There was nothing Tera hated more than hiring civilians, but his hand had been forced. He’d been a fool, and his master would have frowned at the choices he’d made. He’d allowed emotions to dictate his actions and had failed to think logically. Many had been lost.
He was wrong, his master would have killed him for his failures.
Suppressing the chakra in his core, he skillfully slipped past the two Shinobi guarding the gates. There were more in the shadows above him, but they didn’t notice him. Shinobi relied on Chakra for everything, and many forgot to train their senses to detect the basics.
The moon shone brightly on the sleeping city of Kazedama as Tera made his way through the shadows cast by the tall buildings. Peace had dulled the senses of the Shinobi, made them overconfident. Even with their after their past intrusions, the Shinobi were not truly on guard.
However, like bees, the closer one got to the Queen, the stronger the average bee became, and Shinobi were much the same. That was why the Daimyo was protected by the strongest the Land of Wind had to offer. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that the Daimyo had what he wanted.
He was in Kazedama to check the validity of the reports he’d been getting from the civilians his men had paid. It might already be too late, but he couldn’t afford to ignore the rumors. Of course, as to be expected of such poor excuses for informants, none had tried to actually confirm anything. Only one had even stated there was a rumor, but the reports of others seemed to support it.
The rumor was the prince had left Kazedama unannounced, possibly with the Kazekage. If it was true, he needed to locate the prince immediately. It was doubtful the Daimyo didn’t expect them to go after his son, but that didn’t mean an opportunity to finally capture the prince wouldn’t present itself.
Pausing in a shadowy dead-end alleyway, Tera looked up toward the sky. The moon was barely visible beyond the edge of the tall building in front of him. Taking a deep breath, he loosened his shoulders. Great physical exertion without chakra required one to relax, to prepare their body.
Stepping back a few feet, he made a running start and ran up the side of the wall long enough to grab the edge of a hanging balcony. Pausing for a moment, he waited to see if any of the guards just forty feet away had sensed him.
Effortlessly hauling his body through the cold night air, Tera hopped over the balcony railing. It took him less than four seconds to pick the lock of the balcony door and slip inside the apartment room. He didn’t bother to close it behind him. Silently moving across the room, he didn’t spare the man sleeping in bed a glance.
Delicately unlocking the door to the hallway, he cracked it open just enough to slip through. Repeating the process on the next room across the hall, he stepped out onto the balcony facing the courtyard of the Daimyo’s Palace. No one would notice him on the second floor, which was just high enough to see over the courtyard walls.
Palace security had increased drastically in the last four years, but it wasn’t impossible to beat. He just wished he’d considered kidnapping the prince to blackmail his father from the beginning. The chance had presented itself four years ago, and he’d passed it up, instead going for the Daimyo’s wife.
Afterward, it had been too late. More Shinobi were recruited for the Daimyo’s Guard, walls were sealed and reinforced. It would be impossible to sneak back out while carrying the Prince, especially without the use of chakra.
Rolling his shoulders, he hopped up on the railing of the balcony and jumped.
He waited for some time at the railing, straining all of his senses for anyone in the shadows he couldn’t sense. Breaking into such a secure location, guarded by numerous high-sensitive sensory Shinobi required extremes. His core was throbbing painfully as the chakra within tried to escape, to flow through his body.
He was forcing his chakra to compress far beyond what most Shinobi would even consider, and he couldn’t do this for long, or his chakra system would die from lack of use. He would indisputably die shortly after.
Hoisting himself over the wall, he dropped to the ground below. There wasn’t any cover, and he was forced to rely on his ability to suppress his chakra as he sprinted across the courtyard. Keeping to the shadows as much as possible, he quickly reached the base of the palace on the left side of the grand stairs.
Immediately jumping up onto a thin ledge running along the side of the base, Tera kept his balance with ease, though the surface was barely more than half an inch wide. He reached the corner of the palace a moment later and peered around. It seemed like his only worry was a guard holding a bright torch a couple dozen feet ahead of him.
He couldn’t wait for the guard to get farther away. He was exposed, and if someone were to look, they would see him. Risking detection, he picked up speed as he ran down the side of the palace along the thin ledge. Leaping into the air, he managed to barely grab the bottom of a hanging balcony.
Pulling himself up, he didn’t bother to check the door as he quickly leaped up again and grabbed the overhanging roof, lithely pulling himself up. Hooking his fingers under the edge of a cracked open window, he slipped inside onto the third and abandoned floor of the palace.
