“Didn’t ask to be alive, but I’m livin…’” Asurami muttered as he looked up at the front of the Daimyo’s Palace.
Crouching, Asurami poured Chakra into his legs and jumped.
Landing smoothly on the third story roof a moment later, he walked over to a spot of shade and pulled a cigarette from his pouch. After lighting the butt end of his addiction with a simple fire jutsu, he sat down.
“Will I die in the streets? Maybe I’ll go to prison…”
Taking a deep breath of the toxic fumes, Asurami manipulated the smoke in his mouth with Chakra. Breathing out, he watched the smoke take the form of a snake that flicked its wispy tongue. His forked tongue darted out, flicking the air before vanishing.
“Everybody got a time, I feel it coming…”
Front courtyard duty was Asurami’s favorite, nothing ever happened.
Since the very first attack, the Assassins had never attempted to enter the palace through the front. He was sure if they’d tried it, they would’ve succeeded in whatever their goal was.
The front was so boring that most of the Daimyo’s Guard hated getting assigned it.
Don’t know why they complain though, it’s not like anything interesting happens inside the palace either, Asurami mused as he took another draw of his cigarette.
As he stared up at the bright blue sky, Asurami wondered if accepting the Daimyo’s offer to become a Royal Guard had been the right choice.
“Met death at sixteen, since then I ain’t stopped running, I promise…” Asurami said softly, his eyes lidded as he stared out at the sprawling city before him.
Shifting his position on the roof tiles, Asurami leaned back against the wall and got comfortable. Though he still kept one eye open just in case someone did attack the palace from the front, or Kanade suddenly appeared.
Kanade was extremely serious about security, and he couldn’t fault her for it. Without her complete dedication to her job, the Daimyo and his son would have died long ago. Asurami could confidently admit that he’d probably be dead as well.
Nevertheless, Kanade could be annoying at times.
“This is the life of a Shinobi. Life of a Shinobi, yeah…” Asurami muttered, finishing the verse of the song that had been stuck in his head all morning.
Looking down, Asurami located the two civilian gate guards on the other side of the thick metal bars. Even from this distance, he could smell their sweat in the air. He didn’t envy them.
The life of a civilian guard was boring, tedious, and what’s more, often ended in a horrible death.
At least it pays well, Asurami mused as he scratched his arm and looked up at a messenger bird in the sky.
“Stop right there!”
Hearing the voice of one of the guards, Asurami leaped to his feet and stared at the gate.
His view beyond the bars was blocked by the bodies of the two guards, who seemed to be pointing their weapons at someone.
Asurami cursed, he hadn’t thought about the fact that he couldn’t see the street right in front of the damn gate.
Just as he was about to move, someone grabbed both of the guard’s shirts and threw them to the side. A second later, the gate smashed open as the unknown intruder kicked it.
Well, I’ll be damned, guess we are under attack—
Asurami’s jaw wanted to drop, but his mask didn’t allow it.
The intruder was Rasa… or at least someone who looked like Rasa.
Disappearing into the shadows, Asurami began making his way down the side of the Palace as quickly as he could. Is someone henged as the Kazekage? Asurami wondered. That doesn’t make any sense… attacking the gate guards wouldn’t get them anywhere. Could it be Rasa?
Despite the logic not holding up, Asurami had to assume that it wasn’t the real Kazekage. He had not been informed that Rasa was arriving today, which made the Shinobi storming across the courtyard an intruder.
Reaching the last roof, Asurami dropped his Genjutsu and fell to the ground just as the Rasa look-alike reached the bottom of the stairs.
Asurami was prepared to defend himself, but Rasa simply stopped, staring at him.
“I have to say, I didn’t expect to see you here today, Rasa-sama,” Asurami said carefully, his tongue darting out to test the air.
It smells like Rasa…
Rasa placed his foot on the top stair, and Asurami drew a Kunai.
“I do not have time for this!” Rasa growled as he made his way up the stairs.
Asurami blasted Rasa with Killing Intent, “you’re not getting past without me vetting you.”
Dropping to the ground, Asurami immediately rolled to the side, narrowly avoiding Rasa’s signature gold dust. Getting to his feet, Asurami watched Rasa storm past and kick open the palace doors with a tremendous crash.
It’s the Kazekage alright… and he’s mad about something.
Asurami’s eyes widened, and he vanished in a swirl of sand a split second later.
Rasa barely made it a dozen feet across the throne room when he was forced to stop, the sharp end of a war fan pressed against his neck.
“If you are the Kazekage, you will let us prove it,” Kanade warned, her other hand gripping the handle of the huge fan strapped to her back. “If you move, I will kill you.”
