Date: May 31, 2015
Takeo is tested once again, both physically and mentally. Is he really up to snuff?
"Takeo’s Turtle Quest - Seeking Completion"
Land of Earth
Who's to say how it happened exactly. Certainly there wouldn't be any memories of the how, and nothing definitive on the why. Regardless of that, it's simply the way it is. Takeo would have been unconscious and now, well, it's time to wake up. The sound of seagulls are in the air, the scent of water on a slight breeze. A chilled breeze. Takeo would find himself unexplicably outside on his back. But he's also not alone. A turtle waits nearby, eyes peering down at Takeo as he waits patiently for the shinobi to wake up. Beyond the turtle rises a mountain, a nasty looking thing with crags and spikes seeming to crop out everywhere. There's a narrow path at the base of the mountain, but who's to say how far up something like that goes?
Takeo seemed to be having such a pleasant conversation with the elder and Tamotsu, the latter even inviting him to drop the formalities. Then, somehow, he's … unconscious? The young man comes to in due time, only to find one of the turtles peering down at him expectantly. "What happened? Where am I?" He'd navigated most of the trip to the shores where he met the Turtle Clan, but as to where this quite noticeable mountain is located, he has no immediate idea.
Picking himself up carefully in case of any injury, Takeo reaches up to tighten his topknot and then turns to face his waiting host. "Tamotsu? Why'd you all put me out? I can keep a secret if that's what you're worried about."
Yes indeed it is Tamotsu and he almost seems to turtle smile if turtles do such things. "Good morning," he says, I'm guessing in a deep rumbly voice because he's a turtle? And slow? Anyways! The turtle turns to face the mountain and speaks again, ignoring the last questions. "This is your next test. Before you is a great mountain and you must reach the top by following the path." He turns again to Takeo and looks the shinobi over briefly. "There will be many perils along the way and it will be quite dangerous. Are you ready to proceed?"
Takeo scratches lightly at the back of his neck, but decides to leave the fact that his question went unanswered alone. It is, he tells himself, a magical turtle mountain and they obviously don't want the rest to be his business. Stranger things have happened in his life. "It'd be an awful waste of time if I came all of this way and didn't undergo your trials," he concludes. "This was important to Isobu, so it is to me. Something about it, he wanted that for my future."
The young man starts toward the pass, lifting a han dover his shoulder in a parting gesture to Tamotsu. "If any of these dangers happen to be of the lethal variety, well, I'll give it my all. I'd guess you're not coming along?"
"I will see you once it's complete," Tamotsu confirms, nodding his turtle head to the Inuzuka as he departs up the path. "Farewell and good luck."
As Takeo would start along the path it might seem that the turtle was a liar as it really couldn't be nicer of a stroll. Nice and easy the first few minutes up with nice weather and not the slightest hint of danger in the area. But that all changes once the man reaches a certain point. A howl echoes out from just ahead and over a small outcropping appears a trio of coyotes, all staring down hungrily at the Inuzuka. They don't exactly wait either as they start forward, prepared to chase and try to (possibly) eat the man. They do look mighty hungry.
Takeo is at first uncertain as to what he should do about the coyotes. This isn't his mountain, after all, and there's apparently something at the peak which the Turtle Clan holds sacred. He doesn't have much time to decide between an offensive or … Ah, wait! Takeo recalls that he had extra food supplies thanks to the portion left to him when Kaido decided to head back home.
Considering it unwise to kill animals on a mountain sacred to giant animals, he reaches into his satchel and produces three slabs of preserved meat. They're gently tossed forward before the shinobi steps back, taking a breath and hoping for the best.
As the coyotes close in they look quite ready to attack the man, whether he wants to deal with them or not. But the meat definitely sidetracks them for a bit. It might not exactly last for long but it'll likely be long enough as they start to fight over the meaty bits, playing a little round of tug-o-war with them. Hey, at least they don't look intent on eating Takeo now! At least, not for the moment. With the coyotes busy the path is once again open to the Inuzuka.
