Date: December 31, 2010
Summary goes here.
"Serpent's Servant - The Trial And The Trials"
How long has it been? A day? Two days? It's impossible to tell. Hours have passed, and yet the stars overhead haven't moved, haven't changed, haven't traveled across the sky or given way to the morning sun. Eternal twilight floats serenly, unchangingly, overhead. There is only the emptiness of the pit for company. Oh, Kanami may believe the pit, the snakes, and the entire world to be illusory, but they certainly seem to believe she is real, and are intent on keeping her in.
The cold, stony pit is where the Nogakujin had found herself after being swept away in the melting void that the world atop the stone column had become. The travel hadn't been dark, nor even cold. It had been a lukewarm gray, a pleasant feeling of movement, but no hint as to the velocity. And then the world had rematerialized around her in a puff of smoke to shoe the the blank obsidian walls and floor that now surrounded her. One of the first things she would find is that the small snake, Bannin, had made the trip with her. Upon trying to escape the dark, cold hole, one would find the walls too high to leap over, and that they REPEL chakra. No grip can be made upon them no matter how tenacious the grip or powerful the chakra applied.
Low, murmuring voices can occasionally be heard from somewhere up above, but they do not answer to calls, threats, pleadings, nor insults. There is only the slow grinding of time passing by without a visible change in the night and the faraway sound of wind through trees. Until finally a small rustling sound from up above that notably isn't from wind nor plants begins to come closer. Eventually a thick, reptilian head looms over the rim. It is noticeably much smaller than the terrible form of the great snake encountered in the desert, but is still quite a bit larger than any snake had a right to be. Like something from the Southern Land jungles crawled right out of a myth, an anaconda of near-impossible length, almost a hundred feet and two feet thick at its core.
"You have been ssssssummoned, sssssmall mammal."
Without further explanation, the head continues to lower, as if uncoiling from the rest of its body from the top, the voice low and feminine, reptilian eyes locked upon the raven-haired kunoichi. The head lowers further, until it is within easy reach from the ground, providing a perfect 'rope' to be climbed. "You will come with me."
Kanami managed to pry Bannin out of her pants and set him aside despite his protests that 'in his old age he needs to be kept warm', which has nothing to do with why he was in there to begin with. Then she simply seated herself on the ground and waited. By performing an open-eye meditation technique she was able to keep on staring at the featureless walls for a long period of time without truly experiencing that time. She was still perfectly aware of her environment, but she was relaxed. Replenishing her stamina was a good idea, in her opinion, given that she had expended so much Chakra to summon just one perverted snake. Next time she would have to use far more Chakra if she wanted results.
The vision of Songi being killed lingers in her mind. But it is not guilt that is attached to the gruesome images. Knowing she is partially responsible for his death does not weigh upon her conscience. He was doomed in the first place, and he was going to sacrifice her life for his own ends. It is only fitting that she do it to him first.
But the abilities of that serpent, 'Kuuetsukotoru', were enormous. She could feel his presence — not by his Chakra, but just by some sort of 'emanation' of raw power — and being in possession of power like that, even if only by proxy, is a VERY enticing prospect. She had thought that just being able to call upon snakes that exist more than temporarily to act as spies and such would be useful. She had never imagined that giant snakes might exist, let alone intelligent ones, or ones with power of THAT magnitude. She would have to give careful consideration, however, as to whether it was worth the risk. She did not believe for a moment she could truly 'die', but she must stay in-character, and that means acting as though she expected death was a possibility.
When the serpent appears above and calls down to her, she looks up immediately, blinking a couple times to remoisterize her eyes after leaving them in the 'Snake Eyes' form for so long. Kanami then rises to her feet and bows to the giant snake. "I give my thanks to you, noble serpent. If I may?" Upon receiving verbal confirmation, she climbs up the snake's back swiftly and nimbly, trying to avoid offending the snake by lingering upon her for too long.
The femenine constrictor snake merely nods its head brusquely in acquiescence of Kanami's request to begin climbing. How the snakes had constructed the pit was likely a mystery. But considering they were obviously intelligent, gaining access to skilled labor probably hadn't been much of a hurdle for them. Considering the age of the contract the Nogakujin had seen, they had likely been here a long, looooooong time.
Exiting the pit would reveal to Kanami trees. Lots and lots and lots of trees. But these trees were notably NOT like the forests of the Land of Fire. This was no forest at all. It was jungle marshland. Dark, murky, and infinitely humid. The pit was cool and damp, but climbing out was like walking into a wall of sweat. Even standing perfectly still would cause the clothes on one's back to stick to their skin.
The snake withdraws from the hole, it's entire length apparent in the vast coils around a tree trunk overgrown with moss that it had anchored itself to while sliding down. Apparently not even the snakes themselves could get out of the pit unaided. Bannin is brought up via the constrictor's mouth, then tossed lightly off to the side.
