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[Plotboard] Knowledge. Adventure. Ruin.
Topic Started: Dec 31 2017, 08:37 PM (196 Views)
Kao
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Iwagakure OOC
Kotaru had been locked in his room for three days. He was deaf to the world, his attention focused completely on trying to decipher the words in front of him. His floor and desk were covered in loose sheets of paper, many of them crumpled and all of them furiously scribbled upon. Whatever dialect the book he and Mitsuo had stolen from one of the Western Library's restricted sections was close enough to the standard language that he could understand it, but there were important sections that were nearly incomprehensible.

"Damn it!" he yelled, throwing his pen. The point lodged itself into the wall, and he cursed even more as he crossed the room yanked it free. He had been reading for days, and the second half of the stolen book was riveting. He figured out that it was written in a dialect of Khentii province. Whoever had written the book - it was more of a journal, really - had travelled extensively in the province and the nearby Hokkyou mountains. In documented sightings of spirits both malevolent and benevolent, wildlife, and the ore and minerals of the mountain range. As far as Kotaru could tell, the only reason the book was confined to the restricted section was because it detailed locations of a few strategic military outposts and mining sites.

The most interesting thing in the book, of course, was the details about a certain gem. The author had recorded incidents of the gem, when in possession of a shinobi, causing drastic changes to that shinobi's chakra. The shinobi's chakra would corrode everything it touched, and it ultimately proved fatal to the few who had possessed it. It was eventually hidden away to protect the general population. Truly fascinating stuff. Kotaru wanted it more than he had ever anything. If he could obtain the gem and learn to control the power it gave, he would truly be a force to be reckoned with. All the had to do was find it. Mitsuo had helped him find the book, so he hoped his friend would be willing to go on a cross country trip to find it. He quickly showered and tucked the book into his jacket and then rushed to the Enkouten compound.

Once he was within the compound he was once again taken aback by how friendly the Enkouten were. He had no idea where Mitsuo lived, but after asking around a bit he finally found the house. It was modest and sturdy and didn't stick out much, which seemed to suit Mitsuo perfectly. Instead of knocking, the genin slid open the door and walked inside. It was certainly different than his own house. It felt...warmer. Like a home.

He made his way through the house, peeking through the door until he finally found the person he was looking for. Instead of making himself known, the young Akari leaned against the wall of the hallway until he was noticed. It was a bad habit, but it was one he wasn't going to break anytime soon.
Edited by Kao, Dec 31 2017, 08:39 PM.
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Mitsuo wasn't much of a morning person. While his parents had already gotten up and left for each of their respective occupations, Mitsuo had laid in bed trying to avoid getting up even well after the sun was high in the sky. While his other family members often worked on in the smithy during the mornings and the days, he often found himself working at night after everyone had left, the silence of the empty forge providing a soothing concentration as he worked. The only negative was that his sleep schedule was constantly out of sorts as a result.

After several attempts to avoid the day, Mitsuo decided to begin his day despite not having gotten much sleep. Following his typical morning routine, he had just finished bathing when he heard the front door of his home slide open and subtle footfalls making their way hesitantly through the house. For a moment, Mitsuo was confused. Both his parents should have been at work and the rest of his clansmen didn't commonly enter another clansman's home unannounced. It dawned on him then who it could actually be. A certain individual who didn't like to make themselves known. Still naked from his shower, with only a towel wrapped around his waste, Mitsuo quickly began to dress himself so that his visitor didn't get an eye full. He had just finished pulling on his pants when he heard the light footsteps stop outside his room.

"I figured you wouldn't knock," Mitsuo said without turning around, "It's becoming sort of predictable actually." He had been anticipating Kotaru's arrival for a few days now. Ever since he had helped the genin sneak into the restricted section of the library and obtain the second half to that book, Mitsuo figured that Kotaru would eventually show up to tell him what he had found. He would be lying if he were to say that he hadn't been acting a bit hyper aware of his surroundings in preparation for the genin's unannounced appearance. "I didn't really expect you to show up at my house though..." He added quietly. Continuing to dress himself, Mitsuo grabbed a clean shirt as he turned to face the boy standing in his doorway.

"So I assume you finished reading the second half of that book." He said as he pulled the orange thermal long sleeve over his head and thrust his arms through the sleeves, "Find anything interesting?"
NameRankVillageTeam
Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kao
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"Me? Predictable? I'm insulted." He pushed himself off the wall and entered Mitsuo's room. He took no notice of Mitsuo getting dressed in front of him. It was nothing he hadn't seen before. "And yeah, I finished the book. Or what I could decipher. It's written in Khentii." Kotaru removed the book from his jacket pocket and flipped it open to a bookmarked section. "I had to cram a book in Intermediate Khentii just to understand half of it. There's a lot of information in here. Spirit shit, ore and mineral shit, outpost shit. But the good stuff is right here."

He opened the book and faced it towards Mitsuo, slowly flipping through. Each page had intricate colorful illustrations of people and animals, weapons and buildings, seemingly disintegrating. At the top of each page were characters that Kotaru had rougly translated to "Stone of Erosion."

"This here, is the answer. This is how I can-" the Akari stopped himself with a sigh. He didn't want to give away too much information about his plans. After all, he liked Mitsuo but only trusted him so much. He was afraid that Mitsuo wouldn't help him if knew he would do anything to obtain the strength to annihilate his enemies - which happened to be anyone and everyone in his way. "There's a lot to be discovered in this area. Look, look." He flipped the pages back, stopping at a section that described rare ores. "These are apparently really rare and really valuable and there's details on where to find them. You like rocks and shit, right? You can bring them back and sell them to the daimyo. You and your family will be rich."

