Naruto Hiden - Volume 5 - Chapter 5
Section Five - Chance Meeting
Every thing in this world is part of a pair.
Man and woman, night and day, yin and yang, shadow and light.
The, there are beings that live in the space between those pairs.
Those beings are shinobi.
Gaara and Shijima found Hakuto and Shigezane near the border of the Country of Fire, in a region where the desert came to an end.
Rather, prairie would be a more accurate word than desert. There were short trees growing here and there, a telling sign that this area was blessed with rain.
It might have been a dreary sight for people from other countries, but for those who were born in the desert like Gaara and the others, anywhere that simply had rainfall was like a paradise.
Over the horizon, you could faintly see a dark green forest. In short, that meant the people who lived there were blessed with plenty of water, and didn't hate the sun as if it was a red hot demon.
Shigezane and Hakuto were holding each other's hands, staring at the approaching sunrise over the horizon.
It was almost like they were looking a hopeful future that lay ahead of that sunrise.
Should I just turn a blind eye?
Just for a moment, that thought entered Gaara's head.
But, at the end of the day, Gaara was Sunagakure's leader.
And he couldn't stop being their leader.
’’Shigezane. We will have you return Lady Hakuto.’’ Gaara pulled the injured and exhausted Shijima slightly behind him and called out from behind the pair, severing all his hesitation.
He refrained from making a surprise attack out of respect for Hakuto.
’’Gaara-sama?!’’ Hakuto's voice was bewildered and also had traces of a guilty conscience.
’’Hakuto, get back.’’ Shigezane said, stepping forwards.
His face didn't look as composed as it did last time.
As it should be.
They had run all the way to the country border without any breaks.
And then there'd been the quicksand that had covered the ruins.
His body couldn't put up with all that.
Gaara didn't see him as unsightly.
A shinobi who had lead around the Kazekage by the nose couldn't be seen like that.
All Gaara thought of was how much he regretted not being able to find his talent earlier.
’’You have magnificent skills. As the Kazekage, I feel very proud of you. You don't have any intention to return to Sunagakure?’’
He wasn't pretending to aid the enemy to move along his own agenda. Those were Gaara's true feelings.
From the bottom of his heart, he thought Shigezane's talent was precious.
And even more so when Gaara saw the resolute look in Shigezane's eyes, and understood he wasn't intending to kill a target for money like the group of assassins from before.
’’I'm honoured to hear that.’’ Shigezane said, and gathered water release shuriken inside the palm of his hand.
So that was his answer.
Well, it would be, Gaara thought.
Shigezane was that kind of a man, and that was why things had come to this.
’’Gaara-sama!’’ Hakuto was walking towards them, looking like she couldn't stand this any longer.
’’Gaara-sama, please, somehow, stop what you're doing!’’
Hakuto's eyes looked desperate.
Like Naruto, back on that day.
’’Shigezane is my-’’
’’You don't have to say it.’’ Gaara said, cutting Hakuto off.
Even Gaara understood that the relationship between Hakuto and Shigezane was that of a man and woman.
The plot may have been drawn up by someone else, but the two who were caught up in that scheme were in a relationship.
In the same way that Gaara had his own life, Hakuto had hers too. You couldn't learn about a person's life in just one or two days of acquaintance.
’’Shijima and the rest weren't attacked at full force. And Shijima wasn't killed. Your footprints in the sand as you followed Shigezane were neat and calm. All of those signs point to the fact that you knew you were going to be to be 'kidnapped'.’’
Gaara had decided to play the role of the bad guy.
’’I don't know who instigated you, but they moved things along until there was a talk of a marriage meeting. You were to take on the role of my betrothed in the public eye, and then elope. It would be a great blow against the Kazekage's authority. Hakuto, who had never stepped out of Houki tribe's lands, was going to run away with the Houki tribe's Shigezane and disappear. That's the general gist of it, isn't it?’’
’’Why would come after her while knowing all that?’’
Shijima was the one who asked that question.
’’I told you.’’ Gaara told her, ’’I'm the 'Kazekage'. I can't be anything other than that.’’
’’That's no different from how I couldn't do anything else other than act as a Lady of the Houki Tribe,’’ Hakuto said. Her eyes were wet as she looked at Gaara.
It wasn't a lie that she had cared about him.
It was just that she cared about the man by her side, Shigezane, more.
’’So I could leave the place I was born and raised in, so I could be free, I didn't have any chance other than being your marriage partner. I apologise for using you. But-’’
’’Leave the apology.’’ Gaara said, sand shifting out of his gourd.
It was a signal that he was ready to fight.
’’I have no thoughts of interfering with your romance.’’ Gaara said, ’’We never agreed to an engagement. It just publicly looked like we did. I'm not someone with the right to tie you down. However...’’
