Date: March 9, 2011
Two months ago, the war between the Land of Fire and Land of Water was still raging. Three Jounin of Sunagakure are sent on a mission to aid the beleaguered ninja of Konohagakure. Along the way, however, soul-searching conversation is had and revelations are made…
"Three Jounin, Two Conspiracies"
Western Forests - Land of Fire
They have been travelling for awhile now. It has been four days, infact. Team 01, minus Shemri and Shiikaa, were told to move out and report to Konohagakure. Sunagakure preferred to aid the Leaf Village minimally, based on the Kazekage's orders, but 'minimal' apparently means something different in Sunagakure than it does in Konohagakure. Not only has medical aid been sent, but also a team of three Jounin — and rather proficient ones at that — on top of supplies! And the Sand Village is not one to part with supplies easily.
Right now, however, the sunlight is waning as the three women rush through the treetops (an odd experience for those who live primarily in the desert, but this is hardly the first time). They may be relatively close to their destination, but the forests of the Land of Fire are not as safe as they could be these days. One never knows when Kirigakure ninja might pop up just to cause trouble. Waylaying travellers, attacking merchants, blowing up bridges, setting up traps along heavily-used roads, and so forth. The kinds of things one does to weaken a foe >other< than major battles.
Thus, travelling at night — especially with Ruri no longer able to see in the dark and no Nai present to sniff out the enemy — is a dangerous proposition. Plus, they are human beings and thus get tired eventually. They have basically been spending every day between when they wake up and when they sleep travelling. Occasionally they'd take breaks to eat, but overall… Running. Leaping. That sort of thing.
Kara is not the team leader and thus does not travel at the front of the group. She is, however, second in line. Rinako is slow like boulder and smart like truck so she is kept in the rear. Or maybe that's just as fast as she can run. "We stopping soon?" the Puppeteer calls out to Ruri as she leaps once more, her momentum carrying her through the air for several seconds before she lands on another branch and repeats.
Orders were orders, but frankly, Rurohashi Rinako was just as likely to disobey them if they hadn't been handed down in the first place and run off to help the people of the Land of Fire anyway! In fact, she'd been badgering the Council for these orders specifically for days. They'd either been wise enough, fed up enough, or wanting to help enough to say 'yes'. Rinako was still the slowest kunoichi around, outdistanced even by some of the faster genin, but speed wasn't her special ability, anyway. A never-ending endurance and the stubborn ability to ram her head into problems until they ceased to be problems were! Even so, she had been pushing her hard enough that even she had no trouble sleeping when they stopped.
Every second mattered. Every second could be another person being trampled under the feet of these supposed 'hordes' of stone soldiers.
The dark-haired Jounin doesn't want to pause, she wants to keep going, get there as soon as jinchuurikily possible. But they all need some rest. They had all fought in the Clan Wars, they all knew that fighting an enemy as dangerous and cunning as a shinobi while tired was a mistake. And one mistake was often the difference between life and death in such confrontations. When her team leader and sister call for a halt, the bijuu-bearing kunoichi practically plummets like a stone to the ground, landing among the dense foilage with a *THWUMP*!
Rinako stands straight again, now on the ground, leaves and a veritable potpourri of decaying vegetation kicking up around her legs. She unconsciously licks her lips, wishing once more that she hadn't already drunken all of her water. Twice. Thankfully, water was much more plentiful in this lush and green land than it was in her homeland.
"…You guys ever think sometimes that we got ripped off when they divided up the countries and made the 'five great villages'? I mean, all these trees and rivers and lakes, and we have… sand. How far've we come today?"
Ruri has very few thoughts in her head right now. Oddly enough, the running and leaping is… Hypnotic. She just sort of spaces out. Probably not safe in the slightest, but all that green flashing in front of her vision just makes the ordinarily constant activity of her brain slip away… So when Kara calls out to her, she just keeps leaping for a couple seconds before registering she is being spoken to. Blinking, she turns her head for a moment to call back, "Yeah, sure. We can stop now."