He paused to take in Mitsuo's reaction. He wasn't sure if the chuunin was taking the bait or not. The Akari could only hope he could be swayed by the promise of interesting rocks and ore he could work with. Kotaru sighed, and in a rare moment of honesty he added, "Look. I really need to investigate this. I need all the strength I can get and I can't do it alone."
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Mitsuo finished pulling down his shirt and leaned over to 'read' the book that Kotaru had held out for him. If he were being honest, most of it seemed to like plain gibberish to him. He didn't know what Khentii was, but it was quite clear that he couldn't understand it. The pictures and colors were pretty though. "You're telling me that you learned a whole language in just a few days just so you could read this book?" Mitsuo asked skeptically as he continued to 'read' each page as Kotaru turned the pages. Mitsuo had to admit, the idea of being able to find rare and interesting gems and ore was intriguing to him, but not for the reasons that Kotaru seemed to hope. It was more the possibility of being able to work with new materials that he found interesting as opposed to their value.

"You know," Mitsuo began, "You don't have to constantly try to bribe me in order to help you. It seems like every time you need my help, you try to point out the ways that I could benefit monetarily from helping you or you just outright offer to pay me to help you." He explained rather bluntly, "We're friends, Kota. You don't need to pay me or promise me rare and valuable jewels in order to get me to help you, you just have to ask. It's what friends do." He tried to be as clear as possible with this last point. He figured that Kotaru didn't have very many friends which meant that he probably didn't really understand the concept of 'friendship' all that much. Hopefully, that would change over time.
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kao
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"No, not the whole language," he explained a bit impatiently as Mitsuo looked over the book. "Khentii is basically a dialect of what we speak but their script is different. It's similar enough that I just needed to learn the script and the basic sentence structure." Kotaru glossed over, or rather he didn't fully appreciate, the difficulty of learning intermediate Khentii in a matter of days. He had a knack for absorbing the things he read and committing things to memory after only brief exposure.

As Mitsuo continued speaking, Kotaru stared and tried to understand what he was getting at. To Kotaru, very few things were worth doing unless he was getting something out of it, and he had always assumed other people operated in the same way. Perhaps it was the way he was grew up; he saw people and actions merely as means to an end.

"Friends. 'Kota.' Right." He stressed each syllable of the nickname, unsure what to make of it or the fact that Mitsuo had called him a friend. Mitsuo had used the nickname once before, but in his quest to stalk and convince the chuunin to help him, the boy hadn't noticed. Not only that, but he also hadn't put much thought into their relationship. But he supposed if Mitsuo considered them friends after helping break several rules that could get them fined or arrested, then they were friends.

Kotaru sighed through his nose. "Alright. If you say so." He crossed his arms and lowered his gaze as if his next words embarrassed him. "Will you...please...help me?"
Edited by Kao, Jan 1 2018, 05:23 PM.
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Oh god, I think I broke him. Mitsuo thought to himself with an internal grimace as the younger boy seemed to slowly work through the words that Mitsuo had said to him. Apparently, it seemed, his assumption regarding Kotaru's friendships had been true.He had expected it to be a bit of a new concept for Kotaru, but he didn't think he would frazzle him this much. He was even more surprised by the way that the genin's attitude and body language changed when he actually tried to ask the question (was he blushing?!) and probably the most surprised when he said "Please"! These were certainly new experiences for the young Akari!

"I would be happy to." Mitsuo replied to Kotaru's question. He wasn't sure if Kota was just saying it to say it or if he actually understood what Mitsuo had told him, but either one was a step in the right direction. And based on the way his body language changed, Mitsuo was somewhat confident that at least some of what he had said had gotten through to the genin.

"I don't suppose you have an excuse as to why will be traveling to...wherever it is we need to go." Mitsuo said, "It's not like we are going to be able to just walk out of the village and go without reason. And we can't exactly tell them that we found information about a powerful gem in a book that we aren't supposed to have."
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kao
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"Khentii Province. It's about three days from here on foot if we take our time. And I was hoping you'd be able to think of a good reason for us to go on a trip like this." Part of the reason he needed Mitsuo's help was the fact that genin generally weren't allowed to go on long excursions without a higher ranking shinobi present. He wasn't sure what kind of lie would suffice; sneaking around was more of Kotaru's forte. The boy hummed as he considered their options.

"Sneaking out is out of the question, I suppose. We wouldn't even make it past the Wall. We could look for a caravan to escort, but there's no guarantee that there's going to be one that will go to the area we need." His brows furrowed as he mentally went over a map of the northern part of the province, the part that bordered the Hokkyou Mountains. "Your family's a bunch of blacksmiths. Do any of your relatives have any connections to any of the mining towns up there? It'd give us a believable cover if we claim we're going to pick up materials for your...metaly stuff."
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Mitsuo crossed his arms and tilted his head, placing a finger on his chin as he thought about it. "Khentii is in the north right?" He asked, trying to remember his geography lessons from his time in the academy. It was important for shinobi to know the terrain that they will eventually work in, but directions weren't exactly Mitsuo's strong suit. "You know what? Let me find a map." He said, squeezing between Kotaru and the doorway as he made his way through the home. Walking into the family study, Mitsuo began shuffling through various paper's on the large metal desk in the corner of the room before lifting a folded piece of thick paper. "Just what I was looking for." He stated, more to himself, as he began unfolding the paper to reveal a detailed map of the country. "Ah, so it's to the northwest." Mitsuo said after taking a moment to look over the map, his finger resting on the dot labeled 'Khentii', "I was close."

