Date: November 1, 2011
Tategami's plan for his prisoner, Shemri, is revealed: a final combat between cat and mouseling. Can Sora turn the situation around?
"Hunting the Predator - Confrontation"
Open Plains [Land of Wind]
The long grass of the plains rises easily 5 feet tall, and it is a truly beautiful sight with the blowing wind. The grass swirls and ripples like eddies and waves on a lakes surface as the wind blows, and the golden stalks in the sun almost glow with a good natured light. The sweet smell of the plains is adrift in the air, and many travelers will stop to rest amidst the stalks for a night.
To the south lies a rising mountain, with a barely visible narrow path beginning up its massive height. Far to the east lays a narrow path, following a small river out of the stalks of grass, and into some distant trees.
Day dawns once more, and Kinshu, the 'den mother' of the Pride, enters the tent where Sora sleeps to shake her and several others awake. "Come," she says. The simple command is made with an odd sort of terseness; it carries expectation, but lacks urgency. It's the half-conscious insistence of someone who knows something important is about to happen, but doesn't believe that it can be affected, only witnessed.
Out in the growing sunlight, a circle is being formed in the center of the camp. Shemri sits in the middle of it, still bound at ankles and wrists. Tategami paces around her, growling to himself, although he certainly doesn't seem to mind others overhearing him. "Where is that blasted feline!?" he snarls. "Can't remember the last time he took off for this long. Probably found some sand-cat in heat. KIZUUUUUUU!!!" Tategami eyes Shemri while testing the edge of a kunai. "Bad luck for you if he doesn't come back soon. I've been looking forward to tearing you to shreds in a fight, but I'll skip the formalities if this takes much longer. Don't think it'll be less painful that way, either." >P
Sora wakes all at once, without a yawn or a stretch. It's as if she'd simply been lying awake with her eyes closed. By the time others are beginning to gather their things, Sora is dressed and waiting. She's looking carefully at Kinshu, questioningly. She doesn't know what's up, but she's wary. And her eyes widen when she sees Shemri in the center of the crowd. This is bad, very bad. She reaches out with her mind. Megami is waiting only ten miles away. It's just their natural link, not some chakra technique to contact her. It'd look at most like Sora is concentrating intensely on Shemri. And after a long time of confinement, Sora is finally calling out to her. Above the cloud line out of sight, but at all speed. She might need Megami who is flying nearer at high speed.
Waiting… waiting… but what if Megami doesn't get here in time? After a minute of standing there, Sora can't take it any longer. "How do you know Shemri-san did anything at all? You might be accusing someone innocent, or do you plan to blindly cut your way up the ranks?"
Tategami looks over incredulously when Sora speaks up. Then he snorts. "Oh, the new girl. Funny, you struck me as somebody smart enough to keep quiet. Well, let me tell you something, cub." Tategami stalks toward Sora, pointing his knife in a half-lecturing, half-threatening manner. "In this tribe, I rule. I don't need all those half-hearted rules and procedures to justify my choices. If I say something happens, it happens, simple as that. So if you don't want to end up alongside your friend there, you better shut your trap!"
Tategami turns back toward Shemri. "Besides, this ain't about anything that's happened recently. This is for every time little squeak-mouse here ever spoiled my plans, or ratted me out, or sided with her slimy Satonezu family. I'm gonna prove once and for all that she can't compare with a real Maneshi." Shemri curls her lip scornfully. "A mangy beast like yourself is not worthy of either of those names." >P
Sora eyes Tategami warily, but doesn't back up in the face of his blade. When Tategami turns back to Shemri, Sora has to smile when Shemri calls her a mangy beast. She really has some guts, to say that in this situation. Not that it really helps her cause. At this rate, Shemri will be hacked up unless the other cat is produced, or Sora talks her way out of this for both of them. Sora takes a deep, calming breath before she'd step out of the circle of onlookers. Her hands are clenched into fists.
"I've watched, but now I'm sure of it," Sora says clearly. "The way this pack is run, the way you always think trouble comes from within, not outside of your followers, proves that you don't trust one woman here. Nor particularly value them. A real leader doesn't have to say over and over and over 'I'm the leader.' You're a powerful thug without a single person to watch your back. I have more real allies in this camp," she indicates Shemri, "than you do! Don't dare to compare yourself with her."
A shocked murmuring ripples through the camp. "Sora-chan, hush!" Kinshu whispers urgently. "I don't want you to end up — "
"That's not true!"
