Hidden deep within the Oniringo Mountains, a small fire waned, slowly dying. Its creators neglected to give it more fuel to survive. It burned as bright as it could, casting a small circle of light around it.
The single flame danced in the lonely darkness, flickering from side to side as it consumed the last pieces of wood and sticks. Catching a bit of bark, it sparked, causing the circle to grow just enough to reveal a tent, previously hidden in the shadows.
Light slipped through a small crack in the front of the tent, revealing something pale in the darkness before it consumed the bark and died down.
A pair of pale, pupil-less eyes blinked in the shadows before disappearing, once more hidden beneath a blindfold.
Miyasato sat unmoving at the back of his tent as he shifted his attention to the other side of the camp. Rasa and Sasori had just gotten up and walked away, seemingly heading toward a nearby chasm.
He watched them as they strolled away in silence until they were beyond earshot. Rasa handed a scroll to Sasori, who unfurled it as they walked.
Miyasato tried to read the scroll, but it was written in symbols he had never seen before. Focusing on Sasori, he watched a multitude of emotions play across the typically laid-back Shinobi’s face.
As Sasori came to the end of the scroll, his expression shifted to one of disbelief. He rolled it up and closed his eyes, seemingly thinking about it.
Miyasato turned his attention to Rasa. The Kazekage hadn’t moved since they had arrived at the edge of the deep chasm. He had seen dozens of similar gorges as they traveled across the mountains, and it was apparent why the mountain range was such an excellent defense for the Land of Wind. Filled as it was with sudden drops and unstable surfaces.
“You’re actually serious.”
It was beyond impossible for Miyasato to hear Sasori, but he’d learned to read lips. It was something Asurami had taught him shortly after he learned to use his Byakugan reliably.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sasori said as he sat down on a small patch of sandstone.
“I don’t see a lot of other options, Sasori.”
Sasori laughed, “You’re right, I hate the fact that you’re right, but you are.”
Sasori rubbed his face, sighing deeply. “You and I have done a lot of stupid shit in our lives, you specifically. However, I thought as you got older, you were supposed to come up with less stupid-ass ideas.”
Miyasato looked at Rasa, but the Kazekage said nothing.
“I mean, you do understand how badly this is going to go if this doesn’t work, right? How… how can you possibly put this much hope in him?”
Are they talking about me? Miyasato wondered.
Sensing something was wrong, Miyasato reduced the range of his sight to less than fifteen feet. Hastily looking around him, he found the cause of the feeling. Ten feet away, on the other side of the tent wall, was Gaara.
The jinchuriki was crouched next to a boulder, hidden in the shadows. The light from the low campfire couldn’t reach Gaara on the other side of Miyasato’s tent.
He waited, curious to see what Gaara would do. For several minutes, neither of them moved. Miyasato seemingly facing in the other direction, his eyes covered by a blindfold. Gaara staring intently at the tent, as if able to see Miyasato through the thin fabric.
He’s going to try to kill me again. Miyasato realized. Gaara still hadn’t moved, but the redhead’s eyes were slowly growing more and more bloodshot. Quickly scanning the camp, Miyasato found all of the Elite Shinobi, one of which was sitting less than fifteen feet from the front of his tent.
His heart sunk in his chest as he realized he wasn’t faster than Gaara’s sand. Miyasato increased his range to locate the Kazekage when suddenly Gaara moved. Opening his palm, he pointed toward the tent. Sand poured over the lip and down Gaara’s shoulder, colliding with the sandy ground and merging with it. Mind racing, Miyasato realized he didn’t have many options.
Now. Jumping to his feet, Miyasato sprinted toward the front of the tent. Sand rose into the air behind him. Throwing himself to the ground outside of his tent, he barely avoided the spear of sand Gaara had flung at him, the sound of shredding fabric his only warning.
Inexperienced and disoriented, he wasn’t able to detect the second spear of sand speeding toward him, his Byakugan not yet developed enough.