"If I remember correctly, we've made deliveries of various trinkets and the occasional weapon shipment to some of the larger villages in that area." Mitsuo said, looking over to Kotaru who he assumed had followed him to the study, "But I don't think we currently have any orders set to be delivered there." He added, "We do, however, have a shipment set to be delivered to a village in Chuuishi Province that is basically on the border between Chuuishi and Khentii." He said, pointing to the location of the village. Along the river that ran between Chuuishi and Khentii was a dot that marked the village's location on the map. "My dad and I were almost finished with a shipment of farming equipment, you know like hoes and sickles, for them so if we could convince him to let us escort the shipment, maybe we could take a detour afterwards into Khentii province. We probably wouldn't have long before the village got suspicious, but it's an option."
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kao
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When Mitsuo went off in search of a map, Kotaru was right behind him. He could have easily confirmed Khentii's location, but he figured it'd be best of Mitsuo saw it for himself. He was pleased, and relieved, that the Enkouten family had dealings with villages in that part of the country. It would make sneaking off on an unsanctioned mission a bit easier. With the location of the village, it was possible that Iwagakure wouldn't notice anything was amiss for a few days. Kotaru just hoped in that time they could find the gem.

"Sounds good. Let me know when you're finished with the shipment." After a brief pause, the genin shook his head, deciding that might not have been the best idea. His home life wasn't exactly a pleasant one, and he didn't want Mitsuo anywhere near that house. He didn't want to imagine the atmosphere in the house if Mitsuo suddenly showed up at the door and his parents were home. "On second thought, when do you think it'll be ready? I'll just come back here then."

The two shinobi settled on a plan. The shipment would be ready in two days, which gave Kotaru plenty of time to prepare himself by doing some last minute preparations and making sure he had the right equipment for the trip. He didn't want a repeat of his mission with Tatsuo, where he had arrived with nothing but his usual weapons, clothing, and gear. He had been wholly unprepared for his first mission out of Iwagakure, and he would make sure that never happened again. "It's freezing in Khentii this time of year, so just keep that in mind," he reminded his friend before he headed out.

He spent much of his time in those two days shopping. The first thing he did buy a new pair of leather gloves with fur lining, a fluffy black scarf, and a thick, warm hat. He also got his hands on a new lining for his jacket that provided more padding and an extra layer of warmth. He switched his usual shirt for one that was thicker and with longer sleeves, and his new pants were also made of a thicker material. The frigid weather of northern Rock Country was nothing anyone should take lightly, especially since winter was really kicking in. The genin also took the time to restock his weapons and sharpen the ones he still had. In his downtime, Kotaru had his nose in the book, pausing on certain pages that described the location of the gem, and all the dangers that surrounded it.

He really hoped Mitsuo had stocked up on his own weapons.

On the designated day, Kotaru arrived at the Enkouten compound ready for travel. He carried a backpack that had a few rations, an extra set of clothes, a map, and his book. The caravan wasn't hard to spot. There were several members of the clan loading it up and chattering cheerfully with one another. He stared at them all blankly; no matter how much he saw it, it was still strange to see a clan get along so well. He watched them intently, waiting for for Mitsuo to arrive so they could get this show on the road.
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"Don't worry. I'll prepare accordingly." Mitsuo responded to Kotaru's statement regarding Khentii's weather, "I'll need to talk to my dad about all of this before I can say for certain when the caravan will be leaving the village, but I'll send a messenger or something when I get an answer." He added.

As the boys parted ways, Mitsuo decided to drop in on his father while the older Enkouten worked the forge to discuss the possibility of letting him and Kotaru escort the shipment up north. If he was honest, convincing the man hadn't been easy. Mikio was a stubborn older man, intent on wanting to know the reasons behind not only Mitsuo's desire to escort a routine shipment of farm tools to a village suffering from a bitter cold season, but also his desire to bring along a non-clan friend.It wasn't as if Mitsuo could necessarily tell him the truth; even if his father was no longer a shinobi, he wouldn't exactly tolerate his son breaking into restricted files and then partaking in an unauthorized mission just to help his friend go on a 'treasure hunt'. Such a revelation would have ended any chance Mitsuo had of convincing his father of letting he and Kotaru go. He needed another way.

"I haven't seen much of that part of the country in a long time." Mitsuo had said, "And I thought it would be good for Kota to see more of the country as well. Being an up and coming genin and all."

His father hadn't bought it, but he lamented. He was suspecious about the boy's intentions, but he didn't have much reason to object. "Just make sure the shipment gets delivered and that you're back within a reasonable amount of time." Mikio replied, cryptically inferring that he suspected the boy's alterior motives. To some degree at least.

Following his chat with his father, Mitsuo inspected the completeness of the order destined for Chuuishi, determining how much was complete and how much more needed to be done. Judging the order to be about 90% complete, Mitsuo estimated that it would be about 3 or 4 days before the order would be ready to be shipped and notified Kota accordingly.

On the day of departure, Mitsuo had prepared his supplies accordingly, making sure to pack plenty of rations, a warm blanket, a few changes of clothes, a sleeping bag and a map of his own. He had also decided to switch up his clothing a bit as well. He had replaced his tank top with a thermal long-sleeve shirt of the same color and his long-sleeve jacket with one made of a thicker, warmer material though embroidered with a similar design. He had also replaced his normal shoes with leather boots which would be of better use when hiking through terrain that they were about to face.

With his bags packed, Mitsuo began helping the other clan members with loading the cart, going back and forth with various crates of materials. As he carried one such crate, he spotted Kota in the distance standing near the cart. "Hey Kota!" He caleld out as he approached, "We're almost ready to go!"

