Date: December 21, 2014
Poster's note: foul language filtered in obvious places.
"This Immortal Coil - Blood and Silk"
It's the day that Lady Feather's dolls will be delivered and Atsuro has people ready to intercept Lady Feather's pickup team. Atsuro, Eremi, Kenta and Taizen hide in wait at the clearing where the delivery takes place. Okahito's villagers had left the dolls in the clearing and left. Soon afterwards, two ten year old kids, Sakura and Mokuba arrive on the scene. Sakura and Mokuba, acting like most kids their ages, start arguing heatedly. The Leaf shinobi learns that they were kidnapped by Lady Feather at a young age, who forces them to call her "Mother" and calls them her "Fledglings". They also learn that Takato was thrown into a dungeon as punishment for rebellious acts after he and Natsumi stole the Immortality Scroll from the Temple of Embers. Sakura seals the dolls in a scroll and Mokuba prepares to activate a signaling orb, which will inform a distant Lady Feather that the two kids are finished and can be summoned back to the latest hideout with the dolls. The Leaf shinobi intercedes before the orb is activated. Eremi steals the signaling orb and Atsuro captures the kids in the ensuing fight, during which Sakura showcase the Amaro clan's Steel Cloth techniques and Mokuba uses the Shumizu clan's blood manipulation. When things calm down, Atsuro has a discussion with Mokuba and learns additional important information. Lady Feather was a member of an extinct clan based in the Land of Rivers. Before the great shinobi villages were created, shinobi from the Land of Fire and Land of Wind fought on her clan's land and everything was destroyed. She escaped with her twin six-year old son and daughter. Later, other shinobi found them. She was sexually assaulted while her children were killed, possibly causing her to become mentally unhinged. Lady Feather had been secretly kidnapping special children, mainly those with kekkei genkai or knows hidenjutsu. Every year for the last eleven years, a six year old boy and girl are kidnapped to "take the place" of her dead children. When they turn seven, she starts looking for a new pair. All the Fledglings are controlled by a cursed seal. Mokuba couldn't tell Atsuro where the current hideout is, since there are many spread across different countries and Lady Feather moves every few weeks. He does reveal that Lady Feather's planning to try the jutsu in the Immortality Scroll on a village in the Land of Snow very soon. The children are released with the understanding that they'll keep their silence, but the Leaf shinobi must help the Fledglings gain their freedom.
Title: This Immortal Coil - Blood and Silk
Location: Southern Land of Fire
Cold weather has finally reached the southern forests of Konoha. The sky is heavy overcast, shutting out much of the sun's light. A thick covering of chilly mist blankets all the spacing between the trees, so that the leafless giants look like misshapen figures looming out of the ghostly background. It's not the type of day to linger deep inside the forest, but there's no helping it. It's finally the day that Lady Feather's next order of dolls is scheduled for delivery and Konoha's shinobi be present as planned. It could be the day that a criminal is caught. At the very least, the shinobi might learn something new.
The map that young Okahito-san showed Atsuro several weeks ago helped the team locate the spot. Reaching it required traveling down the main forest road that leads towards the dollmakers' village. Then, they had to follow the tree line eastwards once on the other side until they find a hidden wagon path that leads back into the forest. At the end is a moderately large clearing. The villagers had already lugged the dolls to the clearing earlier in the morning. Four tarp covered objects, each the size of a six year old child, sits in the center of the cold-killed grass. The instructions left to Atsuro on the previous mission indicated the exact time to arrive, so that they would be there after the villagers left, but before the pickup party arrives. Now, they just need to wait for the latter.
There's no telling where the pickup team will enter the area from, so Atsuro uses the time they have to scout the area for signs of someone other than the villagers entering. Can't have the enemy stumble right over their hiding place, can they? Once they've gotten the lay of the land, it's a matter of actually picking a spot. With the trees having given up their leaves, hiding up above is out of the question. Instead, Atsuro has found a huge, ancient log, large enough for all four of the team members to hide behind. By peeking under, or around its sides, one can have a decent view of the clearing while being reasonably difficult to spot.
"I don't know if we should try and follow them or capture them yet," says Atsuro, "But I wanna see how they come in. If it looks like they just walked here, they'll probably walk back, and we can follow them. But if it seems like they're going to leave by summoning or something we can't follow, we need to attack fast, before they can leave. If it's Takato and Hageshi or that Uzumaki girl, try not to hurt them too badly. Remember, we don't think they're working with the enemy on purpose. Any questions?"
Being the newest and least experienced in regards to dealing with the threat, Eremi had little insight to offer on how to properly deal with them. So possibly not surprisingly, he remained quiet. Doing what was expected of him and nothing more. He'd wait patiently with the others until asked upon or orders were given. Emerald eyes peering through the mist while trying to spot the pickup party before they were spotted. Due to the cold weather, a long, black cloak tied around his neck and draped just past his knees. It was the only part of his outfit that changed.
"Well, I don't know Takato, Hageshi or the Uzumaki girl so please be sure to point them out to me before I end up hurting them 'too badly'." Not that Eremi knew the abilities of their targets, but there was always the chance the probationary chuunin might push things too far just to prove a point. Unintentionally of course.
"No questions, Atsuro-senpai," Kenta mumbles from Taizen's side. He's pressed up against the ninken's flank as he peers around the big log that the team's hiding behind. The dampness of the air makes his messy hair flop down across his eyes whenever he leans the wrong way. Kenta had been very subdued during the entire journey. Every time he spoke, it's been to answer a question and his answers were rarely longer than five words. Either he's nervous about the mission or he's still bugged by the state of things back in Konoha. After a brief pause, he eventually adds, "What if we try to capture them, but we can't hold them? That's what happened last time."