A young voice pipes up defensively from amongst the crowd. Kitto stands on tip-toe to try and make herself seen. "Tategami-sama takes care of us! We'd be nowhere without him!" Kitto looks hopefully over at Tategami. He doesn't acknowledge her. Instead, he just snaps his fingers and points at Sora. "Guess she's not going to make a suitable member after all. Get her over here." The women from the hunting unit surround Sora and push her forward.
Tategami scowls. "What is it now?" Hayayaka steps in and takes Sora's arm. "Such challenging words must not be left unanswered by the leader of the Pride," Hayayaka says evenly. "Anything less than fair combat with these two will not cleanse the insult from our tribe." Tategami looks dubious for a moment. Fight both of them at once, without Kizu's help? As confident as he is in his abilities, that seems risky…but little squeak-mouse doesn't have her cat either, and it's starting to seem as if he might have real trouble if he doesn't — "And of course, as the insult claims that you have no allies, we must prove this untrue with the combat," Hayayaka continues smoothly. "I would be honored to be your…assistant."
That decides the matter for Tategami. "Fine. Let's get this started." Tategami reaches down and roughly cuts away the ropes holding Shemri, then shoves her to one side. Hayayaka walks Sora over to join Shemri. "You think you can overcome Tategami-sama?" she murmurs. "Prove it to me." Hayayaka goes to stand by Tategami while Shemri staggers to her feet. "I do not believe you have made a very wise move," Shemri mutters. "Nevertheless, many thanks."
Sora looks mildly impressed when Kitto defends Tategami. It takes some courage to speak out from an entire crowd. Of course, this is hardly the most pressing concern for Sora. As the women close in, Sora opens her mouth to speak again. But to her astonishment it's Hayayaka who issues the trial by combat. She looks at the woman. What is she up to? Sora's brief moment of hope is dashed when Hayayaka decides to join the fray. Sora wasn't ever confident to beat Tategami, even with Shemri by her side. With Hayayaka it's even worse. The one factor is Tategami's principle fighting style-that is to say, with his cat-is missing. Would that weaken him much?
"I will," Sora says to Hayayaka. Then to Shemri, "It got old. It's time to go down fighting." She'd glance to one of the women and say, "Give me a kunai. Just one." She'd wait to see if someone heeded her request, but if not she'd turn just as calmly back to Hayayaka. While she does this she's gathering her chakra. "We'll challenge your leadership," Sora says to the pack leader, "and defeat you." She glances at Shemri questioningly. Ready?
Ready? No, not really. -.-; Shemri just spent the last half-week tied up, she doesn't have Shiikaa with her, and her primary weapon, the sash she wore, is gone. Most of her fighting style depends on that thing. Tategami tucks away his kunai. Well, that's a slight relief…looks like he plans to draw this out as much as possible. Means more pain, but at least it slightly increases odds of survival. :P The hunting unit glance at each other hearing Sora's request, but a nod from Hayayaka convinces one of them to loan Sora a knife. If Tategami objects to that (he probably does) he doesn't show much sign. He doesn't like that he's taking more risk than he'd intended, but he's still confident of victory and he very much wants to squash any feeling of dissension in his tribe.
The fight starts without warning. Tategami lunges forward with a bellow, displaying his infamous lion-like fighting style with a powerful swipe at Shemri. Shemri tumbles out of the way, trying to awaken her long-bound limbs. Old patterns in Tategami's attacks resurface in Shemri's mind, allowing her to keep barely ahead despite her sluggishness. If she can get him to tire while she warms up, just maybe she'll get a chance to do some dam — *WHOCK!* Shemri sees stars and hits the ground. x.x Okay, so his patterns aren't entirely the same as they used to be. "Get up, little squeak-mouse!" Tategami shouts. "The fun is only beginning!" >D
Hayayaka, in the meantime, focuses her attention on Sora. She circles the edge of the ring, kunai drawn defensively. "There's no going back now. Show me your best, Sora of Sunagakure." Hayayaka darts in and slices at Sora, first low, then high. She shifts balance quickly and moves away, looking for a good opening before committing to an all-out assault.
