Unknown Location, Sensory Division, The Hidden Cloud
"Do you know why they call me The Fisherman?"
Suspended by minimalist architecture from the high cliffs, the room was nothing short of magnificent. Wide, floor-to-ceiling height windows displayed the fiery sunset over the mountains. Brilliant orange and red light flooded into the office. Against the backdrop of the sky, with its billowing clouds, it was as if the office had melted into the clouds themselves.
Soma Takagari found herself in the cold, white and glass office of the Sensory Division's tower. For most of her adult life as a parent, the Mikiri had watched her relationship with Irui with unease. They'd always hovered in the background. Overbearing. She'd found the pressure smothering, they had never trusted her. Soma shifted in her seat at the far end of the alabaster table focused on the at the figure addressing her.
His form was slender, dressed in flowing, decorative white and red Kimono. Silver hair, much like her sons, flowed past his shoulders, bound by matching rings. Gently he cradled a hot beverage in his hands. "Because, Soma...." He continued softly, and stirred his drink. "The Hidden Cloud is the pool over which I survey. Nothing escapes my notice-- which is why I've brought you here, to discuss your son's... " He strode halfway down the table's length and paused. "Predicament. He violated an oath, one that we "
Soma's eyes flashed. "Predicament?" She questioned
A smile crossed the Fisherman's lips, and he set the saucer down on the table. The man interlaced his fingers and paced back towards the immense windows. "To stand at the top of the world, and look down upon the Five Nations is a privilege Soma. Long, long ago my ancestors came to an agreement with the Hidden Cloud, that we would guard this land's secrets, so long as we did not stray of the Land of Lightning. To live here, so close to the heavens is a privilege, Soma. For your child to have our blood flowing in his veins, is a privilege." He turned again towards her, meeting her gaze with stone. "What do you know about Mora Mikiri?"
Mogiri, the Purgeflame treaded over the marble flooring of St. Memori's cavernous interior. His footfalls echoed into the blackness, quivering and resounding here and there. In the man's right hand he clasped an iron lantern, fashioned from an ancient Flail, trailing a length of barbed chain. Softly he recited the hymns of the old days, gently rocking the lantern back and forth as its smoke lingered and curled through the night air.
"Jashin eléison...." His voice rasped gently. Embers, blessed by his prowess with the Fire Element flickered and danced, alighting on nearby torches. With a sharp hiss and pop, they burst into life in his wake.
The flamebearer had seen better days certainly; his face, half-concealed by a respirator, even in the dim light was pale and scarred-- gifts from his murderous father. His boots, affixed with support devices, clanked heavily against the stone and ivory-work at his feet. Long had he served this institution and the glory of Lord Jashin. Through his miracles he had been reborn, not as a cripple, but a warrior of Jashin, and through his suffering he'd found strength; undeniable authority over the flames that had remade him.
Now in the grand halls of the Cathedral of St. Memori, he could listen to the overwhelming silence. His life's work had been dedicated to preserving the artifacts and secrets it held. He paused and turned slowly to admire his handwork, and swept his gaze over the throat-like grand hall. Six-hundred and forty-three skulls rested in each block of stone, countless more had been incorporated inside the pillars. All of them sacrifices from long, long ago to the greatness of his Lord and Savior.
He raised a thin, wispy hand to the air, and snapped his fingers. A flash of flame erupted there, and all throughout the Cathedral, candles made of human remains flickered to life.
"....Kyrie eléison" Mogiri sang to the shadows.
A latch replied; the heavy gears of a distant door, grinding and clunking their way into place. Mogiri held his lantern out to the side, dangling it from its length of ornate golden chain, letting the smoke swirl about him. The cowled acolyte paced forward, his eyes searching. A pair finger's crept around the edge of the far door, pushing it aside. Cold mountain air ushered into the chamber, flowing past a boy garbed in the Hidden Cloud's traveling cloak. He was disheveled, and bore fresh scars, but he had no doubt.
"Irui," Mogiri greeted, his voice a rasp. A shiver of anticipation crept up the burnt man's spine. Lady Supreme had been expecting his arrival. Word had traveled quickly through the Church's eyes and ears from the Land of Water, that one of Mora's kin had failed the Chuunin Exams.
