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[A] The Faith of Flowers

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Takaki Saeko
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Valentine's Event 2018

[A] The Faith of Flowers

Wed Oct 31, 2018 1:53 pm

...Grounds of the Nemoto Fechtenschule
Holy See of Tenouza, Kaminari no Kuni
Two days before The Illumination...


In the northwest of the Holy City of Tenouza, the fortified training grounds were a mess of swinging blades and errant sparks. Bedecked in heavy training gambesons, dozens of the city’s kadettenkorps--the future officers and leaders of the legendary city guard--swung their blades and staves with terrifying speed and power against each other, all for the singular goal of winning the day’s bragging rights. Pride was a sin, but the youngsters wouldn’t have known that based on a cursory glance.

Cardinal Kurosawa Moscato, a middle-aged man with thinning hair and an ill-fitting pince-nez, scurried along on the outskirts of the yard on his way to the commander’s office, trying not to let his gaze linger too long on the spectacle of bodies in motion. Violence was a valuable tool to be wielded against heretics and other enemies of Mother Church if needed, but he had never enjoyed seeing it in use.

The young woman who’d escorted him from the gate--a leutnant by the red sash slung over her gambeson and gilded longsword belted to her waist--stopped in front of a simple wooden door and bowed and gestured for him to enter.

“Bless you, my child,” Moscato said, without really looking at her, and stepped in. He could have sworn he’d heard a dismissive grunt from the girl, but continued anyway.

The man inside rose from his chair and his hand went--instinctively--to the hilt of his blade, but stopped fluidly upon realizing who’d entered.

“Commandant Nemoto Fiore di Kanazawa,” Moscato said without the customary bow. Instead, he offered the hand bearing the ruby-bedecked sigil of the College of Cardinals of the Holy See. “I am here unannounced, but on important business, you see.”

“Your Excellency,” the commander--Fiore--said, knelt, and took the cardinal’s proffered hand. He gently kissed the man’s ruby ring before rising. “May I offer you wine?”

“No, thank you. My time is short, and I am expected at the College within the hour.”

“Then to what do I owe the suddenness of your visit? I wasn’t expecting an ecclesiastical inspection for another month.” Fiore slowly made his way back behind his desk and gestured to the empty chair across from it. “Please sit, humble as these barracks are.”

“Yes, thank you,” Moscato said. From his satchel he withdrew a calfskin packet of sealed orders--military orders--and pushed them across the desk to Fiore. “I’ll be brief. Feldmarschall Senna the Elder hereby immediately mobilizes your unit, Campo di Fiori, to the Kounia Province. There, you are to work in conjunction with selected agents of the Lightning bakufuu to perform a joint inspection exercise on our northernmost dimeritium smeltery. It’s gone quiet in recent days and Her Excellency would like to know why. I trust you can be ready to depart within twenty-four hours.”

Fiore cocked an eyebrow and slowly set the papers down on his desk. “Why send soldiers? If a smelter’s gone cold, then shouldn’t we be sending out engineers and laborers to restart it?”

“Rest assured, Commandant, those arrangements have already been made. Your unit will merely be there to provide...added security. Despite the loyalty and faith of the daimyo of Kounia, there are still threats from bandits and wildlife and the like. And ss you know well, dimeritium exposure is unhealthy for those who haven’t been blessed against its toxic effects. But your unit, on the other hand…”

“Yes, Cardinal. We’re protected. Very well, I will make arrangements.” He glanced over the orders again. “Who are these bakufuu agents we’re supposed to accompany?”

Moscato took in a deep breath. “They are...how shall I put this… employed by Kumogakure.”

“Kumogakure? You mean shinobi?”

“Yes.”

Fiore frowned and rested his chin on folded hands. He locked his gaze with the cardinal. “Forgive me, Your Excellency. I am but a simple guardsman and servant of the pontiff. And thus I completely and utterly fail to comprehend exactly why my unit--whose entire purpose is to protect our church from those cursed by chakra--is being sent out for a joint operation with the very creatures we’ve trained all these years to battle against?”

Moscato shrugged. “We are not at war with them, Commandant, and I don’t need to remind you that the feldmarschall herself is also one of them…”

“Lady Senna renounced her shinobi status and repented of it!”

“Do not raise your voice at me,” Moscato said. “This is a direct order and you will follow it to the best of your ability. If I hear of trouble, then it is you who will be held accountable. Do I make myself clear?”

Fiore clenched his jaw and nodded. “Yes, I hear you, loud and clear. I will follow my orders, regardless of their...unearthly nature.”

“Then, Commandant Fiore, I take my leave,” Moscato said, and stood. “I’ll see myself out.”

Fiore let out a long sigh as the cardinal shut the door behind him. But any time he would have had for his own thoughts was quickly cut short by another uninvited entry. The girl who’d escorted Moscato had let herself in and was now plopped in the chair opposite her commander, with her feet up on his desk.

“Hey!” Fiore snapped. “How many times have I told you not to do that?”

“Aren’t you excited, though, Fiore-sensei?” the girl said, excitedly twisting her curls around a finger. “We finally get to fight real shinobi! This is what we all trained for!”

“Your feet are still on my desk. You shouldn’t eavesdrop like that, either!”

Her green eyes flashed. “You’re gonna pick me to come, right?”

Fiore crossed his arms. “No. Just for that, you’re staying here. You get to peel potatoes the entire time.”

“Yucky!” She swung her feet off the desk. “And you need me to come along, Sensei. I’m like, the best bladey-swingy-person in the Campo. Besides you, of course.”

‘Bladey-swingy-person.’ Right.” Fiore rubbed his eyes. “I’m not saving you if a shinobi tries to gut you. You’re on your own.”

The girl’s features morphed to a killer’s smile. “Just the way I like it.”

* * *

...A few kilometers from Okaya Station
Contested territory, Kagoshiman Khanate
Current day...



You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." But only slightly less well known is this: "Never go in against a Tenouzan when death is on the line!"--Anon


The chain of mistakes made on that day started with a simple nudge against a single domino and ended up causing a cataclysm that we’re still trying to understand, much less rebuild from to this very day. I’m not talking about Yuii’s failed engagement to Osuteno, although that was a catastrophe in its own right. Rather, I’m talking about the day I received the innocuously-worded request from the Holy See for an inconsequential escort of some Tenouzan guardsmen in the frozen north.

It was simple and straightforward enough. A certain Cardinal Moscato wanted to hire a mid-sized group of shinobi to accompany a small detachment of their own guardsmen, engineers, and miners to a dimeritium smelting operation owned by the Daimyo of Kounia but essentially managed by the church.

As shinobi, we’re naturally leery of anything related to dimeritium. It’s a rare element that--at sufficient purity and density--acts as a powerful chakra sink. Being around heavy concentrations of the stuff, even in its unrefined state, causes most shinobi to experience things like headaches and fatigue. But when the pure metal is used to fashion things like armor and weapons, it goes from mild annoyance to actual danger. Our most destructive techniques simply absorb into the stuff,, and when struck with weapons laced with the ore, our inner reserves sink to almost nothing. Non-shinobi have used it for centuries to give themselves an edge against our kind, and it’s probably one of the reasons we don’t exert complete dominion over the earth at this point. The Tenouzan Church regards the metal as sacred and essential to their liturgical needs, which is why they’re one of the world’s largest buyers of the stuff. Officially, it’s a total coincidence that their “sacred steel” also happens to be hazardous to our continued existence, but I doubt it.

The Kounia Daimyo has also become something of a sore spot for us as well, in recent years. He’s a recent convert to the church, having renounced worship of Raiden and Aion quite publicly. Of course, our nation has no official mandated religion, so there’s naught the shogun could have done against it. And it so happens that the frozen northlands under the daimyo’s dominion are very rich in dimeritium. Hence, lots of smelters.

Cardinal Moscato’s letter was more of a courtesy call than anything else--he’d have sent his soldiers even if we hadn’t responded to his request. But then Yuii and I would have looked bad if we’d allowed Tenouzan Guard to tromp unescorted across Lightning Country, so I had no choice but to send our own envoys. Of course, the prevailing thought of the day was that no conventional military force could match even our genin in battle, so I authorized a detachment of genin and chuunin for the task. Of those I had selected, some had been in a few minor scrapes, and most were completely inexperienced in serious battle outside of the sparring rings. That was fine, of course, since nothing was going to happen on this joke of a mission.

Of course, I was wrong. We were all wrong.

* * *

A few days before it happened, I sat in a private cabin on board the diesel-engine Northern Express sipping coffee and absentmindedly reviewing the dossiers I’d assembled. Recruiting had been a total rush job: I pretty much plucked the files of any genin who weren’t patriotically losing fingers and toes in some godforsaken hellhole and dispatched messengers to summon them all to the grand central station of Kelmura. For some reason, Yuii had insisted that I go along as Kumo’s representative to the Tenouzans. But it had never been my intention to actually, you know, command some slapdash squad of fresh genin, so I made sure to include another chuunin on the roster. One who seemed like he might not lose his shit at the first sign of trouble, but who was also far junior to me in seniority. Kashino Yuu would do the dirty work of keeping the troops in line, and I’d be able to fuck off and sightsee or something. So what if he was only thirteen?

Next on the list was someone I actually knew from before. The last time I saw Suzuki Setsu I might or might not have attempted to sell him to some very sketchy entities before he suddenly revealed his true inner power of being a televangelist. Still, there was something about the kid that I really liked, and my fingertips may have lingered over his dorky identification photo for longer than strictly necessary while I was looking over his file. Now I was glad that Yuu would have to deal with him. I wasn’t a goddamned hebephile and definitely didn’t want to become one.

Finally, there was Endo Eiji. The half-assed, slapdash censoring job applied to half of his file was a pretty obvious indicator of his status as an ANBU candidate, only slightly less blatant than a carnival barker under neon signage. Going on this sketchy of a mission was par for the course for his situation: until they formally donned the mask, high command took every opportunity to send them off to toad-strewn wastelands to kill, drink, and fuck until they either died or somehow turned into professionals. The former, of course, was way likelier.

The train’s last stop was the capital city of Okaya in the Kagoshiman Khanate. From there, we were to diembark and then meet up with the Tenouzan delegation at an abandoned citadel on the city’s outskirts. Formerly known as Ughuir Prison, the once-impenetrable rock had been a base for the Lightning Army during the bloody, decades-long Kagoshiman occupation. Supposedly, so many dissidents were tortured to death within its walls that you can still hear the screaming coming from the caved-in levels below ground. Leave it to the Tenouzans to meet in such a cheerful place, I guess.

I’d been given almost no information about their delegation save for the commander’s name: Nemoto Fiore di Kanazawa. Everyone’s heard of the Nemoto clan: they’re synonymous with Tenouzan strength, and form the bulk of the city’s elite guardsmen. Their most famous contribution to Cloud, of course, was a girl named Nemoto Senna, who started out as one of us and then famously cast away her shinobi heritage to become their feldmarschall--supreme commander. So revered is she that it’s said every other Tenouzan girl is named ‘Senna’ in her honor, which must lead to a lot of confusion when it comes time to take roll call at school.

Of course, this complete omission of any substantive facts left me worried: how many soldiers did the cardinal plan on sending? What if when we arrived, there was a grinning legion of Tenouzan elites waiting to kill us on neutral land and stuff our bodies into the forgotten chambers of Ughuir Prison? Calm thy tits, I told myself: we were officially on friendly terms with the church. My father and many others had sacrificed their lives to save their city, and the memory of that day was still fresh in many an older Tenouzan’s mind. I’d heard rumors, though, that the new generation of faithful had been taught to see our kind is a much less sympathetic light.

I looked over the pile of dossiers at Yuu, who because of his rank, got to occupy the “good” cabin with me. I’d let it to the genin to figure out where to stuff themselves for the journey.

“It’s going to be cold up there. Did you make sure everyone’s dressed for the weather? Anyone with a bare midriff is gonna lose guts to frostbite.” Some of the dossier pics looked like their subjects were dressed for a night out at a club rather than for a knock-down-drag-out fight. And that was before getting into Tenouzan sensibilities about how to dress properly. “I don’t know if you’ve dealt with our holy ‘friends,’ but always be on your guard. They’ll spout holy scripture out one side of their mouth and whisper an order to kill you with the other. I don’t like that they’re meeting us on Kagoshiman territory. Means they can attack us without any diplomatic consequence. You ever killed anyone, Kashino? And not by accident?”

And so we start the mission! I usually like to omit the tedious beginning parts where the party assembles at the gate and gets leave to depart because they don’t usually add much to the narrative. Right now, your characters are all on board a train headed to the northernmost province of Lightning Country, about to make its final stop in the Kagoshiman Khanate. You can assume that your characters have at least made cursory greetings to each other and are somewhere within said train, away from Saeko and Yuu. You’ve been briefed already that you can expect cold weather, lack of prepared shelter, and potentially armed conflict with involvement of dimeritium (a chakra sink), so you’ve been told to prepare accordingly. Whether or not your character actually did this, and what they brought or didn’t bring, is entirely up to you! And if you want to interact further with each other, sulk silently, seek out your mission leaders, jump off the train into a ravine is also up to you!

Yuu, if you decided to bring a path along, you can decide if the path is in the private cabin with Saeko or whether he’s mingling with the rest of the team.

So far the team is Yuu, Setsu, and Eiji--I still have room for any latecomers if they want to join up this round, otherwise you’ll just have to wait for the next mission.
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Kashino Yuu
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Sat Nov 10, 2018 5:00 pm

(OOC: Sorry this took so long! Internet problems delayed my posting a lot!)
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Current Path

It has been a while for Yuu to see snow falling outside the cabin window for a while. The last time he rode a train was before he decided to become a shinobi was when he was on a hiking vacation with his family. And while he did leave the village for a mission once, it didn't have any importance to the village. So he was a bit nervous sitting in front of Takaki Saeko, a shinobi that he never met before in his life. Yet from her elegant, yet mysterious figure, he could slightly sense an air of power and maturity around her. He can't act childishly in front of her, so he had to make sure to do his best for this important mission.

As for the mission itself, Saeko's warnings made him a bit worried. He had never been to another territory away from Kumogakure and her warning made him a bit cautious over their actions when they will meet them at the last stop. For the weather itself, he was currently wearing a long-sleeved purple longneck jacket and black gloves in place of his usual hoodie vest and fingerless gloves to protect him from the harsh cold. Of course, he had to stay alert for this potentially dangerous mission as he also brought not only his weapons on board but also his Uchiha body that was currently staying in the same private cabin as Yuu's and Saeko's, who was also wearing a dark blue jacket, black pants, blue gloves, and black boots for the weather.

Right now, there was nothing to do until they reached their destination, so he decided to answer Saeko's questions. "Yes. Although, I have to send Yuri to check on the other Genin to make sure they are well-suited for the weather." While he wasn't a crazy-prepared person, he did bring Yuri with him to the mission in a pretense that he was his alternate personality that manifested in one of his paths when he obtained his Rinnegan to hide his parasite origins and his use with his former body. Besides, he needed someone to check on his paths to prevent any defects due to the cold.
----
Image
Yuri's Current Path

Speaking of Yuri, he was actually going around where the Genins were staying and as Yuu said, he checked up on them and reminded them that they need to prepare themselves if they don't want to catch a cold during a mission.
----
Meanwhile back with Yuu, he continued his conversation with Saeko as he listened carefully to her warnings once more as he mentally noted about the 'holy friends' that she mentioned. And as she asked that sudden question, his expression grew dark, remembering a certain mission. "N-Not really... But, I did assist Yuri in killing a serial killer during our first C-Rank mission. Though it was on self-defense since we did try to convince him to surrender. But, he didn't and... he had to deal the final blow to protect me." As he finished, he grew a bit worried after he answered honestly. "Don't tell me those people are against those type of people who have those records?"

[MFT/WC: 524]
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Suzuki Setsu
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Sun Nov 11, 2018 6:18 am

The passenger car Setsu was in was strangely cheerful and excited. The young empath had been ecstatic when he had been recommended to accompany Takaki-sama and Kashino-sensei on a mission, and those feelings were infectious. Quite literally in fact. Most civilians aren’t trained to resist the abilities of shinobi, especially the more subtle ones manipulating the mind and emotions. And Setsu never really got the hang of keeping his emotions to himself.

The boy fidgeted in his seat as he stared at the countryside rushing past. While he and the other shinobi on the car, Endo-san, weren’t in the most luxurious of accomodations on this ride north, Setsu felt it was a step up from the military train the CPSS had stuck him on with the other child conscripts. This one has a window at least, the boy thought cheerily to himself. He had held small conversations with Endo during their journey, and found the boy to be much more grounded that he was. A quiet confidence seemed to emanate from him, as if he was someone who knew where he was headed, what he needed to do in order to get there, and that he was capable of pulling it off. A stark contrast to Setsu himself, who was still very much unsure of where he was going in life.

“The next stop is Okaya. Okaya. This train will terminate here, thank you for riding the Northern Express. Please take care to collect all of your belongings before disembarking.”

The conductor’s announcement left the boy with no more time to contemplate the differences between himself and other, more accomplished individuals. It was time to focus. Setsu pulled his bag out from under the seat just as a Kashino-sensei entered the car to remind them that the climate was much different this far north and if they weren’t properly prepared they would regret it. Setsu opened his bag and pulled out a neatly folded wind parka with a hood, a fleece stocking cap and wool scarf, as well as a pair of rubber-treated wool gloves. The boy was already wearing warm layers, but didn’t want to overheat himself on the train so he had packed them away for the journey. Also in the bag were several pouches of various shuriken and kunai, a small two-man tent, and a variety of provisions that boosted chakra replenishment, allegedly. Overall, it was a typical cold-weather pack, but one item stood out as odd. A silk obi wrapped around a small cylindrical object. With a heretofore unforeseen reverence, Setsu carefully secured it in his bag among his spare set of clothing. It was all he could find of the snow siren that had defended him against Ca’im and the item had become a good luck charm of sorts for Setsu, so he had to treat it with care.

“Endo-san, have you ever dealt with dimeritium before?” Setsu asked the older boy as they followed one of Kashino-sensei’s paths off of the train to where Takaki-sama and Kashino-sensei himself were waiting.

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Takaki Saeko
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Wed Nov 21, 2018 5:33 pm

Kashino Yuu was a mystery. Only after I’d selected him as my lieutenant did I have a moment to peruse his file, but even a thorough reading had left me with many more questions than answers. Kitsune had told me--with her trademark knowing smirk--that Yuu was a path holder: one who could split their consciousness between multiple physical forms. Think of it like dissociative personality disorder on methamphetamine instead of good-old-fashioned steroids. So at that moment in the train car, I wasn’t even sure who I was really talking to. Still, whoever he was, he ended up striking me with his unexpected vulnerability.