Everything faded away as his vision shrunk drastically, focusing intently on the spear of hardened sand impaled through his chest. Blood poured down his shirt, soaking the sand beneath him. He could hear movement around him, but he wasn’t paying attention.
The pain was excruciating, the urge to scream was overwhelming. Rage filled his mind as he tried to force himself off the spear binding him to the ground. Someone was holding him down, and he tried to claw their leg. His swing missed, and someone grabbed his arms, holding them to the ground.
Miyasato growled, violently trying to get to his feet. Someone was talking, but he couldn’t hear them. The desire to kill saturated his mind. He tried again to move his head, but couldn’t. Something touched his neck, and everything went dark.
Rasa watched the emotionless face of his youngest son from across the long-dead campfire pit. He’d sealed Gaara as fast as he could, but it hadn’t been fast enough to prevent Gaara from unleashing a second attack. The soonest his son would wake up would probably be tomorrow when his body finally recovered from the Bijū’s chakra being violently ripped away from him.
Sighing, Rasa pressed his palms against his eyes in a pointless attempt to stop the pain in his head. Breathing deeply, he looked up at the slowly-brightening night sky. The sun would rise in about an hour, and he needed to decide what to do before then.
“Rasa-sama.” Tanyu, the medic-nin Sasori had brought, called him from the tent Miyasato had been placed in. Standing up, he gestured to Doppo to watch Gaara. Pushing aside the flap of the canvas, Rasa stepped inside. The first thing he noticed was that Miyasato was breathing, which was a good sign. Tanyu had at first been concerned that Gaara’s attack had punctured Miyasato’s lung.
“Is he still asleep?” he asked. Miyasato was lying on his back on a sleeping mat. It was the first time Rasa had seen the boy without a shirt, and he was somewhat surprised to see that all of Miyasato’s skin was extremely pale. His right side was heavily bandaged where the spear had hit him.
Tanyu nodded, crouching down as he began organizing his various medical tools.
“You’ll be happy to hear that the spear missed his lung, but only barely. Because the sand spear dissolved when Gaara was sealed, I didn’t have to pull it out, which helped reduce the damage. The flip side of that is, I had to carefully remove all the sand from inside his wound.”
Tanyu sealed his things and turned around, looking at Rasa seriously.
“I’m not sure I got all of it.”
Rasa grimaced. If there was sand still in Miyasato’s body, then Gaara could manipulate that sand. Murder made easy.
“Also, because Miyasato fought me so much before we knocked him out, he ruined all the benefit of having the weapon dissolve. His insides are extremely cut up. I stopped the bleeding and reconnected the muscles and tissue, but he’s going to be healing for some time.”
Rasa nodded. This changed everything, and he needed to rethink his previous plan. Miyasato would not be able to move quickly, which meant he had to be carried more. Gaara would also have to be carried, and kept separate from Miyasato if he were to unseal him.
“There is something else…”
Rasa looked up, having been blankly staring at Miyasato’s sleeping form. That was when he realized that the boy’s blindfold was missing.
“He has the Byakugan,” Tanyu said carefully, but clearly demanding an explanation.
“He does have the Byakugan,” Rasa confirmed, his tone of voice making it very clear that Tanyu would not share this information. “That is an S rank secret, as ordered by the Daimyō.”
Tanyu nodded sharply and picked up the blindfold from beside Miyasato’s head. Carefully lifting the boy’s head, Tanyu slipped it back over his eyes. Rasa was confused when Tanyu suddenly froze. Leaning closer, he saw what his subordinate was so shocked over.
Protruding from the side of Miyasato’s head, above his left ear were two small bumps. They looked to be the beginning of tiny horns. Tanyu turned Miyasato’s head, pushing his dark brown hair aside to reveal two identical bumps on the other side of the sleeping prince’s head.
Before Rasa could say anything, Tanyu’s hand lit up in light green flames.
