Date: December 10, 2013
While hunting for his wayward student, Meruin finds him wandering the ruins near a Hidden Oasis. Tests are given along with a not-so-gentle reminders…
Poster's note: foul language filtered in obvious places.
Ruins of the Hidden Oasis
Ruins [Land of Water]
This place stands as a relic of what was once a great civilization, now gone. All that remains of them is this stone city. Several buildings of varying heights stand, all mainly set along what would be a main street, though there are a few set off for other winding streets through the area. Most of the buildings have vines and other vegetation growing up around them, uninhabited for ages and thus unkempt. This place would make a valuable campsite area for anyone looking to hide out.
Meruin travels the entryway of the ruins, steady steps taking him through the veil of misting rain that falls about the place. A damp day, and the taste of the air says that it will grow damper still before it dries. And it may suit the mood of the day regardless. Overcast skies leave this partially underground realm a darker place than it usually is, the haze of rain leaving the surrounding world seeming somehow softer, more dreamlike. It is a quiet time, a calm one, the soft patter of the falling water a soothing backdrop.
The Okumo seemed a part of this world of soft edges and quiet sounds, of slow taken breaths and drowsy movements. Pale in skin and clothing, muted, his own travel silent, he almost seems a specter of this realm of trance and reverie. But the world is not truly as gentle as it appears, its edges not as softened as they seem. He is not drifting, he is no wraith. His silent, unobtrusive movement is of a purpose. He has come to where he believes he may find Kiyoshi. And it is for that boy that his eyes rove as he enters this place.
Kiyoshi's surroundings may have once been apart of a greater design forged by man. One in which many a tireless nights were spent, toiling in the hopes for a better future at the cost of sweat, tears, and blood. Always blood. At the moment the boy wished nothing more than to wash the land clean of the blemish, and in doing so cleanse his conscious of the memories that were aroused whenever he so much as thought back to the day that gave birth to his 'dislike' of the place.
He drew to a stop at an intersection, allowing the mist parted at his feet to finally settle upon it. Then, he looked to the sky and stared up to the cloud-ridden heavens for awhile before moving on again. If only he had the means to — no, the /will/ to actually use what he had already to accomplish this goal.
Meruin tilted his head slightly, as though listening for something just barely heard…
His head turned as he took his final steps into an intersection of roads and the sight of he that he had been searching for. He who was purposelessly, it seemed, wandering this deteriorated path. And so the Okumo turned towards him, fluid steps bringing him in the direction of the boy, in the direction of a collision course. His chin lifted slightly and he examined Kiyoshi, taking in stance and stride and more, learning what he could from how the boy reacts to the sight of him.
Kiyoshi should have been startled by his sensei's sudden appearance. He should've been, and yet, the boy merely draws to a stop the moment he noticed a living figure crossing his field of view. If not before in hiding, Meruin would note that the boy was without his customary full face gas mask, but a re-breather version lay firmly in place. No jacket to keep out the rain and… anger. Anger flashed in the boy's eyes the instant he seemed to recognize fully just who stood before him. It fades rather quickly, and is replaced by a mask of apathy. Questions flitted about in mind, in his eyes if only as brief glimmers, but none leave his mouth.
Silence is King.
"Tidings, Moto Kiyoshi."
Meruin inclines his head to the boy upon drawing near, the quiet man having noted each of these reactions and the lack of a face mask that made it so much easier to determine than usual. "I have come in search of you." The Okumo draws to a stop before the boy, robes shifting slightly as they settled into their stillness along with the man. His pupiless eyes held mists like that of the rain that fell around the pair, the muted colors sluggish in their writhing. Whether or not it removed the effect of his unerring focus on the boy before him could only be told by those that looked. But for the Okumo, there was nothing so important in that moment as he asked the words, "What are you in search of?"
Kiyoshi seemed determined not to reply in kind at first, but eventually he inclines his head in return. The next statement out of the Okumo earns a look of mild curiosity by way of a brow being lifted. A cover to downplay the momentary shock at the news. For the past few week (or was it weeks?) the boy has hardly seen either hide or hair of the Okumo. And when it came to inquiring about the status of his Jounin-sensei, noone was willing to come forth with an acceptable answer or outright brushed him aside. He probably could've taken things up with Yuge. He certainly wanted to do so in fact after awhile. Unfortunately, there were complications with that as well.
The light in Kiyoshi eyes brighten in response to the answer. Almost as if the boy had been in deep thought during the Okumo's approach. It would explain why he only belatedly looked up to regard Meruin after he had already gotten so close. "To repay a favor." He replied with evenly, reverting to the obstinate brat facade out of, perhaps, misplaced spite.