"Takato and Hageshi are an Inuzuka pair — a teenage boy and a dog," Atsuro answers Eremi, "The Uzumaki girl is a redhead, uses lots of seals." It's not really that much more than just repeating the clans they're from, but it's better to be sure Eremi knows. Don't wanna give him an excuse to push things too far just to prove a point, after all! He glances over to Kenta. He can tell something's eating at him. Unfortunately, it's not the right time or place to be trying to cheer him up. All Atsuro can do is address the concern. "I thouht about that," he says, "Uh, I don't know that much about summoning, but what if we fought so that they were far apart from one another? That way, only one of them can get summoned back at a time. So maybe we'll be able to grab the one who's been left behind and take them back to a seal expert or something — since it seems like they're being controlled with seals."
Listening to the descriptions, Eremi could only hope they didn't send some other Inuzuka pair and girl with red hair…"Can't you stun them, Kenta? They sure can't get away if you do that…or can they?" He still didn't know their abilities, so was kind of just throwing out suggestions that may or may not be useful. A soft and short sigh would escape his mouth as he looked away from those gathered near the log to once again scan the area. The mist making it some what difficult to see much, but his senses were on full alert.
Kenta nods slowly at Eremi. "Umm… I might be able to. I can try to hit them with knockout gas. That could slow them down or make them fall asleep entirely." The young medic-nin slips a small black pill out of a pouch and pops it into his mouth. He works it around a little until he musters up enough saliva to swallow with no problem. "The timing might be an issue. The air's so damp right now that it can affect my jutsu. The two of you might need to make an opening for me. When you see me make these signs, hold your breath." Kenta demonstrates a few hand seals to Atsuro and Eremi, but doesn't activate the jutsu in question yet.
The team's forced to go quiet as the sound of approaching voices and shifting tree limbs reach their ears. The voices come from the opposite side of the clearing, so they must have picked the right location to lay in wait. There seems to be two of them. One sounds like a young girl, high and sweet with a strong hint of mischief. The other is much more boyish and restrained in its enthusiasm.
Within a few minutes, the mysterious pickup team launches out of the trees and lands on the dew damp grass at the far edge of the clearing. The ghostly fog obscures their forms for a moment, only showing two very short dark figures strolling towards the tarp-covered dolls. Then, the fog retreats enough for the Konoha shinobi to get a good look at their targets. Voices don't lie. The pickup team is comprised of a young girl and a young boy, neither looking a year older than ten.
The girl might be the most preciously little thing ever. She's a dainty four foot five with porcelain skin, big brown eyes on a cherubic face and the cutest of button noses. Her black hair's clipped back in lacquered waves by a big pink bow. Inappropriately, she's wearing a -dress- for the pickup mission. It's made from gauzy bands of silk in confectionary pink, rose, mauve and pale lavender. The bands of silk are sewn together along the edges to form a fitted corset, but they're left hanging for the skirt, so that it's an explosion of free moving fabric every time she takes a step. The little girl's also wearing at least ten different flimsy looking silk scarves over the assembly, also in the same colors as her dress. Surprisingly, nothing snags when she moves.
The little boy is probably an inch taller than his young companion and slightly less delicate in build. His hair looks black at first, but resolves into a dark rich brown when he gets closer. He has a round face that old aunties would love to pinch… if it doesn't look like he'd die from nervousness when anyone tries such a thing. The little boy keeps twitching and jumping whenever the mists around them swirl into overly odd shapes. His blood-red eyes also dart around without pause. Unlike his team mate, he's dressed appropriately in a non-descript gray uniform with a thin leather vest over it and sensible ankle-boots.
"We should break off the doll's noses! That'll make the Hag's face turn all red and blotchy again! Hehehehe!" the little girl exclaims energetically when she stops in front of the covered statues.
"No, Sakura-chan! We can't do that! Mother will think that the villagers did it again. That'll be bad… -very- bad! She might decide to kill all of them! She's already thinks that they did something to Boss Crow. He's not answering her summonings anymore… And you have to stop calling her the Hag behind her back! You don't want her to find out!" the little boy promptly replies and shakes his head vehemently.
Atsuro glances between Eremi and Kenta. "Good plan," he whispers, "If they're unconscious, it might prevent them from being summoned away." He takes a good look at Kenta's seals, then settles down behind the log to look over at the dolls.
Once he's gotten a good look at the two children, he ducks down behind the log. He looks over to Eremi and mouths, "Not them." Hopefully this isn't just two of their targets henged into a less conspicuous form, but the way they're discussing this makes things seem strange. And the way they mentioned the crow doesn't seem to suggest it either. Atsuro and Taizen sniff the air a couple of times, trying to get each scent. Since they seem to have just came on foot (albeit ninja style), Atsuro gestures that they're going to follow once the kids leave. Assuming no summoning seals or anything like that appear, of course.
The voices reaching his ears, Eremi would instantly shift in the direction from which they came. A quick glance would be given to the others to see if they recognize the voices as belonging to the Inuzuka pair or Uzumaki girl and if restraint was going to be needed, but as the fog began to clear, he was given his answer. Children were their targets. Did Atsuro and Kenta know this? Another look back to them to see what the plan was revealed at least that this was indeed not who they were expecting and from here on out, following them would be the plan.
Kenta blinks several times when the children appear. -These- are the targets? His eyes meet Eremi's and he shakes his head. He hadn't known either. He's seen strong shinobi that young, but rarely. Ikari's a good example of a child that's much more powerful than her age with indicate. Nevertheless, Kenta gets an uneasy look on his face. He's never had to apprehend shinobi under sixteen before, so this is entirely new territory. He's not even sure whether he'll be able to fight them seriously. They look so… innocent.