Putting the crate down on the cart, he waved the young genin over so that he could introduce him to the three other clan members. "Guys this is my friend Kota." Mitsuo said, his hand indicating the young Akari, "He's going to come with us to escort the shipment." The three Enkouten, all men, polietly introduced themselves as Noboro, Arata, and Kaede."We should probably get going." Mitsuo said once introductions were done, "We'll want to cover some distance before it gets too late."

All in agreement, Arata took the reins of the mules pulling the cart while Noboro and Kaede each took the reins of a pack mule. Together, the group began their departure from the village, stopping only to let the village guard inspect the cart before letting them through the walls.
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kao
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Kotaru approached the four Enkouten and quietly greeted everyone as they introduced themselves. They all seemed kind and polite, and the genin wondered if members of the clan were just genetically predisposed to be amiable people. They were different than Kotaru in this regard, and he wasn't sure how to interact with them. He was suddenly hyperaware about the fact that he was the outsider in this group, and as the caravan headed out of the village, Kotaru hovered at Mitsuo's side and kept quiet unless he was spoken to.

When the caravan finally made it through the mile wide wall surrounding Iwagakure and into the surrounding mountains, all of the older members of the group visibly tensed. The area, surrounded by high cliffs and shallow valleys, was where attacks by enemies were most likely to happen. Everyone was on their guard, their faces locked in tight frowns and they silently peered around corners and kept their eyes and ears open. No one talked unless it was necessary, such as giving orders to keep a distance from unstable ground that threatened to send anyone who didn't thread lightly plummeting over a cliff. But after a few hours, the arid mountain range gave way to an expansive taiga dotted with evergreen trees, and a wave of relief washed over the caravan. Chatter between the group members started up immediately as everyone relaxed.

"That was intense," Kotaru mumbled to his friend once everyone lightened up a bit. "I half expected bandits to come jumping down from the cliffs."

Soon the caravan crossed the Onan River, Rock Country's largest, and came across dozens of other merchants going to various locations. Kotaru noted the merchants' varying styles of dress, similar to one another but distinctive, possibly reflecting the different cultures and ethnic groups of the country and its provinces. Most of them, as far as Kotaru could tell, spoke the common tongue, but there were plenty of dialects - including Khentii - floating in the air that caught Kotaru's attention. Once they were north of the Onan they veered east and crossed another, smaller river and entered Chuuishi Province.

Kotaru was growing restless. They were so close to his secret destination, but at that point they were going the wrong way. The caravan travelled for a few more hours, passing a few small villages and settlements along the way before settling in an area that seemed safe and dry enough to make camp. It was a good thing, too, because by that time, Kotaru's feet were sore and his stomach was growling from lack of a proper meal. The boy helped the others unload the camping gear, and he excitedly chattered away in Mitsuo's ear.

"We were in Khentii for about an hour after crossing the Onan. A lot of people here speak the standard language but did you hear all the different dialects in the port town? I didn't know there were so many in Rock Country." When the camp was finally set up, he looked over his shoulder once and then added quietly, "So when are we gonna ditch your family? We're hours away from the northern end of Khentii and we won't have much time to explore before someone back home notices something's up."
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"We'll leave in the morning." Mitsuo replied, "There's no point in taking off now when we're tired and starving." He added. In truth, a part of him didn't really want to leave. He enjoyed traveling, especially when he was with family and friends. Besides himself, only one of his cousins had ever traveled this far north which allowed Mitsuo to watch as the others enthusiastically took in their surroundings. Even Kota's excitement seemed to build with every traveler that he encountered that spoke even a little differently than they did. Still, he had made a promise to Kota and he was a man of his word. He just had to make sure that he could buy them some time. Getting up from his position near Kotaru, Mitsuo approached Arata, the eldest of his three cousins, while the others were tending to night's meal. Though not much older than Mitsuo himself, Arata was the defacto leader of the group as he had made trips to the area several times for various deliveries. If Mitsuo could get his support, it didn't really matter if the other's disagreed.

"I have a favor to ask." Mitsuo said lowly to his cousin as he approached, "Kotaru and I need to slip away to tend to some...business, I guess you could call it, and I was hoping you could help cover for us."

"And what exactly is this business?" Arata replied with a raised eyebrow and a hint of skepticism in his voice.

"I...think it's best if you don't know the details." Mitsuo responded back, "We need to travel a little ways away from here and we'd like it if we were able to do what we needed to do and then meet back up with you when before returning to the village."

"I'm not going to delay the shipment for you, Mits."

"And I'm not asking you to. Make the delivery on schedule, but then maybe just take your time returning to the village. A extra day or two is all I'm asking for. If after that we haven't returned, so be it. Return to the village without us."

"I don't like it." His cousin replied, "I'm responsible for everyone on this trip. How am I supposed to explain it if the two of you don't come back? You're not on a mission right now, you're on a delivery which means it will all come back on me."

"Please, Ara." Mitsuo begged, "I promise we'll be back before you return to the village. Just let us do what we need to do and we will be back."

There was a long silence as Arata clearly considered his options. "Fine." He said finally, much to the pleasure of Mitsuo, "But you owe me. It'll take us about another day and a half to reach our destination. After that, we could stretch the two day trip home to three and a half to four days max if we claim that weather impeded our travel. That gives you about five days, six at the very most, to do what you need to do and get back to the village. Got it?"

"Thank you, Ara!" Mitsuo agreed, bowing to his cousin. "We'll leave in the morning." He added, turning and making his way back to Kotaru.

"Well, I've secured us some time to do what we need to do." he informed the young Akari, "We've got six days max to get to the village in Khentii, find this stone, and get back to the village, hopefully alongside this caravan." he explained, "We'll leave in the morning. Until then, I suggest we eat and rest up so that we can travel hard tomorrow."