The sand from Gaara's gourd morphed into a sword.
’’I cannot turn a blind eye to shinobi who abandon their village.’’ He said, ’’Shinobi who use their power without following the law...they'll eventually harm more and more people.’’
Gaara knew this for a fact, from his personal experience of fighting the terrorist Akatsuki.
One single shinobi could destroy a fortress, a whole city, if they only felt like it.
It was because that fact restricted them that Shinobi had come to coexist with society. No, they had no choice but to coexist.
And that was why.
’’Now... I'm coming for you!’’ Gaara said.
’’Come.’’ Shigezane replied.
The land under his feet was full of pebbles.
His opponent could no longer make quicksand.
However, Gaara couldn't afford to use large, eye-catching techniques either. It was because he couldn't afford this fight being noticed by the public. If he used flashy, wide-area attacks, then naturally it would raise unnecessarily alarm in the foreign shinobi in this region.
In a nutshell, they were both equally handicapped
A water blade pierced through the dark towards him.
But Gaara had already understood everything about that technique.
’’It's useless.’’ He told Shigezane.
Gaara's shield of sand deflected the attack completely, or absorbed it.
No matter how much water you had, water wasn't superior to sand.
It was the same as how an underground channel couldn't water the desert.
Shigezane's storms of water attacks kept disappearing in front of Gaara.
The sad look Hakuto had every time it happened did not pain him.
’’There's nothing that sand cannot do.’’ Gaara said, closing the distance between him and his opponent.
If he got in close, he should be able to put an end to this with taijutsu.
He thickened his shield, moved forwards, and it was at that moment...
A particularly huge water javelin was launched towards him.
Gaara twisted his body aside.
A burning pain ran through his side.
The water javelin that had broken through his sand shield had pierced through.
I didn't think he was to this level...!
Shigezane wasn't the first person to have pierced Gaara's Absolute Defence. However, he could count the number of people who had managed to pierce through with such sharpness.
’’Why...!? Why could you avoid it...?!’’
It looked Shigezane had been very confident in that jutsu. His voice was confused.
The reason those sorts of words could come out of Shigezane's mouth was that no matter how much of a master Metal Miner he was, he wasn't a soldier of his skill.
That was the difference between the world's Gaara and Shigezane lived in.
It didn't mean that one way of life was better than the other, but it was a deciding factor when it came to survival of the fittest on the battlefield.
’’It was Hakuto.’’ Gaara said.
’’I was looking at Hakuto's eyes.’’
’’What are you saying?!’’ Shigezane's tone was coloured in confusion and jealousy.
Well, that was natural.
But, Gaara hadn't been looking at Hakuto's eyes out of any lingering feelings or regret.
Shinobi are those who will fight on the battlefield while noticing, observing and analysing every piece of information.
’’The look on Hakuto's eyes changed when you threw that last javelin. She looked like she was afraid of someone's death. For her to feel that while she knew about my fighting style meant that she believed your jutsu, Shigezane, would defeat my Absolute Defence.’’
’’So that's how you avoided a fatal wound...!’’ Shigezane looked markedly in awe.
’’I am the Kazekage.’’ Gaara said, ’’The wind and sand that run over this desert can't be caught by anyone...!’’
Gaara stepped forward like a god of death that had taken on human form.
’’Troops have been deployed to the main facility.’’
’’I see.’’ Toujuurou listened to Maizuru's** report, and gave a satisfied laugh.
He'd thought Kankurou might've noticed something was up when he made alterations to the plan, but it didn't look like he had.
How ironic, that the shinobi Gaara had trained and raised for rebuilding Suna would sweep the rug from under his feet.
The sweet irony made Toujuurou very satisfied.
’’-But I, on the other hand, am not going to explain about how I broke through your shield!’’
’’I wonder,’’ Gaara said, avoiding another water javelin by sliding to the side.
Since he knew the water javelin were being aimed at his body, all he had to do was make sure he wasn't anywhere expected. Gaara's level of taijutsu allowed him to do that.
Of course, Shigezane was also throwing the water javelins while expecting that Gaara would avoid them in that manner.
But, none of his throws ever hit the target.
It was because thanks to his sand that he'd stretched and laid out across the ground, Gaara could sense the movement of water underground before they burst above.
If you knew where the attack was going to originate from, you could also make a rough guess as to where it could land. As long as he quickly evaded them while mixing in some feints, it would be fine.
Gaara drew closer.
Avoided a water javelin.
He jumped back.
The he drew forward again.
Forwards, avoid, forwards, avoid avoid avoid, forwards, forwards, forwards, slide, leap, run, avoid, advance forwards again, jump back in avoidence, turn around, jump forwards, advance forwards, forwards, close, closer, deflect an attack, avoid, closer, closer, avoid, deflect...!