It's only now that she realizes how dark it has gotten. Stopping on one branch, she leaps from there to a lower one, and then to another lower one, until there are no more branches. At that point she uses tree trunks. Finally, she makes it to ground-level. Unlike Rinako, she does not think she would survive a fall from a bajillionty feet up with just some leaves in her hair to show for it.
"Alright. It's probably not going to be very cold tonight… So we can skip setting up a fire." Pause. "But I want some cooked food, so we'll build one anyway. Soldier pills are for emergencies and combat situations, and if we're running off stimulants before we even reach the battlefield, we'll be utterly wasted when it comes time to fight."
She starts looking for dead wood and branches to use for the fire, as she finally answers her sister with, "I don't know. But we'll probably arrive in the Leaf Village tommorow. So maybe… 150 miles or so? Kind of incredible we can cover that much distance… Seems like only yesterday we were lucky to get 20 miles. Then again… These trees make a useful travel method."
Kara nods and lets out a 'hm!' as Ruri confirms they are stopping. Rinako is the first to get down there because she can handle the long fall. The Puppeteer is about to make some comment to Pharaoh about how all the food Rinako eats making her heavier or something like that, but instead she just closes her mouth and follows Ruri down in a similar manner. She said she would stop with the stupid jokes. It'll take awhile to break the habit, but she thinks it will ultimately be better if she gives up on trying to make people laugh. And talking to Randi's dessicated corpse… That was an escape from loneliness. Pretending he was still alive in some form — deluding herself into thinking that when she manipulated his body it wasn't her doing it, was just another way to escape from the pain. She has to face it. He's dead. He's not coming back. And Pharaoh… It just a Puppet.
She lands a few moments after Ruri and listens to the explanation of why they shouldn't set up a fire. Only for orders to be given to do so anyway! She smirks a bit and starts unstrapping Pharaoh from her back. His scroll storage allows for the starting of fires pretty easily without needing to rely on what materials may or may not be available.
"I don't know. Foliage is nice as a break. So is plentiful water. But overall, I like the Land of Wind best. When you live in a place with very little, you learn to appreciate what you do have and to treasure the moments away from that place even more. I'll bet the Leaf ninja don't even realize how good they have it."
"I just like the shade. …And the water."
Though she agrees with Kara on that part, fire-starting was not Rinako's gift, but she of course had flint, iron pyrite, and the skill to make one. Basic survival tools were a must, even for a ninja that was traveling lightly and with haste, when crossing countries. But she was going to leave it in more capable hands. Her light pack is slung to the ground, followed by the kunoichi squatting down to begin clearing away dead leaves and brambles, beginning to expose the dirt beneath for a place for Kara to start a fire.
But she pauses to squint up at Kara. "When did you get all philosophical? Just when I was getting ready to punch you for saying something about how much I eat, too…" Of course their discussion four nights ago had revealed much about her friend. But it would take a while to get used to. This lack of jovialty was simply so… Un-Kara-ish! As long as Rinako didn't have to give up teasing her sister, though, she could make do.
The elder twin sets up a few nearby twigs, cracking the dry, dead wood into little pieces, then sets them in the center of the dirt-circle so Kara can go about better preparing to start a fire with them. Then the elder of the twins begins widening that circle, ripping up roots and anything else that is in the way, ensuring it will be wide enough that no errant spark winds up burning half the Leaf-nin's homes down.
"Maybe we should just join the Leaf, huh? All this shade, all this green, cool, refreshing water… I mean, it's not the ocean, but beggars can't be choosers, right?" Idle conversation to keep her occupied as she clears away bits of debris. But what her mind was REALLY on was how to get more than her fair share of the dinner! Maybe if she made sad faces at one of the other two, they would share after she'd wolfed down her own portion…
Ruri finishes with the wood gathering and sets it all up appropriately. "Thanks, Rin," she offers, indicating the set-up already prepared for her. Maybe it was no big deal to prepare a site for a campfire, but saying thanks is important anyone. It's the little things that matter! She lets Rinako and Kara chat about philosophy, punching, and food. At the suggestion from her twin, however, Ruri looks up from the wood as she is stepping back to let the Puppeteer do her stuff. "Might want to be careful what company you say things like that in, Nee-chan. We know you're just joking, of course, but…"
Maybe it's just the fact that they're in a foreign land that is making her a bit uneasy. Or maybe it's the fact that they are going into a war situation, and one can find one's loyalties tested. Just as Rinako finds Kara's behavior un-Karaish, Ruri finds Rinako even JOKING about leaving Sunagakure to be very un-Rinakoish!