The little girl spins around in a cloud of flowing silk to face the little boy. She plants her small fists on her hips and sticks out her bottom lip in a pout.
"Oh, phooey, Mokuba-kun. She's not our real mother. She's a mean old Hag. My real mother's back in Suna and I'm not going to forget it. I don't want to be a big suck up like Natsumi, especially after the Hag threw Takato-nii-san into the dungeon. One day, I'm going to figure out how to get rid of this seal. It won't be long. She can't control us or punish us without the seal. She also won't be able to summon us if we run away. But I'm not going to run away. I'm going to -kill- her. You'll see! Even she told me that I'm getting super strong."
"Sakura-chan…" the little boy groans. He slaps a hand into his face and draws it down slowly. "Please -stop-. You'll be old and wrinkly too before you're as strong as Mother. Just seal up the dolls, so that we can go. This place is soooo creepy right now. I feel like there's something in the fog watching us."
"Yeah, yeah! Fiiiine. I'll do it now and I won't break the dolls' noses either. This fog is making my clothes get all wet and icky anyway. You're such a scaredy cat sometimes, Mokuba-kun. Ghosts aren't even real. Get the signaling orb ready and break it when I give you the signal, so that the Hag knows to summon us back."
The little girl sniffs loudly and twirls around to face the dolls again. She rummages around in the folds of her dress until she finds a scroll, which she spreads out on the damp grass. Then, she confidently makes several hand seals. The scroll glows and the dolls, tarp and all, starts to distort and flow into the scroll.
"I'm -not- a scaredy cat! Your clothing's waterproof! You're just using that as an excuse, because -you- want to get out of her quickly too…" the little boy grumbles while his team mate works. He sticks a hand into a pocket in his vest and pulls out something too. A small silvery ball. Atsuro and Kenta would recognize it from their run-in with Natsumi, Takato and Hageshi at the Temple of Embers.
Atsuro's eye narrow at the mention of the signalling orb and the summoning. No way in corduroy is he going to let that orb break. He quickly waves to catch his team's attention, then signals to each member as quickly as he thinks they can follow. Kenta is signalled to be ready. Eremi is signalled 'wait for diversion,' then 'take', then finally Atsuro mimics holding a sphere. Last, he gestures for Taizen to get ready to attack, and mouths 'girl' to him. Finally, he gives one more gesture 'I'm going in.'
He rolls out the side of the log opposite Eremi, then walks out into the open. "Hey, kids!" he says, "I hear you've been having problems with somebody." He continues walking, attempting to position himself so that they'll have to turn their backs to the log if they want to keep watching him. "I bet I can help! Now, if I do you this favour soon, I'll expect two favours from you in the future, but that's just one favour each! Pretty good deal, don't you think?" He gives them a big, sunny smile, even going so far as to close his eyes happily. But he's tracking Mokuba's scent just to make sure they've got one more person ready to take away the orb if it comes to that.
…Following /was/ the plan. The children clearly had intentions of being summoned out, how Eremi wasn't sure, but the gestures Atsuro was offering was enough to let him know there was a change of plans and they needed to be accomplished swiftly and without any mistakes. Otherwise… mission failure.
Studying the quick signals, a nod would be given before Eremi turned about to peer about the log carefully and cautiously. He'd wait, watching as Atsuro stepped out to greet the children. It was an act that seems to have been done without much forethought, but one that was needed to be done out of necessity. The diversion was happening, he just had to wait for an opportune moment to react and grab that orb.
Signaling orb? That doesn't sound good. Kenta's eyes widen in alarm. He turns to Atsuro with a questioning look. Luckily, the team leader already has a plan in place! Kenta nods after he deciphers the silent hand signals, but he's still surprised when Atsuro simply walks out into the open to confront the two children. That wasn't the type of diversion that he expected. Kenta sucks in a deep breath and starts focusing his chakra.
Mokuba was just about to toss the signaling orb into the air when Atsuro sudden appears out of the ghostly mists. He squeaks and stumbles backwards. "G-Ghost!" the little boy exclaims. "S-Stay back!" He tugs a kunai from a holder with his free hand and waves it threateningly at the much older shinobi. The threatening gestures become uncertain once Atsuro starts talking. "Sakura-chan…?" he asks, looking to the little girl for directions.
Sakura also squeaks, but she masters her surprise much quicker. She stares suspiciously at Atsuro's face. Then, he eyes trail upwards. "Don't be a dummy, Mokuba-kun. Look at the symbol on his forehead protector. He's not a ghost. He's a Leaf shinobi. This must be Takato-nii-san's friend. I bet he found out about the dolls and want to trick us into leading him to the Hag. Isn't that the stupidest idea ever? We're going to have to kill him."
"W-Whaaaat?!" Mokuba exclaims. He looks shocked by Sakura's callous suggestion. He starts shaking his head vehemently. "I don't want to kill -anyone-! Only bad people do that and we're not bad people! We can just leave. He won't be able to follow us." The little boy waves the orb in his hand for emphasis.
Sakura sighs and shakes her head back at Mokuba. "He already knows about this place. He'll just keep coming here every time. Maybe he'll even come with other people. Maybe he'll try to kill -us-. Grownups are stupid like that. Maybe the Hag will find out and place an ambush here to catch him. She asked all of us to watch for the stupid shinobi that made Takato-nii-san start talking back at her, remember? It's better for us to kill this guy. He won't get captured later and Takato-nii-san won't have to watch him get tortured."
"It's not right to kill someone just like that, Sakura-chan! You sound just like Mother!" Mokuba exclaims. He stamps his foot on the ground in a rare show of temper.