"If you can make me, Hayayaka-san," Sora says. She's tossing her knife from hand to hand, like a bar brawler. She needs to end this quickly, and go help Shemri. That, or look for an opening between either of them to try and trip up Tategami. Or, on the flipside, watch for any sneak attacks from him. Most of her attention is riveted on Hayayaka, and she's actually grinning. Energized. Elated. Part of her had always wanted to just fight this out, and now it was happening. When Hayayaka comes in Sora leaps back a few paces to avoid both blows. Then she'd use a wind enhanced kick on the ground. A huge wave of sand blasts up towards Hayayaka. Before it even begins to fall down, Sora charges through the sand to aim a single, piercing blow at Hayayaka's chest. All her weight is in it, aimed just a few inches out of the woman's vital organ, but still a dangerous attack.
Hayayaka backs off from the sand wave. "More tricks? Hiding isn't an option this ti — guh!?" Not expecting such a ferocious attack so soon, Hayayaka barely blocks the knife attack. o.O; This Suna nin, she fights almost like Tategami all of a sudden! Though it would've been a lot more effective with his weight behind the blow. Hayayaka shunts Sora's blade aside with a grating of metal on metal. "I'll admit you might have a chance to best me," she grunts, kicking at Sora's stomach, "but I'm still not convinced you could defeat Tategami-sama. Why do you choose this path? Don't you know you're probably going to die?"
Meanwhile, Shemri slowly picks herself up. She'd rather draw things out as much as possible, but she knows Tategami is too much of a bully to mind beating somebody while they're down. In fact, his favorite moment to strike is when they're almost up again — NOW! Shemri dives to avoid a sideways swing from Tategami, and jabs an elbow into his thigh in passing. A light blow, serving to slow his movement at best — and increasing his ire at worst. x.x Tategami rains down a flurry of blows on Shemri, who struggles to avoid the worst of them while unable to gain enough space to stand upright.
When Hayayaka blocks her strike, Sora looks slightly taken aback. But at Hayayaka's words, she actually chuckles. "I'm sorry," she says, springing to the side away from the kick. Then she'd duck down and execute a sweeping kick at Hayayaka's legs. "I shouldn't laugh. But I should ask you the same." She then draws her leg back and aims a smashing blow at Hayayaka's leg. Normal on the surface, but it's a soulstrike to break bones without damaging the skin.
"The path you're walking leads to death. You're all bandits, with no security and no friends. The path you walk leads to death. So why do I fight? Because if I didn't, I'd have to be a part of this life. I have to end this."
Hayayaka dances back with a scowl, avoiding the attacks (for the second one, more fortunately than she knows). "You're going to die a lot sooner. If I hadn't made this into a fight of honor, you'd be dead already." Hayayaka pulls a scroll from her pouch. "I thought perhaps there was something special about you, but if your words prove empty, well, at least your death may raise my standing in the tribe." Hayayaka jumps high and pulls the scroll open. A hail of arrows stream out at Sora.
Shemri isn't having much luck. Her limbs are less numb than before, but that's offset now by the bruising she's sustained. Hope of getting a second wind seems out of reach. Boxed in by Tategami's pummeling, Shemri finally stops trying to dodge and turns to block the blows instead. This, of course, means that Tategami is soon on top of her, pinning her with his weight. Tategami chuckles and pulls out a kunai with his free hand. "C'mon, little squeak-mouse," he taunts, bringing the knife around toward Shemri's throat. "Squeak for me one last time." Shemri grabs Tategami's wrist and pushes to keep the blade away, but she cannot halt its progress. Slowly it inches closer until —
Something black darts into the circle and into the wrestling match, causing the familiar puff of smoke that comes with a ninja transformation. When it clears, Shemri's arm is covered with silky black fur. With renewed strength, she shoves upward and pushes Tategami off. As if propelled by a spring, Shemri shoots up and flips backward, regaining her feet. A meter-long feline tail flicks about behind her, and sharp claws spring from her fingertips. "Much better," Shemri breathes. "Now then…shall we try this again?" >)
"About that," Sora says to Hayayaka, with an acerbic laugh. "I would've liked to keep it at…" She cuts off as she finds a hail of arrows flying at her. Sora flips backwards, generating a ring of wind that allows her to dodge most of the arrows. The others are sent awry by the gust of wind, but a couple scrapes. A thin red line is on her cheek, but oozing blood rather than pouring it. Nothing serious, but it paints a red streak on one side of her face. Sora is being hard pressed by Hayayaka. Yet she doesn't look panicked at all. Instead, she seems to concentrate as if preparing for an attack. She raises her dagger.
