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1 The Phantom's Fourth Trial [Plot | Training] on Wed Sep 30, 2015 2:13 am



Kokugatsu Island was beautiful, tropical place in a different dimension. Time was strange there, as it shifted freely between day and night at random intervals and occasionally was stuck at dusk for hours, with the sun just below the horizon and the sky fading to a stale gray. Stars were visible at all times, regardless of whether it was bright or not. Daraku admired its vivid scenery, along with the peaceful waters and lush forests that altogether created a special charm that made the island really seem otherworldly. Daraku was summoned to the island by Shōta on his third day back in Sunagakure, on request. The trip was instant, thanks to the wonders of the summoning jutsu, and he found himself standing in the sand during sunset with a bag over his shoulder, the ocean behind him and the moth's rainforest ahead of him. Shōta was probably in the forest at the base of his tree, like he usually was, and Jun was perched on Daraku's shoulder. "Feels nice being back here. I feel connected to the island." Jun fluttered her and shuffled in place as she replied, Of course. As a moth sage, this is your domain just as much as it is ours. The two spoke and laughed with one another as Daraku trudged through the silvery sands.

By the time they had gotten into the forest, it was dark and all the other moths had taken shelter under leaves and plants as it started to rain. Daraku didn't mind; he had worn some casual clothing, nothing more than a sweater and cargo shorts, but it wasn't a big deal if he got wet. He carefully let Jun crawl inside his sweater so she didn't get her wings wet. Shōta greeted the two warmly. "Hello, Daraku. Good to see you again." Daraku bowed politely. "Likewise, master Shōta. I hear Jun's already told you about my problems as of late." Shōta's antennae shifted as he moved forward, carelessly stepping out into the rain to get closer to Daraku. Daraku figured the sage's wings were big enough to still be able to use even if they were wet, so it probably didn't matter. "Yes...manic episodes and the like. Essentially, you've fallen to madness. Or rather, you've always been mad, but it's starting to consume you." Although the dusk moth sage wasn't entirely wrong, Daraku gave him a smirk and rolled his eyes jokingly. "Way to sugar coat it. But yeah, you understand the problem. Do you think that pursuing Senjutsu further could be a solution?"

Shōta explained that he wasn't sure; his understandings of humans and their physical responses to senjutsu were somewhat limited, especially considering the fact that most of his former pupils had either become moths or were turned to stone and thus had never completed their senjutsu training or achieved Sage Mode. Daraku figured it was his best shot at fixing things long-term, though, so he agreed to stay on the Island anyway. "If you think it will be beneficial to you, you are welcome to stay. I have no more to teach you but I will meditate with you whenever you would like." Daraku smiled and asked where he should stay for the night. Jun interrupted, insisting that he stay within one of the hollow trees in the forest since it would offer the most shelter and it was close to Shōta's tree.

Daraku found a suitable hollow tree nearby and set down his bag, taking out his makeshift bedding along with his blankets, a pillow, and his clothes. He organized everything neatly in the room and once it was set, he scaled the tree to the top and sat in one of the highest branches overlooking the rest of the area. The rain was heavy, but the stars overhead illuminated the night and ensured the world was beautiful. Daraku closed his eyes, entered Sage Mode, and let the natural chakra flow through him.




