diplomatic" reasons. She's going to accompany them back to Sunagakure, and the only thing that's clear about her is that she's a shinobi. She has the gear, the physique, though she's dressed awfully for traveling in the desert. Light wear, but ones that offer no protection against the stinging sands that may blow up at any moment.
She's gone about making friends for a few minutes, and eventually she comes across Hango. He seems well equipped for the desert weather, and she says as much as she sits on the edge of a wagon, surveying him. "I'm Reina," she says amiably. "You're Chuunin? Or Genin?" Her tone is polite and inquiring.
A woman all in black, a terrible color for the desert, is wandering north as the caravan is at rest. A stranger approaching a caravan in the middle of nowhere usually isn't a good sign, but her only companion appears to be a child based on their height. Bandits don't usually travel with children, and they don't generally travel in all black in the desert. She has a hood up over her head and her overly-warm coat covers all the rest of her, protecting her from the sun's rays even as it likes makes her feel like she's roasting.
The only reason she's identifiable as a woman is due to her build, identifiable even at a distance. Though, while one could assume her companion is a child based upon height, that fact is harder to establish without meeting face to face.
The hooded figure pauses at a reasonable distance, waiting to be noticed so that she can signal her desire to approach and go through any necessary customs in regard to such. She also glances towards her companion, and mutters, "Keep an eye out. He could be wearing any form."
Ughhhh the desert. This might be worse than being underground. Hakumei, also hooded and cloaked in black that she is tolerating much less readily than the older woman, shuffles her way across the sands until they spot a caravan and then she follows her companion towards it. "Aah… When you say 'any form', do you mean ANY or 'any'? Should I be questioning the camels?" Hey, the Shinobi World is full of weird jutsu and weirder ninja. It's a valid question. Even if that's almost definitely not what Reikoku meant.
"Also, don't we have other methods of contact instead of looking for him ourselves? Maybe we need more reliable messenger hawks…" Complaining and questioning aside, she waits patiently alongside her mentor until they find out if they're going to be welcomed, told to scram, or what.
Hango lowers his head from the tilt back of his head and rubs his right sleeve across his mouth, before he clicks his canteen shut and notches it on his belt, allowing it to hang there. Squinting as he turns to face Reina, he adjusts his glasses with a push up the bridge with his left index finger. "Genin Rankoro Hango, miss," he replies in an odd, almost musical fashion, his chin tilted ever so slightly upwards as his eyes tilt barely downwards. "Troubleshooter or something, eh? Are we expecting bandits?" he asks, with a very slight scuff of his Sensor Style as his eyelids flick down and up, before he seals it away, confirming her Chakra's potentiality as a fellow shinobi.
There are mild calls at the two approaching the oasis, and the more experienced soldiers place hands lazily on their blades, the greener ones tightening up and moving into protective positions near camels. Hango jerks his head towards the two out in the bright high noon sunlight of the badlands of Wind Country, turning to face them and pointing for Reina's benefit, his finger notably not quite aligned with them. This demonstrates his poor vision, even glasses not fully correcting it. "Looks like we have visitors."
"Rankoro…the clan who has those special seal techniques," Reina says. Her tone makes it more of a statement than a question. She regards Hango, weighing him with her eyes, before she gives a slight nod as if coming to a decision. When he uses his sensory abilities her chakra would give off a strange aura. It's warm, not in the emotional sense, but literally. As if the temperature has been greatly raised around her till its hotter than the desert air.
When the party tenses up at the newcomers, Reina leans against the wagon at her ease. "If they were troublemakers, they wouldn't approach so openly," she says. "They'd strike from behind or underneath." She throws her cloak back over her shoulders, freeing up her arms, before she approaches the shrouded forms. "Hello, friends," she says. "It seems you're an outsider like me. Have you come to stick with this party." She doesn't seem to share the wariness some of the Suna nin have.