“They’re connected to his skull… They’re naturally growing.” Tanyu said in disbelief, his hand moving back to the first pair of horns as he checked them as well. “What is this, kid?”
“You will keep this to yourself,” Rasa ordered, and left the tent.
Near Gimon Pyramid, Ten’inokaze Province, Land of Wind, EN.
“Sasori, you will go with Gaara, Yoshinaka, Naonobu, Akio, and Hyosuke. Go around Nekokami and enter from the other side, then meet us at the hotel.”
Miyasato didn’t really hear what Rasa was saying, focused entirely on Gaara. The redhead was unconscious on Sasori’s shoulders, the seal attached to the back of his neck burning brightly as it prevented him from using his chakra. He could see the flow of Gaara’s chakra. Like all Shinobi, Gaara had a central source in the middle of his chest. The difference was that beneath it, there was another source. Because this darker chakra was now separate from Gaara’s regular chakra, Miyasato could tell where it was coming from.
As he’d waited a few hours ago by the campfire for the Shinobi to pack up the camp, he’d carefully observed the seal on Gaara’s stomach through his clothes. He wasn’t able to understand what it did or what its purpose was. He simply knew it was a seal. He would ask Rasa about it later.
Wincing, Miyasato withstood the urge to hold his side. Tanyu had said that he needed to do as little physical movement as possible until he healed. While Miyasato been through some hard training with his father and Kanade, he’d never been in this much pain before. At random times, the pain would return at full force, but most of the time, he couldn’t feel it.
Snapping back, he turned toward Rasa, trying to shake off his deeply-ingrained habit of not actually facing people. He was still surprised at how different Rasa looked in his disguise. Like everyone else, Rasa had changed out of his shinobi wear and now wore plain civilian clothes, torn and covered in sand.
He, too, had changed clothes. His once-pristine white cloak had been burned, now damaged and stained beyond repair. Instead, he wore torn and seemingly-dirty garments with a large oversized cloak. His entire life, he’d worn clothes made of the smoothest silk, so the rough fabric made his skin itch.
“While we are in Nekokami, I want you to refer to me as Koukiaru,” Rasa said, and Miyasato nodded though it was barely perceptible under the hood.
“Call me Naifu,” Doppo said from behind him. Out of all the Elite Shinobi, Doppo was the one Miyasato knew the best as he’d been the one to do the cooking for everyone. His father had always enjoyed talking to him about various dishes, and though it wasn’t something Miyasato really enjoyed, he’d willingly listened.
The other three Shinobi present each called out what they would go by while in Nekokami, and Miyasato realized why Rasa was still looking at him.
He took a deep breath, remembering what his father had said to him now more than two weeks ago.
“Call me, Naruto.”
Rasa nodded, satisfied.
Kazedama, Sunagyu Province, Land of Wind, EN.
Pulling her already prepared papers from her pocket, she handed them to the Guard in front of her. The line hadn’t actually been that long, but it had felt like forever. She knew that even if the Kazekage immediately set out for Suna, they wouldn’t make it back for three days. That would mean it had been six days since she left on her mission, and a lot could happen in that time.
She turned back to the Guard and nodded, having been looking past him toward the bustling city of Kazedama. She’d only been here twice before in her life, both times on missions and the second time only very briefly.
“You’re good to go. Yoson will take you to the Daimyō.”
As the Guard finished, another Shinobi appeared next to them in a burst of speed. It wasn’t a Shunshin, just pure speed. Taking back her papers and sealing them away, she nodded to Yoson, and they vanished in a cloud of sand. The Guard coughed heavily and made his way out of the cloud, waiting for it to clear.
Pakura followed her guide across the rooftops at a blazing speed, reaching the Daimyō’s Palace less than two minutes later. Seeing Yoson drop down ahead of her, she slowed down drastically and slipped off the roof, landing smoothly on the brushed sandstone road below.
