|Act I, Chapter X: The Ancient Predator|
Chi traveled far from Sunagakure in order to find the man who once imprisoned her. She had hopes that he would be able to give her information about Ichiro that could lead to his capture, but if anything happened to him after that would just be a bonus. After learning of his whereabouts she found herself in a wooded area. It was strange to find such a place in the desert, and much of it reminded her of home. The trees, the animals, the plants, all of them were present. Of course, it wasn’t as thick as the forests of her homeland. Still, she found herself at home hunting down the nobleman’s scent. It didn’t take her long to track him down but when she did she found him to be surrounded by mercenaries. The nobleman played hunter, pretending to kill the animals that lived in that forest as the mercenaries did the actual deed. He took great pleasure in this, but Chi found it despicable. Little did he know that the predator would soon become the prey.
Another creature appeared in the noble’s sights, and the mercenaries prepared to get the kill for him. Suddenly, Chi appeared and blocked the attack. There was a moment of stunned silence from the group as the scared critter ran away. The mercenary whose attack was blocked jumped back to the group. There were three of them, and all of them seemed to be skilled in their own right. Chi wasn’t afraid. She was on a mission, and she would see it fulfilled. After the initial shock wore off the nobleman was able to recognize the woman who interrupted their fun. He ordered the group to attack. All three of them pounced Chi but she was much faster than them, and with little effort, she took care of them and left them broken and bleeding on the forest floor. When she finished, she saw that the noble had made his escape. She sighed, not wanting a chase after all the time and effort she put into finding him in the first place. She took off on all fours and followed his scent. It didn’t take her long to catch up, the noble being a rather large man with almost no exercise in his routine. As she prepared to attack, she heard an unfamiliar voice calling out to her in her head, much the way Morisei spoke to her.
“Slow down, wild one.” The voice said. The suddenness caught Chi off guard and she slid to a halt, allowing the noble to escape once again.
“That voice…” Morisei said. “It’s unworldly.” Just then a large bear appeared, wearing a monk outfit and adorned with small birds that rode on her shoulders.
“Greetings.” She said. “I am Koken, guardian of the animals that reside here.”
Chi growls and attempts to step around the large bear but she was too fast for the warrior. Chi found herself face to face with the guardian yet again. Chi raises her weapon and threatens the bear in her native language but the bear is unfazed.
“Move, bear!” Chi shouted.
“I will not. Not until you hear me out.” The bear sat down with a thud and took a deep breath. “I have been watching you, Chikara.”
The mention of her name throws the wild one but her mission took precedence and once again she tried to take off. Koken appeared in front of her again, seemingly without having rose from the ground.
“Move!” Chi demanded once again.
“Yeah, move ya furry monk… thing.”
“Hush.” Koken glared at the spirit, and he found himself sinking back into the weapon away from her gaze. Chi was surprised by this. No one made Morisei return to his realm unless he wanted it. She grinned with interest and decided to hear what the bear had to say. She sat down in front of Koken and the two looked at each other.
“You are…” The guardian continued. “…Tainted. Your spirit’s darkness is clouding your judgment young one.”
Chi rolled her eyes.
“See, that right there, that’s not you. That’s the spirit’s influence. You may not have noticed, but you’ve allowed his darkness to consume you. If you continue down this path you’ll find yourself as disheveled as the one who you’ve signed a contract with.”
“I am content, bear,” Chi said, beginning to walk around Koken. The bear sighed and let the girl pass. This was something that the young woman had to figure out on her own, but that didn’t mean Koken could help. Along Chi’s path, she could hear the bear calling out to her. She told Chi about the food chain. She told her that the predators who were at the top had an obligation to the world to maintain order. Chi was young, but she too had an obligation to maintain this order. If she continued to let her blood lust fuel her she would cause the balance to shift. Chi ignored her words and her warnings. She had one thing on her mind and it was finding Ichiro and retrieving her family’s staff. She was so lost in this thought she failed to notice the trees closing in on her and the darkness that settled in those woods. It was like a completely different environment. She lost the scent of the nobleman and bumped into a different person who she hadn’t smelled nearby. When the woman turned around, she was a silhouette with Chi’s features. The woman attacked.