The lower half of Reikoku's face is all that's visible within her hood, though the gleam of bright-blue in the light reflecting off the sand might indicate eye color. In response to Hakumei's question, she simply answers, "The form will be human. If he's here, he'll recognize us and signal us somehow. If he can't make direct contact right now, he'll find a way to arrange it for another time. This is just a check-up." Reikoku looks on as another woman approaches them, shifting her attention towards her instead.
"We only wish to rest for a short while. We'll be on our way shortly." she responds.
"…I see!" A human form. THAT narrows it down. Now she only has to keep an eye out for 'all humans'. She can not help but think that part of the reason why Reikoku brought her is simply to see if her skills at sensing and analyzing Chakra have improved at all. Being able to identify an ally no matter what they look like certainly sounds like the kind of thing she was hired for.
Hakumei bows respectfull as they're greeted and responds with, "What she said! Just looking to sit around with a friend or two for a little bit before we resume traveling! Is that okay?"
Hango drops his arms and lets his cloak hang around him, tilting his head forward so his white hood shadows his face, the sun glaring off the glass panes of his black-rimmed glasses. Inside the cloak, his wrists criss cross, and he places his fingers on rows of kunai along either front of his hips, each one featuring a chakra paper tag with a blue rune in kanji attached to the tip.
The soldiers relax and go about their business, as Hango watches them slowly. He notices the scan of chakra from Hakumei, and does not respond with his own, only standing there quietly with his body hidden beneath the cloak. "What village do you hail from?" he asks gently, softly, with a low, rising fear in his voice that is more like the rising murmur of a dog that has chosen to make a careful stand.
Reina looks from one of the newcomers to the next, smirking at their banter. "I'm sure you can rest here," she says. "It's not up to me, but the mission leader seems friendly and won't begrudge you a bit of rest…if you don't make any trouble." The mission leader is looking at them with a you'd-better-behave-or-else look. "I'm Reina," she re-introduces herself to the two. When Hango comes up, Reina moves aside a bit to include him. Now they're four. And even though the question isn't directed especially at her, she answers Hango anyway. "I hail from here, the Land of Wind. I became a wanderer." In some ways, the opposite of Hango.
Reikoku nods her head in acknowledgement, and says, "No intention of causing trouble." Then she procedes forward until she is within the protection of the camp. She does not indicate she is looking for anyone or anything, instead finding a place to sit down and then doing so. Now to just wait and watch. She really wishes she'd gotten a message or something saying where her comrade would be, so she doesn't have to wander the whole desert looking for him. But they're getting closer to Sunagakure, her ultimate destination for checking in with some people there. Whether she runs into a missing ally or not, she still has something to collect at the end of this trip.
She indicates for Hakumei to come sit next to her and not make a spectacle of herself, because if left unattended that is exactly what the younger kunoichi will do. She did not offer her name in response to Reina's introduction, though there was another nod of acknowledgement to show that she heard. When Hango asks, the dark-skinned woman glances towards him. "I consider myself 'non-denominational'. And I prefer not to give my name to strangers. No offense is intended, but we won't be staying long. There's no reasomn to say more about myself that necessary."
She does tilt her head a bit and squint at Hango. Hmm… Something about him… Does she know him from somewhere? She should really add memory enhancement to her list of self-improvement projects. She watches Hango intently, despite her expression being somewhere between expressionless and sleepy-looking. Is this who they're looking for? Is clumsily asking what Village they're from a signal? Highly doubtful, given just about anyone could ask that question for any number of reasons. Well, she supposes there's a good way to get a reaction that could clarify that.
"…Though, in the interest of friendliness, I suppose I could mention that we've spent a lot of time in the Land of Grass recently. Kusagakure in particular." If she can get a counter-signal of some kind for THAT, then she'll have more to go off of. Otherwise, this is probably just some kid trying to make conversation.
Hakumei is not some wild child! She'll sit quietly and keep an eye out, as she was told to! However, unlike Reikoku, she at least gives her name even if that isn't the smartest. "Call me Hakumei!" Though she can not answer what Village she comes from simply because she has no Village. And she gathers it wouldn't be wise to say even if she did. She blink-blinks a bit between Reina and glasses-kid and then to her companion when Reikoku decides to mention Kusagakure. Why would she mention that place?