Yoson explained the situation to the Shinobi guard at the gate, and she was allowed inside. She resisted the urge to speed up the stairs to the entrance of the palace, it was dangerous to use chakra before being announced in new places.
Regardless, she still climbed the broad flight of stairs in a rush and hurried across the courtyard. Since encountering the guards at the gate, she hadn’t seen anyone else, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. As if to prove her point, a Shinobi appeared from the shadows by the entrance, conveniently blocking her path.
The first thing she noticed was that he seemed to be smoking a cigarette through his mask, or he could breathe fire. The second was that the mask he wore was extremely detailed, unquestionably imitating the face of a snake. The Shinobi’s posture was relaxed, casual even.
“Hello, what can I do for you?”
Pulling the scroll out of her pouch as non-threateningly as possible, she handed it to him.
“A message for the Kazekage from Baki, his second-in-command. I am to deliver to him immediately.” She explained, getting a nod from the Shinobi as he read the seal. He handed it back, leaving the seal unbroken.
Entering into what was clearly the throne room of the palace, Pakura followed the snake-like Shinobi through a small maze of halls before stopping outside of a door. The Shinobi knocked, and a moment later, the door was opened by a Kunoichi she recognized.
Kanade of the Searing Wind, the star pupil of the Wind Sage, was well known for her reputation before becoming a part of the Daimyō’s Guard. After that, Pakura hadn’t heard anything about the Wind Mistress for years.
“I need to talk to Torio, Kanade. Scoot.”
Pakura was surprised by the lack of respect in the snake Shinobi’s voice and more surprised by Kanade’s lack of annoyance. The Kunoichi simply moved out of the way. Pakura made no move to enter herself, not having been invited in.
With the powers that Shinobi possessed, it was elementary to pretend to be someone you weren’t. Even as a Shinobi of Suna, the headband around her waist proudly displaying that, she wouldn’t be trusted immediately. That simply was how it was, there was no guaranteed way to prove you could be trusted.
The snake Shinobi, whose name she still did not know, appeared in the doorway a moment later.
“Come on in, the Daimyō wants to talk to you.”
Outside Nekokami City, Ten’inokaze Province, Land of Wind, EN.
Naruto. It was a word he hadn’t said in a very long time and only heard rarely. His father was the only one who called him by his real name. It would take some getting used to. Regardless, he was happy to finally use his real name. His mother had given him the name, and it felt like he was now a little closer to her.
However, he didn’t really know anything about his mother, his father didn’t like to talk about her.
They’d left the mountains far behind, and Nekokami had come into the range of his Byakugan. As the group walked across the desert, weaving in between dunes, he got his first look at a city other than Kazedama.
As the prince of the Land of Wind, he’d learned about the history of the cities and villages in the country. Nekokami wasn’t a remarkable city, other than the fact that it was infamous for still existing. After the first Great Ninja War, there had been no intention to rebuild the city.
It was clear the city still existed simply because the people who remained after the war hadn’t left. He could see piles of rubble built up in the ruins of houses, to keep it off the streets. He’d say about a third of the city had been fixed up, the majority of it lying in ruins. Regardless of that, it was bustling with activity.
His father had told him the city was once a rapidly growing hub before the war, because of its unique location. Two mountain ranges to the north and east of the city acted as a wall against other countries. Invaders either had to go over the mountains or travel along them until coming to the Shazo Pass. Nekokami had been built on the inner side of the mountain ranges to protect it.
All trade and travelers coming from the north-east, which included the Land of Fire, Land of Lightning, and others, were forced to travel through the pass. This brought business and revenue to the city, which was how it survived after the war.
Like most wars in Shinobi history, going as far back as before Shinobi called themselves that. The first Great Shinobi war was fought over land. Not long after the end of the Warring States Era, when clans banded together to create countries, disputes broke out over who had rights to what land, and it quickly became violent.
In those days, the Land of Lightning owned what was now the Land of Storms, and was trying to expand into the Land of Wind. On the border was the Sakaime Forest, one of the few forests in the region. Suna refused to give up the woods, and war had quickly broken out between numerous nations over several similar disputes.