The doppelganger caught Chi off guard and struck a blow on the young woman’s shoulder, stabbing her with a small dagger. It was the same dagger that Chi’s weapon took the shape of when she wasn’t using it. Chi lunged back and could hear Koken speaking to her again, “You must destroy your inner darkness, Chikara.” Chi spat on the ground and yelled a string of words in her old tongue that could only be described as ‘inappropriate’. Then she lunged forward and with her undamaged arm, she attacked her twin. The fake Chi dodged, and then dodged again. She began to taunt Chi with stories of her family. She told Chi she wasn’t good enough and that’s why everyone she loved kept dying. This fueled the wild one’s anger and made her attacks more aggressive but inaccurate. She would never defeat herself like this. Yet again the opponent struck Chi, this time she changed the weapon into that of a sword and sliced her across the chest. Blood flowed out of her but the wild one kept fighting.
“Chikara, remember what you’re actually fighting for!” Koken shouted from some far off place.
“I fight for revenge!” Chi yelled, yet again failing to land a blow on herself.
“No, you fight for your family. The ones you’ve lost and the ones you’ve gained.” Koken’s words hit Chi hard, but not as hard as her doppelganger bashing her upside the head with a large mallet. Chi slid across the forest floor and crashed into a large tree in her path. Another swing of the mallet just barely missed her. As she ducked to avoid the attack the mallet struck the tree and became lodged inside. Chi took the opportunity to draw her dagger and transformed it into the shark form. She swung quickly but the blade moved through Chi’s twin as if the doppelganger's form was ethereal. The mallet transformed into a sword that resembled the shark form and came down. Chi jumped out of the way, doing some sick flips to gain some distance. She breathed heavily and began to lose her focus. Morisei was nowhere to be found as if he couldn’t form inside whatever illusion she found herself in.
“I cannot fall!” Chi shouted in her native tongue. The words echoed in the forest and made her doppelganger laugh.
“You will fall,” Koken spoke, her image appearing behind Chi’s opponent. “You must remember what you are fighting for!”
Chi let out a warcry and ran to engage the enemy. She slashed wildly with her sword, then transformed it and continued to swing. Each attack was fruitless and each attack made her angrier and angrier. She continued to narrowly avoid anymore blows, noticing quickly how the other mimicked her own technique. This would have been a blessing if Chi could hit her target. Instead, she continued with mad blows, meanwhile contemplating the words this strange bear kept saying to her. She thought about her family, how she watched her father and mother die right in front of her. She remembered how she was captured by Ichiro and her new family, comprised of the mountain goats she shared a home with, were slaughtered in her absence. Then she remembered Naku, who was waiting for her at home. She thought of her new home in Suna and the new family she had begun to form with Kaen and his son Hato. She thought about the various people she had met along her journey to find the staff of Morisei. They were her family now, and she needed to protect them. Retrieving her family’s staff and using its power was how she would do this.
“I fight…” Chi slumped over, exhausted from her panic-induced attacks towards the other. “I fight for my family.” She muttered. Chi raised her weapon, transforming it into the Rhino form. Brandishing the large shield, she charged the doppelganger. The other laughed at Chi’s attempt and attempted to dodge the attack although it would go straight through her. In fact, it didn’t go through her, the attack landed and the twin went flying into a nearby tree. With a worried look, the copy fled into the fog to make its next attack.
“I fight, for all I have lost!” She transformed the weapon again into the Eagle and a light shined through the fog and revealed her enemy’s location. She turned and landed another blow on the being that knocked her to the ground. “I fight, for a bright future!” She stabbed the weapon down and into the doppelganger's chest. The form dissolved and at that point so did many of the trees in the area. Everything became dark and then there was a bright light as Chi’s eyes began to open. She found herself lying on the ground in front of Koken. They hadn’t left the spot where the two of them had sat down next to each other. Chi rose quickly to stand and she looked at the guardian.
