Gentle Mist - The Earth-Child


Fuyu (emitter and as herself), Taji, Nobu, Hinotori

Date: February 15, 2011


The journey across the water to a mysterious island results in more than a few surprising revelations.

"Gentle Mist - The Earth-Child"

Uncharted Island

Not much time has passed since the group set out towards the island. Running on water is not the same as running on land. But running on the ocean is another matter altogether — especially on choppy waters, or those near the shore. This is because water MOVES when you walk on it. It is not solid and does not act the same way that the ground does, and thus when walking on water one uses different leg muscles than one normally would. This can result in soreness in the legs if done for too long without practice.
However, oddly enough, once when gets further away from shore, if the weather is clear then the waves are also fewer and it becomes easier to travel. Taking one's time and walking out on the ocean can be quite pleasant and does not tire one out nearly as fast as running close to shore. But Team 5 is not taking their time. They are not sprinting, but they ARE moving at 'typical' ninja speeds. It is a steady run that relies heavily on the high stamina of a ninja to eat up the miles like they're nothing, without losing any fighting power due to exhaustion.
Talking along the way is possible, but Fuyu does not start any conversations. Instead she is thinking ahead, trying to figure out what the cause of all this might be, and watching carefully for signs that any person might be on the island making all the Chakra she can see floating around in the air.
Or something that is not a person at all.
They are closing in on the island now, it is evident that it really does have a volcano on it, but the lava has long-since cooled, by the looks of it. This is good. A recent volcanic eruption would mean the area around the island is still very, very dangerous for all manner of reasons.

As the group approaches the island Taji slowly gets more tense, as he peers over Fuyu-clone's shoulder. He's being carried after all. The clone would feel the tension as his grip tightend. He frowns as he studies the island, looking a tad pale, although that could be a bit from motion sickness as he's carried over the water, hard to tell at the moment. He peers forward, looking for signs of anything… familar or otherwise. "There's no mist…" He mutters, something the clone might hear, but it is unlikely the rest would hear as the group rushes towards the island.

Even being experienced with the water-walking technique, Nobu has had a few embarrassing near-accidents with the tougher areas of the water. Nothing serious, certainly, though the wet patches around the hems of his pant-legs show that he's made at least a few mistakes. Regardless, Nobu himself isn't any worse for the wear, and now that he's made it to the less treacherous waters, the job is much easier, almost like another training exercise. And now that he doesn't have to worry about walking so much, he's free to look ahead at the island and see if there's anything useful to be spotted. He has nothing like the Sharingan to help him out, of course, but he's always been confident in the sharpness of his eyes. Maybe he'll see something the others won't, he figures.

Running across the ocean is different and honestly Hinotori smiles despite himself due to the fact that he's thought of a few ways to have fun on the ocean besides running. But then he gets his mind back in gear, his sharingan taking in the chakra in the air near the island. As they near the island, Hinotori keeps close to Nobu and Taji who is being piggied back across the water. Nobus near accidents didn't go unnoticied but Nobu since then has been able to keep things under control which was good. Being able to adapt for any situation is a good thing. Seeing quite a few areas they could go ashore, Hinotori for now just keeps watching the group and scanning the island as they grow closer.

Fuyu's Shadow Clone does indeed hear Taji. She grunts in acknowledgment. "You think it might be the Hidden Mist Technique? Or someone attempting it?" she asks loud enough for all to hear, but still at conversational volume. "It could be. I don't see any Water Chakra… But maybe that's why it's failing." She goes silent after that. The original Fuyu nods to what her Clone says but does not say anything until they are closer to the shore.
"Alright, I don't know what might be around here… It looks like it's an uninhabited island, but if plants have started growing, then that probably means at LEAST birds have visited here as well. If one kind of animal finds the place habitable — even temporarily — then other kinds will eventually too. And humans can exist whether there's animals around or not, though typically they need to bring their own food with them if there is nothing to eat locally." Pause. "So if there's one or more ninja around trying to perform a jutsu, whether that be the Hidden Mist Technique or something else entirely, we do not know what their capabilities are, or their numbers, or even their locations. KEEP. ALERT. If you see ANYTHING potentially suspicious, notify us immediately. Hinotori, you're with Taji. Nobu, you're with me. She'll go with you two." Who is 'she'? The Fuyu-Clone, of course!
With that out of the way, Fuyu walks the rest of the way to the beach. Plenty of ash and silt… Fertile soil for plant growth. If birds have deposited seeds here, or pollen was carried on the wind, or any number of other explanations, the end result is the same. There is plenty of flora scattered around the beach area at least. Fuyu is still watching the Chakra, rather than the ground. She is almost EXPECTING an ambush.