’’Gaara-sama, please stop!’’ Hakuto yelled.
He couldn't afford to stop.
He shouldn't stop.
He wasn't able to stop.
For the sake of remaining himself, he couldn't bend his principles.
Gaara swung a blade of sand down towards the man who was beloved to a woman he'd once thought he wouldn't mind marrying.
’’Gr, but!’’ A stream of water burst out in a javelin shape from underneath Shigezane's feet, along with a shrill battle cry, ’’If it's at point blank range, then-!’’
The water javelin split apart into several other javelins.
He couldn't avoid them.
But, Gaara's sand shield deflected every single one of those javelins. It was because this time, Gaara had used the magnet release he had inherited from his father. His shield had faint, sparkling bits of metal compromised in it, that had let it deflected the javelin.
Gaara had known the secrets of his sand shield technique had been exposed. One of his countermeasures to make up for that weakness, was this: his father's technique. He hadn't used it at all until now, but when he did, he used his father's magnet release along with the sand his mother had given him to make his current shield.
’’My principle is to act before I boast.’’ Gaara said.
A sword of sand stretched out of his shield, standing against the back of Shigezane's neck.
’’I've theorised as to how you managed to pierce through my shield, ’’Gaara said, ’’But I didn't have time to confirm it. Either way, the fact that you managed to break through is something praiseworthy.’’
’’I take out hydrated calcium and volcanic rock from the underground water, and mix it with the water javelin. When it hits your sand, it changes the sand into concrete, and then I can break through your shield,’’ Shigezane said, both pride and envy in his voice, ’’It's a technique the Fouth Kazekage came up with, and yet you...’’
’’Is it a technique my father came up with to kill me?’’
’’...It is. In the end, he never used it since a more efficient solution than using the magnet release was found, but...’’
Gaara no longer had any intention to condemn his father.
The dangerous potential of a jinchuuriki was endless. It was natural to prepare a jutsu to stop one in case they went on a rampage. Flames were useful, but you had to prepare water, just in case a wildfire broke out. Gaara and the other jinchuuriki were like sentient flames.
’’If it was the old me, it probably would've killed me. But you can't kill the current me with that..’’
’’Why?’’ Shigezane's voice was so heartbroken, it sounded like he was wringing blood from his heart. ’’Are you saying the Kazekage bloodline is special? Is the chakra of jinchuuriki and the chakra of us normal humans so different? Are you saying that no matter how hard we try, those of us with weak bloodlines have no right to be happy?!’’
’’Blood has nothing to do with it.’’ Gaara's voice was hot like sand, and cold like sand.
It was true that in the shinobi world, there were many situations where bloodlines meant everything.
The technique Gaara had just used to defeat Shigezane's technique, the 'metal release' was one of those situations. The magnet release was a kekkai genkai he'd inherited from his father, and if he hadn't had the genes for it, he wouldn't have been able to use it. It was using that kekkai genkai that Gaara had been able to change the nature of his sand and defend himself against the attack that would change his sand to cement.
It wasn't something he could say he'd mastered, but it was more than enough for when two clever tricks were facing off against each other.
But then, take Konoha's Haruno Sakura for example. She didn't come from an unusual bloodline, but her strength made her an outstoundingly great shinobi. In fact, there were a great number of normal people who, by polishing their techniques or with pure strength alone, had surpassed others.
Gaara had seen many people who had relied only on their bloodline, and yet been unable to produce any real results.
Siblings who were all excellent shinobi like Gaara, Temari and Kankurou were few in number. And it wasn't the result of luck, but their own hard work.
And then, more than anything else...
’’Bloodlines are chains that tie down people like me or Hakuto. They aren't a blessing.’’ Gaara said, ’’Shigezane, don't you already know that?’’
’’...I never wanted this power.’’ Gaara said, ’’What I wanted was the power to be friends with someone as equals. What I wanted was the power to just spend time with my family. People like you, who weren't born into the Kazekage line, who weren't made jinchuuriki...from where I'm standing, it's you who feels like a special chosen one. ’’
He had honestly spoken from his heart.
Gaara himself didn't understand why he ended up saying all that either.
It was just that he thought it was common courtesy to fight someone honestly.
’’We've taken control of the communications department.’’
’’The lightning train station* is under control. Dispatch.’’
’’The Sixth Ninja Weapon Workshop has been taken over. Dispatch.’’
Several monitors were placed around a dark room, showing the situation as the young shinobi led by Kankurou slowly took over important locations in Sunagakure.
Things were progressing even faster than Toujuurou had expected.
But, Toujuurou didn't attribute that to the excellence of the young shinobi.
Instead, he was deliriously proud, thinking that it was all due to the plan that he had drawn up.
’’Now, all that's left is...!’’