"Am not! You take that back!" Sakura shouts. The scroll on the ground finishes sucking up the dolls, but she doesn't even notice. She's too busy arguing with Mokuba. In fact, neither of them are looking at Atsuro either…
"Kill me?" Atsuro repeats. He chuckles. "Ha ha ha ha ha! Kill you? Ah, kids. The solution to all of your problems is standing right in front of you. And yet you don't seem interested?" He gestures to himself, "Now, aside from that part about me being 'stupid,' I can tell by your conversation that you already know a lot about me, so you should know that I could help you if you helped me just a little. I think I know enough about you that I wouldn't want to kill you. And I already know enough about myself that you wouldn't be able to kill me." He raises his hands, "Now, I know I must seem pretty scary, considering the circumstances. So here, I'll kneel down and put my hands on the ground like this. That's gotta get you at least an extra second or two if I do something dangerous, right?"
Then he does just that, getting down on his knees and leaning forward slightly to put his hands on the ground. It does look like a conciliatory posture, but it's also very close to being on all fours, which would allow him to move very quickly or quietly. A combination of aggression and negotiation: aggrotiation.
Listening to the conversation was offering nothing of use, but as Eremi watched Atsuro's movements, it was almost clear what was going to happen next. If need be, the Inuzuka could grab the orb and take the kids out all on his own. Without much of a challenge. Assuming the circumstances didn't change. Children weren't the most intelligent, but they also weren't predictable. This could go any direction and just in case he was still needed, Eremi stayed prepared. Ready to charge out if necessary.
Kenta winces when the little girl quickly sees through Atsuro's original plan. So much can go wrong so quickly. They might need to come up with something new or keep making adaptations. Since Atsuro's too far away to speak to directly, Kenta decides to arrange a line of communication in another way. He forms a seal and closes his eyes. Within seconds, his mind touches the Jounin's. <"Atsuro-senpai. What should we do?"> he sends out telepathically to the older shinobi.
Meanwhile, both of the children stop bickering long enough to turn back to stare at Atsuro.
"See? He's not going to try anything stupid. We don't have to kill him," Mokuba urges. He had been a little confused at first by Atsuro's speech, but now he's nodding his head at the older shinobi in an encouraging manner. "We can hear what he has to say and leave after that. He really doesn't look that dangerous."
Sakura sniffs loudly and plants her hands on her hips. "Oh phooey! You're such a big dumb dumb head, Mokuba-kun. He's just -pretending- to be harmless. You -know- that Takato-nii-san can attack while he's on all fours just as easily as he can when he's standing straight. It's an Inuzuka thing." She gestures a small hand imperiously at Mokuba. "His ninken must be hiding. Look for it." The little girl points a finger at Atsuro's nose. "You get to talk, but I'm still going to kill you. You'll thank me after for keeping the Hag from getting you."
Mokuba groans loudly, but he follows Sakura's orders. He's obviously the submissive one of the pair. The small boy clenches the signaling orb tensely in his hand while he goes poking around the edge of the clearing for Atsuro's ninken. Unluckily, he starts off very close to where Eremi, Taizen and Kenta are hiding. It won't be long until he finds the hidden shinobi.
"Thank you when I'm dead?" Atsuro asks, "Doesn't make sense, but it doesn't matter. Because you're not going to kill me. And if this 'hag' lays a finger on me she's history. Anyway, I suppose it's true that I'm just as dangerous standing as kneeling. Very clever. Now, I know that you're used to getting things your way, but you should really listen to that boy there." If the girl will allow him, he stands up. <"You and Eremi be ready and get them once they've turned their heads."> Then he says aloud, "Oh, my friend was just making sure we weren't ambushed from the other direction. Come on out! Right here, pal!" Taizen jumps up from behind the log and closes the distance between himm and Atsuro as quickly as he can. Hopefully the two children will have to look /away/ from the log if they want to get a good look at Taizen.
The younger boy started to make their way toward the outer edge of the clearing, making it easier for Eremi to run out and grab Mokuba if need be. He was prepared to do so, regardless of what silent conversation he wasn't a part of between Atsuro and Kenta. At least until he felt the unexpected hot breath of Kenta upon his ear. It was unsettling and a bit awkward, but he nodded his head in understanding.
Taizen would jump out, distracting the kids momentarily and in that brief moment, Eremi would move. Approaching swiftly while using the tree lines to mask his arrival until reaching the kid and grasping for the orb. If it broke, the kids would be summoned away? But what if Eremi held on to the kids as well?
As soon as Kenta finishes relaying Atsuro's message to Eremi, he starts to shift his position to make it easier to spring into action at the correct time. He waits tensely while Taizen jumps out into the open. The young medic-nin watches everything unfold by peering around the side of the log. As soon as Eremi tries to grab the orb from Mokuba, he lunges to his feet and jumps on top of the log. His hands rapidly form seals. The seals are the same ones that he showed the rest of his team members earlier. <"Hold your breath!"> Kenta telepathically sends to Atsuro. "Eremi!" he exclaims at the same time. Right afterwards, Kenta blows hard. A stream of soporific mist thicker than the surrounding fog explodes from his mouth. It spreads out quickly in a wave that blankets the entire clearing.
A moment's distraction. Two sets of young eyes shifting towards Taizen. For all their training as shinobi, both of the kids -are- just kids and kids are a bit easier to distract than adults.