It's TRUE, but, like… Isn't it supposed to be secret? Wouldn't only someone else who had been there with them recently realize the significance of—
OHHHHHHHHH. Okay, she gets it, she's got it, stop, she understands! Okay!
Hango turns about to follow the three back towards the small camp where the caravan team is waiting out the high desert sun, uncrossing his arms with a kunai in each palm, beneath his cloak. "No offense taken," he responds with a murmur, following beside her at her pace instead of playing games with manuevers that will just hasten an argument. And then, comes the trap he was attempting to spot. It was dangerous to reveal it, but also dangerous to let it lie hidden. And Hango's problem was always with needing to know things concretely.
"Were you taking advantage of the open borders policy? I could understand how one not claimed by a homeland would find such an offer lucrative," Hango says in a tone of forced neutrality, drawing out the conversation in an obvious manner. "It is an interesting policy the Daimyo has, to compensate for his lack of a solid military with access to a mercenary network." A mild criticism of the country, that seems odd unless you had some grudge, particularly his as a Nin that felt his Village to be beneath him.
Reina is listening with casual interest until Hakumei introduces herself. Then all her concentration is riveted on her. She's no longer paying any attention to Hango or Reikoku at all, as she looks closely at Hakumei. Something about that name had jogged her mind, and now she waits for Hakumei to say anything further. When she doesn't, Reina half turns away to look over the landscape. "That's a lovely name," she says quietly. Her look is thoughtful, and she lets out a long sigh, one full of memories.
After that she's just an observer, taking note of the people around her, but participating very little. But she does say to the two, "No need to be so formal. We don't bite." At least, she doesn't. She glances at Hango who seems to be criticizing mercenary nin. She gives a crooked smile. "If you think about Suna, is uniquely suited to have mercenaries. We started out as a land full of wanderers. Many settled down in Suna, but many more stuck to their nomadic lifestyle, and those shinobi among them work as traveling mercenaries. It's in our heritage."
The hooded woman leans on her elbow, propped up on one knee. The tirade about mercenaries… Her instincts are telling her this is the wrong person. While the criticism could be read as a comment about the very mercenary nature of some of her allies' activities, it seems like a bit of a stretch. Ordinarily she'd discard it if she didn't know the companion she is seeking sinks into his roles so fully that he appears to BE that role. Over-indulging in pretending to be another person… Would that person do something like that in this case?
…Why did she wind up working with yet another ninja actor? Wasn't this supposed to be a fresh start? At least there's no snakes this time.
"Hmm?" she replies disinterestedly, and makes another attempt. Something more specific, that would mean nothing to anyone who didn't know what EXACTLY she's referencing. "No, I was visiting a flower shop." She continues staring at Hango, and adds on, "Don't I look like the type that likes flowers?"
If this is her ninja actor in disguise, then she has given at least two or three different ways to indicate it without blowing cover, even within the confines of a given role. If she can't get confirmation this time, though, she'll have to give up even if the fool shapeshifter is right in front of her. He knows where to find her and how to contact her. He'll do so when he's able.
She is paying less attention to Reina, though perhaps she should be testing her as well. Infact, she looks in her direction and says, "What about you? Are you much of a florist?"
Blinku-blinku. The spikey-haired kunoichi notices the sudden attention Reina pays until looking away and comments on Hakumei's name. She is momentarily side-tracked from what appears to be an attempt to discern if the glasses kid is the person Reikoku believes she is speaking to or someone else. The situation is kind of funny if you think about it. Hakumei smiles a bit bashfully and says, "Thanks! 'Reina' is pretty too! I wonder if the desert has any exotic flowers…" She strokes her chin, blinking eyes so deep red they're almost black.
