Date: September 27, 2010
While seeking information on Serin, Mushi comes close enough to his location that Serin decides to confront her… And ask for help.
"Thicker Than Water"
Miati Forest - Land of Fire
Mushi had been unusually interested in Serin, going all the way back to Higure to ask a few questions, before heading off to her only lead: Kumo. Since the way nearly passes through the Land of Fire, she's making an arrow straight path towards Konoha. But as she gets closer, she's feeling more reluctant. Her relationship with people there is so convoluted she's not quite sure what reception she might get. On one hand, she'd helped and healed them. On another, she'd undoubtedly been hired by Rain as a commissioned healer. She'd seen how they treated another hand-for-hire. For now she's made camp as the sky begins to grow gloomy. She'd been travelling non-stop, and needs a bit of rest. Her camp consists of leaning against a tree, keeping an eye out, eating cold noodles, with a blanket under her. Her defenses are a wide ring of ink around her on the grass and ground, numerous seals that are visible if someone is simply looking down. Stepping on one would freeze someone momentarily, and seem more for wild animals than approaching enemies since the grass and leaves covering them are amateurish at best.
Serin is hurting. But he is not as bad off as he thought he was when he was fleeing Konohagakure. Funny, that. The Genjutsu he was under told him he would be dead before he could even get close to escaping. When it wore off, he was still in pain, still covered in burns, still bearing bruises and cuts… But he was also alive. Alive and in possession of his sword. Perhaps it was rightfully the property of the Daimyou of the Land of Water, but the sword had been crafted specifically for him. No one else had as much control over its abilities, or was as in-tune with it. No one else even knew how to BEGIN using it.
'The Sound Goddess is mine. No one else's.' he told himself as he sat up in the branches of a tall tree, shrouded in a curtain of leaves. He had bandaged and treated his wounds as best as he could with what he had available. But there is a big difference between 'amateurish first aid attempt' and 'proper treatment by a medical professional'. He waits and sleeps, not moving from his position except when he feels it prudent to relocate. No doubt he is still being tracked. Staying in one place for too long is suicide.
But he is roused from slumber by the muted vibrations of Otomegami. The sword can be attuned to vibrations matching footsteps even when he is not conscious. It would then alert him if it detected impacts on the ground nearby. And 'nearby' means 'within a dozen miles or so'. Most of the vibrations so far have been false alarms. A moment of listening and measuring the vibrations often tells him that it is a forest animal, or just some travellers. No one near him or even heading in his direction, and certainly with no indication of speed. But one set of footfalls has come rather close, only to terminate and mimic the noises of one moving about in a circle, and then settling down. Three miles away. Maybe more. Nothing to worry about probably. But it's too close for comfort.
Serin rises from his current perch and manages to avoid making any noises of discomfort from the stiffness in his legs, back, and neck from hunching over in a tree branch for hours. He glances around carefully to make sure he did not miss anything important, such as ANBU surrounding him. Detecting nothing, he turns to investigate the camper or whomever this may be. Hopefully this is just a traveller. If it is, then he can depart without ever being noticed. If not… Some 'silencing' may be necessary.
The funny thing is that Mushi is always on constant alert. Not for shinobi, but for wild animals. Camping in forests is all and well for concealment, but a pack of wolves can be as troublesome or even worse than a strong shinobi. One of the reasons is you can't talk your way out of a hungry animal. They just attack, but yesterday was by far worse. She'd almost trod on a…a skunk. It was probably the animal she feared most. Just the thought is enough to make Mushi sniff the air warily. She slurps down the last of her noodles, wipes her mouth, and stands up to scout the area one more time. She won't get any sleep in peace until she's sure the entire area is skunk-free.
But it's after only a few minutes that she finds something rather suspicious…a footprint, very lightly made. She kneels down. It's so faint she can't make out the size, but the distance between them is very long…either a man or someone travelling at great speed. Well, from his direction he'd be coming on her camp soon enough or near it. So she whisks back. She'd left a few things there she didn't relish being stolen, and it's in that way that she'd converge with Serin plain in the open.
Serin barely touched the ground as he ran. He was mostly sticking to the trees, running and leaping on the UNDERSIDES of branches when he can, but sometimes there's no tree within leaping range, and he has to run on the ground. How fateful it was that one of those few times was right nearby where Mushi was scouting. Chakra suppression of his weight by producing a 'cushion' of energy beneath each foot to mask his footprints was a neat skill, but it is less effective in a forest than the terrain that Serin is most familiar with. Bark, leaves, dirt… Some moist, some dry, some covered in moss, some other things entirely… He is learning, of course, but that doesn't make his ability to move without altering the terrain as effective as it should be. Not until he has mastered the skill in this new environment.