Day 2

A storm had occurred the previous night. Thunder booming every few seconds followed by the lightning that lit up the sky. Everything was soaked once daylight came. The ground below was a muddy mess, with the occasional sprout or leaf sinking into the dark muck. The trees stood widely unaffected, but one of the larger ones had toppled and was now lost in the mud as well. That tree was further to the east of the forest, though, so the moths were all OK. Jun remained with Daraku at all times, since she loved his company as he did hers. And now, it's quiet and I have my focus. Daraku had been meditating all night, with no real need for sleep. No longer atop the tree, but rather inside of it on top of his blankets, he let the silence fill him like a slow torrent fills a tide pool. He had maintained Sage Mode all night, since meditating allowed him to keep up his chakra by taking in natural energy. It was tiring in battle merely because the user had to exert themselves a lot in order to use its augmentation capabilities and jutsu, but when it was peaceful and the user was just connecting with nature, it was more of a therapeutic thing than anything. The small changes the form granted him were actually a sign of his imperfection and his inability to have complete control of the technique; they were a minor, temporary version of the change those who fail in senjutsu end up undergoing as they turn into the species they learned from. He'd learned that the greatest sages of the past maintained their own physical appearance during Sage Mode, aside from changes in eye color and chakra levels. He knew that he didn't have that capacity; Sage Mode itself was his limit, and taking Senjutsu any farther was prevented by his personality itself. He lacked the self-control and composure to have perfect synchronization with nature. It was alright, though; the fact that he had attained Sage Mode at all was amazing to him and he was happy to the have the skill. His eyes closed and one hand raised, he felt his facial features with his index and middle finger. First, his face; the texture of his skin was slightly different, just enough for him to be able to tell. He brushed his fingers over his eyelids, able to feel the shape of his compoundeyes underneath. Adjusting to vision was strange, when he first learned Sage Mode, since it was like seeing the same thing from every angle and perspective at once. But after he'd gotten used to it, it was actually kind of cool. It let him react to things much more quickly than he was able to before. Finally, his hand reached the thin antenna on the right side of his head, and it twitched in response. He didn't have conscious control of his antennae; they moved on their own, but his mind received signals from them instantaneously whenever they sensed a change in the environment and it furthered his reaction time even more. His reflexes were inhumanly quick in this form.

The sage let his arm fall to his lap again, and he rested his hands in the center of his crossed legs. My imperfection actually gives me an advantage...I like the thought of that. Daraku thought as he burrowed deeper into his mind. While he was taking in natural energy, his schizophrenia went into dormancy, but he needed to invoke it so that he could confront the problem and deal with it at its source. In his head, he saw things as an open space covered in sand, same as it was in Suna, only in his thoughts, there were no buildings or people, just open desert for as far as anyone could see. It wasn't windy or anything, either; no sandstorm, no breeze. Just sand. He stood in the center of the desert, his vision of himself carrying an unrecognizable sword and wearing only a golden silk wrap around his waist. This was his avatar, an embodiment of who he thought he was in that moment. His real self was lost in this thought, in meditation so deep it was nearly a slumber. The avatar started to walk straight ahead through the endless expanse of sand, and suddenly mirages began to appear around him. Pain, murder, war, genocide, destruction. He recognized some of the faces, but he couldn't identify any of them by name. What bothered him was that the sword being used in all of these mirages was the same one he held in his hand, and he couldn't help but feel he was causing all of this. Voices came next, the ones that usually plagued him during one of his episodes. His father's, his childhood friends, his victims. What is it you're looking for here, Daraku? Tsurugi's voice echoed through the white desert. Whatever is causing all of this. Daraku thought; his avatar's mouth moved with the words as it continued through the sands. The mirages stopped at once, and the sun was sinking over the horizon at blazing fast speed now. The skies changed color from blue to violent orange to blood red. He stopped moving...he was sinking into the sand for some reason and he couldn't move at all. Tsurugi was towering over him and a sandstorm picked up. Daraku didn't react at all. He remained calm and let the sand drag him down and then everything was dark and he felt a great pressure crushing him. All he did was close his eyes, and within seconds his kekkei genkai activated and he phased through the sand until he was back on the surface. Tsurugi was there still. Where is he?

I'm right here. His voice distorted, now deep and monstrous like it had been when Daraku was hallucinating in Kumogakure. Daraku shook his head, still lacking any substantial emotion or change in mental state. His concentration was too strong to be broken. When his avatar next spoke, it spoke in a much louder, booming voice that filled the desert with sound. Where is he? he insisted, and Tsurugi faded as the sun disappeared, leaving everything pitch black. Daraku lifted a hand and released a brilliant golden light in the sun's place. Now the figure in front of him was different; the same height as him, but nothing more than a living shadow. Whatever it was, it was using his kekkei genkai. ...Daraku. he said to himself. This thing in front of him was his other half; it had the same chakra signature and appearance as him, but it didn't release the Lurking Darkness technique. It maintained it while it spoke. So you figured it out then, it replied to him, now with his own voice. It was the last possible conclusion I could make. I originally thought that since the hallucinations started coming after I killed Tsurugi, it was because of him. But it was never him that was the problem, but the act of murder itself. Assassination, the task I was forced to do throughout my teenage years...what I was trained for. It wasn't the death of my father that drove me mad. It was the loss of my innocence, the corruption that consumed me and made me a ruthless killer that drove me mad. And here you are, right in front of me. I'm my own worst enemy."

