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Off Beat [S-Rank]

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Shiruko Makoto
Head Lorekeeper
Head Lorekeeper
Mercenary
Cash on hand: Locked
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Location: The Nexus
Posts: 6108
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 7:36 pm
Collector of all jutsu

Off Beat [S-Rank]

Sun Jan 21, 2018 3:12 pm

It was strange to receive an invitation to an engagement party. Stranger still when he realized it was not one he was actually adverse to going to. Makoto wasn't quite sure how to deal with that one, or, for that matter, why he had been invited.

Clearly, it's because you get along with the people involved. You have this very odd mental picture of yourself as an asocial recluse that has been demonstrably untrue for quite some time now.

So...you're saying I should go?

An 'audible' sigh. Possibly accompanied by a spiritual wing to the face. Yes. Can you think of any good reason why you shouldn't?

Not...really...

This is like pulling teeth, it declared in a rare expression of frustration. Do you want to go?

Usually, at home, questions like that could be answered with the simple rejoinder of 'do I have a choice?' But here, he didn't really have that luxury. He did have a choice. Which meant he had to think about how he felt. Yes? I think?

Then go, the phoenix said, and refused to speak further on the subject.

It had occurred to Makoto at some juncture on a subconscious level and was only now surfacing into his conscious mind that, as much as he typically preferred to hare off on his own on missions at home and go off and get the whole thing done faster independent of leadership looking over his shoulder, he also liked leaning on the fact that he did not really get to determine what missions he was assigned to or what he had to do. It was...disconcerting, knowing that he wasn't really accustomed to freedom in a way he wasn't entirely sure about. Surely being able to make your own choices was a good thing?

And maybe he had only started doing things for other people because he wasn't really capable of turning down a request for help, simply assuming that if a thing were to be done competently, he must be the one to do it. Therefore, he shouldn't turn anyone down when they needed help.

But wasn't the same 'doormat' behaviour he criticized Saito for?

...Stupid letter and stupid invitation, making him think about these sorts of things.

"Kori and his fiancée sent me an invitation to their engagement party," Makoto told Emiko at the bar the next day. "And...I think they mean it. What, exactly, am I supposed to bring to an engagement party?"

"I am shocked, shocked that you don't go to many parties," Emiko deadpanned while wiping down the bar. "Absolutely astonished. My mind is blown."

He rolled his eyes and leaned back on his stool. "Forget I asked."

She leaned forward, knowing by now not to poke him if she didn't want to deal with the resulting scowl. "From your question, I'm guessing you're planning on going. That's good. They specifically asked me what hotel in Suna you're staying at so they could sent that, you know."

He blinked at her, nonplussed. "I'm actually still working out why they want me there. I was under the impression most people here just saw me as the local trouble-fixer--you know, good to go to when you can't find your children or have an attic full of squirrels, but not someone to hang around socially."

"You are a social idiot," Emiko informed him after her own truly impressive eyeroll. It might have been one for the record books, even. "Sure, maybe initially people hung around you because they knew you'd done nice things for people. But that's because that's a good marker of a nice person."

"I am not a nice person," he said reflexively, but also seriously.

She snorted. "Oh, I get that you're dangerous. You're probably the most dangerous person I've ever had in here. You also barely know what facial expressions are and I rarely hear you alter your tone of voice. But!" She placed both hands on the bar now, rag to one side, and looked at him quite seriously in a way that gave him difficulty maintaining eye contact. "That doesn't make you mean. You usually don't even hit rude--and I know what rude is, I'm a bartender."

He looked away first. It would have been difficult enough listening to that even if she didn't have that expression, like she really meant it.

"I'm not nice," he said finally, focusing on a spot over her shoulder. "I'm awful to my brother, who lately I've been realizing does meet all of my standards, he's just simply too kind for me to respect. I'm not rude to most because it's a waste of energy to make people angry at you for no good reason, and because that's how I've been taught. I've done some pretty terrible things, too. And even more recently, I've been realizing that I might only be helping people because I have difficulty saying no."