When Mushi arrives back at her camp, she would likely find it empty. Whoever is around does not appear to be there anymore — or never arrived. The latter is the truth. Detecting the footsteps of the Medic-Nin as she sped up from a simply scouting for skunks to a race to get to her camp, Serin finally realized the person he was heading towards was no longer there. His own moving around disrupted the oh-so-sensitive vibration detection of Otomegami. But with his footfall suppression active, an actual running individual is enough to get through. Otherwise he'd still be oblivious. So he waits nearby, up in a tree that waits near the path he assumes will be taken to reach the camp. It's not the clear-cut trail, but it's free of most obstructions. Good for sneaking along without being seen, because it would not be frequented as much.
If he's wrong… Then he might not even see the person he detected. But he'll probably feel her heartbeat, sped up by exercise, if she gets within 50 feet or so.
As Mushi moves she's glancing up at the trees, but to no avail. There are no snapped leaves or strained branches. Either she's cold on the trail, or this one is rather good at concealment. Mushi arrives to her camp to see that her meager possessions are still there. Well, they may seem meager at first glance, but they're quite important to her. Her heartbeat has accelerated, but she's not breathing hard or giving any outward sign of being strained in her run. Good self discipline. Mushi is indeed within Serin's range, perhaps even closer than he might be comfortable with. She sighs and rubs the back of her neck. She's glancing around for any footprints nearby, but there's none. Not near her camp, not on the ground where she'd last thought he was headed. Then she cups a hand to her mouth. "Whose there?" Whether or not it's a bluff that she can see someone is hard to say. She's mostly facing away from Serin as she goes to the camp and slings her medic's pack on her back, and rolls up her blanket and bowl. Then she sets off straight for that trail. If it's angling away from her that'd be very, very nice.
Serin waits. Serin watches. He does not see with his eyes right now, because he's not in the right position for it. Instead his eyes are closed and he is 'seeing' his surroundings via the vibrations being picked up by the giant tuning fork strapped to his spine. He can feel where everything is. He thinks he recognizes certain aspects of this person, but given the last time he encountered her, she was not really the main focus of his attention. Only when she begins walking along the trail does he open his grey eyes — more like those of a corpse than a living man — and focuses his sights on the Medic-Nin from before. "…." He says nothing. She called out to him before, and he should have recognized her voice then. But he didn't. She is passing right by in front of his treetop hiding place. So what does he do now? He could let her walk away. She is already doing that. But he also has injuries… Injuries that would best be tended to by a medic.
Serin's specialty is concealment. Deception. Whether he is hiding his presence or hiding his intentions, that is where his focus lies. Diplomacy is the art of deception. So he decides to be diplomatic. He calls out, "Wait." into the forest. He allows his voice to be heard, and then, depending on Mushi's reaction, he either waits where he is, or drops out of the tree and stands in plain sight.
Mushi is at a loss. She's no sensory attuned shinobi, but she at least has some basic skills, and she's bring them all to bear… fruitlessly. Perhaps there's no one there at all. Perhaps those prints weren't fresh and the person had been here days before. Perhaps it wasn't even a man and she was deluding herself. She could just be calling out to trees like a stumbling fool. A seed of hope has begun to fill her. She'd much rather be spooked by shadows and things that weren't there as opposed to something being there. But all her hopes and embarrassment vanish in an instant when she hears that voice. She spins around. Her expression, far from being aggressive, is a bit sheepish. She hadn't seen Serin at all as he drops down. Seems her 'Whose there' was a complete shot in the dark. She waits though. She looks Serin up and down, and she sighs. That's him alright. She's almost wishing that it were a skunk rather than him, but hadn't she been looking for him all along? She locks her green eyes on Serin. "You look a bit better, y'know. I planned to look for you for some time," says she. "I want to know who you are. So…who are you?" She speaks frankly, but all the while she's very subtly gathering her chakra. The effort doesn't touch her face at all, or flux as she speaks. The average shinobi wouldn't be able to notice with the precise delicacy she's doing so, but no doubt Serin would sense it.
Serin can sense something, but he is not exactly at the peak of sensor-nin capabilities or… A sensor-nin at all. He can read an opponent's movements physically, both by sight and by other senses, but Chakra has always been hard for him to use properly. It's why he is so reliant on Otomegami. It balances him somewhat. He decides to keep his distance for now, until he knows for certain what this woman is doing. "I am a soldier." He offers in a calm, almost-monotone. Perhaps feeling a bit more is needed, he says, "I am called 'Serin', but I will not promise that is the name I was given upon my birth."