I shook my head. “I don’t think they’ll care, one way or another. Your average Tenouzan might abhor fighting and killing, but we’re going to be dealing with Nemoto clan guardsmen. They train from early childhood to defend their faith from the hordes of chaos--which incidentally includes anyone with a working chakra system. At best, we’re not to be trusted. At worst, we’re prime enemies. Things weren’t always like this, though…”

An overhead announcement interrupted me. “The next stop is Okaya. Okaya. This train will terminate here, thank you for riding the Northern Express. Please take care to collect all of your belongings before disembarking.”

“I guess I’ll have to tell you about it some other time, Kashino.” I noticed his doppelganger looming in the entryway. “Oh, and I’m not really good with keeping track of people’s...paths, so if I call you the wrong name, I apologize in advance.”

After a few more minutes, the train slowly lurched up to the end of the line under the golden-domed Ulaan Tengrin station in the middle of Okaya. The last time I’d been there, I’d escorted a young academy student on her first “real” mission to stall an attempted coup against the Khal by his own son. Our mission quickly turned into a shitshow in which my charge lost an eye. It felt like forever ago that I’d been here. I felt old, and I hated it.

The first of our troubles began shortly after. Setsu’s innate powers were leaking like a bad faucet. All of the old Kagoshiman babushka-clad grandmothers selling treats and sundries descended on him, pinching cheeks, copping feels, offering their granddaughters in marriage, and shoving sweets in his pockets. It was so bad that I briefly considered committing crimes against the elderly before Endo Eiji suddenly jumped into the fray after telling us not to come back for him. Moments later, Setsu rolled out, barely conscious after having inhaled so much old lady perfume. Yuu and I scooped him up and rushed out of the station, knowing better than to waste Eiji’s last gift to us.

After Setsu was able to walk again, we all beat a hurried path east to the site of old Ughuir Prison. The Kagoshimans still regarded it as a cursed well of suffering and death, so no one went there, not even to try and turn it into a tourist trap. I supposed that’s why the Tenouzans had chosen it as our rendezvous spot--no witnesses, no accountability.

The prison itself had been all but obliterated in the final days of the occupation, leaving only its high outer wall and parts of the keep still standing. The sky had gone from bleak glimmers of dawn to a mordant gray, and this grim scene was further accentuated by the murder of crows perched on the crumble battlements, all of them hungrily staring at our small party as we approached. The massive iron gates that had once swallowed hundreds of captured rebels into the citadel’s depths had long been torn asunder and turned to scrap, so only small remnants still clung to decaying hinges set into stone. Cautiously, I took the first step over the threshold and past the blasted remnants,, and entered the courtyard.

I had expected to see a large group--soldiers, engineers, laborers, porters, and the like. But instead, I only saw a handful figures lounging casually amidst the ruins: mainly girls and a man who I assumed was likely Nemoto Fiore himself. What raised my hackles, though, was that all but one of them looked to be dressed for war. Adorned in gambesons, chain, and dimeritium half-plate, the soldiers hefted unsheathed longswords, with daggers and percussion firelocks slung from their waists. I glanced back at Yuu and Setsu, to warn them to be ready for anything. There were probably more soldiers hiding nearby.

I decided to take a firm tack. Force met with force. “Sheathe your weapons immediately, faithful of Tenouza!” I commanded. “We are a sanctioned delegation of Kumogakure, and an attack on any of us is an attack on the raikage himself!”

Predictably, my efforts immediately failed. One of the soldiers, a blonde girl who looked to be about sixteen herself, slid off of her perch and marched up to us with her weapon casually bandied about over her shoulders. She had a pretty face, but her eyes were gleeful homicide.

“Oh, my dear Kumo delegate, thank you for your nice greeting, but I am a Nemoto doppelsoldner who was born to kill, whereas you seem to have mistaken me for some sort of wine-sipping, pacifist dick-suck,” she said, giving me a cutesy flourish. “And though peace probably appeals to tree-hugging bisexuals like you and your pansy boys over there, I happen to be a death-dealing, blood-crazed warrior who wakes up every day just hoping for the chance to dismember my enemies and defile their civilizations. Peace sucks a hairy asshole, Lady. War is the motherfucking answer.”

I gripped the saber sheathed at my waist and gently rocked it forward a hair, so that it could clear the scabbard easier. “PIss off, kid. You’re clearly not the one in charge.” Outwardly, I did my best to maintain an aura of unshakable confidence, but inside, my guts had turned to to jelly. It didn’t take a genius to realize that this girl clearly outclassed me in any fight. I’d have been lucky to get a swing in before she ran me through. “I will speak with Commander Fiore only, or we’re done here. I’ll be happy to have the raikage block your passage through Lightning lands.”

“Iolanthe, that’s enough,” the other soldier finally said, lifting his hand and sheathing his blade. “Now I have no doubt that these are Kumogakure shinobi, and no doubt about who this woman is.”

To my relief and surprise, the killer blonde--Iolanthe--actually seemed to follow the man’s orders and stepped back, though still with her sword unsheathed. I sized up the new arrival: clearly a Nemoto, with his dirty blond, high fade coif and handsome green eyes. Unlike the teenager who’d “greeted” us, he was clearly tempered by experience. “Just who do you think I am?” I asked him. “And who are you?”

“Commander Nemoto Fiore di Kanazawa, guardian of the Holy See,” he said, with a bow. “And you must be Takaki Saeko, daughter of Saint Masao of Kumogakure.”

I recoiled. “Saint Masao? I don’t recall him being canonized. Nor do I recall him being one of your flock.”

“He died a martyr in defense of our faith,” Fiore said, a bit too smugly. “That was criteria for the college of cardinals to begin the process, and with the Allfather’s blessing, it happened last year.”

“I never agreed to that,” I said, making a fist. “And neither would he!”

“That’s not up to either of you,” Fiore said, with a shrug. “But it is because of your father’s past service to the faith that we haven’t simply ignored your arrival and left on our business by now. Although, I did send the bulk of my troop onward with the caravan. They should be at the bloomery by morning.”

“That’s why there are only a few of you,” I said. “Figured you’d be sneaky about it. Now, are you going to tell your troops to sheathe their swords and be civilized, or will I still have to bar your way?”

“The mission will go on, of course.” Fiore said. “But one small issue first. I have no doubt about your character and skill, Lady Saeko, but how about your subordinates? My doppelsoldners cannot be tasked with guarding the caravan as well as your hangers-on.”

“They can take care of themselves.”

“Then how about a friendly spar? My champion versus yours, to first blood.”

Upon hearing him, the blonde girl, Iolanthe, bounded over to Fiore’s side. “Me, right?” she asked.

“No,” Fiore said.

To my surprise, she threw herself on her knees and started to grovel to him. “Oh come on, please? I’ll be good, I promise! I won’t accidentally kill the guy like last time, I swear! I’ve wanted to fight a shinobi since like forever! I just wanna take a rasengan and shove it up someone’s ass! You promised you’d let me do it! You promised! Fiooooore!”

And to my further surprise, Fiore shot me an embarrassed, strained expression next. “My apologies, Lady Saeko...oh, fine! Fine, you can be the champion today, just let go of my leg and stop...tickling me!”

With that, Iolanthe straightened up again and chastely bowed. “Thank you, Milord Commander.”

Shit, this bitch is crazy, I thought to myself. There was no backing out of Fiore’s little “friendly spar” now, not after how much face he’d lost with that display. I wondered if they were sleeping together, or if he was just that susceptible to girls’ whining. I looked back at my crew.

“Kashino, you’re the best swordsman among us, so you’re up. Remember, this is to first blood only. And be careful: she’s covered in chakra-absorbing armor.”

I looked back at Iolanthe, giving her the stinkeye. Luck wasn't on our side: this wasn't some snow bunny in a chain-mail bikini, but someone who actually knew what she was doing, and outfitted perfectly to fight us. She spat on the ground in our direction as Yuu approached, and took some airy warmup swings with her longsword. Yuu's file had spoken volumes of his martial skill. Now it was time to see if he met the hype, or if he was just another Hansy of Leaf.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied out the sole non-military-looking member of the Tenouzan party sidling up to Setsu. A girl of about fourteen, she was in a nun’s traveling habit, and only carried a small staff adorned with the Allfather’s sigil. Normally, I would have gone over and shooed her away, as I suspected Setsu’s power was leaking again. However, I was preoccupied with Yuu’s upcoming fight, and also figured that as a nun, the girl should have been able to control herself despite the upsurges in Setsu’s charisma meter.

“Hey buddy,” she said to Setsu with a friendly smile and plopped down next to him. “Do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior Cthulhu?" She winked at him. "Just kidding! I’m on break, so you don’t have to worry about me trying to con you or anything. Or was that ‘convert’ you? What I really wanted to ask, though, was if I could have some of that anzu-pan you have in your pocket. Is that from the train station? I had one there and I missed it so much! Of course, I can’t pay you with cash, since we all take a vow of poverty, and I can’t give you a blowie for it, for obvious reasons, but we can just make out if you wanna." She stuck her tongue out at him and laughed. "I’d rather you just gave it to me out of the goodness of your heart, though! By the way, you can call me Sister Antonia. What’s your name, guy?”

Updates! Eiji told me over DM that he would not be able to continue on in the mission, so I've taken the liberty of giving him a "graceful" and definitely heroic exit. From now on, posting will be much more frequent, so adjust your expectations!

For this round, Yuu, you're going to be dueling the mysterious Tenouzan swords(wo)man, Iolanthe. If you've read my missions before, you know that I give people a lot of latitude in writing their posts and actions, and allow them to dictate NPC actions and reactions as appropriate. So, unlike other mission mod posts where you might have to write something like: "Yuu swung overhand and hoped it would connect," or "If Yuu was blocked, he'd then try to step in and sideswipe her" etc, you can actually write stuff like: "Yuu swung overhand, but his strike was deflected by his enemy. He avoid the riposte, pivoted, and then lashed out with a side swipe that scored her armor" and etc. The only thing that I'll ask you to leave to me is the actual outcome of the duel--who actually gets first blood. I'll decide that based on a whole host of things. If you have any questions or concerns, please PM or DM me

For Setsu, unfortunately you'll not be doing a ton this round, but...does the name "Antonia" ring any bells? You can assume this is set AFTER Rinko's mission...
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Valentine's Event 2018

Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Thu Dec 13, 2018 8:55 pm

Setsu stepped off of the train and into a swarm of grandmotherly cheek-pinches and assorted gifts of station sweets. Knowing that it was rude to turn down a gift, Setsu tried to politely accept and thank the gift-givers. But this only exacerbated the problem, drawing more of the Kagoshiman elderly to him bearing more gifts of various sweets and traditional pastries. Setsu began to get overwhelmed by the ever-growing crowd of well-wishers, when a hero appeared. Eiji tossed Setsu’s hood over his head, hiding him from view, and tossed the young boy out of the crowd towards Yuu and Saeko. As the two older shinobi hurried Setsu out of the station before anyone else spotted him, Setsu looked back to see the Eiji nobly holding back the grandmotherly horde. Endo-san we won’t forget your sacrifice! a teary-eyed Setsu thought as the station doors closed behind him.

The group made its way to the meetup point with all due haste. Setsu noticed that the amount of people walking around decreased significantly as the approached it. Ughuir Prison wasn’t a location Setsu knew too much about, save for the fact it was an old ruin. He had read the brief history of the place included with the other mission information he’d been given, but that didn’t really explain much. “Former Lightning military base” doesn’t really inform you about the cultural significance a particular piece of architecture has. I guess this means the locals aren’t too fond of the place, I wonder why? Setsu soon understood. Emotions, particularly strong ones, can leave a mark on certain places. And Ughuir Prison had housed thousands of people who cursed it with every fiber of their being. Palpable malevolence hung on every ruined wall, a testament to the horrors that were wrought here. Setsu nervously grabbed onto Takaki-sama as they neared the meetup point. He was glad for the presence of other people, the emotional burden of the place would have been too much to bear alone.

What awaited the party inside the ruined fortress was a party comprised of mainly young women in shining armor and an intimidating looking man. Takaki-sama whispered a word of warning that more might be lying in ambush. Setsu stretched out his perception over the area, seeking the emotions that usually accompanied those ready for battle. But the pervasive negative emotions that clung to the area prevented the young boy from differentiating between the killing intent from a living being and a echo of bloodlust from the distant past. So in the end all Setsu could do was hope that Takaki-sama and Kashino-sensei were more prepared than he was against surprise attacks.

------------

Some moments later, Takaki-sama had managed to convince the delegation of armored knights to stand down. Though one in particular looked genuinely dejected that she wasn’t allowed to fight and kill all three of the Kumo representatives. Once they got closer Setsu could feel the bloodlust rolling from her in waves. While still small potatoes compared to the negativity radiating from the old stronghold, Setsu hadn’t felt this much animosity in a single entity since Ca’im. In other news, apparently Takaki-sama’s father was a saint! She truly is amazing! She must have gotten her generous and caring personality from him. Takaki-sama had vehemently denied it, but Setsu just assumed that his saviour was just embarrased at the attention her father was receiving.

Still, even the word of a saint’s daughter wasn’t enough to convince the leader of the Tenouzan delegation that her companions were capable. And so it came down to a duel. Iolanthe, the crazy blonde, had spent the last minute or so begging to be named the Tenouzan’s champion in a most undignified manner. She was undoubtedly the scariest person Setsu had ever met, for even during her comical “persuasion” of Commander Fiore her murderous desires never ceased. When Takaki-sama selected Kashino-sensei as Kumo’s representative, Setsu couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. While the boy had faced off against terrifying enemies of his own, their goal was not injuring or killing him. The sickening delight that Iolanthe had expressed when Fiore relented, made Setsu sure that had he been selected, he wouldn't have left the dueling ring alive.

While both fighters readied themselves for battle, Setsu found a small piece of rubble to sit on and watch the fight. He unslung his pack, setting it down on the ground beside him, and passed the time by sorting through the various food and sweets he had received from the grandmas at Okaya Station. If they were lucky he could supplement their foodstuffs with a few of them. As he was sorting what could and couldn’t be taken with them, a high-spirited voice called out to the boy. “Hey buddy, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior Cthulhu?" a girl sat on the rubble next to Setsu. She was a very talkative person, and it took Setsu awhile to process the request buried in the torrent of verbiage released from the petite teenager.

His face more than a little red at the prospect of paying for food with an extended period of oscillation or whatever a “blowie” was, the young empath responded by handing over the packaged sweet. “I’m Suzuki Setsu. A-and, you shouldn’t be so quick to offer stuff like that! RInko-chan was super upset when I accidentally k-kissed her. I-I mean, that stuff should only be done with the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. Or at least that what my mom said,” the boy trailed off. The embarrassment of remembering that event would probably never fade, especially now that he knew the twins that had facilitated the event had power over emotions, like himself. The young boy’s awkwardness radiated over the ruined courtyard causing many a cheek to redden inexplicably. The magnitude of lingering negative emotions that permeated Ughuir Prison mitigated the effects of Setsu’s abilities somewhat though, inadvertently preventing anyone from pinpointing Setsu as the cause of everyone's changing feelings. Kashino-sensei and Takaki-sama would be relatively unaffected, with Yuu’s consciousness being split among several bodies and both shinobi aware of the empath’s latent power. The young nun however, was at ground zero of the emo-splosion. As she took the plastic wrapped snack from Setsu, her mind was blasted with Setsu’s emotions. “And just so you know, i-if you need food or something, I’ll make it for you. So you can save your kisses for someone you r-really want to share them with.”

Antonia’s mental strength was quite formidable, but even the most skilled individuals can be caught off guard. While her amicable yet unreadable expression remained unchanged, there was the slightest catch in the sister’s voice betrayed the effect of a highly concentrated dose of Setsu’s emotions had on her. The sprightly sister recovered almost immediately and quickly changed the subject, “So uh, ah! Yes. The duel! The duel, who do you think’s going to win, my money’s on Iolanthe, she’s tough, skilled, and an honest-to-goodness battle junkie! Her high agility and and raw strength make for a deadly combination, and she’s considered a prodigy in the Tenouzan school of swordsmanship. I’d bet my entire savings on her, if we were allowed to bet, wasting hard earned money on games of chance is a sin, y’know. But even if it wasn’t I wouldn’t have any savings to bet, the vow of poverty, remember.” Antonia had quickly regained her composure and chatty personality, which made Setsu sigh in relief, the only other people to still interact with him normally after getting hit by his uncontrolled emotions, were Saeko and Rinko.

Setsu now radiated an aura of genuine joy while he responded, “Wow! She sounds like an amazing person!” Still a bit scary though. “But Kashino-sensei is a master in his own right. He taught me the basics of swordsmanship, though I’m not very skilled. But I heard he’s gone on several dangerous missions and fought many powerful enemies. He can even use ninjutsu to supplement his sword techniques!”

“Oh! You don’t say? Which element releases has he mastered?” Antonia asked innocently.

“Well, I didn’t get to see much during the basics class, but I think he uses,” a sudden, sharp glare from Saeko shut the boy up. Not. Another. Word. “Sorry, I can’t say,” Setsu dejectedly continued. I don’t want to influence the match. Rinko-chan always tells me I talk too much anyways.”

They both sat and watched as the fighters took their ready stances and waited for the signal to begin. As Iolanthe and Kashino-sensei began their duel Antonia kept peppering Setsu with questions about himself, his training, his likes and dislikes, and Setsu would cheerfully answer. She interspersed her questions with requests for more station sweets (“It’s a donation! The Allfather smiles upon the generous!”), and revealing seemingly inconsequential tidbits about the rest of the team (“Leila, the taller redhead with the ‘cool beauty’ attitude is actually extremely fond of stuffed animals, y’know. Celia is the self styled “raven-haired beauty,” did you know she spends about an hour a day primping before donning her armor? Fleta, the bookish one trying to hide, makes the most delicious waffles.”)

By the time the duel was over, when Saeko and Kashino looked back at their young companion, one could swear there were sparkles and flowers in the background of their conversation.
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Thu Jan 03, 2019 5:05 am

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Current Path

From Takaki's words, he could tell that something had changed from behind the scenes of Okaya. He wasn't very good at keeping up with the current events even outside Kumogakure, though. So even he has no clue what awaited them at that city. Either if they treat them as outcasts or enemies of the city, he has to be careful no matter what, especially about his own abilities as a Rikudo Sennin. "To be honest, I wasn't very updated with the current events outside Kumo, but considering what I have been through in most of my missions, I doubt I can take this mission lightly." He was right. He was not a student or Genin anymore. He was a Chuunin currently on his first big mission with another Chuunin and a Genin and he can't completely treat it like a harmless E-Ranked Mission. There are risks beyond death and he couldn't take them for his village's sake. At the very least, he will try to make sure this mission would go smoothly and prevent any kind of consequences that may arise in the near future.

