.Most people thought that what it really took to be swindled was nothing more than a willingness to be blinded by a charming smile and a sweet word or two; nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. Now, granted, desperation did tend to play into the equation more often than not, and most people knew about that dimension of things, but what a good fleecing really boiled down to was the willingness of the soon-to-be-victimized party to venture out into unknown territory, being mentored along the way by someone they haven't been given a good enough reason to mistrust. The only difference, in this way, between naivety and ambition seemed to be whether or not the opportunity that was sailing past, ready to be grabbed onto, was authentic, and woe betide those who couldn't make out a meaningful distinction. Tetsu's old boat was gone, obliterated out of his own frustration; his path to the outside world, to the dream he had of riches and of somehow climbing up out of the dirt he was born from, suddenly cut off by the village's stifling bureaucracy. What's more, his attempts to butter up the Anbu at the gates with homemade ciders and schnapps was beginning to bring up just enough heat that he felt forced to put the whole business on temporary hold. Nothing, it seemed, was destined to go his way.
Now, in this situation, you might think to yourself that the young man seemed to be shaping up as a pretty good mark to be ripped off by someone with the right sort of scheme. That wasn't entirely untrue, but there was little Tetsu could really offer a manipulator outside of raw physical labour, and he wasn't exactly going to be an easy enough catch to pull into slavery to really warrant the effort. No, as desperate as the boy was, his role in this situation was not the victim. In point of fact, the line between the swindler and the swindled could often be measured by nothing more than a degree of empathy, and those who edged out their poor competition were likely to be the first to make it up to the middle classes.
"So what kind of study is it?" The bald man asked as the two approached the chain link fence.
"Oh, nothing really, we're just looking at the local ocean wildlife to get a sense of, uhh, wildlife health in the region."
"I don't know if you're looking at inverts or fish or what, but we've got some nets and Kahle's if you need them."
"No, that's fine, I'm bringing my own." The boy responded, trying not to let the sense of confusion and concern that he was being bated start creeping up on his face.
"Well alright," The man said, pulling out a ring of keys and thumbing through them as the two now reached the gate, "And hey, it's pretty generous of you to offer to share your sampling data with us, but, you know, actually I really think I should just get Dr. Nokoru's confirmation that you guys are collaborating with us, wouldn't want to give this bad boy out to a random stranger, you know." The man said, indicating the rather nice looking ship held just out of view by the tarp draped over the metal
"Look, I get your concern," The concern that was ultimately going to be realized if this doctor turned up on site, he meant, "But you know how sampling is, gotta keep to a schedule here."
Turned out the boy's due diligence wasn't really cutting the mustard here. When he originally visited the bald scientist, he had worked quite a bit on his transformation and impression of the person, he thought, was running the lab, but a little more research would have gone a long way here, or so it seemed. "It's either I go out now or cooperate with Dr. Minosu's lab, and he's been asking to share our work for a while now." Right, that seemed to do the trick, and the padlock keeping the fence together opened with a satisfying Click.
The boat was quite the spectacle compared to the piddling rowboat he had left at the mountain pass. Must have been at least twenty feet long, with a trailer under it ready to be hitched to a wagon the boy didn't have. He'd climb up, flicking the leaves off of the tarp, digging in for several minutes to get the buckets-full of stragglers out of the corners of the ship left exposed by the wind turning over one of the corners of the tarp. With that, he was on his way, off to meet this Doi character he had met the other day. He secretly hoped the boy was capable of swimming and willing to put his heroics into action when the Tetsu inevitably fell overboard and started sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The boy was thinking, as he cranked the boat hitch up and started tying a rope to it, that he really should have conducted some kind of test of character and courage before embarking out on this adventure with the stranger.
He had given up on getting out of the country by this point, after all, which meant that the need for a companion for passport reasons was no longer really part of the equation. So why was he taking the other adolescent? The boy's inherent sense of greed was creeping up inside of him. Maybe he had no hope of catching the ancient shark he'd read about so much in the country's collection of lore; being barred from traveling abroad certainly made that option seem like a fleeting dream, but, well, maybe he was being a bit superstitious, but being told that he'd find everything he wanted by a homeless man certainly seemed like a kind of fortune telling, didn't it? In any event, if Doi was a necessary component of that fortune, so be it. The giant fins they collected from their bounty would be enough of a spectacle to the local restauranteers to fetch an enormous price. Shark fin soup was one of the most expensive dishes in the country, usually relegated to being served only at important events, and part of that had to do with the fact that there was no overlap between fishermen and shinobi here. He wasn't afraid of a simple animal though, he'd met enough people he was sure were just as vicious, and probably not as dumb, either. The ocean, now that was a different story. When the beast grabbed onto his harpoon, beginning to rock the boat, would the boy have the resolve to hold fast to it, at the risk of being plunged once more into the darkness? He supposed he would have to wait and see. If worse came to worse, he could always use the momentum of throwing the other child overboard to steady himself and stumble back into the ship.
