Date: September 20, 2014
Meruin tells Renai the story of a girl named Mikari Ono who overcame all odds and became stronger because of her challenges.
"The Tale of Mikari Ono"
Administration Building - Mizukage's Office, Kirigakure
This room sports a large wooden desk which sits upon a blue-green carpet, the walls are decorated with scrolls of militaristic sayings and commendations from missions for jounin. A single large chair sits behind the desk and in front of the desk are two smaller chairs. On the wall opposite the door is a large single-pane window which looks off of a cliff and out into the sea.
South - (S) [Administration Building - Hallway]
"Do not fail in this," spoke the Mizukage, voice strong and clear. "The entirety of our operation rests on the effects of this mission. You are two of my best; I fully expect you to return home accomplishing enough to surprise even I. But be warned not to underestimate the danger you face here. This is the only foreseeable reason you would return in failure — or fail to return at all.
"Now go; Think on your upcoming duty and rest for it. You leave in the morning."
Meruin saluted the Shinobi and Kunoichi pair before him, pressing fist to his heart. He then turned his attention to the paperwork on his desk, secure in the knowledge that the next time he looked up, they would be nowhere in sight. Which was well. His next appointment was scheduled for two minutes from now and the one he'd just had was not on his official schedule.
Very soon, he would be bidding entrance to the secretary's knock at his door.
Eremi's news had Renai in a pleasant mood. She honestly expected it, but a small part of her worried that he may have been lured into a trap. So, when he showed up for dinner, she was as happy as a clam at high water. A well-protected clam at high water. The girl has literally been grinning and skipping ever since.
Well, except for now. Grinning, yes. Skipping would probably get her restrained and questioned though so she sits on the edge of a chair, her hands on her knees and her back straight, awaiting her meeting. As is typical of her meetings with the Mizukage, she is groomed to perfection, her hair combed neatly and the ends trimmed and her uniform clean and ironed. Hints of clove and sweet orange spice the air near her, making it seem just as fresh and energetic as the girl.
Renai's head turns as she hears the Mizukage's voice through the door, or the muffled sound of it at least. She watches as the two leave, her eyes following them curiously. Then, she pushes her thoughts of what they might be doing out of her mind. Their business is not for her to know, more than likely. When the secretary calls for her, Renai practically bounces up out of her seat and moves to enter the office. She salutes Meruin with a fist to her heart upon entering, "Mizukage-sama. I hope you are well today." The girl can't help but to speak with a smile. Even if she /should/ be taking the situation of her roommate more seriously, she just can't hide how happy she really is that he's still around.
"Fair tidings," greeted the Mizukage.
Meruin's attention lifted from the papers he set aside as Renai was ushered into his office, crimson mists shifting turbulently within his pupiless gaze. "You're in an exceptional mood this afternoon," he spoke, something wry edging his tone.
The girl would wait briefly until he motioned for her to sit and then would do so, sitting just as she has before, her hands on her legs and her back straight. "Well, not everything can be storm clouds and freezing rain all the time, right? Even if things are.. uh.."
She hesitates and then just shrugs her shoulders. "Well, anyways. Did Eremi do as well as you had expected? He wouldn't tell me anything other than that he passed." And, that was much to her disappointment. She has seen very little of the Mizukage in action and wanted very much to hear of his ability.
"Oh, and is he cleared to accompany me now on missions or is there anything else that must be done?" Her dark eyes focus on the Mizukage as she awaits his answers, attentive as ever.
'Even if things are.. uh…'
'He wouldn't tell me anything other than that he passed.'
"About as I'd expect, in truth."
After the ward of Kirigakure asked her final question, Meruin answered it with an inclination of the head. "Aye," he spoke. "His accompaniment on your missions are approved. He has proved to be an extremely capable taijutsuist and, if you were not aware, a practitioner of the Konohagakure Strong Fist style and a proficient user of the Chakra Gates. He managed to do me harm — something I have not come across from a taijutsuist outside of Kirigakure in quite some time. If you can trust in his loyalty, than you can trust in his protection should you come to need it.
"And I intend to ensure that you will."
Renai's grin widens when he says that he is approved. Well, now it's just official. She continues to listen attentively though to his description of the Satonezu's abilities. She blinks at the mention of the Strong Fist style and then once again at the mention of Chakra Gates. Is that what he had used then? What had made him so impossibly fast.. Her thoughts trail to the memories of the Silence they encountered and how he moved. It was.. well, ridiculous. No other word for it.
At the last there is a pause. She shifts uneasily in her chair and then asks curiously, "You intend to ensure that I will?" There is no question of his loyalty. Renai has never been given any reason to doubt that. The drinking makes her occasionally question his ability to protect her, but thus far, Eremi has not failed. But that last comment is somewhat vague and seems to have confused her.
