Gathering Clouds, Chapter 21

  • Chapter 21





                    ‘I am never complaining about constipation ever again,’ Ambarro groaned, making bubbles with his mouth as he slid down into the onsen. The hot water soothed his raw flesh.


                    ‘Ambarro-do,’ Urokko said as he laid his head back at the edge of the pool. ‘I thought we agreed not to discuss our bowels. Besides, didn’t you hear Master Torako? After drinking the Clear Flask, our digestive systems are made more efficient at processing food and waste, and almost all of it will be passed out as urine. Stool will never form except for all but the-’


                    ‘And now you’re talking about it too,’ Tom snapped irritably, his wet fur clinging to his neck. ‘Somebody change the subject.’


                    Mount Furiya did not have natural hot springs, so the Po’ Tun who built Tsukikage had improvised by digging into the rocky ground and diverting normal spring water into pits. The water was heated with magic, and later generations had added a small wooden knob set into the side of the hole, allowing the temperature to be adjusted to the occupant’s liking.


                    Yuuzen grabbed the knob and turned, drawing an appreciative sigh from Shiyo. Io shot him an amused look; he sounded much older than his thirteen years.


                    The kits had soaked for more than three hours and changed the water at least five times, and the stench was finally coming off.


                    ‘Phew,’ Shiyo said after lathering his head and rinsing it underwater. ‘At long last, I smell like myself again. Whatever that black soap that Hideyo-jo gave us was made of, it works wonders.’


                    ‘Most likely some form of powerful vegetable alkaloid mixed with ashes of tree bark,’ Harrow nodded thoughtfully. ‘The emulsification effect was very strong. Soaps like that are used quite regularly in Hammerfell, or so I’ve read.’


                    ‘Of all the things to do when you’re bored,’ Ambarro sputtered, incredulous. ‘You read about soap?’


                    ‘It was sitting on a shelf when I went into the library,’ Harrow said defensively. ‘It wasn’t a particularly thick book anyway, and I was curious.’


                    ‘I think our clothes should be done by now,’ Yuuzen said, rising out of the water and wading towards a clay oven to the side. He opened it and poked at the tunics and trousers.


                    ‘Completely dry,’ he announced. ‘Smells fresh enough too, even the trousers. Anyone want to put them through the wash again, just to be safe?’


                    ‘I think we’ll be fine,’ Urokko said, reaching for a towel and getting up himself. ‘Our time is almost up. Let’s not keep Hideyo-jo waiting.’


                    Right on cue, Hideyo appeared, narrowing his eyes at the roomful of steam. He peered at the kits and smiled. ‘You’re all looking a great deal better than when you dragged yourselves out of those cubicles.’


                    ‘I beg you,’ Io shuddered as he dried himself off. ‘Never mention the cubicles again.’


                    ‘So what now, Hideyo-jo?’ Harrow asked, slipping into his tunic. ‘Master Torako says that our liver, heart, lungs, blood vessels, stomach, intestines…’ – all the kits winced – ‘…spleen and lymph nodes will all undergo transformations. Which one comes first? Or does it all happen at once?’


                    ‘Your memory serves you well,’ the healer said, impressed. ‘Your liver, stomach and intestines are first, then your circulatory system and lungs, and finally the immune system.’


                    By now the kits were all dressed. Ambarro pulled his boots on haphazardly, leaving his tunic unbelted as usual. Hideyo frowned disapprovingly, then continued.


                    ‘If you will please follow me, we have an entire hall reserved for you in the eatery.’


                    The kits exited the onsen baths a great deal more refreshed than when they went in. It was late afternoon, and the sky was growing dark. It would be dusk soon. As the group entered the eatery, post-mounted lanterns began to spring to life, their enchanted wicks reacting to their dimming conditions.


                    The eatery’s restaurants at the front were all half-filled. It was popular for Shadeclaws to stop by and get a taste of home both before and after missions, and it was also nearing dinnertime. Harrow spotted his kenjutsu instructor Unaka at a noodle stall busying herself with a hot bowl of udon. The west wall sentinels, Gingaki and Kenshiki, sat at a table a short distance away, sharing a plate of vegetable tempura. Kenshiki raised an arm.


                    ‘Hideyo-dar! Haven’t seen you since you transferred to the alchemists! Was the hospice too stressful for you?’


                    ‘No offense, Kenshiki-do,’ Hideyo’s eyes twinkled. ‘But I got tired of constantly patching you up. If you’ll excuse me, I must take these kits to Hall Two.’


                    ‘Ah, Rendanshu?’ Kenshiki scratched his chin. ‘Good on you, youngsters! You made it through the first part relatively unscathed. Of course, I’m sure you’ll never look at the latrines the same way again, eh?’