“The next stop is Okaya. Okaya. This train will terminate here, thank you for riding the Northern Express. Please take care to collect all of your belongings before disembarking.” The announcement made his eyes widened as he turned around and saw the speaker. He was so focused at the conversation that he forgot to realize that they are almost to their destination.

"Good idea. And don't worry about it, I doubt my path has no qualms about his name wrong." Well, he wanted to treat Yuri like any paths in public. It's not like he treated him like an object, he just wanted to make sure his past as a parasite wasn't exposed. In any case, he packed up most of his items in his backpack and once the train stopped at their destination, he waited for Yuri to pick up his Uchiha path before leaving the train.
----
It looked like his troubles from his classes followed him as usual as due to Setsu's charm, he ended up trying to pull the poor boy away from the old women with Eiji purposely left behind for them to forge on. It was a weird way for them to part, but it was better than to deal with Seiji's strange "abilities" again.

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Yuri's Current Path

As for Yuri, this was also his first time witnessing Setsu's charm with the old ladies, but he couldn't believe that kind of incident would even happen outside of the city. It was bad enough that he also had to deal with it when Yuu's body was 11 years old, but just seeing it through Setsu made him cringe even more. If Takako was close enough to Yuri, she may hear him questioning about young boys and their strange charm with the ladies before he shivered in thought.
----
However, the short and humorous incident ended as they arrived at the old prison. Yuu was surprised at the intimidating exterior of the ancient remnants of no return. He could tell just looking at the ruins made him shook him to the core. Yet, he raised his eyebrows at the women and a man in the middle of the large group right in front of them. And it wasn't because of the women's looks, he could tell that they were hostile from the start. He knew what he was in for to the point that he nodded at Takako with his narrowed stare when he saw her glancing at him and Setsu.

At this point, he and Yuri had to watch the whole meeting, listening most of their conversation. He knew that the women weren't normal at the start. Her words were too threatening and offensive. He would have pulled out his sword out of anger, but he couldn't risk the fact that he may hurt some important people in this mission. He has to remember that he can't risk anything that would put them in danger. He continued listening through their meeting, learning how they treated someone named Masao as a saint. He didn't know this person, but he could tell Takako knew him well. Yet, he did agree that it was a weird way to canonized someone even to his religious standards.

But all of sudden, this meeting took a sharp turn when Fiore suggested a friendly spar where taking first blood will be the winner. Other than seeing him embarrassed at the strange warrior begging to be a champion, he knew these people weren't in the right mind. He even started to regret his role as a Chuunin when Takako turned to him and asked him to be her "champion" for the spar. It's not like he had a choice. Considering who they were facing, he can't pass up this spar. The objective was to get the first blood, so he has to make sure he didn't kill her by accident. He was still wary when she mentioned about her chakra-absorbing armor, so using Ninjutsu was a big no-no for him right now.

"Alright." That was all he could say before he walked in front of his group to Iolanthe as he stretched his arms. However, he was stopped by Yuri, who also witnessed the whole meeting as he glared at the woman.

"Are you sure about this? From what we know, this woman might not hold back even to a spar like this." Yuri was right, these people were dangerous and just fighting them was worse than death. Just one wrong move may lose him an arm or so.

Regardless, Yuu took a deep breath and moved Yuri away to approach his opponent. "I'm sure. Besides, refusing the spar means the end of our journey. We can't risk a single decision that may affect this mission." With that, he assumed his position as he pulled out his sword, now ready to fight. As for Yuri, he silently walked back to the group, now worried at his host's wellbeing.

A few minutes of silence invaded the small battlefield. He wasn't sure if the woman's swordsmanship were self-taught or not, but he knew he shouldn't drop his guard at any moment. He remained his position, waiting for her to strike until he could hear footsteps. It was Iolanthe rushing to him with her blade, signaling the start of the spar. As his eyes widened, he sidestepped to his left to dodge her first attack before he thrust his broadsword towards her, hopefully to her face or arm. But to his surprise, she managed to shift her blade towards his, deflecting his attack in the process. He was expecting her to counterattack, but he never expected her to block his thrust so quickly.

He gritted his teeth as he regained his hold on his sword and made quick swipes towards her. But like before, she quickly blocked every attack he made with no signs of scars and tears from her armor. She was not only fast, but her parries and blocks were too tough for him to break. Ninjutsu was out of option for him due to her armor, but if he wanted to win the spar, he just has to make sure his blade would graze her skin by any means possible. He growled in frustration, but he can't let his anger cloud his concentration. The mission rests on his swordsmanship and his ability to survive her ruthless attacks.

Just as he would make his next move, Iolanthe swung her sword sideways toward his face. Reacting quickly, he ducked away from her sword before he swung his own sword upward, which created a small dent to her armor. Seeing this, Yuu continued his attack by reversing his grip on his sword and lashed out with a right sideswipe, which Iolanthe responded by raising her sword's blade right in front of him, creating a blade lock between their swords. It took several seconds, but they managed to break it as Yuu quickly changed his grip to normal before he swung his sword with a left swipe. Iolanthe responded by blocking the attack with her sword once more, yet the attack managed to make another small dent to her armor. Upon she saw this, she growled as she made several swipes towards the young Chuunin, which he responded with several blocks, dodges, and parries.

Upon he saw the battle flaring up, Yuri grew more and more worried as he continued to watch. He was relieved that Yuu managed to survive Iolanthe's relentless attacks, but he doubted that he would able to win this spar. Comparing to Yuu's self-taught swordsmanship with Iolanthe's, he could guess that she has an upper advantage against the young Chuunin.

Eventually, Yuu quickly countered her series of attacks by swinging his sword downward, which caused Iolanthe to block it once more, which trapped them in another blade lock. It was the battle of strength at this point as they used most of it to overpower each other. Her longsword was durable and stronger than Yuu's sword, but he knew the size of the blade didn't matter to him. He just has to put his fate towards his broadsword and his own strength to win this lock.

[MFT/WC: 1545]

(OOC: Sorry if this is so late! Hope this post is okay... T_T

Just PM me if there's something is wrong.)
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Takaki Saeko
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Valentine's Event 2018

Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Wed Jan 09, 2019 2:51 pm

Not that I doubted Yuu’s conviction, but as he strode out to face Iolanthe, I was already thinking of how I’d try to explain away our failed mission to Yuii. There’s a corporate boardspeak term for that: “sunshining.” For example, Yuii might have asked me something like “Saeko, you not only failed to chaperone Tenouzan military running rampant across the piece, but also allowed a thirteen-year-old to get disemboweled under your radar? You have to sunshine this for the raikage.” To which I’d have to respond with something equally inane like “While it’s unfortunate that Kashino lost his spleen to a religious fanatic while actioning his deliverables, content is king and he still has most of his liver. We’re still above-board and cascading relevant information to stakeholders.”

I vomited a little in my mouth. Honorable ritual suicide was by far the more palatable option. All I could do in the moment was silently hope that Yuu was actually as competent as he seemed. He looked the part, though, silently eyeing his opponent and making subtle shifts in the attitude of his blade to try to tempt her to fall out of guard. More worrisome, though, was that Iolanthe wasn’t falling for it.

Cheerful burbling from the back yanked my attention from the rising wave of tension in front. Setsu had apparently already seduced one of the Tenouzans--the nun of the group and likely the highest-ranking among them save for Commander Fiore. I initially lavished Setsu with praise in my mind before I realized that she was actually the one humping him for info. How did she know about elemental releases? I hissed in Setsu’s direction to shut him up. Whoever this Sister Antonia was, she was clearly dangerous. Her name also made me vaguely pissed-off, and I couldn’t remember why. In any case, I wanted to march over there and separate them like an intensely jealous nee-chan. But Iolanthe struck, and then my attention was back to Yuu.

A real clash of swords is vicious, fast, and often deadly. Even the very point of a blade scoring a glancing hit can destroy an eye, cripple a limb, or open a large artery and cause a bleedout. And this can all take place in a half-second. My gorge rose as Yuu received the attack and then countered. I was by no means an expert swordswoman, but I could now tell that these two actually were. Every movement of their blades had a purpose behind it. Every defensive maneuver was actually offense in disguise--meisterhau, the swordmasters called it. It was actually pretty awesome to look at, if not for the fact that our lives and the mission’s success were on the line.

A few more moments in, and Yuu had Iolanthe stuck in a blade lock. A stupidly risky move in most cases, because it was so easy for either opponent to slip and lose a limb. Iolanthe fixed him with a look of gleeful malice, and then put all of her strength into a sudden, last-ditch push. It worked, and threw Yuu back and off-balance. Rather than ending the fight with a quick and non-lethal jab or slice, Iolanthe inverted her grip on her blade and drew back into a mordhau strike: trying to drive the pointed end of her crossguard straight into Yuu’s brain matter at full force. I opened my mouth, trying to shout to end the fight, but just as in a nightmare, I couldn’t force the words out in time.

I felt--more than heard--the sickening crunch and squelch of steel rending mail and flesh, and made every effort not to lose my lunch. I bolted toward Yuu on instinct, bracing myself for the sight of his caved-in skull and brains splattered across the ground. But instead, what I saw was Iolanthe drop her blade and stagger backward with Yuu’s broadsword stuck in her midsection and the tip of it protruding out of her back. She looked down in bewilderment and annoyance, and pulled the blade out. A gush of crimson followed, and she collapsed.

Fiore bounded up to her and gathered her in his arms, trying in vain to staunch the wound. “Sister!” he snapped at Antonia. “The Gift! Posthaste!”

“Mmph! Sowwy, Setsu-kun, I’ve godda do my job!” Antonia said, her mouth occupied by yet another of Setsu’s tasty treats. She gave him a friendly pat on the head before jogging over to Fiore and Iolanthe. As she did so, I refrained from making a snide comment about the futility of giving Iolanthe some sort of healing trinket in her current state. Yuu’s blade had clearly impaled her across her vena cava, not to mention whatever intestines it had cut open. Her only chance of survival was in being operated on by a surgeon right this instant, not in being prayed over by a chaplain. Then again, the latter option was far more realistic.

I went over to Yuu and helped him up. He was sweaty from exertion and slightly shaky from something else. I remembered what he’d told me about never really having killed anyone before. Not deliberately, and never one-on-one. I cupped Yuu’s cheek in my hand and made him look at me. “It’s not your fault. If she didn’t want to die, then she shouldn’t have tried to murder you. And don’t feel bad that she’s a girl. We’re all equals on the battlefield.”

I glanced over at where Fiore and now Antonia were conferring over Iolanthe. The crimson stain was spreading around her and she’d stopped breathing. I expected Antonia to perform last rites or something, but instead, she reached into a satchel and pulled out an ornate, heavy-gauge glass vial of reddish, glowing liquid. She crossed herself, uncorked it, and then poured most of the liquid into Iolanthe’s mouth, then covered the girl’s bone-white lips with her palm. I tried to approach, but was blocked by the other Tenouzan soldier girls, who’d formed a protective semicircle around the spectacle. For a few moments, nothing happened. And then Iolanthe started to scream.

“What the fuck?” I growled as Iolanthe’s howls pierced the air, forcing small jets of crimson spray through the gaps between Antonia’s fingers. The stricken girl now started to thrash like a puppet with its strings cut, and Fiore along with two other girls were forced to hold her down. Around them, the air shimmered and distorted, cut with the vaguest hint of an unnatural glow. But before I could remember how the hell to take a chakra snapshot of this hellfuckery, it was over. Iolanthe fell silent, and then, to my amazement and horror, sat up and wiped the crimson from her lips.

“Sister, give her some laudanum,” Fiore commanded, only for Iolanthe to wave the offered medicine away.

“Nii-san, I’m fine,” she said, her voice a barely-audible croak. “I...I messed up. I’m sorry.”

“Rest until we get to the bloomery,” Fiore said. “And next time, when I say to first blood, I mean to first blood only. You tried to kill that boy in defiance of my orders and violated the spirit of a fair duel. The Gift becomes more painful with every use, so you would be wise to keep that in mind.”

“Yes, Nii-chan…I mean, thank you...Commander.” Iolanthe said, her breaths heaving. Two of the other girls slung her arms over their shoulders, and Fiore walked up to Yuu and me.

“As her commander, I apologize for her misbehavior, Kashino-san,” he said. “And you’re quite a skilled swordsman yourself. I’m sorry that you are a shinobi instead of a Nemoto clansman.”

“Commander,” I interjected. “I’m no doctor, but I’ve seen a ton of people go down in my career. Your soldier ran herself fully through on my chuunin’s blade and I saw her bleed out and die. What in the name of Raiden...or the Allfather, I guess...happened here?”

“Nothing of much importance,” Fiore said. “Her wound was superficial and she needed only a small dose of stimulants to recover. But more importantly, Takaki-san, your men have proven themselves more than capable in my eyes. We’d be happy to have you accompany us on this otherwise routine inspection.”

“A ‘superficial’ wound. Right.” I cross my arms. Calling him a liar to his face would have caused more trouble, so I decided not to press him on that point. I’d need to do my own investigation, but later on. “Anyway, if we’re past the needless antics, I’d like to also move on and get this inspection over with as well. I’ll also trust in your ability as a commander to keep Little Miss Iolanthe from trying to retaliate against my men.”

Fiore bowed, a little too graciously. “Forgiveness is the Allfather’s greatest gift to us.”

* * *

By the time Iolanthe could walk again, the sun was on a mad dash to kiss the horizon and we all needed to get the hell out before that happened. The borderlands between Kagoshima and the northern reaches of Lightning were still lawless, and still bound by the old rules set by the old tribes. Insane highwaymen roved the forests with aboriginal rangers who’d answered every attempt to “civilize” them by eating ambassadors and missionaries alive. Once night fell, we were all just meat-on-a-stick, and the Tenouzans’ apparent ability to resurrect each other wouldn’t amount to much inside someone’s gullet.

Fiore seemed to realize that too, and ordered a rush march from his girls. Weighed down by their heavy dimeritium plate armor, theirs was an exhausting and miserable journey from Ughuir to the Kondo Bloomery, where our real mission was to begin. We, on the other hand, were used to running around the countryside with our arms splayed out behind us like palsied birds, so ours was a much easier time in the vanguard.

One thing we all shared, though, was a sense of immediate relief once we crested that final hill and saw the glow of the steaming slag pits and smelled the horribly sulfurous stench that marked any smelting operation. The many blinking eyes and serpentine whispers flitting in the trees had given me the feeling that we were all being stalked like prey, and had we stayed longer in the deep woods, it would have become a chase and quite a few kills.

“Milady, let me know if you or your subordinates are about to be overcome,” Fiore said, no doubt having noticed my coughing as we crossed the perimeter gate and ventured into the heart of the bloomery.

“We’re fine, thank you,” I responded with as much curtness as I could muster. I cursed myself for betraying such weakness. No doubt Fiore knew that exposure to dimeritium fumes wasn’t good for shinobi, and now he was trying to see just how weak we’d gotten. Fume sickness had been an academic consideration before we left--now, it was a clear and present danger.

Few people, including myself, were familiar with just how intensely hellish a metal smelting operation could be up close, but now I was rapidly shedding my ignorance. The Kondo Bloomery was supposedly on the smaller side, as far as smelters went, but to me it was ungodly huge. Five massive, beehive-shaped smoke towers of brick and clay protruded from the earth like a god’s fingertips, all relentlessly belching fiery miasma into the night. Next to each of them was a puddling pool. In them, torso-sized blobs of molten rock were fished out from the bowels of the smoke tower with long iron hooks and then beaten furiously by teams of strong men. Every sledgehammer blow helped separate slag from precious dimeritium by literally causing it to splatter away from the glowing mass, but also peppered the men with globs of the stuff. They wore leather to protect themselves, but the scars and burns on their arms, legs, and faces spoke of their suffering even still. Through it all, the heat was unrelenting, and threatened to sear our eyes into blindness. I learned later that processing ten kilograms of the molten goo resulted in a mere half-kilo of semi-pure dimeritium, which would have to be refined even further still, in secret, within Tenouza itself.

“Commander, I’m at a loss,” I said to Fiore with some annoyance. My clothes were completely drenched in sweat, and I wanted nothing more than to take off my coat, plus everything else underneath. But of course, I didn’t want Fiore, the soldiers and workers, Yuu, or his path, to see that. “We were told that this place had gone quiet, but it looks to me like production’s in full swing.”

Fiore nodded. “I admit, I’m as surprised as you are, Milady. Even with the head-start my engineers had, there’s no way they’d have restarted this quickly. It takes days to make a smeltery fire hot enough to process ore.”

“Where are your men? We should ask them,” I said, baffled.

“I don’t see them,” Fiore said, his brow furrowed. “Oh! Good, the owner’s coming over. We’ll ask him what’s going on.”

A middle-aged man, smartly dressed in a Mandarin’s robes and wearing makeup seemingly unaffected by the intense heat, padded over to us and bowed. “Milord Commander Fiore! Welcome, welcome! I am ever grateful for your aid in these trying times! And...oh! A shinobi… Why is there a shinobi with you?”

“Tenouza aids the faithful, Ser Kondo,” Fiore said and bowed with a flourish. “Forgive the presence of shinobi. This is, after all, the shogun’s land, and when in Caesar’s domain, we must accommodate Caesar’s prelates.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not sure who ‘Caesar’ is, aside from a guy who invented a salad, but you’re right, Commander. This is the shogun’s domain, and we will all abide by his rules. Including you, Kondo-dono. I was told that the bloomery fires had gone out, so why are they still going?”

“Ah, I can explain that in my office,” Kondo said, gesturing toward a set of prefab buildings nearby. “Please, let us take tea there. No doubt your honorable soldiers are exhausted from the journey here--I’m told you came all the way from Okaya--they are welcome to use the guest barracks. We have baths and food and drink.”

“Kashino,” I said, “you and Suzuki should rest and recover with the others. I’d recommend that Suzuki not...bunk down near the women. You saw what happened in Okaya.” Then I lowered my voice so Fiore and Kondo couldn’t hear. ”Yuri, stay with me, but out of sight and sound. Something’s not right here.”

“Milady, after you,” Fiore said, hopefully oblivious to the path’s presence. I played dumb, and followed Kondo to his prefab office. And although I had many more important things to concentrate on at the moment, I really hoped Yuu would take my advice about Setsu seriously and not let our brief respite turn into a filler episode on the beach.

* * *

Kondo’s office was outfitted in the slightly dated, utilitarian style found in both corporate middle management lounges and Yakuza dens. An imposing desk boasting a daisho set of mass-produced blades, expensive and uncomfortable leather sofa chairs, and a large, calligraphic banner hung behind the office-holder’s seat boasting a typical-sounding slogan: “Bring on the fights!”