’’It could very well be...that normal people are the chosen ones. However, sacrifices are needed for happiness.’’ Shijima said from behind him.
Gaara could feel indications that she was getting ready to attack him.
He wasn't surprised.
As I thought, was the only thing that crossed his mind.
’’Stop what you're doing.’’
Gaara had known from the start that Shijima had helped Hakuto and the others escape.
The guards hadn't been killed. And then Shijima's guidance had lead them to that trap of quicksand. If he looked, there was far more evidence to be found.
But, more than anything, he had known the truth because Shijima was Hakuto's elder sister.
’’Gaara-sama, prepare yourself.’’ Shijima said.
’’You won't be able to beat me with your techniques.’’ He told her.
’’That's certainly so.’’ Shijima agreed. She dropped her houshuriken. They rolled across the earth with dry, rasping sounds. ’’If it's a jutsu I need, then I know which one.’’
Shijima raised her hand to her glasses.
’’!’’ Shigezane yelled, ’’Shijma, don't do it!’’
’’That's- you can't do that, big sister!’’
The sound of Hakuto and Shijma's voices had changed.
It was very likely that Shijma was about to use a technique that would risk her life. No, not a technique. Something more basic that would put her life at risk...
Shijima took off her glasses.
Shijima's pretty, bare face was finally out in the open with nothing to obscure it.
So that who she looked like.
Gaara finally realised who Shijima so strongly resembled.
She looked like Yashamaru.
The man who had raised Gaara like a father would. The man Gaara had loved more than anyone else, and who had been ordered to kill him precisely because of that reason.
Shijima's face looked just like Yashamaru's had, back in that critical moment. It was full of the same hope, and resignation, and something else that Gaara still didn't understand.
Her eyes were open.
Those eyes weren't a human's.
They were a whirlpool of nothingness, that shined with seven prismatic colours.
Her control over the doujutsu was disordered because of the artificial measures put in her chakra channels. It was a mark of her crime in unnaturally altering herself in the past to become something inhuman, similar to that of Orochimaru's other subordinates, and Sasuke.
My body...it's feverish...!
It was far stronger than he'd expected.
Gaara felt like his consciousness was being pulled out by the roots by that cavern of emptiness.
Sand rolled around him.
It was moving beyond the scope of Gaara's control.
No, maybe it was even beyond the control of his mother's chakra, embedded within the sand.
But, even still, Gaara didn't undo the sand blade he held at Shigezane's throat. If he let him go now, everything would've been for nothing.
’’At this rate...!’’ Shijima said, ’’My and Gaara-sama's chakra will both go completely out of control, and we'll die from the strength of both our jutsu...! That is my last power....!’’
’’You could call it a sort of parting gift from Orochimaru, huh?’’ Gaara replied.
The activator of the jutsu, Shijima, looked like she was in far more pain than Gaara was.
Gaara had already died once. He was used to physical pain.
Physical pain wasn't what was frightening to him.
Just sadness was.
The seven colours of nihility reflected in Shijima's eyes looked like tears to Gaara.
’’Do you intend to die for your sister?’’ Gaara asked, his voice staying calm to the very end.
It wasn't that he didn't feel pain. His whole body was enwrapped in pain, like all the meridians in his body were being ripped out, like his teeth were being pulled out without anaesthesia. He was desperately burdened with how his insides felt fevered, like he was about to explode with his own chakra.
But, Gaara was the 'Kazekage'.
Even if they were runaway-nin, he couldn't forgive himself for doing something as unsightly as wailing in pain in front of his subordinates.
’’If I...hadn't been taken in by Orochimaru's cajoling...’’ Shijima answered, ’’If mylittle sister hadn't been forced to become the clan head, then she wouldn't have been put in a position where she was faced with giving up on her love...!’’
’’So then why,’’ Gaara asked, ’’Didn't you kill me back in the cave?’’
For one moment, the doujutsu became disturbed.
It was natural that he would ask Shijima that question.
At that time when Gaara had collapsed, Shijima must've thought countless times about giving him a killing blow.
While Gaara's defense operated even as he slept, if Shijima had activated her doujutsu, she would've been more than enough of an opponent for him even while he was awake. Even if she couldn't give him a fatal wound, she could've injured him enough to make his pursuit impossible.
There could only be one reason that she hadn't.
Shijima had likely seen Gaara cry while he was asleep.
If a young man risked his life to save you, and tears leaked out of his eyes while he lay unconscious in your arms, of course you couldn't kill him.
Killing him would've been going against the last principle that Shijima believed in as a shinobi.
That was why.
’’Because that's my ninja way.’’ Shijima answered.
Gaara was content with that answer.
Other people may have called it grotesque, but for Gaara, the Shijima who had sacrificed her own body for a cause was very beautiful.
