Naruto Hiden / Naruto Hiden Vol 5 Chapter 4

Section Four – Sandstorm

Dams and people’s hearts are the same in one sense.

Once a certain limit is passed, they burst.

But, the man had endured so many ridiculous things until now, so he thought that he would be forgiven for his bursting heart. The woman thought so as well.

However…a shinobi who has stopped enduring, is no shinobi.

Then, what happens to a shinobi who is no longer a shinobi?

It’s obvious.

They become prey.

 

“You’re going to go after Hakuto alone…?!” Baki couldn’t hold back his bewilderment and confusion at Gaara’s declaration.

It was because that wasn’t a normal thought for a leader to have.

But, Gaara was  resolutely saying that was what he was going to do.

“At the very least, take two of my subordinates with you.” Baki said, “But, thinking of it from an investigative perspective, there should be three teams.”

“That won’t do.” The man who had once been Baki’s subordinate shook his head without hesitation. “If we do that, it’ll become a mission. We wouldn’t have any way of leaving it off public record.”

“…!”Baki finally understood what Gaara’s aim was.

If this matter got recorded, then it would get out to the public.

Of course, this matter wouldn’t be something that’d get out on the news on the tv or radio.

It was a matter that would get leaked to Sunagakure’s upper brass.

Even though there hadn’t been an official marriage ceremony, yet, the young woman from the Houki tribe was the woman who was likely to become the Kazekage’s wife. And he hadn’t been able to protect her. That would be a huge losing point, and a root for criticism.

Obviously, Gaara wasn’t the sort of small man who cared about his reputation. What Gaara was worried about was that if Sunagakure’s position swayed, then a milestone in the detente could also crumble. That was his only concern.

If you called that someone who was obsessed with power…

Then say whatever you want.

That’s what the resolute look on Gaara’s eyes said.

His face looked like that of a fully grown man.

“I understand.” Baki said. “Leave everything here to us. We’ll act as if nothing has happened. But only until morning.”

“Yes. I’ll bring Hakuto back by the time the sun’s out!”

 

 

“Are you setting out?”

The woman who  had been waiting for Gaara around the exit of the oasis was the one who asked that.

She continued, “If so, please let me come too.”

She look at the Kazekage with a strong and resolute gaze behind the thick lenses of her glasses.

“I’m grateful for your intentions, but-” Gaara’s words were cut off by Shijima’s look.

“This is my mission to begin with.” Shijima said, “I’m supposed to go, since all the guards were taken down, and I received an injury.”

She showed him the wound on her side.

She was talking about how the three chuunin of the Houki tribe who had been Hakuto’s guard envoy had fainted without a sound. Shijima, who’d just barely held onto a bit of her consciousness, had been poisoned with a stinger, and defeated as well.

“You’ll be a hindrance.” Gaara said without pause, moving past her.

But, Shijima grabbed onto his sleeve with a steel determination.

“The poison has been taken out, and there isn’t any in my vital spots.” She said. “I’ve received medical care, so I am capable of functioning.”

“…”

Gaara had intended to shake off and continue on his way, but for some reason, he found that he couldn’t.

Ah I see.

He was remembering something.

The voice of shinobi who was willing to throw away their own body, while deeply thinking of someone.

He couldn’t look into Shijima’s eyes behind her thick glass lenses, but her words were full of sincerity.

“There’s a resemblance.” Gaara said.

“Pardon?”

“There’s an unconventional shinobi who says things the same way you do. He’s impossible to handle. The kind of person who’d keep moving even if they died.”

“I don’t really understand what you’re talking about.”

“…I’m saying it’s become troublesome to send you away.” Gaara said, and let out a small sigh.

But, he didn’t sigh because he felt discomfited. 

 

 

“I see.” The elder spoke when he’d listened to the end of the report. He gave a very satisfied nod.

The elder was Toujuurou.

“To sum it up,” Toujuurou said, “Everything is going according to plan.”

“Yessir.”

The shinobi who was serving Toujuurou was one of Kankurou’s subordinates, Maizuru.