"Begone, tiny ecchi! Only thisssss one hassss been called." And then she begins to slither away, her thick body slithering along behind her, as if expecting the Nogakujin to follow her without question. "Ssssssari isssss what you may call me, mammal. A word of advice." As Sari winds her way through the grass, mud, and water, between trees, and over knots, she glances towards the actress. The path is rough, strewn with patches of water, some up to waist deep, gnarled roots thrusting up, dead and damp vegetation tearing and pulling at cloths. And no clear path through any of it. The water is not resistant to being chakra-walked upon, but it is clear that no or precious few humans traverse here. "Do not grovel, nor sssssshow weaknessssss when you are judged. Hide your fangssssss, mammal, but do not be afraid to ssssshow them."
The jungle-marsh seems unending in all directions, just more trees drooping under the weight of moss, and the occasional buzzing of biting insects, which seems particularly attracted to the presence of a warm-blooded animal. The careful eye can pick out wildlife, a green snake hanging from a branch here, a flash of submerged scales there, mosquitoes the size of one's palm.
Bannin cries out as he is set aside, "Aiyaaaa! She is the first delicate female I have laid eyes on in decaaaades! If you take her away from me I will surely diiiie!" He then realizes he has unintentionally infered that Sari is not a 'delicate female'. Which may well be true, but it is best not to say such things out loud. He sweatdrops and says, "That is to say… I have escorted this woman as far as I can! I leave the rest to you, Sari-saaan!" Then the elderly snake darts off into the underbrush, dragging a strip of something red behind him from his toothless jaws.
Kanami observes Bannin's retreat with vague annoyance, noting that he has made off with a piece of her underwear. How he managed to tear it loose with no teeth will remain a mystery for the ages. Focusing back on the more immediate and more lethal individual present, Kanami says, "As you say, Sari-san. Would my mammalian nature be less offensive to our Lord if I alter my appearance?" Observing the environment she finds herself in, and knowing well the threat of murky waters, Kanami removes a mask of a vaguely-humanoid White Snake from within her garments, and places it upon her face. The mask adheres there as though glued on, and a moment later, it seems to BECOME her face. Her eyes in the holes are those of a serpent, and the open mouth with fangs has a forked tongue slithering in and out of it to taste the air.
Kanami's smooth black hair becomes thicker, fuller, and spikier, turning into a sort of 'mane' that trails down her back. Then she puts her hands together, preparing to perform a certain Ninjutsu that will turn her lower body into that of a snake, making her look a lot like a 'naga'. She does not know if this will aid her at all, but it should at least let her keep up with Sari and perhaps avoid any predators that might prey upon non-reptiles. The biting insects will just have to be endured. Or perhaps Kanami can tuck her hands into her sleeves and slither across the water's surface… Yes, that should suffice. No point in contracting malaria or something similar just for 'judgement'.
"I thank you for the adviccce, Ssssari-san," Kanami offers sibilantly as a side-effect of her transformed face. "I have no intention of threatening our Massster, but I shall not hesssitate to be firm either, asss you sssay."
"It may," The lengthy snake allows as they travel. "Or imitation may offend them further. You sssshall have to wait and ssssssee." Unhelpful, to say the least, but apparently one predatory animal wasn't any more adept at predicting the actions of another predatory animal as anyone else would be. Or perhaps she simply did not wish to tell, and wanted Kanami to be torn apart or not by her own missteps. "Out Masssster will not be meeting you." A small, feminine chuckle. "Or rather, we ssssshall not be feeding you to him, yet. Manda-sama hassss no patienccccce for humanssss who have proven neither sssstrength nor ussssefulnesssssss."
The travel is swift, because that is what Sari's pace is. She does not slow down to allow the human to keep pace, not that the Nogakujin is in need of it, being both a shinobi, and a shinobi with the lower body of a serpent. The bugs flutter about Kanami persistently, looking for any exposed non-scaled flesh they can land upon. Their threats lessen whenever they pass by another mammal, such as a sloth or water nutria. And soon enough, the giant anaconda's slither begins to slow, as they near a gaggle of other voices, the trees and marsh beginning to give way to stone architechture.
Humans had once lived here, they must have. The stone carvings and columns could never have been built by snakes, not without the use of hands. The ceiling has long since eroded away, but the overgrown ruin as roughly square, half-sunk in the marsh, the eastern side submerged. Three of the columns still stood, along with parts of the arch which still clung to them, gray-green flat stone slightly tilted to stand upon. A row of earthen tiers rises up on western side, and a small stone altar, used as a dias, is set to the north. All around this area are dotted other ruins, the remains of buildings, overgrown and reclaimed by the jungle, and now the snakes, tribal and ancient in design.