Kumo’s attack had been relentless and pushed Suna Shinobi back to the cover of the two mountain ranges. Then having the advantage, they had held off the invaders for several months at the pass. Kumo was unable to get enough Shinobi over the mountains at one time to make a difference.
In the end, the Shazo Pass did fall, and Suna Shinobi were forced to retreat once again. The final confrontation had taken place in the young Nekokami city, which had suffered much from the war as the pass was blocked off. Though the battle lasted less than six hours, Nekokami had been nearly razed to the ground in the crossfire.
Yet despite all odds, here it stood in front of him. The sun was beginning to disappear behind the mountains, casting a yellow glow across the city, and Naruto felt the first cool breeze of the coming night on his skin.
Less than an hour later, they reached the entrance to the city, and Doppo set him down. Being carried would draw more attention to them.
Naruto noticed that there were no guards, and unlike most cities in the Land of Wind, Nekokami lacked walls. Naruto had to shift his focus to his immediate surroundings as they merged with the sea of people, trying to avoid bumping into anyone. Staying as close to Rasa as he could, he watched the crowd around them, noticing the poor state of their clothing.
He was confused why everyone was keeping to the far right or left of the street, depending on the direction they were going, leaving the middle of the road completely empty. His question was answered a moment later as a man, walking in the middle of the street, entered into his small range.
The man wore luxurious clothes, not a speck of dust on them. Expensive jewelry covered seemingly every feature, and two guards flanked him on both sides. Struggling to keep up with Rasa while paying attention to the middle of the street, Naruto noticed even more richly-dressed people in the center as they walked further into the city.
It was apparent there was some sort of culture here that he didn’t understand. The rich had the middle of the street entirely to themselves, their guards beating anyone who tried to walk in the middle. He was drawn away from his observations as the man walking beside him suddenly sprinted into the middle of the street, carrying a knife.
The wealthy man’s Guard saw him coming, disarmed him, and bodily threw him back toward Naruto. A couple of quick steps forward saved him from being hit by the man. Realizing he’d lost Rasa, he started to look for him, finding the Kazekage on his left, waiting.
“Keep moving,” Rasa ordered quietly and stepped in front of him.
“Why is this city like this?”
“Keep your head down, I’ll explain later,” Rasa replied over his shoulder, and then abruptly stepped to the right. Naruto didn’t see the small child sprinting down the street toward him, weaving in-between people’s legs, and the kid slammed into him. He lost his balance, the sudden pain causing him to lose control of his Byakugan.
Stumbling, blinded by the band around his eyes, he finally regained his balance only to be slammed into by yet another small child. The pain made him cry out, causing those around him to look over. The anger returned, making him grit his teeth as his Byakugan flared to life again. Ignoring the pain, his wound now opening back up and beginning to soak his bandages, he rapidly scanned for the vega that had hit him.
Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he lashed out toward them, his Byakugan still focused on finding the children.
Finally, shifting his perception, he saw Doppo next to him, holding his wrist. He allowed his hand slowly fall back to his side as Doppo let go of it, eyeing him carefully. Pulling a scroll out of his pocket, Doppo handed it to Naruto.
“Cover your pockets next time, let’s go,” Doppo said, grabbing his shoulder and steering him back into the crowd.
They stole my scroll… I didn’t even realize it! Naruto thought. He tried to find the children behind him, enraged that they’d robbed him.
“Pay attention,” Doppo chided and pulled Naruto back by his shoulder. He’d almost walked into the path of one of the rich people as they exited the middle of the street. The entire crowd had come to a stop to let this one man and his guards enter into what looked to be an expensive restaurant, two guards standing at the entrance.
“They call themselves Kaunto, and we do not want to piss one of them off,” Doppo whispered in his ear.