Toujuurou liked it when young ones grovelled in front of him. Even more so when it was a good looking young man like Maizuru.

It was because he was jealous.

In the past, he had been a taijutsu user who was called the strongest in Sunagakure.

And he hadn’t just been taijutsu he excelled at.

Be it wind release or summoning or genjutsu, he had stood above the rest in every sort of field. But more than anything, his lightly moving body had been his identity.

But now he was old.

His eyes could no longer capture the world as he wanted, his legs wouldn’t let him fly, and his fingers couldn’t move as he wanted them to.

Even so, people still praised him as a superhuman, as a hero who was still hale in his old age.

But, they’re wrong.

That wasn’t how it was.

Getting old meant stepping down.

Getting old meant slowly descending from his position at the top of the summit.

Various shinobi surpassed his abilities in his old body. What did that mean? It means that unlike his younger self, he could no longer go stand at the top. Just that was unbearable.

And that was why Toujuurou resented those with youth.

Because while they weren’t as skilled as him now, one day, they were going to surpass him.

That’s why I’m going to continue proving that I am someone this village needs.

Toujuurou gave Maizuru a few instructions, and then leaned against his sofa, satisfied.

 

 

Night in the desert was cold.

This was because the desert had no clouds or humidity, rivers or oceans or forests, that could serve as to conserve the heat gained from the sun shining all day.

That was why despite daytime being so hot you could fry a sunny side up egg on a rock, the night was cold enough to give you frostbite.

It’s not that the Country of Fire couldn’t conquer the Country of Wind. It’s that we didn’t want it.

The daimyou of the Land of Fire tended to say that. The words weren’t unreasonable.

Right now, Gaara and Shijima were determinedly running through that freezing cold desert.

They weren’t flying with Gaara’s sand because he was worried about them being detected. Running also helped them follow the kidnapper’s footprints more accurate, and it helped save up chakra.

“Look to the right of that sand dune. As expected, they’re heading towards the border with the Country of Fire.”

The shinobi who’d defeated Hakuto had been one.

You could tell by his footprints.

It’d be best to think of him as very skilled. The enemy hadn’t so much as had to catch his breath while bringing down Shijima and the other guards. It looked like he was skilled enough to erase his footprints with wind release while he was running as well.

“It’s his bad luck that I’m tracking him.” Gaara muttered to himself, but not out of pride.

The sand of the desert lived alongside Gaara like family. If it hadn’t been Gaara who had been tracking the shinobi, then they definitely wouldv’e gotten away, with no one being able to track him across the large desert. The technique the shinobi had used for getting rid of his footprints was first class.

As Gaara walked, the sand under his feet shifted with a rustling sound, and before you knew it, the grains had shifted away like they’d been sung to, revealing the footprints that had been covered. Sand didn’t lie to Gaara.

“If he’s heading towards the border, then he’ll be passing by the Houki tribe’s land.” Shijima said.

“Ah, that’s right. Your people were originally from the land of Fire, weren’t they?”

“…yes.” Shijima’s face darkened a little bit.

“Don’t be bothered.” Gaara said, “I’m not looking to rebuke you. I’m just checking the facts.  You’ll be more familiar with the plot of the land. Is there any area ahead of here where someone would hide?”

“There’s a place that’s about an hour away with a shinobi’s stride. It’s the ancient ruins of a town. It’s a cursed plot of land, so neither runaways nor thieves go there.”

“I see.”

There were many ruins of ancient towns lying idle in the desert. It made a person wonder whether those towns had been built a long time ago, before the desert was a desert. But, there were no definite details. The theory was that the ruins had been left from the time of the Sage of the Six Paths and Ootsutsuki Kaguya.

“Alright, let’s take a break.”

“…Why, sir? We should be hurrying to return Hakuto-sama.”

In his head, Gaara went over the file on Hakuto that Baki had given him.

Most of her missions had been infiltration, assassination, and guard duty. Since she was involved in the Hokuto tribe’s secret, internal affairs, her file didn’t have many details, but…

She’s hasn’t had much experience in mission on the outside.