Upon the dias is coiled a massive cobra, or at least partially coiled, since the altar, which would easily fit two prone humans, was not large enough to hold the entirety of it's bulk, leaving part of its tail to slide off. The cobra was even larger around than the anaconda Kanami traveled with! Though shorter by almost half. On the left wrapped at the base of the altar is a coiled black snake, a cottonmouth, a 'mere' six feet in length. While the 'stands' may have been all but deserted, only containing a few normal-sized snakes or two, the trees all and tall grass all around practically brimmed with them. Mombas, bushmasters, constrictors, and vipers were all assembled, gathered, hanging from branches and peering from between blades of grass. Their conversations die off as the human approaches, hundreds of pairs of yellow eyes turning towards the Nogakujin.
The great cobra's hood spreads as the head comes up, the head alone nearly the size of the woman being brought before it. "Isssss thissss the one?" The voice was thin, high, reedy, yet masculine. The male snake squints as Sari bobs her head once, and then angles off to the side, leaving Kanami alone to be 'judged'. "It mussssst come closssssser."
"Sssstep forward and be recognized by Kyorajin-sama!" Though the smallest snake of the preceedings, the cotton mouth's feminine voice was clear and strong, her gaze upon Kanami sharp and wary.
Kanami is actually relieved that she will not be meeting Manda himself. She wants to know more about him and the social structure of the Snakes before she risks such an encounter. Part of playing a part is knowing one's role. She does not know her role sufficiently well yet to convince those that surround her to not see her as food. She has to 'prove' herself, as Sari said.
Being surrounded by all these snakes of various sizes and types, Kanami distracts herself for a moment by trying to identify as many as possible. When the cobra raises himself and opens his hood, however, her attention is fixed solely on this 'Kyorajin-sama'. At the command to step forward, Kanami does so — or rather slithers forward thanks to her lower body still being that of a serpent. She has not yet been given reason to change back. Her Doujouji Mask conceals her features for the moment, but at the first indication the snake-visage is not pleasing, she will remove it. Until then, she simply remains silent and as close as she feels comfortable being.
The nearer one gets to the hooded snake, the more obvious the effects of age are. A few of the scales are missing here and there, signs of having been torn violently off in the past. Battle scars. As well, some are cracked, broken, and most of them faded. The eyes, once no doubt sharp and sinister, have been mostly overtaken by a milky white, and they squint viciously now in an effort to see the Nogakujin before him. His head tilts to one side, then the other, before speaking. "Ssssari! What issss thissss? You were told to bring me a human, not one of the half-breedssss!"
Sari's voice rings out from the tall brush near the water's edge. "This is the human, Kyorajin-sama. She has the gift of assuming another shape."
Even as the unnamed cottonmouth continues to glower threateningly beneath the altar, the snake above it dips his chin and mm-hmms to himself a few times. "I see, I see. So you are human, then? And the crime you have committed has been to sign a contract which you were not offered. Where is the forged document, then?"
The six-foot black snake answers. "It wassss confisssscated by Quetzalcoatl-ssssama."
"Ah. Hmm…" The silence stretches on and on as the snake looks Kanami up, then down, then up, then down, over and over again. "The punisssshment issss death. But you do not want thissss, do you?" Kyorajin doesn't even wait for an answer, already shaking his head. "No, no, no. You would normally be fed to the young, young lady, but Quetzalcoatl-ssssama hassss sssspoken to me. You are to be given a choicccce."
The cobra pins the human with his milky-white stare. "You may have your ssssentence carried out, or you may perform a sssservicccce for ussss. Do not choosssse either lightly. What'ssss it to be, hmm? I have other cassssessss to hear."
Kanami remains silent as an explanation is demanded for her appearance. When such an explanation is finally given she merely agrees verbally with Kyorajin. "I am indeed, Kyorajin-ssssama." When the sentence is offered so lightly, she almost doesn't process the full importance of the words. Only through careful self control does she manage to keep her pulse in check, her heart rate normal, and so forth, by telling herself that if they planned to kill her they would not be offering her a choice. They WANT something from her.
Rolling her presently-reptillian eyes upwards as though in thought, Kanami tilts her head to the side. She gives a dramatic noise of labored consideration, but then decides not to tempt fate. "I do not wissssh to delay the proceedingssss. I will ssselect the alternative to death. However, do I have permission to asssk about the nature of thisss sssservice, or ssshall that be communicated to me once thisss trial is completed?" Kanami does not fear death per se. Something would come along to save her, after all. But the role of a simple mortal must be played to the hilt. Therefore, she must make the obvious choice that she is expected to make.