Tetsu was sweating buckets by the time he made it out to the shore, his hands and shoulder raw from the rope. He looked around, waiting for the other boy to make an appearance, but ultimately, nothing yet really required a second body. He'd tie the boat to the dock, slowly pulling it out into the water, until the trailer came far enough down the submerged ramp that he could start walking it back up.
Well, it was finally time to wait.
The build up so far:
Tetsu's fear of the water (profile excerpt):
Before he went down, he tried to take a kind of inventory. It was a strange instinct, Tetsu's lizard brain, in the midst of panic, performing a last ditch accounting feat, trying to organize his thoughts into a kind of priority; a rapid scan of his patterns of thinking, along with his memories, in search of useful information. Automatic, it overloaded his senses, his physical body awakening to an autonomous state to overpower his own agency, as if fed up with sitting dormant for fourteen years only to be killed by a fool. This was being simultaneously overridden by the internal clock on his dwindling oxygen supply telling him to find a single memory to hold and cherish. Time was running out, and the Goddess of the abyss was kind enough to let him carry one treasured possession with him to her watery throat.
'One more time.' The voice called out to him. Tetsu saw his father coming in through the front door, looking down at the handle as he closed it, waiting there for a fraction of a second with an indescribable look on his face, like he was trying to hold his breath while simultaneously struggling to breathe. He glanced up at Tetsu with a strange and un-self-conscious look as he passed, one that the boy had some difficulty parsing out, but it immediately made him feel as if he was on equal footing with the man. Not in a good way either, but rather, in the way your employer or teacher might look at you right before asking you to help them bury a body. Goro slowed down and rested his hand on a nearby table for support. "Listen..."
'Not that one.' The accountant in his head demanded. It was too long. The boy, if he wished to savor some memory, to chew on it, it had better be the single frame of a moment, selected from the very best, for a single moment was practically all he had to enjoy it with. If he was looking for clues, there simply was no time to chew the scenery, to try to exactly understand the nature and dynamic of his father's feint expression of grief. He jumped forward, to the forest, as he pushed and waded through the thick brush, his temper slowing and cooling to the pace of long hours spent managing the continual minor annoyances that hiking through unbeaten paths through the trees came with. He gripped a branch nearby as the crumbling soil beneath his feet trickled a little further down the ravine, and tried to catch a glimpse of the parted sky between dancing silhouettes of leaves. Where was he? How much further to the shore? One glimpse of the landscape, exposed from parting branches caught by the wind, immediately oriented Tetsu within his internal map of the countryside. His father had taught him how to do that. You could say what you wanted about the man, and everyone did, but for as much as he mocked the dead and cast aspersions on all those who believed living for 'honor' meant anything at all, he would always describe the forests and mountain ranges of the Lightning Country with the same passion and attention to detail that a man who had built his own house might. He loved this country, in his own way. Tetsu looked down at the soft Earth. He saw his mother's footprint impressed within the mud.
He thought back to that afternoon. He didn't mean to hit her. His body, encapsulated by the darkness, now began to vibrate and shake without his control. His chest hurt. It was unbearable, it was literally unbearable, but he knew he would not be asked to suffer it for too much longer. He had been robbed of everything. He could hear the voices of his screaming parents ringing in his head, distorted from his own gargled screams, back in the present, as if time itself was experiencing some kind of painful schism, the burst of sound emanating from him was being soaked within the memories he could not help but to play through the panicked and wordless landscape unraveling within his own mind. Blame, and the unknown. His parents had nightly surpassed every limit of anger a person could reasonably allow themselves to succumb to without resorting to absolute violence. Grievances, paranoia, denial; all of the same conversations playing out in forward, in reverse, laced with insidious commentaries on the contents of a person's character. The object stopped being to find the truth, or to live together, or even to prove, finally, that they were more right and more rightfully aggrieved; it was to inflict deep and lasting wounds, to injure more than they had been injured. The darkness was closing in now. He looked up to the fragmented sun, and searched for an answer for his life.
