Meanwhile, steam rose up in front of bright blue eyes as a warm broth slipped from ladle to bowl, filling it with a chicken flavored liquid, rice, and a few sparse chunks of the meat. The warmth inside the converted temple was mostly due to having blocked the whipping wind, but next to a cooking fire and a pot of bubbling soup, one was about as cozy as they could get in the mountains that winter. The piled up blankets and pillows, plush rugs, and hanging tapestries didn’t hurt, either, keeping the stone walls and floor from sucking the heat from the rooms too badly and insulating them somewhat. Small carvings of great cats prowling, others leaping and some breathing fire ran along the stone near the ceiling and floor, homage to a creature once sealed here. The Niibi had been released and sealed into a Jinchuuriki over a hundred years ago, and had not returned to this place since, though it had been sealed several times into new hosts. At the head and foot of each flight of stairs in the temple, a rampant version of Matatabi adorned both left and right side, mirrored. The workmanship was flawless, each looking more mass-produced than hand-carved, down to the detail. At least, they would, if the old temple hadn’t been worn in various ways, hands passing over the carvings for balance or simply to touch the artwork. Gas had been introduced at some point, so that all the old candles and their sad yellow fire instead produced a hot, blue flame that only died when a dial was turned down. The entire place had been built with the care of the Bijuu in mind, and had been absolutely forgotten ever since the day it had been sealed into the Raikage of the era. That is, until Konoha realized its strategic importance, dominating a valley that was the main path to Kumogakure no Sato and giving clear sight lines across the village and in the other direction as well.
When the forces from Konoha came to take the temple, the monks that had taken up residence put up very little resistance. Their protest was mostly peaceful, sitting in quiet solidarity near one another and chained to the entrance. The response from the ninja was a little more forceful, but no casualties had been suffered by the order, and they were all relocated to a different area that Spring. As for Konoha’s part, they spent their time reinforcing the outer wall from where it had suffered from some neglect, repairing the well and natural gas system, and installing a barracks for the garrison, then building watchtowers down the path from the temple. It was a simple matter of converting the old monks’ rooms to officers’ quarters after the important work had been done, and supplies had been packed in. The garrison rotated every so often, giving a chance for the rank and file shinobi to come home and get away from the thin air and the often cold weather, but this winter had been so harsh that they feared to move troops in and out of the area. Thus, the atmosphere was a little more cranky than usual, even with the beautiful Jounin commander they were wont to stare at.
Said commander padded in bare feet across the temple, the plush rug providing a comfort that she never really got at home. Her silken kimono hung from slender shoulders, wrapped loosely for comfort and ease of movement rather than any desire to appear sloppy or lazy. The material was dyed a very light pink, and patterned with the idea of roses, making soft swishing noises with every step. Soup bowl balanced easily in one hand, too hot to touch comfortably but seeming not to bother the dark-haired girl carrying it casually at all, her other hand occupied with a book that she was reading. Deft fingers turned the page twice as she walked, until finally the girl arrived at her destination, a large room that had once been home to three monks now converted to a Jounin’s single living area. She had just sat down at a desk and was blowing gently upon a spoonful of soup when a knock on the door paused her. “Go ahead,” came the quiet reply, and an older male stepped in.
“Sorry to bother, Taichou, but it seems the envoy from Sunagakure we were expecting is some two hours late – we fear they may have gotten lost. It’s some kid or other, I think. I’ve sent guys out, but no one’s seen him. We just wondered if we should maybe call it off and wait until morning,” the Chuunin stated, eyes glancing down at Rei’s dinner for a moment before raising back to her eyes. He seemed to stand up straighter at that, swallowing back a lump of anxiety as she gazed coolly at him. The girl held his gaze for a long moment, her mind working through. Her men weren’t lazy, but no one wanted to be out in the wind and the deep snow for too long – in fact, it was policy, to keep them in good health. She couldn’t have all those on duty and watch sniffling and sneezing and being generally unaware. The decision made, she set her spoon back into the soup, and stood, slipping on her sandals.
“I’ll go. Eat this. I’ll have to get more when I come back,” she stated – it was obvious that he was hungry, and what she had in the bowl would be uncomfortably cold when she returned. “Close the door, though. I can’t give my dinner to everyone if they find out,” she continued, stepping quickly past him before he could protest, and then further down the hall. The man hesitated for several moments afterward, staring at the steam rising off the recently poured soup, before quietly closing the door behind himself and moving over to her desk, sitting down at it and beginning to eat. Man, that girl was cold, but at least her pragmatism was untarnished by class or rank. A lot of the guys he’d had as captain would have let that bowl sit uneaten, thrown it away, and gotten more if they’d deigned to leave their room at all. They’d rather do that than share a meal with someone lower ranked, and had gotten a few of them in some trouble when skirmishing with Kumogakure guerrilla forces. Sometimes the men just weren’t as focused on protecting you if they were hungry.
For Rei’s part, her hair was down for once and it immediately blew aside along with the fabric of her kimono as she stepped into the freezing night, the path mostly cleared of snow. She knew that her men would have checked all down the mountain path, and so this representative, whoever they were, was likely either lost somewhere off the path, or not on this peak at all. Rei held in a sigh as she glanced about with those crystalline blue orbs before deciding to check off the trail first, then the next highest summit, and the next…
When finally she heard the frustrated cry of her target, she was on the third such voyage, having searched with the speed of one moving alone and in somewhat familiar territory, unburdened by the snow and mostly unbothered by the cold. The ivory-skinned girl tread softly upon the snow, making hardly a crunch as she rounded the edge of a ridge to find a teen likely a bit younger than herself sunk down almost to the knees in the stuff, clearly exasperated, cold, and upset. She appeared almost as an apparition from the night air, one slender leg peeking from her slightly displaced kimono, the obi tied loosely and allowing more cleavage than was likely appropriate. Long bell sleeves hid one hand as the other, pale even next to the snow, reached out to him, little points of frost in her black hair and blue eyes reflecting the moonlight.
“You’re on the wrong mountain,” she said calmly, hoping to pull him out of the snow.
_________________Who will be your pretty little enemy?
When I'm gone, your world will prove empty. I promise, you will always remember me