Ruri looks around at the trees, smells the scent of moist soil, feels the softness beneath her feet even through her sandals… "It's nice here, but I feel kind of on-edge. Like enemies might be all around. In the desert, you can SEE what's around you. Here… Too many places to hide." She frowns. "You know, it wasn't too long ago I thought Sunagakure wasn't safe. I thought the Kazekage and his Council were basically evil incarnate and some incompetent — but evil — henchservants. I also didn't trust anyone in Sunagakure any further than I could throw them. Sure, sure. Rinako was trusted. And I had some degree of trust for you and Shemri-chan, Kara. But the random civilian? No way. Fellow Sand ninja? Nuh-uh. Anyone in a government position? Absolutely not. Then… Things changed."
She sighs as she crouches down. "I liked you and Shemri… Don't get me wrong. But it wasn't until we encountered Nai-san that I realized maybe not everyone was as bad as I had thought. He's a ninja AND in a government position, but he went out of his way to help us. He could have left us to hang. Easily. He's in charge of records. All anyone had to do was ask him, 'Did Team 01 leave the Village last night?' and he could say, 'According to these records, yes, they did.' He wouldn't even be implicated. Instead, when they DID come and ask him… He said, 'No. They've been sick for a week.' I didn't really understand why he did it at the time or truly appreciate him sticking his neck out for us… But that's where it started. He showed just working for the Kazekage didn't make one evil. And since then, I've met others… And I've grown to realize that you and Shemri-chan wouldn't have tried so hard to protect your team mates if this was all a devious plot to kill me or use my sister as a weapon or whatever else. I can actually trust you. And… I think I'm willing to ignore what the Council and the Kazekage are and have done. For now, at least. I don't like Sousa, and I don't like the Council Members, but I'm not going to keep plotting revenge. If they take action to harm the Village or anyone in it, THEN I'll see about stopping them."
She looks up, possibly realizing how sudden this long speech was. "…Uhh. I guess I got carried away."
Kara has Pharaoh raise a hand and produce fire from a lighter built into one finger. He spreads the oily flames across the wood, and soon enough, a nice little campfire is crackling away. "I guess I could make a joke like that, Rinako-chan. But then I'd get punched!" She grins at the elder of the twins. "And like I said, this is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here."
When Ruri starts talking, Kara stands by and listens. It starts off as an analysis of why Ruri wouldn't want to stay here either, but soon turns into something else — something much deeper. Kara hadn't really suspected the depths of Ruri's distrust for others until now. She didn't know the source of it either. The dark-skinned woman thinks it may be due to the odd relationship between the twins, and Ruri feeling like the only one she can depend on is her sister… But the exact history behind all that is not for her to know.
Plenty of other information >is< being revealed to her though. When Kara thinks about Nai, she realizes she had forgotten what risks he took to keep them safe from harm during the investigation by the traitors. She has instead been thinking about the last time they interacted, on Mother Island. The trip home had been absent of any recordskeepers. He had left ahead of them while they stayed behind to help rebuild. So the most recent memory of Nai she had was his bitter words and cold tone. He had built a monument to the fallen with his Earth Release, just as asked. It was nothing spectacular, but then no one had really expected or requested such.
Where was Nai now, Kara wondered? But Ruri's story goes on. And at the end, when it has been fully exposed that Ruri used to be planning to 'get revenge' on the Kazekage — by some unspecified means — Kara just smiles. "Well, I'll tell you what: If you're giving up on your plans to fight the Kazekage, so am I." That may seem like a joke at first, but then Kara explains, "One does not assign one Jounin, a Chuunin, and two untested Genin on an S-Rank mission. It was a suicide mission. They didn't plan for us to come back alive. I don't know what motivated it, but it happened. Further, when we came back from it… They seperated Popoie and I. The only two survivors, and they didn't want us near each other. This was most likely to keep us from collaborating on anything, or simply to keep us off-balance and unsure of who we could trust. And then, to make it worse, they promoted me to Chuunin." She sighs.