                    The kits all flinched.


                    ‘Kenshiki! For pity’s sake, you’re closing on eighty,’ Gingaki shook his head. ‘I swear to Furiya; you get more immature as the years go by. Apologies for his ribbing, boys. Hideyo-jo, do come by for some dango when you’re done, for old times’ sake. Our shifts are over for the day.’


                    ‘I would not miss it.’


                    ‘You know the sentinels well, Hideyo-jo?’ Tom asked as they continued down the eatery’s main street.


                    ‘Tsukikage is a small community, Tom-to,’ the healer replied. ‘Combine that with the long lives most shinobi live – relative to other assassins, soldiers or spies, at any rate – and we have many opportunities to form friendships.’


                    They stopped in front of a large hall. Hideyo stood to the side and ushered the kits in. The first thing the boys noticed was the huge table stretched out more than fifty feet across the room, completely covered with food. The usual salmon, eel, and chicken, yes, but there was also beef stew and pork ribs, usually served only in festivals, and an assortment of other dishes that they couldn’t recognise. No fewer than ten different varieties of soup and broth sat square at the centre, and at least half of the table was dedicated to simple white rice.


                    To their surprise, the girls were already there, their fur tousled from drying. Ambarro greeted Diia with a cheerful wave, who returned his bright smile.


                    The healer in charge of the girls nodded at them as they entered, and Year 182 formed a single group again.


                    Shiyo tilted his head. ‘We… were brought here to eat?’


                    ‘Hmm,’ Hideyo muttered, studying him closely. ‘It doesn’t seem to have started yet. Well, any minute now.’


                    ‘What hasn’t started yet?’ Nacadi asked cautiously. By now the kits knew enough to be on edge.


                    ‘The Clear Flask lays the groundwork for all future applications of Rendanshu, and causes some of the most radical changes to your physiology. The potion itself is simply the catalyst. It takes an incredible amount of power to complete your transformation. This is why your liver and stomach come first. The changes to your digestive process are necessary to maximise energy absorption and storage-’


                    A loud, animalistic growl sounded and left the hall silent as it faded. All the kits turned to stare at Cika, who looked utterly mortified. ‘E-em, that was… uh…’


                    ‘Ah, it begins. Twenty-forth Grandmaster Seto was indeed a wise man to have devised such a system. It’s certainly far less disruptive for the eatery.’


                    Similar rumblings filled the air, almost shaking the dishes off the table.


                    Harrow clapped a hand to his stomach, alarmed. It took him a while to realise that it was hunger. Hunger so severe that he was in actual, physical pain.


                    ‘Well, you shan’t let us keep you,’ Hideyo said, chuckling. ‘Your body needs all the fuel it can scrounge up right now.’


                    The two healers bowed and left the hall. Starving as they were, the kits had enough self-control to bow back. Then the door slid shut and they fell upon the table like a wake of vultures.


                    Harrow clenched his teeth as he willed himself back to his room. He was still terribly hungry, even though he’d already cleared out the table thrice over alongside his classmates. They had eaten all the way until three in the morning. He’d taken in what felt like his entire body’s weight, but the food had seemed to disappear right down his gullet, leaving behind a void that demanded to be filled. His lower torso felt unusually bloated, a sharp contrast to his empty stomach. My digestion is now so rapid that food is passing almost instantaneously into my small intestines.


                    Try to resist the urge to grab snacks from night stalls and restaurants, Hideyo had said. You’ll only succeed in making yourself hungrier. Despite the changes to your intestinal structures, they don’t have infinite capacity. If you eat too much you could force the chyme clean out through the… other end.


                    Even after the kits’ two-day-long ordeal in the stone room, the thought of that had failed to stop them from calling desperately for the table to be refilled a third time. Harrow’s mouth watered as he remembered the Nordic deer and pepper stew. I wonder what Father would have thought of that dish? The shinobi who run the eatery are excellent cooks, but they probably can’t compare with natives when it comes to preparing meals after the fashion of the various Tamrielic provinces. Many people consider the food in Skyrim backwater, but that stew and other dishes I’ve read about indicates otherwise. I’m sure he wouldn’t have eaten it with chopsticks, either. Augh, I need to stop thinking about food.


                    He heard a couple of familiar voices arguing and turned to look.


                    ‘Please, people are starting to stare,’ Diia had Ambarro by the wrist and was dragging him backwards. ‘Get a hold of yourself! Ambarro-to!’


                    ‘Skewers…’ Ambarro moaned as he reached fruitlessly for a kushiyaki stall, trying to shake her hand off. The small line of older Po’ Tun behind the stall smiled knowingly. ‘Chicken… skewers…’


                    ‘You’ve already stopped at six snack places! It’s going to be dangerous if you eat more, and you’re going to start using your savings at this rate,’ Diia pleaded, wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling more forcefully. She stammered a hurried apology at the stall owner. ‘I-I’m so very sorry about the trouble!’