"The nature, young lady? You do not get to assssk thingssss of thissss court. All you need to know issss that you are likely to perissssh. The tassssk, you ssssee," The aged snake tilts his head partially to the side, still squinting to see Kanami more clearly. "Issss ssssomewhat ssssuicidal. One way or another, I think we sssshall have our corpsssse. And if not…" The eyes close for a moment, the serpentine equivalent of an uncaring shrug. "Then I ssssupposssse you will have earned the delayed right to ssssign our contract."
The hooded cobra's milky eyes steady on the snake-imaged kunoichi before him. "Far to the ssssouth liessss a ccccity. In thissss ccccity is a man who issss desccccended from a great sssshinobi who oncccce fought and defeated a great sssserpent, ssssealing him away. You will kill thissss man, and you will usssse hissss blood at the altar of the temple sssspire within the ccccity to undue the sssseal. Thissss will free he who issss trapped. Do thissss, and your crime sssshall be pardoned."
"Massssa-ssssan will go with you." At the name, the coiled, six-foot cottonmouth slithers forward several feet, raising her head and glowing venomously. "And sssshe will provide you with all of the information you need. If you fail, and the ccccitizenssss or guardssss do not kill you, sssshe will do sssso. You may assssk her your quesssstionssss, I am far too bussssy." The male tosses his head dismissively. "Now go."
Kanami bows briefly to Kyorajin in acknowledgement, whether he can see it or not, and then wordlessly departs with 'Masa-san'. Once they are free of the court, Kanami asks, "When you feel it prudent, can you pleassse inform me of the detailsss concerning thisss misssion? Live or die, I have >never< failed in an asssssignment. I do not intend to do sssso now, ssssimply due to sssuch triflesss assss 'difficulty'." A pause and then, "And I am ssssure my name matters little to you, Masssa-sssan, but to make it easssier to communicate between ussss in the event that more than one human isss pressssent, pleassse call me by the aliasss 'Nagi'. Thisss will reveal not my identity to thossse who might ussse sssuch information againssst usss, while at the sssame time negating the need to call out, 'Hey, mammal'. Is thisss acceptable to you?"
As they depart the ruins that comprised the 'courthouse', the dark-colored snake slithers through the overgrown jungles, along pathways only a snake could know, not to mention appreciate. "I care not for your boasssstingssss of your ssssuccessss among humanssss, mammal. Here, they mean nothing." Even as she talks, leading the way through the what must have once been a great stone city, skirting larger, semi-standing structures who's function could now only be guessed at, a change begins to come over the serpent.
Her head raises more and more, becoming less elongated, shorter, flatter, more rounded. Her tail splits, and then begins to form feet upon the end. Thick growths sprout from the middle of her body, fingers beginning to wiggle out of the flesh on either end. Shoulders form, then broaden, forming a feminine torso, hips, and finally legs. In mere seconds, where a snake was once slithering, a human now walks, not even breaking stride. Her skin is the color of rich chocolate, her height almost six feet. Short, shaggy white hair covers her head, falling to her jawline in stylish disarray. When she speaks, the inside of her mouth is such a pale pink as to be almost white, and her eye teeth are slightly elongated, and notably sharper than the rest, her eyes a dull yellow. Her clothes are primitive, a conservative leather loincloth-skirt, her top made of hide strips criss-crossed over her chest and connected in the back, forming an 'x'. Each of her eyebrows are pierced near the outer edges with tiny bone bars. She walks barefoot, without the least sign of discomfort, her form thin and lanky, showing lithe limberness over muscle as she avoids pitfalls as if she knew every inch of this treacherous marsh from memory alone.
She frowns down at her hand for a moment, the bleached-bone hoop earrings swaying with each movement of her head. "I hate returning to this form," She mutters. Finally, she spares Kanami a glance. "I will refer to you as 'mammal' until you have earned a real name." Her tone is short, snappish. "Should we need to act in a manner requiring 'cover', your name shall be 'Kuso'. Got it?" With an irritatable sigh that was almost a hiss, the apparent twenty-something… human? snake? swats a biting bug right out of the air, flicking it's destroyed carcass off of her palm.
"Your target is a man named Da Guo-Wei. He is the hereditary lord of his people, and has been ever since his ancestor defeated the one we are to free. No, I will not tell you who it is we are letting loose. You are to know only that he was allowed to remain imprisoned due to Manda-sama's will. His punishment has now been deemed sufficient. Kill Guo-Wei and use his blood to release the seal. He will be well guarded. I am to provide assistance as needed, but should it be deemed you have not been indispensible in completing the task, you will be brought back to face judgement again." A nasty smile. "And I have sole discretion as to the accomplishment or failure of your task. Now unless you have any other needless inquiries, we shall depart via the Serpent's Pass."