Zero Sum [Private; One-Shot]

Sietch Zensunna was by far the largest portion of land in the cave system but as lands are being taken on the desert above the growing city will likely know no border. While no longer housed inside of a cave, many of the homes here were destroyed by a cave-in that has exposed the surviving households to the surface as they presently occupy the bottom of a canyon. This section of Sungakure contains many of the working man's homes and the houses for the working shinobi along with a huge alley for shops and entertainment. Living here is affordable for those with a steady income.

The middle class housing, eating and shopping district.

Moderator: Sand Council

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Shiruko Makoto
Head Lorekeeper
Head Lorekeeper
Cash on hand: Locked
Bank: Locked
Location: The Nexus
Posts: 6205
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 7:36 pm
Collector of all jutsu

Zero Sum [Private; One-Shot]

Sun Dec 30, 2018 1:47 pm

The days were busy and the nights were restful.

Yeah, okay, so Makoto hadn't actually written a letter back home yet. He was getting around to it. Eventually. It wasn't entirely his fault, either, he was just so damn busy all the time, what with wandering around helping people, keeping tabs on things, researching his new enemies, and babysitting a mumble-year-old child who missed some of the basic fundamentals of human behaviour, most of which he was in no way qualified to teach her.

So he could be forgiven for not writing, was the point, which he would explain at length when he returned home. It had absolutely nothing to do with the...other...content of the letter. And he knew there was no way out of the other part. He'd always known that. Hated it, but known it.

Of course the 'later' in 'worry about it later' had to come someday. But it didn't matter; he was a continent and a sea away from his family right now, well most of them anyway. And the one present wasn't exactly likely to pressure him to marry.

Not that he was concerned about that!

It is very fortunate for you that I do not particularly mind this circuitous train of thought and know you will work through it on your own eventually.

"Well, I have to convince someone," Makoto muttered not-at-all sulkily as he slumped back on his hotel bed, which he had, all told, been using at this point long enough to call his bed. If money were actually an object for him, it would have been concerning how long they'd been staying in a relatively-upscale hotel for this long. "I'm not convincing myself very well."

It was late in the day and he'd returned from a foray to the library, looking up what details he could find on the various prisoners that had been incarcerated in Sand's Obsidian prison. He had looked up the basics nearly immediately after his meeting with Katsuo, and sought out extra sources to look into more, just in case.

Some of it was...horrific, and he was glad he had a strong stomach. The phoenix had even been mildly disturbed by a few things, though it had seemed fairly convinced that no being that ate primarily human souls would want one that was blended with a spirit, meaning he and Sheimi were both likely safe, and Miki wasn't human to begin with. Tatsuya...was also probably safe for his own equally-disturbing reasons.

Sheimi had taken pity on the expression on his face and offered to take Miki out to get groceries. Miki was strangely fascinated with food and stores carrying it despite not actually needing to eat. He suspected Sheimi only brought her along to have someone else to help carry things, but it wasn't as if Miki were a normal child or limited to a normal child's strength and anyway she didn't mind, so he wasn't going to raise a fuss.

So he had retreated to his own room. Tatsuya was due back from whatever the hell it was he did all day soon enough and as the sole one of them capable of using the hotel's provided small kitchen areas in each of their rooms, would be cooking. It...wasn't bad, honestly, and it's not like he had any particular attachment to specific people cooking, so it was a workable arrangement and also probably the only reason Sheimi hadn't strangled Tatsuya in his sleep.

Speaking of...his door cracked open a bit and he sat up, irritated. It wasn't like locks were a real impediment to him either, but he at least had the manners to knock. Usually.

The expression on Tatsuya's face as he stepped into the room and closed the door was unusually serious and grave, more than he'd seen it except when he'd broken up that fight between Sheimi's spirit and the phoenix. There was no trace of a false smile, and the aura was dampened almost completely.

