Daughters of the Desert
She knows that the foreign ninja will die here. Move out of the green, fertile land that stretches thirty miles from the border with Fire and the terrain quickly becomes desert. There are only a handful of oases here and all are very well-hidden.
Her job is to make sure that they are cut off from reinforcements and supplies. She glances at her teammates. One of them checks his kunai quietly, going over the blades carefully, while the other is composing the initial mission report. Both are good, solid shinobi. They don't have any particular specialities so are often put in squads that need extra members or assigned to missions that don't require a particular skill set. This is the first time she's worked with them though.
She shakes herself abruptly. Losing herself in her thoughts is a bad habit that she's struggling to get rid of. A brief glance at her pouch reveals that she's missing an important ingredient. She studies the landscape around her and excuses herself from the camp site, muttering quietly.
When she returns, they've started to plan the last phase of their mission. They explain what they've come up with so far and she nods in approval. Her addition is the rare plant she'd spent the last hour searching for. After she's finished describing its properties, they eye it -and her- with a wary respect.
She's unsure how she feels about this. On one hand, a lot of people underestimate her because of her joking tendencies and she prefers it that way. She likes to consider it a measure of her acting abilities that the girl who was apprenticed to the inventor of battle puppetry at a young age is still dismissed as a threat. On the other though, it's slightly irritating being passed over for the more interesting missions a lot of the time. Getting assigned to this one had taken a lot of persuasion.
The foreign ninja are actually camped fairly close, not that they'd realised this, of course. One teammate distracts the sentry while the other gathers their water into a pile. She crushes the plant's leaves into a fine powder and adds it to the water.
Briefly, as she and her teammates melt back into the night, she has pity for them. Orders may be orders but it will be a horrendous way to die.
She wraps the shawl around her shoulders tighter. Desert nights can be deadly to the unwary and she isn't a fool. Except when that boy looks at her and she feels that she has to prove herself to him even though she shouldn't need to because she is who she is and if he doesn't like it, tough.
Her fan is a comforting weight against her side as she sits on top of the wall. Sentry duty is particularly unpleasant in the early hours of the morning when the sun has yet to rise. She has a suspicion that she knows who landed her this task and idly muses on how she can get back at the idiot.
But of course there's still the other idiot who signed off on the duty schedule and she's not stupid enough to try getting revenge on him even if he's changed so much that sometimes she wonders if he's actually the same person as she remembers from her childhood.
It's nearing the end of her shift when she spots activity out on the sands. There's someone staggering towards the village, his arm slung over his apprentice's shoulder. The girl seems to be struggling with his weight.
That girl... She'd thought her useless at first, much like the other one, but she'd improved and even been taken as an apprentice by him, something that she'd thought nearly impossible.
She sighs as she goes to order the gate opened and a medic called. She inspects him as he stumbles through the gate. With his clothing as dark as it is, it's hard to tell if he's bleeding or not but there are rips in important enough places that he probably is. When he arrives, the medic certainly seems to think so and they disappear off to the hospital swiftly.
Well, she thinks, he's lucky. His injuries have saved him from her wrath for the moment.
However, she will get her revenge eventually. Perhaps if she manages to get him assigned a nice spot of border patrol (preferably the Rain Country one), it will teach him not to suggest that she's willing to take the pre-dawn shift again.
She wanders through the canyon. Her teacher has assigned her a training exercise and she's determined to succeed. She knows that he still has doubts about whether she only sees him as a poor replacement for his brother. Taking this seriously should help to relieve them.
Studying the cracks in the canyon wall, she notices a glint of metal out of the corner of her eye. She resists the urge to stare at it and continues her inspection. Here is a rare wild flower, shying away from the harsh sun. She names its properties mentally and gingerly sniffs at it.
The glint is gone now. She makes her way over to where she thought it'd been coming from, stopping to look at the flowers along the way. The sun is hot against her head and she wishes that she hadn't abandoned her bandana-style headband for the more common version tied around her head. The path of change, she reminds herself, requires sacrifices and at least the other major change, shorter hair, was cooler.
It's two hours later and the exercise is over. She presents her teacher with the things she'd collected. He grunts in approval at some of her choices while discarding others. Half-way through, he snorts in surprise and holds up a petal.
Apparently she's found something incredibly rare and he wants to know where.
She considers him as they prepare to return to the canyon. Despite what he thinks, it has never been about settling for second-best. After all, he is the best in his field, even if he's not the strongest shinobi in Suna. With Chiyo-baa-sama dead, there is no one more knowledgeable in the use of poisons in battle than him. Her weapon, the fukiya, had been chosen after her chakra control was found to be insufficient for puppetry. She'd approached him for training but it had taken so much effort to persuade that she was serious that she'd almost given up. Eventually her perservance had been rewarded though.
The crevice is unassuming but he eyes its contents with awe. He's brought along a couple of puppeteers who seem to hold it in the same regard. They gently lift the plant out into the pot they'd prepared for it. Her role in its discovery surprises them but his insistence that she be acknowledged as the discoverer makes her think that perhaps he's leaving his doubts behind.