The fact that someone as noble as that, as high minded as Naruto was, had been born in the village of Sunagakure made Gaara think that all his efforts as the Kazekage hadn't been in vain.
Because in his village, there was a person who would sacrifice themself for someone else.
Shinobi are no longer just machines who carry out missions.
’’In that case, your principles shouldn't be twisted.’’
Gaara rolled up the sand that he had laid out under Shijima's feet. It encased her body, restricting her.
’’No way...!’’ Shijima gasped.
Gaara turned towards the restrained Shijima, and stretched out his left hand.
’’Ever since I was born, I have always lived fearing that Shukaku would take over my consciousness, and fought against it constantly. Compared to every other shinobi in the world...I have had the most practice in retaining my consciousness.’’
A tiny glimpse of the large chakra that lay within Gaara had woken up.
Shijima finally, truly understood what she had- who she had come up against in battle.
In the same way the wind couldn't be tied down, the Kazekage would not be dominated into submission again.
Never again. By anyone.
’’This is goodbye.’’
Gaara's blade of sand flashed out like a needle.
Sunagakure village was silent as death.
Nobody noticed the shinobi who had taken it over from the shadows.
Now all that was left was for Kankurou to give the signal.
’’Kankurou-sama.’’ Amagi was muttering in Kankurou's ear as if he couldn't bear staying silent anymore. ’’Sir, is this truly what you want?’’
’’What are you saying now?’’ Kankurou asked, ’’Didn't you have the same opinion as the others?’’
’’I don't know anymore.’’ Amagi lightly shook his head. ’’You're the one who taught me that shinobi must endure. It somehow feels that what we're doing might be something that can't be undone.’’
Kankurou wondered what he should say, but decided to just give a strained laugh.
The things he was thinking about inside his head weren't simple enough to be spoken out loud.
It wasn't easy to say the things he thought in his head out loud. He didn't want to think that he'd gotten so old that he'd one-sidedly lecture someone when they'd finally stepped towards the right path by themselves.
’’It's gonna be alright.’’
’’Well, just leave it to me.’’ Kankurou said. He swallowed down the words: leave it to Gaara.
Blood had sprayed across the desert.
Drip, drip, it fell, staining the parched desert floor.
’’Gaara...sama...?!’’ Hakuto was stunned too. It wasn't a surprise that she was.
Gaara hadn't pierced Shijima with his blade of dand.
He had pierced the small lump of sand that was behind her.
It was from that lump that human blood was spraying out into the air.
’’Why...did you...know I was...there...’’ The person who crawled out of the sand and said that in a pained voice was none other than one of the siblings who had attacked the marriage meeting: Metoro.
His whole body was covered in bandages and he was suffering from a life-threatening injury, but Metoro was still alive.
Most likely, after that fall, he had pretended to die while following Gaara around the whole time in order to take his revenge and indict this scandal.
’’I knew you were following me,’’ Gaara said, ’’I just didn't want you to know that I knew.’’
Scattering sand during their break, as well as scattering the sand during his large techniques while fighting Shigezane, they were all for this purpose. Thanks to being able to sense things through his sand, Gaara had been able to roughly pinpoint Metoro's location as he watched Gaara, Hakuto and the rest.
And then just a while ago, Gaara had decided that rather than waiting for Metoro to launch a surprise attack, it would be better if he pierced him while pretending he was subject to Shijima's doujutsu.
’’Was it Toujuurou who instigated you?’’ Gaar asked.
Metoro's body seized up with a jolt. That was answer enough.
The taciturn shinobi seemed to have finally realised that he had been the one who had been drawn into a trap.
’’So, it was him after all,’’ Gaara said. ’’He intended to instigate Hakuto, draw me away from the village, make up a scandal and then premeditatedly kill me. It's just what an elder would think of.’’
’’I'll take...revenge...for my brother...!’’ Metoro kept persistently trying to move his body.
He let out a scream when Gaara's sand enwrapped him.
He was still under the influence of Shijima's doujutsu, so being in in control was hard. But, when it came to simply imploding the sand and crushing someone, it didn't require much effort.
In one instant, Metoro's body had disappeared without so much as a bone left behind.
After witnessing such an overwhelming sight right in front of their eyes, Shijima, and Hakuto and Shigezane too, had already lost their fighting spirit.
This was what the Kazekage was.
He'd taken on two jounin opponents, on top of that, he endured Shijima's doujutsu while injured, and in the midst of all that, he killed another hidden jounin.
His talent, his strength, his fighting experience. He exceeded them in everything.
Just who did we pick a fight with?
As dawn approached in that moment, under the desert sky, Gaara was the exact embodiment of a god of death in human form.
Gaara picked up Shijima's glasses from the dirty ground, wiped them, and put them back on her face.
