Scarlett watched as Snake walked Dojo out of the compound and let the wolf run off. Wolves being territorial animals, even though Dojo was loyal to Snake-Eyes, it was still best to send him away from the compound - at least for the time being, so the wolf wouldn't attack the new trainees.
A ball of wrestling wolf puppies barreled into Scarlett's leg, growling and yipping. Chuckling, she stepped back and watched. Amidst the rough-and-tumble noises, Timber let out a yelp.
"Romulus, don't bite your brother so hard," she scolded the nipping pup, who perked up his ears and gave her his best I-didn't-do-anything look.
"What is holding these trainees?" Junko's voice nearly made Scarlett jump. "They have an Arashikage ninja guiding them. They shouldn't be lost."
Scarlett turned around and almost lost her balance when Remus scrambled onto her foot, apparently not wanting any part of the play-fight. "Mornin-... uh... Afternoon, Junko."
Junko smiled. "Afternoon to you too, Shana. Where's Snake?"
"Out with Dojo." She scooped up Remus and cradled him in her arms. The pup sighed with contentment and closed his eyes.
"Mm, yeah, I suppose, along with Romulus. Snake favors Timber too much, so I give a little love to the rest." She scratched behind the pup's ear.
"He probably just misses the original one." Junko watched the lighter of the two pups wrestling on the ground.
"I miss him too." Scarlett absentmindedly stroked Remus's head. "He was awfully nice. Friendly, loyal, and a good fighter. He lived to a nice old age - much longer than he should have lived, really." She sighed.
Junko nodded silently in agreement, sensing a sensitive topic and deciding not to discuss it out in the open. "I heard this batch of trainees is promising. Of course, it's one thing to be allowed to train here and another to stay here."
"Agreed." The redhead grinned. "Same goes with greenies back at the Pit. Some of them get cocky because they got in, and most of them wash out."
"This is going to be fun." Junko returned the smirk. "There's eleven coming in. I'm willing to bet four will be gone by the end of the week."
"Care to put your money where your mouth is?"
Thoughtfully, Junko tapped on her chin before answering, "Sure. Twenty says eight remain by the end of the week."
Scarlett leaned closer, as if about to share a secret. "Twenty on six remaining."
"Deal." Junko shook hands with her, making both women laugh.
"Are you two placing bets on my students?" A voice asked from behind. Scarlett flinched.
Scowling with irritation for being snuck up on, she turned around to glare at the Phoenix Master. "So what it to you if we do? You want the very best students, don't you? The smaller the numbers, the better."
"True," Tommy admitted, looking bemused. "But I don't want too few students. We're still a pretty small clan."
Three heads turned towards Billy, who was running over to them. "They're here."
The man made a noise of irritation. "They're late."
"One of them fell and sprained a wrist on the way here," his former apprentice answered. "The whole group stopped to care for him."
Tommy frowned. While trainees helping each other out was generally viewed as a positive thing, he didn't appreciate being kept waiting. First impressions were important, and at the moment, the new group was giving the impression that they would rather stop for several hours to treat a mere sprained wrist than be on time for an important meeting. Not to mention the delay revealed a bit about the tenacity of that particular trainee.
"Thank you, Billy, for the information," he finally said as he began walking towards the front gate. "A pity they didn't think to deliver it themselves. It would have gained them some points."
"Agreed." Billy trotted alongside him, followed by Scarlett and Junko. "Snake should meet us at the front. He also wants to give the newcomers a proper 'welcome.'" He grinned a slow, thin grin that looked disturbingly similar to Tommy's.
As Scarlett broke off with Junko to stand to the side and observe, the gates to the compound opened slowly, letting a bedraggled-looking group of people through. They looked like they had just run a marathon; their clothes were dark with sweat and their faces were flushed.
She couldn't help feeling confused. This group had potential? She personally knew that hiking up to the compound was not easy, but for the physically fit - like this group was supposed to be - it shouldn't be completely taxing.