♫ Akihiro's Will ♫

Daraku didn't know there was a library in his home. At the young age of 14, he had been told that the southwestern corner of the Ishido Castle was closed permanently due to damages. He didn't remember that as a young boy, that was where the library was, and that was where his mother had spent time teaching him how to read. Once he returned to Sunagakure and reunited the Ishido clan, he found out for himself that his father had placed a seal on the entrance to the library and forbidden anyone from going inside. So, when the seal was undone and the library was open, Daraku found countless texts and scrolls detailing the history of the Ishido. One specific scroll was written by the son of Akihiro Ishido, the clan's founder and former patriarch. It was about the clan's foundation...Daraku read through the entire thing in one night.

Akihiro Ishido and his family were distant descendants from the Iburi of Hi no Kuni. The Iburi were a clan widely known for their ability to turn into smoke at will and thus become intangible at the cost of risking permanent death if the smoke was dissipated somehow. Ultimately, they were all killed by a man named Orochimaru as he tried to take their ability as his own. Akihiro was the first to discover that he was born with a more refined version of this skill; he was able to become intangible, just as the Iburi were, but his shape manipulation was advanced enough so that he was able to keep his own physical form and appearance and thus be immune to the risk of dissipation. He kept this a secret throughout a majority of his life for fear that he would be persecuted for it. As soon as his children began to manifest the same skill that he had, he realized now that he had a kekkei genkai of his own, and accepted it as a gift from the gods. Akihiro followed the teachings of Kami no Michi (神の道 ~ lit. "way of the divine"), and over time realized that he wanted to become a god just like those that he worshipped.

With enough time, Akihiro managed to persuade his family and a number of his friends to follow the same teachings and also strive to become gods in order to transcend mortality. They trained as shinobi to gain immense power and secluded themselves from the rest of the world in a desert. Akihiro admired the wind god as his favorite deity, and late in his life, he became one of the strongest wind release users in any of the five great nations in an effort to become the next incarnation of Fūjin. This built a reputation for him. Sunagakure no Sato was founded, he purposely returned to society and became good friends with the honorable Kazekage so that he could gain a foothold in the village as a powerful clan. He and his family erected a castle and he spent his last years there, now unable to continue as a shinobi and realizing that even with all of his power, death was inevitable. And that was how the clan's founding story ended, with Akihiro's death and the clan ever present in Sunagakure.

Reference: The Great Massacre

Over a century later, Tsurugi turned death into a tool. Akihiro had much brighter intentions and an optimistic world view, and he wanted to be immortal. Tsurugi, Akihiro's great grandson, saw the pain and sadness in the world and figured that the best way to counteract its effects was through force and power. After Akihiro's granddaughter, Fuiyoka, had left him to go to Hi no Kuni to reform the clan, he and those that remained with him in Sunagakure became thieves and assassins to gain power and wealth. This tarnished the Ishido's reputation and made them widely hated by many. Daraku was Tsurugi's son and thus was raised as an assassin. He adopted Tsurugi's world view and killed mercilessly and happily. Within a few years, Tsurugi's wife decided to leave to Konoha as well and tried to take Daraku and a number of other clansmen with her, but without hesitation he killed her and all the rest of them to shut down their escape plan. This became known to the remaining Ishido as the Great Massacre, but no one dared speak about that day to Tsurugi. Tsurugi shut himself off from the rest of his family and ruled over the clan with an iron fist. But where did that leave Daraku? Without a mother, surrounded by the death that his forefathers feared so badly, and morally impure...he didn't understand it at the time, but that path that he was going down would break him one day.