The sand restraining Shijima relaxed, and let her loose.
Then, he turned back to Hakuto and Shijima.
Hakuto and Shijima weren't attempting to hide their feelings anymore. They held hands, looking at Gaara with facial expressions that expected the worst.
Sand slowly wrapped around the pair.
’’Stop, please stop!’’ Shijima threw herself to cling at Gaara's body, ’’It's already...the winner of the battle is already clear. There isn't anyone watching, either.’’
’’I told you, Shijima.’’ Gaara replied, ’’I can't turn a blind eye to runaway-nin. And Hakuto and Shigezane don't want to return to the village.’’
And, more than anything, Gaara didn't want Hakuto to return to the village and become a caged bird again, much less be forced into becoming his wife.
It wasn't because he thought she was a bad person.
Rather, it was the opposite.
It was because it was the opposite, that Gaara couldn't swallow the idea of forcing her back.
’’People who are swallowed in my sand...not even a bone will be left of them.’’ Gaara said, ’’The Sand Waterfall Funeral sends people to the other side without even the slightest pain.’’
His sand began to wrap around them but-
’’Being straightforward, and never going back on our word. That's our ninja way...!’’
That was true.
Gaara's promise to protect Hakuto hadn't been a lie.
At that moment, Shijima clearly saw it:
Hakuto was smiling.
Her little sister was smiling like they she going to be released.
It wasn't because she'd given up.
It was because she had faith.
It was the same thing that had happened when she, Shijima, hadn't killed Gaara.
Hakuto had seen that warm something inside Gaara's eyes.
Those eyes that made people trust him.
And so, that day, all Shijima had to do was see her off her little sister.
The entire village of Sunagakure was now already under the control of Kankurou's subordinates.
Toujuurou was very, very satisfied with the reports streaming in from the monitors and communications systems. He was nodding to himself in satisfaction.
’’Alright, and now, all that's left...Maizuru. Go and arrest Kankurou.’’
’’Pardon?’’ As expected, Maizuru looked surprised.
’’It's obvious, isn't it? We can't let the leader of a Coup get away.’’ Toujuurou said, ’’Arrest him, and exile the rest of the members of the Kazekage clan. And then, after that, we just need to make you the Kazekage, and the reform will be complete.’’
’’You tricked Kankurou-sama?’’
’’It's nothing new for shinobi to use every trick up their sleeve. Sometimes, you have to trick your allies, too. Although, in this case, you couldn't really call me that guys ally...Either way, this is a fitting stage for an old-fashioned puppeteer like him.’’
’’Isn't it just?’’
Suddenly, Maizuru's body crumbled.
His limbs, his neck, his abdomen, they all crumbled into pieces and fell to the floor along with his clothes.
’’Wha-,’’ Touujuurou stuttered, ’’Wha- wha- what-’’
’’What's this about, you ask?’’ A relaxed voice came out of the darkness. A shape was moving in the shadows.
White face. Red markings.
’’Im-impossible,’’ Toujuurou was stunned.
The monitors were clearly showing that Kankurou was taking control in the Kazekage office.
But, the Kankurou in front of him wasn't a genjutsu. He wasn't supposed to be here. No matter how old he was, they shouldn't be able to trick a jounin's eyes.
’’Obviously, it's not a genjutsu.’’ Kankurou said.
’’Bingo.’’ Kankurou gave a sly, wide grin. ’’Thanks to the reports about that group from the moon, I got a lot of new ideas. I used threads too thin to see with the human eye, and suckered you in with a long distance puppet manipulation technique. There never was a shinobi named Maizuru. You were having a ball talking to my puppet this whole time. Thanks to that, I was able to collect plenty of evidence and testimonies on you.’’
’’A jutsu I don't know...you say...?!’’
Toujuurou was backing away.
He was feeling something he had forgotten about for a long time: fear.
’’Th-then Gaara as well...?’’
’’Obviously, he knew about it from the start.’’ Kankurou said, ’’If he didn't how do you think I could've gotten made such good fake videos?’’
’’Fake...!? Then, it is a ninjutsu...?’’
’’It's more science and technology than a ninjutsu. Though we do have to use lightning release to power it.’’ Kankurou said, and then snapped his fingers with a theatrical flair.
Amagi appeared from behind him, and restrained Toujuurou.
’’As for your forces at the oasis,’’ Kankurou continued, ’’Temari's contacted me to let know that Baki's crushed them completely. In a word, I guess you could call this checkmate, huh?’’
’’Times have changed...is that what it is.’’ Toujuurou heartbrokenly hung his head.
He hadn't been able to admit it.
Time had passed, and people had changed. Ninjutsu he didn't know had been created, shinobi he didn't know had been born.
That was certainly because he was old.