Emiko hummed a bit. "Mm. I generally assume most ninja have killed people. Am I wrong?"

He wobbled his hand in front of her in a 'so-so' motion. "Yes and no. I have, yes. Most of those who haven't are rookies or primarily medical support. Even some of those have."

"Then that bit's nothing I didn't already guess. As for the rest of it..." She shrugged. "So you have a complicated relationship with your family and were a lazy teenager. That's not really a big deal."

"I've tortured people, too," he said, because while he didn't personally feel that was worse than killing, many people did. He risked looked back at her, but her expression was still serious and even.

"I kind of assumed that, too. But I doubt you enjoyed it. Did you?"

"No!" That response was so reflexive and vehement Makoto was surprised by his own reaction. "No. Of course not."

"Then don't worry about it." She shrugged again, and went back to polishing the bar. "As to that thing about only helping people because you have difficulty saying no when they ask--that kind of sounds like you just want to help people. Not sure why the moral dilemma."

If he opened his mouth, the weird tangle of thoughts he'd been having about only being compelled to help because he possibly liked taking orders and not having to make major choices about his life would have spilled out, so he just nodded numbly instead.

"And to answer your earlier question, you don't have to bring anything." She gave him a look. "I mean, you can, but they're not expecting anyone to bring much. That's why it's being held here."

Makoto twisted his expression up to show he wasn't satisfied with that answer, really.

"Well don't get them anything you can't afford," she amended. "Most people here can't; it's okay."

"Affording things is not a problem for me," he said dryly.

"Do you get paid a lot, or something?" she asked skeptically.

"My family is rich, so 'or something,'" he said, wondering that that detail hadn't come up before.

"...Yeah that was not something I expected," she said after a minute. "So, why are you a ninja then?"

Family trade, was the reflexive response, if not entirely true. He'd had plenty of other, less dangerous, more lucrative options.

"What else would I do?" he asked instead.

~

On the way in next day, while he was ruminating over what exactly to pick up for the engagement party (which still felt like a very odd train of thought to have at all), he stopped about a block away, sensing something wrong.


Yes, I sense it too. Listen more closely.

He ducked into a side alley that was, for a ninja, within earshot of the bar. Sure enough, there was an argument going on.

"...never been late for a shipment in his life and you know that, okaasan." That was Emiko's voice.

"Patience, child. Midori's not as young as he used to be. He'll be here." The owner of the bar, a kind and matronly older woman. He'd met her a few times.

"He's never been late, let alone this late! Are you sure we shouldn't send someone to go check on him?" That was Sayaka, one of the senior waitresses and a dab hand with electronics.

"It's an important order and I'm sure he won't miss it." The owner again, firm but kind. "He knows we need this delivery in time to set up for the party tomorrow. Hurry on for now; we'll need to open soon."

Makoto leaned onto the stone wall opposite the side of the alley closest to the bar from which he'd been listening and went into deep thought.

It was entirely possible nothing was wrong. The supplier had been late, or delayed, or the drinks had come in a later shipment, or any number of other things. The owner could be right; it was possible Emiko and Sayaka were worried over a perfectly natural delay.

And it was also possible they weren't. Some kinds of alcohol could be quite valuable, and even moving through the cities got significantly less safe if certain people found out you were carrying hundreds in stock...

No one had asked him to look into this. He had no obligation to do anything. He could either just leave and not show up today, or go to the bar and get asked to help, probably. In a roundabout way, most likely, because when it was something that she was personally worried about, Emiko tended not to be that direct.

And no one would know he knew about it ahead of time. He could choose whatever option he wanted. There wouldn't be another soul who would know.

Essentially, he was being given a real choice here. He had the option to be lazy like he would have at one point, assume it would work itself out, and go back to wanderin around and pondering gift ideas. He wasn't at the bar every night, so his absence would not be remarked upon. It would just be another day he wasn't there. Nothing either special or spectacular.