Daraku stood, facing his dark reflection with sad eyes. The sands were still settled, peaceful, and it was bright again since he had returned the sunlight with his power. Here, in this world of his mind, he was divine. He was the deity that Akihiro strived to be; in reality, that was impossible...but imagination broke every boundary and let him grow into his full potential. He wasn't afraid or unsure. His mind had a newfound clarity and this madness was disconnected from him, now an entirely separate entity that was once a part of him. His antennae raised and lowered while he held a steady gaze at the shadow version of himself. I wish I had understood it from the beginning...I wish I could have saved my mother. I wish I could have convinced my father to follow Akihiro's teachings like my grandmother and we could have gone to Konoha and been a family again. What I wish for most, though, is that innocent childhood I never had. But it's too late now. The only thing I can do now is save myself and my clan. The two stood, one on the side of light and the other engulfed in darkness. And even though this was all happening in his mind as he meditated, he understood that only one of them would make it out of there.

683 + 2,313 = 2,996



Day 5

Jun went to Shōta's tree at dusk. Most of the other moths came out now, since night time was oftentimes when they were awake. Her voice was filled with audible concern. Daraku has been meditating in the tree for days. I'm starting to worry about him...his chakra levels are high and his respiration and pulse are both very rapid, but he's still in sage mode and he hasn't moved or eaten at all. He hasn't even opened his eyes. Shōta was not alarmed, for whatever reason. He spoke calmly in response. "Jun, do not worry. Daraku came here to solve his own internal conflict, and the fact that he has been undergoing intensive meditation for such a long time is a testament to his determination. He will be alright, I assure you. Do try to at least keep him hydrated, give him water but don't break his concentration." Jun obeyed the sage's orders and collected rainwater before she returned to Daraku's hollow.

♫ Daraku vs...Daraku? ♫

You've gone soft, Daraku...lost your killer edge, your strong personality. That's what I am and without me, you're hardly even a ninja. What happened to the Daraku who killed people just for the hell of it?1 You were great, then. Now, you're just a sad little boy with daddy issues. I'm your greatness, what gave you power. Becoming a weapon made you into an almighty power, a god of death. Don't you want that? Daraku thought of his manic episodes and how helpless and insane he felt every time the hallucinations started and his avatar looked down at the shimmering sands. You're not a god, you're a demon. I don't want to be that. I don't want to be anything. I just want to be happy again. He looked back up at the manifestation of himself, steeped in darkness. He held out his right hand, offering the shadow his weapon. It wasn't a foreign object anymore, with the new light Daraku could see it clearly. Kage no Ken, the sword of shadows, Tsurugi's weapon that he had killed Daraku's mother with. Daraku had used it as his own weapon for such a long time...This isn't my weapon. This belongs to you, my dark side. Dark Daraku snatched the weapon and pointed it at Daraku's throat. You're a damn fool if you thought handing me a weapon was a good idea. Daraku closed his eyes and focused his natural energy. His haori materialized and his sage mode features were accentuated. Suddenly, a blast of wind chakra erupted from him and sent Dark Daraku flying far until he fell into the sand nearly 10 meters away.

That's an old sword, my friend. It's dull and hardly worth the effort. I have another weapon, a blade that I have made my own over the years, one that possesses the same chakra that I do. He raised his left hand and Boundless Flight appeared, resting its hilt in his palm. Mugen hikō. Kono ken to watashi ga hitotsu ni natte ori, issho ni watashitachiha jibun no ayamachi o migimasu.2 He was finished talking. With Hikō in hand, he sprinted towards his other half at maximum, sage-mode-enhanced speed. Dark Daraku had already gotten back to his feet and he held Kage no Ken at a diagonal in order to block any incoming sword strikes. To catch an advantage, Daraku feigned a direct swing from the front before dropping low and going for a leg sweep. He caught his opponent and forced him to the ground, but the other Daraku was already making hand seals by the time he was on his back. Katon: Hōsenka no Jutsu! Daraku was instantly barraged by a group of a dozen fireballs and knocked away, allowing his dark side to stand up again and prepare a few more hand seals. Ken-Ryū Fūton: Shinkūha! The shadow shouted as he sent a blade of wind forward from Kage no Ken. It was a clever strategy; he had managed to set Daraku aflame with the Phoenix Flower Jutsu, and if he managed to land this Vacuum Wave, the wind release would intensify the flames enough to probably kill Daraku. Luckily, Daraku's reflexes and speed were both beyond comparison in Sage Mode and far before the blade of wind started coming toward him he had already put out the flames, healed the burns with a medical ninjutsu, and activated his kekkei genkai. The blade of wind passed right through him harmlessly while he approached Dark Daraku and he made a forward stab using Hikō. The weapon pierced his darker half during the lapse in the Lurking Darkness jutsu, just as he had timed it.

