Tousha found himself sitting in a comfortable chair. The chair rested in the middle of a comfortably decorated room, unassuming yet stringent in its decor. It perfectly suited the woman who had decorated it. Across the table that separated the two people sitting on either side of it sat that very woman. Her skin was dark, made more so in comparison to Tousha's pale complexion. Her even darker hair was carefully bound and tamed in a dizzying, close-knit pattern that made Tousha wonder how long it had taken. Knowing next to nothing about the art of hair wrangling himself, he could only guess the better part of a month.
Her tight, pursed lips shifted only slightly as she read the note held in her immaculately manicured hand, her sharp, brown eyes darting left and right as she meticulously imbibed the words scrawled across the parchment. After several long, deliberate minutes, she spoke.
"It's an ANBU encryption,"
Mrs. Stephenson said matter-of-factly. "How are you, a former Kage, not familiar with it?"
Her tone had barely raised above transparently stoic, but it was enough to make the Nara straighten up in his chair. As the former Hokage's most trusted and capable ex-assistant, it was pure muscle memory to improve his posture around her.
"I've been... Uh, out of town for a while,"
he said meekly, desperately trying to defend himself from the woman's overpowering stare. "They must have changed it while I was -ha ha- you know, gone."
She squinted at him and waited.
he added with a nod.
That seemed to satisfy her intensity. For the moment. Her stare turning back to the message she continued to speak.
"He's northeast of here. The man who sent you this."
"How do you know it's a m-"
"He writes like a man,"
she answered simply. "He wants to meet you where he's burned some leaves, apparently. Obviously has a penchant for the dramatic, this one."
She placed the note on the table and folded her arms across her lap with the grace of a feline. "What have you done this time, Tousha?"
The seasoned Shinobi gave a sheepish shrug. "I-unno,"
he blurted out unceremoniously. "Wasn't me this time. Honest, ma'am."
She gave him another withering glance. "Well, this M.G. fellow must still be out there, waiting for you. What are you going to do about that?"
Tousha patted his knees and turned his gaze up to the ceiling as he considered his options. "Guess it'd be rude to keep the guy waiting any longer, h-uh,"
he said whimsically. Then he raised his eyebrows and added, "S'probably something important if he went through all the trouble of sending some encrypted letter."
Mrs. Stephenson nodded once, clearly pleased with his answer. "As always, I urge you to be careful,"
she said almost mechanically, as if her mouth had formed the words more times than her own name. "Shall I accompany you?"
Tousha stood up and smiled at the woman. "I appreciate the offer, but I wouldn't want to be a bother. I'm sure you have something much better to do than follow this old fart around on some mysterious rendezvous."
Mrs. Stephenson smiled, her lips cutting a razor sharp smirk into her left cheek. "Oh, yes. Quite a few better things than that."
She held up the note to offer it to the Nara but he simply raised a hand and shook his head.
"Keep it. In case I don't come back, you'll have something to show the Hokage. You know, prove I didn't fall into a hole and die."
she said with a polite smile. With that she also stood and motioned to the door. The pair walked out of the room and found themselves standing outside. It was a beautiful day, with just the right portions of blue sky and white, fluffy clouds. A light breeze fumbled at their clothes and hair. It was quite lovely.
Tousha's hands buzzed to life as he rounded off an intricate string of hand seals, flooding the nearby air with a mixture of Shadow and Fuuton chakra. Soon a mass of smoke-like particles emerged from seemingly thin air and rapidly took the shape of a large black bird. The Nara jumped onto its back with a -hup- and fell into an easy kneeling position, one pale hand resting on the shadow animal's back for support.
With a casual salute the former Kage willed the bird to flap its massive wings, pushing them both high into the air with surprising speed. The freedom of flying found Tousha's heart and soul as it often did, as an undiminished elation that played second fiddle to little else. Mrs. Stephenson simply waved as she watched the bird and its rider disappear into the sky, quickly becoming little more than a perfectly dark speck amid a sea of blue and white.
It wouldn't take Tousha long to find himself dozens of miles away from the Leaf Village. And, thanks to the less than subtle signal his secret admirer had left for him, it took the Kage even less time to spot their meeting place. A thick column of smoke rose into the air from what Tousha could only assume was thousands of smoldering leaves. With the ease and grace of a real bird his shadowy mount turned lazily in the sky, circling overhead about twenty meters.
Shielding his eyes from the sun, Tousha peered down to the ground below. From his vantage point the Nara hoped to spot whoever was waiting for him.
Kōnton • Blackbird Smoke
After completing a sting of hand seals the user will saturate the air with Shadow and Fuuton chakra, creating a mass of smoke-like particles in the form of a massive blackbird. This shadowy form has a wingspan of 10 m and will remain apparent for up to 5 posts without making contact with the user, in which case it will maintain its form as long as the user supplies it with additional chakra. The Blackbird Smoke is capable of flying at a Speed of 40, maintains a cutting Strength of 10 on contact and can comfortably carry up to three allies on its back and a single passenger in its talons.