Takeo did know quite a bit about canines once upon a time, and he knows someone'll come out on the losing end of that battle for food. Even so, he's managed to avoid killing animals which might be held as sacred on important ground. He doesn't waste any time in circling /widely/ around the squabbling trio before heading up the mountain path, moving as quickly as he can without actually running. Nothing triggers their instinct to chase like running away!
Exhaling slowly, the Tokubetsu collects himself and keeps his eyes front and center for the next challenge. For all of its initial beauty and peace, the trail had now shown some (literal) teeth, and he couldn't afford to relax.
Along the path he goes, and for a short while nothing else appears to bar his path. But that can't last because a leisurely stroll up a mountain doesn't count as a test or trial of any sort. A loud rumbling comes from ahead and around the next bend Takeo would find - a gorilla! A gorilla in the mountain? Uhhh…well it's there anyways and it looks quite angry for some reason. Probably because it's on a mountain. Very Tarzan-like, the creature beats it's chest violently before it charges at the Inuzuka!
Okay, this one's a problem. Takeo's a meat eater, and he isn't really versed in gorilla culinary preferences. Don't they like fruit or something? Not really the time to be thinking about that. Takeo decides that, when in doubt, diffuse the situation and then show deference. He brings one hand up in a single handed sign, causing a wall of chakra infused water to rise between himself and the gorilla. Perhaps he'll run into it and knock himself out! If not …
By the time the water wall has fallen, Takeo will have backed off by some feet in an attempt to show respect for the gorilla's authority. Oh, this would be so much easier if he didn't only speak dog.
As much as Takeo might wish to show reverence to the out of place gorilla, the creature doesn't seen to keen on it. Show of respect or no. The ape lets out a roar of great powa as he crashes through the water and continues right on at Takeo at full speed. The creature doesn't seem like it's going to back down anytime soon at all! It heads right for the man and if it gets close enough will swing the big arms to try and knock him around.
Takeo can see that the beast is in a rage for /some/ reason, but he can't imagine why. What would gorillas be doing living on a Turtle Clan mountain? When his respect and water wall both fail to discourage the assault, he thinks fast and attempts something else. Another hand gesture is executed, followed by the formation of multiple water clones from thin air (or the moisture of it). He quickly steps around so as to blend in with the bunch, and if gorilla-san should choose to spend his time with them, he'll be on his way up the trail with all due haste. He can slow down when the gorilla's no longer within sight!
Well… Uhh… Dang! The number of water clones is a suitable distraction for Donkey Kong over here, the gorilla pounding the different water clones to the best of its abilities. Hopefully Takeo is able to slip away fast enough, or he might turn into a crushed pile of blood and flesh… The good news is water clones just turn to puddles, so there's no need to deal with all that gore! It takes a few good minutes for Takeo to escape the gorilla and no longer hear its screams of anger. But eventually he's back on the trail.
Takeo exhales a silent sigh as he looks over his shoulder for a lengthy moment, just to make certain the gorilla isn't in pursuit. He's really going out of his way here to not kill any animals, considering he's dealing with a summon clan, but this is getting a bit random! Once reassured, Takeo continues along his way. He looks ahead of himself as he goes, trying to judge how far he might be from the end of the trail now. "Tamotsu wasn't lying about trials," the Inuzuka mutters. "Figures. I felt right at home with the place when I first started up!"
Takeo gets to continue on his merry way! But does he get a break from the trials? … Well, no. Of course not. Actually, he gets to fall straight into one! It's only luck that keeps him from falling into the pit of lava (wait, what?) that has suddenly opened up underfoot. And now… he is stuck on a ledge. The chasm filled with lava is a mile wide and several miles long, if he felt like testing its limitations.