Taji is relieved to be back on solid ground from the looks of it but just stepping on to the beach seems to have him a bit spooked. He's clearly trying to hide it but isn't doing a very good job as he looks around. He's pale, almost shaking. He looks up at the rugged island, the ash and all hasn't done much to hide the jagged peak of the place, what's left of it anyway. "I wasn't… I mean, no, I wasn't thinking Hidden Mist Technique." He says, seeming a bit ill at ease.
Taji glances to Hinotori, "Okay, which way should we start? If we're splitting up that is?" He says trying to compose himself, after all this is just a beach, nothing here that should shake his confidence, right? He pauses, touching the soil, the ash and beach, brushing it through his fingers as he glances around a bit, waiting for instructions on which way to go.

Although he listens to the mentions of the Hidden Mist Technique, Nobu doesn't see any particular reason to add anything to that conversation. Whatever the source of the chakra that Fuyu's seeing, he can't see it himself, so he just keeps doing his best, scanning the island itself for anything out of the ordinary, especially now that there's talk of enemy ninja being here. "Yes, Fuyu-sama," he acknowledges militarily when he's addressed, "Backing you up."
Stepping onto the shore is something of a relief for him, even if the water-walking itself wasn't much of a problem. It's just better to be on dry land, despite the circumstances. He dutifully follows after Fuyu, as ordered.

Listening, to the ideas, even he thought there wasn't nothing to add to the conversation at this time. Warily his sharingan picks up on the same thing though he isn't sure if he would get all the exacts. Stepping onto the beach, he looks about the ground, ash shifts under his feet. Looking to Taji and the Fuyu clone he nods his head to them both. "We will walk unilateral with Fuyu-sama and slowly break from her going east." he says his voice suddenly cold and calm. His voice seems to float on the winds as the Uchihas demenor changes. "Keep up, keep quiet and use hand signs when needed." he tells Taji and looks to the Fuyu clone. He would then begin walking keeping about five feet of distance from Fuyu and Nobu. "Ready when you are." he says to Fuyu-sama

Fuyu's Shadow Clone looks towards Taji and his shaking, paleness, and similar indications of distress. She already looked suspicious well before making landfall, however. Her expression would not have been visible to Taji with the Genin on her back, but it should be plenty evident now. "I noticed something odd on the way over he—What's wrong?" the Clone interrupts herself. The original Fuyu glances over sharply. "Are you sea sick? Did you see anything strange? Do you feel odd at all?" Fuyu asks quickly. She too looks suspicious but also cautious. If there's a threat out here… Is the Chakra in the air having a negative effect? Should they be running right now?
The Clone shakes her head and starts to move along with Hinotori. "It's probably nothing. Let's not make a big deal out of it." The original Fuyu stares openly at her Shadow Clone. Since they are the same person, they should think exactly the same. Her Clone wanting to abandon an issue that Fuyu is very interested in is not only bizarre… It's WRONG.
"I'm cancelling the jutsu now," she says calmly. The Shadow Clone turns quickly to look back at Fuyu, seeming angry. That's all the proof Fuyu needs. She brings up one hand in a Horse seal and prepares to blast her own Shadow Clone with the Great Fireball Technique. The Shadow Clone darts swiftly behind Hinotori and puts an arm around his throat. Fuyu tracks the Shadow Clone's movements and holds her Jutsu ready. It's a stand off between Fuyu and… Herself? Very… Very bizarre.
Taji's prior attempts to detect anyone in the vicinity revealed there IS someone else here. Within sensing range but not necessarily 'nearby'. Beyond that… Things are a bit too intense suddenly to really worry about it.

Taji is about to say something about why he's acting strange, shaking his head, but… the issue with the clone makes him double take. This was the clone he just walked across the water with. How could this be? He moves quickly to put Fuyu and Nobu between him and the clone. So very brave, but considering he's in some what of a bad shape perhaps understandable. "What's going on? Why… is your clone?" He trails off glancing at Hinotori and looking rather more than a bit confused. He glances back, to make sure the group isn't about to be attacked from behind while the 'clone' distracts them. After all, what a better way to ambush the group. His level of concern has jumped though, putting him on edge as he gets into a defensive stance.