Or he could go in, and be asked to investigate the possibly-nothing. Midori might wander in pushing the shipment while he was there and apologize for the lateness of his suppliers/the business of the streets/the unexpected but funny event he'd encountered.

Or I have a third option.

He was rather fond of those third options. The option here would be to help people without being asked to do so.

The phoenix wasn't saying anything, in a very deliberate, bated breath sort of way.

It honestly wasn't something he was accustomed to--just straight up helping when he heard of there being a problem. Even when he'd done things that seemed like they were going out of their way to help others, like when he'd helped Fumiko. The only time he'd ever done anything like this before was, well, when he'd gone at the sandworm when he hadn't had to.

Not my village, not my problem, his past self would have said. But how far past was that, now? Surely far enough that he oughtn't to be bogged down by the idea of himself as someone who didn't really bother when there was nothing in it for him?

It shouldn't have been something more momentous than charging into battle against a giant undead maneating monstrosity, but it felt so. That had been the unconscious impulse, before. The call to do right by others that he'd felt, but put aside in the moment and never really deliberated on since.

Avoiding deliberating on, if one wanted to be brutally honest.

Yes. Well.

If that was an impulse toward...not heroics, this wasn't really heroism on a real scale, but plain kindess and goodness, was that really something he should fight?

Yes, one part of him said. Even if things like that work here, they do not at home. You've seen the kinds of things that happen in Moon if someone lets things slide, or is too nice, or is too kind. You've seen people get killed over things like giving second chances. Sand might have room for both grand scale heroics and lesser kindnesses, but home does not. You know that.

Wind Country had its dark side too. Of a different nature, of a different way to fight against it, but existing all the same. It was wrong to say that there weren't villains here.

But the people seemed...brighter, somehow, in some ways. For all that Moon seemed practically saturated with people who had holy powers, Wind Country had a lot more people who were, quite simply, uncomplicated. Not even in a bad way, or an 'I don't really know them well enough to say' way, but in a 'I have my life goal, and I will achieve it in a straightforward manner' way.

It was...a lot less shady, than home.

They probably didn't have to deal with not knowing who their enemies were. That probably made it easier. But...

Does that really mean that impulse is something I should fight, though? Or should I just try harder with it? After all, doing good things doesn't mean I need to give endless chances, or be gullible, or give up any of the ways I do things in the first place. It just means I need to be more active about doing things that help people.

Without conscious thought, but this time with conscious approval, he turned on his heel and started toward the area of the docks where shipments came in.

Maybe that sort of brightness, that sort of inner shine, was what most people in Moon lacked. Maybe that was why they'd never bothered to organize to become a real ninja village, instead deciding to hang back and remain solidly neutral. He definitely wouldn't change that policy...

...but there had to be others in Moon who felt that same impulse.

Maybe when he got back he would look for them and meet them.

For now, he had a supplier to track down and potentially rescue to prevent a friend's engagement party from being ruined.
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Shiruko Makoto
Head Lorekeeper
Head Lorekeeper
Mercenary
Cash on hand: Locked
Bank: Locked
Location: The Nexus
Posts: 6108
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 7:36 pm
Collector of all jutsu

Re: Off Beat [S-Rank]

Sun Feb 18, 2018 2:57 pm

The cool, salty seaside air stung against his cheek, and Makoto didn't recognize anyone on the docks.

This was a problem, since he had an excellent memory and had met the supplier before. More of one, because it wasn't recently enough to have the man's chakra signature. Without a possession of the man's, his limit was around twelve hours. A good limit, since he was a tracker, but not enough. It was at least three days since Makoto had seen the man personally, and they hadn't come in direct contact then.

Which meant he had to do something else.

Tracking without chakra use is such a pain.

He could still back out at any time. Well, not any time; once he properly started looking he should assume he had gotten the attention of whoever was responsible for what was now almost certainly something having happened to the bar's supplier. Then he couldn't. But up until then, he could. He wasn't doing anything suspicious or tracking-related yet, just standing on the edge of the docks with a pensive look on his face and wind messing up his hair, back to the water's edge and sea spray constantly just narrowly missing him.

