Date: Unknown (log received February 15, 2011)
Hoiishime never saw it coming. After recent circumstances involving a certain Crystal Element Use caused the monk’s chakra sensing training to go south, Raiga now has to multi-task, incorporating the training of a pupil into . But will tagging along with the Legendary Yotsuki be more than what the monk bargained for?
"Sensory Training… To The Extreme!!! Part I - Spiritual Overload and a Monk’s Ethic"
Hitodama Highlands [Land of Grass]
The Hitodama Highlands are essentially an elevated expanse of territory within the Land of Grass — a plateau of sorts — that was once level with the surrounding country-side. Towering cliffs make walls of earth and stone in all directions except to the west. Much of the Highlands are composed of fields, but there is also a forest, a large lake, and half of the remains of a fort that was destroyed when the Highlands were created with Earth Release Ninjutsu.
All of the Hitodama Highlands are considered haunted, and perhaps even cursed, thanks to the Battle of Hashi Hashi, in which Senju Hashiramako battled the Two-Tailed Monster Cat after it appeared and slaughtered a large number of Senju clansmen. Their spirits are believed to linger in this place… The bridge that was built leading down from the Highlands to the Gaza Plains is where the name 'Hashi Hashi' came from. 'Hashi' for 'bridge', created by 'Hashiramako'.
With their previous training session interrupted, by a 'spar' that wound up devastating the general area where the training was taking place, Raiga has chosen to continue his instruction of Hoiishime somewhere that interruptions are unlikely. The Hitodama Highlands were created as a result of Senju Hashiramako's use of jutsu while battling the Two-Tailed Monster Cat. Many were slain before she arrived on the scene, but to prevent more death she lifted up a large section of the Land of Grass to create an isolated battleground. The remains of the dead were never recovered or properly attended to, and continue to litter the ground in the form of skeletons. Still wearing clothing and armor, still clutching weapons or allowing them to hang loosely from boney grips, the dead number into the hundreds and simply lie about in the large field of grass that comprises most of the western section of the Highlands.
While considered 'cursed' and 'haunted', sometimes people will visit during the day in an attempt to find a given relative and recover his or her remains for enshrining purposes. But at night, none will venture here. It is said that any who remain in the Highlands when the sun sets will never be able to leave again… And at night in general, it is simply considered foolish to walk among the dead.
So why did Raiga choose to bring Hoiishime here >right at sunset<!?
He stands at the top of the wooden bridge, arms crossed, and looks down at the massive, arching structure. It rises up from the Gaza Plains, about three-thousand feet below, and seems to just 'merge' with the ground above. This is possibly because it was created from the very earth, not by any tools or the hands of human beings. Whenever Hoiishime arrives, Raiga will turn to face the field with all of the fallen, and say, "We will be staying here until dawn." The sky burns with fiery colors as the sun sets, but somehow… Up here… It feels like night has already fallen. There is just something strange about this place. Like the Hitodama Highlands are only partially real, and the rest is a dream.
Why in Buddha, had Raiga bothered to bring Hoiishime here, was a good question indeed. It was not so much that the Highlands had been haunting for Hoiishime. Only morbid. As an observation, Hoii was prone to think that the cycle of life, had ended in such a place. Sure, there were people who lived, and could tell him of this battlefield's location. Those same people, however, made visits as priest, monks, or relatives of the fallen who took time to come perform a much needed task. So along with the feelings of gloom, and bad 'joo-joo', the boy felt guilt. As a ninja, he was here to train, but as a monk, he could actually be helping with such a hard yet, needed task.
He was indeed meeting with Raiga at the bridge. He had question, but many of them were held only until Raiga chose to instruct. The earthen bridge was an oddity of sorts, even to walk upon. Hearing the news, Hoiishime would nod, and follow.
Raiga gazes at the skeletal remains for awhile, saying nothing further. He just lets the silence linger. Hoiishime may or may not interrupt it, but Raiga seems to be content to simply stand where he is and watch the sun set. Only a short time remains to get down the bridge before the two of them will be afflicted with the rumored curse that will keep those who remain during the sunset from returning home… Ever.
Raiga finally speaks. "After this tournament is concluded, I will be returning to the Land of Lightning. I wish to see how well my former student is doing her job." A pause and then, "This training is a bit advanced—No, actually it is ludicrously advanced for someone of your skill level. There is a 90% chance of you failing utterly. I will be honest with you: it would be best for you if we simply turned around and left and did something more 'low-key'. Will you take on a nearly insurmountable task in the hopes of advancing your ability to sense Chakra at an amazing rate and achieve clarity of mind that surpasses anything you have ever known? Or will you take the slow and sure route and follow the steps of Range, Definition, and Detail? You have about thirty seconds to decide."