Meruin's chin lifts a little further, head tilting in curiosity at the boy's answer. He doesn't seem to have noticed any lag there might've been in response time or the even tone or the lack of in depth information. The man simply asks, "A favor to whom and for what?" His own tone is patient simply by comparison. By the lack of anything that might speak towards annoyance or aggression or haste. He was still and listening, awaiting whatever answer he would get.
Kiyoshi stares blankly at Meruin for a few extensive moments. Then glanced away and shrugged uneasily, uncertain now on how to go about answering his sensei's question. He could lie… but the fact remained that Meruin was far too experienced to fall for any ruse he might come up with. That left really only the truth or hope that the mattered would be dropped. He'd wait for the former for a full minute or so, gauging through his other senses for any sign that the Okumo intent on relenting. If that minute passes with no favorable change, then and only then did he let out weary sigh and return mud brown eyes back on Meruin's crystal balls version.
"A favor to the man who attacked Yuriko and Hissori, branded them with some type of wierd seal, then left them for dead here." He explains, leaving out one juicy, crucial bit. The fact that those two weren't the only ones attacked. "Can't return it properly but, *fist clenches* I think I have something good e'nuff for 'em if I see 'em." He says non-chalantly as if he were telling a light joke instead of renewing his resolve to beat a madman to death.
<Kirigakure> Atsuro has disconnected.
Meruin had awaited with the patience he has always shown. He waited the minute without any trouble, prepared to await up to an hour for the words he desired to hear, if such was what it took, and having done so before. As it so often does, patience yields reward, its tree bearing fruit, and the Okumo plucked it from the boughs as soon as it appeared. 'To the man who assaulted Yuriko and Hissori, branded them with seals, and left them to their fate.'
The Okumo inclines his head. Acknowledgement.
"Revenge, then. For the man who assaulted you all and inflicted the three of you with a virulent agent meant to kill you through speeding your aging process to the point of reducing your lifespan by great numbers." The mists within Meruin's eye begin to swirl a little more swiftly at this. "Yes, I have learned of it. It is part of my reason for being here. I plan to hunt and destroy the man for what he has done and the danger he presents." He looks off to the side, breaking his gaze for the first time since it'd found Kiyoshi. "There is no intelligence to bringing harm to those that are mine…" A lingering moment. And then he looks back.
"You wish to confront him."
Kiyoshi may have tried to hide his initial shock at Meruin's actual knowledge on the subject, but that attempt is only a fleeting effort if made at all. Wide-eyed and struck silent, the boy can only stare at the Okumo until the statement is directed towards him. At that moment the Moto would not have liked nothing better than to nod in agreement and see about soliciting Meruin's aid in the project. Not that it was necessary given the Okumo's past record of dedication, both to Kirigakure and a select few. A few that he may very well regard as family, though Kiyoshi had his doubts about that being the case.
Instead, he eyed the Okumo warily. The child in him may be grateful, but it is the independent spirit and mostly ran the show within. There was no way to tell if the Okumo would deem him just a hazard to the mission. Then, there was also no way of telling if the Okumo went off alone and found the one responsible, captured him, and would allow Kiyoshi to tear into him before escorting the man responsible to whatever Kirigakure has for a jailing system. In the end, the choice was not truly up to him…
"Yes." He stated firmly, willing the reckless fire burning within away from any chances of spilling forth and become reflected in his eyes or tic.
Meruin simply tilts his head. A brow arches.
Kiyoshi double blinked in confusion. Then gave Meruin a look as if to say 'Uhm, Ain't it obvious?' Of course he should've known better. The Okumo was less governed by emotion and more by logic and facts over assumptions. "You expect me to sit back and let that… that… that, purple-eyed rat whisker to get away with this?" He asked hotly, ending his question with a heavy step forward and a fist slightly raised.
"Explain it to me," spoke the Okumo, taking a single step forward of his own, robes shifting about him with the movement. His chin didn't lower an inch, the Kirigakure Jounin looking down past nose and to see the boy before him. "You will face him and you will do what? What will you accomplish, Moto Kiyoshi?"
Kiyoshi neither shirked away or made any threatening gestures in response to the Okumo taking a step forward as well. If he had intended on unnerving the boy, then his desires will sadly go unsated. That is to say, if he was expecting a visible response. Internally, the youth is a mess trying to figure out just what to say and how to say it without coming off as some petualent child. He has already recieved enough of 'those' type of looks to last him a life time. A life time cut shorter thanks to a madman…
"Make him endure the same level of pain Yuriko-chan… and Hissori-san endured. Make him think twice about taking any of us lightly again."
»Break him, as he tried to Break Us«
For once, Kiyoshi was in agreement with the beast. Albiet he would not voice what was said aloud. "He needs to pay, Meruin-sensei." He states pointedly.