Takeo lands on the ledge with an 'oof' and takes a moment to recover. "Isobu, I really took you for granted," he groans, knowing that the Bijuu's energies would've taken care of that ache in a heartbeat. The young man pulls himself up, only to find that he's just barely dodged falling into … a lava pit? The mountain's volcanic, now?! Well, he's here, so first thing's first. Think about survival.
The Tokubetsu inches back so that he's more safely pressed to the wall of the pit, and he then looks around. Does the ledge keep going, his eyes seek out? Does it round to the other side, and by extension, the remainder of the trail?
Well… No. It is simply a chasm. Perhaps at some point it does cross, but that point is nowhere near within the range of vision. Takeo would have to figure out a way across the chasm somehow. … Dang… Though… He may also notice he is not alone. A few spikes from Tamotsu's shell may be recognizable, peeking just over the edge of the chasm.
Takeo tilts his head back, and he so happens to notice said spikes. "Alright. I know when I'm beaten," he says. "I've tried to show respect to every living challenge on the way up here, but I'm not good enough with water to tame a volcano. I've only got one solution I can think of using alone, and it'd either work or … Uh, steam cook me very quickly."
Holding one hand up and flat as his fist presses to the palm, Takeo bows his head toward those spokes. "Tamotsu, may I ask your help? The elder asked me to choose, and I chose you. If we're supposed to work together, I'm not too proud to ask for it."
Tamotsu rumbles lightly as he watches Takeo struggle. "I will assist. But please get yourself out of that hole… It's hard to work with you down there." The turtle looks pointedly at Takeo, eyes peering over the ledge before he stands back so the Inuzuka can appear somehow.
"Well, you see, that's sort of the problem," Takeo explains, trying to maintain as friendly a tone as he can with his potential future partner. "I used to be able to fly, but that went away along with my Bijuu. So, it's either head miles down the chasm looking for a way across …" He then points down at the lava. "Or, I dump a tidal wave of water into that lava, hope it cools solid, and that I can walk across to climb up."
Something then occurs to him. Turtle Clan. Land of Earth. "Couldn't you, you know, use jutsu to make a path between the ledges? This is what being partners is about, right? We've got to play off of each others' strengths."
Takeo sighs. It's true; maybe even a summon clan member can't reach him own here. He carefully puts one foot up against the wall, adheres to it with chakra, and then pulls the other up. One step at a time, carefully, lest he takes a lava bath. Eventually, though, Takeo does crest the ledge and turn to face Tamotsu.
Tamotsu rumbles lightly. "We can do a lot of things. We are not restricted. We live on land. We live in water. We breathe the air. We can give birth to flame." There are no handseals made, but there is a surge of chakra as Tamotsu stomps his foreleg on the ground. With the stomp, a bridge of earth forms, forming a path to continue onwards. "Shall we continue this journey together and learn about each other?" the turtle offers.
"Considering my only company so far's been three hungry coyotes and an angry gorilla? I'd say you're a sight for sore eyes." Takeo crosses the earth bridge after it firmly takes shape, and along the way, he parts his hands in a curious fashion. "I'm an open book, as far as you're concerned. As for you? Well, I'd love to know how you did that without even using a hand - claw? - seal."
Takeo thinks fast and notes, "By the way, I didn't hurt any of the animals-" A blink. "How'd you get ahead of me?" Just occurs to him that Tamotsu was on the other side of the ledge, the one further along the trail. Turns out he's coming up with more questions than he'd expected. "No wonder Isobu told me to seek tutelage from your clan. You're full of surprises."
Tamotsu walks alongside Takeo, moving at a relatively slow pace compared to the Inuzuka. "I send chakra into the earth, using my will alone. We are in tune with the elements we use… Enough that the will can create what we cannot do without hands." How's that for awesome? But seriously, how do most quadrupedal animals use chakra? "If you hurt the animals, you would have been fine. They aren't native to the island. Turtles live here. They would be dangerous to our young. Harukaze wouldn't have allowed them."