As Raiga simply stood, Hoiishime attempted to follow the look of his eyes, just to see what he had stared to. The sunset was indeed beautiful enough to cause the boy to turn and stand along side him. A breeze blew Hoiishime's dreadlocks backward as a sigh delight escaped his lips. Strangely enough, Hoii hadn't paid much to the rumors of this place. His behavior even now, was as if he heard nothing of never possibly returning home. Besides, much confidence was held in the man whom he stood by. Raiga had been a man he now looked up to. A superhero of sorts, his stature was larger than life, and though Hoii's bad feelings about the Highlands existed, the monk was oddly at ease.
That ease was not long lived. Raiga's announcement of the obvious, led to another one which seemed to shock Hoiishime into reality. As it stood, Raiga chose to train Hoii. That was obvious. However, as to how this training came, became a question the monk was now curious to find out. The rumors of it being quick yet difficult, came as no shock to Hoii. Quick results don't come easy. However, his chance of success being so low, frightened the monk enough for even his dark skin tone to turn white. "…", was all he could offer, as his arms folded, and his chin dropped. He was thinking. "I be figurin' it dis way, Raiga-chou-sama… You gon' be a busy man back home… Even now, ya be a busy person in da service of Kusagakure, so I do count me time witcha precious. I can't say I don't be a bit scared. I can't say I don' be a bit excited neither. To pursue so much witcha, not to mention bein' shown technique well beyond me wildest dreams… I'd be a fool not to at least take da risk.."
Hoiishime would approach the man and say, "Not a ting venture, not a ting gained. I be ready to give me all."
Hoiishime's last sentence is spoken just as the sun finishes setting. The sky is dark now — a mix of blue and black. Raiga only nods in response to Hoiishime. Affirmation, though neither praise nor condemnation is inherent to the gesture. "Very well," he says. Whatever he may think of Hoiishime's choice is left out of his voice or expression. Instead, his steel-grey eyes are still gazing upon the fields before the two dark-skinned ninja. "Then we begin now." His arms are unfolded from across his chest, and one muscular limb points out across the grass. "Do you see them, Hoiishime? Even if you cannot see them, perhaps you can feel them…" Presumably there will be some confusion about the question being posed, so Raiga explains further a moment later as he lowers his hand.
"The Two-Tailed Monster Cat has a certain… 'Influence', we shall say, over the dead. Those who died here were exposed to its power, and now they linger on >this< side of the Spirit Wall. Spiritual Energy may be half of Chakra, but for those who can sense Chakra it is harder to break it down into its components. It is like realizing that one's entire existence is based upon individual cells — each one a living thing itself — that just happen to be co-existing in a single environment. You are a bunch of micro-organisms stuck together. So am I. And yet together they are so much more… The minute amounts of energy generated by each cell, when taken together, can become Chakra. But one cell on its own lives a short life, contributes little, and then dies. Breaking down your own body into such concepts is humbling to some… And incomprehensible to most. They speak of the soul that inhabits the body being what inspires thought, emotion, dream, purpose… And yet here are souls stranded without bodies. They lack dreams or purposes. So what is it that drives us? What is it that makes any animal what it is, let alone we humans?"
Raiga shakes his head. "That is hard to say. But such philosophical thinking serves a purpose other than expanding one's consciousness. It demonstrates that there is a >balance< to be observed. Learn to measure one half of something and you can learn to measure the other. And we will be beginning with measuring the most difficult half — Spiritual Energy."
Raiga looks to Hoiishime briefly, and then back to the fields. "Can you see them now?" If Hoiishime has kept his mind clear and his senses open, he may indeed see something… Or at least feel it. A strange feeling, like a very large amount of Chakra spread out across the fields, and yet it is… 'Empty'.
At Raiga's acceptance, Hoiishime would nod. He didn't look much deeper into it, wondering what the Yotsuki nin thought. At the moment, he was indeed nervous about what he was in for. When it was said that they are starting, Hoii utterance of, "Hai!", gave of a determination. There was no looking back from here. Night was just notice as Hoii looked out amongst the grass further into the Highlands. He saw nothing within the void, and was tempted to merely reply 'no'. However, at the assumption that he might feel something coming, Hoii's eyes blinked, and within his mind, concentration came to be.
And this is when the creepiness of it all began. The explanation, or tale as it seemed, felt like a ghost story. Unfortunately, there were no smores, or campfires, or even a collective of close friend and buddies to pal around with. Instead, Hoii slowly began to feel tension, and then something indescribable(?). "…Spiritual wall?", was uttered with a tremble as then the air that he felt, or at least something in the air, caused him to feel very, very cold. Goosebumps rose upon his skin, as the vagueness of it all still caught Hoii unbalanced. As he stood, what first seemed as a large pulsating aura within these highlands, began to slowly reveal itself. Smaller sums of energy were beginning to be felt. Spiritual energy. The many who died at this place. The waiting until night fall. Even the explanation by Raiga. It was all becoming clear to Hoiishime.