Darting into the room on his left, Tera closed the door behind him as quickly and quietly as he could. Not waiting to see if he’d been caught, he darted across the empty and colorless room to the far window. Throwing it open, he slipped out and closed it behind him with one hand.
Pivoting on his wrist, he rotated to face the palace wall, keeping his grip tight on the window sill. He waited for several minutes, ignoring the cold desert winds tearing at his hooded face.
I should have expected such use of the Shunshin. It lures the intruder into a false sense of security, unable to detect anyone around, they appear suddenly. Most Shinobi would have been caught there. Brilliant. Tera thought, carefully keeping track of the unknown Shinobi on the other side of the wall.
After a few minutes, during which his hand began to complain from the biting cold, the Shinobi eventually vanished once more. He briefly considered trying again, but he’d noticed that there was a suspicious number of Chakra Signatures in the garden below him. Other than the third and fourth floors, the palace grounds were the only other place where he could sense Shinobi.
Like most Shinobi-infested areas, the first two floors of the Daimyo’s Palace were covered in seals that prevented sensing someone inside.
However, for there to be this many signatures in the palace garden was an unusual event, and he decided to check it out first. Letting go of the window sill, Tera free fell well over two dozen feet and hit the ground with a roll.
Instead of immediately getting to his feet, he stayed flat on the ground, waiting to see if he’d been detected. Missions like this often came down to luck. If someone was looking at the right spot at the right time, they’d see him. There wasn’t anything that could be done about that.
It only took a few minutes to get up into the trees and move closer to the signatures. As Tera had suspected, the one in the middle was the Daimyo. He had to slow to a mere snail’s crawl as he moved through the last few trees. There were at least a dozen Shinobi here.
Three were beneath him, underground, four in the bushes, and the last four were in the trees with him. They were all spread out at varying distances, and the apparent gaps in some of the defenses made him concerned there were Shinobi he couldn’t detect present as well. He gave those spots a wide berth.
Peering into the small clearing, Tera saw the Daimyo sitting on the grass next to the prince, reading something to the pale-skinned boy. The Prince’s face was obscured by a hood, making it impossible for him to be sure.
He couldn’t risk staying any longer. If the rumors were true, then the Daimyo would be trying to make it seem like the prince was still here. Carefully moving his hand, he grasped a branch behind him. Hearing leaves rustle ever so slightly, Tera froze.
That wasn’t me.
Barely turning his head, his hood shifted just enough to give him the visibility he needed. Perched on a branch, not even two feet below him, was a Kunoichi. She was staring through the leaves intently toward the Daimyo and his son. It seemed she wasn’t aware he was there. Tera had already instinctively stopped breathing.
He was trapped until she moved. He couldn’t get to the next tree without using chakra to mask the sound, and that would undoubtedly give him away from such a short distance.
Looking back toward the Daimyo, he noticed that the Prince had raised his hood.
So it’s not the prince, it is a decoy child, Tera thought as he carefully observed the similarly pale-skinned boy sitting next to the Daimyo. Now that he could see their face, he realized their skin was more tan than the prince’s had been. Then where is the prince? If the Kazekage did come here to take him, would he have brought the prince back with him to Suna?
Kazekage Mansion, Suna, Land of Wind, EN.
Naruto laid still, waiting. He didn’t remember waking up, but he remembered being terrified of something. No matter how hard he tried to recall what had caused the feeling, he couldn’t. Finally giving up, Naruto sat up and activated his Byakugan.
Sliding off the bed, he walked over to his wardrobe and grabbed a pair of poorly-folded training clothes off a shelf. He still wasn’t used to having to organize and fold his own things.
A scream made him twist around sharply. A moment of complete silence passed. He searched the whole mansion, and the grounds outside, but there was no one there. Feeling his neck burn, Naruto pressed his hand against it, but it was cold and clammy.
What is going on? Naruto thought. Changing into the fresh clothes, Naruto made his way out of the mansion and closed the thick door behind him.
He hadn’t returned to the Academy since Gaara’s attack, and it took him a moment to recall how to get there. After getting out of the hospital, he’d spent most of his time at the public library reading.
Rasa had assigned him a personal guard, though Naruto hadn’t met them yet, he’d briefly spotted them following him a couple of times. He had a guard now because he’d refused Rasa’s offer to abandon learning at the Shinobi Academy, and instead be taught by a private tutor.
He’d chosen to stay with the Academy because it would have been what his father wanted. Rasa had clearly been against the idea and had assigned him a guard.