Shortly before this surprising turn of events, Nobu notices something: a series of shallow depressions in the soil. "Fuyu-sama, footprints. On the riiiighhh…" He trails off with the vowel hanging in his throat for a second, shocked at the clone's apparent independence. Once it actually goes so far as to grab Hinotori, however, he quickly forgets his surprise and simply reacts, pulling back his sleeve and loading a senbon into his senbon launcher and aiming it at the clone. Unfortunately, firing at the clone with things as they are right now probably puts Hinotori at risk as well. For the moment, all he can do is hope a clear shot appears.

Fuyu waits… And waits… The Clone stays right where she is, and the two identical women stare at each other with the same identical Sharingan. Finally, Fuyu asks, "Do you have any idea why you're doing this?" The Clone remains silent. She doesn't even flinch. No indication of even hearing Fuyu. She just watches closely. Fuyu just goes, 'Tch.' Then she says to Taji, "I think we know now what the Chakra floating around in the area can do. It has infected my Shadow Clone. I'd just cancel the jutsu, but that might lead to this foreign Chakra infecting ME too."
The Clone-Fuyu suddenly starts lurching backwards with Hinotori in tow, unless he manages to escape somehow. She just kind of drags him as she produces a kunai from her hip pouch and adds it to the arm around Hinotori's throat to make sure he knows not to struggle. Fuyu tenses and turns to track the Shadow Clone, but does not move to follow. "So essentially… I can't cancel this jutsu or kill my own Clone without potentially turning traitor on you three myself. Damn it. If only we had someone that could purge foreign Chakra… A Hyuuga… A Medic… Even an Aburame!" During Fuyu's angry speaking, the Clone-Fuyu glances left and then forward. Right and then forward. Then she suddenly just throws turns Hinotori around, punches him HARD in the ribs to knock the wind out of him, and in the same smooth motion hefts him onto her shoulder, before taking off running.
Fuyu curses and starts chasing after her Clone. She can't use any Fire Release now. And using Genjutsu on her own Clone seems like an idea doomed to failure. They both know what they can do, and they both have Sharingan. Fuyu doesn't check to see who is following and who isn't. She assumes that the other two are doing so without needing visual confirmation.
Fuyu heard what Nobu started to say. She knows they're not alone on this island. She also figures that the Shadow Clone is headed to whomever is controlling her. But she doesn't say it out loud, because she wants the Clone to think they aren't aware of it.

Taji watches from behind the other two, looking rather concerned to say the least. Fighting Fuyu would be a dumb idea, and so would fighting a Fuyu-Clone. About the same as committing suicide, for the Genin. He waits, watches and worries, letting Fuyu take the lead on this. When Hinotori gets basically winded and hauled away, Taji is left with little to do but look to Fuyu, "What can we do? Should we follow?" He asks, unsure, "It could be leading us into a trap. But if we don't follow… Hinotori-san…." He looks from Fuyu to where Clone-Fuyu is retreating, seeming simply unsure what to do right now. The situation has left him at a loss. He's never seen anything like this before, a clone gone rogue? Never even heard of such a thing!

Hearing Fuyu's deductions, Nobu lowers his senbon launcher, albeit reluctantly, then reaches down to the senbon launcher and carefully removes the senbon, putting everything back as it was. Better not to have it ready than accidentally fire. Following Fuyu's lead, he begins to give chase, thinking of some possible way to solve the problem. Unforunately, he's pretty sure he has nothing. There's no telling what moves might accidentally destroy the clone, and he certainly doesn't have anything in the way of purging foreign chakra. All he can really do for the moment is keep after Hinotori and the clone. And not make any use of his own clone techniques.