Meruin's gaze is unflinching, his attention almost violent in its intensity now that the whole of it was settled on the girl though there was nothing dangerous in his persona.
"Eremi's presence allows us the option of giving you the greatest growth potential possible. It is your wish to become strong. To come across Nanashi at least as capable as they were. To have the strength to survive the lands your parents may have come from. To be valuable to your village, even as it proves to be valuable to you — to protect your family as it has and will protect you.
"It is my desire to aid you in this."
He answers the question of how before she inevitably asks.
"It is surviving adversity that builds power. Harming muscle and bone forces them to regrow harder and stronger. Troubling times and trauma force the mind to either crumble or create, to fall into weakness or to build willpower and confidence. Moving past one's limits is how one reveals new ones. Eremi is the shield behind which you can walk beyond your current ability.
"In many instances, for so long as he should stay, it will be just you and he. You will delve into missions with duties more demanding than you will feel prepared to meet. And in them, you will grow strong in combat and tactic and confidence and worldliness — and when it comes time that you fail, as all have done and must do, Eremi will be there to ensure you survive the failure that you might learn from it. Create from it. Improve. And in this way, you will attain the strength you need to achieve our goals with as little time wasted as possible.
"It is the path to prodigy; and it is yours."
"Oh." She exhales, that expression slightly amazed and breathless. It isn't a dismissive response, but one of realization. Renai simply saw herself as a village ninja, typical in everything except her blood, striving for more, but only achieving that which is necessary to protect those closest to her. A path. She didn't ever see herself on one, other than that which she is told to walk.
"But.. the others. I mean, I understand what you are saying and I am grateful for Eremi. Very grateful for his friendship and protection." Renai inhales deeply, trying to mold her thoughts into words. Dealing with chakra is so much easier than trying to convey what she's thinking. "Will people not see it as unfair that I have him to protect me? To train me, even?" And, not just him. Doihara Ishino. And, now Okumo Sei. It seems like everyone she grows close to is taking some vow to protect her from harm, to even die in the act, when she hasn't the ability to properly offer them the same. "I do not want to and will not turn away this gift. I am just afraid people will think that /I think/ I am better than them, I suppose, if .. I'm not exactly fighting all my own battles." She bites her lip, a little color coming into her cheeks. Renai feels slightly embarrassed for asking him that, like she's some child that needs to be told how emotions work or why the sky is blue. Isn't the answer to just accept and deal with it? Be happy and go along?
"They will," he said, heedless of her blush.
"And as you know, you must simply accept it." Meruin's hands find the ends of his armrest, fingers lightly curling over the edge. "There will always be those who say such — those with less than you. There are those who will decry that you have Eremi, when they do not, despite having their own teams for much the same purposes. There are those who will decry your Kekkei Genkai when they lack one. Those who had decried your clan, the Touketsu, when they had neither Kekkei Genkai nor clan to make up for it. There will be those who decry your ability as a shinobi, when their life has given them none of the training.
"Dislike bred of jealousy is a fact of having anything. It is one of the largest reasons all good comes with some bad. For those that will show you enmity regardless of what they learn, your only option is acceptance. But you can mitigate both the effect these people have and the numbers of those who stand with them.
"Have you heard the story of Mikari Ono?"
Jealousy is something she has seen. She has seen it destroy friends and threaten to rip people apart. It's a disease, pure and simple, and infectious to everyone who has is. For a time, even she was jealous of those who were once her peers. They had grown in strength when she had not. That taste was bitter and she is glad to be rid of it.
But, how could she possibly 'mitigate the effect?' Some things are beyond her capacity to understand right now. Despite her experiences in life, Renai is still young and has much to learn of the world. Even more now, it would seem..
At the mention of Mikari Ono, Renai looks upward, trying to recall if that story is one her grandmother had told her. After a moment, she shakes her head in the negative. "I do not believe I have, Mizukage-sama."
"She was born in the midst of the Clan Wars. The beginning of life for her was a harsh one, as it was for most. Terror was widespread and inevitable in that age, a mere fact of life. It became more real for her, however, once shinobi of an unnamed clan pillaged her village for resources to try and recover from a recently lost battle with the Senju.
"Her father was killed, her mother was raped and there was never another sign of her little sister after that day. Only she seemed to escape from the ordeal physically intact, hidden as she was within the town's well.
She was fortunate, truly, that her mother had not been killed. That night was one of bloody murder; no one else within the village had survived to their knowledge. How her mother had even survived is unknown as she never saw fit to explain how she had managed the feat.
"But she did, and when it was safe, she returned to the well to draw Mikari back up with what strength she had left and leave with her on a journey. One that would take them far away from that memory of a hope for safety and family.