Soon after, Noboro and Kaede signaled that dinner had been finished, taking out bowls and passing them around to everyone. A hearty stew, it was just what the boys would need to regain their strength and prepare for the next day's journey. Following dinner, the Enkouten boys began to tell stories of their adventures outside of the village, or discuss the various items that they had crafted, as a way to pass the time before bed.

"I hope you didn't feel left out." Mitsuo said to Kotaru as they set up their sleeping bags, "We can get a little lost in our conversations sometimes. It's one of the nice parts about having a big family: Everyone has plenty of stories to tell. I suppose we should get some sleep though. Long day tomorrow." He added as he laid down.

"Night Kota."
NameRankVillageTeam
Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kao
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When Mitsuo disappeared to talk to his cousin, Kotaru did his best to avoid drawing attention to himself. He sat alone at the edge of camp, reading his book by firelight. The chatter was a bit louder than he would have preferred, but it was nice to have as background noise as he read a certain part of the book for what had to be the tenth time. His concentration broke only when Mitsuo returned with the good news.

"Great," he said simply. He was a lot more pleased than he let on but his exhaustion sapped the enthusiasm out of his voice. At dinner, Kotaru practically inhaled his food and when his his stomach was full he was ready to crash in his tent, maybe not sleep right away but definitely rest, but the group had other things in mind. They told story after story, laughing and joking and as time went on the Akari's mood soured.

'They talk so damn much, they're so loud,' he bemoaned internally, as the concept of family time at meals was completely alien to him. He felt out of place, even more so than usual, though whenever someone asked him if he was alright he simply shook his head and mumbled, "Nothing." His mind wandered, and Kotaru found himself bitterly wondering if most other families treated each other that way. Growing up he had tried not to think much about how alienated he felt from his family. Viewing his situation as normal and refusing to confront was main reason he wasn't nearly as unhinged as he could have been. But the more time he spent around his friends - who actually had healthy relationships with their families - the more he realized how abnormal things were at home and his resentment towards his own parents grew.

By the time the two shinobi headed to bed, Kotaru's features were locked into a frown and he barely responded to what Mitsuo said. He grunted a few times, then fell asleep without a word.


His mood improved with the sunrise. The sky was splashed with pink, and Kotaru was wide awake and rolling up his sleeping bag. He kicked Mitsuo awake, none too gently, and half sang, "Time to get up! Big day ahead!" It was time to get their secret mission up and going, and Kotaru was eager to get away from the annoyingly chipper caravan and head towards what really mattered.

It took hours to get back to Khentii, but the two moved a lot faster without the caravan slowing them down. They only stopped once to eat in a random village, and by midmorning they were at the base of the Hokkyo Mountains of northern Khentii. The landscape was rocky and uneven and frequently dropped into steep cliffs, but the locals managed to settle down there just fine. They arrived in a small mining village dusted in a thin layer of snow. The villagers darted about, wasting little time chatting with one another and they barely acknowledged the two shinobi. Kotaru, truth be told, wasn't sure what to do next. They were roughly in the area the book described in the section about the gem, but the surrounding mountains were bound to be dotted with dozens of caves.

"Okay, I'll be honest," Kotaru started. "I have no idea where to go from here." He thumbed the hem of his jacket and looked up towards Mitsuo. "There's an inn nearby. Should we start there...? Someone's bound to know about the legend."
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To say that Mitsuo was unappreciative of the way in which he had been awoken by his friend would be an understatement. The rough jab of Kota's foot caused Mituso to jolt awake, only to hear the enthusiastic, glee-filled announcement from the genin that it was time to get up so that they could leave. "You didn't have to kick me." Mitsuo grumbled as he sat up slowly, hands rubbing the drowsiness from his eyes, "It's not exactly polite."

He looked around the campsite to find that they were the only ones awake as the sun only just starting to rise. Grabbing his canteen, Mitsuo splashed a little water on his face before getting up and starting to pack away his stuff. While his partner seemed to be moving quickly in his excitement, Mitsuo slowly put his stuff away in its proper place, making sure to only grab what was essential. Once his items were all set, he took a moment to write a note to Arata and placed it near his cousin's tent, weighed down by a rock, to inform him that he and Kota had left. Just like they had discussed, he promised that they would be back within four days and that if they were not he was to return to the village without them.

"Alright, let's go." Mitsuo announced finally, pulling his pack up onto his shoulder.

As the boys sped back the way they had came, not much conversation passed between the two of them. Well, that wasn't entirely true. While Mitsuo was still trying to wake himself up, he was treated to Kotaru's continuous factoids about the area, its people, and their culture, all things that he had apparently read in preparation for this trip. When he wasn't discussing those, he was constantly peppering Mitsuo with his ideas regarding what the treasure might be. Mitsuo didn't mind, really, and it was great to see the kid passionate about something for once, but if he were being honest? He tuned the kid out. Well, sometimes. It was just far too early for Mitsuo to really pay attention to it all. After several hours of constant moving, only taking a break at that one small village (which was really just a few huts and a donkey), they arrived at a village that seemed to actually have people.

"I say the Inn is a good idea." Mitsuo agreed, "I don't know how many visitors they get or how many people will be there, but Innkeepers tend to know all of the best gossip in the area. And if they have a bar, they'll likely have locals." He continued, "At the very least, we might be able to take a brief rest and get a warm meal."

"Lead the way." Mituso said, gesturing his arm in a sweeping motion to let Kotaru walk ahead of him. If he was going to let the kid drag him all of the way out here, he was going to let him take the lead.
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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Kotaru blanched when his friend took a step back and gestured for him to lead. In his last mission in Rock Country - the one with Tatsuo - he had taken a much more passive role and let Tatsuo do most of the talking. And it was a good thing, too, since Kotaru wasn't much of a people person. Now that he was forced to lead the way in what was essentially his mission he gulped and his shoulders were hunched in nervousness as they headed inside.