Since then, he hadn’t seen Gaara even briefly, and he was beginning to wonder where the Jinchuriki was. However, he had refrained from asking Rasa about it.
The Shinobi academy came into his Byakugan’s range after a few minutes of walking. Pushing open the front door, he stepped inside and headed down the left-most hallway.
Pausing, he stared at the spot Gaara had attacked him, trying to recall what had happened.
I passed out, I wasn’t able to break free of Gaara’s grasp. Naruto thought as he looked away and continued down the hall. Why am I alive? No one came to save me, according to Rasa. Gaara just… left me? Why would he do that?
Opening the sliding door in front of him, Naruto realized there was no one inside. Climbing up a few steps at the back, Naruto took a seat at one of the many benches. After a few moments of waiting, his mind still spinning, Naruto expanded his range drastically and attempted to find his teacher.
The building was empty, he was the only one here.
Naruto deactivated his Byakugan and lifted his blindfold enough to peer out the window. The sun had just barely begun to peek over the high walls of Suna. The class wouldn’t be starting for at least another hour.
He decided to wait.
Carefully shutting the iron gate behind her, Temari locked it and checked both ways on the street. There was no one around, though there never was. Hurrying down the road, she rounded a corner and sighed in relief. No one had spotted her.
Kankuro wasn’t aware of her early morning jaunts, and now that Naruto was living with them, she had to worry about him seeing her as well. If she was ever caught and couldn’t come up with a good excuse, she wouldn’t be allowed to do this anymore.
Temari frowned as she walked the empty streets, memories she’d tried and failed to repress flooding back. Her family didn’t like talking about the night that had changed everything. Her father would refuse to talk and leave any time she brought it up. Kankuro was terrified of what he’d seen and would beg her to stop.
Inevitably, she’d stopped, even with her friends. No one in the city wanted to think about it. She supposed it made sense. Every place probably had something taboo to speak about.
She could understand why everyone was unwilling, fearful even, to talk about that night. It was just that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t bring herself to forget about it like everyone else. Many people had lost family and friends that night, but for her, she had finally met her baby brother for the first time.
Before that, her father had never let her talk with or even see Gaara. She barely remembered seeing him right after he was born, then he was whisked away by Shinobi. Despite that, she vividly recalled her mother’s happiness. How fondly her mother would talk about Gaara, and about how happy she was to have another child.
Because of that, wanting to make her mother proud of her, she’d promised to help take care of the family and Gaara once he was born.
It had been a childish promise, but one she’d made nonetheless. It was not one she could easily forget.
Then disaster had struck their family. Just hours after Gaara had been born, her mother died, and the world descended into anarchy. Kankuro’s and her relationship with her father had been nearly nonexistent before, and it only got worse afterward. Rasa barely explained anything, like, for instance, that Gaara was being looked after by their uncle.
No matter how much she asked, Rasa would refuse to tell her anything about her youngest brother, almost seemingly wanting her to forget Gaara existed entirely.
Then one night, several years later, the air had been filled with a tremendous roar of primal anger had sent her running from her bedroom, screaming as things crashed to the floor around her.
A Shinobi had picked her up in the hallway and carried her away from the palace. They’d brought her to the safety of Suna’s walls, along with Kankuro.
What she saw terrified her. A Sand Demon, towering over Suna, even the Kazekage tower, and destroying anything close to it. She’d watched as her father fought the beast and eventually defeated it. Days passed before Rasa finally relented and told her that the creature was her youngest brother, Gaara.
It had taken even longer for Rasa to admit why Gaara had released the Sand Demon. That night, her uncle had attempted to kill Gaara and failed. Gaara had killed the only person in the village that had ever been nice to him in self-defense, and it had finally pushed him over the edge.
No one else seems to understand that or care, Temari thought sadly as she readjusted her grip on the paper bag in her arms. The bag was still warm, but she needed to hurry.
A month and several failed attempts to find Gaara later, Rasa had finally allowed her to see him through locked bars. Gaara had not been friendly to her, but he hadn’t seemed to despise her either. That had given her hope that she could build a relationship with her brother.
She’d begged Rasa to let Gaara move into the Kazekage Mansion, and surprisingly, he’d eventually agreed. Kankuro had been very unhappy with her.
“Good morning, Shinobi-san,” Temari said, bowing to the Shinobi who’d stepped out of seemingly thin air before her. She knew they were there simply because she’d visited this place so often.
“I assume you’re here to visit the Jinchuriki?” The Shinobi asked though he was clearly not expecting a response as he unlocked a nondescript and uninteresting-looking door.