He couldn't face himself, even then. He felt a deep shame for it, if this was the end. If. The words seemed to echo mockingly from the abyss below. No, this was it. There was no saviour that would come in at the eleventh hour, and he had done absolutely nothing with all the time he had been given. He thought briefly of all of the millions of people who must have come before him, scythed out of existence without a thought in their head as to what was coming, a progression from the promise of one day possessing the whole world to, suddenly, nothing; a senseless and meaningless blip into the fabric of living reality. He could see his mother's smiling face, after she had made fun of him for something. He couldn't remember what. Ryuichi was there, and they were all waiting out on the edge of the forest for their father to finally wake up and take them into town. Was this it? His last memory? It was plucked from a nearly forgotten morning, there wasn't even anything particularly special about it; Tetsu simply remembered how stunning the look of the cold sun was on the dew covered grass of the countryside, the shadows from the trees and from their house as black as the night against the crystalline shimmer of the forest, and, he remembered, the particular expressions on the faces of Ryuichi, and his mom. Something deeply contented and hopeful from his brother, but also like he was enjoying a little joke to himself involving his own overly dramatic expression. Tetsu seemed sure his brother didn't even know anyone else would be looking at him, it was his own private little amusement. For some reason, from the very pit of his stomach, he wanted to burst out crying. If only he still had control over his body.
After, in a rage, Tetsu had hit his mother and run away, so too did his mother, as a kind of melodramatic show of fear. She would get as close as she could to the edge of the Country before expecting to be apprehended by Goro, who would be chasing her desperately for fear that she would be killed trying to flea the nation without a passport. 'Everything is always about you.' His own voice called out from the abyss. 'Your own mother risks her life to escape her violent and tyrannical son,' the voice was getting closer now, and he began to see the dark reflection of himself begin to emerge from the depths of the world below, 'And you somehow turn this into a sentiment where you're the victim of her melodramatic guilt trips. It just doesn't get much more narcissistic, don't you think?' The boy could feel rage and resentment and sadness all swirling around the small world inside of him, remembering all the nights he was beaten, but even then, under the gaze of his own mocking eyes, he knew the memory was insincere, an excuse invented to give to no one, just before he died. This was the way he lived his life; pathetically. There was, however, some small amount of truth in there, somewhere, and he decided to give himself to it. 'Then why do I feel this way?' He asked, knowing that this last uncomfortable realization that he was forming would, finally, become that small morsel of life that he would end up bringing with him. One last thought to crush his spirit and fracture his sense of identity. Well, it wasn't like he needed those things any more anyway.
'I wanted to be alone.' The words started pouring out from his mind, "I hated who I was, and I wanted to blame it on someone else. I feel like I'm filled with a rage that can never be satisfied, I feel betrayed.' And Tetsu's reflection came even closer, face to face with the boy and ready to pull him into the embrace of the monster, 'And you know why that is, right?' The sadistic smile crept up the boy's cheeks as he stared up at the other dying boy, 'Who is it that betrayed you? Who told you life was going to be different for you, that you were special enough that you could sit around doing nothing and expect life to just start for you?' Tetsu stopped struggling now. '...I did.' He told himself, 'I was waiting for something magical to happen.' And after a pause, he added, "And here it is." The voice agreed, echoing, "And here it is." As Tetsu, for the first time, really looked at the immensity of the ocean around him. He thought of his father, imagined the moment when the man would hear what had happened to his son. Tetsu knew that Goro would hold onto that burden indefinitely, until it killed him. He told himself simply that there was nothing he could do about that now. He thought of his mom. He thought of her face, and knew that thinking of her in words was not something he had the time or ability to manage any more, he just wanted to remember her.
When he awoke the next day on the beach, he immediately began throwing up water. His chest and legs hurt so much that he passed out from the coughing fit and only woke again several hours later, when the sun was just beginning it's setting trajectory. He sat up with a strange feeling, his thoughts overwhelming him to the point that it felt like a calm quiet had fallen over his mind. He felt light, like something blocking the flow of his blood, of his life and fate, had suddenly become unclogged, and he thought of the boy he found at the bottom of the ocean. He knew instantly that he had unlocked something fundamental to his jutsu techniques, lost in the novelty and experience of the specific feeling of enlightenment on the topic rather than any utility purpose for it. This was the pathway to the Grandeur Phantom kinjutsu, he understood what it was now as plainly as recognizing the sky for being blue, or water for being wet. He knew, too, why it was a kinjutsu; you had to die to learn it.
Buying the first boat
Attempting to leave the country to go fishing
Reading up on mythological creature lore, prophesy to go fish with Doi
Link to Profile: Using Discovery of Contract of Your Choice card to generate a Shark Contract here.