Mokuba screams when Eremi suddenly jumps out at him. The little boy tries to dodge, but he doesn't make it in time. In the blink of an eye, the signaling orb is gone from his hand and in Eremi's. "Sakura-chan! They took the orb!" he wails. Mokuba's so distraught that he nearly misses seeing the blast of mist heading towards him from Kenta's direction. He yelps loudly and snaps his hands downwards. The skin of both wrists rips open and hot blood spills. Instead of merely dripping, thick streams of blood lashes downwards like whips and propels the little boy up and backwards into the air. He lands on a tree branch out of reach of the attack.
Sakura isn't so lucky. She snaps his head towards Mokuba at the sound of the little boy's scream. "Mokuba-kun! I'll save you!" she cries out and starts to take a step forward. The sleeping mist had nearly reached her by then, but it's diluted enough that it doesn't look much whiter than the normal mist surrounding them. She realizes the danger too late. The dozens of silk scarves that the little girl's wearing writhes like snakes to form a protective dome, yet some of the mist gets through. She drops to her knees with the scarves falling dead around her, momentarily stunned, but not passed out.
Receiving Kenta's warning, Atsuro takes in a deep breath. Taizen follows suit. Forewarned, they aren't affected by Kenta's knockout gas, and they find themselves standing beside the semi-conscious Sakura. He exhales again when the mist clears and kneels down. "Relax," he says, looking up to Mokuba in the tree, "We would never hurt you. Aside from knocking you out, I mean. But a lot of people wouldn't stop there!" He quickly grabs away all of Sakura's scarves and tosses them away, out of her reach.
"I know we probably seem pretty crummy to you guys, but I think you two are on the same side as us. You just need some time to realize it." He stands up, and Taizen moves in to keep watch over Sakura as Atsuro speaks to Mokuba, looking at him directly. "So, she's an Amaro and you're a Shimizu? Your 'mom' really likes kekkei genkai, eh? How long will it be before she starts getting suspicious over you being gone?" He gestures for the boy to come down out of the tree. "We won't hurt you," he repeats, "We /could/ help you."
"Yoink!" Eremi exclaims once snatching the orb from the kid. "Like taking candy from a…." Jerking suddenly upon hearing Kenta shout his name, forcing him to reflexively drop the orb, but through a bit of fumbling manages to grasp a tighter hold around it. That must be the signal, a quick inhale and his breath would be held. Though seeing what the boy does next to avoid the poison almost causes Eremi to gasp. A bit too risky lingering with the strength leeching mist, Eremi would jump up above to a nearby limb that hangs just above the mist before he exhales and takes in a new breath. "Can I keep the orb?"
"Good job, Eremi-san!" Kenta exclaims. It's the first time he sounds happy since they started out from Konoha. The young medic-nin offers his team mate a while smile, but quickly turns his attention back on Mokuba. The little boy uses a type of jutsu that he had never seen before. Manipulating blood? Atsuro obviously knows about it and Kenta -had- heard rumors about a clan that can do that type of thing in the Land of Water, but who knows what Mokuba really can do with all that?
Mokuba's eyes dart back and forth between Atsuro and Eremi. The former's holding his friend hostage. The latter has the signaling orb. It's a touch decision, but it's one that the little boy makes fast. "You let her go, you big meanie!" Mobuka yells at Atsuro in a shrill voice. "You act like you're all nice and you have people waiting to ambush us!" Then, the little boy's low lip wobbles. His tone turns into a pleading one and he blurts out, "Don't hurt Sakura-chan and I'll tell you everything that you know! Yes, I'm a Shimizu and Sakura-chan's an Amaro. Mother only likes special people like us to join her Fledglings. We sometimes sneak in extra time on missions, but she'll be suspicious if we don't send the signal by tomorrow morning. You can't hold us long anyway. Please let Sakura-chan go?"
Sakura's growling in a way that sounds so wrong coming from a little girl with her level of pretty princess adorableness. Her eyes are filling with tears of humiliation at how easily the Leaf shinobi were able to subdue her and take away her scarves. She's the -best- of the Fledglings. No stinking dog-faced Leaf shinobi's going to humiliate her like that. Adrenaline rushes through the little girl's veins. "Don't you tell them what they want, Mokuba-kun!" she yells back at the little boy. "They're just going to find out everything and kill us. I knew that they're stupid tricky adults! I -knew- it!"
The little girl shifts to glare up at Atsuro and Taizen through watering eyes. It's true. He took away her scarves, but the Jounin made a big mistake. He relaxed much too soon and left her with weapons at her disposal. "Mokuba-kun, hide!" The little girl suddenly rolls sideways and comes up to her feet. At the same time, bands of silk that makes up her dress - now soiled with dead grass and dirt - sprays outwards like dozens and dozens of multicolored snakes. " KAI!" Sakura screams at the top of her lungs and slaps her hands together. Formerly invisible seals blaze up the lengths of each silken band in lines of light. Explosive tags start shooting out from the seals in all directions. Kaboom! Kaboom! Kaboom!
"Kid," says Atsuro, "Being ambushed by people who want to help you is a pretty rare thing. Someday you're going to remember this meeting as the biggest favour you've ever been given." He holds up his hands, "And as I've said, like, twenty times now, I'm not going to hurt either of you. She's perfectly safe." And then suddenly she attacks. It could be a simply twitch of a particular muscle or movement of an eye, but something Sakura does seems to have tipped both Atsuro and Taizen off and they jump back out of harm's way.
"Seriously?" says Atsuro, "You obviously don't /want/ to be with this woman. She kidnapped you to start with. Just think about what you're doing for a minute, geez." Almost as soon as they've recovered from their dodge, Atsuro and Taizen are after them again. Taizen leaps in the direction of Sakura, while Atsuro jumps up to the trees and takes off after Mokuba.