He'd had to track without chakra use before. Back when he was in training, for one, and hadn't quite mastered the chakra sensing jutsu. He'd also had to do it up until he found pieces of evidence he could use before, to track down suspects. However, he'd never really done it on kidnapping cases.

A pain, is what it is.

Since he hadn't the foggiest clue who might have taken the man, he had to try and figure out the top reasons someone might do so first. The supplier was not a person with any sort of specific debts, so that was out. He did not seem to have any shady connections; everything about his business was legitimate and signed off on by port authorities.

Crime of opportunity? Stalkers? Makoto groaned under his breath and ran a hand through his hair.


You could try talking to the bar owner. She seems to know him well, and might even have something of his.

Unless she does have an actual possession of his, it won't matter. She won't have seen him in the last twelve hours. The last shipment was three days ago, the same time I saw him last.

She still might have some sort of idea. Unless you can find anything here?

I've been trying. He'd spread his chakra senses despite knowing the odds of finding anything were slim, but not encountered anything familiar enough to look at at the level he had to keep it to to not attract attention.

He might have occasionally gotten lucky with leads, but it didn't seem like that would be happening this time.

Just as he was about to turn and head toward the bar to talk to the owner, a thought occurred and Makoto spun on his heel, heading for one particular section of the docks.


Do you have something?

Maybe. He did know what boat the supplier recieved his merchandise from. That was more of a start than talking to someone who hadn't even seen the possible victim in days.

The boat was still moored there, fortunately. The crew appeared to be wheeling crates out onto a large wagon, directed by the woman who seemed to own the wagon. He paid that part of it no mind and went to flag down one of the crew members.

"Excuse me," he said to the crew member who appeared to be supervising the unloading part of the process. "I was wondering if I could--"

"We can't sell things to you off the boat," the man cut in. "Policy."

Makoto bit his lip to keep from objecting to being interrupted. "That is not what I'm here for." The man's look was skeptical, but he rallied and carried on. "One of your clients, a middle-aged man called Midori, has very possibly vanished. I'm investigating."

That piqued the crew member's interest. "Wait here, I'll get the skipper. He knows him best."

He vanished into the boat, leaving the crew to it. Not that they really seemed to need supervision for unloading crates, in his opinion, but he wasn't a professional merchant or sailor so really, what did he know.

The skipper emerged from the boat a few minutes later with a serious expression, the other sailor trailing him. The latter went back to supervising the unloading, and the skipper came over to Makoto.

He was a tall, burly man with a well-groomed mustache and hair, and made Makoto feel quite short, as the majority of men he ran into in Wind Country did. No wonder everyone mistook him for a child. However, there was no chakra control about the other man, so while he could undoubtedly lift his own weight and throw a punch, he wouldn't be much of a threat should he take offense.

"Second mate says you're looking for Midori. When'd you last see him?"

That's my line. No point objecting, though. "Three days ago. Have you seen him more recently?"

"Day before yesterday," the captain said in his fittingly gruff voice. "Placed a big order. We were going to get it to him today, but he hasn't shown."

So he hadn't been mugged for the cargo itself? That was...interesting. And worrisome. "I don't suppose you happen to have anything of his, or that was his up until a few days ago, so I can track him and see if something has happened to him?"

The man's hand twitched toward what looked like a gun on the inside of his vest, but he didn't go for it. "Who exactly do you work for who cares?"

"Right at the moment, I'm here on behalf of the bar that he placed the order for." True, even if they didn't know it. "Normally, I don't particularly work for anyone in this country?"

"You're not one of those lot, then?" the man asked suspiciously.

"Whether you mean Sand ninja or Wind Country enforcers, the answer is still no," he answered honestly, deliberately leaving out which of those parties he was distinctly more friendly toward due to not wanting to potentially have to waste time arguing. 'The side that doesn't sic giant undead sandworms on a city' seemed like the obvious one in all honesty, but there was a lot of propaganda floating around.