"Though I guess the Land of Wind isn't all desert. We saw some soggy wetlands on the way in, and there are some grassy steppes… Just there's also lots and lots of sand." The talk of mercenaries has her shifting off of casual conversation and onto meaningful subjects though as she glances around the camp, seeing if anyone or anything stands out. "Not everyone can afford Hidden Village fees, you know. Sometimes you only need some bodyguards, not a walking ultra-weapon. And a well-equipped and well-trained mercenary group can take on forces much larger than them successfully. Just as there's strength in unity, there's also strength in specialized diversification!"
She wags a finger in the air as she says all this, eyes closed, in lecture mode. She sounds like she's repeating something she heard, however, rather than her own words.
She leans back on her hands and says, "Or that's what I'm told anyway." Oh, so she WAS just repeating it.
Hango inclines his head downwards at the mild chastisement from Reina, before he picks up on Reikoku's coded spotwords towards someone other than him. He's not an undercover operative at this level of his training, and although it occurs to him she might be a potential spy, he is forced to disregard any such notion of direct adversial questioning. For all he knows, her contact is approved by the Kazekage, so that means he is simply needed to watch and be aware of the potential bauble he has accidentally unearthed.
"I don't know much about flowers, I am a man of letters, not arrangements," he says in a calm tone, releasing the tension in his voice as he quietly sinks to the ground. It is slightly tense, his sitting motion, since he is carefully sliding his kunai back into their sheathes, before he balances in a cross-legged stance, left in front of right indicating left handed dominance, the other patterns he had been demonstrating earlier.
"Asymmetric warfare is a dangerous and difficult form of battle to toy with, and in our era, often decides the fates of many, threshed like wheat from a mere slip of the balance atop our shoulders."
Reina looks at Reikoku who seems to be asking the Random Question of the Day. These questions are getting far too specific, and less pleasantly general by the second. "No," she says, and adds, "Nor are any of my friends florists." In other words, she's not the one they're searching for, and she has no idea who else it might be. It seems Reina can read between the lines, even if it took her several minutes to finally do so. She glances over her shoulder at the gathered Suna nin. Did these two questers come here by coincidence, or to meet someone?
She pulls her unbound hair back into a ponytail. "Speaking as a mercenary, I must admit most mercenaries are inferior to shinobi in terms of skill. The hidden villages have a better training regimen and strong martial spirit. It leads to outstanding results. But even if shinobi are more powerful, their services are temporary. Short term. Many mercenaries stay with the same contractor or village for years. Even an entire lifetime. There are important officials, vulnerable villages, that require constant protection. Most mercenaries have settled down in such regular jobs, they don't wander around like me."
That's as clear a sign she's on the wrong track as any. She understands, even without it being explicitly stated. She also understands that THEY understand. Which is less fortunate. If she'd just wasted her time without revealing anything that would be one thing. But she gets that they probably now realize she had a reason for coming here. And while the next thing she's going to do will probably just strengthen that perception, there's not much that can be done about it right now.
The hooded woman moves to stand up and says, "Oh, well. I suppose the desert doesn't have much use for such things." She rubs her lower back and stretches a bit, then says, "My apologies for exiting the conversation, but I have little to say on the matter of mercenaries, and we really should get going. I'd like to reach our destination before night fall, and we've still got a ways to go."
She then bows her head briefly and says, "Thank you for the company." And then she's walking away. Sticking around would just be a bother at this point.
"I… Guess so?" Hakumei doesn't know how to respond to that. It seems like glasses-kid has really strong feelings about mercenaries or something?? She points at Reina, at least, to indicate her agreement, and nods her head, but can't get too involved in discussing the merits of different types of hired goons because then her companion is getting up and announcing it's time to go. "Waah! Already!? But we just sat down like five minutes ago! Come on! Come onnnnnn!" What mortal could resist the siren call of 'come onnnnnn'!?
Hakumei at least pauses long enough to bow to the other two and says, "Thanks for letting us rest here! It was nice meeting you! Reina-san. Glasses-kid-san." Oh snap! She actually said it!
Then she turns and is on her way. With her running after her companion, it might be noticed that she has been bare foot the entire time. Bare foot in the scorching sands of the desert? Maybe she's tougher than she looked… Or at least her feet are.