“I’m here to talk to Torio. I don’t have time to spare.” Rasa replied as he slapped Kanade’s hand to the side.
Kanade started to draw her war fan when Asurami appeared in a swirl of sand next to her and caught her wrist. In the split second, before she recognized Asurami, Kanade drew a Kunai and pressed it against Asurami’s throat.
“It’s really him,” Asurami whispered and let go of Kanade’s wrist.
Sheathing the Kunai, Kanade dropped her hand as she watched Rasa walk away.
“I will inform Torio-sama that Rasa is here,” Kanade said as she pointed to Rasa. “Do not let him leave this room.”
Asurami nodded and they both vanished, leaving only gusts of wind in their wake.
“Where is he?”
“The throne room, my Lord,” Kanade replied as she opened the door to Torio’s study.
Hurrying past the head of his guard, Torio stepped into the hall and turned toward the throne room. He’d been shocked when Kanade had informed him that Rasa had arrived unannounced at the palace.
Why is he here? Torio wondered. It must be an emergency… did something happen to Naruto?
The thought made him pour chakra into his legs, and he vanished a second later, Kanade in close pursuit.
Arriving at the entrance to the throne room, Torio pushed the doors open and stepped inside.
Rasa immediately looked over at him, and Torio looked at him questioningly as he hurried across the large throne room.
“We need to talk.”
Torio nodded, his confusion clear on his face as he gestured for Rasa to follow him. “Let’s talk somewhere more private?”
When Rasa didn’t protest, Torio turned and led the way to his study. Upon arriving, Torio gestured to one of the open couches and then sat down on the couch opposite.
“How can I help you, Rasa?” Torio asked, his confusion evident.
Rasa leaned forward, his hands folded in front of him, seemingly thinking.
The silence dragged on for several moments.
“You trusted me with the knowledge of your son’s Byakugan, did you not?” Rasa asked after a moment, and Torio nodded.
Is this what he came all this way to ask?
“I can think of several reasons you would tell me…” Rasa said and his eyes narrowed. “However, did you think I wouldn’t learn about Naruto’s other… oddities?”
Torio sighed and rubbed his face as he leaned back. Noticing Kanade standing behind him, Torio gestured for her to leave. She hesitated for just a moment before vanishing.
“Rasa,” Torio said as he sat up, “I didn’t tell you because I had no idea how to explain it all to you.”
Torio could tell that Rasa didn’t believe him.
“You told me that you think Naruto’s true father is a Hyūga.”
Torio threw up his hands, “I told you that because that was the best explanation I have for his Byakugan… As for… the horns… I just don’t know.”
Rasa’s stare was unsettling, but Torio didn’t falter.
“How can you not know, Torio. I fought in a war with you, I know how dedicated you are to the details. He’s the son of your wife, for Kami’s sake!” Rasa accused.
“I know that!” Torio returned sharply. “She refused to tell me who it was, and believe me, Rasa… I tried to find out.“
“Naruto isn’t normal… I have doubts that he’s even human.” Rasa stated, unbothered by his friend’s response. Torio took a deep breath, calming himself.
“I know that.”
“Torio… he has horns growing out of his skull,” Rasa continued. “His skin grows paler, despite training in the sun every day, and he’s beginning to act more like Gaara than I would like.”
Torio’s eyes narrowed, “What do you mean?”
Rasa sighed, clearly at a loss himself. “Naruto killed one of his fellow academy students in a spar a little over a month ago, and I still have no idea how he did it.”
“Deaths in the Academy happen all of the time?” Torio prompted, confused. “If you remember, when we were in the Academy, three students died during our four years.”
“Yes, yes, I remember,” Rasa replied, waving his hand. “There is more to it than that. When I confronted Naruto after the incident he was cold, uncaring. Additionally, shortly afterward, he seemed to forget that he’d killed someone.”
‘“Shock?” Torio guessed, and Rasa shook his head.
“That’s what I originally thought as well, but it wasn’t that.”
“I don’t understand?”
Rasa sighed, “I had my daughter question Naruto about the incident a week later, and she told me that Naruto seemed to have genuinely lost all memory of the event. When she asked him why he was no longer in the Academy, he claimed that he’d gotten a private tutor to improve faster.”
“He forgot that he killed another student? Is that what you’re saying?” Torio asked in disbelief, and Rasa nodded.
“I think you can understand my confusion, which is one of the reasons I’m here,” Rasa said and licked his dry lips. Torio noticed and poured his friend a glass of water before offering it to him.
Rasa downed in quickly and set the glass down.