The three members of Team 5 follow after the one being abducted. A Clone going rogue IS unheard of. It has never happened before. At least not that Fuyu knows of. There are probably all sorts of weird things in the world she remains ignorant of. But she knows that this IS happening. She can SEE the foreign Chakra that is infecting her Clone. She feels very angry. She feels violated. That Clone is NOT some seperate entity. It is an EXTENSION OF HER BEING. That someone is trying to corrupt that extension…
The fact Hinotori is in danger is realized, of course. But it is a secondary concern. Reclaiming what is hers is more important for the moment. This is not a purely selfish motivation. If she can reclaim her Chakra then she will be in a better position to aid the others. It may not be very honorable or whatever to place Hinotori's life in second place, but it is definitely strategic to put the good of the team ahead of momentary danger to an individual member. If Fuyu felt that Hinotori was truly being threatened with death… She would just cancel the jutsu and trust in her own willpower to override any outside influence.
Not that she has to tell anyone that she would be willing to potentially sacrifice herself for the team. She feels they would think her weak if she did.
Internal musings aside, the chase takes the three across the soft-silt beach, up uneven slopes of long-cooled lava, amidst shrubs and tall grass, down slopes, leaping across ravines, and more! At least there is no true dense foliage to potentially lose the Clone in. She remains in sight the whole time. But the chase is definitely taking them all higher and higher, towards the peak — or rather, the volcano. About half-way up the slope, the Shadow Clone suddenly stops. This has been a long, cross-country sprint. This was not the leisurely pace of running they used to cross the waters before. So it is no surprise that the Shadow Clone is breathing heavily, nor that Fuyu is as well. What would be surprising is if Taji and Nobu aren't pretty tired themselves.
The Clone-Fuyu turns to face the pursuing trio. She faces them, deactivating her Sharingan — possibly to conserve Chakra, since her entire existence is dependent on her Chakra supply — and just breathes and waits.

Taji has to struggle to keep up, he's not as fast as Fuyu but aided in the fact that the clone is carrying someone and that hopefully tired and slows it down a tad. Considering Taji's struggle with some things he is remarkably good at not getting out of breath on the long run. As the group heads up the side of the volcano, he keeps looking around, as if expecting to see something or someone or… who knows what. One thing that seems a tad odd is he seems familar with the terrain, at least in part. Especially the less devestated bits as he moves along. When the clone turns to face the group, Taji quickly does another search of the area, forming some seals and pressing his hand to the ground to search for anyone near by, trying to prevent the group from being 'surprised' by an ambush by who or whatever is behind this strange event so far.

There was once a time when Nobu was in poor shape — downright frail even. Things have greatly improved since then, but after a top-speed chase across what seems like every possible terrain-type, he's had quite a few reminders of some pretty grim times. Familiar pains, that same feeling of depletedness in so many muscles. Things aren't quite the same yet, thankfully, but with his heavy panting and holding of his side it's pretty clear Nobu's not really interested in doing that again any time soon.
He's grateful for the rest once the clone finally stops, but he's sure that this could be just the beginning. Once again, just shooting the clone isn't an option, so it seems there isn't much he can do. But he's pretty sure the clone is leading them to the top of the volcano — or perhaps the mouth? He's not an expert in these matters by any means, but he does try to take a quick glance up there.