There was no response, so Eremi assumed the answer was yes, yes he can keep the orb. It was a neat trinket and so long as it didn't break the hag wouldn't be summoned or the hag wouldn't summon him. Whatever…"Would you be interested in some sort of trade? Not all adults are bad you know and besides." Gesturing over his shoulder toward Kenta. "That one isn't much older than you." Kenta was a midget after all, maybe he could pass for a teenager as well.
When Sakura attacks, Eremi is caught off guard. His focus was on Mokuba as he figured Atsuro would be able to handle a barely conscious girl. A poor assumption on his part. There was a shout and a flash of light that followed an explosion. The resulting blast knocking Eremi clear off the tree and tumbling to the ground below. He'd land on his back and lose a bit of his senses as his head rocked back. The fingers of a single hand that grasped tightly to the orb would uncurl and the orb would roll a few inches away. "Medic…"
"No, you have it all wrong. We're not going to hurt you," Kenta starts to add his own soothing comments to what Atsuro's saying. Then, it all goes wrong. The medic-nin's mouth literally drops open when Sakura rolls away and puffs up like a strangely colored octopus. Even worst, there are waves and waves of explosive tags heading his way! "Ahhhhh! Not good! Get behind cover!" he warns the rest of his team mates. Kenta jumps off the log and lands behind it. Unfortunately, a mere log won't be enough to shield against so many explosive tags. He quickly weaves hand seals and stomps hard on the ground. Walls of chakra spring up from all side to encase the medic-nin in a protective barrier. Kenta huddles down as the explosives blast into the barrier repeatedly, causing ripples of light to flash through it. The log in front of him shatters and sprays the barrier with shrapnel. Several tree limbs also snap off from above and bounce off the barrier.
Finally, there's silence. The explosives have stopped. It left the entire clearing a scorched and broken stretch of devastated land, but they're all alive. That's what Kenta assumes when he stands up and lets the barrier down cautiously. Was that Eremi's voice calling out for a medic? "Eremi-san! I'm coming! Hold on!" Kenta exclaims and runs in the direction of the voice. He sees Eremi's fallen figure and quickly kneels to heal the injured Leaf shinobi. It's a relief to see that the signaling orb didn't break during the attack.
Mokuba knows exactly what's coming when Sakura tells him to run. The little boy has seen the devastation that his team mate's jutsu can cause. He doesn't need any additional urging to plunge into the tree line and get as far away as he can. His small form disappears into the mist enshrouded forest like one of those ghosts that he was so worried about.
The explosive attack turns out to be the last one that Sakura's going to make for a while. Moments after she releases it, the little girl starts running after Mokuba. Her skirt flutters behind her. About half the silk bands are scorched and tattered by the explosive force of her own jutsu. It's obviously one that could only be used as a last resort. Taizen tackles her before Sakura manages to reach the trees. The little girl's arms windmill wildly as she topples forward and strikes her head against a tree root. Her body goes limp.
Despite a head start, Mokuba doesn't do better. The bloody whips are sucked back into his body, leaving him to jump from tree to tree as normal. Unfortunately, the explosions from behind are so powerful that they shake the trees even deeper into the forest. An especially powerful tremor knocks him out of one. He would have fallen and broke his neck, but Atsuro catches him in time.
Once Atsuro has Mokuba, he stands the both of them up, then holds the boy's arms against his body and leading him in a walk. He's being as gentle as he can be while still restraining Mokuba. "You guys could have made this a lot easier for us," he says, "I wasn't lying when I said we're on the same side. Or that we wouldn't hurt you." They arrive in the clearing again and there's Sakura, obviously having been knocked out by a blow to the head. "Well, I wasn't lying when I said we're on the same side. Uh, Kenta, can you make sure she's okay?" He walks Mokuba away from her. "I don't want to make you do anything that'll put you at risk, okay? I just need some information. Help me help you."
A little bit bruised with the wind knocked out of him, Eremi was hurt, but has been in far worse situations. Just a few moments of gathering himself up would be all that would be needed to get him walking again. Not fully recovered of course, but well enough. Then he felt a warm sensation coursing through his body that returned him to a condition that left him feeling better than before the explosion. "Fast response…" Eyes would look up to Kenta as his fingers stretched out to grab the signaling orb once again. "Thank you." Sitting up, he'd use the medic to get to his feet and then head over toward Atsuro and Mokuba.
Kenta nods curtly at Eremi. He also breathes out a sigh of relief to see that the other member of Team Phoenix doesn't have any spinal injuries or other complications. The young medic-nin stands up and jogs towards the unconscious Sakura. "Please stand back a little, Taizen-senpai," he asks Atsuro's ninken partner. Kenta kneels down and places a hand on Sakura's forehead. He starts to send gentle pulses of chakra through her body to perform a quick diagnosis. It takes about a minute before he breathes out another sigh of relief. "She has a mild concussion, but she's fine otherwise. I should be able to take care of that pretty easily. I'll stand guard with Taizen-senpai," Kenta calls out to Atsuro.
Mokuba's face turns white and stricken when he sees Sakura lying motionless on the ground. It's obvious that he thinks the Leaf shinobi had killed her. Stark relief fills his face after Kenta pronounces Sakura as "fine" except for a mild concussion. He also bursts into tears, which hampers his vision enough that he keeps stumbling while Atsuro marches him away to a more quiet location. The little boy's properly softened up for questioning.
Despite the difficulty of getting to this point, Atsuro's stores of patience still haven't run out. "That's good," says Atsuro, "If you can, get her as good as new." Partly a show for Mokuba, partly because it miht work with another plan he has forming in his head, and partly because, hey, these children are victims too. He gently turns Mokuba to face him, then kneels down to speak to him eye to eye. "First, once we're done here, will it be safer for you two to go back to her, or to somewhere where she can't get you? Second, how do we find her?"