“There has to be more to Naruto than you’ve told me, be honest. What the hell is going on with your son?“
Torio was silent as he stared at the floor between them.
“Naruto is growing horns out of the sides of his head, Torio… he’s not human.”
Torio sighed, rubbing his face before looking up at Rasa.
“I don’t know,” Torio admitted. “I’ve tried to find the answers to the questions you’re asking. I didn’t find anything, and in the meantime, I tried to do my best to hide Naruto’s oddities.”
Torio got to his feet and began pacing around the room.
“His Byakugan was obvious from the start, and I simply told everyone he was blind. The pale skin, even from birth, though Naruto has only gotten paler as he’s grown, was easily explainable as a birth defect. It drew suspicious looks of course, but I could deal with that.”
Rasa cracked his fingers and folded his hands in front of him as he once more tried to figure out how the pieces fit together.
“However, when Naruto’s hair started to turn white…” Torio trailed off.
“White hair?” Rasa asked, looking up at Torio. “But Naruto has brown hair?”
Torio shook his head. “It’s dyed brown, to look like mine. I started having it dyed regularly when he was three, and shortly afterward, I discovered the beginnings of the bumps on his head. I had a medic-nin I could trust brought in… and he told me they were natural. There was no way to tell how big the obtrusions would get.”
“Is it a disease?” Rasa asked.
“I asked that, but he said no.” Torio replied as he continued to pace the room, “I asked whether they could be removed, and he advised against that as well. He believes that the horns, if I dare to call them that, would just grow back.”
Torio sighed, finally sitting back down on the couch. “So, I grew his hair out to cover them. What else could I do, Rasa?”
“This doesn’t make any sense…” Rasa muttered quietly.
“I don’t have the answers you want, Rasa. Only Yuri-chan knew, and she refused to tell me anything.”
Leaning back, Rasa stared at the ceiling for a few moments.
“I’ll let it go for now… I came here for more than just Naruto.” Rasa said as he sat back up. “I believe Kumo is moving to attack Suna.”
Torio looked up sharply, and Rasa could tell his friend had changed gears entirely.
It was an order.
“I’ve nothing concrete, only concerning rumors, but my gut tells me they’re true.”
Rasa’s gut feeling had been something they’d both come to trust time and time again in the last war.
“Could you have not informed me of your concerns by hawk?” Torio inquired, “If Sunagakure is in danger… you shouldn’t be here.”
“I needed to talk to you about Naruto.”
Torio’s eyes narrowed, “I understand your confusion… and I’ve told you all that I know, but could this not have waited until a later date?”
Rasa shook his head, “No, because I believe Kumo is after Naruto.”
“How is that even possible? How could they know he’s there?”
Rasa gestured for Torio to wait, and Torio sat down again.
“The day of your son’s birthday party, the Kumo Embassy in Suna was attacked and everyone inside was killed. The murderers have not been found, but I believe it was the Assassins.”
“I don’t understand?”
“Right before I received your summons, a man was captured by Suna Elite as he sprinted into the city. They suspected him to be a Kumo spy.” Rasa explained. Torio didn’t look the least bit surprised, they both knew every country had spies in the Land of Wind. “The man was in terrible shape. I could tell he’d been running across the desert at full speed for days. I was interrogating him, but when I received your summons, I ordered for him to be delivered to the Kumo Embassy and forgot about it.”
“I always hated that clause of the treaty… it was that or risk our own spies’ lives, I suppose.” Torio muttered as he shook his head. Rasa just nodded.
“So…” Torio said after a moment. “What you’re implying is that the Kumo Spy was from Kazedama, and somehow caught onto the Assassins attacking me?”
“Yes, and he saw too much, so they chased him to Suna. He managed to get to the Kumo Embassy by sheer luck, and since they didn’t know what he’d told his comrades, they killed everyone to be safe.”
Torio rubbed his jaw, trying to process what Rasa was telling him. It made sense, but if it was truly what had happened… they were in trouble.
“You’re operating under the assumption that everything we knew the Assassins knew… Kumo also knows.”
Rasa chuckled at his friend’s reaction. He’d had the same reaction when he put the pieces together.
“I still think you could have sent this information by hawk,” Torio said after a moment. Rasa shook his head.
“It was too risky, I believe Kumo has already started intercepting messenger hawks,” Rasa explained, noticing Torio’s expression hadn’t changed. “I realize you’re concerned about Naruto, but there is no need.”
Torio raised an eyebrow, “So it worked then?”
“Not exactly as hoped… but I believe my efforts in Nekokami helped lay the groundwork for… some sort of relationship to form.”
“Did Gaara try to kill Naruto again?”