"I did my best to take care of my injuries… But healing is, unfortunately, not a skill I am well-acquainted with." He tilts his head to side. "I apologize for the attack upon you in Konohagakure. At the time I felt that you were a threat to my life due to your apparently friendly status with the one who attacked me initially. I did only what I felt was necessary to remain safe instead of tortured for information I do not have in some shadowy interrogation room. Still… I regret harming a bystander."
Again that sigh, and rubbing the back of her neck. Mushi is seriously out-of-sorts by this whole confrontation. She'd expected a lot more blood and a lot less apologizing, given their past. But she supposes that it was understandable, if not justified, in the past. Unconsciously she rubs her side where he'd slashed her. Healed or not, that area was still tender if not wounded. And she may have been in trouble if she weren't in a group, with time to go to the sidelines and heal herself. Mushi says, "I don't think an apology will cut it, Serin. There's one reason I wanted to find you, and it's worth travelling in this skunk infested forest. Tell me what village you're affiliated with. Or what group."
She crosses her arms. "It's not the first time there've been repercussions when me and my friends have been attacked because we waylaid important individuals. Nor will it be the last. Jounin… mercenaries… dangerous bands… villages… we've had to suffer them all. So my question is WHO ARE YOU AFFILIATED WITH. I'd like to know if someone is going to go after me. Aye, or Konoha. And if you don't tell me this very instant I'll beat you up till you tell me." She gives a cheeky grin, and emphasizes her point by punching her fist into her other hand. Nevermind that she'd not gotten in a hit once all last fight; she looks quite ready to throw down now.
Serin stares at Mushi. He was almost ready to try a tentative step forward or two, to show he is willing to close the distance between them without it being an attack. But when she threatens him if he does not give information, he decides against it. "I am affiliated with whomever will give me what I want. Until recently, that was Uchiha Rainos and the Takokujin. But he left the Village without alerting me at all. I understand his circumstances were not favorable… But there have been no messengers. No attempts by the other Takokujin members to contact me. No attempts by anyone to do anything other than leave me to have to fight my way out of the Village long after they all had left. As you can imagine, I am reconsidering where future contracts will lie. I am not quite willing to provide every detail of Rainos's operation that I know of, but I am willing to not aid him further right now. He has much to answer for."
He looks down at the forest floor, then around as though gauging the best escape route. "Kirigakure has betrayed me. I gave up my ideals of obtaing peace by preparing for war when the combat between Kumogakure and Kirigakure broke out. I tried to end the war by any means necessary, by destroying morale and ability to fight. I was once Shima Sami, the Ghost of the Hidden Mist. But when I was nearly killed by the Saito Clan Head, and the Death Hands arrived, it was not to take me to a hospital. It was to take my sword and finish me off. They failed in both regards without even trying, when they discovered I was not as close to death as they thought."
Focusing back on Mushi, Serin/Sami steps forward a couple times. "The life of Sami is no longer mine. I am Serin. Mercenary, soldier, bodyguard, protector, assassin… Whatever is necessary. That is the sum total of my entire life. Doing what is necessary to succeed at whatever is put before me, no matter how loathesome it may be. And it has gotten me here — to this day and time. Beings like the Mizukage are not fit to share this world with people like you. People who want to help and heal should not have to share a world with a murdering monster, or delusional maniacs. He and all that knowingly support his ways must be excised from this world, like an infected wound. Otherwise, they will continue to poison people. People like you. People like that boy — 'Taji'. People like who I would have been if I had not been poisoned in the same manner when I was his age. If I have to appear to be a criminal and a mercenary, working for money instead of the good of others… Then that is what I will allow myself to appear as. Whatever is necessary to kill him. And then I will die too."
Mushi stares at Sami in complete disbelief. That he conveniently will not aid Rain who left him to rot is something people would call a convenient lie. But rather than dismiss his story she looks thoughtful. Despite their differing tasks, they're both shinobi for hire. Given that Rain hadn't contacted /her/ when he left wasn't very nice either. Fortunately, her standing with Konoha had been good and they'd not even thought to try and arrest her on grounds of consorting with Rain. She says, "Even after everyone was safely healed and my task done he never contacted me thereafter or given me clear instructions."