“Hai,” Temari replied anyway, thanking the Shinobi as she stepped inside. The door closed behind her a second later. As one might expect, she was the only one who ever visited Gaara in his containment cell.
Making her way down the hallway, she waited as another mysterious masked Shinobi unlocked another door. This one was much larger, and made of metal that was several inches thick. It was meant to keep Gaara in an escape attempt if he somehow made it past the water that would flood the lower levels.
Personally, she didn’t think Gaara would have a hard time escaping if he wanted to. Instead, she believed that Gaara willingly came here when he wanted to be away from everyone. No one bothered him here.
Well… no one but me.
Accepting the offered torch, she began the descent to the third floor of the facility, where Gaara’s cell was. This place had been constructed secretly shortly after the incident. Gaara was sent here whenever he began to act strangely. That, of course, meant he was trying to kill more people than usual.
After a few minutes, she reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped in front of yet another door. This one was opened by a seemingly invisible hand, but she knew it was a Shinobi under a Genjutsu. She just couldn’t see them.
Once the door was opened, she waited for several minutes as two Shinobi she could see stepped inside first and began to disarm numerous deadly traps. Sasori had told her once that the traps were overkill, and would definitely kill most people. However, he’d added that he wasn’t sure it would stop Gaara. They were untested.
Gaara had never tried to escape.
Walking down the hallway, she slipped her torch into a slot in the wall next to the iron bars. Sitting down crosslegged in front of the cell, she tried to see Gaara in the gloom beyond.
“Hey, I brought you some rolls. I know you like these.” Temari said as she opened the paper bag and pulled out another piece of paper from inside. Smoothing it out on the ground, she carefully lifted two rolls out of the bag and placed them on the paper.
Tentatively pushing the paper so that the rolls were within grabbing distance of the cell, she straightened again. She’d made these rolls as quietly as she could, and not long ago so that they would be fresh when she came here.
A moment passed, and she sighed, unable to keep the sadness out of her voice. Gaara was ignoring her again. He’d been here for the last week, ever since attempting to kill Naruto, and she’d visited every day. Gaara had yet to say anything to her. Temari hadn’t even seen him.
Leaning forward again, she pushed the paper farther into the cell. A minute passed. Temari waited, hoping to catch just a glimpse of her brother.
However, she couldn’t stay forever. Several minutes passed by, and she eventually gave up, sighing as she got to her feet and brushed off her clothes. There was a lot of sand down here.
“I’ll come again tomorrow, Gaara, and bring you some more rolls,” Temari said as she crouched down and put the rest of the rolls in the bag on the paper. “If you get tired of them, you have to let me know.”
Temari chuckled lightly to herself, though there wasn’t any cheer in her voice. She’d come to realize that talking to voiceless shadows was harder that one might think.
Standing up, she crumpled the bag in her fist and began walking back down the hallway. Something moved in the corner of her eye, and she stopped. A hand had darted out of the darkness of the cage and grabbed one of the rolls.
Temari smiled, “I knew you enjoyed those. They would always go missing mysteriously at home, and you’re the only one who would steal food from me.”
She began to leave again when a quiet voice behind her made her pause and turn around.
“What do you mean, Gaara?”
Barely able to hear Gaara, she returned sat back down in front of the cell.
“Why do you come here?”
Temari smiled as warmly as she could. This was the first conversation she’d had with Gaara in some time that had lasted more than two sentences and hadn’t ended with a threat of death.
“I care about you, Gaara, and I made a promise to our mother that I would help her look after you.”
Gaara’s voice became so venomous even she was shocked it was Gaara, “So it’s honor.”
She hurried to correct him, “No, no, no. It’s love. I love you. You are my brother, and I care about you.”
There was no response, but she waited regardless. This was the most progress she’d ever made. A hand slipped into the ring of torchlight and grabbed another roll. She stayed silent as Gaara slowly ate all the rolls.
Once they were all gone, she reached under the bars and grabbed the paper, pulling it out of the cage and crumbling it up with the bag in her hand.
“I saw something.”
Temari tried to see Gaara’s face, wanting to try to read his expression. There was an uncertainty in Gaara’s voice, something she’d never heard before. It scared her.
“I saw… I saw a world… burning.” Gaara murmured, barely louder than a whisper. She leaned closer, straining her ears. “There were people… they weren’t like… us… but they could feel pain.. and fear.”
Unsure if she should respond as the silence returned, she decided to wait.