Approaching Atsuro and Mokuba, Eremi would keep his distance enough to not appear as a larger threat to the child than he actually was. He wanted Mokuba to be able to answer Atsuro's line of questionings calmly and with a clear head. Not feel like he was being bullied into answering. Still, Eremi was close enough if the boy decided to take off again or suddenly attack with the same unpredictability of Sakura, he'd be able to react properly. Until then, Eremi remained motionless and quiet.
Mokuba flinches away from Atsuro at first, but he gradually calms down when he realizes that the older shinobi isn't going to do anything worse to him than ask more questions. His lower lip wobbles and he has to scrub his wet face several times before he musters enough calm to answer. The little boy lowers his eyes to stare at the ground instead of Atsuro's face. "Y-You can't hide us from Mother." A sudden paused… HICCUP. Mokuba shudders and takes in a deep breath. "Mother can find us -anywhere-. She can track and control us with a special seal." The little boy starts to tap at his forehead, but another hiccup jars his finger, so that he pokes himself on the bridge of his nose instead. "She'll use her special summoning jutsu when we disappear for too long…" Hiccup.
Mokuba shudders and swallows again. His eyes dart up to glance at Atsuro's face with fright, but he quickly lowers them again. "You… You really don't want to know where Mother is. S-She'll do -bad- things to you if you go after her."
Couldn't there be some way of taking them back to Konoha and preventing seals like that from working? But Atsuro doesn't know enough about seals to be sure of such a thing. "I don't know if that's true," says Atsuro, "But it could be pretty bad if we just risked it. Okay then, I'll let you go back to her with the dolls after this. Can I trust you two not to tell her about this? Will you be able to hide it?" He frowns slightly. "What sort of bad things?" he asks. If he's willing to talk about it, Atsuro may as well use this opportunity to prepare.
Mokuba's head pops up and he gives Atsuro's a look of distain that only a child can pull off when confronted by a particularly stupid adult. "Mother -always- finds out. She finds out about -everything-. Sakura-chan's going to have to explain why her dress is all burned. Mother can use the special seal to make us talk. She'll punish us if we lie" His tone says that this is the most obvious thing ever. A second later, Mokuba's face turns white and he drops his gaze again. "S-Sorry," the mumble boy mumbles in a frightened voice. "W-We can't lie to Mother. S-She'll find out what happened and she's going to be -super- angry. She's already angry at you for making Takato start to backtalk her. People that make her angry gets punished -bad-. She might cut off your fingers and toes… or… or… tie you up and let her birds eat you." Mokuba's breath starts to come out in spurts and gasps. "She already hates most shinobi because of the bad things they did to her…"
"And what will happen if you tell her the truth — that I ambushed you both and you got away by using her dress thing and breaking that orb — without giving her any unnecessary details? You can't explain it to her so that she'll be satisfied without asking for more?" Maybe it /is/ worth the risk of taking them back to Konoha after all. Waaaiit a minute. "You know," he says, "You said you have until tomorrow morning? There's a village of craftsmen just down the road from here. What if we could find someone to make her an identical dress? An exact double so that she has no idea that anything happened to begin with?" He pauses, "So, what did shinobi do to her?"
Mokuba struggles to calm himself. The little boy closes his eyes and slowly counts to ten. Each additional number slows down his breathing until its at its steady, normal rate again. He opens his eyes to stare at his own feet again. "Th-That might work… I'll have to be a very -good- dress… Sakura-chan only wears the prettiest…" Mokuba says uneasily. The thought of lying to his "Mother" doesn't sit well with him, but he doesn't want to see anyone flayed alive either.
A pregnant silence permeates the area while Mokuba tries to decide what else to tell Atsuro. "Mother… Mother said that shinobi are evil people. They're always fighting and doing terrible things. The villages only make things look peaceful. She… She said that she used to live in the Land of Rivers with her clan. Most of her clan was destroyed in a fight between shinobi from the Land of Fire and Land of Wind. Mother ran away with her boy and girl, but some other shinobi found her. They touched her in bad ways and… and… her boy and girl died."
"They're the ones who make those dolls," says Atsuro, "So it'll probably be plenty pretty. She won't ask you anything if there's nothing suspicious about you when you come back?" It seems like a longshot, but if they can get the kids cleaned up enough, maybe Lady Feather won't suspect anything. As for her story, it's not nice to hear it, certainly. Atsuro takes in a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. "That's awful, but it doesn't mean I can just ignore what she's doing," he says, "Can you tell me how to find her?"
The little boy worries at his bottom lip while he tries to decide what to do. Eventually, he squares his shoulders and lifts his head with false bravado in his expression. "If I tell you how to find Mother, you'll have to bring a whole army and help free all us Fledglings. I want to go back to my real mother…" Mokuba's eyes start to water, but he furiously blinks the tears away. He glares at Atsuro and digs his heels into the damp ground to make himself look immovable. "-All- of us want to go home, even snotty suck-up Natsumi. If you don't agree, I'm not going to tell you -anything-. I won't tell you anything -at all-."
Atsuro shakes his head. "I thought I was pretty clear about that already. You thought I was just going to take Takato and run? I'm going to bring everybody I can, and we're going to free everyone we possibly can. That's a promise." He stands up, "If I tell my superiors that someone is stealing children with kekkei genkai /and/ they're operating within the Land of Fire /and/ they've got an Inuzuka, they'll give me plenty of support. And as for my part, I want to rescue all of you, and I'll do anything I have to. Okay?"
