The pungent, coppery smell of blood was what made him finally decide to pay attention.
He had been ordered to stay here in the hotel room, so here he would stay. He usually didn’t care about orders. However, it sounded like it was going badly out there. He wasn’t going to help unless forced to.
Other than himself, there was one other person in the room. His stare made them turn away from the door and look him directly in the eyes, something most people wouldn’t do.
He’d gotten used to being looked at directly by them, their pale pupil-less eyes seemingly unfocused, unmoving. It had surprised him the first time, he’d been sure they were blind.
They tilted their head toward the cracked and worn door, the wood it was made of decaying.
“They’re losing,” There was a hint of fear in Miyasato’s voice that disgusted him. The boy was a weakling — Gaara could tell when he’d first seen the Land of Wind’s only prince. Usually, weaklings weren’t worth the effort it would take to kill them, but there was something about Miyasato that bothered him.
Gaara returned to looking at the mold patch on the wall directly in front of him, as he had been for the last twenty minutes. Miyasato shrugged and looked back toward the door, “I’d been sure the smell of blood would have riled you up.”
The first time he’d tried to kill Miyasato, he’d been stopped by his father. There wasn’t anyone to stop him this time. The sand in his gourd shifted, waiting for him to decide.
The sudden movement made him look at Miyasato, who’d gotten up and was quickly backing away from the door. A second later, the door burst open, sending shards of rotten wood everywhere. What remained crashed to the floor, knocking up a cloud of sand.
Gaara watched apathetically as three men stepped through the dust, one coughing heavily. There was panic and urgency in each of their eyes and on their faces. Something made him twitch as their eyes passed over him, all coming to focus on Miyasato. They completely ignored him.
“There he is,” one coughed heavily, holding himself up with the door frame. Blood poured down his left arm from a wound in his shoulder. The other two, who looked to be in better shape, grabbed Miyasato, who tried to fight back.
Gaara watched as the two men tied Miyasato’s hands together, jammed a sack over his head, and started roughly pulling him toward the exit.
“What about the other kid?”
The man at the door had finally stopped coughing and was tearing a strip of cloth from his shirt. Barely sparing Gaara a glance, the man returned his focus to his profusely bleeding wound.
“Useless, let’s go.”
They were ignoring him.
Gripping Miyasato’s shoulder tightly, one stuck their head into the hallway.
“Is the coast clear — Ack!”
Turning back, the man found a sharp spike of sand only an inch from his face, protruding from the forehead of his companion. Before he was even able to scream, the sand-spike darted forward and impaled him through the head as well, then retracted, dropping both their limp bodies in the open doorway.
“No! Stop! What are you-!?”
Gaara narrowed his eyes as the last one, the man with a bleeding shoulder, tried to run, stumbling over his dead companion’s outstretched arm. Sand darted forward, and the last one died impaled on a pike of sand through the chest.
Miyasato managed to wiggle his hands out of the hastily-tied rope and pulled the sack off his head. Standing up, he brushed what sand wasn’t caked in blood off his clothes.
Gaara watched him return to his own bed, decrepit and falling apart as well, and sit down.
Neither said anything for a few minutes, the sounds of fighting outside dying down and the pools of blood under the two dead men in the doorway slowly growing.
“Thank you, Gaara.”
Gaara ignored him.
Kazekage Tower, Inner City Suna, Land of Wind, EN
The soft footsteps echoed across the sandy surfaces as Rasa made his way through the corridor of cells, both occupied and empty. As he neared a little commotion at the end of it, he took off his triangular hat. He only wore it for special occasions, as it interfered with his ability to see.
“Rasa-sama,” came from the grim-looking man in the Suna Jōnin attire – dark brown pants and shirt, sandals to match, and a sand-colored vest. As if trying to fit into his dull and unappealing visage, his face was perpetually in a scowl.
“Captain. I take it that the prisoner is in the cell?” The guard nodded, and he continued. “Have you happened to extract anything from him yet?”
“Unfortunately not, sir. His time in the desert took a toll on his wits. He won’t stop babbling nonsense.”