"Mikari was 9 at the time and she and her mother would travel together, carefully, until she was 11. It was just a week after her day of birth that they had stumbled into a warring territory as they searched for a new place to find quiet and food, however temporary they may be.
"Again, they were witness to blood and murder, to fear and desperation as they sought to escape the two factions' battle. But the combat was too great, the jutsu too powerful and the tumult too unpredictable. 3 people fell in one moment.
"Mikari. Her Mother. And Mharu."
"Mharu," Meruin explained, "Was a shinobi of growing repute during the Clan Wars. He had skills that were said to be unmatched with the blade held in his arm possessed within the Land of Demons. The jutsu born of his chakra were destructive, their flames purple and their lightning black. He was beginning to be praised until the day he fell beside the woman and her daughter, a kunai jutting out of his heart.
"His people lamented, but the battle continued, the three bodies forgotten until the danger and adrenaline had passed, Mharu's people seizing triumph. When the victorious shinobi went to recover their fallen comrade, the bodies numbered only two. The mother and Mharu, whose arm looked like they had never seen it. Normal — entirely human.
"There was swift conversation and soon came the discovery that there should have been another there. The shinobi hunted for the girl and before an hour had passed, the call from three of their clan said that they had found her. By the time the rest came upon the scene, the last of those who'd made the discovery were breathing their final breaths and Mikari stood below the projection of a bloody handed spirit.
"The demon had abandoned its dying host, approaching Mikari, who had not been dead but simply defeated, crying at the body of her dead mother. It made a pact with the girl. It desire another host to live through; she desired someone and something to protect her from the cruelty of the world. It granted her wish.
"And so it protected her, slaughtering nearly all of Mharu's clan before they could query or escape. From that moment, she was spoken of as a monster. A terror. For many years, she was despised and feared and hunted. News of Mikari came only when there were survivors from those who sought to rid the world of her.
"But that changed eventually…"
Meruin's tone was a tad thoughtful, a pause here…
"When she was 14, her time of seclusion became one of searching. Human beings are not meant for solitary lives; it is known to drive insanity into one's heart and mind. She was no different, despite the demon within, and began to search for someone, anyone who could accept her.
"She did find one. He does not have a name, as she never gave anyone his name. He was a shinobi. Moreover, he was a protector, and when he opened the door to his hut to find her standing outside in the storm, he took her in and he cared for her. Dried her, warmed her, fed her and did not ask her to leave when she did not ask to do so.
"She learned from him. Learned of the shinobi arts, of taijutsu and ninjutsu and genjutsu. She relearned of the human arts, of empathy and respect and acceptance. She stayed with him for three years, and it is said she spoke of being happy there.
"And then she was found, ever hunted. He was killed, as was anyone else she had ever cared for. And those who had sought her out died, as they had always done. And she was a lone again and wandering.
"This time, however, her wandering steps set her on a path. They gained focus. She was weary, so weary of always knowing death and only knowing peace when it came with solitude. She was weary of the war and the turmoil. Weary of humankind and weary of being weary of humankind. She was weary of doing nothing.
"So she started a war on the Clan Wars. Rather than flee from battles, she sought them out. She killed those who fought and offered survivors their lives in return for allegiance to her. And many accepted.
"Over time, her following grew and her notoriety multiplied. The Horror, was her monicker. She was called a monster for the very same spirit that made many call Mharu one of the greatest shinobi of his generation. For her protection. And for a few years, she lived up to that reputation, seeking only slaughter."
"There came a time, however, when she returned home."
Meruin's voice gained a new tone, speaking of resolutions. "Curiosity filled her, the desire to know what had happened to the place she was raised in. She and her shinobi traveled and found that there were people living there to draw a panic from. She stopped her shinobi from attacking or pillaging, instead letting the villagers flee into the distance. Instead, with thoughts of her parents and peace and her only friend, she left supplies. Food, water, some weapons for self protection, and they were the things that the people found when they returned.
"She decided that it would be a habit for her, this giving, this service. Those towns and villages that she passed through or by would receive food and water, weapons and spare clothing when the months turned cold. She still killed, still fought, but she also gave.
"It was for this reason that opinion of her changed enough for her to tell her story."
Renai is quiet as Meruin tells his story, her posture slowly reclining comfortably back into the chair as she becomes absorbed in it and a range of emotions begin displaying themselves upon her features. At the fall of Mikari, her mother, and Mharu, Renai frowns deeply, her expression growing solemn. It reminds her of how dangerous jutsu can be. Some people throw it around to show off, but there is so much destructive power in our bodies. Even she forgets sometimes. And, it is unfair in her mind to kill those that can't use it with the powers that shinobi wield. She knows people who have. Sometimes it has been necessary. But, nothing in life is just and fair.
But, who is Mharu? Her head lifts, realizing this is someone new in the story.