"Try not to let this blow kill you, Hayayaka-san," she says, "I'm fond of you." Her eyes seem to flash, almost as if they're gleaming like a hawk. Some would learn later it's called Pact of the Falcon technique. Then, Sora dashes forward in a great burst of speed, faster than anything she's revealed in all her time at the camp. One that might catch Hayayaka off guard. But in the end it's an open frontal charge. However, two things happen before Sora is halfway there. Someone would shout and point up, but too slowly. And a blur of feathers and talons Megami would aim right at the back of Hayayaka's head. It's Sora's hawk, long gone for weeks! Perhaps in the inspiration of the moment, or perhaps because Sora was concealing it, triples her speed and lunges to stab Hayayaka in the middle of her stomach, already aiming to change her angle of attack after Megami's attack. Whether Hayayaka gets hit, or where she dodges to.
Hayayaka narrows her eyes. She was caught off-guard once before by Sora's moves, she doesn't intend to allow it a second time. Sora's burst of speed is surprising, but Hayayaka is ready for it. Her free hand twists around to grab Sora's wrist and shunt aside the — ACKTHP! X.X With her focus entirely on Sora, Hayayaka had no idea she might get hit from above. When the bewildering moment is over, Hayayaka finds she has Sora's kunai stuck in her side, not quite where Sora was aiming, but more than enough to end the fight, if not Hayayaka's life. Hayayaka manages a trembling smile with blood trickling from the corner of it. "Maybe…you can…after all…" *CRUMPLE*
Meanwhile, Shemri is faring much better now with Shiikaa's help. She's not at maximum potential still thanks to the bruising she took earlier, but her fighting style has been somewhat restored and it proves to be very effective against Tategami's. With the aid of her new tail, she is able to tumble around Tategami's strikes in ways which would be impossible otherwise, supporting herself and changing directions in mid-fall. Her claws needle at Tategami's sides, drawing shallow but stinging cuts in his flesh. Suddenly the last bit of fun is gone from this affair for Tategami. >.<;
Much as he might be a bully and a tyrant, though, he's no fool. Changing tactics suddenly, Tategami allows one of Shemri's swipes to go through in exchange for the opportunity to grab hold of her hand (paw?) and drag her in close. The fighting turns into more of a wrestling match, with Shemri's augmented arm struggling against Tategami's brute strength. Seeing the situation between Sora and Hayayaka, Tategami decides the match has gone on long enough. "Kill them!!!" he shouts. "Kill 'em both!"
This order brings a ripple of murmuring amongst the Pride. "But it's a match of honor," objects one of Hayayaka's hunter subordinates. "Even for Tategami-sama, we can't interfere!" "It's not a fair fight anymore!" shrills Kitto. "They've got animals helping them!" Kitto starts forward, and a few others follow her. "STOP!" This last commanding voice turns out to belong to Kinshu. She strides toward Sora and Hayayaka while speaking to the crowd. "I won't stand by and watch my family die one by one any longer!" she declares. "It ends today! I will no longer obey the orders of that man, and if he or anyone who follows him tries to do harm to any of these others, I will fight!" Kinshu kneels down and hurriedly goes about trying to save Hayayaka from bleeding to death.
Kitto stands in shock, reeling internally. Her entire world is under attack, a world precariously balanced on a desperately-held belief. Tategami-sama is good. Tategami-sama is noble. Tategami-sama took her in when she was alone. Tategami-sama provides for them all. In a last-ditch effort to save this teetering world, Kitto throws out all her beliefs about Sora, Kinshu, and the rest of the Pride. "You…TRAITORS!!!" Kitto pulls out her kunai and runs screaming toward Kinshu. A few others also draw steel and look about urgently, trying to figure out who is on which side in this sudden civil war. Hooboy. o.O;
When Sora stabs Hayayaka she steps back, surveying the damage. She lets out a sigh of relief. It'd be gushing a huge pool of blood if she got stabbed fatally. The moment there was internal bleeding, no healer could save her. She watches as the medic goes to work on Hayayaka, hardly hearing when Tategami shouts for them to attack. Sora barely seems to hear, but when Kinshu comes forward Sora gives her a warm smile. Her smile fades as the group goes into a riot. She draws a deep breath and shouts, "STOP! Hear my final words!" She leaps between Kinshu and Kitto. If Kinshu got too close she'd let fly the bandages around her wrist to wrap around the girl's ankles and trip her. Either way, she'd continue speaking.