Fuyu waits, breathing evenly, regularly… But definitely tired out a bit. With a level of Stamina near the unaugmented maximum for human beings, thanks to her recent endurance training following her match with Nagayama Amaya during the tournament, she could probably keep chasing for another hour before being truly winded. If she fights right now, her capabilities will barely be impacted. Not so much for the other two.
She scans around briefly, trying to find any sign of others in the area. She knows someone else is around here. Taji performing his scan as well, the tracks noticed by Nobu before… It all points to SOMEONE being here. But Fuyu sees no one. What she DOES see is that the Chakra in the air has grown much thicker. It is no longer simply scattered around in thin layers of 'cloud'-like energy. It actually suffuses the entire area they are now in. Is that part of the plan? To be able to draw upon the foreign Chakra as reserve energy rather than risking depleting the Shadow Clone's inherent Chakra supply?
Honestly, most people, no matter how smart, would not have immediately realized that a Shadow Clone is acting strangely. They would just assume the Clone knows something they don't, or just not even think about it at all. Fuyu noticed right away because she is excessively paranoid. Thus she also expects this is all a trap. She is trying to stay 5 steps ahead of the perpetrator of the 'crime'. But there are too many variables. Too many things remain unknown.
And then… The Shadow Clone leans forward and CAREFULLY sets Hinotori's unconscious form on the ground. That was really the Clone's only true shield against harm. For that reason alone, Fuyu does not strike immediately when the Clone-Fuyu stands up straight and steps back. She doesn't even appear to be planning to defend herself. No sign of readiness for combat at all.
Fuyu waits. Then the Shadow Clone speaks. "You'll have your Chakra back in a moment," she says calmly as her breathing levels out — just like the true Fuyu's own breathing. Fuyu glances towards Nobu to see what condition he is in. She notes that he appears to be in pain. Not good. She looks towards Taji. He is tired too, but not as bad as Nobu. Still… Fuyu focuses back on her duplicate. "So why bother bringing us here?" Fuyu asks suspiciously. The Shadow Clone does not answer. Some ruins on a plateau extending out at an angle from the volcano's side appear to be sort of… Meso-American. Assuming there was such a thing in this world. They look to have been heavily damaged by lava floes, with only a few chunks of marble or something similar remaining intact. No standing structures remain in place. Just… Remnants. There may have once been buildings here. They may have once been people living here. But right now, there are only those in sight, and whomever is responsible for the current situation.
The Shadow Clone did not answer. But someone else does a moment later. "It was not all of you that we sought to bring," a deep, rumbling voice says. It sounds like rocks grinding together. It sounds like a landslide. It sounds like a volcano going off (only quieter). It sounds like great upheavals of earth, soil being carried from shore to shore, sand shifting in the desert, new islands forming, continents crumbling, and billions of years of the planet's component parts moving from place to place at the speed that rocks move at naturally. The pace of life of the Living Earth, that human beings and all other animal and plant life is but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of an eye-blink within, is what that voice sounds like.
It comes from all around. Further up the peak side, behind them, to the left, right, and directly below. The ISLAND is TALKING to them!
Fuyu blinks slowly. Then she looks very carefully in every direction. She tries to penetrate the Genjutsu that this surely is. If not a Genjutsu, than an Earth Release. If not that… Some other trick or jutsu. What else could it be?

As the clone sets down the body Taji takes the time to try to catch his breath. After a moment he tries to gesture in a way that hopefully Nobu or Fuyu or both can see. The gestures are signals that someone is roughly North west of the group, not too far away. That's all he can do without being too obvious. Of course if the clone /really/ has all of Fuyu's knowledge, Taji has just exposed that he knows this, but… he takes the risk. Hopefully if the clone is really under artificial control it will lack all of Fuyu's knowledge on the group's communications and hand signs.
Once Taji has taken time to warn the group as best as he can, he blinks and stands up, taking in the ruins. He looks as if he's seen a ghost, slipping out of all combat stance really, seeming out of sorts. With the paranoia going on with the clone being taken over it would not be a huge stretch to think something has taken over Taji, with the way he's simply suddenly seemed to lose focus, and almost shuffle towards one of the ruined buildings, reaching up to touch one of the fallen stones that lays on the side of one of the buildings, muttering something as if he's lost in a mental fog. Perhaps a genjutsu?

By and by, Nobu's breathing returns somewhat to normal and he lets go of his side. He also seems to visibly relax once the clone has dropped Hinotori, though that's small comfort when one considers the rest of the situation. Considering that he'd been looking at the volcano, the ruins do not escape his notice. Their architecture is unfamiliar to him, naturally. They seem almost otherwordly. Perhaps he was premature in assuming the clone was heading for the volcano itself. There could just as easily be something important in those ruins. What that something is and Hinotori's relationship to it is not so clear, but it's probably not something good.
Then the mighty voice sounds, bringing with it a great rumbling that shakes a few small rocks loose. "Was that… from the ground?" he wonders aloud.
But it doesn't seem like there's much time to wonder on that. Taji makes some sort of signal, directing his attention to the northwest. He takes a quick look, but then Taji himself starts heading for one of the buildings. "What are you doing?" he asks urgently.
With Hinotori unconscious, Fuyu dealing with clone troubles, and Taji in some kind of trance, Nobu's pretty sure he's going to have to rely on his own faculties for the moment, which isn't entirely comforting given that the island itself might be the enemy now. Well, one thing at a time.
Luckily, Nobu is prepared for just such a situation… even if he never really predicted something like this. He pulls back out another senbon. This one, however, is special. With its tips blunted, it won't do any lasting damage, but it should certainly sting. He loads it into the senbon launcher, checks that he is indeed using a blunt senbon, takes aim, checks the senbon again, then fires.