It was a completely normal looking inn, if not a bit old looking, and he approached the front desk. The clerk was a man who had to be at least sixty and he didn't notice the pair of shinobi until Kotaru rang the bell. "We'come!" the old man barked as he grinned, talking a bit louder than what was necessary. He said something else, but Kotaru didn't understand it at all. Maybe this was going to be more difficult than he expected.

"Uh...what?"

"Woo, Southerners." The old man's speech changed slightly and his smile faded some. "Should known how yah dressed. What can I do fah yah?" Kotaru's ears perked at the man's accent and the way he stressed words rather oddly. The genin quickly felt the vibe that the man wasn't a big fan of "Southerners," so he hesitated as he spoke.

"We're traveling and need a place to stay before we move on," Kotaru lied. It was probably better if it didn't seem like they were only there for information and weren't customers. "We found your inn but, I don't know, I've heard the area is dangerous so we're debating on if we should check in or not." Thankfully the clerk didn't seem to have any trouble understanding what the genin said, and his smile returned at the possibility of paying customers.

"Dangirous? No, never dangirous. We've nice rooms with good prices."

"I've heard some scary things," Kotaru responded while shaking his head and looking away for added dramatic effect. He went on to vaguely describe what he had read: people going in caves in the area and coming out possessed, destroying everything around them. As he spoke, a younger clerk stopped behind the desk to listen, and when Kotaru finished his tale the older man was frowning deeply while shaking his head. Maybe he was on to them.

"Just story fah children," the second clerk inserted. "That ah...old story so children won't go tah caves, get hurt."

"No no, real," the older clerk said, and the two men exploded into an argument in their dialect, most of which neither Kotaru nor Mitsuo could fully understand. The Akari could pick out a few words here and there: "evil," "curse," and most excitingly, "die all the time." Finally, the old man turned back to Kotaru. "Very real. It is old story, yes, but real. There is ah stone there, evil spirit protects it. They take over the body who enter the cave, everything around the person is corrupted, destroyed. In th'end the person is destroyed." Then old clerk shook his finger sternly in front of the two boys and very clearly added, "You will never go there." He was definitely on to them.

Kotaru held his hands up to try to placate the man, realizing his questions and the story had hit a nerve. "We just want to - "

"Children." The man's finger moved between Kotaru and Mitsuo as if trying to make it clear who he was talking about and what he meant. "You will not go."

Kotaru backed off and glanced towards Mitsuo, giving his best I fucked up expression. He wasn't much for talking back to adults and usually kept his mouth tightly closed when they were upset, and at that point he didn't know what else to say. Based on the man's intense response, the gem was definitely real. But they still needed to know in which cave to look for it.
Edited by Kao, Feb 17 2018, 08:04 PM.
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Mitsuo saw the change in Kotaru's body language the moment that he told the genin to take the lead and felt a small initial twinge of guilt. He and Kotaru were, clearly, very different individuals. While he was very much a people person, knowing quite well how to interact with people of all kinds in just the right way (a byproduct of growing up in a mercantile family), Kotaru was much more shy and typically avoided interacting with people as much as possible. Despite that fact, however, he was going to have to learn. At his current skill level, it was highly likely that Kotaru would be promoted to the rank of Chuunin soon enough and once that happened he would be expected to be capable of leading missions, possibly even with a pair of genin, which meant that he needed to develop both interpersonal and leadership skills for better or worse. With that in mind, Mitsuo brushed off that initial guilt and followed the nerve struck genin inside.

From Kotaru's initial point of contact with the innkeeper, it became immediately apparent that the kid was out of his element. Shoulder's hunched, head tilted down, eyes darting all over the room, his body language was all over the place. He seemed to pick it up a bit, even slightly, as he began explaining their needs to the innkeeper. Unfortunately, as sly as the genin thought he was being by being purposefully vague about the stone in question, the innkeeper seemed to have seen caught on to the true intent of Kotaru's words which was both a good and bad thing. Approached the subject too quickly, Mitsuo thought to himself, We'll have to work on that. When the innkeeper started to adamantly demand that they go nowhere near the caves, Mitsuo decided to jump in.

"Sir! Sir, I apologize for my friend here." Mitsuo said, stepping forward while raising one hand in a sort of open-handed 'calm down' gesture and placing the other hand on Kota's shoulder. Don't hate me, Mitsuo thought to himself, knowing that Kota didn't like to be touched. He needed to calm the tension of the room and sometimes a small, non-aggressive gesture such as this could help to disarm said tension. "You see, this is his first time traveling so far North. Sometimes he gets so lost in the adventure that he doesn't think of the danger." Pleeeeasssseee don't hate me, "We have absolutely no intention of going near any cave that will apparently end with us being possessed by evil spirits and dying. It would be easier to do so, though, if we knew which cave it was. We need to continue traveling north and I'd like to made sure we stay far away from it."
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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When Kotaru messed up speaking with the inn clerk, he fully expected Mitsuo to suggest they leave and regroup. What he wasn't expecting was the sensation of his shoulder being touch. Slowly, very slowly, the genin looked down at the offending hand and then his gaze made his way to Mitsuo's face. The Akari's teeth clenched, but he did his best not to react too strongly to the physical contact. And then, Mitsuo went on to paint Kotaru as an overly excited kid. Lost in the adventure, he said. At this, Kotaru reached for Mitsuo's hand and made sure to grab the chuunin's hand with his nails as he otherwise carefully lifted it away. He was very, very displeased.