After a bit of suspicion, Makoto was able to reassure that captain that no, he didn't have any ill intentions toward one of the man's best customers and also that no, he wasn't on one of the sides of the faction war going on in Wind Country at large. At last the man handed over a piece of paper.

"His signature's on this," the captain said tersely. "That good enough? It's the best I've got."

Conceptually, it ought to be personal enough. It had passed from Midori's hand two days earlier, but the note having been handwritten by him seemed to do it more than anything. His senses could pick up a faint civilian chakra signature from it, but he would need to hold onto the note while looking in order to get anywhere with it meaningfully.

"Yes, presuming I can keep that for the moment," he said. The captain shrugged as if to say he didn't care.

The note was just a signed promise that Midori would pay the fees for a large, somewhat rushed order, so he supposed it didn't matter to the man at all. Still, it would work for his purposes.

Chakra sensing the note only once he'd left the dock area, he took an immediate right turn.

It was hard to admit, but his sense of direction wasn't the best. He could find familiar places he'd been to plenty of times, but the first few times in any particular area always made him lost, especially if there was any sort of layer of complexity to them. Fortunately, he knew large chunks of Soon's Haven by now, after having run all over it doing random errands for people.

But he did not know the area to which the sense was leading him.

Makoto halted on the edge of a district which he heard referred to as 'the bad part of town.' It was...well, he could tell it was the right area, but he could also tell that description was apt. Why on earth was a random merchant kidnapped to this area, anyway?

...I'm sure it's no worse than the warehouse district back home. But honestly, I'm usually only all right there because of my family. Or so people say, anyway. Unbidden, his memory flashed back to his first real mission, wherein his teammates had been reluctant to head into the warehouse district. Well. It doesn't really matter. I can handle myself.

The unknown danger ought to have been enough to make him just turn around and pretend he hadn't been able to do anything, once upon a time.

Though it was the middle of the day and the sun was harsh and bright overhead, it felt like the area ought to be covered in a permanent fog or night. The light of day simply made the place look washed out, sandstone buildings worn smooth by age and tarps tacked up behind broken windows, presumably to keep sandstorms out. There weren't many people around, and every one there was gave him suspicious looks.

He really didn't like the feel of this. Neither did the phoenix, which was unusually subdued and quiet.

He ought to choose how to approach the situation, too. There was no point in stealth of the conventional type, and it was possible people knew who he was now, so...maybe there was no point in trying to blend in, either? Despite his family's connections and dealings with less-savory types, he'd never quite managed to roughen his voice believably, so that might have been a good thing.

The building the signature seemed to be coming from didn't look like anything particularly special for the district. Run down, broken windows, missing clay tiles from the roof. Like the haunted house from ages ago, except more genuine. Some of that damage had definitely been inflicted with violence. There may also have been gang tags on the side, but it wasn't as if he knew of any of the tags for this region, so it wouldn't help to check for them.

He took a few deep breaths, and his hands briefly went for his knives before he halted himself.

No. I need a hand free, just in case.

Instead he unsheathed one of his more hidden weapons from the handle of his parasol. Long and thin, a rapier was an excellent swift sword, while not being as unwieldy as his parasol indoors and still leaving a hand free for handseals or other things just in case.

Sword in one hand, he didn't bother doing anything but reinforcing it with crystal before kicking the door in. There were five men in there, one of them standing over Midori, tied to a chair. Not being harmed--a hostage? Who for?

"This doesn't concern you--"

"It probably doesn't concern him either," Makoto said with a nod to Midori. "I assume he's here for some fault of someone in his family, no?" That was typically how these things went.

"His brother owes us a debt," said the same one who had spoken before, looking visibly annoyed at being interrupted. "So why don't you just shove off, kid."

One of the other gang members stepped back. Midori would later inform him that his expression had gotten somewhat dangerous.