Would you look at that! Seems to me like I didn't lose my killer edge after all. Daraku said playfully as he forced the blade further in, all the way until the hilt pressed against the Dark Daraku's stomach. Dammit, you're getting blood all over my favorite sword. Gross. He ripped it out of the reflections' body and let the body fall to the ground, limp. It bled into the sands, staining them deep red, and it didn't stop until the whole desert was crimson. Then, the corpse faded and Dark Daraku was gone without a trace. The dream world started to fade, too, and Daraku's avatar vanished as he felt his consciousness slipping.

2,996 + 936 = 3,932

1. Killing people just for the hell of it. Also, bringing back the pre-timeskip battle theme one last time...

2. 無限飛行。この剣と私が一つになっており、一緒に私たちは自分の過ちを右ます。(roughly, "Boundless Flight. This sword and I have become one, and together we will right my wrongs.)



Day 6

Daraku woke up with in his bed, cold. It was dark outside meaning that it was nighttime and Jun's voice chimed almost as soon as his eyes opened. Daraku-sama! You're awake. Earlier today you collapsed and your breathing got really low, but your heart rate was normal so I figured you had fallen asleep. Are you alright? Daraku stretched and sat up straight, resting his arms on his raised knees in sort of an upright fetal position. His head was killing him; he reached for his forehead and felt the surface of his skull. The antennae were gone, and his eyesight had reverted back to normal meaning that he must have lost his sage mode at some point during his sleep. It made was practically impossible to balance natural energy with physical and spiritual energy when you were unconscious. "Mhmm...and how long was I asleep? My head is killing me and I'm starving." Jun landed on him and crawled over his shoulders, up into his hair. Well, you were asleep for a full day, and before that you were meditating for nearly 5 days. You didn't eat anything but I made sure to give you water whenever possible. Your chakra signature was much stronger while you were meditating. Daraku thought back to what he had pictured in his mind and everything that had occurred; it all felt so real. Nothing more than a mental construct and yet in the aftermath he felt much different, almost like an entirely different person. At that moment, he was relaxed and at ease, aside from the hunger pangs and the headache. "I think I solved my problem. Can I get something to eat? And then I'm gonna head home and try to get some more sleep."

They went to Shōta and spoke of Daraku's meditation, and Daraku explained to the moths that he had fought an apparition of himself in his mind and defeated it. Shōta was intrigued, to say the least. "Alas, I feel that the version of yourself in your mind was just as real as you felt it was. It was you, and all the ailments and pain that hindered you, and in destroying it you have thus become...the best version of you that there could possibly be. Perhaps there is no physical change, but you likely won't have any more hallucinations or disconnections from reality." Daraku nodded and let out a sigh. But what do I do now? Everything that characterized him, his greed and bloodlust, were all but gone, and that left him feeling like he wasn't himself. Most people would view these as negative qualities anyway and being rid of them would give him a social and likely a moral advantage that he didn't have before...but it was strange. Further introspection led him to the conclusion that now he could be a better ninja, a better clan head, and a better person. He was still a hedonist, through and through, and his new priority was self-fulfillment and happiness. He also had a new sense of care for both his clan and his village. He separated himself from his father, his mother, his grandmother, and even Akihiro Ishido. They each had their good qualities and bad qualities (some more than others) and they served as role models to him in different ways.

Tsurugi Ishido was brave and determined, willing to go to any length to succeed and accomplish his goals. He wanted power and wealth, but ultimately he proved to be depraved and ruthless and was hated by many until his death. Daraku inherited his will, but he didn't want the same hatred and pain.