Kondo wasted no time being too obsequious for comfort. Fiore and I sipped on slightly bitter green tea steeped with lotus plumules as he spent an inordinate amount of time praising his best clients (the Tenouzans) and recounting a tired old sob story to me about how the Lightning Country government was hell-bent on taxing him and his employees straight into the poorhouse. Finally, I’d had enough.

“Kondo-dono, the only reason we’re here is because both of our governments had heard there was trouble here. So is there an issue or not?” I finally interjected, and not so gently.

“And furthermore,” Fiore added, “I’d sent twenty engineers and porters ahead, and so far I’ve seen no trace of them. Where are my men, Ser?”

Kondo rubbed his hands. “Ah, yes, I was just getting to that point! Commander Fiore! See, the problem was that a supply road used to ferry coal to the smoketowers had become obstructed from a landslide, and I asked your people to go ahead and inspect it and clear the rubble out. I’m sure they’ve done so already, because the coal started to flow just before you arrived.”

“Then they should be back by now,” I said. “These woods are full of godrotting cannibals. Have they all been eaten or something?”

“No, no,” Kondo insisted. “They’re enjoying our hospitality as we speak! I even paid for them to have a nice dinner down at the banquet hall!”

“You have a banquet hall here? What is this, a smelter or a hot springs resort?”

“Ser Kondo, I’d like to speak with my chief engineer,” Fiore said. “Even if he’s drunk or you have to pull him away from committing some sort of sin. He’ll understand. And then we can all rest easy and leave in the morning and stop bothering you.”

Kondo stood and bowed. “Of course, Commander. I’ll go get him immediately.”

The moment he stepped out of the office, I tried to get out of my chair and found that I couldn’t. My breaths weighed on me like lead, and my head swam. Now I knew what that bitter taste was in the tea. It hadn’t been lotus plumules.

“We’ve been poisoned,” Fiore and I said to each other simultaneously. “Shit,” again simultaneously.

“Will we die?” Fiore asked, trying to maintain some bravado.

“Probably,” I said. “Our lungs are going to fill with fluid and we won’t be able to breathe. Yuri!”

“Who?” Fiore furrowed his brow.

“My...shadow,” I croaked, each word becoming harder and harder to force out of my mouth. Drool poured out of the corners of my mouth. Fiore started to choke. “Yuri...warn Kashino...I think we’ve been hit with a...I think a...cholinesterase inhibitor. VX, maybe, I don’t...know. Get the...atrop...”

I could only hope that Yuri would know what specific antidote I was talking about, and could jab it in me (and possibly Fiore) before we died drowning in our own waste fluids. Before I could continue, I heard Kondo step into the room again, with someone else in tow. I looked around in vain, my vision blurred from the effects of the poison and my neck wobbly and boneless-feeling. Surprisingly, the person next to Kondo was a woman. A beautiful one, too, and dressed in a nun’s habit. Someone I’d never seen before, but familiar for some unfathomable reason.

“Exactly as you ordered, Mistress,” Kondo said, gesturing at us.

“That’s ‘Sister Senna’ to you, Ser Kondo. How about the others?”

“They’ll be taken care of later on,” Kondo promised her. “There are shinobi with them. Young and fertile, as you requested. Not like this...Christmas Cake we have here.”

“Good. May the Allfather forgive us these trespasses for the greater glory of humanity.”

“Must you go back to the restricted area tonight, Mistress Senna?” Kondo asked. “I would like to...to share a celebratory libation with you if I could…”

“I am wedded solely to Isamu and the Mother Church,” she said to rebuff him. “And that is how I shall remain. Dispose of the bodies when appropriate,” she said, and then finally left.

Kondo bowed to her, then glanced back at us and sucked his teeth. “Sorry, so sorry. You won’t suffer too much longer, I promise. Just a few more minutes, then you can forget all of your problems. Good night!” With that, he stepped out as well and shut off the lights to leave us to perish in the dark.

* * *

After Saeko and Fiore had left, Setsu and Yuu did as they were ordered, and found their way to the guest barracks (labeled surprisingly well, in case anyone pointed out that plot hole). To their perhaps surprise, rather than being the squalid, roach-infested hell-pit that one might have expected to find at a smeltery, the guest barracks were the exact opposite. The interior of the nondescript-looking prefab structure was accented with attractively-done cedar, and the beds had actual mattresses and linen sheets, complete with--to everyone’s disbelief--pajamas and slippers folded and placed on the pillows along with a chocolate treat. A bamboo-slat partition separated the sleeping quarters from the bathing areas, which boasted what looked like an actual, sunken-concrete simulated hot spring setup. The moment the sisters of the Tenouzan Faith Militant discovered this amenity, they drew their guns and pointed them at Setsu and Yuu.

“We’re using the baths first,” Leila, one of the fighters, said.

“Don’t even think of peeping on us. Or t-trying to join us,” Celia said.

“Yeah, we’re pure m-maidens,” Fleta said. “It’s not like we actually wish you’d t-try or anything.”

“Shut up, Fleta!” Celia snarled, her cheeks flushing red. “Did you really have to add that last part?”

“Argh, enough!” Iolanthe snapped, finally pressing the others’ gun arms down. “The Commander said no violence. Not without orders, anyway. We’ll just ask Sister Antonia to mind the men while we bathe. If they act up, she can shoot ‘em.”

“Yes, my poor, dirty-minded lambs,” Antonia said in as motherly a tone as she could muster. “I will guard the flock from the wolves, as it was written in, um...Austin 3:16.”

With that, the girls immediately headed through the door to the partition and slammed the rattan barrier shut. Moments later, their arms and armor clanked and thudded as they hit the floor, followed by the sounds of gleeful whooping and squealing and splashing.

At first, Antonia regarded Yuu and Setsu sternly. Then, she started to chuckle. “Hey, Setsu, I remember you told me you've kissed Tanuki Rinko. You’re totally her boyfriend, right? There’s no way you’re not, what with that look you got in your eyes when you mentioned her name! Ooh, you’re a lucky boy, but also really unlucky, too. I know a couple of girls who’d skin you alive and toss you in salt if they found out you wanted to share her bed…” She sighed. “What a dilemma! One on hand, you need to protect Rinko-chan’s purity at all costs, but on the other, it’s pretty clear you’re a healthy lad with your own wants and needs. In that case, Setsu-kun, I think the Allfather would forgive you a little, harmless peep into the baths. So I’ll just turn around here and pretend to pray or something. And it’s only fair if Kashino-san gets to look, too! I’m sure Iolanthe wouldn’t mind terribly. She’s drawn to men who can beat her in a fight. I mean, no one’s ever done that before, but…”

With that, Antonia jerked her thumb at a conveniently-located, eye-level knothole in the wooden barrier, from which issued wisps of steam and the lilt of voices. It was up to Setsu and Yuu to take up her offer, or not.
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Suzuki Setsu
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Sat Jan 19, 2019 11:54 pm

The duel ended surprisingly quickly, and fatally. As Commander Fiore jumped into action to save his subordinate’s life, Antonia nonchalantly skipped towards the scene with her bag in tow and half a melon bread in her mouth. “Sowwy, Setsu-kun, I’ve godda do my job!”

What job?! Setsu tried to scream in horror, but the shout only echoed in his mind, She’s dead! His eyes wide with fear, he turned towards Saeko for some assurance that this wasn’t real, but none came. Only grim confirmation, and a justification to Kashino-sensei for his actions. Then a pained cry drew Setsu’s attention back to the Tenouzan detachment crowded around their fallen comrade. Setsu was too far away to see much and his view was being blocked by the soldiers, but he heard the struggle as something happened.

Finally, the Tenouzans backed off and Setsu saw a very pained looking, but very much alive Iolanthe. The gaping hole in her armor where Kashino’s sword had pierced her was still there, but there was no trace of the wound. The exposed flesh looked new and raw though, some part of the boy’s mind that was still working rationally compared it to the high-speed regeneration he possessed. The odd thing was that his regeneration would stop working if he died, whereas this was applied after the fact of Iolanthe’s passing.

Takaki-sama tried to find some answers, but the commander was steadfastly evading the question. Maybe I can find something out? the young student wondered. He resolved to ask more about this Gift on the journey.

***

The good sister was kept busy during most of the forced march to bloomery, as the caretaker of the Gift she seemed to also be tasked with monitoring those who partook of it. And despite Iolanthe’s protests, the young nun was dutiful to a fault, not letting the resurrected warrior out of her sight. It didn’t help that Setsu was not exactly expecting the trek to be so draining. He had undergone strict conditioning back in Kumogakure, but the lack of rest had left the young empath lagging behind quite a bit.

Fiore saw this and at a slight gesture from him, one of the other soldiers scooped the small boy up in her arms. Setsu’s face flushed as he was held princess-style by the soldier named Fleta. “Sorry...for the...trouble,” he gasped to the young woman who seemed to be pleased as punch to carry him.

“I-it’s not a problem for me. I-I wasn’t looking for an excuse to hu-, ahem, the Allfather teaches that helping the weak brings us c-closer to him! Yeah, that why. N-not because you’re cute or anything.” The other girls in the contingent shot glares at Fleta, save for Iolanthe. The recently revived bladeswoman was hovering around Kashino-sensei and had no time to spare trying to impress a weakling.

“So what is this Gift, Fleta-san? I’m glad you all were able to save your friend, but she…,” Setsu shuddered a little at the memory of the event still fresh in his mind, “she died didn’t she?”

“Oh, I’m s-sorry. I can’t talk about it much, but,” Fleta looked around furtively before whispering to the boy, “they say it’s from the Allfather himself, a gift to his most devout followers to allow us to keeping bringing his glory to the world even in the most trying of times, even death is a minor setback in the eyes of the All-Father. And we all were deemed worthy to receive it! I,” she paused for emphasis, “already received it twice!” The young maiden pushed out her chest in pride at the statement.

“That’s impressive!” Setsu beamed at the girl, whose face flushed even further. He didn’t pry anymore, he didn’t want to come across as being too inquisitive, and seeing someone so cheerfully talking about dying like it wasn't anything important made him queasy. He could also see that they wanted to keep it a secret, and since Fleta was whispering about it, he assumed that they could get in trouble for mentioning it to him. They were supposed to work together for this assignment anyway, being too nosy might harm later efforts to cooperate.

“Fleta! You’re hoggin-, ahem, Fleta, you must be tired from carrying the ador-, er dead weight. Allow me to give you a break,” one of the other girls mentioned before yanking Setsu out of Fleta’s arms. In a similar manner, Setsu was passed around among the various members of the Tenouzan platoon for the rest of the journey. It was probably for the best, since the fumes of the dimeritium smelters were getting stronger, and Setsu’s small body showed the tell-tale symptoms of early stage fume sickness. Nausea, headaches, and fatigue. While Setsu wasn’t aware of the condition, several of the girls were. After their commander and Saeko gave the order to retire to the guest barracks, they hurried to get their ward inside and away from the noxious fumes.

Setsu felt a lot better once inside. And as he was set down, the two shinobi and platoon of amazons marveled at the opulence of their assigned quarters. Upon further investigation the group discovered the artificial hot spring in the back of the barracks, and Setsu and Kashino were convinced to let the ladies go first. Sister Antonia remained behind to enforce proper conduct, but it soon became apparent that the good sister act was just a facade.

Amidst the sounds of bathtime fun, Antonia began ribbing Setsu on his apparent relationship with Tanuki Rinko. “Eh?” he stammered, face flushed at the prospect that they were an item. “W-wait, you’ve got it wrong. We’re not going out, but I mean we did kiss but the first time was sort of forced due to circumstances, and the second time was a complete accident. And we haven’t even gone on a date either.” His protests only served to delight the young nun, who was reveling in the young empath’s embarrassment as she continued. “P-protect her p-purity! W-what do you mean by that?” Setsu’s face was redder than a beet and he couldn’t keep himself from projecting that emotion to his surroundings. Inadvertently, this kickstarted his naturally heightened regeneration to flush out the dimeritium toxins that had been collecting in his body from fume exposure. “A-a harmless peep?!? No! That wouldn’t be p-proper or respectful.” His mind couldn’t help but wander to an imagined scene of the Tenouzan brigade playfully bathing, which only increased his emotional output. “But it’d be bad if anything happened to them while they were bathing, I-I mean so just to m-make sure they’re alright.” He justified to himself and the others in the room as he turned to peer through the hole.

The steam clouded his view, though he could vaguely make out the figures of people moving sluggishly in the onsen, probably relaxing after the death march they had undergone. After a few moments, sanity returned to the young boy, What am I doing? He mentally chided himself for his lack of self-control. And he let Kashino-sensei pull him away from the wall.
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Kashino Yuu
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Sun Jan 20, 2019 3:34 am

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Current Path | Yuri's Current Path

For all of his life, Yuu spent most of his Genin life on training his swordsmanship skills along with his jutsus and his own fighting style. Even after Yuri came into his life, he slowly managed to develop into a skilled swordsman in about two years. And yet, despite this, his skills with the sword wasn't just on his side with this sudden spar against one of the Nemoto doppelsoldners. This was proven as Iolanthe's strength overpowered him, which he fell on his back to the ground in the process. And just as he could try to recover his footing, she inverted her grip on her blade and drive the pointed end of her crossguard towards his head.

Yuri's eyes widened as he gasped at the sight. That woman was attempting a mordhau strike and if she succeeded, Yuu would have lost his life completely. He couldn't sit still anymore. Once Takaki bolted, he followed her and screamed his former host's name in an attempt to save his life. Unfortunately, this mad woman thrust her sword before he could even reach him. He would be killed by the doppelsoldner's hand.

Though, it was supposed to happen until he saw Iolanthe dropped her sword and staggered away from Yuu. He was confused at this sudden change of events. But then, he saw the tip of his host's broadsword protruding out of her back and his widened eyes and jaw dropped. He didn't know how it happened, but he could guess that Yuu managed to raise his sword just as the doppelsoldner would deal the killing blow, hoping to block the tip. He thought it would be already too late, he thought he would die. And from what he could tell from his horrified expression, he could also tell that he unknowingly thrust his sword towards her midsection in response to this sight of a crossguard coming towards his forehead, inches away before it made contact.

But no matter how hard he could analyze the whole scene, one thing was cleared. Yuu was still alive as he was still standing at the battleground. But in exchange, he killed Iolanthe by accident. An accident that neither parties didn't predict this outcome.

Worried, Yuri joined Takaki as they helped the slightly traumatized Chuunin up to his feet. He was still shaken by the spar's outcome, yet Yuri could see his slightly panicked version of deep breathing. Thankfully, Takaki was the one who stepped up and comforted him regarding the events that happened so far. He can't blame him, he knew he didn't kill a person by choice before and just witnessing this might broke his spirits. So just seeing the more experienced shinobi to calm him down was a big relief for him.

"She's right, Yuu. Don't blame yourself for this. We know you just did it in self-defense or by accident. Besides, you're still alive and kicking. Don't let the twisted outcome of this spar get to you."

Takaki and Yuri's words were enough for Yuu to regain his composure as his heavy breathing became calm and slow. Their words are very true to him. Everyone was equal on the battlefield and he can't change that fact. He was just relieved that he was still alive. "Y-You're right. Thanks..." He couldn't help but smile at Yuri. He never knew that a parasite like him could turn into an interesting, yet faithful friend to him. Not to mention how Takaki-san comforted him with a reminder of his own words back at the train. "Still... I can't believe I just killed..."

But before he could finish, the young Chuunin and a parasite-turned-path heard a scream piercing through the air. Looking towards the source of the sound, they saw Tenouzan soldier girls blocking Iolanthe's corpse along with Fiore and a nun that Setsu was talking to earlier. However, they weren't the reason behind Yuu and Yuri's shock. Rather, it was Iolanthe's scream, a scream that belonged to a recently deceased doppelsoldner. Yuri knew the phrase, "Dead man tell no tales" too well. So how in the world she was able to scream after she stopped breathing?

Yet just as either of them would able to approach the doppelsoldner, two girls began to carry Iolanthe as the commander, Fiore approached the two boys and Takaki to apologized for his soldier's actions. Though once he mentioned that he was sorry that he was a shinobi instead of one of his men, Yuu just frowned at this comment. "As much I would accept your flattery, I'm already happy with my life as a shinobi. Being a mercenary isn't the right lifestyle for me after all." Another reason he didn't want to become a doppelsoldner was his goal in life and that was to protect his village and teach the next generation of shinobi. Just leaving Kumogakure was against his life goals and he wouldn't abandon his life as a shinobi for it.

As for Yuri, Fiore's compliment was the furthest thing on his mind. Like Takaki, he also saw her bleed and died from her wounds. Yet, she managed to recover after his host's blade fully ran into her midsection. He knew that medicine wasn't normal, there was no way it could resurrect the dead with no aid to a jutsu. He would have asked more questions, but upon observing Takaki's response, it would be best not to question it further. Besides, he still needed to tend to his host's wellbeing.

----

Night fell in the borderlands as Yuu, Yuri, and the other shinobi head to the venue of their mission: Kondo Bloomery. Just entering from the perimeter gate made him feel the sweat coming out of his pores from the heat of the furnaces. This was not a good place for him to stay since he usually left the blacksmith's smithery after making an order. And upon seeing Yuu in the heat of the bloomery seemed to affect him as well. He was relieved that his body managed to protect him from the heat, but just seeing the former parasite like this made him imagine what would happen if he would have not found him that day.

Heat aside, he was confused by all of this. He was told from the briefing that this bloomery was gone quiet as Takaki stated to the commander and yet, he saw that there were many people working at the furnaces. He may have little knowledge in blacksmithing, but he knew that this wasn't normal. In fact, when he saw the owner of the bloomery, he was disbelieved at his appearance. He was okay with the robes, but just looking at his makeup was a bit... much. Regardless, he rather let Takaki do the talking as he listened in, which Yuri did the same as well after noticing the strange owner's appearance.

As the owner greeted Fiore and his soldiers and noticing the shinobi, the first thing Yuu did was frowning at his comment. Just that remark made him offended the fact that they were just shinobi. At this rate, that occupation might regress into a simple insult to other people if this stigma wouldn't end. He wanted to listen more, but the owner just led them back into his office. And just that suggestion made him sighed in dismay that he has to stay behind to watch the remaining Genin. Well, he wasn't fully disappointed since he still needed to recover that spar with Iolanthe.

And speaking of which, he looked at the young Genin just as Takaki instructed them to rest and recover back at the barracks. And upon her instructions, he shivered at the thought of Suzuki being bunked down near the women. Iolanthe was hard enough, but the warrior women with young Suzuki was enough to shiver him to the core. "Y-Yeah... Don't remind me..." Guess he was stuck on babysitting duty once more...