Mora Mikiri knelt before the small shrine of the Necrossiah in her office. She was completing her daily devotions to the earthly manifestation of Jashin when she heard a gentle knock on her door. The woman rose to her feet and called out: "Come in." A tall and profoundly scarred man entered the room. He was dressed in a golden robe and had a dagger tucked in his belt. Sacristan Lee-hei bowed before his Lady Superior, the apology for intruding on her devotions was implicit and sincere. She could see the man tremble as he rose back up. The house arrest was making him restless and agitated. Despite years of discipline and prayer, Lee-hei was haunted by an unquenchable urge to kill. Within the Orthodoxy this drive was a blessing, but if not tempered it could lead to the sect's destruction. What made Orthodox Jashinists far more successful than their cultist counterparts was their fidelity to rules, authority, and structure. They knew when to strike, when to sacrifice, and when to lay low. It had preserved their institution for hundreds of years whilst other sects came and went in the blink of an eye. Sacristan Lee-hei's zealotry had served the Church well. He had fearlessly led a coup against the Loyalists of Kumogakure and had gladly taken the fall when it did not result in an actual change of power. He had agreed to house arrest for the time being until the situation was sorted out.
"Irui Mikiri has arrived your Holiness"
Mora gave a casual nod and waved him away. The far taller man scurried away like a cowed child. He could tell from the look in her eye that she was in no mood to entertain his opinions. The Mikiri was wearing a black tunic with a red stole draped around her shoulders. The article was embroided with scenes of carnage and mutilation. A fitting representation of what her faith was about. Mora grabbed the papal ferula which hung from a place of honor in her study. She left the room and entered the inner sanctum to receive her wayward cousin.
From the moment Mora arrived, Irui would be able to see the anger on her face. Normally, the woman was not nearly as cheerful as Shimiko. Yet she wasn't overly hostile either. It was safe to say that her general countenance could best be described as neutral or solemn. Yet before him was a woman seething with rage. He and the twins had been the Church's representatives in this year's Exams. Yui and Yua were Shimiko's children and therefore outside of her practical jurisdiction. Even still, they had shown promise and wise judgment in how they handled the challenges they faced. Aside from some low cunning in the first round, Irui's performance was a disgrace. He had been yeeted like a ball during the Survival Bouts. He had brought shame upon his clan and his faith.
Mora walked up to Mogiri. The man had faithfully served as the Church's Custodian for many years and if not for his delicate touch and discerning eye, many of its greatest treasurers would have been lost in the years prior to the religion's legalization. This matter, however, was not for his ears.
"Leave us Mogiri"
Once she and Irui were alone, she peered into her kin's eyes and spoke the truth:
"You have failed me Irui. You have failed this Church. You have failed your Clan. Recall the words you said to me when you committed your life to the Orthodoxy...."
Mora remembered the day well. Irui had shown such promise as a Jashinist. He possessed a keen intellect, an avaricious spirit, and a desire for guidance. The words were replayed in her own mind.
"Lady Mora, I will serve Jashin," He said through breaths, "What I want, the shinobi world cannot give me-- I want more, I want it all."
"You said you wanted it all.....and I will tell you now as I told you then.....For those within the Church.....everything.....for those outside of it.....nothing. However, this liturgy is hard work. And when I read the reports of how you performed in the Exams, I can't help but realize you've done next to nothing with the talent Jashin has given you. Perhaps the Divine Church of Hakkin will be more to your liking? I hear they prefer lilies and invalids.....I asked Jashin for a Spymaster and he gave me a 無能 "
A black, nearly amorphous form birthed itself from the throat of the Church. The Lady Supreme of Jashin, Mora Mikiri. Swathed in the deepest black, Mora Mikiri moved, striding down the center of the inner sanctum. The air around her had twisted: no longer familial presence, it was thick with venom as she moved..
He felt his throat tighten. It was only a matter of time before his journey brought him back to this cathedral, and now he knelt on the cold marble. He'd bowed, out of sheer reflex, a movement only a child would take to appease an adult. He felt his body tensing, his pulse quickening, waiting for the blows that would come. His traveling cloak fell around him, and he lifted his gaze to meet eyes filled with torchlight. Over the crackle of flame he could feel the blood rushing through his veins, his heart accelerating.
"Leave us, Mogiri." Mora spoke.
Irui's eyes moved to the flame bearer as he wordlessly turned and limped down the nearest cooridor with his prosthetics clanking and rattling. His breath caught in his chest as it dawned on him that the two of them were alone. The flickering torches seemed to growl and thunder in the chasm-like expanse of the sanctum. With a breeze, Mora had suddenly crossed the gap between the two of them, and her shadow loomed overhead. There was violence in her eyes, smoldering fury creasing the lines of her face.
He swallowed hard, choking back emotion that clenched his throat; his brain twisting and turning itself over and over. Does he bow for mercy, for forgiveness before the church, does he bow out of weakness?
"You have failed me Irui." The shadow hissed, "You have failed this Church. You have failed your Clan. Recall the words you said to me when you committed your life to the Orthodoxy...."