Sayuri Ishido was selfless and caring, but she was also feeble and weak. She lacked the courage and strength to be a strong leader. Daraku inherited her emotional depth and from this day forward vowed to show affection rather than rage, but he didn't want to live in the shadow of someone else like she had.

Fuiyoka Ishido was intelligent and willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. She taught the former pursuers of the Ishido their diplomatic and academic skills and paved a new way for the clan by gaining a foothold in Konoha. Daraku worked hard to hone his intellect like hers, but she was a terrible mother and he didn't want to abandon his family if they didn't accept his beliefs and he also wasn't willing to sacrifice anything important to him.

And finally, Akihiro Ishido was the greatest of all Ishido thus far, simply for founding the clan and for his legendary proficiency in Wind Release. His cause was as noble as it could have been, but he was a fool for believing he could become a god. Daraku had already taken Akihiro's place as successor to the clan, since he was Akihiro's great grandson. He was born with the same proficiency in Wind Release and he also worked to gain immense power; at this point, he had probably surpassed Akihiro since he had become a sage and was now one of the strongest ninja in Sunagakure. However, he realized that even Akhiro wasn't someone to aspire to be like. Akihiro died with his life wasted trying to do the impossible, rather than accepting his fate and taking life for what it was. Daraku wanted more than that. He didn't want to end up thinking of himself as a failure, or dying full of regret and sadness.

Daraku didn't want to be anyone else. He wanted to be himself, he wanted his clan to prosper, he wanted to protect his village and he wanted to be happy. He chose from that day forward not to focus on trying to accomplish any one goal, but rather to do what made him happy and let life take him wherever it would. His usual smile was back on his face, now, and he looked at Shōta with hope visible in his eyes. "I'm glad, then. Thank you for your help, as always. You're probably my biggest role model right now, with all that infinite wisdom and sage knowledge and shit." Daraku had a strange dinner full of tropical fruits and vegetables, then said goodbye to everyone, insisting that he would visit much more often than he had before. He truly did appreciate their care for him; he felt like a part of their family, even if he wasn't actually a moth himself. Shōta reversed the summoning jutsu and Daraku found himself back in Suna, exhausted. He headed straight to the Castle.

Kiyoshi stopped him as soon as he came in the door. "You alright, Daraku? Always coming home so late! Hard for me not to worry about you." Daraku smiled back at his uncle and ran a hand through his hair. "Of course I'm alright, Uncle Kiyoshi! I'm honestly better than ever. I was just doing some more senjutsu training." Kiyoshi nodded and turned to head back into the corridor that led to his bedroom. "Just checking. You're always training...reminds me of how your father used to be when he was you're age. But you have your mother's heart, much kinder than Tsurugi. It's so strange seeing the two of them in you. Have a good night, Daraku. Sleep well." He started to walk away but Daraku walked briskly to catch up to him. "Um, Uncle Kiyoshi? Is it OK if I take over as clan head again? I want to take over some of the work and get back into taking care of us, as a family." Kiyoshi rolled his eyes and nodded. "You'd certainly be taking a load off of my hands. So many people traveling in and out on international missions and the like...and people are starting to contact us about making alliances and trading goods. The clan is getting bigger than it has been in decades. But we'll talk more tomorrow. Get some rest." Daraku agreed and finally headed upstairs to his room. He watched his uncle disappear into the halls before he shut the door quietly behind him.

3,932 + 1,386 = 5,318

[ Exit Thread ]

Thread word count total: 5,318 words

Training Endurance B-2 to A-Rank
B-2 to B-3 - 900/900
B-3 to A-Rank - 1,000/1,000 - Complete -

Training Perception B-Rank to A-Rank
B-Rank to B-1 - 700/700
B-1 to B-2 - 800/800
B-2 to B-3 - 900/900
B-3 to A-rank - 1,000/1,000 - Complete -

Endurance Training: 1,900 words total
Perception Training: 3,400 words total
1,900 + 3,400 = 5,300

Training cost: 5,300 words

5,318 - 5,300 = 18 words left over

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