Date: November 26, 2013
Using his new armor and his normal skillet, Yuuto infiltrates one of the merchant guard outposts to gather information for Kuoroke.
"Follow the Money - Testing the Sands"
Land of Wind - Fertile Delta
The encampments constructed by the Land of Wind shinobi are simple, but solid enough to instill a certain sense of security. Most of them have been built from resources available nearby and what the shinobi on the first watch could bring to bear. In this case, near the border of the village, that's a circular war made of clay from the nearby river, baked solid by a nin capable of using Fire Manipulation. Inside this wall, there's a small area separate for travelling merchants' horses, on with a small wall around it for travellers' tents, if they have them, and a central area where carts and goods are kept. A few ninja patrol the top of the clay wall, watching the area around for any of the threats that have been plaguing the desert lately.
Reconnaissance is perhaps not the way Yuuto first envisioned using this new armor, but it's undoubtably a good test that is fairly benign since the chances of intel being leaked that Sunagakure doesn't want leaked is quite slim. Adorned in his new, extremely concealing outfit, the former shinobi moves along the shadows and other sides of dunes around the structure near the Land of Rice Paddies. While he is actually an ally to the men working here, keeping them from realizing his presence is also part of this mission since no one is to know who he is. Thus, he remains hidden for now, inspecting from afar as to how he will infiltrate.
A trio patrol the wall, circling it. Above them, flying in circles in the opposite direction and occasionally calling down, a falcon circle just outside the wall. It's a clever setup: the three can see each other across the walled area, and the bird, staying above them, covers their backs, too. They keep a close eye on the area outside their encampment, but with Yuuto being far away, they can't spot him. The gates to the compound, made of criss-crossed dried grass covered in yet more clay on simple hinges, are closed for now: the travellers from the previous encampment will most likely only start seeping in towards the evening, whereas those who spent the night here left in the morning.
After surveying for a bit, Yuuto would come up with his plan, reaching to his back for his special-made scroll and brush. He opens the scroll and quickly draws the brush, dipping it in ink to draw a small colony of ants. Making a hand seal, he gives the ants physical form, which causes them to rise off the scroll page and begin making their way through the grass to attempt to enter basically unnoticed to survey the current situation.
The ants quietly make their way to the gate and sneak under it. If they are noticed by the defending guards, they are paid no attention and for a few minutes have the run of the place, finding a small barracks attached to the wall, where the change of guard, five people, are sleeping. A secondary room has a pair of small offices, most likely shared by those assigned the camp. The ants also find that there's a fourth guard, not visible from the inside, posted on top of these barracks. He keeps an eye on the guards and the gate. Apart from that, the entire place seems to be deserted.
Though Yuuto gets a good idea of what's going on at the camp and its situation, the idea here is to get the general feeling of the opinion of the merchants that stay here at night. The ants would find spots to settle along the camp and wait while Yuuto himself would move back into the treeline to assume a perch. Within this space, he would simply wait for a time closer to nightfall when the merchants would begin making their way to this place.
Of all places Yuuto could choose, this is a good one: the weather is not as hot as deeper in the desert, and the grass is softer and less annoying than sand would be. He's there for a few hours at least, out of sight of the bird and the guards both. He notices that to kill their boredom, they'll occasionally start tossing a ball between the four of them, or engage in some banter. The bird can't stay on wing indefinitely, either, so that every now and then it pauses to perch on a guard's shoulder as they walk circles. When the sky begins to turn from blue to purple, the first caravan arrives: it's small, with only two carts, a guard sitting atop the goods tied to each one and two more people sitting on the reins. The gate slowly creaks open, and they roll into the compound. One of the guards, having woken up, walks up to them to begin processing their paperwork and checking their goods.
While the information gathered thus far isn't anything particularly useful, it's at least nothing volatile. The guards seem to be attentive and doing their jobs, despite their fairly harmless pastime. When the caravans finally start to roll in, the ants would once again become active. Though doing nothing to really catch attention, they would roam slightly with the activity of the caravans and such to keep an eye on them.
These particular travellers arrived early because they knew that for them, the bureaucracy would be thorough, and the search detailed - perhaps more so than strictly necessary. Understandably, they're not particularly happy, but they do grudgingly accept the resting place. They set up camp and begin waiting for the day. One by one, the their competition filters in, some quickly, some slowly. The first waves, mostly, are people who have accepted the sheer convenience of Sunagakure's 'expedient processing' service, although a few particularly fast people who like to keep their secrets secret are mixed in there. Most of these people don't complain: they are allowed in with but a flash of a card and a quick glance through their goods, and take place in the free area of safety while their competition fills out forms. Suna gets its information by hook or by crook. That other group begins arriving when darkness has already started to cloak the area, muttering about delays and processing much like the first caravan whose arrival Yuuto witnessed. When the sky truly becomes black, a third wave arrives: those who are processed quickly and have skipped a day's travel. They are usually tired, and quiet for it, but as they look at the others in the camp and wipe the dust off their faces, there's a definite wolfish gleam of victory in their eyes. It is their arrival that causes some unrest as these highly competitive people are prone to mocking those who don't travel at such an exhausting pace.
As more and more merchants filter into the place, Yuuto figures now is the best time to slip in amongst them. While they pour in, more ants would trail in alongside them and begin to survey the goings on. Meanwhile, the disguised former shinobi would also finally move to blend in amongst the arriving third wave of hurried caravans. Rather than make a show, he would simply step along amongst the workers dispersing through the area, listening intently as they speak to gather as much information as possible.
The detailed searches seem to have some purpose - and the ostenatious disguise its effect. As soon as he appears in the mix, the guards -now, as there are more people, two of them- grow suspicious and begin asking the caravan leaders which one he's with, before approaching the young man: "I'm sorry, sir… could we have your documents, please?"
"I don't have any. I'm just passing through," the disguised man says with a shake of his head. He then pulls a map scroll from his side, unraveling it to show to the man. "I'm trying to figure out how to get to this place from here. I heard some guys were hiring guards where they were trying to restore an old temple. Figured I'd make some extra cash." He would keep this sort of conversation going for a bit, even going to a few different people to ask if they know anything about it while listening in to get the information requested by Kuoroke.
"Ahhh I see." The guard answers. He asks a few more questions - such as why he doesn't have any paper about that from the previous post, where he's travelling from, what his name is, and so on, before leaving the poor madnman alone. People seem helpless to tell him anything about entirely fictitious temple, although a few do share some similar rumours they've picked up along their travels, one going so far as to try to prove to him he's in the wrong country altogether. Apart from that, most are quite eager to talk and mingle, because he's a face they haven't been looking at for an entire day and yet not competition, and that's a treat halfway between destinations for the more social ones. Yuuto finds that in general, attitudes have become mildly positive as new attacks since the appearance of these camps have remained limited in number, although the still-existing bureaucratic system has been polarising for opinions: there are those who really don't mind forking over a lot of private information if Sunagakure needs it for their 'international responsibilities', and there are a somewhat smaller group who still fondly remember the time they didn't have to jump through hoops… although apparently, they're not grouchy enough about it to leave the trading routes. Occasionally, he hears complaints about the encampments not being large or comfortable enough, but those who bring this up are often reminded that the alternative used to be sleeping under the open sky. A few merchants grouch about the taxes, but then, people always grouch about the taxes.