She flops on the ground. Normally, she'd be inside at this time of day but due to her teacher's schedule, this had been the only time he could spare to train with her.
Heat in Suna is dry and unforgiving. She remembers the forest that her parents had taken her to once before their deaths. In there, it had seemed like the temperature never mattered. They'd spent the entire day there, just the three of them. She knows that they pored over maps before going but cannot recall where it was. The maps are still in boxes somewhere as she hadn't been able to bring herself to get rid of most of her parents' stuff after their deaths. Even the thought of returning without them is difficult. An inability to move on doesn't suit a shinobi, she knows, but it's so hard sometimes. This is part of the reason why she admires her teacher, he would never have such problems.
Her teacher offers her a hand up and she smiles shyly. Their training session resumes as they start sparring. He comments that she's gotten faster and she laps up the rare praise, blushing.
Unfortunately he's quickly called away and she sighs. Training in this heat is incredibly foolish. Maybe her help would be welcome somewhere cooler.
Her teacher is departing, taking his siblings as bodyguards and she's come to see them off along with half the village. It's early in the morning but it already seems that it will be a hot day. She's vaguely envious as he'd mentioned that the land they're going to has snow a lot of the time. The only time she'd seen the stuff was on a mission in the northern part of the Land of Wind but she'd never forgotten the experience.
She never says goodbye to people any more. The last time she did, it was her parents and they never returned.
However, he is so strong... So maybe it will be all right to try now.
The words come this time and she smiles brightly as she warns him to be careful. Beside her, her best friend glances at her in surprise before smiling as well.
The sun beats down on them as they watch him depart. He and his siblings are specks on the horizon when they turn away.
She leads her students to a dried-up oasis. Part of their training is learning how to survive in the desert and finding water is key to that.
Last time she'd come this way, the pool had still been full with plants scattered around the edge. That was a month ago. Now, there is barely a muddy puddle with a few shrivelled plants surrounding it.
This is the way of the desert though. Fortunately, it had only been a small oasis. Still, she will have to report it when they return to Suna. Every oasis is carefully monitored and checked regularly. Up-to-date knowledge of their location can make the difference between life and death, particularly in wartime.
There are key jutsu that she can teach them here though. Small things, of no use in battle, but potentially life-saving all the same.
As she weaves seals for the water purification jutsu, she notices her female student isn't paying attention. She doesn't stop her demonstration though but starts to explain the various effects drinking unclean water can have in graphic detail.
One student actually seems interested in her lecture and she wonders if perhaps he would make a better medic-nin. Maybe her brother can have a look when they go home.
Her daughter looks disappointed by the end of the story while her son has fallen asleep, curled up in her lap. Soon there will be no room for him there as her pregnancy advances. Her husband is late and she has a feeling that he's occupied by the rumours of an old well drying up. She sighs, it is the latest in a string of recent minor crises Suna has faced and his mood has rarely improved in the past fortnight.
Her brother lifts her son up and carries him to his room. She has no idea how she would cope without him sometimes.
She looks out of the cave she's sheltering in. The storm rages harder and she tightens the cloth wrapped around her head. Next to her, her student copies her. The girl is still at the stage where she imitates her constantly and she hopes that it will pass soon because it gets irritating sometimes even though she will never tell her off for it.
It had been close. Half an hour ago, they'd been sent racing for cover along with the caravan they were escorting when it had blown up almost out of nowhere.
For civilians, the caravan members had coped remarkably well. There had been no arguments, everyone had simply concentrated on out-running the storm. But, she supposed, they had worked the main trade route to Suna for almost as long as the village had been in existence after all.
Their visits had been the highlight of her childhood and she hoped her son would enjoy them as much as she had. Her husband hadn't been keen on her taking this mission but he'd managed to see that Suna needed her even if it was only to do C-rank escorts. He'd taken a string of missions as well, leaving their son in the care of his mother. This is the difficulty of being an active ninja as well as a mother and not for the first time, she wonders whether it would have been better to take a full genin squad rather than a single apprentice, enabling her to spend more time with her child.
The caravan leader joins her at the mouth of the cave and comments on the unusually fierce storm. She nods absently and glances down at a tug on her skirt. A tiny girl stares up at her fearlessly, holding her hands up to her. Her lips curve upwards behind the cloth which covers most of her face. She looks at the man and he nods so she scoops the girl up. He introduces her as his niece and asks if she has children of her own.
She smiles at the thought of her son. He'd just learned to walk when she'd left and was already showing signs of being clever with his hands.
Her mother-in-law was delighted and had promised to teach him puppetry when he was older. She's not so sure about this but keeps her silence. He's still young and there will be plenty of time to discuss his future.
So this featured Chiyo, Fumiya (Sasori's mother), Karura, Matsuri, Sari and Temari. Hopefully it's obvious who was who.
Fukiya - Japanese blowgun (a traditional ninja weapon).