Sighing heavily, Rasa stroked his temples in thought. “If that goes on, we won’t extract anything of use from him. I will have a talk with the perpetrator.”
Bowing slightly, the man commanded the stationed guards to open the reinforced steel door, ushering the leader of Suna into almost blinding darkness, save for rays of light from the iron-barred opening in the wall. In the center of the room, sat the culprit and Suna interrogator across from one another at a plain wooden table, locked in a one-sided discussion.
“I’ll ask you one more time: what is your purpose on the grounds of Suna?”
The two were a stark contrast, a collected Jonin, and a ragged man in a ruined and tattered robe, sunburnt skin littered all over his exposed flesh. Hunched over, he muttered something barely audible.
“Rasa-sama,” came from the interrogator as he noticed Rasa and stood up.
The interrogator continued as he walked up to Rasa, “We’ve been taking turns interrogating the man for the past hour, no torture due to his condition.”
At that, the Shinobi deflated, his voice full of frustration. “Nothing on the case, sir, he won’t answer any of our questions, as if a mute or deaf. But he won’t stop talking of-”
“T-the stone, they have it…” came from the prisoner, his form spastically jolting in apparent pain.
“I see, I’ll take it from here.”
As Rasa dismissed the Jonin, he placed his hat on the table, taking the seat across from the man. His posture was ramrod straight, commanding regality and strength.
Having been left with the culprit, Rasa carefully inspected his face, riddled with baked flesh. Although his wounds were severe and disgusting to look at, what caught his eye was the haunted, ghostly gaze. Being a man of war, Rasa was used to facing death on the battlefield, often having to bear witness to a man drawing his last breath, their life flickering out. Although his victims were numerous, he could still see their faces. The eyes of the dead in his sleep were the same that stared at him now.
Cautiously trying to establish eye contact, he addressed the man. “The deserts are not kind to the unprepared. What made you suffer it so?”
As his trembling slowed a little, the prisoner lifted his head slowly, staring at something past the four walls. “It came from the shadows…”
Rasa listened intently.
“They chased me… claws, leaving no marks…steps, lacking footprints…” locking eyes for the first time with Rasa, his shaky voice came forth, “They have the stone.”
“What stone? Who attacked you?”
At that, the man’s eyes darted into the shadowy corner of the room, the blank expression on his face turned to one of terror. “They’re still here, they’re never gonna leave me! Not until what I saw dies with me…”
“Tell me who attacked you and we will help you.”
From terror to utter desperation, he looked back again at Rasa.
“You don’t understand, they have the stone! They are coming for me!” he said, darting eyes all around the room. “I can hear them breathing!”
“Calm down, sir-”
The man attempted to spring from his chair violently, but his restraints prevented it. “NO, NO! GET AWAY FROM ME, I BEG YOU!”
Rasa folded his hands in front of his face as he carefully studied the man.
“You have to help me!” The man screamed frantically, causing Rasa to wince a bit at the pitch. The tell-tale sound of insanity was creeping into his voice.
Rasa felt frustration bubbling up inside of him.
“You said someone is chasing you, who?” He demanded, bringing the frantic man’s attention back to him.
“The shadows, they’re here, in this room. ”
Rasa sighed deeply and was about to ask another question when the cell door opened, revealing Baki holding a scroll in his outstretched hand.
“It’s an urgent message from the Daimyō, Rasa-sama,” Baki stated.
Standing, Rasa looked down at the man who had returned to mumbling incoherently under his breath. Shaking his head, he picked up his hat from the back of the chair and stepped around the table.
Taking the scroll from his second-in-command, he checked the seal. It was indeed the Daimyō’s, and intact.
“Have the prisoner escorted to the Kumo Embassy and make sure he gets there safely,” Rasa ordered as he broke the seal and unfurled the scroll.
Baki nodded and held the door open for Rasa who had stopped as he read the scroll. Finishing it, he rolled it back up.
“Also, send Gaara and Sasori to my office right away.”
Even though he’d already memorized the scroll, he still popped the latch and unrolled it again. Scanning over it for anything he might have missed, he sighed, rolled it back up, and put it in a locked drawer in his desk.