He knew what he'd said in those dark halls, but Mora enunciated them clearly.
"You said you wanted it all..." The shadow spat, landing its first verbal blow. "and I will tell you now as I told you then--"
He winced for the second lashing.
"For those within the Church.....everything.....for those outside of it.....nothing. However, this liturgy is hard work. And when I read the reports of how you performed in the Exams, I can't help but realize you've done next to nothing with the talent Jashin has given you. Perhaps the Divine Church of Hakkin will be more to your liking? I hear they prefer lilies and invalids.....I asked Jashin for a Spymaster and he gave me an incompetent!"
I've failed the Chuunin Exams. I've failed my Clan, I've failed my Church, I've failed Lady Mora! I've failed so many times, so-- so many....
"I-- I..." Irui's voice came, small and ragged. "I don't-- No, I...I..." The floor had begun to lurch, every crevice and crack had become a gaping maw, as his thoughts swam, tossing and twisting in the cold sea of Mora's words. She didn't want to just punish him, no, she intended to drown him, to hold him under and leave him sucking water into his lungs--
A spark from a torch flared and bounced across the cold floor, it sent embers scurrying.
Your relative needs to decide what feels best for them, and if the Church isn’t the path that they feel is right in their heart and soul, then they need to find what is. Niko's words, warm like flame, crept into the forefront of his mind. Freedom of Choice is one of the luxuries all living creatures should possess.
He latched onto them, coiling his mind and soul around her words. Even if the memories of their training together singed him, it was a memory filled with sunlight, warm summer breezes.
"No," Irui ground out.
A flicker of lightning scurried across his fingers.
"No, no, no... He shook his head. His throat with emotion, and he bit it back, forcing it down. "I may have failed, but I-- I suffered--" He thrusted himself up, standing on his knees, and tore at his collar, exposing the side of his neck and shoulder. Flesh riddled with scars and traces of Ijutsu wound a curling path down the side of his neck, passing his shoulder and collar bone. Out of sight, it continued down his ribs, terminating just shy of the stomach. He'd been hurled across the field, somersaulting through trees before landing in a retaining pond. An unceremonious defeat.
"I, should not be alive!" He retorted with fire in his voice. "I suffered horribly and yet Jashin-sama brought me here!!" Irui cried, his eyes wide and dancing in the firelight. His chest heaved, bellow like as he breathed. He planted one foot beneath him, then another, and staggered to his feet. "I cannot explain it, but I should have died!"
Mora watched as the child cowered before her ire. She had no children of her own. The life of a Sacristan did not allow for such trivializes. However, if she ever were to have children, the most fun part would be instilling fear within them. Fear was a beautiful thing. The Jashinist scriptures had taught them that their Lord reveled in it. His Church was founded on fear. Not fear of death or bloodshed, but fear of displeasing him. Fear of failing to live up to the prophecies and blessing he had in store for them. It was this fear that animated their actions and made them the liveliest religious movement in history.
For Irui to cower in fear before her was a microcosm of their faith. He began to defy and deny her accusations. It started with stuttering and unfinished words before settling on a single one. It was simple in its structure but powerful in its meaning.
"No?" Mora questioned.
Does this boy dare talk back to his Lady Superior?
He repeated the words before yelling out that he should have died at the Exams. Mora was a bit taken aback when she saw the nature of the wounds afflicting his body. She wasn't a doctor but she could tell serious injury when she saw one. He proclaimed that he was alive because Jashin had willed it and judging from the shape he was in, she could not argue with that proposition. Unfortunately, barely surviving the Exams was not proof that he was on some divine journey. The concept of chance did exist in their religion. There was only one way to differentiate luck from blessing. She remained silent for a moment and then suddenly she struck Irui across the face with her papal ferula.
"You think you are alive because Lord Jashin wanted to survive? How dare you. Who are you to divine our God's will? There is only one person in the Orthodoxy with that privilege and she stands before you now. I will be the one to determine whether you survived because you have a life of service and glory ahead of you or whether you survived just so that Jashin could give me the pleasure of putting you down. You will have one more chance to fight for redemption Irui Mikiri and I will be your opponent!" she proclaimed.
Irui was in for a real treat. For the first time in a quarter-century, The Lady Superior of the Orthodox Church of Jashin was going to fight someone.
"I cannot explain it, but I should not be alive!!"
His words tore from his throat, ragged and choked. Within them was all the desperation, frustration and rage accumulated in his being. HIs heart pounded faster than ever before, his veins pumping with adrenaline, by Jashin it felt good to scream out. He wanted his voice more than anything to be heard.