However, for Yuri, the worries of Suzuki's ability to charm women was the furthest thing in his mind right now. Just hearing the owner's offer of tea to Takaki and Fiore made him a bit worried and suspicious. Unfortunately, even he has no idea what was wrong with this picture. Regardless, when Takaki secretly instructed him to follow her without the others' knowledge, he knew what he will do next as it may answer some of his lingering questions about this place. "Same here, Takaki-san. I will be with you shortly."

Not wanting to let the others detect his presence, he waited for them to leave for the office just as Yuu approached his path while he scratched at the back of his head. "Hey, are you coming? I may need some help with Suzuki to avoid with his... girl problem." He didn't need to ask about what he really meant after what happened earlier. However, he knew he has more important things to do right now.

"I would, but I'm actually curious about the bloomery itself. I'm going to tour around the building for a bit. I might call you if I'm somehow lost. See you." That was all he said before he suddenly disappeared right in front of him and Suzuki. To others, it seemed like his path seemed to disappear into thin air. But to Yuu, he was aware that he might be using a Genjutsu to disappear from their view to create a disappearing effect. Regardless, this caused the young Chuunin to frown at his path's sudden desire to tour around the site.

"I seriously have no idea what he is thinking at all." Without any protest, Yuu then followed Antonia while he kept an eye on Suzuki, hoping that there were no women other than the nun setting their sights on this poor Genin already.

----
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Yuri's Current Path

Later, Yuri was walking down through the hallways to Kondo's office. Yet as he passed through several nuns and workers, they seemed to unaware his presence even if they look at his direction. That was because Yuri cast a Genjutsu that would hide his visual presence to others as he wanted to make sure no one would know that he was on his way to Kondo's office. The reason behind his actions was that Takaki gave him a mission to shadow her as she felt something was wrong in the bloomery. He wasn't hesitant in taking this task as he was also suspicious of the same reason. He knew that these people were somehow weird and just seeing a doppelsoldner seemingly recovered from a fatal wound was enough to make him aware of this bloomery's dark mysteries.

Once he arrived at the office, he could see Takaki and the commander already having a conversation with Kondo. And from their enraged expressions, he knew that they were questioning him about the bloomery and the problems that were supposed to occur. Wanted to go closer to shadow Takaki, he slowly walked into the room with his Perception Filter Genjutsu still active as he hid behind one of the sofas. Despite no one could see him, they may still hear his footsteps, so he had to minimize his footsteps to avoid any unwanted attention.

There, he listened through the rest of the conversation, which made him raised his eyebrow. It seemed that Fiore sent his men in this bloomery, yet no one returned to him after a while now. Even with reports of cannibals around the area, he knew that something wasn't right in this picture. The "Gift", the sudden revival of the bloomery's operations, Fiore's men disappearing... It was all too much for him to process. Just what was happening in this place?

But just as he snapped out of his thoughts, he heard Takaki's voice calling out to him. He turned around and widened his eyes, shocked at what he saw. It was Takaki and Fiore, on the ground and trying to stand up as he held their necks. He realized what was happening. They were poisoned. He guessed that it came from their tea and from what the Chuunin was trying to tell him, the poison was either a cholinesterase inhibitor, VX, or Sarin, which he could find one of them in some pesticides that local farmers might use. They were different agents, but they were the same neurotoxin by destroying a neurotransmitter enzyme called an "acetylcholinesterase", which could result in death.

He didn't waste any time to search the antidote through his medkit. Since he was a spider-type parasite, he was interested in any types of poison to his advantage. And thankfully, Yuu was aware of it and often turn to him for any advice regarding them and their antidotes. In fact, he knew what Takaki was trying to tell him was atropine. It may treat some of their symptoms, but it was not enough to cure them. In order to lower the lethal effects, he also needed pralidoxime in conjuncture to atropine, which might be enough to cure most of their poisoning enough for him to get them out.

But just as he rummaged through his medkit, he heard someone coming back. It was Kondo and some kind of nun having a small conversation. And what he heard wasn't very joyful to his ears. He gritted his teeth, angered that they would try to murder his fellow shinobi. He would try to attack them, but time was the essence. Once they left the office and shut off the lights, Yuri finally made his move. He dispelled his Genjutsu and rushed quietly to Takaki and Fiore's side with the antidotes stored in syringes on hand.

"Takaki-san... Fiore-san... I don't know if you hear me, but I will not let you die. For Yuu's sake and yours." Atropine was the first antidote he stabbed on their arms. He needed a few seconds for it to take its effects before he injected pralidoxime next. Afterward, he will try other inhibitors if the poison hasn't faded from their bodies. Yet that wasn't the only thing he needed to do now. He needed to warn Yuu and Suzuki. As he focused on antidotes to his allies, his mind focused on one person. "Yuu... Can you hear me?!"

----
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Current Path

Yuu couldn't believe all of this. Just seeing the guest barracks reminded him very much of a hotel he stayed as a child. Even seeing the gifts caused him to question whether this was a bloomery or a resort. And before he knew it, the militant drew their guns and threatened them to shoot them if they have plans to peep at them in the bath. Not like he wanted to anyway since he was still 13-years-old. "I-I understand. I'm not stopping you anyway."

Once he heard the door to the bath shut tight and the sounds of the girls' gleeful enjoyment, Yuu just sighed out of exhaustion as he turned towards Sister Antonia and Setsu's conversation while he took some of the chocolate from his bed. Sure, he was told not to peek at the militant, but he was interested at what Antonia was talking about. If he remembered, Tanuki Rinko was one of his students from the swordsmanship class and he was surprised that Setsu kissed her, let alone that they knew each other. He might as well join in the fun since he has nothing to do for now. "You know, making sure no men with a dirty mind would think about hurting her and stuff. Think of it as her bodyguard."

After he said this, he was about to take a bite of the chocolate as he continued to listen. But before he could even hear Antonia's suggestion to peek through the hole, another voice rang out in his mind.

"YUU, CAN YOU HEAR ME?!"

His eyes widened. It was Yuri's voice and he knew since he was still linked to the former parasite through telepathy despite their separation. And judging by his tone, he knew something happened with him. "What's wrong, Yuri? Did you got lost or something?"

"No, worst! Takaki-san and Fiore-san were poisoned!" He stopped his hand holding the chocolate mid-way towards his mouth, shocked at what he said. "I gave them the antidote, but I'm afraid you, Suzuki-kun, and the doppelsoldners are in danger! You have to get out of there immediately!"

Once he heard of this, he stared at the chocolate he was about to eat. If Yuri's words were true, then their treats might be dangerous as well. He wasn't the type to joke around, so he had to believe him. "I understand. Just make sure you're not caught by the time we get there." Without any thought, he hid the chocolate in his pocket, hoping that his path may able to check for any poison. And just as he did, he saw something more shocking. Setsu trying to peek through the hole of the bath. Thinking quickly, he grabbed his wrist and said, "As much as we want to risk ourselves being shot by Iolanthe and her militant, I think we should try to rest for today. In fact, we should try skipping the chocolate for now. You know how bad our health would be if we eat it before bed."

But just as he pulled Setsu away from Antonia's earshot to explain the situation, he heard the girls' joyful cries turned into cries for help. Yuri already told him their endangerment, so he didn't hesitate to open the door to the bath. As he did, his eyes widened not out of the shock of seeing the girls naked, but of them choking and their struggle to breathe. He would cover his eyes to avert them from their bodies, but he couldn't avert the danger right in front of him.

"Help... P-Poison... shoup... W-We can't..." He could hear Iolanthe's voice fading. Yet he was able to decipher what she was trying to tell him. The soup in the onsen was laced with poison. Unfortunately, he can't tell what it was this situation was Yuri's department. Regardless, he has to act fast.

Without any thought, he made several handseals with his eyes set on the girls. Then, some of the water from the onsen began to levitate just as he muttered, "Rinse Off." All of the sudden, the water suddenly explode into a shower as it rinsed off some of the soup from the girls' bodies. Once that was done, he turned to Setsu and Antonia with his eyes narrowed. "Suzuki-san, get me my medkit! And whatever you do, don't touch the soup!"

He would try to contact Yuri once more, but he might be too busy with Takaki and Fiore. Yet he had to act fast. Iolanthe might be a bit insane for his taste, but he couldn't let her die like this. Forget their threats, he needed to save them before it was too late.

[MFT/WC: 3136]

(OOC: Whelp, this has been the longest post I ever did in Ninpocho. The poison soap was actually Setsu's idea with permission from her (thank you again!). As usual, PM me if there is something wrong.)
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:12 pm

There I was, drowning in my own bodily fluids, when I had an epiphany: that this whole mess with me dying of poison as the result of some unfathomable Tenouzan intrigue was actually simply explained away as being all Osu’s fault. I didn’t have all or even most of the pieces, and there was no logical way to make the connections i did, but I knew, and that was good enough. Actually, if I’d never met the little bastard at all, I’d probably be happily married on my third kid and enjoying a stable, upper middle class lifestyle in a gated community with a good school district. My deathwish as my brain finally entered terminal shutdown: I hope he shuts his ballsack in a door one day.

But my death--and Osu’s trip to the emergency urologist--was again denied. This time, it came in the same form as all unwelcome salvation: a needle. Specifically, Yuri jabbing me in the ass with a needle full of antidote. And rather than returning peacefully to some form of normal, I managed to explosively empty out all of that accumulated crud within my body in about two seconds flat...from pretty much every available orifice. One thing was clear: I’d never be able to look at Yuri again without blushing like crazy.

With my head on spin-cycle and bile dripping out of my tear ducts, I clumsily tried to get up. My hands and knees slid on the nastiness covering the floor and I flopped a few times. Finally, though, I managed to sit up and slump against a nearby wall with Yuri’s help. I looked over at Fiore, who was curled in a ball, retching. In truth, I was a little surprised that Yuri had spared any antidote for him: after all, his underlings had just tried to kill Yuu.

“Yuri, sorry,” I muttered, knowing that I’d probably ruined his outfit at the very least, and possibly driven him away from liking women forever. “Did you warn the others? If you did, then I need you to do one more thing for me. Find out where the hell Kondo and that...that weird and strangely hot nun went. Report back once you do. Don’t worry about me and him.” I looked over at Fiore. He seemed to have gotten some of his bearings back in the meantime, and was trying to support himself on the back of the couch. “Go,” I ordered Yuri. “Good luck!”

“Milady,” Fiore said, after a while longer. His teeth chattered. “I’ve a boon to ask.”

“What is it?”

“Please, help me save my engineers. If this fiend of a mine owner tried to kill us so easily, then I fear what fate befell my poor men.”

I sighed. “They’re dead, Commander. Or at least I assume they’re beyond help. We need to find our subordinates and get the hell out of here. Neither of us are in any condition to fight.”

“Retreat would disgrace us.”

“I don’t give a damn.”

“You don’t understand,” Fiore said. “This isn’t some abstract matter of honor in service of my ego. My girls’ lives depend on it. You saw what happened with my Iolanthe.”

I scanned the room for any sign of Kondo’s return. Nothing raised my hackles. “Then explain.”

“She really did die. But we brought her back with The Gift. It’s the first miracle of the modern age. Given to us by the Allfather through His will, and enacted by the divine scholars of the Science Board.”

“Sounds like a literal zombie serum,” I scoffed. “Are you sure that your Science Board really got their instructions from your god?”

“Its production requires blood from the veins of the pontiff Herself. Of course it’s holy!” Fiore said, looking genuinely offended. “But that’s besides the point. The real issue is that the Gift is extremely rare. It can’t be wasted on fighters who don’t deliver results.”

The veins of the pontiff. I decided against telling him that I’d once lapped blood from Pontiff Shuu’s delicate wrists, too. That had been a long while ago, and after I’d come close to death, myself. But nothing seemed to have come of that. Or at least, nothing that had affected my life. “If your girls weren’t so keen to run themselves through on strange boys’ swords, you wouldn’t need this Gift or whatever.”

“We’re past that point by now,” Fiore said. “Every one of them has used it at least once. Now, if they don’t receive a regular communion, they’ll die.”

“So you all created zombie drug addicts.” I shook my head. “I know how easy it is to hoodwink the pontiff, but how the hell did Nemoto Senna authorize this? She of all people should know how fucked up the whole arrangement is!”

“She approved it because we can’t afford to lose to your kind! The fate of humanity is at stake here! If we don’t find a way to overcome you...prana demons...we’ll never advance as a species. We’ll never reach the golden throne of the Allfather!”

“Hey, fuck you! I wanna go to space just as much as you do, but you don’t see me doing unethical crap to my underlings!” I clawed away the memory of trying to sell Setsu to Ca’im. Of bringing Wakahisa Chiyoko into the shinobi life. Of trying to summon Belphegor with a gullible and unwitting Tomo at my side. Of all of the other times I was an unethical, amoral piece of shit. I slammed a fist against the table. Stop the flood. Stop the flood.

“Do what you must,” Fiore said, standing unsteadily. “I need to save my girls.”

“Wait,” I said, with a sigh. “I’ll go with you.”
* * *

Iolanthe sat bolt upright, her pupils dilated so much as to turn her eyes nearly black. She whipped her head around, glanced at her stricken--but breathing--comrades, and then regarded Yuu. Perhaps after realizing that she was still very naked, a glimmer of red pushed through her alabaster features. She crossed her arms over her chest, but did not break her eye contact with the chuunin. “We were poisoned, weren’t we?”

Antonia pulled a small knife from her robes, and delicately speared one of the still-slippery bars of soap laying nearby. She sniffed at it, then nibbled a small piece of the bar before spitting it out. “Yuck! I never liked castor oil soap, you know. Even less when it’s spiked with ricin. Don’t worry, girls, you’ll be fine in a few minutes, but had the boys waited any longer, you’d all be angels lamenting the fact that you never lost your V-card.”

“I was careless,” Iolanthe said, crestfallen. She looked back at Yuu. “Why? Why did you save us? I tried to...kill you not even a day ago. We were...rude to you and your friends. Surely you desire revenge?”

Groans flowed from the rest of the girls as they started to come to as well. Antonia and Setsu wasted no time in ministering to them.

Fleta, upon seeing Setsu’s face hovering over hers, reached up with a hand and dragged him down til his lips almost brushed hers. “Um, I can’t breathe all of a sudden. I think you need to give me mouth to mouth, then chest compressions, okay?”

“Hey, wait!” Leila said, “Setsu-kun, I’m totally having a seizure. That means you have to give me whole-body massage!”

“Now now, girls!” Antonia said. “In case you didn’t know, he’s already taken, and by none other than Tanuki Rinko herself! Now get dressed and be good!”

What?” they all exclaimed in disappointment and envy.

“Rinko’s the most famous cloister dropout in recent memory,” Antonia whispered to Setsu. “Think of Ferris Bueller, but even more alpha!”

Iolanthe, ignoring the commotion, picked up her folded tunic and slipped it on. Made of silk to serve as a last defense against projectiles hat penetrated her armor, it fastened together in back. “Kashino-san, will you help me?” she asked, gesturing to the clasps. Most of her bare back was visible from that angle. A line of fresh scar tissue, pink and raw-looking, now adorned her flank. It was where Yuu’s sword had punched through.

After she’d completed putting her armor on, she turned back to Yuu. “It’s clear we’re not safe here. And I’m not sure where my commander or your mistress are. They may be dead, for all we know.” She sighed. “I’m...not sure what to do now. I’ve always had Nii- I mean, the commander to guide me. Guess I’m not officer material after all…”

At that moment, a rush of static hit Yuu’s radio, and hard. ”Kashino, it’s Takaki Saeko. Fiore’s with me. We found the people who attacked us. It’s worse than anything we imagined. We’re gonna try and take the place out. If you don’t hear massive fireworks by morning, then I need you to take out the generator powering the cannibal fence. Then get the hell outta here. Don’t come trying to save us. Over and out!”

Iolanthe frowned. “What the hell? Are they considering a suicide attack? We have to…” She clenched her jaw, and looked at Yuu with something new in her eyes: vulnerability. “I can’t just leave Fiore to die like that, but...if that’s his will, I can’t just disobey it. What...what would you do, Yuu? I mean, Kashino-san?”

“Well, regardless of what plan we undertake,” Antonia said, “that’s a pretty risky proposition, going after the cannibal fence. In case you didn’t notice, it’s like a big bug-zapper that keeps us all from being swarmed and eaten alive. We can’t expect to stay here long after it’s down. I mean, I guess you could split forces or something. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a random nun.”
Sorry for the long delay in posting! Also for whatever parts of the post may be unclear. I’m writing this as I’m getting over some random upper respiratory infection, so if nothing makes sense, let me know and I’ll fix it!
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Fri Feb 08, 2019 12:15 am

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Yuri's Current Path

Time was ticking as Yuri watched the two poisoned veterans. He already injected them with the antidotes and now, he waited for them to take effect. He may give them the right antidotes, but the real question if they will escape from the clutches of death. Thankfully, Takaki managed to expel the body fluids that were choking her to death. Unfortunately, some of them ended up on his shoes, much to his disgust. Just injecting the antidote through her inappropriate area was enough, but even this was too much for him to handle. Regardless, he helped the now-cured Chuunin up to her feet.

"I-It's okay. I'll ask Yuu's mom to clean it off when this is all over." Despite trying to keep a stoic expression towards his superior, he couldn't able to endure the smell from his shoes. "And yes. Yuu and I have a telepathic bond, so I think he might able to pass on my warnings to the others."

Once he helped him up, Takaki then ordered him his next mission: to find Kondo and that mysterious nun what they were up to. Once more, he didn't hesitate as he regained his calm composure. "I understand." That was all he could say before he disappeared from Takaki's vision with his Genjutsu. As much he wanted to stay and take care of his superiors' condition, he needed to have his questions answered. And there was no way he would let Kondo getaway after an attempted murder.

----
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Yuu's Current Path

Meanwhile, Yuu just managed to rinse the poisoned soap from the girls' bodies with his Water Ninjutsu. And despite their bare bodies exposed, Yuri tried to avert his eyes away from them. He was never the pervert and vowed he never will.

"In a word, yes." That was all he could answer from Iolanthe's first question before he turned his attention to the young nun. As much he was thankful with small information about the kind of poison that was laced into the soap, he wished that she shouldn't say anything inappropriate at this time. But the awkward stare aside, he turned his attention to the cured doppelsoldner as she asked why in the world did he saved them despite how she almost killed him and how rude they acted towards him and his fellow shinobi. He didn't show slight anger or shock. Rather, he calmly stared towards her face to avoid her body.