As the story continues, her expression grows contemplative. There are similarities. Lessons she could learn here. But the idea of Eremi ever dying or Sei having some such fate or Ishino being taken from his family.. Her eyes grow wet at the very thought. She doesn't want anyone to ever die for her. For a moment, she wishes she could find some way to push them all away so she would never need feel such pain.
And, then, his story begins to resolve to a conclusion. It isn't perhaps a happy ending, but one that is right. It is good. That is the path she would take if her steps were to ever follow a similar path. Renai would want to give and to take care of the people even if they did not want her.
Once it ends, she is quiet, looking down at her hands. When she speaks, her voice is somewhat hoarse, "That's beautiful. Was she a real person?" Whether or not this is a historical one or not is irrelevant, in truth. She perhaps understands his meaning and what he is trying to show her.
The Mizukage inclines his head.
"It is said so, and I believe it true. Many still denounced her as a demon and a blight upon mankind's existence come the time she died in battle come the age of 28 — the same, it is said, as her mother. However, those who know of her story today know that she may once have been. But she had stopped being so many years before the day of her death. A person, as you ask. And it is for these reasons:"
Meruin's head dips slightly, "She behaved in a manner that proved oppositional to what was spoken of her. Even called a monster, she grew to do good deeds. To give and to heal. This swayed some into allowing that there may be more to her story. Which meant that some listened when she told it. Of her turmoil and trouble. Of her thoughts and wishes. And when she spoke of these things, it revealed much of her truth.
"In this way, you must live your truth. And then you must speak it. If people would think you entitled, then show them that you appreciate the value of your gifts. If they would say you would be nothing without your gift, then train at both it and your intelligence, your taijutsu, whatever you must. If they say that you believe yourself above, then you must show that you are humble enough, at the least, to recognize where you could have been and where the efforts of others and simple fortune have played their parts.
"And then you must tell them. Tell them why you have your gifts — what you use them for and what it has cost. Tell them that you are not a bystander, but that you fight as hard as any and your danger is real. That power wasn't simply dropped on you, but was something that had to be developed and honed — that it is not your core, but merely complementary of the rest of you. You have the benefit of a vision that is as much for our people as it is for yourself. Many will heed your words if your actions match their message.
"And those who do not are too small-minded to help."
Her mood fully lightens and her confidence is entirely regained as he continues to explain the meaning of his story. She brightens inwardly which is reflected in her smile. It's not one of selfish happiness like before, but one of vision, one of peaceful acceptance. Her intentions radiate around her, like a small beacon of light. And, for once, she could see Eremi saying this to her. 'Speaking your truth.' How very alike they can be at times.
"I understand, Mizukage-sama. I will remember my truth, my way. I promise to never let the people I care about down. I will be gracious and humble and lead by example so that others will believe in me." Renai inclines her head slightly, much in the way he does. She isn't mocking, just picking up on his mannerisms by association. He is wise, strong, and someone admirable; Renai would like to be much like him one day. Capable of leading an entire village through dark times and loved by many as well. It's no easy feat. This is why he has been gaining her respect and loyalty. He has earned it.
Meruin inclines his head as she does, though his is a deeper movement, the gesture murmuring of acceptance, respect and approval. "I expect that you will," he spoke. "It will be difficult, but you seem to have the ability to push through difficult times into better ones. Ensure that you add confidence to that list of qualities and you will be someone I call into my office often, for good rather than for ill."
The mists within the man's eyes gain purples to sift among the crimsons, all of it deep in color. "I have nothing else that I wished to see shared with you today. Is there anything else that you would like to discuss?"
Renai watches his eyes as they shift color. It's odd, but somehow soothing. Only to someone from Kirigakure maybe. "Confidence. Yes, I will, Mizukage-sama." She straightens up a bit more at that, her shoulders squaring as though by saying the word, it becomes her.
At his question, she moves back to the edge of her seat, going into a sort of attention in a way. "Just one more thing. Do you have an assignment for Eremi and I? He had expressed an interest in perhaps doing something abroad to stretch his legs, but the village is on a sort of lock down so I figured I would ask you about it." She doesn't tell him the rest of that conversation. It would probably ruin the mood.
A ghost of a smile flickers on Meruin's face.
"An immediate assignment? Not yet. There are always operations pending; If one comes to desk table that I wish for you two to take care of, rest assured that you will know of it. But you will not be sent outside of the country until the threat of the Silence has been neutralized. Expect it to take a little time and feel free to relay that information.
"Return to your duties," he told her. "Continue your training and remain prepared. We may call on you for the defense of our village, and we need you to be ready in such an instance. With any fortune, it will not be necessary. Only time will tell, however, and until it does…"
Meruin nods to her, "You are dismissed."