Regardless of what goes on with Taji and Nobu, regardless of what happens with Fuyu and her Shadow Clone, regardless of whether Hinotori wakes up right that second or not, it seems everything is about to become even more confusing than it already is. As Nobu fires his blunt senbon at Taji, someone suddenly leaps out from behind the boulder!
She lands with arms and legs spread and calls out, "SURPRISE!" It's some woman in her late teens, it seems. She has a wild mass of dark-brown hair on her head, and is wearing what amounts to a bikini — only with more coverage. More like… Animal hides as a top and skirt. She does not seem to be prepared to cast jutsu, does not appear to have any weapons, and is completely open to attack.
Fuyu accepts the invitation. She breathes out a Great Fireball at the girl without hesitation. And then things get REALLY weird. Because a humanoid figure of dirt and stone rises up instantly from the mountain-side and blocks the stream of flames with its body. When Fuyu cuts off her attack, the stone figure is glowing red-hot and smoking. The girl just keeps smiling, though she lowers one hand to rest on her hip and rubs at her nose with the other. "Ooo! That stinks!" Then the glowing figure rapidly cools and says in a lesser version of the Earth-voice from before, "We wished for HER, not all of you. The fact that you all came is fortunate, however." The earthen figure then wanders over to the Shadow Clone. Fuyu's Clone holds out her arm, and the stone-person accepts it. The Clone-Fuyu closes her eyes… And then vanishes in a puff of smoke.
The earthen man takes on greater definition, no longer seeming to be just a vaguely humanoid mass of earth and stone. Instead he looks more like a living statue of granite. He has details in his body, face, and even clothing (of stone). His weathered features are recognizable to one of the people in the group.
But he introduces themselves to all of them. "My name is Harusada," he offers in a much more human voice and less 'elemental' voice. "I am the Head Monk of the Gentle Mist order of Monks." He sighs out a dusty sigh. "Or I WAS. There are not many of us left now." He smiles, the stone on his face shifting to match the expression. "Which is why I am glad that dear Taji has returned to us. She is NOT the LAST of the old Gentle Mist."
"She is the FIRST of the NEW."
Fuyu pauses. Her Chakra has returned to her, and with it the knowledge and experiences of her Shadow Clone. Even with the new information… She turns towards Taji to stare. She at least has the decency to deactivate her Doujutsu. "She?"

Well, this is a strange turn of events to say the least. Taji blinks, looking up from the stone just in time to be hit by the senbon. It smakes him right in the back, and… he gives a little yelp, and glares back at Nobu. But… well, that seems like such a small thing as the woman emerges and yells Surprise at the group. This brings Taji to frown even more, but at least he takes a more defensive posture. He's left to watch the strange meeting of fire with earth, then the return of this strange stone man. Taji blinks a few times then reaches up to rub his eyes, as if she can't really believe who or what she's seeing. No recognition of the strange fur clad woman but the man, of stone, Taji stammers, "Harusada-Sensei?"
The discussion of gender, well, that is another issue entirely. Taji hesitates, as if unsure what to say, then looks to the bikini clad woman, then back to the man of stone, "You mean her?" He ventures, pointing at the strange fur wearing girl. But it's a hard sell as suddenly things might make sense to Taji's team. Taji never bathing with others, Taji always changing alone, Taji being very modest about his, wait… her? Body? It's likely each team member might be trying to think of any 'proof' as to Taji's real gender but after very very careful work to hide it, neither Nobu or Fuyu will likely be able to come up with even one thing that would prove Taji is male.

This situation is getting stranger by the second. Nobu grabs another senbon and prepares to fire it at this new person. "Who are you?" he demands, although Fuyu's lack of comparable hesistation isn't so helpful for questions and answers. And then there's a living statue here all of a sudden. Nobu isn't so sure he can keep up with the rapidly changing circumstances. Fuyu's clone is gone at least. And he's pretty sure that no amount of senbon can actually penetrate solid stone, at least to any significant depth. "I should find something like that…" he mutters to himself. Then things get a little… revelationary.
"Ummm…" Nobu looks back over to Taji. "Oh… I see." It seems like he just barely sees. But that's something at least. He glances down at the senbon. "Sorry. Working with limited information, had to try something."