"That's an interesting way to talk to someone who could level this entire building with a few twitches of his hand," Makoto said after a second of controlling his ire. "I'll make myself completely clear. Let this man go, as he's by your own admission done nothing to you, or lose use of your legs for a while. The choice is yours."

He twirled his rapier in an impressive looking pattern and saw all but the apparent leader exchanging worried glances; at most, they seemed to have knives. He had reach on all of them, smaller or no.

"You're bluffing," that one said after a second.

Makoto shifted slightly, and darted out in what would look like a blur to someone untrained. An instant later, the speaker fell to the floor screaming and holding a hand over his bleeding ankle.

"Achilles tendon cuts hurt," he said blandly. "I suggest you find as decent a healer as you can if you want to regain proper use of that leg. Do I have any other objections?"

After that, they were remarkably cooperative.

"I didn't honestly think anyone would find me," Midori confessed as they headed toward the docks, as he needed to pick up the shipment. "My brother, well. He has some bad gambling debts. I stopped lending him money years ago over them. I didn't expect anyone to come after me for it! I haven't spoken to him in nearly a decade."

It was conversations like these that made Makoto feel like he had gotten off light in the sibling department.

"I'm just glad to see you're all right," he said, and meant it. "Did you need help with the order? We might not have time to go get your wagon."

"That would be awfully decent of you, after everything," the man agreed.

~

The party was a smash hit, much to the delight of future bride and groom and the entire staff of the establishment. By ten, half the room was wasted and Sayaka the waitress was sitting with Kori's fiance, singing sea shanties in surprisingly good voices for the amount of alcohol both had put down.

A good amount of this was due to one of the new drinks Emiko had whipped up going down incredibly well. It was several different kinds of alcohol, including one she claimed was called 'Fireball,' and a splash of pomegranate juice. It was spicy and sweet all together and he found he rather liked it.

That didn't mean he was going to sing in front of people, mind.

"Midori told me what you did for him," Emiko said to him while things were wrapping up at some point around one in the morning. "That was nice of you. But how did you know he was missing?"

Makoto shrugged, uncomfortable with this whole 'being nice' and 'being thought of as nice' thing. "I...may have overheard you and Sayaka talking with the owner this morning. Neither of you are types to get worked up over nothing."

A pause, and then, "I didn't realize you thought of us all that highly."

He looked up over the bar at her, swirling his as-yet unnamed spicy-sweet drink. "I wouldn't keep coming here if I didn't. Don't I typically listen to you?"

"I suppose," she said. "You don't exactly talk about how you feel about people much though, you know. Aside from complaining about your friends sometimes, I mean. For all I knew, you just thought of us as the less worse option."

"You are that as well," he agreed easily enough.

"Hm," she said, looking suspiciously bright-eyed. He shifted a few times on his seat, praying for a subject change. Someone seemed to hear him, as Emiko delivered. "Anyway! Since this was a hit, I'm supposed to name it. Any specialty drinks here have to be named after birds, so pick a bird."

It had something called 'fireball' in it, so the choice was easy. "How about a phoenix?"

"Fireball, phoenix. Makes sense," she agreed, but paused. "Are those even real? Ah, whatever. It works."

"They might be," he said, deliberately evenly. She peered at him curiously, but didn't press it, instead picking another topic.

"And how many does it take to get you to sing like the last time you got wasted here?" she asked, a lilt in her voice. "They're pretty strong."

"You don't have enough alcohol here to make me do that again," he objected. Because he didn't want to and he was using System Shock before he got that far, mind.

"Wanna bet?" she smirked, pulling a bottle of fireball off the shelf. "Loser starts at the next karaoke."

"Deal," he said, automatically, and downed the one he had. "But I won't lose."

"We'll see about that."

Maybe this whole 'good reputation' and 'doing nice things for people' thing wasn't so bad for its own sake, Makoto mused as Emiko mixed another newly-christened Phoenix. Certainly, it seemed to be fun for now.

Being nice isn't so bad...who knew?
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