"Tategami-san! Megami-san told me that she knows where your cat is. I will return your closest companion to you if you surrender right now to the Daimyo! These are the only terms I give you. I vow that no matter what happens to you, your cat will go unharmed. This immunity will include these women! They will be pardoned of all their crimes. If you truly care for your followers, your surrender right now will grant them security and freedom. Whether to lead their lives anywhere they want, or to join Sunagakure as shinobi!"
"Women, if you believe I cannot secure this you are wrong! I have observed you all this time, and I am sure I can secure your freedom, in lieu of Tategami's barbaric rule! I am the Hayato Clan leader, and I will stake my life on it. You're just women like me. Choose right now. Choose among yourselves. And whether it's to cut me down or tie up your so called leader, choose as a free society! I say vote, right now, and make the choice for the comrades, sisters, and friends standing beside you!" Then she flings her knife away, leaving herself quite defenseless. She turns to Tategami-san and says, "Please." She bows low. "Make the right choice. Having their entire criminal record absolved is more than you could ever do for them."
Kitto hits the dirt with a cry of agony, more for how things are turning out than any physical pain. DX Fortunately Sora's words distract everyone else from bloodshed long enough for the kill-or-be-killed feeling to numb a bit. Carefully, they put away their weapons, realizing that even if there is some disagreement over what they should do, fighting under these circumstances is sure to result in a massacre regardless of who wins.
Tategami and Shemri continue to struggle throughout the exchange. Tategami has no intention of giving up the possible advantage of finishing Shemri off before things pick up again, and Shemri knows better than to expect anything else from him. >.<; The stalemate goes on until Sora makes her plea to Tategami. Tategami chuckles darkly. "Heh…haven't you ever seen how a pride of lions behaves? The females do all the hunting, the scouting, the raising of the young…and you know what the male does for them?" Tategami suddenly switches the direction of his pushing and flings Shemri aside. "Absolutely NOTHING!" Tategami turns and leaps over the ring of spectators, then starts a flat-out run into the boundless plain. One of the archers in Hayayaka's team scowls. "Everyone get down! We'll take care of him!" she shouts, signaling to her compatriots. The kunoichi in that direction duck, and the archers pull back their bows. The arrows fly with a chorus of twangs.
Nothing can stop what happens next. Kitto, having just finished feverishly cutting away the bandages around her ankles, gets up and leaps in the way of the archers. Several of the shafts thud into her at short range. The archers gasp and one of them hurries forward to roll Kitto's limp form onto her back. Her eyes are already glassy, and she can only rasp with her final breath. "D — did — he — notice — me?"
Sora stares as Tategami makes a full out run for it. Well, she hadn't expected that. By the time she's picked up her knife, he's long gone. But there are more important issues. She turns to look at Kitto on the ground. She waits to see if someone will speak to her, but people are busier trying to save her life than ease it. So she goes to kneel down. "No, he didn't," would be a horrifyingly crude remark, even though it is the truth. He's running like a coward, letting one girl take all the punishment he should have incurred. Sora can't forgive him. She kneels over Kitto.
"He would have surely noticed if you hadn't saved him," she says. "Rest and don't fear. If he didn't notice you now, we'll make it our duty to make him know it one day soon. It's a promise." Even if she has to say it to his corpse. Though she doesn't mention /that/ part to Kitto.
Then she stands up and waits for the end. Eventually she says, "The terms are what I mentioned, ladies. Full immunity for all of you. My plan is to return to Sunagakure, and make camp close to the village. I'll send my falcon ahead to tell of the situation. Shemri-san will enter the village, to explain my terms, and I shall stay with you until they're fulfilled. I ask all of you, even those who plan to travel out, to come." She grins to Shemri, ruefully apologetic. Enjoy negotiating that. Especially after getting abused every day by these women. Or refusing right here, and getting chopped to bits.
Shemri looks back and forth, torn between Tategami's escape and the tragedy which just occurred, on top of the need to deal with the rest of the Pride. "He is…getting away…" With a poof, Shiikaa disengages from Shemri and falls down in his normal cat form. Shemri sighs. "But, I suppose our mission was to keep watch on the Pride, not just deal with Tategami himself." -.- Hayayaka, who has been stabilized, manages a dry chuckle. "Oh, don't you worry…like I keep telling Sora-san…nobody escapes the Pride." >) The others nod grimly. Shemri frowns dubiously, but shrugs. "We shall pick up the hunt another day, then. Many thanks…all of you." For not killing us. -.-; This is going to make for one doozy of a report back in Suna.