Gaara found a sand dune that looked like it would be good for resting, and, laying out a piece of cloth, sat down.

“Take a break.” He said. “Your body temperature has fallen lower than you’d think.”

“But-”

“Sit. This is an order from the Kazekage.”

Gaara didn’t like having to use his authority, but managing to bring Hakuto back was the most important thing.

“Understood.” Shijima sat down slowly, but a little reservedly, by Gaara’s side.

“It will be good for you.” Gaara said.

He took out a portable stove, and hung a small kettle over the fire. He added water from the canteen, sugar cubes, mint leaves, and tea leaves.

While waiting for the kettle to let out the pleasant sounds to show that it was ready, Gaara looked up at the stars.

He didn’t particularly like or dislike stars.

Stars were indispensable tools for confirming your location in the landmark-less desert by looking up to observe their position.

That was why shinobi of the desert like Gaara habitually looked up at to watch the stars.

The Country of Wind’s sky was vast without end.

At ground level in the desert, there were clouds of dust and dirt, but the sky was clear and transparent. It was because there weren’t any city lights, or any clouds to block the view.

Stars were like grains of sand caught in the sky. They were cold, didn’t give off any heat to warm you, and just simply hung there, beautifully, without dirt.

Compared to that, us humans who keep fighting each other are the dirty ones.

The tea in the kettle had come to a boil.

Gaara poured the brewed tea into some portable tea cups from a height. He was doing so to make sure the dust stayed in the bottom of the kettle’s foam. If he didn’t pour it from a height, the tea would taste powdery. You had to drink tea without the dust from the leaves.

“Drink this.” Gaara said, “Warm up your body.”

“Yes sir.”

When he passed the teacup to her, Gaara’s fingers briefly brushed against Shijima’s.

…They really look alike.

The stars gave enough light for him to see that, excluding her thick glasses, Shijima looked incredibly similar to Hakuto.

They’re not just from the same tribe. Gaara concluded, but didn’t assume any more than that.

His own family had been complex, and he’d gained wounds because of that, so Gaara didn’t like asking about the family matters of others that didn’t have anything to do with him.

“…It’s warm.” Shijima’s glasses had fogged up a little from the tea’s steam, and her voice sounded like she was comforted by the tea.

“As it should be,” Gaara said, taking a sip too.

The tea tasted like sweet sugar, tea leaves and mint.

It was a familiar taste that belonged to the desert.

“At night in the desert, human’s body temperatures fall quickly, and they lose the sugar in their body quickly too. What’s more frightening is that it happens without us noticing.”

“Without noticing? Had I been like that too?”

“Nobody notices. Myself included.” Gaara took one more sip of his tea. “The desert isn’t an environment where people can live. That’s why our survival instincts go out of control here. I’ve seen many shinobi from foreign countries who became unable to feel hot or cold, and died on the side of the road.”

Even Gaara, who was protected by his Absolute Defence, wasn’t an exception to that possibility.

His absolute defence would repel any attack that came his way, but naturally, it wouldn’t help him obtain victory.

“So that we don’t die like this, it’s necessary to cope mechanically. You take a break every two hours. While resting, you drink sweet tea. If you can do that resolutely, the break will stop you from suffering, and help you cope.”

The wind unfurled, and the desert changed colours again.

“The shinobi who took Hakuto hasn’t taken a break. But that kind of a forced march onwards won’t last long. Soon, he’ll have to abruptly take a rest. What’s necessary for shinobi to continue enduring isn’t idealism. It’s skill.”

“…May I ask you one question?” Shijima asked. She was gazing into her half empty cup of tea like her eyes were somewhere far away.

“What is it?” Gaara asked.

“Why are you doing so much?”

“For the dignity of Sunagakure.” Gaara said. “Because I’m the Kazekage that’s responsible for its future.”

“Is that all that it is?”

“Hakuto is important, of course. I have no intention of leaving her rescue to others.”