Mokuba nods his head slowly. It sounds like he finally believes Atsuro. "-All- of us," he repeats just in case. "Mother… Mother is a little strange. She's really misses her own little boy and girl, so she takes a special little boy and girl every year to pretend they're hers. When they get older, she finds another boy and girl. The older Fledglings still have to do everything she says and stuff. She wants us to be super useful, so she likes to send Natsumi and Takato-nii-san to steal secret scrolls that'll teach us about our kekkei genkai." Mokuba frowns as he counts silently in his head. "There are twenty two Fledglings now. Mother found two more this year. Youkai-kun has a cat, like Takato-nii-san has Hageshi. Nanami-chan can do things with glass and Mother's very excited about her."
"Twenty-two," Atsuro repeats, "So this has been going on for eleven years." So Takato was among the first kidnapped — maybe even the very first. "Do you think any of them will attack us when we come? I don't suppose we'll be lucky enough to fight just Lady Feather?" He's already started planning in his head. They'll need some way to deal with Fledglings non-lethally. And they're obviously all dangerous, so the team has to be a good size — and come with a variety of skills. It'll be tough, but Atsuro has no intention of giving up now. "A Maneshi and a Watanabe," Atsuro murmurs. "Okay, what else can you tell me?"
Mokuba hangs his head miserably. "I don't like fighting. It's stupid and I hate when I hurt people by mistake. But Mother can use her special seal to make all of us fight even when we don't like it…" He scrubs angrily at his eyes again. For someone who was so afraid of saying bad things about his "Mother", he has a lot of pent up hatred to release when given the opportunity. "The Fledglings from the last three years aren't very good yet. The rest of us are better, but Sakura-chan's the strongest when she's not being all mad and out of control." Mokuba flushes. "Don't tell Sakura-chan that I told you that. She's already a little stuck up about it. That's why she attacked you again after you took away her scarves. None of the other Fledglings beat her before, even Takato-nii-san and Natsumi. Mother says Sakura-chan's like a Jounin now and probably will get -much- stronger after a few more years." Mokuba's voice lowers to a bare whisper. "But Sakura-chan will never get as strong as Mother."
This is all good information. "Would you mind telling me everything you can about everyone's abilities while we're getting the new dress?" Atsuro asks, "And I'll also need to know how to get there… and anything else you can tell me that would be useful. We both want this to succeed, so if you can think of anything that might help, please, please tell me." He starts to lead Mokuba over to the rest of the group again. "How's she doing?" he asks Kenta, "I've got an idea. We need to go back to the village and see if they can make her a good dress."
Mokuba's nodding eagerly now. "I'll give you a list of all the Fledglings and what they can do. And I'll let you where…" The little boy deflates suddenly. "Mother has hideouts in almost all the countries, but she likes the Land of Fire the best, because it has a lot of forests that's very comfortable for her birds. She moves us around every few weeks and never tells us where the next place is to make it hard for people to find us. We were using a hideout in the Land of Lightning. Sakura-chan and I rode on some of her eagles to get here. She told us that she's going to move to another hideout while we're on our mission…" Mokuba doesn't need to say that he has no idea which hideout is being used now. He goes into a dejected silence and follows Atsuro towards the rest of the group.
By this time, Kenta had finished treating Sakura. He's still keeping her asleep for fear that she'll attack them again, but the bad bruise on her forehead has faded away due to the medical jutsu that he used on her. "Ummm… The little girl's fine. Did you convince him to help us?" Kenta asks after Atsuro brings up the plan. "Maybe we should keep her asleep until we're indoors and he can convince her to help too."
"I can handle Sakura-chan. She's a big hot head, but she always listen to me eventually," Mokuba speaks up shyly. Something had came to him while Atsuro spoke with the rest of the Leaf shinobi and he brings it up now. "I just remembered something that Mother told us a few weeks ago. Takato-nii-san and Natsumi stole a very powerful jutsu from a temple a few months ago. Mother didn't tell us what the jutsu does, but she finished studying it and she's going to bring a few of us to help her test it on a small village in the Land of Frost a few weeks from now."
"Thanks," says Atsuro, "That'll be useful." They should have time to worry about that while they're finding a dress. He nods to Kenta, "Good work. He says he can help us. Uh, let's get her to the village first. We can wake her up there, and then figure out everything we need to figure out." The mention of the stolen jutsu causes him to stiffen. "I definitely need the name of that village," he says, "If we can't do it before that time… well, I'd rather do it before she can even get there, but I'll need to know where she's going." Because if they don't stop her before then, there'll be denim to pay.
Kenta stiffens also. "Isn't that the jutsu that…" The medic-nin doesn't finish his sentence. A little boy like Mokuba don't need to hear such gruesome details. Kenta shudders and manhandles Sakura to drape her over Taizen's back. "We better hurry. I can't keep this girl asleep for much longer and we need a place to write down all the information that he's giving us." The medic-nin nods somberly towards Mokuba. " Just hearing it doesn't help us remember it. We could lose some important detail later on if it's not all recorded."
Mokuba looks curiously at Kenta. "It must be a very bad jutsu that Mother's going to use…" The little boy shudders involuntarily. "I know the name of the village and the exact date we're going there. Mother said that the position of the star is important, so there's a…" He screws up his face to bring up the exact quote. "There's a three day window every season to make the jutsu work the first time." Mokuba glances around the area nervously. The explosions from before had devastated the clearing and blasted all the mist away, but now the mist is leaking back in with a vengeance. All the trees give off even scary shadows with the strange broken shapes they've been made into. The little boy darts forward to pick up Sakura's storage scroll, which had thankfully survived the fight. "Can we -please- go?" he asks hopefully. Because ghosts.