However, she's swept out to sea when he reveals his true identity. A missing nin…and one of the Seven! She takes a deep calming breath and lets it back out. Whilst she is wary to believe what Sami said about Rain, she can easily believe it of Mitsuo. From her grim expression, she doesn't have much fondness for the Mizukage. "I believe you," she says after a short silence. She beckons him forward and would plop down on a patch of grass. "Come, I shall heal you. And I won't tell anyone about your identity. It's not my intention to get involved in the madness of Kirigakure. I've met Mitsuo and his Death Hands, and I don't plan to risk my life to protect him. If nothing else, he attacked my former village. But while I won't hinder you, I don't plan to help you. I am part of the Neutral Medical Center, and my goal has always been to keep it apart from allying with anyone besides ourselves. As you know, villages can rise and fall, and they drag many down with me as they do so." She'd use the chakra she had intended to attack him with to heal him if he'd accept it.
Serin nods. "If he has done this to more than just myself…" he begins, but then trails off. Acknowledging Mushi's words with an incline of his head he keeps his hands held in front of him, where she can see them, as he advances until he is close enough to be seated. "I am aware you are not doing this simply out of kindness or desire to aid me. You are doing what is necessary. And for that, I thank you. Not the fact it benefits me, but the fact you will do what is needed to achieve your goal — in this case, remaining neutral while continuing to aid the wounded — that confirms to me that it is possible to live a life like mine and yet do it without killing. It gives me hope that the Genin I saw… 'Taji'… Well, I hope that he will be able to do what is necessary as well, but turn out better than I."
He then silences himself as he allows his wounds to be treated.
Mushi nods. "I noticed you never attacked that Genin," she says. "The best, and most immoral option in that battle would be to attack him and force us to protect him." It's about the only nice thing that could be said about him in that whole fight, though. Attacking her whilst she was standing aside… well, she supposed it might seem like a standard medical shinobi strategy to stay out of the fight and heal her allies when they were in need of it. Still, she'd been standing there one second, attacked the next! It's enough to make her flush with embarrassment just at the thought. To not be prepared for attack…she'd acted like a swaggering Chuunin who couldn't see past the rulebook.
She places a hand on his head of all things and he'd feel chakra pulsing inside him, healing him bit by bit and moreover sending soothing waves through his muscles and even his mind. "Soothing Heal is something I created in light of the rumors about Rain using genjutsu to take over," she says. "It helps with the aftereffects of genjutsu, and dissolves any harmful foreign chakra within the body. It heals, aye, but it's therapeutic too." Then she'd take her hand away, leaving him quite a deal better.
Serin allows the healing to take place. His exhaustion from being pummeled with powerful Genjutsu begins to fade… Almost like his mind is mending itself. Genjutsu is his weakness, so knowing there is a better way to recover from it than spending a month or more resting and recuperating is very good.
"…You are right. I failed to fulfill my method of success. If I had attacked him, I would have been doing what was necessary… But he reminds me of myself when I was a child. Someone else killed those important to me so I would be free of limitations… I have seen it as a blessing most of my life. But it is a blessing I would not bestow upon a child like that. That would make me just as bad as the man I killed for murdering the couple who raised me." His breathing does not change, even as the pain fades and his wounds mend closed. The burned tissue repairs itself before his very eyes. Though it is undoubtedly a relief, no emotion leaks from his features or his voice. His words indicate care, but his tone does not.
"If that is all, I will leave you alone. It would be best if I moved on. Being found with me by Konohagakure's forces would be… Unfortunate for both of us. If they come across you, and identify my tracks, tell them that you were forced to treat me but managed to obtain confirmation of my identity. That information should convince them you did not heal me willingly." He begins to rise, unless Mushi has more to do to him.
Mushi taps her chin as she listens to Sami's history. It seems that she's not the only one with a complicated history. She says then, "I'm sorry," she says. "That must have been trying on you. I'm glad you made the right decision and did not attack him." She's looking closely at his face as he's healed, and is surprised to see he gives a little away. He's definitely a man of great self control. She nods. "I think that a story like that would be for the best," she says, "but if I confirm your identity as Sami of the Seven Swordsmen the hunting against you will be like a tidal wave. Konoha has no right to question me or assume I know anything. Besides, they consider me a valuable resource. My center is cheap healers for hire. Doing what they did to you…they'd have to be rather stupid to risk our amity." She smirks. "Just to be safe, you'd best leave. They could argue I did this against Konoha, and our policy… well, nevermind. Goodbye, Serin. Come to me if you need healing once more. I can cure just about anything."