’’...I won't resist.’’ Toujuurou said, ’’I understand it now.’’
’’That Sunagakure is heading out to meet a new future. I always kept looking back at the sight of the previous Kazekage's back, so I never noticed how you were all growing behind me....I'd intended to make Gaara the Kazekage and manipulate him but this is how everything turned out...But,you know,’’ Toujuurou lifted his eyes sharply, fire burning within, ’’One day, you too will feel the sting of time's passing. One day, new shinobi are going to surpass you as well.’’
’’Well you know,’’ Kankurou clapped a hand on Amagi's back, a big, proud grin on his face, ’’I'm really looking forward to that!’’
Ten or so shinobi had collapsed around Baki's feet.
They were all Toujuurou's subordinates. Every single one of them had arrived with the intention of aiming for Gaara's life.
And every single one of them had bowed down to the earth thanks to Baki's sword.
To think that Gaara would even play dumb in front of me to pull of a trap...
He didn't feel the slightest bit angry about being left in the dark.
Rather, he was happy.
The era was really changing.
Fourth...it looks like my job is finally over.
Baki started seriously considering the old offer people had repeatedly giving him to be inaugurated as a counsellor.
’’Alright,’’ the Konoha shinobi who'd been staying in the shade of a rock came out into the open, ’’It's over.’’
’’Finally.’’ Gaara replied.
Shijima recognised the Konoha shinobi's face too. She'd seen his photo in documents.
He was the fiancee of Gaara's sister, Temari.
It went without being said he was also the recipient of the letter that Gaara had entrusted to Temari.
’’Good grief...’’ Shikamaru grumbled, ’’You call people out to help you at every little thing. It looks like I've gotten myself a troublesome little brother.’’
Shikamaru scratched his forehead, his face so relaxed that you'd never think he was an authority over at the Shinobi Union.
Shikamaru had been the one to rescue Temari back at the battle at the venue of Gaara's marriage meeting. He had also received Gaara's letter from Temari, and started making preparations. It also went without being said that Gaara's letter had anticipated trouble and asked for his help.
’’You'd been watching over my marriage meeting right from the start, hadn't you?’’ Gaara replied, ’’So that makes us even, elder brother.’’
’’Tch...’’ Shikamaru must've been holding himself back a lot during his hidden surveillance, because he took out a cigarette and started smoking. ’’The runaway-nin Shigezane, attacked and killed Lady Hakuto. You Gaara, killed Shigezane in return, and mourned for the Lady's loss...well, it'll be sufficient if we keep the story like that.’’
’’Your quick-thinking has been very helpful.’’
’’It's a common story.’’ Shikamaru said, exhaling. The white tobacco smoke drifted up into the morning sky. ’’The minute I heard what was happening from Temari, I guessed something like this could be the cause.’’
’’The Sand Waterfall Funeral doesn't leave anything, even bones, behind. That, along with your testimony about what you saw 'happen' from where you were watching, brother, will make sure that nobody objects.’’ Gaara said, ’’...And, after that, if two new shinobi came to exist Konoha, that wouldn't have anything to do with me.’’
’’It definitely wouldn't.’’ Shikamaru replied to Gaara's words with a broad grin.
’’Ah...’’ Shijima looked like she was near tears.
It was because she could definitely see the two people moving under Gaara's sand.
The sand was simply wrapped around them to hide them from plain sight.
’’This is an old tactic of subterfuge,’’ Gaara said, ’’I'm a little embarrassed for you to see it.’’
’’Established strategies are things to be used when the circumstances call for them,’’ Shikamaru replied. ’’There isn't anyone in the Houki tribe who's seen Hakuto's face without makeup, so that won't be a problem. We will have to change Shigezane's face a little bit though.’’
’’Since that's so, we'll leave that to Hakuto.’’
’’And if you can, take Hakuto to my sister...to see Temari. The customs and ways of life in Konohagakure and Sunagakure are different. Hakuto will feel relieved to have someone she knows around.’’
’’I get it already, I get it. I won't do anything poorly, you know.’’ Shikamaru said, quickly turning around.
That was his way of saying 'leave everything else to me'.
’’Let's go, Shijima.’’ Gaara said.
Shijima didn't know how to answer.
I'm a betrayed, so won't I be erased? No matter what, that thought hadn't been erased from her head.
It wasn't that she didn't trust Gaara.
It was just that she hadn't ever known a world other than the kind where traitors were gotten rid of, she she honestly didn't know how to behave towards Gaara.
Gaara looked at Shijima's state for several seconds, and then scratched his head like he was troubled.
He suddenly noticed that Shikamaru was constantly sneaking peaks towards him and Shijima, with a strangely delighted grin on his face. It looked like hearing gossip had made him curious.
Gaara sighed, and kept talking.