Folding his hands in front of him, he stared blankly at the heavy wooden double doors at the front of his office. The room around him was sparsely decorated, decorations most of which had been here when he’d become Kazekage, and he’d just never removed them.
The desk was relatively new, he’d gotten it a few days after he’d taken up the position. While it weighed a ton and was carved and polished, it was extremely minimalistic.
It didn’t really bother him, he didn’t want to enjoy being in his office, and when he was in here, he wasn’t paying attention to the decorations or lack thereof anyway.
The large double doors opened, causing him to blink and focus on who had entered. Smiling, he greeted the red-headed Puppeteer Captain, who bowed in response.
Moving to one of the two chairs in front of Rasa’s desk, Sasori sat down.
Both turned toward the doorway as they sensed the familiar fear that seemed to haunt Gaara’s every step. Neither of them was bothered by the low level of Killing Intent he steadily released.
Gaara ignored them and walked over to a corner in the room. Rasa watched him go and sighed silently. Sasori offered him a sympathetic shrug.
A moment of silence later Baki stepped through the doors Gaara had left open. Closing them, he hurried over to the only other available chair in the room. Though he did notice Gaara in the corner, he didn’t look at him.
“Sorry for being late,” Baki said, kicking Sasori’s weak attempt to block his access to the chair with his leg.
“So, what’s going on?” Sasori asked cheerfully and propped his feet up on Rasa’s desk, causing the Kazekage to scowl. Sasori pretended not to notice as he pulled out a kunai and started fiddling with it.
Rasa shook his head, “I received an urgent message from the Daimyō, he wishes for me to be in Kazedama in three days.”
Sasori leaned back in his chair, causing the wooden legs to squeak. Tossing the kunai in the air, he caught it between his fingers inches from his own face. Baki looked at him in annoyance.
“Isn’t the prince’s eighth birthday in three days?” Sasori asked, slamming the chair back down.
Rasa nodded, “Yes. I am to bring Gaara and two teams of Elite with me.”
Sasori whistled in surprise, “Seems a little overkill for a birthday party, don’t you think? The prince is one of the most heavily-guarded people in the Land of Wind, and for something like a birthday party, the security will be even higher. I’ve heard he hasn’t even been seen in public for years.”
“Whatever is going on, the Daimyō did not explain it in his summons. I’m sure he will explain it when we arrive.”
Sasori raised an eyebrow at Rasa’s choice of words before tapping his chin. “If we’re bringing short, dark, and broody over there,” he said as he jutted a thumb toward Gaara, “Then we will need to bring the seals, we got enough for two teams, you, and me.”
The low level of Killing intent spiked slightly, but none of them reacted to it.
“Yes. I don’t know how long we will be staying. Tell the teams to bring stealth gear and long term supplies. However, we will be entering the capital in plain sight.”
“Cool, will get the boys together then,” Sasori said before vanishing in a swirl of sand. The chair he’d been leaning back in fell the rest of the way and crashed into the ground.
Baki rolled his eyes before turning to Rasa.
“I’m assuming I’ll be in charge while you’re gone?” He inquired, and Rasa nodded.
“Yes, but don’t announce the visit to Kazedama until tomorrow. You can tell Temari and Kankuro right away, however.”
Outside Kazedama, Land of Wind, EN
Though Rasa hadn’t been alive to see it, the Land of Wind had once been a thriving paradise. Everyone had wanted to live here with its peaceful breezes and winds. Which had been how it had gotten its name apparently.
Many clans had made their home here during the Warring Clans Era, including his own. Clans had been coming and going since before there were records. Though some like the Uchiha, and Hyūga had been around since before any records.
However, over several hundred years, the Land of Wind had slowly withered and dried out. Sand had risen from beneath the fertile ground, and choked out the trees. The winds became sharp and violent, stirring up massive sandstorms.
The clans had been forced to move, the water drying up, and the beasts of prey fleeing to better lands.
It was a story his father had told him.
Rasa chuckled. For some reason, after the end of the Warring Clans Era, the Land of Wind’s forefathers had decided this barren wasteland was the place to build their country.