The good news is that they're making good progress with the journey, even with the slower pace. "Tell me about yourself, Inuzuka Takeo. For us to work together, there must be trust. The bond is there. But we must establish it. If you know any summoners, you should take a moment to think upon their relation."
Takeo lifts his hands helplessly. "I'll offer my apologies to Harukaze-dono, but I didn't even know where you'd taken me. I was worried this was the kind of sacred ground killing wasn't much appreciated on, so I found creative solutions. Well, except for the lava pit." He thinks aloud to himself, "I can make a solid wall of water. Maybe I should think about altering the jutsu a bit, trying for a bridge …" Creativity. Take that, magma!
"I've never heard of jutsu being used like that. When I was able to transform into Isobu, I'd stand up on his tails and form a seal with one of his front claws. That's pretty amazing." Not to mention, something he'll have to learn, but he's nosed around enough that tutelage can wait. The turtle has questions, too. "Well. I'm eighteen years old. I'm from Konohagakure, where I'm a shinobi. Tokubetsu Jounin; I teach our young how to use water manipulation ninjutsu. Hoping the old man'll see fit to promote me to Jounin one day, but I've got Isobu's will to carry out before I think on that." Ah, yes, the other matter. He pulls his open robe back to display the scar in the shape of his old seal. "I was Isobu's host for over a year, a master Jinchuuriki. Sorry to say, but that didn't let me save him from having us torn apart. My people are at war with a group called the Recluse, very powerful seal users. They tried to steal Isobu, but my friends stopped him. More or less pieced me back together, too, but it took three months of surgery. Most Jinchuuriki die on the spot."
"There's just some damage you can't repair. Isobu became a big part of me, and that's empty space now," Takeo says. "I don't know what it is about your clan, but he was thinking on something to fill that space with after he was gone. I know it."
Tamotsu nods slowly to all the story. Then he begins to speak. "As you can see, I have no tails to lift myself. If I … Am inclined to move, it is with my legs. I have claws that are firmly planted in the earth. I … Am like a boulder. An immovable creature able to withstand the wear and tear that time brings with it. We all have our past. We all have something that makes us who we are. What are you, Inuzuka Takeo? What were you? Before the Tailed Beast entered and tainted your body. After the Beast departed. While the Beast was untamed. After you found your peace." The different stages of a master Jinchuuriki's life… It seems the turtle is intent on uprooting all of Takeo's life.
"Wow. That's a long story …" Takeo thinks back on what seems like two entire lifetimes ago, even though its only been a few years. "Before Isobu was bound within me, I was a fairly good Chuunin - so I was told - who practice the Four Legged Style and had the sharp nose of my people. Can't say my manners were as great as they are these days, but at the same time, I'm proud of the things I did for my people back then." He walks along for a time before picking up on that. "I've always been very devoted to Konohagakure. That's why, when the elders came and asked me to give my body for the village's sake, I agreed. Even though it took everything that was in the blood, even though it seemed at first like a curse, with how people turned their backs in fear."
There's then pause given as he peers over at Tamotsu, having just really heard a particular word the turtle used. "Don't mistake me. I was wrong about Isobu. We had a rough time of it at first, but by the time I became a master, he and I were friends. Close enough friends that he used his last moments to point me in the direction of help he knew I'd need. The knowledge of your people."
Getting back to the question. "Who am I today? I'm still figuring that out. For three months, I was mostly out. They had to piece my chakra network back one bit at a time, since having Isobu ripped out by the Recluse had shattered it. Things went well, though. Isobu's gifts are gone, all but the ability to control water the way that I do. As for my natural Inuzuka traits, none have returned."
Takeo turns his head, offering the turtle a smile. "I suppose I came here hoping that the Turtle Clan could … Well, that you could help me find a new path. That you could help me become a new person today. There's nothing good for me in looking to the past."