"Ya brought me ear'…. so to feel out da souls of dem who died??!!!"
Raiga hmmm!s in confirmation. "That is correct. This would ordinarily be next to impossible… But this particular location is so rife with the dead and the energy that binds them here that it is a good starting point. Sensing the souls here will give a 'feel' for them. Once you know what they feel like, you can find them in other places as well. Which is… Err…" An unfamiliar sort of hesitance and uncertainty comes over Raiga suddenly.
"…Well, to be honest, being able to see and feel the dead is not always a good thing. Like the child with his head split open I saw the other day. Or the old woman with the over-sized tongue covered in eyeballs. Or the young lady that had her lower body cut off so she just drags herself around with her hands and leaves blood everywhere. Or then there's the bug-eyed man that sits on the ceiling and cackles while I try to sleep. And then there's…" Raiga keeps on listing all sorts of gruesome ghosts and spirits, even as the pervasive chill that has nothing to do with the temperature grows stronger and stronger.
Eventually, streams of multi-colored energy begin to rise from the skeletons all over the field. The energy is vague, and… Not really 'seen', so much as 'felt with the mind'. The mind feels it and interprets it as visual images. And that energy gradually becomes shaped like humans — phantasmal outlines that wander, weaving back and forth, nearly-invisible and yet all too real to the senses. They make no noises. If they made noise people would have noticed being surrounded by the dead long ago.
"…And that damn cat with the mosquito face! It always comes around begging whenever I am eating fish. Can you imagine how unappetizing that is? There is a reason I do not eat seafood anymore."
"But… But… Don't dis be kind of… well.. Forbidden??? I be meanin'… Well…" Hoiishime was in a pit of confliction as soon he would feel, in minor glimpses, souls that would get a little /too/ close. It was frightening to be able to feel this 'ghost energy' even as vividly as he could now. His lips motioned to actually say something, when suddenly Raiga started listing the souls of people who had died outside of this place. His first reaction was a simple sweat drop, both at how casually he could list examples. Hoiishime's second, had been blinking, at the many instances which the large man remembered. Even Hoiishime as a mednin, had trouble stomaching how morbid all of these situations were beginning to sound, Raiga deciding not to keep a cap on all the gory details.
"…Raiga-sama!!", was trembled out with a shout, as the man seemed possessing of no remorse for all these cases. Not to mention, Hoiishime had other reasons to get Raiga's attention. The boy was physically shivering as the chill became harder and harder to bear. Sure, his sensing was limited to what could he himself could feel, but his brain had to react somehow, and unfortunately, the signals they were sending made him behave as if caught in a wind chill. "They energies… Small… Big… Wide… skinny… I don't believe what I be fee-WhatinKami'sname?!!!" He felt something just now.. Something that possible passed /through/ him. "This be /insane/!! Can't we do a ting about dis? All dis energy… Dey be each varyin'… I don' know if it be a 'warm'… or a temper."
Raiga breaks off as Hoiishime starts freaking out. "Forbidden? Iie. <No.> If anything, it is encouraged! If more people were aware of the lingering spirits of the departed then there would be much less misery. The widow of a samurai who was killed in battle but never had his remains recovered might suffer for years because her husband's spirit, unable to leave his cherished wife behind, lingers and tries to communicate to her that he has not left her at all… She would be tormented by the visions of his death, though she did not witness them. She would hear his voice whispering to her and wonder if she had gone mad. She would feel the chill of the grave when he tried to embrace her, and might eventually kill herself out of pure despair. And would she be together with her husband then? No. She would simply become a tormented spirit as well. Now, if that widow was able to perceive her husband, to make peace with his death, and to know that he will be watching over her from beyond the Spirit Wall, she could live a full and happy life. Perhaps her husband would be gone, but she would know they would eventually be rejoined. Instead, however… She simply suffers in ignorance, leading her husband to be even more tormented."
Raiga shakes his head. "To console the bereaved is one think that a priest or monk can do. To respect the deceased and to honor them after their passing is another. But what very few monks can do is speak to the spirits directly, discover why they linger and what they desire from the living, and make them at peace with the world. Conveying messages from the dead to the living can also provide solace for those left behind. Even the spirits I encounter on a regular basis, disturbing though they may be, simply desire something… If we can understand them and help them, they can move on — and then so can we." If Hoiishime understands what Raiga is saying, and is able to put aside the terror that any mortal would instinctively feel at being confronted with death in such an open, supernatural manner, then he may sense more details of the spirits that wander. No longer just shadowy outlines, the lost souls would gain phantasmal skin and faces, and show the wounds they suffered that ended their lives. Of course, that can get rather gruesome, which might result in even more fear.
Raiga watches Hoiishime closely. How the young monk reacts to the dead now that he knows their burdens will determine whether the training continues or not.
To Be Continued …