Junko must have sensed her confusion; she leaned over and murmured, "Trainee groups are taken in loops and detours on the way up. That way, they don't know for certain where the compound is. I think Tadao made them run to make up for lost time."
A gray-clad ninja Scarlett assumed was Tadao melted from the group to stand before Tommy. He bowed deeply. "Honored Phoenix Master. I deeply apologize for our tardiness. I should have anticipated something like this happening, and I take full responsibility."
Tommy acknowledged the bow with a dip of the head. "It is not completely your fault. I know you didn't expect black-belts to fall." He glanced at a man in the group with his wrist bandaged. The unfortunate man's eyes briefly widened with fear before narrowing in what was probably indignation.
"However," Tommy's voice was a low, displeased rumble. "It was your mission to safely escort them here."
"I understand. I won't let it happen again." Tadao murmured.
"Good. You are dismissed."
Tadao bowed deeply again before slipping into the shadows. Taking a deep breath, Tommy turned to the tired group.
"Greetings. Congratulations on getting in here, although I cannot guarantee any of you will stay here. I am the Phoenix Master, and you may only address me as such."
Murmurs broke out through the group. Tommy's gaze went hard. "This is a simple introduction. Personally, I see no reason for there to be talking."
They grew quiet, then a small shriek rang out. The entire group went into chaos as they frantically looked around for what scared one of them. Some looked at the ground, some looked around, and some looked up. Tommy merely turned his head towards the rooftops.
Snake-Eyes silently swung down from the roof where he had been perched, surveying the new batch of trainees. The newcomers went deathly-silent, stunned at the sight of a black humanoid form walking towards the Phoenix Master.
"This is the Silent Master." Tommy grinned at his brother as he took his place beside him. "He will not be instructing as much as Billy," he nodded towards the young man, "or I will be, but he is still a Master and will be treated with respect. Do I make myself clear?"
A loud chorus of, "Yes, Phoenix Master!" echoed around the courtyard. Scarlett had to stifle a giggle at the look on Tommy's face.
"You're not in the military," he said slowly. "Ninja do not shout. Acknowledgement of orders is necessary, but does not need to be screamed to the world. Do you understand?"
Waves of significantly quieter, "Yes, Phoenix Master," rippled through the group.
Scarlett slowly tuned out Tommy's voice as he laid out rules, expectations, information, and the like. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a gray thing in motion. She moved her head slightly to look at it; a prick of anxiety ran through her.
Dojo - who was supposed to still be outside, wandering the mountain - had returned to the compound, a severed goat leg in his mouth. He watched the group with wary eyes and stood still, contemplating.
"Hey," Scarlett whisper-shouted to the wolf, who looked at her. "C'mere." She whistled quietly.
Much to her disappointment, he merely flicked an ear and began trotting towards Snake-Eyes.
"Nonononono..." Scarlett tried calling him back, with no result. The wolf wanted to go to Snake, and obviously didn't feel like listening to her.
"... Get a few days rest due to the elevation of this compound..." Tommy trailed off as Dojo approached. He heard gasps of, "Is that a wolf?" and "Holy shit, look, it killed something."
With all the nonchalance in the world, Dojo came to a halt in front of Snake-Eyes and delicately placed the bloody leg at his feet. Then he sat down and gave his Alpha a look that could only be interpreted as, "Eat, you idiot. I haven't seen you eat yet today, so eat."
An awkward silence filled the courtyard. Scarlett rubbed her face with both hands, unsure whether to laugh out loud or feel embarrassed.
Just then, the puppies - smelling the pungent odor of fresh meat - dashed from behind her legs and made a beeline for the goat. Once they got there, however, they weren't sure what to do with it other than mouth its flesh; they weren't ready to eat prey directly.
Tommy was slowly massaging his temples as Snake awkwardly picked up the carcass part to move it. High-pitched whines and whimpers filled the air as the puppies pawed his leg and stepped on his boots, begging for food. Carefully, Snake lifted a foot and set it down behind them; they immediately swarmed that one again and resumed their pleas. Dojo looked on indifferently, perhaps insulted that his Alpha hadn't chosen to eat his offering right there and then.