"Part of it was to keep me quiet by placating me with a promotion, but it was mostly to make me look like a traitor to my friend. I got a promotion and he got… Reassigned to some distant place I've never heard of. I haven't spoken to him since, and none of my letters have been responded to. This was a conspiracy in the first place — probably to eliminate Randi-kun. But now that they screwed up by having unexpected survivors, they're trying to bury the incident. I swore to myself that I would find out who was responsible and make them pay. I've been playing the happy fool for them for so long that they've even promoted me to Jounin. And then there's the Puppet Brigade thing I mentioned the other night. They think I'm a loyal pawn under their thumbs. This is exactly where I wanted to be. Because now I can do some serious damage to whomever ordered this whole thing. I can finally investigate on my own, access classified records, and tear down the traitors from within."
Kara sets Pharaoh aside, propping him up against a tree trunk and then slips our of her scroll harness backpack. "But maybe it's not worth it. Maybe it's just best to let it go. Revenge? Who needs it? The mission is over, the dead can't be brought back — except in the case of Rinako." She points at the elder of the twins as though she needed to clarify which one she was talking about. "I'm in a position to do a lot of harm to people in Sunagakure's government. But I'm also in a position to do a lot of good for the people of Sunagakure."
"I was willing to sacrifice myself if it meant finding the truth and acquiring justice for my friends. But back then, I had no one else who cared about me. Just a legless friend a thousand miles away who won't even respond to my letters. I have you two now. I have Shemri-chan. I have other Puppeteers to lead and to teach. I have people to protect. So… As someone who is giving up revenge, and someone who never considered it… Let me ask you two: Should I forget about it and move on?"
Rinako is staring at her twin sister, having stopped her leaf-clearing efforts at the sudden introduction of her sibling's own brand of crazy into the conversation. All the better to listen in on. Of course, she already knew the story, or thought she did, anyway. But hearing her sister talk about it out in the open, it was kind of… nice that she showed Kara that level of trust. This must be that 'girl-bonding' she'd heard so much about from the younger teens these days. Was she really only eighteen? She felt so much older sometimes. Eventually, as she finishes clearing a circle of non-flammable dirt, she catches herself smiling. And cuts it out.
"Geez. And you tell me to watch what I say in front of others." Rinako adopts a mockery of Ruri's voice, which was actually almost like her own, just with a different personality behind it. Instead, the kunoichi's Ruri-voice was scratchy and high-pitched, as if imitating an old crone. "'Oh, by the way, I used to want to kill the Kazekage and his family and his friends and the orphans who lived down the street. But I'm better now!'"
Her unabashed teasing can't go on for long, however, before the third member of their troupe relays yet more of her past. It was quite surprising just how many people around her had been planning to 'get revenge' upon their village's leadership. Kara's admission sets her back on her heels a bit, standing up from her work in the dirt, thick clumps of it still clinging to her palms and the front of her knees. After a moment, she rubs her hands together to clear them of it. It's a moment before she speaks, and when she does, it's unusually subdued and sober.
"Yeah, Kar. You should." For once, there was no trace of wry witticism in her expression. "What happened before, it was bad. And if there's corruption in the village, we will find it and root it out. But we can't do anything that would risk the stability of the village itself. It's too important. We live side-by-side with people we were perfectly willing to kill not all that long ago. We have enough enemies in the world without creating a possible civil war."
"We'll help you find whoever did this, but we'll do it the right way. And it can't be for selfish reasons. I'm sure Randi wouldn't want that. Besides…"
The elder of the Rurohashi siblings places a hand on her stomach, at the seal that was under her clothes as she looks away. "When you hold on to anger long enough, it's all you can feel. It starts to replace every other emotion you can have. It makes it easier to be influenced by those you'd rather not. And it makes you hate those you used to love. Yeah… Better to just give it up."