"Sure, I am still angry on how you acted towards me and my friends. Revenge isn't on my mind right now and whether you like it or now, we're allies just for this mission. And I'm never the type to leave you all to die like this. Besides, I wasn't intend to stab you during our spar, so sorry about that." As he learned from his parents, giving in to thoughts of revenge will never solve any of his inner conflicts. It was best for him to forget what just happened and move on to what was happening right now.

Yet, as he attended to Iolanthe's needs, he heard several girls asking Setsu to minister them. When he did, his eyes widened and turned around to see what was happening. "Damn it, I forgot about Setsu!"

He promised earlier to protect the young Genin from the girls to Takaki. So just seeing him being surrounded by female militia caught him off-guard very literally as he was busy tending to Iolanthe. But just as he could jump in, Antonia quickly interrupted them by telling them that he was already taken by Tanuki Rinko. He couldn't tell if he was impressed or disbelieved, but at least the girls stopped their infatuation with the young boy.

Back to Iolanthe, he decided to help her fasten her armor's clasp. As he did, he could see the scar at the back of her bare body, the same one that his sword stabbed through. The sight of it made him frown as he was reminded of the accidental conclusion of that deadly spar. But as he thought before, he has to stop thinking about the past and focus on the present.

Once that was done, the doppelsoldner also mentioned about their current situation. From what Yuri has told him, he was also cautious after what the girls had been through, especially how he could see her vulnerable state for the first time. "Hey, don't say that. It's never wrong to ask for help once in a while. I know since I do need help from other despite my current rank."

But just as he continued comforting her, Yuu heard static in the barracks. It was his headset's radio that was currently in his bag as he rushed to it and pulled it out to answer it. To his surprise, he could hear Takaki's voice, a sign that Yuri managed to save her in time. But to his shock, she told him they will try to take this bloomery out. He knew how dangerous this place was, but just doing that would be suicidal. He wanted to say something about this, but all he could hear next was a loud static on the other side.

He looked at Iolanthe next. He could see how she felt when she learned how they were trying to do. He wanted to follow his superior's order, but there was no way he could retreat without them. And then, Antonia told them about the cannibal fence. If they take it down, there was a low chance for them to escape this place in a limited time. He stared at her in shock, wondering how this "random nun" knew all of this.

Regardless, he took a few minutes to think of their next action. He didn't forget about Yuri, so he knew what he could do next. But he has to come up with a plan and fast. "Since those cannibals will out to get us when we take down the fence, I suggest we should take that option as our last resort. But..."

He then turned to the others with his eyes narrowed just as he picked up his sword and swung it towards his shoulder. "There is no way I'm leaving without Takaki-san and Fiore-san to their reckless deaths. I barely knew them for a day, but they are still our allies and I will not let them die in this crazy place." He knew there were sacrifices that he couldn't stop, but he drew the line with reckless ones that have a chance that it might be for nothing. "For now, we should try to find some workers and investigate the truth of this strange bloomery. We still have no idea what the workers are doing or what happened to the others, but I feel we need some answers right now. As for the owner, I can guess that Yuri has it covered. I hope."

But as he looked at Antonia, he wondered about her suggestions. "As for splitting up, I don't think that's such a good idea after what happened in the bath. But, just to make sure..." As he put his sword and sheath onto his back, he made several handseals, which two clones of himself appeared in front of him. "Go outside the bloomery and investigate the furnaces and other areas you can find!"

His clones nodded to him before they left the barracks from the door. "In case something happens to them, I will be notified and let you know of our next move. As for us, we should head off as well. Prepare your weapons and keep your guards up. And before I forget... Don't eat the chocolate."

With that, he prepared his equipment into his pouch and took off once everyone was ready.

----
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Yuri's Current Path

At the hallways, Yuri was walking around as he searched for the two suspects behind his superiors' attempted assassination. After the events that took place back in the office, he was incensed at the bloomery owner and he needed to get some answers right now. While he was still under a Genjutsu to pass through several guards, the main problem was where Kondo was. He knew he didn't go very far, but he knew he couldn't make any trouble just to find out where he was. Besides, from what he saw from these hallways, most of the armed guards were light and he didn't bother to confront them just to find his target.

But then, he noticed something odd. He quickly hid behind a fern plant and took a closer look. There were several nuns accompanied by some of the armed soldiers. He became suspicious at this sight of them together walking to a room nearby. But then again, it could lead him to where his targets were.

With his footsteps still quiet, Yuri slowly followed them and once he was about to enter the strange room, he made several handseals just as a small puff of white smoke enveloped him. While this caused his Genjutsu to be dispelled, the smoke cleared out to reveal that he was transformed into one of the guards with his facial appearance altered to avoid any attention. As he entered the room, he silently watched as he saw the same bloomery owner and the mysterious nun right in front of him.

"Okay, what are you all hiding from us?"

(OOC: Yes, I posted first! \o/

As usual, PM me if there's something wrong with my post.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that Yuu's clones are Lightning elements. Just a heads up.)
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:06 am

Setsu stood by Kashino-senpai’s side holding the medical kit as instructed. It was frustrating to be so helpless while Kashino ran to and fro saving the girls. The whole scenario made Setsu uncomfortable, a more active role might have helped distract him from the awkward situation, but alas he would just have to deal with it. At the very least, he wished he could have found something less embarrassing to stare at, but he had to in order to avoid getting hit by the poisoned soap.

As the girls came to Iolanthe and Kashino-senpai had a moment together, Setsu couldn’t quite hear what they were saying because he soon found himself nose to nose with Fleta, who prescribed CPR for herself despite having no shortage of breath and a clearly beating heart. Before he could protest, Leila claimed she had a seizure when she was clearly in enough control of her own body to wrest the young empath away from her fellow doppelsoldner. This pattern continued until Sister Antonia put her foot down, stating that Rinko-chan had taken him whatever that meant. How’s that supposed to stop them? Setsu thought to himself, but surprisingly enough it did. Confusedly, he looked to Antonia who explained RInko’s newfound notoriety.

“She never said she became a nun!” Setsu exclaimed, was this the top secret mission she mentioned? Setsu never did get anything besides an admission that she preferred to be a member of his harem than the center of her own. Setsu didn’t really understand what she meant by that, until now. He didn’t actually dislike any of the doppelsoldners, but didn’t know if he liked any of them in that way. But Kashino’s radio crackling to life interrupted Setsu’s near revelation on how to break the harem trope. Saeko and Fiore were planning on destroying the facility, and their job was to destroy the cannibal fence generator in the event that their commanders were unsuccessful. Setsu gulped nervously, This was supposed to be an inspection!

After some deliberation, where Antonia laid out the details of the cannibal fence generator and in her own way recommended splitting into two groups, Kashino-senpai decided that he would prioritize saving their commanders first, ordering everyone to follow his lead. The chuunin sent two clones off to investigate the rest of the bloomery. Setsu was relieved that Kashino cared as much about their commander’s well-being as he did. Takaki-sama could be a bit coarse at times, but she had saved Setsu’s life and had become a hero of sorts to him. He imagined that Iolanthe felt the same way concerning Fiore-san. But the idea had him worried.

If anyone can safely extract Takaki-sama and Commander Fiore it’s probably Kashino-senpai, but even so it’s never good to put all our eggs in one basket, he thought. Knowing that Kashino probably wouldn’t allow this course of action he had in mind if he asked alone, he decided to ask Sister Antonia for help, the young nun had a way with words and a surprising amount of knowledge about the situation as a whole. As they were getting ready, Setsu quietly asked Sister Antonia if she knew where the generators would be located.

“While I can’t say for certain where they might be, I do have a general idea.”

“Where?”

“Do you know how to rig a complicated energy producing piece of machinery to explode and not blow yourself up with it?”

“...”

“Guess you haven’t gotten to that part at shinobi school, huh? Well you got yourself a date! Don’t worry, I won’t tell Rinko if you won’t,” the young nun winked salaciously at Setsu. “Still, gotta let Iolanthe and her new squeeze in on the plan, too. Being too eager to die seems to be a trait of all male protags regardless of genre.”
***
When preparations were finished, Antonia approached Kashino, “Look, according the Holy Guide to Sacred Base Building passed down from the Allfather himself, all key areas or equipment will have dimeritium shielding in the event of a shinobi attack. So while you and Setsu here could probably overwhelm the shielding with pure output, unless those clones of yours have a boatload of prana, they might not get far enough. Since you’re planning to storm the castle to backup the dear Commander and the drunk one, you need every advantage you can get. Like a distraction, or an insurance plan in case your grand heroics go belly up. Because at the end of the day, you heard them say it over the radio, this facility needs to go down whether it's by boom or by cannibalism.” She sidled over to Setsu, “Why don’t you let stud-muffin here take care of that? He’s pretty distracting. Plus he’s a shinobi of Kumogakure, right? Which, unless the quality of shinobi has dropped in recent years, means he’s more than able to complete the task. And if you’re worried about his safety, there are three very capable doppelsoldners right there who look like they’d kill anyone looking sideways at him. Granted they’re nowhere near Iolanthe’s level, sorry girls but it’s the truth, but once given a job they'll follow through to the end. So in the interest of cementing good relations between the Campo di Fiori and team,” she paused for a moment to think of a name, "Prime Shipping Material of Kumogakure, how's about we show a little faith in each other to get our jobs done without having to strain our resident Atlas' back too much."
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Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Thu Feb 21, 2019 12:07 am

“No,” Iolanthe said, almost immediately to Antonia’s suggestion. “The feldmarschall’s first and most enduring rule has always been: ‘never split the party.’ It’s bad enough that we’re without Nii-san as it is.”

“And the feldmarschall’s second most enduring rule has always been: ‘don’t get googly eyes for cute shinobi boys who save your life,’” Leila retorted, before clapping her hands to her mouth in shock at her own words.

“What the hell did you just say?” Iolanthe advanced on her.

“Oh! I’m sorry! That came out totally wrong! Forgive me!” Leila cowered.

“Please have mercy, Iolanthe!” Fleta said, putting herself between the two. “I think what Leila meant was that...that this is already such a screwy situation that like, perhaps we shouldn’t be blindly going by the book this time? I mean, you heard Sister Antonia. This place is a total hotbed of heresy, and needs to be exterminatus-ed like yesterday, so we need to cover all our bases.”

“Yeah!” Celia said. “I mean, the sister’s right. We’re weak compared to you, but us three plus Setsu-kun will totally succeed at smiting heathens. And like, wouldn’t you want to spend some more time trying to convert Kashino-san?”

Iolanthe unballed her fists and let out a sigh. “You’re not...wrong, I guess. Three of us are enough for most tasks. And If Kashino-san can beat me in a fight, then the two of us will be able to destroy anything in our way. Fine. I’ll let you go with the genin. Don’t take out the fence unless we tell you to, though. And remember girls, he’s still Tanuki Rinko’s property, so hands to yourselves.”

“Yes, ma’am. We...we wouldn’t dream of trying to steal Rinko’s man,” Leila said, eyes downcast.

“So then it’s settled!” Antonia said, brightly. “Let’s go, ‘Team Prime Shipping Material of Kumogakure’ or TPSMK! Off to sabotage the bug fence that keeps us from being gruesomely devoured by our fellow man! And Iolanthe, I with you the best of luck in bringing down the sinners responsible for this mess, and hopefully converting Kashino-san into the fold! Hey, uh, keep the wedding registry reasonable, alright? I’m just a nun, I don’t have a lot of cash…”

Iolanthe’s nostrils flared and she made to kick at Antonia. “Get! Out!”

* * *

Sister Senna, one of the three newly-appointed vice-chairs of the Holy Tenouzan Science Board, paced nervously around the nondescript office Yuri had followed her to. Occasionally, she cast a glance down at her hands, looking disgusted. Though they looked clean, she wiped them on her alabaster habit as if trying to rid them of something sticky.

“Holy Sister, we are ready to descend,” one of the guardsmen, a paladin by rank, said to her after a while. On his gorget was a prominent design of a hammer enveloped by flame: the sigil of the Tenouzan Inquisition.

“Go ahead,” Senna said.

The paladin threw a prominently-mounted lever on the wall, and the entire room started to shake. Yuri, hit with a surprise sinking sensation, quickly realized that the office itself was now slowly descending into the ground. But no sooner had they begun, than shouting erupted outside.

“Lady Senna!” Kondo, the facility owner, barged through the door, slipping past the clutches of the two guards who’d been posted outside. “Lady Senna, I beg a word with you!”

The Inquisition paladin drew his blade, only to be stopped at the last second by Senna’s hand on his wrist.

“Ser Kondo, what’s the meaning of this?” she demanded. “I told you I was going alone. Return to your own offices, immediately.

“It’s too late, Lady Senna,” Kondo said, breathless. “Even if I wanted to, we’re too far sunk in now. The door won’t open, heh heh. I should know. After all, I paid for this all to be built.”

“Yes, you did,” Senna said. “A genuine display of faith that our church is grateful for. But that does not mean you are allowed into my laboratory!”

“With all due respect, Lady Senna, the terms have changed.” Kondo’s face took on a defiant cast, now. “I was ordered by the Daimyo of Kounia to build this facility for you and provide cover and protection. I was not ordered to...to kill Tenouzan soldiers and especially not shinobi! Now I’m going to face the wrath of Kumogakure! I’m not capable of holding out against them! What if they send the likes of Okada Kaji? Or even worse, the Raicorgi himself?”

“Shinobi won’t be a problem soon,” Senna said, dismissively. “That is the main focus of my work here. You will be safe from them once I’m done here, I promise.”

Kondo crossed himself. “I consider myself a man of faith, Milady, but I need more than promises. I need to see for myself that you speak the truth. Whatever grand weapon you have within that secret lab I paid for. Just a glimpse with my own eyes, and I won’t bother you again.”

“I’m truly sorry. I cannot trust you with that,” Senna said, and released her grip on the paladin.. “Kill him--”

“Not so fast, Milady,” Kondo said. “Because I instructed my men to deactivate the cannibal fence themselves if I don’t emerge from here whole and healthy with the countersign in exactly one hour. If we are swarmed by cannibals, you’ll be stuck here. You’ll either starve to death slowly or be eaten slowly.”

Senna closed her eyes. “Very well. I’ll allow a glimpse. Most men aren’t that dogged.”

A few moments later, the rumbling and sinking stopped. The paladin strode over to the door and held it open for Senna and Kondo to pass through. A few minutes ago, that same door had opened to a ground-level hallway decorated with ferns and bric-a-brac, but now the sight that greeted Yuri’s eyes was completely different.

He’d been in underground caverns before, but Yuri had likely not seen a facility quite like this before. Integrated into a natural cave formation, Senna’s secret lab was massive in size, with natural, high-vaulted ceilings festooned with stalactites. Powerful electric lamps mounted overhead cast everything in a harsh, overbearingly white glare with little room for shadows to creep and play. But perhaps the thing that struck Yuri most was not the appearance, but the overwhelming smell within: blood.

Large, circulating, bubbling vats of the crimson substance, all kept from clotting with a powerful mix of anticoagulants and preservatives manufactured from the same ancient technological knowledge decried as heresy by the church itself. Above each vat was suspended a steel cage woven through with flexible tubing that pierced withered, plastic-wrapped bodies, each subtly twitching to the beat of some unknown stimulus.

The bloody vats were linked like tributaries, feeding a great crimson river that led to the chamber’s centerpiece: a large, upright glass cylinder filled with golden plasma. Within the cylinder, floated a body. Not some blood-drained, emaciated corpse, but that of a young, brunette woman. And though she was pierced by intravenous tubing and supplied air through a tracheostomy tube at the base of her throat, she was undeniably and unimpeachably beautiful.

Kondo fell to his knees. “What...what in the Allfather’s name? What is this?”

Senna strode past him, up to the cylinder, and clasped her hands in prayer. After a moment, she said: “Ser Kondo, meet Saint Isamu. Or at least, her second coming.”

“Saint...Saint Isamu was a...man, was he not?”

“Apparently not,” Senna said, with a satisfied smirk. “I was just as surprised as you at first. But the evidence is unquestionable. The genetic material found within the deepest and most secure vaults of the Holy See has created what you see here. Long before our grail was disgracefully stolen during Enishi’s attack on Tenouza, it contained the aglaophotis, the clotted blood and shredded tissue of Saint Isamu, collected during her torture and execution. This, even at the cost of the grail, has been preserved throughout the church’s entire history, and by grace of the Allfather, a sample was given to me so that I could bring this to fruition.”

“But...but the descriptions in the Fukuin talk of a man…”

“Or a woman with DFC,” Senna said. “Can you really tell the difference if they’re in a dirty tunic and haven’t showered in years? Regardless, there she is. I hope you’re satisfied, Ser Kondo.”

“What will you do with this? With...her?” Kondo regained his footing. “And more importantly, how will ‘Saint Isamu’ protect me from Kumogakure?”

“Do you know the reason Saint Isamu was killed off?”

“Of course!” Kondo looked offended. “The ancients didn’t want him spreading the faith. It undermined their pagan beliefs in dragons and nonsense.”

Her,” Senna corrected him. “And yes, she was certainly killed because she challenged the old religions. But there was another reason. It was...and is still because her blood is the answer to the problem of chakra in humanity.”

“Huh?”

“The scientific explanation is long and complex, but suffice it to say, those who take communion of her blood fully extinguish all chakra potential in both themselves as well as the rest of their line. And they don’t even have to directly ingest it. Even secondary transmission, such as through a mosquito vector, will do. A single summer swarm set loose on Kumogakure will, in one generation, turn those monsters back into humans forever. Partaking of Saint Isamu’s blood is the cure to humanity’s madness. It is the original reason we are called ‘the blood church’ and the basis of the sacrament of communion itself.”

“So...you’re saying...Saint Isamu will destroy all shinobi?”

“Yes. And today is the day she will awake. We will force the abdication of the heretic Pontiff Shuu, seat Saint Isamu on her rightful throne, and commence the salvation of humanity and the judgment of sinners.”

“Wait...one last question, though,” Kondo said. “Why does Saint Isamu have...Tanuki ears?”

Senna blushed. “Look, that’s just how she ended up! Cloning isn’t a perfect science! Now shut up about it.”

Kondo smiled. “Then, Milady Senna...it sounds too good to be true, but...if it is you running this project, then I feel more at ease now. I was wrong to doubt you. I wholeheartedly offer my help, in any way you wish.”

“Thank you, Ser Kondo,” Senna said. “There is something you can do for me right now. Stand still please.”

Her eyes met with Yuri’s. A playful, but penetrating stare. “You…’guardsman.’ Draw your blade and kill Ser Kondo right now.”

“What?” Kondo said, wide-eyed.