                    ‘Don’t worry about it, Miss,’ the vendor grinned, slapping a fresh batch of yakitori onto his charcoal grill for his next customer. ‘We’ve all taken the Clear Flask before.’


                    Ambarro almost tore his fur out at the sound of the sizzling meat.


                    ‘Diia they’re making it with honey and tare can you smell that can you smell that the chicken is marbling and there’s fat dripping off into the charcoal he just turned it over and the other side is perfectly seared he’s dribbling the tare on now-


                    ‘SHUT UP, DUNCE,’ Harrow roared as his stomach convulsed.


                    Ambarro was gibbering like a lunatic by the time they managed to throw him into his quarters. Diia had bid him goodnight, then retreated into her own room – it was right next to Ambarro’s – rubbing her belly and looking miserable.


                    Harrow stared wistfully upwards. Secunda was hovering over Masser tonight, and the light bronze colour of the smaller moon reminded him of… Gyouza. Secunda is in the first quarter right now, so it’s even got the right shape. Masser is close to full… it’s a gyouza on a silver plate. I wonder if it’s stuffed with pork? Maybe cabbages? Scallions? All I need is some rice vinegar. I’m going to pluck Secunda right out of the sky and bite down on the thin wrapping until the all the flavours and juice spill out into my mouth.


                    I must be going mad.


                    Shaking the thought of fried dumplings out of his head, Harrow lumbered around the central housing building. He reached his room and stopped, sliding the paper door open.


                    The incense had burned out during his absence, and he was sorely tempted to just ignore it and go to sleep. No. A shinobi must always be disciplined. Discipline is how the great chefs produce the most exquisite of delicacies-


                    I NEED TO STOP.


                    Harrow opened an incense box and took out one stick, pinching the tip with his thumb and forefinger. He fed a trickle of Magicka into his fingertips, then withdrew them as the incense began to burn. After extinguishing the flame with a couple of shakes, he inserted the smoking stick into the ash-filled clay urn he always used.


                    Crossing his legs into the lotus position, Harrow sat and meditated. For fifteen short minutes, his breathing was perfectly in sync with his heartbeat, and hunger no longer clawed at his mind. Then his stomach throbbed, the flow of his ki broke, and he stood back up, scowling.


                    His hair fell down to his neck as he reached up and undid his topknot. A lock of it fell over his forehead and right eye. He untied his bootlaces after that and threw his socks into his laundry basket, then slumped into bed without further ado. I hope I don’t dream about food.


                    Harrow woke up with his bladder actually bulging out of his abdomen. It took him three whole minutes to drain it, during which he studied the process detachedly.


                    Intriguing. Master Torako told us that practically all of our excrement will be expelled as urine from now on. I expected the colour to be deeper, perhaps even brown. This is an even lighter yellow than normal, almost as clear as water. Is it because of my strengthened liver functions? Where are all the waste metabolites going? The smell of ammonia is much more overpowering than normal. I ought to take a sample, then visit the library…


                    He doused the latrine hole with a bucketful of water as he finished, rinsing the foul liquid down into the drainage piping, then proceeded to the mirror, squinting at his reflection. He didn’t look much different on the outside, but he knew that even now his organs were growing and shifting, additional biological structures and connections beginning to form, pushing his body closer to the efficient machine it was meant to be. I wish I could see it happen.


                    Harrow cleaned his face using a wet cloth, brushed his teeth with his bristled chew stick, and washed his hair in the basin, in that order. The aftertaste of lye paste lingered in his mouth as he wrung the wet black strands out and tied them back into his topknot.


                    He’d went to sleep with his belts still on, so some of his joints felt numb where they pressed against his skin. The belt around his waist loosened up as he tugged, and he slipped his katana onto his hip before he tightened it again.


                    Hunger was already beginning to gnaw at his stomach, and he grimaced. How much longer will this go on for?


                    Part of him wanted to rush to the eatery immediately, but he managed to ground himself in the living room. He lit another stick of incense and meditated again, then went over to his battered dummy. I’m going to have to get another one soon.


                    Controlling his breathing, Harrow spread his legs and picked up a bokuto, sliding it in place next to his katana. He maintained that position for a few minutes, then drew the wooden sword in an iai, exhaling as he did so. There was a loud tok, and a fresh scratch appeared on the dummy’s torso. He twisted his arm, struck downwards vertically and upwards diagonally, then thrust forwards. Each time the practice sword connected, he flexed his grip inwards for a brief instant. Three more clean impacts echoed across the small room, and two scratches nocked into the dummy’s forehead and temple. Harrow paused for a moment with the bokuto pressing against the dummy’s throat, confident that had it been a real opponent and a real sword, he would have punctured the windpipe.