Ruri mutters in response to Rinako, frowning a bit but not really angry. What Rinako said is true. She opened up too much in a foreign land. This is not the place for it. Maybe it SEEMS like they're alone, but at ANY MOMENT they could be attacked! With that thought, Ruri looks around suspiciously at the darkened woods as the campfire grows. Ruri seats herself a short distance away from it as Kara starts to relate her motivations behind cooperating with the government of Sunagakure. As Ruri listens to what has been done to her friend, and the lengths she was willing to go to to seek justice for her first ninja team… Her fists clench and she grinds her teeth, and waits for the story to end.
Rinako's words make sense in a way. But Ruri has a solution that makes BETTER sense. She considers keeping quiet… But she made a promise. No more secrets. "Rinako," she begins. Then she turns to look at her sister intensely. "I thought you had a new goal in life. To use the power you possess to protect others, right? I think that as long as we leave evil individuals in charge, we are ALL failing to protect the people of our Village. The Village is already unstable. The balance of power is skewed in favor of corrupt men and women… They're like tumors. We can't just leave them. They'll eventually kill the Village that supports them."
Ruri shakes her head. "I'm willing to give up on revenge. And you're right, we WILL find the ones responsible and we WON'T be doing this for selfish reasons… For the good of the Village, and all who have suffered from the power grabs and machinations of the corrupt… We have to find the corruption and cut it out. There is no other way. When the corruption is this widespread and this deeply entrenched, it must be REMOVED. Maybe damage will be inflicted to the 'organism'… But in time, the Village and its people will heal."
Looking into the fire, Ruri says, "It's like Kara said. It's not about revenge. It's about justice. And wherever the path to justice takes me, I will follow."
Kara sighs and takes in a deep breath. "No, Rinako-chan is right. I'm not sure what method she's thinking of proposing for finding the traitors, but it sounds like you're willing to accept 'collateral damage'. I'm not. Just because someone gets in our way doesn't mean he or she must be struck down. I can still access restricted records in my position. So can you two. And with Nai-san on our side, we won't even need to be sneaky about it. We can just go directly to him and ask. We have permission already! And he doesn't need to inform anyone else, right?"
Grinning, the dark-skinned woman says, "Three trusted Jounin of Sunagakure and the Head of the Records Department can easily do what we did back when we were all just Chuunin… We rooted out a conspiracy amongst the Sasaki Elders. With the resources at our disposal now, it should be even easier to find out who ordered that mission and why. The first order of business, of course…" Closing her eyes for a moment, Kara finally finishes, "…Is getting ahold of Randi-kun's file. That will probably provide some valuable information."
Opening her eyes, Kara smiles a bit more faintly towards Ruri. "Don't worry, Ruri-chan. Justice will be served. But if the one or ones responsible have remained uncaught for this long, they're probably very clever and very careful. We can't afford to just charge in and start making accusations. We wouldn't get anywhere, and every lead would vanish."
"And how do we do that, Ru? Go in with guns blazing and kill everyone we suspect? I'm sure that would work out really great. We need a plan, and some bait to lure the wrong sorts out into the open. We also need official support, or a way to make them reveal themselves so that they can never hide behind their station again." The Sunagakure kunoichi props one fits on her hips, cocking a leg as shakes a finger slowly through the air. "The system is there for a reason. We can't just act on our own, or the very thing we're trying to save will fall apart. I fight to preserve life now. Starting a civil war in our own village, us three against the world, won't accomplish that. Geez, we don't even know the names of the people we need to go after! You're starting to sound alarmingly like me."
With all these talks of conspiracies and plans, Rinako had almost forgotten what even got them on the subject in the first place. Almost. But she apparently doesn't have anything more to say on the matter at current. One thing at a time, after all. They had a war to help finish before they even began to head back home, much less could begin investigating things and people in their own village. The jinchuuriki squats down near the edge of the cleared circle. After a moment, she points at the pile of burning wood.
"So… are we going to eat soon? If I don't eat, I'm going to start chewing on one of you. And since it's probably going to be the one with the most meat on them, Kar has a vested interest in getting cooking started as soon as possible. Feed me quick enough and I might even volunteer for the first watch."