“Twice, actually,” Rasa replied, sighing. “Once before we even reached Nekokami, and again shortly after we arrived in Suna.”
“However, things are working now?” Torio inquired, and Rasa nodded.
“Gaara has been following Naruto around closely for the last month without issue, and even willingly went on a D-level mission with Naruto to Wani City.”
Torio looked relieved.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Torio said. “I know you were concerned that my request was impossible.”
Rasa shrugged, “I can’t take credit for your request being fulfilled. It was more luck than anything else. However, the next time you ask me to do something like that again… I’m going to refuse.”
“I understand,” Torio said. “Anyway, what do you want me to do?”
“Nothing. I just wanted you to be aware that Kumo may attack Kazedama after attacking Suna.” Rasa explained, and Torio was clearly surprised.
“Would it not be best for me to travel back with you to Suna along with my guard and the Shinobi Forces here in Kazedama?”
“No, I don’t have enough information right now,” Rasa said as he got to his feet. “Suna likely has numerous spies, and you arriving would be extremely obvious. I don’t know where Kumo is operating from, so I can’t prevent them from attacking an undefended Kazedama…”
“And then blackmailing me with the capital instead of my son…” Torio said slowly, finishing Rasa’s thought.
“Very well then, I understand. However, you will take Kanade-san back to Sunagakure with you. I’m not asking.”
Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
How is this moron still alive? Tsukasa wondered as she mentally followed the chakra signature through the walls behind her. It must be that the Kazekage set some sort of rule up to let him live. That has to be the reason.
Setting her nail polish down, Tsukasa turned around just as the apartment room door opened. She watched Samuk expectantly as he stepped into the room, though the look of confusion on his face quickly irritated her.
“Where are Tera and the others?” Samuk asked as he closed the door behind him.
Tsukasa knew all about Samuk. She’d even considered hiring him to be apart of her organization when he’d been banished from Suna. She was glad she’d decided against.
Over the years, she’d heard scattered reports of his efforts to enact his revenge on the Kazekage, and she’d respected him for his dedication. Idiotic as it was.
However, all respect she used to have for the Shinobi in front of her was gone.
Picking up the nail polish bottle, Tsukasa sealed it away.
“You’re more of an idiot than I thought you were, Samuk.” She said, her hands on her hips.
Samuk’s look of suspicion made her smile, showing off her perfect white teeth. The fool was finally starting to get it.
“Is it not obvious, Samuk?” She said theatrically, gesturing to the barren apartment room around them. “Tera was caught… and he spilled the beans, so to say.”
“By who? How?!” Samuk demanded, fully drawing the kunai he’d been gripping.
“By Kumo, you dumbfuck!” Tsukasa spat. “Tera was sloppy, and he brought Kumo’s attention to Suna by killing everyone in the Kumo Embassy. The RAIKOU got him in the end… and the head of the snake has been cut.”
“I see…” Samuk said as he slowly backed up and turned around.
As Samuk was reaching for the door handle, Tsukasa nodded. Samuk’s body hit the floor a second later, and she idly watched the fool’s head roll across the floor.
“Oh… he will be missed…” Tsukasa said dramatically and flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“We need to get out of Sunagakure,” Otabane said as they stepped out of the shadows, their razor-sharp fan once more strapped to their back.
“Agreed,” Tsukasa replied. Looking at Samuk’s body once more, she considered having it moved, but decided against it. There was no harm in it being found. “Kumo will be moving on Suna in the next twenty-four hours. I can’t tell if they’re aware the Kazekage isn’t here, but I have to assume that they know.”
“What if they get the Prince?” Otabane asked.
Tsukasa bit her lip, “We have to hope they don’t. I have reason to believe that Kumo has brought the Eight-Tails Jinchuriki and they will definitely send him in to retrieve the Prince.”
“We must strike while the Jinchuriki’s fight each other,” Otabane said, and Tsukasa nodded.
Activating a Genjutsu, Tsukasa opened the window and slipped outside. Otabane quietly followed her, and they both lept to the next roof.
Otabane didn’t use Genjutsu, but Tsukasa still struggled to see the Shinobi in the night.
After Tera had gone missing, Otabane had arrived at her home and asked to join her organization. Tsukasa wasn’t sure how Otabane had known where she lived, but she’d agreed regardless.
Otabane was a valuable ally.
Tsukasa couldn’t prove it, but she was almost completely sure that Otabane was a female.
Focusing, Tsukasa looked around for a Suna patrol before leaping to the next roof.
We’ll have to wait for the right moment to strike during the battle, Tsukasa thought. I cannot allow Kumo to get the Prince. They’re too strong already… Kami help us if they got the Stone.