Meruin stares at Kiyoshi for a small while. He is still, as he nearly always is, the pale mists within his eyes steadily swirling amidst the darkness. He studies the boy, the pupiless nature of his gaze hiding just where it may lie. Whether he looked into the boy's eyes or examined his facial features or perhaps even looking away, not even taking the time to observe him. Still, in silence and observance, there must be some judgement there. He must be thinking something.
"I have been told that you have renounced Yuriko as a friend."
Meruin's head tilts slightly, hair slipping over his shoulders as though a it'd caught the breath of a slow rolling breeze, billowing back until it settled back down. "That you have told her to keep her distance from you. Tell me, then. Why have you done this?"
Kiyoshi's eyes narrowed to thin slits at the statement. Again, it did not take a genius to figure out the Okumo's intent well before the actual question is asked. So, he gritted his teeth behind closed lips and waited. The wait is not a long one. "You should already know why." He states as if it were obvious. Knowing Meruin the way he did, the boy continued on before the Okumo asked him to 'elaborate'. "I… She gets under my skin too easily and… and if something were to happen to her with me around…" He trails off, eyes averted and knowing full well that the message is clear. Both of them.
No surprise. Of course that was the reason that the boy had pushed her away. For fear of her safety. For the fear of his own, of his mind should he be responsible for any harm that may befall the girl. The Okumo knew the answer before he had even asked the question, before he had even come searching for the boy. And so he asked the question that he had most come to ask of Kiyoshi.
"Do you remember the last time we'd spoken here?"
If he was not mistaken, it had rained that day as well. That day that the two of them had spoken of Kiyoshi's future and of his struggles. That day that these ruins, these crumbled buildings surrounding them of a people noone remembered had been used as an example of what Kiyoshi could be asked to wield. That day that Meruin told him what he would be forced to do should the boy fail to gain mastery. That day that Meruin had told him what they key to achieving such a thing would be…
Beyond turning his gaze up to meet the Okumo's own, Kiyoshi said or could think of anything to say. As impossible as it should've been the memory had been overshadowed by more recent events at the ruins. He only vaguely recalled what happened that day at the moment. Even a little was enough to paint a picture and fill the boy with a sense of shame for having allowed the memory to fade so easily.
A rare, bare hint of a smile finds Meruin's face.
"So easily gone, is it?" The Okumo doesn't await a response to his rhetorical question, simply continuing to speak his piece. "Perhaps this is telling of why we are in the situation we are in today." His hair moves of its own volition, graceful, sleepy sweeps marking the start of its self braiding process. "We had spoken of just this matter. Of what was expected of you as a carrier of the being within you. Of what you were capable of…" A succinct turn of the wrist and sweep of the hand gestures towards the ruins surrounding them. "And of what it would take to hold it at bay. It has not rooted within your mind, so I will say it again and in no uncertain terms."
Meruin's hands slipped behind his back and he leaned forward, brows drawing downward slightly to make his expression a stern one — vaguely stern on any other but strikingly so on his often still features. His face drew near to Kiyoshi's, large eyes swirling slowly. "Your task is to contain a creature of immense strength capable of turning our home into a people as recognizable in history as those who owned these ruins you stand in. My task is to see that you succeed and are able to wield that power for the protection of our village. Should the both of us fail and you either lose control or lose your loyalty, it will be my duty to seek you out and tear your head from your body before you cause too much harm. The way to avoid this," he said softly, only murmuring across the small distance between his mouth and Kiyoshi's re-breather. "Is to keep to what you hold dear. To remember why you bother to fight and to struggle.
"I will tell you this about yourself, Moto Kiyoshi." The Okumo tilts his head slightly in a curiously avian manner. "You are not a person who can exist on duty alone. You have tried it. You are in the place you are in now because of duty, of what you had to do for your family, your people, and you hate it. Already you carry resentment about your shoulders like a cloak, and it is only Yuriko who either cannot see it or sees past it. If you try to push away all of those you care for, for fear of their safety, you will fail. And I will, someday, see you dead. There is no doubt in this. But I cannot know the precise circumstances. Depending on how we move from here, your decision to take away her truest and, perhaps only friend may be what kills her. I cannot say it will be the case, but I cannot say it is unlikely. When you implode, lose control, go rogue, she would go after you. Because even as you spurn her, she is still your friend.
And she would be the day you fled Kirigakure. She would be the day the five tails slipped from your grasp and leveled Kirigakure, with her life among the thousands of others lost. You understand the message I am trying to deliver, I hope. The path you stepped on leads to self destruction at the least and amoricide, the murder of the loved, at the most. Whether or not she needs you remains to be seen. But you, Moto Kiyoshi, need her. It is she, these people that get under your skin, that make you feel more than resentment and vindictiveness and pride — it is they that will keep you from falling apart. It is they that will make you whole and keep you so. And keeping you whole keeps the rest of the village safe. Remember that you are our greatest protection against the others who carry your burden. Without you, we will be in a dire position. One way or another, your failure only hurts those you care for. So in no uncertain terms, here is what I speak. You must have the strength to care for those important to you, to keep them close and to use them as your inspiration to succeed. Because if you do not, and you run from them, you will kill yourself and perhaps even those you sought to protect. There is no other way."
