Published: March 24, 2019
Ice and snow crunched heavily, giving way to her boots as she picked her way among the pre-existing footprints. She'd ended up drifting to the middle of the shinobi pack for a reason; those in front worked well as snowplows, and she wouldn't wind up left behind should she trail at the back. Her fellow travelers also operated quite well as wind blocks, so she was relatively comfortable despite the freezing conditions. Hinoiri buried her nose just a bit deeper in her muffler, humming softly. Life was certainly more pleasant when others did the hard work.
The trees had thinned from where the group had started out this morning, and voices carried clearly over the white slopes. Perhaps this was why most groups chatted among themselves in softer voiced, punctuated occasionally by a harsh shout or burst of laughter from a rowdier personality. Her own teammates had distanced themselves a couple meters away, deep in what appeared to be quite the intense discussion; Nōhime's brow knit itself tightly while her hands performed rather ridiculous gestures, and Ujiyasa responded in similar fashion. She could only catch snippets of their conversation, but felt no need to sidle over and interrupt them. Instead, she let her eyes slide over the figures in front of her before her attention drifted to take in the view. Vegetation was thin here, the land primarily covered in snow and ice with rock surface poking out in places. The wind carried crisp air across the slopes, usually a breeze but sometimes stronger, and always sending a shiver up the Hibiki's spine. She sniffled a little, quietly so as not to let anyone else hear. It felt as though any real sound she made would echo off the icy mountains surrounding them that she kept admiring. But the pale blue cliffs up ahead really captured her attention.
A soft 'Pardon me' followed by an equally slight tap on her shoulder a couple moments later quickly brought her awareness back into her immediate radius.
A small Shirogane teen shuffled up through the snow beside her, making himself visible. His face, though tired, lacked much expression at all, but his posture and stance remained formal and polite. "Pardon me, Hibiki-san," he began, voice as soft as it was the first time, "but now seems like a poor time to be standing still."
Hinoiri blinked, suddenly aware of the fact that she had, indeed, come to a halt, her boots deep in the snow. How long had she zoned out? The company numbers were thinned out around the two now, with the bulk of people up ahead much closer to the cliffs than they had been before. Clearly she had been standing there for several minutes, at the very least. Well this was embarrassing.
"Ohh goodness, I'm so sorry. That's my mistake," Hinoiri apologized, clasping her hands before her and dropping into a shallow bow before straightening back up, a bit flustered. "But thank you for taking the time to check on me; I deeply appreciate it." In truth she figured she had probably just been standing in his path, but the gesture was nice either way. At least now she wouldn't end up left behind. Thankfully it wouldn't take too long to catch up to the main group again; if they're passing through the cliffs, they'll end up bottle-necked and slow considerably. "We'll be able to catch up at the cliffs," she voiced the trail end of her thoughts aloud, returning to awareness again. Facing her temporary companion once more, she offered a warm smile. "Thank you again, Shirogane-kun. I suppose I ought to catch up with my teammates now. You have travelling companions as well, yes?"
Nobuo nodded in response, and she figured that was the end of the conversation. However, he hovered nearby for a moment or two before she realized he was probably awaiting dismissal, so she gave another smile and a wave and hurried forward. If she kept a brisk pace, perhaps her mind wouldn't wander and she could actually stay focused on the mission at hand.
Soon enough Hinoiri found herself, as well as most of the shinobi who had been lagging behind, re-assimilating with the majority of Tōrōgakure's forces. As she had figured, passing between the cliffs had slowed the group down. At least the wind and weather were mostly blocked here, freeing her to loosen her cowl a bit and properly look for her teammates. Thankfully, Ujiyasa's bright gold headband was easy to identify. With several apologies and polite words, the Hibiki managed to weave her way through the ranks, catching Nōhime's outstretched hand to pull herself through the last line of people. But at that moment a falcon's cry echoed above, and suddenly emerged on all sides, surrounding the village shinobi. The rest happened so quickly.
Hinoiri had no choice but to pull a kunai to defend herself.