Irui could feel his face flush, and swallowed hard, he knew he must have looked like a mad man to Miora. Let her see, let her take in the sight of her own drowning kin. Irui stared at her, watching the lines of her face crease and become polished cold steel. Suddenly she reached up with a thin, bony hand to the headdress resting on her crown--
The blow caught him across his face, the numerous beads and jewels smashed into his mouth and face with stunning force. He cried out and grasped his jaw, staggering as he regained his footing and turned to stare in shock at the older woman. He tasted red, felt the salty tang line his gums.
"You think you are alive because Lord Jashin wanted to survive?" Mora returned her words deathly cold, "How dare you. Who are you to divine our God's will? There is only one person in the Orthodoxy with that privilege and she stands before you now." Her voice sharpened and clear, there was no mercy in her tone. "I will be the one to determine whether you survived because you have a life of service and glory ahead of you or whether you survived just so that Jashin could give me the pleasure of putting you down." Mora continued, her voice rising with malice. "You will have one more chance to fight for redemption Irui Mikiri and I will be your opponent!"
That's how this was going to be. Irui wiped his mouth, vaguely tasting iron in his saliva, and threaded his hands together, one atop the other, wiping the grime and blood from the fingerless gloves. He briefly shook his head, managing a faint laugh at the incredulousness of it all. Niko had been right, but now the choice was his to make.
"You want to be my opponent?" He returned, dry spitting blood upon the floor. Irui drew himself up, his hair now hanging shaggily, a fresh scratch across his face. His lips parted into a white toothed grin. Both Mikiri stood only meters apart. Mora despite all her malice showing her true colors at the insubordination, it was all so exhilarating. He let his cloak drop to the floor-- it would only get in the way.
This was the price for insubordination to the Church. It would be the same price he'd pay for defying the Mikiri Clan, and so too would it be for any Jounin the Hidden Cloud. Oh this was something else, this was what he'd been hoping to uncover for so long: The Cloud, the Church, the Clan, they were all the same. Factions and organizations, each demanding fealty in one way or another-- life, time, and pounds of flesh in the name of a bloodline, deity and political figure.
"You'll have to hit harder then!"
A trio of senbon flashed into the fingers of his right hand.
With a violent splitting of air, forks of raw energy sprang from Irui's upturned left hand. The electricity writhed and snarled as it flew through the air for Mora's body. He was not going to be caught empty-handed--Tsuki Tetsudashi had taught him that lesson-- and he certainly wouldn't give the Lady Supreme the benefit of an opening.
Mora grinned when she saw Irui's expression after she had struck him. The grin grew more pronounced as she saw the blood dribble from his mouth. The Lady Superior's malicious smile was a reflection of her spirit in that moment. She relished combat. She understood it. It completed her. Unfortunately, her spiritual duties did not leave much time for physical correction and discipline. She left such matters to her Sacristans and where necessary her champion Shimiko Chinoike. The strike reminded her of how good it felt to bend someone to your will with a successful display of force.
Irui's spirit was far from broken though. Either he foolishly believed she'd be an easy opponent or he truly had become possessed by the spirit of their Lord. He spat the blood that she had so joyously spilled. He threw the challenge back in her face and insisted that her attack had been mediocre at best.
Unfortunately for him, he was right.
The senbon that appeared his hands did not escape her notice. The boy then loosed an electrical attack against her. The Lady Superior remained right where she was, not at all preturbed by the second-rate light show. She was the leader of the most feared death cult in the world, and she had grown up in Ligthing Country. What did she have to fear from some sparks.
Mora held out her outstretched hand. It was a normal regular palm. But just moments before it had made contact with the stream of lightning, her bloodline activated. The Inhaling Maw manifested in the blink of an eye swallowing up his pitiful Ninjutsu and adding its power to her own reserves. The religious leader slammed her ferula into the ground with enough force that the marble floor split. The object remained upright and at attention while Mora walked a single pace forward.
As an elderly woman, she tried not to jump around if she could help it. Fighting was a young girl's game and she had arthritis. And yet, despite her advanced age, there was a practiced skill about the way she moved. She grabbed the right sleeve of her top and ripped it off, she did the same with the left. In doing so, she revealed her Juuinjutsu. A series of Fuuinjutsu spiraled from her shoulders all the way down to her finger tips. The inheritance of her Clan crackled to life and a ball of blue flame was emitted from each fingertip. The seals on her arms glowed faintly and she spread her arms wide in a "Come at Me Bro" manner.
"Strength doesn't just come from force...It comes from experience, information, knowledge"
This would either be Irui's first lesson as a student of the Mikiri Clan's power or his last.
Last edited by Irui on Fri Jun 12, 2020 12:12 am; edited 1 time in total