"We should probably go help," Junko snickered. Scarlett nodded her agreement, and both women made their way towards Snake and the wolves.
The puppies definitely saw them - they looked in their direction and their ears perked. "Come," Scarlett called out, snapping her fingers.
Instead, the puppies took off... in the direction of the trainees.
Their gray bodies bobbed up and down as they ran. The trainees instinctively moved backwards, some of them laughing, some of them eyeing the pups warily. Romulus ran through the crowd, dashing between legs and over shoes. Timber followed playfully, while Remus skidded to a halt within three feet of the first human and stayed there, whimpering after his brothers.
At the sound of the whimper, Dojo immediately stood up. He let out a low growl, baring his teeth, and began stalking towards the group, daring them to hurt his pack members. All giggles of delight from the recruits at the sight of puppies promptly evaporated at the sight of an adult wolf heading towards them. Several members tensed up immediately.
Scarlett said a very bad word under her breath and broke into a run towards Dojo. "Don't run!" she called to the group. "Whatever you do, don't run! Stay together!"
Her warning came too late; one member broke off from the group, his eyes wide with panic, and sprinted towards the open gates. Dojo locked his gaze on him-
And was blind-sided by Snake-Eyes, who had beat Scarlett to the wolf. Pining Dojo down, Snake grabbed him by the muzzle and pressed down not-at-all-gently as his other hand targeted his neck. Realizing that his Alpha was not pleased with him, Dojo whimpered pathetically underneath him, his tail curling between his hind legs as he begged for mercy.
Releasing a breath she wasn't aware she'd been holding, Scarlett returned to the task of gathering the pups, which proved to be a little easier than before since they could pick up on human agitation. Retrieving Remus was no problem - the frightened pup ran back to her. And Timber, realizing that the humans had no intention of playing, returned to her with head held low and guilty ears.
Romulus was still on the loose, thoroughly enjoying dashing at the recruits and sending them backing up quickly or - better - jumping out of reach. He wasn't responding to calls, and chasing him was out of the question; he'd just scamper away. Scarlett groaned in frustration as she followed him around.
A hand shot out and scooped up the pup unexpectedly, making Romulus yelp in surprise and wriggle about. Scarlett's heart seized with panic and she rushed over, intent on punching the person if they hurt the puppy. Much to her relief, Billy was cradling Romulus in his arms, holding the pup's jaws shut with two fingers.
"Thank you," she breathed, taking the little wolf. "That's smart, blending in with the crowd then picking him up when he gets close." She pinched Romulus's muzzle to simulate a bite. "Naughty puppy." She turned to Junko, who was holding both Timber and Remus. "Let's get the little ones back to my room."
She gave a quick nod and fell into step beside her, followed by a repentant Dojo. "That could have gone a lot better," she whispered.
"Agreed." Scarlett gave Romulus's scruff a light yank when he gnawed on her thumb. "I just hope you guys don't lose too many students because of this."
"Not to worry. We'll think up a decent explanation for this. Like maybe the wolves are being kept in the compound to test how they handle fear, and if they cannot handle the wolves' presence, they won't be able to face a real human enemy."
"Good explanation." Scarlett nudged her with an elbow. "Make sure you tell Tommy that."
"No need to. I'm sure he heard me." Junko glanced over her shoulder and gave her husband a small smile.
Behind them, Tommy took a deep breath as he watched Junko turn back around. He released it slowly in an effort to calm down and turned to the trainees, who were still obviously on edge but determined not to show it.
"Those wolves belong to the Silent Master," he explained. "They're here to get accustomed to humans and to test how you handle fear. Unless you stupidly provoke them, they will not attack you. So if you feel that you cannot even handle being in the presence of an animal or you do not trust yourself not to do something stupid, then please leave now."
Silence. Nobody moved.
"Good." He grinned, redirecting his gaze to the blood splattered on the courtyard floor from Dojo's 'gift' to his Alpha. "Now the Silent Master will demonstrate how we clean up blood around here."