Harusada's smile is brief. A shadow of a thing. It is there and yet not. He is mostly serious-looking, but for a moment at least… He seemed genuinely happy to see Taji again. "It is I, Taji. There is no longer a reason to hide what you are from these three. They can be trusted to keep your secret, I believe. As for the reason why you still see me as part of this world instead of where the others are, in the great beyond… It is because I had to TRULY become 'part of this world' to survive. I have slept for a long time. But now it is time for me to act. There is an artifact buried deep beneath this island. It is known by many names, but the one most well-known is the 'Stone of Nature'. I asked it to save you by sacrificing our Order. The Stone accepted, in exchange for a place in my heart. It wished to experience the world as we did! For of all the Sage Stones, only the Stone of Nature has remained uncorrupted."
Harusada pauses. "I am getting ahead of myself. My apologies. I can see that you are all very confused and at least somewhat weary." Fuyu interrupts to say, "I knew there was at least one Sage Stone, though not what it was called. The Dark-Light Stone…" She pauses, and then Harusada nods somberly. "The Stone of Yin-Yang. The most broken and corrupt of the six. I can see it has touched you. You bear its taint, though you exist without it influencing you. Truly remarkable." Fuyu shakes her head for some reason. "So you are saying there are five others like that thing, but the one that preserved you is not… Broken?" The Head Monk nods silently. "I… See." She doesn't really, sort of like Nobu. But she can guess at some things based on what she DOES see. "So what did you want from us?"
Harusada says, "As I said before, it was not you that I sought. It was HER." He indicates the woman who is even now walking on her hands, legs in the air, heedless of the fact that her animal-skin skirt is flopping down around her hips. "She would not show herself until one of my students appeared. She had been promised she would meet one of the Order. However, I no longer qualify. I am not a living being anymore." Gesturing, Harusada finally says, "We can speak more on this subject somewhere less open. I can not promise it will be comfortable by ALL of your standards, but it will at least be safe."
The island rumbles and shifts, and the earth opens up. It just slides aside like a door, and reveals a carved-from-stone staircase leading down into the earth. The wild woman cartwheels past the entrance to the passage, and then comes to a stop. She looks at everyone expectantly. "Hi!" she offers now at least a few minutes AFTER they encountered her.
Though Fuyu is still suspicious of all this, at least some of it makes sense. Such as Taji's gender. She already had an inkling. After all, her Shadow Clone carried Taji across the water on her back… And with Taji's chest pressed into the Shadow Clone's back… Well, it is hard to hide something like that at Taji's age.
And now Fuyu knows for sure. Does this change her view of who Taji is? Not really. But she has to ask something else, as she moves towards where Hinotori lies at Harusada's feet to check on him and get him woken up. "If we were secondary to the purpose of finding this woman…" She indicates the wild-child. She gestures back at Fuyu in the same manner, still smiling. Fuyu pauses and then ignores the other female. "…Who is she and why is she so important?"
Harusada looks towards Nobu and then Hinotori. "Your allies are tired and injured. It was not my intention to hurt either of these boys. The sleeping one was actually due to the personality you possess. It was how you would have acted if you had known what—" "Answer the question," Fuyu snaps out. Giving orders?
Harusada does not seem annoyed. Only calmness lies in his voice and expression. "She is the answer to the problem facing us. You see, three of the six Sage Stones have been found. One of them is in the possession of a wicked man that is using the Stone's power for foul ends. The Stone of Body, the Stone of Spirit, and now the Stone of Yin-Yang… All three have been removed from where they should be, guarding the Dragon Lines of the world. And this has resulted in a massive inbalance in the energies that flow through the planet itself."
"If we do not fix this, the planet is going to gradually tear itself apart and self-destruct."
Harusada lets the silence linger for a moment. Then he says, "Only the Earth-Child can fix this. I mentioned allowing the Stone of Nature to experience the world… The Earth-Child is the embodiment of nature itself, walking here in the world we live in. It really would be best if we went inside for now. We have time enough to speak once we are safely hidden, now that Taji is here." Then he starts to sink into the ground and vanish. The wild-looking woman skips her way towards the stairs. She goes down them backwards, still skipping, seemingly heedless of the danger in doing so. Looking back at Team 5 as Fuyu picks up Hinotori and slings him over her shoulder, the woman waves and says, "Hi!" again. Then she says, "My name is Gaia."
"I'm the Earth-Child!"

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