"We need to talk," Tatsuya said, his tone flatter than Makoto had ever heard on another human being--even Kanashimi in full combat mode. It was so utterly devoid of inflection and cadence as to be completely alien and he repressed a shiver. "It's important."

Different scenarios flashed through his mind. Miki had been kidnapped again. Sheimi had killed someone important and had been arrested. Tatsuya had gotten them kicked out of the country somehow. There was news from back home, and it was Bad.

"Sit down," he heard himself say, and waved vaguely toward a chair positioned near the kitchenette. He could hear his own breathing.

Tatsuya sat and focused intently on him, the gold and grey eye both perfectly in sync, because of course they were, but they didn't look like they ought to belong to the same person. Even without the void aura, he was still a disconcerting person. When he spoke, what he said was not what he expected.

"What can you tell me about Moon's political situation, specifically relating to our family's history with the Shrine?"

Irritation bubbled up in him again. "Is now the time?" he snapped. "Certainly it's important, but the way you're acting I thought someone had been killed."

"Not as far a I know," Tatsuya said, though he still looked strangely blank. "But yes, this is important. I've put together a few things I don't like and I want to see if they're accurate before I worry you with my conclusions."

"Fine!" Makoto ran a hand through his hair, thoroughly mussing it even more than it already was, and sighed. "The basics of it I'm sure you know. After your branch of the family left and ended up in Water Country, we established ourselves and dug in further to ensure our lessened numbers didn't cause the Shrine to be able to take us out. We stepped up our training and tied ourselves into the local economy further. It worked and that's where we are today. Enough people rely on us that the Shrine can't touch us, and our training standards are higher than theirs anyway."

He was skimming, but he was fairly sure Tatsuya had some kind of point and a basic gloss of family history was likely all that was needed to get there.

"Mm." Tatsuya leaned back in his chair, making it creak, and didn't shift his expression at all. "And why don't you take them out?"

Frustration mounted, but he bit it back. "Obviously, they're the government. Plenty of people rely on them, too."

"These people wouldn't be better off with our people in charge?" Tatsuya paused, and added in the face of Makoto's mounting anger, "I'm not saying they would or wouldn't be or that it would be an ideal solution. The frequently unstable situation in Grass makes me think hereditary power isn't the best solution, but the question is whether it's better than what the Shrine is now."

"It's not like we could, anyway," he huffed. He was being rather more emotional than usual, he knew, but well, for one, someone had to be, and for two, he was feeling a little more emotional than usual. "It's a stalemate."

"Mm," Tatsuya said again. "No, it's not. If it is, it's an enforced one."

"I'm sure you'd know," he said, as evenly as he could manage himself.

"I suspect. I don't know for sure." Tatsuya rested one arm on an armrest and drummed his fingers on the end of it. "I would guess that your side of the family has any amount of blackmail and other volatile materials that could severely damage the Shrine's credibility, stripping away their forces to the point where an offensive would completely obliterate them. Even without that, I'm quite sure that the skill difference more than makes up for the numbers gap and moreover that if it came to it, there are probably plenty of others like Sheimi who have already chosen your side, whether they announce it like her or no. I'd be willing to bet our family is typically seen as the 'lesser evil' and that we have plenty of adjuncts and civilian affiliates. No?"

Makoto stared at him. He was in Moon for a while, wasn't he. Apparently he was actually going around, looking at things.

Finally he said, "We might have a few things, but I don't know why you're so sure we'd win. That's why we haven't done that yet."

"But it's the end goal?"

"Of course it--" He cut himself off. He'd never...actually...heard that expressed. Always people spoke of protection. "What are you getting at?"

"In Mist, we didn't really have a real adversary," Tatsuya said contemplatively. "Certainly there were some street-level thugs, but none of them ever amassed much power. The only family with more money was our allies, and the other ostensibly important clans were jokes, albeit persistent ones. We were not nice, and everyone knew it on some level. Even if people let themselves be blinded by the money, the casino, my reputation and status. At no point did we pretend to be the lesser evil. Why would we? We were arms dealers. Traders of exotic and created poisons. People have their own ideas about those sorts of things. In our case? Entirely correct."