’’What's wrong? You've achieved your mission,’’ he said, ’’Returning to the oasis before sunrise.’’
’’Is that really okay?’’
’’The 'truth' is what we've just stated earlier. If I were to get rid of you here, it would contradict that 'truth'.’’ Gaara's tone wasn't cold. Rather, his words were warm. ’’Sunagakure needs shinobi like you from now on, too.’’
’’...Yes, sir.’’ Shijima took off her glasses, bowed with her eyes closed, and then, once more, looked at him from behind her sealed and closed eyes.’’From now on, I'd like to serve the Kazekage, if I could. I'll stake my life.’’
’’I'll be relying on you.’’
Gaara said only that as a reply, and leapt onwards.
Shijima leapt forwards too, following him.
After watching the pair head off in clouds of dust, Shikamaru had a satisfied look on his face as he started his work to break through the sand barrier that was hiding Hakuto and Shigezane so the two could get out.
’’It's finally over, huh.’’
The three siblings were standing on a hill that overlooked all of Suna, watching over the village that had finally regained its serenity.
Processing the uproar after the coup had gone fairly smoothly.
Kankurou had ordered his subordinates to suppress any other elders who sympathised with Toujuurou, so in a way, it felt like an infection had been purged.
After that, Gaara had just silently carried out the village's law. Toujuurou and the rest had acquired names and been driven out of the village's centre.
’’Ugh man, I really wanna sleep.’’ There were bags under Kankurou's eyes that had nothing to do with his makeup. He'd spent his time after the fake coup constantly giving orders to his subordinates.
’’You're not going to say something Shikamaru-like?’’ Temari asked.
The face that Kankurou made was so hilarious that Temari pointed and let out a laugh. Gaara gave a small smile too.
Something about the three siblings' smiling faces looked alike.
Bloodlines may be chains that tie people down.
But, they were also bonds.
Even if they separated, they were still siblings, and he was gaining a new brother. And before long, a nephew, a niece, he would be able to go and meet new family members like that, too.
’’You two don't ever change, do you?’’ Gaara noted.
’’Che.’’ Kankurou grumbled.
’’Fufu, could be.’’ Temari replied.
There were many things that changed. But, there were also things that didn't change.
Like the desert, Gaara thought.
The wind was constantly blowing in the desert he'd been born in, creating new forms all the time. But, it was still the desert.
Gaara believed that they would be like that, as well.
Shinobi are those who endure.
They endure absurdity. They endure hardships. They keep fighting.
And, shinobi prevail under the most impossible of circumstances.
Even if swords rain down on them, their spirits never disappear.
That was enduring.
That was a shinobi.
And that, was Gaara.
And that was why from now on as well, the wind that blew over Sunagakure was always kind.
*So, after puzzling over the term 'raisha' literally 'lightning/thunder cars' for almost the whole novel, i finally figured out what it meant. Train in Japanese is densha 'electric car'. The Nardy universe probs uses lightning instead of electricity. Hence, lightning/thunder car = electric car = lightning train = ELECTRIC TRAIN! I admit I'm a bit sheepish as to how long it took me to figure that out lol.
**Some of you might've noticed that the other chapter I made a few typos on Maizuru's name (in my defence I was sleepy, but I apparently wrote Maizuru and Maijuru in rotation lol) but yeah, the correct version's Maizuru. Apologies for that XD
And, here's an extra explanation for anyone who missed out the clues that resulted in that AWESOME TWIST.
Remember the ' unexpected ally' who saved Temari in chapter three? We thought it was Shijima because she said Temari told her to go help, BUT NO, IT WAS SHIKAMARU. Shikamaru who is apparently such a worrywort over his brother in law he was secretly keeping an eye on the marriage meeting the whole time just like Temari wow you two wow. Match made in heaven X'D So yeah, Shikamaru saved Temari from collapsing, and he probably helped her get back to her senses before she went looking for Shijima and asked her for help.
Second, the letter Gaara entrusted Temari with wAS FOR SHIKAMARU. That's why she made the 'you've gotten to understand some things' comment because sHE KNEW HE KNEW SHIKAMARU WAS THERE, MY DAYS.
Third, the comment Gaara made about 'having to decieve a trust ally' wAS ABOUT BAKI. BECAUSE GAARA WAS IN ON THE PLOT WITH KANKUROU THE WHOLE FREAKING TIME.
I'm just. smh. SMH THAT TWIST WAS BRILLIANT.
And, since there seem to be a few people who were confused about this, Gaara stopped his sand waterfall funeral technique at the last moment, and wrapped the sand around Hakuto and Shigezane to hide them from plain sight instead. His conversation with Shikamaru was about sneaking Hakuto and Shigezane into Konoha so they could live there from now on, while telling everyone in Suna that they'd 'died'.