The older clerk didn't look too impressed with Mitsuo's interruption and he pointed between the two shinobi again. He spoke slowly and tried his best to mimic their accents. The man was dead set on making sure they understood. "You will not go tah- "

"Red Rock Caves, we call it. Also call it Gate tah Hell because there is toooo much warmth inside, not natural warmth. The cave has bright red rocks ahn walls, ceiling. Cannot miss red rocks."

At that, the older man smacked the younger on the back of his head and called him a fool and then turned back to Kotaru and Mitsuo. "This nephew ah mine does not believe. He went there, many times, saw nothing. But stone, evil spirits, they are real, very real."

"We understand," Kotaru responded, though by that time he had lost what little confidence he had. The boy buckled under the clerk's stern gaze. This hadn't gone as planned, but at least they had an idea about where they had to go. He stepped back out of the man's earshot and turned to Mitsuo. "Don't make me do that again," he said while avoiding looking at his friend. Talking to people and gaining their trust was the exact opposite of how Kotaru normally approached strangers. He sighed through his nose and added, "So should we go? That inn keeper is staring us down. He knows."
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Mitsuo smiled through the mild pain of Kota's nails digging into his hand while the innkeeper continued to berate them. Better not leave a mark, he thought to himself. He had hoped that his intervention to help, but he wasn't expecting to actually get a response from the younger innkeeper as he had been trying to appeal to the older one. Note to self: Remember that kids are more gullible. As Kota removed his hand and turned to walk away, he could see the displeasure on the boy's face. "You're gonna have to learn some time." He mumbled in response to Kota's statement, "Just tryin' to help." Lifting his hand in a sort of wave, Mitsuo thanked the innkeepers and turned to follow Kotaru.

"Ignore him." Mitsuo replied, "Unless they have some sort of armed forces in this village, I'm not really sure what he can do to stop us." He explained, "The way I see it, we have a few options. We could walk the rest of the town and see if anybody knows anything else that might help us, we could rest up and then sneak off later on to see what we could find, or we could head off right now to try and find it." He said, outlining their options, "As much as I like the idea of waiting, we don't exactly have a lot of time to kill before we need to head back, and I can't imagine that it is easy to find a cave with red rocks at night." He continued, just sort of talk through the thoughts in his head, "It's up to you, but I say we at least try to find it before it gets dark and then figure out what we do from there."
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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"Let's go now," Kotaru replied immediately. He wanted to get out of the inn as quickly as possible and get away from prying eyes. "We didn't come all this way to look in the dark. Besides, you said it yourself. We don't have time." They left the village quickly and without incident, headed towards the mountains a few miles away. As they got closer to the mountain range the wind picked up, and Kotaru pulled his scarf out of his bag and wrapped it around his neck and the lower half of his face.

"The only good thing that came out of that is that we know we're in the right place. Now we have to find this hell cave, or whatever it is they called it." Their only clues were red rocks and the fact that the cave was unusually warm. In this weather, the last bit would be easy to recognize. Almost as soon as they reached the mountain the pair found a cave, but a quick look inside the entrance was enough to confirm that it wasn't the cave they were looking for. Kotaru didn't want to waste time searching caves one by one, but for now he didn't see any other option. The only bright side was the mountain was pretty bleak; they were surrounded by light browns, greys, and patches white from the snow. Bright red rocks would most likely stand out in this landscape. "I hope we get lucky before the sun sets. Otherwise we'll use all our days just trying to find the damn place."
Edited by Kao, Feb 17 2018, 10:52 PM.
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Roaming through the mountains looking for a single specific cave among dozens wasn't exactly the highlight of the day. Granted, with the way that the days was going in general, and the way that it was likely to end, Mitsuo couldn't really say that any point throughout the day had really been the 'highlight'.

As they marched through the mountains, the pair found themselves searching through several caves as they had passed them, wondering each time if they had finally found the right cave and each time coming to the realization that it was not. They had followed a general path from the village into the mountains and had already climbed a few miles with no luck. Maybe that was their problem? They had followed the path that everybody seemed to follow when they traveled through these mountains. What were the chances that a mystical cave protected by an evil spirit and made of red rocks was going to be on a well traveled road?

"Why don't we try going in a different direction?" Mitsuo asked, "Clearly the current one isn't working for us." With a sudden turn, Mitsuo began walking in a less traveled direction, looking for any indicators of the cave that they were looking for. With the direction that he had chosen, they were actually heading somewhat back towards the village, though that had been intentional. The way Mitsuo figured it, if the locals of that village knew of the cave so well, it couldn't have been terribly far from the village itself.

After about a mile, and several more false finds, later, Mitsuo was looking around the barren mountainside when he noticed something odd about an apparent cave not too far from his position. What made it stand out was the fact that while much of the area was covered in snow, the ground at the entrance to this cave was seeming clear of snow for several meters. Given the position of the cave and the face that snow clearly had no problem pushing up against the rock along the same wall as the entrance to the cave, it seemed odd. In theory, a warm cave would repel snow at its entrance, right?

Making his way over to the cave, Misuo kept his distance as he approached, not wanting to get too close in case there really were some odd effects. As he got close, however, he saw something that seemingly confirmed his suspicions: Red Rocks. "Hey Kota!" Mitsuo called out, "Look at this!"
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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'Of course it's not working,' Kotaru thought irritably as he stood staring at the landscape with his hands on his hips. Perhaps they should have stayed in that town for a bit longer to gather more information, but as always the genin had been a bit too impatient. He'd never admit it, but he had gotten ahead of himself and now the pair were wasting precious hours by searching each and every cave they came across. Mitsuo took the lead and suddenly changed directions, so Kotaru stomped after him and didn't bother to hide the frustration he felt.