In the forty-odd years since the Wind Country had been founded, not much had changed. The desert was as barren and lifeless as it had always been. The hot sun beat down relentlessly on those that were brave, stupid, or unlucky enough to live here.
Although, if he had to give a benefit to this country’s terrain, he’d say it was that it weeded out the weak from the strong very quickly. The Shinobi Academy in Suna’s final test was to survive two weeks alone in the desert.
Most survived, having grown up in the hot, unforgiving wasteland their entire life. However, the bodies of those that didn’t survive were returned to their families to be buried.
He did wish that the desert was more hospitable to roads, but its shifting surface made anything permanent difficult. For Shinobi, roads were actually more of a danger than they were helpful. It took a Jounin three days to travel from Suna to Kazedama.
No, the best use of them would be for civilian travel. It would reduce the number of civilian deaths and pointless search missions that never resulted in the bodies being found.
However, some roads had been built despite the odds. The two best examples were the hundreds of roads constructed throughout the Land of Wind’s many cities, and the Silk Road, which had taken three years to finish.
It stretched for hundreds of miles across the country, beginning in Kazedama and ending in Dango City. Cresting yet another sand dune, the Silk Road came into view in the south. Several small dots traveled across it, some larger than others as civilians pulled carts behind them.
Periodic cleaning of the sandstone brick surface of the Silk Road was a typical D-rank mission for the Shinobi Genin of the cities and villages along the road. Luckily, not something he’d ever had to do personally. Suna was in the opposite direction of the Silk Road.
Turning toward the east, Rasa smiled as he once more saw the Land of Wind’s beautiful capital, Kazedama.
Snapping his fingers, he leaped off the sand dune, closely followed by the Shinobi traveling with him. Gaara lagged behind, watching everyone land below before vanishing and reappearing near the group.
They only had to walk about a half mile before the desert gave way to the dead-end of a sandstone brick road. The unfinished beginnings of the road to Suna.
Rasa raised an eyebrow at the number of buildings, shops, and homes now built up outside Kazedama’s high walls. The city had not been designed with being the capital in mind and had eventually begun to overflow the walls. Houses were built outside the walls to house the ever-growing number of people living here.
As Rasa and his Shinobi walked down the street, the civilians nearby moved to the sides of the road. His bright white Kazekage robes made them stand out from other Shinobi, though Gaara’s Killing Intent made the most significant impact. People were looking around as they began to feel just slightly afraid, trying to find out why.
Gaara’s reputation preceded him, and people got away with a bit more energy than was entirely needed.
Sasori discretely signaled to the Elite team, and four of the Shinobi dropped back to include Gaara in the circle. Surrounding Gaara wasn’t a brilliant idea at the best of times, but Gaara didn’t seem to care.
The large gate into the inner part of the city loomed above them, though there were hardly any shadows. The sun was now at its highest point, and the heat was at its worst.
Rasa watched from under his hat as one of the gate guards saw them and stepped inside a nearby building.
A moment later, a Kunoichi with dirty blonde hair stepped out of the building and started walking toward them.
“Kanade!” Sasori said, greeting the approaching Kunoichi with one of his trademark grins. Rasa watched in amusement as the Kunoichi groaned.
“Sasori… why didn’t I realize you’d be coming?” she said, reluctantly shaking the Puppeteer Captain’s hand.
“Did you miss me?” Sasori inquired hopefully.
Sasori seemed to have not heard her and continued on, “You’re here to lead us to the palace, right?”
Kanade nodded, “Hai. First, I need to make sure that you have the Jinchuriki under control?”
Gaara noticed her stare and stared back at her. He didn’t react as she released Killing Intent just slightly higher than he was. Was she going to fight him right now? Gaara felt the sand in his gourd shift.
Rasa glanced over his shoulder and noticed Gaara’s expression. Pulling a seal tag from his back pouch, he deliberately moved it through Gaara’s line of sight before handing it to Kanade. The killing intent his son was releasing dropped drastically.