Once the Kaunto had passed by, the crowd continued forward again, and Naruto slowly moved with them, Doppo now staying right behind him. After a couple minutes of walking, during which he stayed focused on his immediate surroundings, Doppo let go of his shoulder.
“Koukiaru will be inside, go,” Doppo said, pointing toward a building on the right. Naruto was confused for a moment before remembering that was Rasa’s code name while they were in Nekokami. When he rotated his vision, Doppo was gone.
Exiting out of the crowd, he climbed the three steps to the single unremarkable door of the Shainigu Hotel. He saw Rasa through the door before he even stepped inside, the dark-red haired man seemed very upset about something. He quickly walked up to him, realizing Rasa was sobbing, staring at the floor, his hands on his head, pulling at his hair.
His slow footsteps made Rasa look up, and rush over to him.
“Naruto! I’d thought I lost you. Hurry, let’s get a room, and then we’ll try to get to your aunt’s.” Rasa said, relief filling his voice. Naruto didn’t resist as Rasa pulled him over to the reception counter, behind which sat a bored-looking man, and reserved a room. “Don’t do that to me again Naruto, I couldn’t bear it if I lost you.”
Naruto nodded solemnly, keeping his head down and obscuring his face under the hood. He realized what Rasa was doing and kept quiet. He followed Rasa to the stairs, which look to be mostly safe. Their room was on the second floor, and it only took a few moments to walk up the stairs and down the hall.
As soon as the door of their room closed, Rasa’s posture and expression changed entirely. Now once again, he looked like the Kazekage, even with the torn and dirty civilian clothes.
“We will be staying in Nekokami for a few days,” Rasa said as he pulled a scroll out of his pocket and unfurled it. Naruto was barely able to see the pulse of chakra flow out of Rasa’s palm and into the seal written in the scroll. Smoothly catching the kunai pouch he’d unsealed out of the air, Rasa slid it into his pocket.
“Sasori and the rest will rent rooms here over the next few hours. We will stay here until they do. Afterward, Sasori and I have some things we need to do.”
Naruto nodded, though it wasn’t really noticeable under his oversized hood. Rasa was standing by one of the beds. Walking over to the other one and sitting down, Naruto winced slightly under his blindfold. Doing the same, Rasa laid down on the bed, hearing it creak beneath him.
A few moments passed in silence before Naruto asked the question that had been on his mind since his birthday party.
“Why does Gaara keep trying to kill me?”
Rasa sighed. “Gaara believes that to exist, one has to have a purpose.”
He took a deep breath, opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling. The memories of Gaara explaining this to him flashed across his mind, his son desperately trying to kill him as he yelled at him in hatred. He knew that his son had every right to hate him, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Gaara believes that to exist without reason, is no different than not existing at all.” Rasa wished Naruto hadn’t asked this question, but he knew it would come eventually. “After Gaara’s uncle, and my brother-in-law, the only other person who cared about Gaara, tried to kill him on my orders, Gaara decided to only live for himself, to only love himself.”
Naruto didn’t say anything, and he continued on.
“To Gaara, everyone else only exists to satisfy his need to prove he exists. By removing life from the world, he feels that he is proving he exists.”
He let the subject drop and was relieved when Naruto didn’t continue it. His guilt and shame never faded, never weakened. Every time he saw Gaara, the memories of his failures crashed into him again. Rasa knew he would take what he’d done to the grave, he knew Gaara would never forgive him. He didn’t deserve to be forgiven, and he’d accepted that.
“Doppo and Toshi are here,” Naruto said, changing the subject.
Rasa shook his head, once more locking up the memories. “Where are Sasori and Gaara?”
Naruto didn’t reply for several minutes.
“They’re on the other side of the city… four men with knives are trying to corner them in a dead-end alleyway,” Naruto said. The Byakugan was indeed a remarkable Kekkai Genkai. It made Rasa glad that they had never had a war with the Land of Fire directly.
“Gaara killed them, no one saw them. ”
Rasa nodded, “Good.”