"If that guy gave us wrong information, I'm gonna throttle him," the genin growled. He was serious, of course, but he knew Mitsuo would never allow it. The guy was a damn saint. Just as he was about to consult the journal yet again, he heard Mitsuo calling him from a distance. Tucking the book back into his bag, he rushed towards his friend with a bit of pep in his step. Mitsuo's tone sounded promising. He wasn't disappointed. The first thing he noticed was the melted snow around the cave's entrance, and as he approached there was a very distinct wave of warmth emanating from the cave.

"Nice," the Akari grinned, and then he saw the red rocks embedded in the grey stone. "Very nice! Let's go!" He practically wiggled with excitement as he peered into the cave and carefully stepped inside. As soon as he did he had to take off his thick winter jacket. The clerk wasn't lying; the place was unnaturally warm. Not only that but the air felt heavy, as if something was pushing down on his shoulders. It should have been unnerving but it only made the boy excited. "This is definitely the place. Let's look around."

On the surface it may have looked as though the genin was carelessly exploring. But as soon as he removed his jacket he was on alert. He formed several hand seals he flicked each finger on his left hand with his thumb, and several small flames formed on his fingertips. The tiny flames didn't provide much light but it was enough for them to see about ten feet or so in front of them as they ventured forward. Soon the katon jutsu was the only light they had. From what they could tell the cave wasn't very large, its ceiling only a dozen feet or so above their heads. "Well since we're finally here," Kotaru started as he led the way towards the back of the cave. "I should probably tell you what we're up against.

"The whole 'evil spirits' thing the guy was talking about. That wasn't much a surprise to me since the book describes a few spirits roaming the depths of this place." They reached the back of the cave, and Kotaru reached out his free hand to touch the rocks. He followed along the cave's wall, his fingers nimbly and gently searching for an opening. He had read enough that he knew it wasn't just a single cave they had found and that there was a series of tunnels behind it. "Unfortunately it's not just one cave with the gem in the middle. It's like a maze, but the book has just enough details that we can navigate, but it'll still be difficult especially if we run into some malevolent spirit. I didn't mention any of it before because I didn't want you to try to talk me out of this just because I don't know any tenkujutsu. I'm assuming you don't know any either." He shot Mitsuo a quick look as if waiting for him to confirm, and then he continued. "But the journal says the spirits are generally weak. Intimidating, but weak. I think we can handle it. If I didn't I wouldn't have dragged you here."

Finally he found what he was looking for: an opening in the cave's wall that was little more than a deep crack. It was just large enough for the shinobi to fit through if they walked single file. Kotaru turned to face his friend with his face in a serious expression. More serious than usual. "I don't think we'll die, but there's a chance we could get lost or maimed." Kotaru wanted to give Mitsuo one final opportunity to back out, but he was worried that there was a chance that his friend would take it.

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Edited by Kao, Feb 18 2018, 02:54 PM.
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Mitsuo tossed his jacket and began rolling up his sleeves as they entered the cave. Luckily for him, he spent his free time working in the forge, a place where the air, at times, was significantly warmer than the air in the cave. As Kota began exploring the walls of the cave, Mitsuo stood at its center with his arms crossed, listening as Kota began telling him the rest of the information that he had found. On one hand, Mits was kiiiiiinda annoyed by the sudden realization. He didn't like to go into a mission without all of the pertinent facts and considering that this mission wasn't exactly sanctioned, knowing all the facts was even more important. On the other hand, though, he wasn't exactly all that surprised. Kota was a secretive person by nature and even though Mits had made a lot of progress in gaining the boy's trust, he figured that there would be things about this mission that Kota would keep to himself.

"At this point, Kota, I'm already a bit too invested to just walk away." He replied finally, thinking back to all of the strings he had to pull and personal risks he took to ensure they could be on this journey, "I can't exactly return to the village without you. Besides, I'm not going to just send a friend off into potential death while I wait outside where it's safe." He added, "Next time though? No secrets. If we're going to do a mission like this, especially one that we aren't even supposed to be on, you need to share the pertinent details. Got it?"

"Alright, well, now that we've cleared that up. Lead the way." He said, gesturing towards the crack in the wall.
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Nara, ShikariBanninKonohagakureMamorinuku
Enkouten, MitsuoChuuninIwagakure
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"Sure thing," Kotaru said after a bit of silence. "Next mission I'll tell you everything from the start." Kotaru couldn't bring himself to commit and say 'no more secrets.' It sounded too general to the genin's ears. He was self aware enough that he knew there would always be things he would have to keep to himself, no matter how much he ended up trusting Mitsuo. All Kotaru could manage to promise was that he wouldn't keep information away from Mitsuo that was pertinent to survival.

Kotaru slipped into the crack in the cave, his jutsu illuminated the space in front of him. They walked forward slowly for about thirty feet before the narrow passage opened up into another cave. It was more of a cavern, enormous and covered with stalactites and stalagmites. There was even a pool of dingy water near the center. Kotaru hummed in contemplation as he ventured forward and motioned for Mitsuo to stay close. His Match Stick jutsu didn't provide nearly enough light to illuminate the entire area, so he formed a few hand seals and directed a jet of flames towards the ceiling. It didn't travel far, coming nowhere near the top of the cavern, but the flames lingered long enough that they could get a better picture of how large the cave was.

"I think I saw a path over there, and over there," he said as he first pointed to their left, then to the right and slightly behind them. Kotaru took a deep breath and cracked his knuckles. Now their real mission would begin.
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