"It is good that you seek strength in others. That will make you stronger than what you are now," the turtle says. Then there's a frown that crosses his features. "But…" Then he shakes his head. "I will allow Harukaze to tell you…" It is then that they reach the top of the summit. Interestingly enough, it took a very short time despite the fact that the pair were traveling at a slow pace. The top of the mountain hosted a clear water spring with several statues of large turtles surrounding it. Four, in fact. One looked like Harukaze. The other three were just as great, large islands on their backs. "Welcome to the top of Harukaze-sama's shell," Tamotsu says.
"Wait, that's where we are? On the island?" Takeo quickly shakes his head, clarifying, "I mean, on top of Harukaze-domo's shell? Doesn't the lava irritate him at all?" It's kind of a dumb question, but really, it'd annoy him. The shortness of the remaining journey seems to fly over his head, considering Tamotsu had him so lost in his own thoughts. Another work of genjutsu, perhaps? He'll never know, but the spring at the very peak does give him pause to smile.
Takeo comments, "There's nothing I like seeing more than water. Still, how can he talk to us up here?" That brings him to another question. "What's he have to talk with me about? You seem like you're not so happy, sort of."
Takeo takes a few steps forward, and while he stops a respectful distance from the spring, he does admire the statues.
"Four Sages," Takeo recalls a bit late. It was just a guess, but he'd filed that term away, and here were four monuments to great turtle lords.
There is a light tremor in the 'earth' as Takeo looks around and admires the statues. Tamotsu says, "We can explain this later. For now…" Then… *POOF* There's smoke surrounding Takeo and a gut-wrenching feeling before he finds himself on the shore of the beach in front of Harukaze. Tamotsu is beside him, settled comfortably next to the Inuzuka.
Well, that would explain how they moved him around, but at least they didn't knock him out this time. Takeo bows down before Harukaze and offers to him, "Harukaze-domo. Tamotsu tells me that I was just at the very peak of your back. Those were the Four Sages I heard spoken of, were they not?" He gestures aside to indicate said turtle, noting, "He was a helpful companion in the final stretch with the lava. The way your people use chakra is very remarkable."
Oh, yes. The important part. Takeo slowly rises, but keeps his head slightly bowed. "Was my showing during the trial to your satisfaction, great lord?"
"You… performed admirably. However…" The large turtle says slowly. "You have much to learn about yourself." Tamotsu nods in agreement, though looks rather sad about it as well. "You showed creativity. The desire for peace. You can reach a goal you have set for yourself rather than blindly walk into something. Even when there are stubborn opponents. But you are lacking something. Tell me… What you think it is."
"Wholeness." Takeo doesn't even need time to think about the answer. He places a hand upon his scarred stomach. "At first, Isobu was a curse, but that changed. We spent every living moment together, and then he was taken from me. Torn, wrenched away, by people who never deserved to be entrusted with his care." As he talks, Takeo slides his fingers away from his scar and forms a fist, stubbornly pulling it away as if to illustrate the feeling of the experience.
The Inuzuka looks up at Harukaze and says, "I can feel it. That place within myself where Isobu once lived. It's still there, but he isn't within it. It's just a great cave within my spirit, an empty void needing to be filled. As I was telling Tamotsu, I believe that's why Isobu used his last moments to send me to you. He thought you would know a way to help that my people don't." He gestures toward Tamotsu and comments, "It's clear to me now, from his jutsu alone, that you know many things we don't."
Harukaze nods slowly. "Yes. You need to find yourself something to fill that void, don't you. You have had many partners taken from you, no? Your first partner who should have been for life. And the second, Isobu, wrenched away to be given to another… I think, though, you need some time to figure out your strengths. We turtles are as solid as boulders with our shells. We know that they are our biggest strength. What lies within is soft. Untrained. But we steel our resolve and make it so we cannot be broken, even if our exterior is."