“You did well, in your mindscape. That was merely a test to see how far the darkness has taken over.” Koken stood now as well and looked down on the short woman who stood before her. “You will do well, but you still have one more test.” She moved to the side and motioned for Chi to continue on her hunt. Chi nodded and after a moment of hesitation, she continued after the nobleman.
It wasn’t long before she caught up with the man. He had just left the forest borders and was limping hurriedly towards his cart, manned by a single driver. Chi ran across the desert floor on all fours and pounced her prey. On the ground, they tussled while the driver of the cart stood to watch the commotion, helpless to do anything else. Once Chi had him pinned down she growled at him, examining the fear in his eyes. She stopped growling and spat in his face.
“You weak.” She sighed. The events that had transpired previously made her doubt herself momentarily. She didn’t know if she could do what she needed to do to get answers.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” The man yelled, a lie no doubt. He was trying to save his own skin.
“You… Sorry? No. You want survive this, you say anything… do anything.” She starred at him for a moment. “You tell me, where Ichiro?”
“Ichiro?” He cried, desperately trying to remember the name.
“He sold me! To you!” Chi shouted, her fury returning to her. She quelled the anger momentarily and awaited a reply.
“Last I heard he was in Suna, you should search there!”
“Have searched! Cannot find!” She growled at him again, this time with hopes of intimidating him into revealing some new information. It worked.
“I-I-I don’t keep in con-contact with the man. Last I hear he was in Suna… He was looking for something… Something underground! Yes, yes, underground! An old temple used by a cult in Suna. Last I heard it was abandoned.” The man spoke quickly, trying to get as much information out as he could before Chi had a chance to retaliate. He was weak, and in Chi’s mind, he was nothing more than prey. In the back of her mind, there was a thought that crept up on her, Koken’s words echoed in her mind. Chi had heard enough, she let the man go and jumped back to give him some space. With a clenched fist she forced herself to let him escape. He got up and scrapped at the sand for a moment as he struggled to return to his feet. His large form slid up the dune to his cart and he yelled at the driver to move. The driver did as asked and soon the cart was out of sight.
“I’m so proud of you, Chikara.” Koken appeared suddenly at Chi’s side. She was consumed with anger and guilt but somehow Koken was proud of her? It didn’t make sense. “You did the right thing. Killing him wouldn’t have fixed anything.”
“Weak!” Chi shouted, pointing in the direction the cart had driven away in. “Weak and terrible… Would feel good to kill.”
“Yes, but remember that two wrongs don’t make a right.” She said wisely, producing something from her robe which resembled a scroll. “I have been following you since you left Hosekimori. As a young girl, you embraced the ways of nature and became a strong predator. You were queen of the forests there. Still, you did what was right, and protected even the most vicious beasts from predators who killed for no reason other than to create death.”
“Point, yes?” Chi was becoming impatient.
“I am no ordinary bear.” She undid a clasp on the scroll and let it unfurl onto the ground below. On the scroll were many signatures and it all seemed very familiar to her. “I am part of an ancient order of contract beasts known as the ancient predators. We keep balance in the world. I can teach you the skills of the ancient predator, but first, you must sign a contract with me so I may bring you to my realm. There we can train in a more private setting.”
Chi contemplated the offer. She knew that Morisei’s darkness was corrupting her and she needed someone who could teach her how to control her dark urges. She nodded and pulled her dagger from her thigh, pricking her finger in order to sign the contract. Once it was signed the scroll rolled up on its own and Koken returned the scroll to her rope. With a smile, she bowed to the young princess and disappeared right in front of her eyes. Then, suddenly and without warning, Morisei screamed and his ethereal form emerged from the dagger. She breathed helplessly as if he were cut off from oxygen, something he didn’t need in the first place, and then glared at Chi.
“What happened!?” He demanded from her.
“I will explain on the way.” She spoke, beginning her long trek back to the gates of her home of Sunagakure.