Makoto didn't bother telling him to get to the point. He didn't want to hear the point, but Tatsuya kept talking.

"We had what we wanted, is my point. We didn't even feel guilty for selling weapons to one of Mist's enemies, at one point during a war." He shrugged fluidly. "Just business.

"But in Moon...in Moon it's different. You couldn't or wouldn't ally yourself with the dominant power. So, despite still doing basically the same things we do? You pretend to be better. That you're the good option, the lesser evil." Through all of this, his inflection had barely changed. A piece of the void, maybe. But now, it shifted, and some of the human returned, bringing with him a thin layer of disgust and derision. "All because you have a bad guy to set yourselves against. And you want to keep looking like the good guys, despite the fact that if you were, you'd have removed the obvious corruption at least decades ago, if not longer."

Makoto stared at him, at a loss for words. He was sure that was wrong, he just couldn't work out exactly which part of it to object to first, or a coherent argument against it.

"I don't know if you just got used to being the good ones, you really bought into there being nothing you could do, or it works out to your benefit in some other way to pretend you're less obviously powerful than you really are." Tatsuya's tone had gone brittle. "And for the record, I'm not a good person. Never claimed to be. I've tortured people before, for fun, since it's not actually good for information. Fucked off when people needed me and never bothered to make it up or apologize. And if I ever get my hands on whoever did that to my little siblings, it won't be pretty. But you know, something about all the people on your branch, at least all the ones I've met? You do think you're good, or at least less bad. So I wanted to know, 'why is it like this?'

"I thought at first maybe none of you were strong enough--but I've seen, and I've heard, that you're the best Moon has to offer. And from what I've heard and seen here, you and Sheimi are both at least on par with any village ninja, which is a fair few notches above most of the Shrine's loyals. I suppose I don't need to spar with you and your brothers now."

That's why he wanted to spar with us? he screamed in his head. The phoenix did not appear to have anything to offer to this, either.

"Then I thought the goodness part was an act, but I've been investigating that too. Aside from the white-haired one, none of you can lie for beans, And I looked around while I was here; apparently you don't only spend time at that bar but you do things like rescuing people from kidnappers and retrieving lost keepsakes for people." Tatsuya gave him an unimpressed look. "And the sandworm. That decided me. If you were faking it, there's less dangerous ways.

"So you're not weak, and you're not manipulative. I went back to, 'why is it like this?'"

"Can't it just be what I said?" Makoto burst out. "Maybe it's nothing! We just...don't want to damage things, disrupt them!" Even then, his argument sounded a bit weak to his ears.

Tatsuya shook his head slowly, the light glinting off his gold eye. "That isn't a likely option. Even if you couldn't or didn't want to take over, you could still be more direct about addressing the corruption, if you actually cared enough. You as in general you, your branch of the family."

That argument was even harder to refute. Take out some of the leadership, maneuver into place more upstanding ones...or even just slightly better ones that would turn a blind eye to his clan's antics without running their own. "So...what? You think we're all terminally stupid?"

"Probably it's more of a psychological block," Tatsuya concluded. "At least, with our generation. You think only small actions are possible, so that's all you take. I don't know what our parents' generation thinks. Maybe they tell themselves the same comforting lie, there's nothing we can do, oh well. Or maybe they realize that in order to continue being the good ones, reaping the reputation and allies and control they do now, they can't get rid of their main enemy. Because once the corrupt government is gone, you go back to being the shady ones--arms dealers, poison vendors, who have no problem teaching their children how to fight and pick locks and disguise themselves. At least with the Shrine there, you can point to the tax rates, the brainwashing, the brothels and whatever else and say, see, we don't do that."