The turtle pauses, looking intently to Takeo. "Do you see what I am getting at? If so, you are free to explain and defend yourself. If not, I want you to take some time to think. Tamotsu can give you advice if you need it. I know he is oddly fond of you."
"I used to be muscle, like most Inuzuka. That changed with Isobu," Takeo says. In a thoughtful tone, he explains, "I discovered that I was water. Yes, I've a rare way of usig water, but there's more to it than that. Water can smother any fire, it can ride the winds, it can eat lightning, and it can even cut through iron. If water is blocked, then even through metal, it carves a new path." A little more emphasis upon that last line.
Another bow, this one shorter, before rising to his considerable full height. "Forgive me if some of your wisdom escapes me, Harukaze-domo. I can't say I've ever honestly claimed to be a genius or philosopher. All I have is utmost faith in the friend I lost. I was in trouble and he wanted to help me, and he did that by sending me to you. Some of the things I've seen hint at something new and different, maybe part of the tutelage he spoke of. A guess."
The turtle rumbles softly. "Do you believe that you are strong, Inuzuka Takeo? Even without a companion to aid you? Without Isobu, what are you? Without your ninken, what were you? You are at a point of loneliness right now. It seems Isobu wanted us to assist you with that. But we are not simply companions like those silly Foxes. We cannot perch upon your shoulder like the Bird summons, or wind around your neck like the Snakes. Or even hide under your hood like the Toads tend to do. What are you without a companion?"
Takeo retorts, "I believe Isobu wanted more than for me to come here and just establish a summoning contract. That's part of it, but he said to seek your tutelage. Your people know something which I believe he thought would fill that void."
Still, Takeo answers the question, dipping his head for a moment to think far back. "What was I without my ninken? Confused, incomplete, lonely. Every Inuzuka receives and grows up with a ninken, yet suddenly, he was afraid of me an our bond couldn't last. It was just like Isobu in that a part of me was torn away, albeit voluntarily that time."
The other matter is one which seems to inspire greater fire. "Without Isobu, I am not me. Not the same me. He and I bore hatred at first, but we found a way to something different and greater than we'd been before. Without him, I'm less powerful, yes. I'm also … As I said, I'm incomplete. In my spirit, that cavern still exists, empty and gnawing at me. Eager for something to fill it, where before, it was filled with a kind of chakra I can't replace."
Takeo looks up again at Harukaze. "Without a companion, I am only half of who I should be, Harukaze-domo. I've had many companions in my life, beast and human, and they've all enriched me in different ways. My ninken and Isobu, though, they /changed/ me. Now that I'm alone, it just feels as though everything's wrong with my life. I want to know what Isobu thought could replace him, or his chakra - he was always practical - and help me find the great inner peace I'd had for a time."
Harukaze listens to Takeo. Another slow nod that sends waves rippling up to the beach shore. Then he says, "Inuzuka Takeo. You are not ready for a companion. You do not see what you need to see. Take some time… Find yourself. You are you, and you do not need a companion to fill any void. There is only a void when you see it." Then the ground trembles, and Harukaze begins to sink back into the ocean. Tamotsu disappears in a poof of smoke, and Takeo is left all alone on the beach.
Takeo is left agape when Harukaze pronounces him unworthy, and both he and his prospective companion vanish. "There's no void? Then what's the gigantic, empty spiritual cavern I visit when I meditate?" He puts his hands to his face, draws a breath, and then exhales as he combs his fingers through the loose portion of his hair. "I don't know why Isobu sent me here, but with what fate's had out for me, I should've known I wouldn't learn it. I've overcome every attempt to stop me, only to have the answers yanked away at the very end."
What more is there to do? He can't stand there and talk to the waves all day. Takeo trudges up the shore and back to his things. Picking up his satchel of supplies, he gets himself ready to head back to the Land of Fire … Or, perhaps nowhere at all. With this last avenue to peace gone for nebulous reasons, his final clear path is gone.