“There were destroyers. They burned everything. The people ran in fear for their lives…”
Temari jumped as Gaara’s face suddenly appeared in the shadows, stopping a foot from the bars. A look of desperation in Gaara’s eyes terrified her more than anything she’d ever seen in her life.
“But there was nowhere for them to go, they all burned!”
Hearing footsteps approaching him, Naruto stirred and focused his Byakugan on the classroom doorway. He’d gotten lost in thought after losing interest in watching civilians nearby begin their day. Here or in Kazedama, the life of a civilian was boring to watch, and he’d quickly grown tired of it.
Naruto watched through his blindfold as a Shinobi he didn’t recognize entered. They paused in apparent surprise in the doorway as they noticed him, but they didn’t say anything. Instead, the Shinobi walking over to the wooden podium at the front and center of the room.
He remained silent as they organized the papers in their hands and carefully spread them out on the podium.
Naruto lifted his head slightly in recognition as they cleared their throat.
“Hello, my name is Hirofumi. I will be your Sensei for the History of both Suna and the Land of Wind. What is your name?”
Standing up, Naruto bowed respectfully, his hands hidden in his sleeves. It was a more formal way of bowing and was only used in higher society. Hirofumi clearly noticed the gesture. “I am Edano Naruto. My father sent me here to become a Shinobi in the Land of Wind’s greatest Shinobi Academy.”
Hirofumi chuckled, “I’m pleased to hear that your father thinks this is the Land of Wind’s greatest academy. Regardless, welcome Naruto. I look forward to being your Sensei.”
Naruto bowed again, though much less than before, and sat back down, his hands still folded in his sleeves. A few minutes passed as Hirofumi seemed to search through his papers before eventually finding a specific one.
“I must say I found your file to be very interesting. It’s marked with the Kazekage’s seal.”
Naruto nodded, “Hai. My father asked Kazekage-sama to bring me back with him, as he was concerned about the safety of my journey to Suna.”
“That makes sense,” Hirofumi said, though more to himself than Naruto. “It also says that you were blind, but aren’t now. Oh, I see, I missed that before.”
Naruto remained silent. Hirofumi was talking to himself and hadn’t asked him a question.
“Not that it’s any of my business as your History Sensei, but how well can you see using the Echolocation Jutsu?” Hirofumi asked curiously as he observed Naruto’s blindfold. “I learned the Jutsu back in my Chūnin days but never had a situation where it was useful. I’m curious to know if I should devote some time to practicing it again.”
“I can see as well as most, though I cannot see color, and obviously, my sight is limited in range. For example, I have never seen the sun, though it has been described to me.” Naruto lied.
“I see, thank you,” Hirofumi said, once more returning to his papers. “Oh, yes. I almost forgot. You are aware that you don’t need to arrive this early for class, correct?”
“Good, very good.”
More footsteps echoed through the classroom walls, sounding like a stampede. Naruto shifted his attention to the hallway. A large crowd of children was entering the Academy, splitting into three groups as they reached the three corridors on the first floor.
The children ranged in age from his age to several years older. He noticed a couple were carrying various weapons on them, while others looked awestruck by everything around them.
Naruto spotted Temari and Kankuro as they walked past his classroom, heading toward the stairs at the end of the corridor that lead to the second floor. His attention was drawn back to his immediate surroundings by the sound of the classroom door sliding open.
A young boy with short hair stuck his head inside and looked around for a second before focusing on Hirofumi.
“Is this Sensei Hirofumi’s class?”
“Hai,” Hirofumi answered with a smile and gestured to the rows of benches on the other side of the room. Naruto didn’t react as the boy looked over and noticed him. They seemed confused, possibly by his strange appearance, but they said nothing.
Naruto felt a rush of some strange emotion as the boy sat down on the opposite side of the room from him. He chose to ignore it. Over the next couple of minutes, twelve more kids his age entered the room and found seats.
One of them, the last to enter, was a boy with streaks of some odd color through his hair, who choose to sit down next to him.
“Hello, my name is Hogari Sengwari,” they said, offering their hand.
Naruto didn’t turn to face them, but slipped a hand out of his sleeve and shook their hand. He was surprised by the firmness of their grip despite them being the same age as him. “I am Edano Naruto.”
“Class is now in session, no more talking!” Hirofumi called out, tapping a long ruler on the chalkboard behind him to get everyone’s attention.
“We’ll be starting with some basic history of Sunagakure’s founding. Some of you may already know about this topic from your parents, but for those that don’t, I want to get you up to speed.”