Perhaps sensing Yuri’s hesitation, Senna laughed. “Just kidding. You’re not a cold-hearted sort, Kashino Yuu, or is this your path? I can’t really tell that level of detail. Surprised that I know who you are?” Her voice went to an official-sounding lilt. “‘Kumogakure Kinjutsu License KY1028-17.’ Rikudo Sennin with one known artificial construct path. Spider-Parasite hybrid, authorized by Shinrya Kitsune. Your chakra scent was always a peculiar one. An appealing purity to it, but not my type.” She smiled. “I actually sort of wish Kitsune was here to see my project. But alas, she’ll probably have to find a new line of work, like you will soon. By the way, don’t try anything. Everything’s shielded with dimeritium down here. My men will slaughter you without mercy.”

“As they did to my men?” Fiore bellowed, emerging from behind a vat with his blade drawn. “I don’t care why you did all of this, Sister Senna, but your twisted scheme ends right now!

The inquisition paladin drew his blade and swung at Fiore with a powerful overhead strike. Fiore’s longsword arced diagonally in a zornhau strike that cut deep into the paladin’s forehead and split his nose open in an explosion of crimson before the paladin could land a blow. Without hesitating, Fiore brought his blade up, jabbed it into the gap between the plates protecting the man’s armpit, and then stabbed the man in the throat right under his gorget. He finished with a flick of the blade that took the paladin’s ear off before the man crumpled, gurgling, to the ground.

“On your knees with your hands in the air!” Fiore commanded, marching up to Senna. “I’m arresting you on the authority of the feldmarschall and Her Grace the Po--”

Fiore’s words were cut short, however, by a gush of crimson that erupted from his chest. Simultaneously, the crack of a gunshot echoed through the chamber, piercing everyone’s eardrums. Fiore fell to his knees and his sword clattered to the ground. As he tried to reach for his sword, he was swarmed by armored inquisitors, who started to beat him fiercely with the butts of their firelocks.

“Yuri!” Saeko cried out, emerging from behind cover. She swung her saber and slashed a nearby man’s shoulder open before narrowly avoiding disembowelment at the hands of another inquisitor. “Get out of here and take down the fence! We have to destroy this place at all costs! I’ll hold them off!”

She held out a palm at the group of inquisitors and made a brief sign. Lightning arced from her fingertips toward the group. But instead of roasting and paralysing her enemies, the current seemed drawn to their armor plates, which sucked in the energy with no ill effects. “They’re armored in dimeritium! Go! You can’t win against them!” A moment later, one of the soldiers swung the butt of his rifle at her head and knocked her out cold.

“Don’t kill her,” Senna commanded. “I want to see how Saint Isamu’s blood affects a live subject. Even if she’s a damned Christmas Cake. Commence the illumination. And find and kill Kashino Yuu before he gets any ideas.”

To make things worse, even if Yuri had wanted to escape at the moment, he could not. Behind him, the elevator office lurched back into action, ascending topside. It was easy to figure out what had happened: Kondo had slipped away in the confusion.

* * *

The bloomery’s firestacks still raged ash and cinder skyward, but by this time the workers had long since retired to bed or had otherwise vanished. The oppressive, choking atmosphere was no less of a burden than it had been when Setsu had originally entered the camp. The swirling dimeritium dust in the air might as well have been glass shards to his lungs, affecting Setsu more than the three girls and the non who accompanied him.

“Setsu-kun, are you alright?” Celia asked, stroking his back as they crouched behind a stack of boxes, scanning the grounds for movement. “If you need to take a break, or go to the bathroom, or look at a bikini magazine for a bit we’ll cover for you!”

“Yeah, your onee-sans are here for all your needs, even your shameful ones!” Leila chimed in, huddling closer to Setsu.

“Say, say, how serious are you with Tanuki Rinko, anyway?” Fleta asked. “I mean, have you ever maybe considered an open relationship?”

For that, Antonia grabbed Fleta’s ear and twisted it, causing the girl to wince and suck her teeth. “Rinko is not to be trifled with, Dearest.”

“You’re the un-funnest nun I’ve ever known,” Fleta whined. “Hmm, okay, I don’t see anyone here. We should move on.”

They continued to creep stealthily through the complex, heading toward a fenced-off yard housing a bulky array of transformers and batteries, and shimmering with current. There, Antonia had promised, was the source of the cannibal fence’s power.

“Wait,” Leila said before the group rounded a corner. “I smell blood,” she said, and drew her blade. She peeked around, and then recoiled with disgust. “By the Allfather, that’s gruesome!”

“What is?” Fleta asked.

“There’s bodies in the corridor. Look like, maybe Kondo’s security forces. But they’re...uh. Just look.”

“Yucky!” Fleta said, bringing a hand to her mouth as she saw the bodies. “Like human burger, except...well, that’s just yucky by itself. Who did this?”

“Hmm,” Antonia said, squatting nearby one of the unfortunates. She poked at the remains with a nearby stick and chewed on a nail in concern. “Be careful, okay? I should let you know that even The Gift can’t really help you if she turns you into something like this.”

“Who’re you talking about?” Leila said.

“Um, someone I went to school with. But why the hell is she hanging around here, though? Even she can’t hold out against literally endless cannibals.”

“We still have a job to do, regardless,” Celia said. “And if anyone tries to harm a hair on Setsu’s head, we’ll kill ‘em. After all, we’re Team TPSMK!”

“Why did we have to come up with such a weird name?” Fleta asked.

Antonia was mum as she approached the gate to the generator yard. “Lock and hasp pulled right out and crumpled up like tissue paper. Yep, that’s her. Oh, and the bodies, too.”

“Oh!” the girls responded as they saw what Antonia had mentioned. Strewn across the yard was a mass of bodies--all Kondo’s guards by the shreds of clothing and bent weaponry littering the grounds alongside scattered loops of intestine and the occasional eyeball. “Stand back, Sister,” Leila ordered. “This is no place for a nun to be. We’ll take care of it from here.”

“Oh, I agree entirely!” Antonia said, bowing and retreating. “Setsu, I trust you, okay?” she said, giving the boy a quick peck on the cheek. “Remember, cut the purple wires first, then the blue wires, not the other way around, but only if you don’t see the hidden green wire, and reverse what I said entirely if you see turquoise. But if you see brown, then do that above all else...just avoid the burnt sienna or you’ll definitely die in the sort of agony that makes Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’ look like a trip to the day spa!”

Then, she nudged Setsu into the courtyard and promptly disappeared. Despite the absolute carnage of the place, it seemed quiet for now, so Setsu approached the largest of the available electric boxes and opened it as Antonia had instructed him. A bird’s nest of wires, some of them simply bare and live, confronted him. Just as he tentatively started to reach in with a pair of pliers, he became aware of someone behind him.

“H-hi...what’s y-your name?” A girl’s voice.

Setsu turned around to face a diminutive, timid-looking girl with fluffy tufts of sky-blue hair flecked with bits of gore. She was clad in an armored nun’s habit and her outer tabard was embroidered with the sigil of the Inquisition. Resting next to her was the inquisition's favorite weapon for killing heretics, shinobi, and people they believed to be heretics and shinobi for the last few centuries: the Kirkhammer. Hers had its handle wrapped in neon pink grip tape with a cheerful heart pattern, but otherwise was slicked completely with drying blood.

“Mmm,” she said, trying but failing to make eye contact with Setsu. “Um, I’m...uh, Rucilla. Uh, sorry, I mean, I’m Inquisitor-Sister Rucilla of-of- the S-Sisters of B-Battle. But y-you can call me Rucilla, because it’s easier. Uh, what are y-you trying to do with the f-fence? Are you t-trying to break it? Senna t-told to pr-protect it, so uh, please, uh, stop, okay?”

“Inquisitor-Sister Rucilla,” Leila said, trying not to shake. “We are from the ‘Campo di Fiore’ of the Nemoto Fechtenschule of Tenouza. We’re on the same side. We’re discovered a major heresy going on here. Our commander told us to take down the cannibal fence if needed.”

“H-heresy?” Rucilla gasped. “Oh, it’s my job to take down h-heresy, too! But Senna, she told me that h-heretics would try and break the f-fence… so that means...oh no! You’re...also heretics?”

“No! We’re not! We were sent here by Cardinal Moscato!”

“L-lies…” Rucilla’s expression changed. “That s-sounds like...lies. This b-boy...he’s a s-shinobi. Why did you b-bring a shinobi here, then?”

“He’s not just any shinobi!” Fleta blurted out. “He’s Tanuki Rinko’s boyfriend! You know Tanuki Rinko, right?”

“Tanuki Rinko’s boyfriend?” Rucilla’s attention shot with laser focus to Setsu. “But boyfriends do shameful things to girls. Does that mean you’ve done shameful things to Rinko-chan?” Her voice, now devoid of its earlier hesitancy, took on a menacing tenor. “Did you kiss her? Did you touch her… No, what am I even thinking?” She slapped herself across the face with explosive energy. Hard enough to score a weeping, bloody line across her own cheek. “That’s so stupid. Rinko would never do shameful things in bed with a boy. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! She loves me, and I love her too. Allfather damn you, Rucilla, there you go again! Doubting Rinko! Why do you always doubt Rinko you stupid fucking bitch!”

She slapped herself again, and again, enough to open more small lacerations on her cheeks. “And you, boy. Why would you ever make such shameful, horrible accusations against Rinko’s honor? Have you no decency?” She reached for the massive Kirkhammer and effortlessly rested its shaft against her shoulder. “This world does not need horrible, shameless slanderers like you. You insulted Rinko, and now you’re going to pay the price. All of you are going to pay the price.”

“Fleta…” Celia said. “Girlfriend, I am so gonna kill you if she doesn’t kill us first.”

Rucilla started to advance on Setsu, hatemurder in her eyes.

* * *

The secret elevator stopped rumbling now, and Kondo stumbled out the door to more familiar surroundings. His face was both pale and flushed, and his heart beat out of his chest. As he breathed in the familiar stink of the bloomery, he started to laugh. “Yes! I win again! I outsmarted them all!” He bolted down the hallway, intent on ransacking his safe full of valuables and eloping in the night.

And then he ran straight into Kashino Yuu.
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Kashino Yuu
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Secret Santa 18

Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:43 am

Image
Current Path

Despite they were about to set off to investigate, the strange nun already suggested to split up the party. He already mentioned before that splitting up was a bad idea and Iolanthe seemed to agree with his statement. Not only that, he already frowned at the thought of sending a Genin to investigate with some soldiers or himself being converted to their religion. Still, one of them did mention something important. There were some smiths and guards who may try to kill them if they find out. Not to mention that even his clones' ability to discharge electricity when taking a fatal blow might not be enough to disable the fences. Despite this, he knew this wasn't a good idea and wanted to protest this.

But just as he was about to do so, Iolanthe already kicked Antonia out as her soldiers already took off with Setsu.

"So much for staying together..." Yuu muttered and sighed at this turn of events. "And like I said before, I'm already happy with my current life right now."

"It's not like I can convince you right now. Now can we get going now? The sooner we find Ni- I mean Commander, the sooner we get out of this hellhole," Iolanthe said as she gritted her teeth, which he could guess how she was angry at what happened to Fiore.

"Alright." He sighed in dismay, seeing that he has no choice but to move on. "But first, can you guard the room for a second?"

Iolanthe became confused at his sudden request. Yet it turned into anger as she marched in front of the Chuunin. "What?! I thought you said we're going to rescue the Commander!"

"And Takaki-san. Also, I said before we have to investigate this place first. Unless we want to rescue them blind, I doubt we can stand a chance against the owner's guards." Sure, he would take her approach as well. But considering what happened to Takaki and Fiore from Yuri, he knew that a reckless charge would kill them in vain. Thankfully, he remembered his lessons from his academy days and has to make sure to learn more about his enemies before he could make his move. "Besides, I want to try something that I've been saving up lately."

"What do you mean exactly?"

He didn't say anything else. He just stared at a body that was laid down on a bed nearby as he cracked a small grin. "You'll see."
----
Image
Yuri's Current Path

Meanwhile, the former parasite managed to infiltrate into the office in the hopes to find answers to this crazy turn of events. From attempted murders to seeing the bloomery owner's accomplice, he was increasingly irritated and now wanted to find out what they were hiding. However, he didn't expect for the office to be an elevator in disguise as he found himself sinking into another floor. Despite this, he managed to eavesdrop their conversation as the elevator was climbing down.

From what Kondo said and his defiant expression, Yuri learned that this bloomery was actually built to hide whatever this woman was plotting. He could tell that he was panicking. The thought of his village's wrath along with other known shinobi somehow made him realized that attempting to kill Takaki was a big mistake on his end. Yet, despite his cowardice, he was somehow smart enough to command his soldiers to take down the fence if he didn't leave the office in an hour. It was enough for the woman, Senna to allow him into her hideout. Regardless, as long he was allowed while in his current disguise, he might able to learn more about their secret operations and the truth of why his superiors were targeted.

Just then, the rumbling and sinking stopped. As Yuri took a closer look at what's behind the door, he became confused. He could see the same hallway that he was walking through a few minutes ago. But as he followed the two culprits, Yuri's eyes widened as he entered through the underground caverns. He did remember he once wander the caves under Dr. Yattsu's lab in the past and seeing this reminded him so much of it.

However, he wasn't prepared for what he saw next. What he didn't expect was a secret lab that reminded him very much like his own that he inherited. Yet he could tell the difference immediately once he smelt the scent of blood around the room. Looking around the lab, he could see some tubes pierced into several wrapped bodies. A young blonde-haired woman floating inside the glass cylinder with tubes pierced throughout her body. Yet, he was not only shocked that they would hide this right under their noses but just seeing this woman made him remember of a traumatizing song.

“I’m gonna eat you little Yuri, you better grow big and strong so that you can come home so I can eat you…”

Why did he have to remember that right now?! Ever since he recovered his memories, he was still bothered by the spider woman that chased him and her vow to eat him when he was in his parasite form. Despite her tanuki ears and tail also reminded him one of his former host's students from his first class, her hairstyle, and her thin stature reminded him too much of that spider hybrid. Regardless, he knew this wasn't a good time to reminisce his trauma. Thankfully, he managed to regain his composure before either the paladins or the two conspirators would notice.

He listened more closely to their conversation, namely the woman's identity revealed to be cloned body of the rumored Saint Isamu and that her blood would turn "the monsters in Kumogakure" into humans. In other words, her blood would make every shinobi in the village extinct. Like Yuu, he wasn't much into religion, but the thought of releasing her blood through mosquitoes may affect the power of the Raikage and the other shinobi. Even the thought of expanding this plan into other hidden villages made him horrified at this. Not only that, what would happen if Yuu and his siblings would also be affected by this. More importantly, what will happen to him? He was created with chakra and he feared the worst-case scenario if he was robbed of that very same chakra. Regardless, he concluded one thing on his mind: Senna's twisted plans must be stopped. He needed to report this to Takaki immediately, but before he could, Senna suddenly stared at him.

“You…’guardsman.’ Draw your blade and kill Ser Kondo right now.”

Yuri's eyes widened. He wanted to ignore the commands, yet it seemed that Senna was focusing exclusively at him. That's impossible. He managed to alter his facial appearance beforehand. Yet she seemed to notice his presence despite his disguise. He would try to follow her command to keep up with this charade, but despite this, his hand was shaking. Yuu vowed not to kill and just breaking that promise would be too much for his former host to deal with. But then, he heard Senna suddenly laughed.

“Just kidding. You’re not a cold-hearted sort, Kashino Yuu, or is this your path? I can’t really tell that level of detail."

So she did sense his presence and yet, he was still in disguise. Dispelling his Transformation Jutsu, she could see his true appearance, which to her, she would think it was Kashino Yuu himself. Regardless, Yuri just gritted his teeth as he learned how did she know him. Not only she knew about Yuu's Kinjutsu License and his existence as a Spider Parasite hybrid, but she seemed to sense his unique chakra.

"Tch... It's not like I'm into women who wanted to eliminate all of the shinobi just for your so-called saint." She was truly a shinobi, yet she abandoned it just for this twisted religion of hers. If Yuu was here right now, he would be disgusted at what she had become. He needed to act, but from what she warned him, he knew that attacking her would mean his downfall.

But just as the soldiers could attack him, Fiore and Takaki suddenly appeared and began to make their counterattack. Yuri was also surprised at their sudden appearance. They were recovering from their poison and yet, they managed to join him to stop Senna. Despite this, he was helpless to watch Fiore being beaten up by paladins. He needed to step in and help them, but Takaki stopped him and ordered him to take down the fence that was protecting the bloomery. He would try to protest this, but he was blocked by several more paladins just as Takaki's Ninjutsu was absorbed into their armor.

“They’re armored in dimeritium! Go! You can’t win against them!” That was Takaki's last words before she was knocked out by one of the paladins. All Yuri could do was to scream her name. He barely knew her, but he didn't want to abandon her. Yuu would do the same thing in this situation. But considering his current situation, he was completely helpless against the paladins and their armor. In anger, he screamed just as he threw several kunais towards the paladins, piercing through their exposed necks and legs. And before they could react, Yuri quickly ran to another direction towards the elevator.

"As if I can follow that order! I'm not leaving here without my allies and I'm not abandoning Takaki-san for that crazy bitch!" He muttered as he continued running. Yet when he arrived at the hallway, he was shocked to see that the elevator was already ascending back to the top floor. He was confused at first until he realized something. Kondo disappeared when Takaki and Fiore appeared. Upon he realized this, he gritted his teeth as he glared at the elevator.

"Kondo, you coward!" He screamed towards the elevator, now completely aware of Kondo's complete cowardice. Regardless, he has to act fast. Some of the uninjured paladins were already on his tail and he has escaped without using his Ninjutsu due to their armor. Then it hit him. Since he was originally a spider parasite, he wanted to have a fighting style based on his origins. Because of this, Yuu was a master of swordsmanship and Lightning Ninjutsu, Yuri was a master of Genjutsu and traps.

With that thought, he knew what to do next. But first, he has to warn Yuu and Setsu somehow. Even if Senna was unaware that he made a new path, that didn't mean they would stay hidden forever.
----
Yuu didn't waste any time to make any detours. As Iolanthe and a mysterious hooded person followed behind him, the Chuunin looked around the area for any strange clues hid behind the doors and items of the bloomery hallway. Yet as he did, he couldn't help but worry Setsu's safety. Besides, he was with Iolanthe's soldiers and just the thought of him being surrounded by female doppelsoldners made him questioned if Antonia's suggestion to split was a good idea in the first place.

"Kashino-san," Iolanthe spoke up, which Yuu turned around to see her. "Are you sure you know where we're going?"