Dimly, Makoto realized his fists were tightly clenched. He loosened them and shook his hands out; they'd gone somewhat stiff in the fingers.

"Why tell me?" he asked distantly, vaguely noting it was his turn to sound toneless. "Aren't I part of the problem you're describing?"

"Two reasons," Tatsuya said evenly, but more humanly than before. Just level, with no unnatural cadence and inhuman pressure. "One, you're effectively adopting a small child, and there's a very good chance she'll be stuck in her current form for the foreseeable future. I want you to be aware of the full reality so you know how not to corrupt her, what to be on guard against."

That tracked with him, yes. "And the second?"

Tatsuya pursed his lips. "Two, at this point you're the most likely to have the distance to be more objective about it. I know firsthand that being main branch means more indoctrination--but not only are you far enough down in the inheritance order that it's less likely they focused as much on you, you're away from the twisted Moon logic a lot, all the time now really except for whatever's in your head. And I do need someone in your branch to help me fully understand the rest of this. I'm definitely missing some nuances from lack of information. I need to know what exactly the older generation thinks, for one. I don't ask that you like me, but you've been in Sand long enough and before now. I'm sure you realize that something about Moon is very wrong. You're not so dense that you think the rest of the world is the odd ones."

His throat was dry as Tatsuya rose. "You...can't want me to spy on my family."

A snort. "No, you'd be awful at that. I'm not trying to hurt our family. I just want to root out exactly what's going on, so I can decide what to do about it--and if it's the sort of twisted I can keep working with, or if it has to go. I expect the latter, but there could be something I'm missing. From you, I'll only need more detailed information when I ask for it, over time."

It's awful, what you've said, and you might want it to go on, he didn't say. You're a ruthless bastard, he didn't say. But it must have showed on his face, as Tatsuya's expression tightened.

"I can see why they picked you to lead," he said after a second, every word dragged out of him by barbed wire and ignoring how that made Tatsuya flinch as if struck. "It's...none of us would do that, or see that. I think my brothers just talk about protecting people. You're right, you're not good."

Am I? Was I ever? Was I just pretending that I understood, could ever understand that light, that fire that people outside Moon call justice? Or am I as broken inside as the rest in that part?

"If you'd asked me a few years ago, I wouldn't have put 'good' on the list of traits a clan leader should have. Maybe I was right. I don't know." He gave a shuddering sigh. Not showing weakness seemed unimportant, for the moment. "I don't like this. But no one else has even noticed--none of us, ever, not even me. And I need to know--who's complicit and who isn't, and whether I am part of the problem. So, yes."

He was surprised he agreed, and so was Tatsuya apparently, none to mention the surprised trill in his head. But his cousin quickly gathered himself and nodded, heading out--presumably to wait for Sheimi to deliver the groceries so he could start cooking.

"Good. I'm glad. I won't pressure you too much, too quickly, don't worry. I take care of my proper informants." On anyone else that wouldn't have been a real smile, but from Tatsuya it seemed more real than any of this others. "Though, all this has solved one other mystery...I'm fairly sure your brother hates me because I come from somewhere I don't have to dance around being cloak and dagger, playing shadow games. In a way, I used to get to be far more honest than any of you. It's been...enlightening."

He slid out, the door closing quietly behind him. Makoto flopped back onto his bed and stared at the ceiling.

He...had a lot to think about. None of it good.

Was his family really drawing out something they could have ended simply to maintain their reputation...? If they were, who was aware and who had just absorbed the lie? His parents, his brothers? How far out did it go--what about their retainers and affiliates? Did anyone at all suspect?


No, he said. Nothing else.

That letter suddenly seemed both more and less worrisome. Less, because this was clearly a more pressing concern.

More, because he still had to write it, and how could he trust what to put down and what he'd get in return.

Makoto rolled over and pressed his head into the pillow. He really wanted a nap. Just until dinner.

Just make this all go away.

[Topic Enter/Exit; Half the Time Card = 30 Min]

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