Pulling her gaze away from the red-headed Jinchuriki, she looked at the tag skeptically. She wasn’t a professional in seals or even that knowledgeable, but she knew what this was.
“No Ma’am, we all have one.” Hori, one of the Elite Shinobi closest answered, holding up an identical seal.
Kanade’s eyes narrowed, clearly unsure. Glancing between Hori, Gaara, Rasa, and the seal in her hands repeatedly, she finally handed the seal back to Rasa, who pocketed it.
Rasa could tell the Kunoichi was clearly unhappy with the situation, and her gut feeling was probably being overridden by orders from the Daimyō. He couldn’t blame her; he himself believed that bringing Gaara here was a bad idea. But orders were orders.
The trip from the wall to the palace took only a few minutes, mostly because Gaara’s presence cleared any street they were on within moments. He made a few inquiries as to the specifics of the situation, but Kanade only told him that the Daimyō would talk to him about it himself.
So he tried to take in what he could about the city as they walked. It had changed a lot since he’d last been here more than half a decade ago. The buildings were different, redesigned, taller. Rasa was surprised to notice a Shinobi-only restaurant on the top floor of the building nearby, a wide entrance balcony extending from the front.
The palace guards opened the gates ahead of them, and the group began climbing the many steps to the palace. A beautifully decorated courtyard, filled with plants that definitely weren’t native to the Land of Wind, gave way to another set of stairs that stopped at the large doors to the throne room.
Kanade opened the doors with a firm push and stepped aside.
Rasa smiled as he spotted the Daimyō sitting on the throne on the other side of the large room. The ornate throne glittered in the sunlight streaming in from above as it reflected off the solid gold.
The Daimyō stood, and Rasa spotted several things that concerned him.
“Rasa, my friend, thank you for coming on such short notice.”
The bandaged arm in a sling, the stumble as he stood, steadied by one of the two guards by him. Rasa felt anger rise up, his shoulders tensing slightly. Someone had attacked the Daimyō.
Raising his hand, the Daimyō stopped him before he hurried across the room.
“I’m fine, don’t worry about me.”
The group stopped at the base of the small flight of stairs to the throne, waiting for the Daimyō as he walked down
“Welcome to the Capital, Rasa. It is good to have you back. Our great city rejoices and all that.”
Rasa smiled laconically, “I’m sure the city doesn’t care, Torio.”
Torio grinned in response, “Yeah, you’re right. It probably doesn’t.”
Coming together in an awkward hug, Rasa did his best not to touch Torio’s bandaged arm.
“What happened?” Rasa asked as soon as they separated. Torio laughed.
“Always straight to the point, but don’t worry about it right now, we’ll discuss it later. You and I both know I’ve survived worse than this.” Torio said as he gestured to his arm.
Rasa nodded in agreement, “Nevertheless, I am concerned.”
“Of course, of course. As I said before, thank you for coming on such short notice. You’ve made it just in time for Miyasato’s birthday celebration tonight.”
Accepting that he would have to wait for his answers, Rasa moved on.
“This is my youngest son, Gaara.” He said, stepping slightly to the side. His hand hovered near his pouch, ready to pull out the seal if necessary.
“I’m glad to finally meet you, Gaara of the Sand.”
Torio wasn’t bothered as the redhead ignored him, and Rasa gestured to the other redhead in the room.
“This is Sasori of the Red Sands, and Captain of the Puppeteers.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Sasori-san,” Torio said kindly, shaking hands with Captain.
“The feeling is mutual, Torio-sama,” Sasori replied with uncharacteristic respect. “How is your son? I’m unsure as to the truth of the rumors I have heard, but has he really never left this palace?”
Gaara glanced toward the Daimyō briefly.
Torio shook his head, almost sadly. “No, he has not. For his own safety, he isn’t allowed to leave, though I doubt he would have any desire to leave even if I let him.”
“Will we be meeting him?” Sasori inquired.
Torio nodded, “Of course, he’ll be here shortly.”
Edited by: Tensleep and Qibolu
Beta read by: Tensleep and Qibolu.
Special thanks to Hellman for helping write the second scene in this chapter, your imagery work is much appreciated.
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