Yuu's eyes widened when he heard those words. Just hearing them made him reminded too much of Yuu or Sakushi. In his honesty, he didn't really have a plan or knew where he was going. He didn't even know where Kondo's office was as he only communicated with him earlier through telepathy. Despite this, he didn't want to stop investigating and come up with another plan. But how could he say this in front of an aggressive soldier like Iolanthe who was worried for her Commander?

"U-Uh, somehow. I-It's just that..."

But before Yuu could finish, he suddenly heard a noise from the hallways. As he listened, he could tell that it was the sound of footsteps and it was getting closer. He wasn't the only one as Iolanthe began to draw her longsword out of her sheath. Yet Yuu quickly stopped her as he then heard laughter.

"Why did you stop me?! We will get caught by a soldier if we don't kill him!" Iolanthe asked the Chuunin in anger.

"Yeah. But from that tone of laughter, I doubt they're the type to joke around in this kind of facility." Besides, from what he just saw from those guards, he doubted they had the emotion to even crack a smile. Despite this, Yuu quickly made some handseals, which his right hand began to enveloped itself in electricity as he curled it into a fist. "But just in case..."

Assuming his battle position, Yuu calmly waited for the unknown person to arrive and when they did, he quickly threw his fist to their chest, which electrocuted them in the process. He would calm down once he stopped them, but when he and Iolanthe took a closer look at their would-be attacker, they gasped to see who it was.

"K-Kondo-san?!" Yuu exclaimed in shock, realizing that he just attacked the owner of the bloomery. "I was hoping I just stunned a soldier or a guard of his, but I didn't expect him to run around the hallways by himself."

Iolanthe just huffed as she drew out her longsword and said, "Does that even matter right now? All I know is that he is responsible for poisoning us and a traitor of our Allfather will be silenced!"

But before she could even lift her sword, Yuu grabbed her wrist to stop her once more. "If you do, then we might not able to find Fiore-san and Takaki-san. I got a better idea."

Before he could do anything though, his eyes widened as a vision popped into his mind.
----
In an underground cavern, he could see from a mysterious person's vision that he was running from left to right while throwing their kunais from every direction. When they looked back down, Yuu could see several paladins coming towards them. He would be confused at why this vision suddenly came in his head. However, he already knew who this mysterious person was as he already had a connection to this person. But just as he could guess who it was, he heard a familiar voice.

"Yuu, hurry! Takaki-san and Fiore-san are in danger! I can't explain what happened right now, but get here immediately before it's too late!"
----
Just like that, the vision vanished in his head as Yuu gasped in shock at what he just saw.

"Kashino-san, are you okay?" Iolanthe asked.

"Y-Yeah. I just found a hint on where our superiors are." When he said this, he then heard a groaning sound nearby. Turning around, he saw Kondo waking up from unconsciousness and looking around until he saw that he was completely tied up. "And of course, I think I know how we can get to them."

Yuu wasn't much cold-blooded as Yuri, but he did have a knack of a mischievous streak. So when he approached Kondo as he began to complain about his current predicament, he cracked a grin and said, "Hello, Kondo-san. Looks like you had a nice nap there. Though I was hoping you would know where Takaki-san and Fiore-san is. Besides, the last place they went to is in your office right before they were poisoned."

Kondo's eyes widened, shocked that this shinobi knew what happened despite his lack of presence there. "H-How did you know they were poisoned?! I never tell you anything about that."

"I have my sources. Speaking of which, I think you know where they are, right? Along with a certain Kashino Yuu?"

As Yuu glared at the man with a slightly menacing grin, Iolanthe silently placed her sword's blade towards Kondo's neck.
----
Back with Yuri, he didn't have any luck with the guards so far. While he managed to incapacitate 3 guards with his Web Weavers and his Genjutsu, their remaining numbers were still overwhelming to the point that he was unable to stop all of them by himself. And with the armor absorbing his Ninjutsu, he was already in the disadvantage against the paladins. By the time he stabbed two of them through their throats, he was already surrounded as they aimed their flintlocks at the former parasite, which forced him to raise his hands as a sign of defeat.

Yet just as they were about to fire, one of the paladins stopped and before anyone knew, his head began to fall off from his neck. The gory sight made most of them stopped and saw this in shock. To them, they were confused about how he was killed since their intruder was right in front of them. But to Yuri, he knew this meant this battle now turned to his favor. Because when he looked behind the paladins, he saw Iolanthe swung her sword towards the paladins.

It was not only the doppelsoldner that made an appearance, but Yuu and the mysterious hooded figure was also there with her as they incapacitated some of the paladins with the former's sword and the figure's Taijutsu. As he saw their arrival, Yuri didn't react with shock, but he cracked a smile and said, "What took you so long?"

As he asked this, Yuu grinned at his path once he stabbed one of the paladins' right leg. "Sorry. We would get here sooner, but we're busy playing "good cop, bad cop" on Kondo-san about your whereabouts." The Chuunin even pointed at the office elevator, which upon closer look, Yuri could see a tied-up Kondo, who was now unconscious with his hair stood up and his clothes and face now covered in soot. "And trust me, it only took a Storm Bolt and Iolanthe's sword to make him cooperate."

"Good to know. And as much as I want to explain what happened, we have to get to Senna's lab immediately!" Yuri said to his former host just as Iolanthe joined their side with her sword now covered in blood.

"Okay, just explain to me along the way," Yuu answered, knowing that this was not the time for a small reunion. "Iolanthe, as much I dislike killing, can you take care of these fanatic soldiers and protect Kondo-san?"

Iolanthe's eyes widened at what the Chuunin told her. "What?! I'm coming, too! If something happens to the Commander, that bastard's gonna pay!"

"And let you get killed again? I don't think so. Besides, I didn't say I would leave you alone for a moment."

The doppelsoldner was confused at Yuu's choice of words. It wasn't until the figure removed his hooded coat, which revealed to be an 18-years old pale-skinned boy with the same blue short hair as Yuri's and a stitch skin located on his right cheek and wore a sleeveless jacket, black fingerless gloves with a lightning symbol on the back, black denim pants, and navy blue boots. What's notable about this man was his black claw-like nails and the same ripple-patterned eyes as Yuu and Yuri's. To Iolanthe and the paladins, they thought him to be one of Takaki's shinobi. But to Yuu and Yuri, it was actually the former's path that was his first body when he obtained the Rinnegan. And because of his training with his Kinjutsu, he was able to operate with his Uchiha path while using his cloned body.

In fact, Yuu took advantage of the paladins' confusion as his Uchiha body's rippled eyes became red while three tomoe appeared and circled around his eyes. When he glared at the paladins with his eyes, they suddenly stopped and screamed in pain as if something stabbed through their eyes. Once he did so, his body began to speak as he put his arms on the back of his head, yet his voice sounded like Yuu's, only a bit deeper than his own voice. "Well, I don't know if that would do much, but I doubt it can distract them for long. Come on, let's leave my other body and Yuri with the Commander."

Iolanthe was still shocked at what she just had witnessed. She wanted to ask how in the world he had done that, but she was still too enraged to even ask anything. "Fine! Just save my Ni- I mean Commander Fiore!" With that, she joined Yuu's Uchiha path on stopping the paladins from their tracks. As they saw this, he and Yuri ran away from the fight to head towards their destination right in front of them.
----
As they were about to reach the secret lab, Yuri explained everything that happened to his former host as well with Senna's twisted plan to drive the shinobi population to extinction. Like Yuri, he was also disgusted at this, enraged that she would try to eliminate them just to bring her "Saint" to the throne. Regardless, they knew what to do next.

Once they reached the lab, the first Yuri did was to throw his kunai towards Senna. Regardless if she blocks it or she barely missed it, that attack was actually a warning shot as he and Yuu aimed their weapons to the twisted mastermind. He didn't know if she was aware of Yuu's new body, but for now, they had to maintain an illusion that it was another one of Takaki's shinobi.

"Senna! Let go of Takaki-san! You're surrounded!" Yuu shouted at the nun, now incensed at what he has been told. "I don't know what's really happening in here, but "Yuu" already me about your twisted plans! And we're not letting you unleash Saint Isamu into the world!"

(OOC: Damn, this took so long. And so many words... Forgive me if my grammar is poor. This took days to finish it... T_T

Just so you know, Yuu's Uchiha path is currently with Iolanthe fending off some of the paladins to protect the unconscious Kondo and divert their attention to Yuu and Yuri. Hope I did it right. Just PM if there's something wrong.)
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Suzuki Setsu
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Valentine's Event 2018

Re: [A] The Faith of Flowers

Wed Mar 06, 2019 4:02 pm

Why won’t any of you listen to me? Setsu thought as he dived into the snow to the left of the crazed battle sister’s devastating overhead strike. The girl hadn’t even let him answer the questions before attacking. Admittedly, yes he had kissed Rinko. And he had kissed her on a second occasion. And he had helped her make mochi under the moonlit sky for the New Year’s celebration. But the first two had been accidents, and the third was chaperoned (until the adult left).

He recalled Antonia’s words, “Rinko’s the most famous cloister dropout in recent memory.” Is she one of Rinko-chan’s fellow classmates? Either way, he was going to have a talk with the youkai girl when got back to the village, her classmates all were a bit strange. Correction, he blithely thought as the kirkhammer screamed towards his face, if I get back to the village. He pushed off from the ground and slid further away, his momentum giving him enough distance to make Ruscilla’s second strike whiff, but the girl kept advancing, not giving the young boy a chance to regain his footing.

“Not so fast!” Three voices cried out in unison. Blades drawn, the three members of the Campo di Fiore fell upon the nun-zerker. “Fleta, Leila, surround her. Focus on thrusting attacks and keep your distance from that hammer!” Celia barked out orders which the other two complied with immediately. “We’ll hold her, Setsu-kun! You get to that generator!”

The young empath scrambled to his feet, “But-”

“You saved our lives, let us return the favor. Commander Fiore wouldn’t let us hear the end of it if he found we owed a life debt to a shinobi,” Celia said as she deftly dodged a blow aimed at her temple.

“Yeah we have some, ooof,” Leila shouted as she deflected a particularly heavy blow with her reinforced buckler, “pent up frustration to work out here.”

“Plus there’s the suspension bridge effect!” Fleta chirped in, landing a glancing blow on Ruscilla’s armor. “We’ll make you fall in love with us yet!”

Setsu nodded and dashed to the open box, grabbing the pliers that had dropped from his hand during the Inquisitor’s initial attack. “Purple first, then blue. Purple first, then blue,” he repeated to himself as he poked around the generator. Sounds of frustrated screams, the clashing of metal, and crunching of bone rang out behind the boy. Foundi it! He was just about to snip the purple wire when he saw a flash of turquoise nestled within a bundle of black and red wires. “Oh no, so reverse it. Blue first? Yeah, blue first.”

***

“Why won’t you die? Stop getting in my way! Between me and and the filth clinging to Rinko! Unforgivable! UNFORGIVABLE!!! YOU WILL ALL DIE!!!!” The members of the the Campo di Fiore were skilled in battle, and despite their eccentricities were an extremely well-coordinated team. The three Tenouzan members of TPSMK had succeeded in keeping the Inquisitor locked down and unable to pursue Setsu, but could do nothing further. Celia, the most experienced of the three, realized this shortly after they had jumped to Setsu’s rescue. It felt similar to when she had first met Iolanthe, someone with talent that far outstripped her own. Ruscilla hadn’t taken her rage filled eyes off of the boy the entire time they had been fighting. How much longer could they hold out, a minute? Two? Setsu needed more time to disable the generator, how much could she give him? “Fleta. Leila. Make sure our charge makes it out of here,” she quietly ordered the other two, who shared a confused glance before their eyes widened in realization.

“Wait, no!”

“Allfather above, give me the strength to wield my sword,” she uttered. Her breathing, once ragged from the exertion of the fight, steadied.

“Celia, don’t!”

“For this land may keep my flesh,” Celia continued her mantra, “but my heart is always...yours.” As she finished her eyes glazed over, and she attacked with renewed strength and vigor. Ruscilla twirled the kirkhammer around to bat her away, as one would a fly, when a loud crack was heard. And Ruscilla herself was surprised to find the momentum of her weapon halted. For the first time since declaring her intent to pound Setsu into an unrecognizable mass, she took her eyes off of him. Celia’s right arm was bloodied and mangled, the force and weight behind the blow had seen to that, but the ruined arm now had a deathgrip on the haft of the weapon. And her blade plunged towards the Inquisitor-sister’s heart.

“The Crusader’s Prayer?!? You dare profane His name? As well as defend the snake that slanders Rinko’s character?” Ruscilla was apoplectic with fury, but let go of the kirkhammer to evade the thrust. But she couldn’t dodge it completely. The sword sheared through the reinforced tabard, drawing a gash along the battle-sister’s side. Fleta and Leila advanced on her in tandem, not wasting the opportunity. Lacerations and puncture wounds dotted Ruscilla’s body, but the battle-sister was always able to avoid taking blows to vital areas. “So be it, you shall be judged first!” With strength and speed heretofore unseen by the three, Ruscilla grabbed Leila’s wrist and twisted it, forcing her to drop her sword. The Inquisitor spun and threw Leila at Fleta who both tumbled into a snow bank. All that remained between her and the stain on her beloved Rinko’s honor was the damaged Celia. The young woman advanced, sword in her good hand, seemingly oblivious to the precarious state her body was in. “The Prayer is a powerful tool, but it makes your movements,” Ruscilla sidestepped a thrust and ran Celia through with her stolen blade, “predictable.” Light came back to Celia’s eyes as the trance was broken, the sudden wash of pain and exhaustion wracked her body so much that she couldn’t even scream in agony. “You aren’t worthy of the Gift,” Ruscilla continued, “if you would waste it defending shinobi scum.” She walked over and retrieved her kirkhammer, raising it high above her head. “In the name of the Allfather (and Rinko), I pronounce judgement!” She swung down with the force of a mountain.

***

It was agony to not help the girls and focus on the task in front of him. Setsu had cut the blue wire, then the green, and finally spliced them into the turquoise wire. Locating the surge protectors and disconnecting them had also proved a challenge, but with Antonia’s instructions and the generally standard setup of the generator it hadn’t taken too long to do. The modifications made to the box would cause a feedback loop of sorts, constantly building up energy until it exceeded the capacity of the generator. Which would then explode. Setsu didn’t particularly understand the specifics, and now was not the time to ponder them. When it discharged, all the other generators would also explode too, leaving the facility wide open for cannibal attack. Quickly referencing the hastily taken notes on sabotage, Setsu was reminded that the group would have probably fifteen minutes before the first generator exploded and probably another half hour, before the place was swarming with cannibals.

“I pronounce judgement!” A shout filled with righteous fury resounded through the night. Setsu turned, and time seemed to slow down. His eyes caught Celia’s, and he felt the pain she was in, but felt no fear from her, just an acceptance of her fate, and something akin to gratitude. And then the hammer fell, and Setsu felt nothing.

The young empath found the whole situation very hard to process, he had once again watched someone die for his sake, and been powerless to do anything about it. A cacophony of emotions cried out for him to do something. So he did. He threw all of his feelings at Ruscilla. Rage, regret, his crushing guilt and self loathing, sorrow. They took physical shape. Arrows, kunai, shuriken, jagged pieces of glass, and other projectiles launched themselves at the Inquisitor. Noticing this, Ruscilla stopped preparing to double-tap the fallen Celia and dismissively swung the dimeritium weapon at his attack. Only to take the full brunt of it as they completely ignored the chakra-absorbing metal. She stumbled back eyes wide, confused. “Shinobi magic? It’s supposed to-, that’s not rig-,” she was unable to finish her thought as another wave of Setsu’s emotions began their pursuit. Still reeling from the initial blow, Ruscilla was forced to dodge any subsequent attacks. However, she found her movements hampered somewhat by some of the blades that remained lodged in her limbs and armor. So she charged at the boy, screaming bloody murder. “It doesn’t make sense! You don’t make sense! This world doesn’t make sense! I’ll destroy it with my own two hands!”

In contrast to the raging Ruscilla, Setsu felt calmer than ever. The emotions that clouded his heart were out in the battle now, and this let him approach the situation rather rationally. Fifteen, no fourteen minutes left before the generator reached critical capacity. Could he hold out until then? Probably not, the emotion blades of the empath didn’t use chakra but the life force of the user. The only reason it was working now, was because Ruscilla hadn’t encountered the ability before, and she wasn’t thinking rationally. If Setsu continued to use it recklessly, he’d kill himself before Ruscilla did. To survive this situation one of three things needed to happen. First, and in the boy’s eyes the best case scenario, Ruscilla could be incapacitated. But Setsu deemed this as extremely unlikely, unless Kashino-sensei or Iolanthe-san were to engage her in battle. After all, she had held her own in a three on one situation. Second, fifteen minutes could pass and the generator could blow up thus giving Ruscilla more things to worry about than just a fledgling shinobi and some injured doppelsoldners. Again, unlikely. Setsu doubted he could keep up the frenetic pace of combat for that long. Ruscilla seemed to be the type to spontaneously improve throughout a battle, true main character material. Even now Setsu could see her learning his patterns of attack. Third was...Setsu paused his train of thought as a kirkhammer swing came dangerously close to his head. Let’s go back to two. The only reason I needed to hotwire the thing was the dimeritium shielding. If someone could destroy it with brute force... Another gouge in the earth was formed as the kirkhammer impacted the ground.

“Stop dodging! Let me kill you! For Rinko!”

Setsu gradually moved closer to the humming piece of machinery. Dodging and weaving through the myriad blows from the kirkhammer. All the while feeling his very essence ebbing away. To really sell the illusion, he needed to take a hit from the hammer. This is going to hurt. A loud crack and a scream from Setsu rang out over the fields as the boy flew through the air landing in a heap next to the generator.

“True love wins in the end! Hahahaha!” Ruscilla approached with a crazy look of exhilaration on her face.” Her demure demeanor from before returned as she said, “W-when you die, Rinko will be pure again. Purely mine.” She blushed like a little schoolgirl as she imagined it. “O-oh right, d-do you have any final w-words? Senna said, we need to g-give you a chance to repent your s-sins. Do you repent for s-slandering Rinko’s good name?”

Setsu didn’t say anything at first, it took all his focus to stay conscious from that one blow. He saw the pommel of Celia’s sword sticking up out of the snow, and knew he had one shot at this. Coughing up blood, the boy taunted the girl, “Twice. I kissed her...twice. And did you know? Her lips are very soft.”

Rage once again marred the girl’s face as the hammer swung. But in the instant where his face should have met the business end of Ruscilla’s weapon the sound of metal striking metal was heard instead, accompanied by a small poof of smoke. Celia’s sword was being driven into the generator, backed by Ruscilla’s tremendous strength. In an instant Ruscilla recognized what she had done, and what was going to happen. But it was too late to stop her swing now.

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