                    He reassumed his combat stance and continued, switching between one-hand and two-hand techniques, gradually using his hands and feet as well. He flowed into kata of increasing complexity and speed, going faster with each strike and stronger with each blow, until his stomach rumbled and he couldn’t hold his hunger in any longer. ‘All right, fine, I’ll go fill you up, if that’s even possible.’


                    Brilliant. Now I’m talking to my stomach.


                    Most of the other kits were already in Hall Two gorging themselves. Diia greeted him with a smile and an enormous bowl of congee in front of her, and she had her chopsticks around half of a marinated soft-yolk egg. Harrow felt himself begin to salivate as a whiff of soy sauce crawled up his nostrils.


                    ‘Good morning,’ he said as he sat down in front of her. ‘Enjoying your breakfast, I see.’


                    ‘We must think of some way to repay the eatery’s cooks for this,’ Diia said after a big swallow. ‘I wonder how much work went into all of it.’


                    ‘I think they’re just setting aside a portion of what they usually make for us, but nonetheless, I agree.’ Harrow pulled a steaming bowl of miso broth towards him and sipped, then popped a cube of bean curd into his mouth. ‘We should be grateful that we don’t have to wait for food. These hunger pangs are unnatural.’


                    ‘Everything about Rendanshu is unnatural,’ Diia said, looking deep in thought. ‘It’s what gives shinobi our edge.’


                    ‘The forces of magic and intellect against the gifts of nature? Philosophers would tear each other apart debating that topic,’ Harrow joked, tearing out a sliver of seared slaughterfish with his chopsticks. Then he frowned. ‘Where’s the dunce?’


                    ‘Ambarro-to?’ Diia spooned up a large helping of her rice porridge and gulped it down. ‘He’s at the practice fields. He always trains for at least an hour in the morning, you know.’


                    ‘Even in our condition?’ Harrow’s eyebrows arched up as he dipped the whitish, flaky fish meat into a platter of soy sauce. That reminded him uncomfortably of his own musings on discipline last night. He noticed Diia looking closely at him with a strange smile on her face and rapidly backtracked.


                    ‘Tch. That’s just like him, forcing himself needlessly. Idiot. What’s he going to do if Rendanshu saps all his strength while he’s working himself into a wreck?’


                    ‘Well now, Harrow-to,’ Diia beamed at him, making him even more uncomfortable. ‘You’re actually worried about Ambarro-to. That’s so sweet of you.’


                    ‘Wha-,’ he was horrified to find himself stuttering, the slaughterfish frozen halfway to his lips. ‘That’s not- I mean-’


                    Diia leant closer, her smile broadening. ‘Ooh, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you stammer before, Harrow-to.’


                    Harrow stuffed the fish down his throat, washed it down with broth, then clamped his mouth shut.


                    ‘Ah, so that’s what blushing looks like on a face without fur. I didn’t think it’d be this obvious. Oh, now it’s your ears. Those sharp tips are turning an adorable shade of crimson…’













8 Comments   |   Karver the Lorc and 4 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  January 18, 2019
    I like this part very much. " I’m
    going to pluck Secunda right out of the sky and bite down on the thin
    wrapping until the all the flavours and juice spill out into my mouth."  :)

    And, that end! He he he!
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  January 30, 2017
    So first they poop their pants and now they are eating like it is their last meal. But all is good for faster, stronger, higher, eh? It's cheating, says I. :P
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      So first they poop their pants and now they are eating like it is their last meal. But all is good for faster, stronger, higher, eh? It's cheating, says I. :P
        ·  January 30, 2017
      Shinobi are supposed to cheat, it's sort of their thing... ;)
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Sunflower Manual
        The Sunflower Manual
        The Sunflower Manual
        Shinobi are supposed to cheat, it's sort of their thing... ;)
          ·  January 30, 2017
        I can see that. I dunno, makes me suddenly not empathize with them, you know?
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  January 21, 2017
     ‘You’ve already stopped at six snack places!

    Haha I chuckled at this. It's something I can see Farkas doing so I might have a play with it later.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  January 14, 2017
    Haha, this last chapters are hilariously disgusting with all the details. Keep going! :D
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  January 11, 2017
    Somehow I find it weird that Harrow's talking about the colour of his piss.
    Also... my tsundere senses are tingling.
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Somehow I find it weird that Harrow's talking about the colour of his piss.
      Also... my tsundere senses are tingling.
        ·  January 12, 2017
      *crosses arms and looks away*