Meruin straightens out after this, hands falling once more to his sides. He looks down at Kiyoshi, shaking his head slightly. "Duty aside…" His hair stops braiding itself now, releasing itself from its constraints in a flair of hair that quickly settles back against his back. "Whether or not Yuriko needs you, she does want you. And you want her. The burden you carry is a heavy one, Moto Kiyoshi… And you are a worthy person at your core. You deserve to have happiness. And if I could do so, I would give it to you. But I cannot. It is something that you must take for yourself. This decision to abandon the hope of it has brought only sadness. It has only brought little Yuriko tears, and they will not even buy the safety you sought for her. I will not attempt to force you to do anything, you have choice of your actions just as I have choice of mine. But I would be remiss if I did not recommend that you go and make things right with her. And that when you did, you apologized that your only thought for confronting your assailant was to take vengeance rather than to protect the girl who had fought with him twice from having to fight him again."
Kiyoshi did not like the feel behind Meruin's smile. A smile from a being like him always spilled the worst was on the horizon. Kiyoshi would not be disappointed. Things like Meruin's hair moving on its own accord or his movements… all of it were but mere minor distractions. Even if there was some telling in things of that nature, the boy could hardly bare to break his gaze from that of the Okumo's eyes. The slightly relaxed posture he had a second before Meruin's hands slipped behind his back is quickly rectified with the boy straightening out, hands behind his back much like the Okumo. Meruin's expression becomes stern, diminishing the defiant spark that the youth bore within to nothing but a shadow of its former self. This, is the power of a Jounin who has truly earned their position.
It is an honest to god miracle Kiyoshi managed to stay standing by the time Meruin began to wind down. This having nothing to do with fatigue or the Okumo physically knocking him over, but from the sheer weight of the elder males words. If he had been a lesser genin he might've very well had crumbled under within the first few lines spoken. Tears budded at the corner of the boy's eyes but not a drop is allowed to fall. Another miracle in itself and one Kiyoshi would find himself grateful for later along the line. If Meruin is expecting some type of verbal response from the boy, well, those words won't be for a very, very long time coming.
He couldn't escape his fate. Mushi had incidentally taught him that when she gave him the 'option' of finally achieving the vengeance he truly desired. The knowledge nearly crushed him then; but, he held on and sought to make the most of what was learned. Sadly, he chose the wrong path for that and paid dearly. Thrice, if not more now. Ego severely wounded, the boy's thoughts spun further inwards. Even now he wanted to deny the truth behind the lessons his sensei, friends, and strangers have tried to etch into that thick skull of his. Alas, there were too many atop of more that carried more weight than the barriers around heart and mind could withstand, leaving the boy just… numb, for awhile yet.
"I still rather face our assailant over that." He joked without an ounce of mirth behind his voice or expression. Afterwards, he closed his eyes tightly and stuffed his hands into his pants pockets before half-turning away from Meruin. "… May I be dismissed, Meruin-sensei?" He asks softly as he peered upon the Jounin from the corner of his eyes. He desperately needed more time to process all that has been exchanged, and hoped — practically begged in the deepest undertones to be granted that time to do so.
The words were spoken with a polite solemnity, accompanied by an inclination of the head from the Okumo. Meruin hadn't even bothered to acknowledge the joke, it seemed, but there was more to say. "But your departure is an option. I will grant you the opportunity to come with me to meet the shinobi who has wreaked havoc upon you two. But I will not bring you with me if I determine that you will prove nothing but a hindrance. So you must choose. You may leave and take the time you need to do what you need, or you may stay and be put under trial, a combat test under less than ideal circumstances." He gives a small wave of the hand, the motion saying only 'You are free.'
The answer was decided the instant Meruin gave Kiyoshi the okay to leave. He lingered, if only to make sure that there were no other stipulations added. He was not to be disappointed. Again, his answer remained the same after listening to everything Meruin had to say. Revenge or Peace? The question in mind elicits a scowl from the boy before he turned to stalk away, knowing that to stay would've meant failing Meruin's 'test'. Not to mention it would mean trampling on the promise he made all those months ago again. This was something the young Moto was determined NOT to do again. Having made this decision, and though it won't be for most of the trip, the boy would gradually begin to notice his body — and heart especially — feeling lighter than it has in the past few weeks.
"Happy hunting, Meruin-sensei." He calls out over his shoulder.