The order probably should’ve been switched so Hakuto came first, but Gaara was too serious of a man to let lies mix into his words.

“Why?” Gaara asked.

“…No. It’s nothing.”

“I see. Then, we should start going now. We should catch up with the shinobi.”

Gaara got up, gathering the tea leaves that had been left in the kettle into the small tea left in his cup, and then threw them with a series of exaggerated motions into the desert’s wind.

“…Is that some type of ninjutsu?”

“It’s a charm.” Gaara said, with a very serious look on his face.

“A charm?”

“My elder sister, Temari, taught it to me. It’s something that’s been handed down the Kazekage clan. It’s an incantation that lets you borrow the power of the desert’s spirits to save your lover.”

“Is that so?” A small, affectionate smile had passed over Shijima’s face. “Well then, I hope the spirit’s lend their power, and the wish is granted. I’ll dedicate the little power I have as well.”

“I’ll be relying on you.”

The pair’s shadows began to walk again.

 

 

I never thought things could get to this state so quickly.

Kankurou had returned to Sunagakure, and the look on his face at this moment was that of someone who’d bitten a sour lemon.

“Kankurou-sama.”

Around twenty young shinobi had come to see him.

Every single one of them had been brought up after the Fourth Shinobi World War, and raised under his care.

You could call them innocent. They were all teenage boys and girls.

“We’ve deliberated for a while, and in the end, we’ve decided that we can’t go along with the current regime.”

“Look at you guys pulling out such a big thing.” Kankurou shook his head like they were joking, but all their eyes were serious.

They really had pulled out something large, he thought.

“Under the pretty label of a ‘detente’, all that happens is that the budget is reduced, and we are no longer being given a place to work.”

“We can’t go along with the current regime, with Gaara-sama’s weak-hearted policies any longer!”

“While we’re forced to live a harsh lifestyle, he goes out and has a flashy marriage meeting.”

“We think that the one who should lead us is you, Kankurou-sama, the eldest son of the previous Kazekage!”

“…”

He could understand their feelings. The daimyou thought of Sunagakure’s shinobi as interchangeable tools. And response to the detente, they kept outsourcing their missions to other, cheaper villages so as to save on costs.

But of course, it was only right that those who were entrusted with the citizens’ taxes thought carefully about how it was used.

And, still, the agreement ever since ancient times was supposed to be that shinobi would protect the country, and the daimyou would supervise the country.

Gaara wasn’t incompetent.

His younger brother was thinking of a path that would let the people of Sunagakure, and the Country of Wind, and everyone in the entire continent to live their lives well.

And, step by step, he was walking towards that goal.

But, he couldn’t please everyone with that.

Gaara’s chosen road was that of ‘peace’.

It wasn’t ‘the prosper of Suna only’.

If another shinobi world war began, and Suna defeated other villages and took over their abundant and fertile land, then, yes, that might have compensated and rewarded the shinobi, just as the young shinobi said.

But, they would be prospering on top of a mountain of corpses, and they would have been achieving glory that was sustained by hatred.

And furthermore, what would they do if they lost the war? If Sunagakure was knocked down once more, then this time around, they might not be able to get back up again.

And that was why Gaara had chosen the road of ‘peace’. Not because of any idealisim, but because he had been thinking realistically for the good of his country.

Cooperation with other villages wouldn’t give immediate results, but eventually, thanks to those reciprocal relationships, Sunagakure would prosper like it never had before.

Gaara had chosen this path thinking of that.

“Doesn’t this mean,” Kankurou said, “That you guys are intending to kill Gaara?”

“!”

Unrest spread through all the young shinobi.

Although none of them had personally witnessed the Fourth Shinobi World War, they all knew of Gaara’s legendary fighting style. Gaara had gone through a fight on the level of gods with Ootsuki Kaguya and her family, as well as fighting the puppets sent from the moon. He was a Kazekage among Kazekage.

Even now, when they spoke of a coup de’tat, all the young shinobi’s faith in Gaara was absolute.

“That’s- we have no intentions of doing that.”

“We’re just thinking that Gaara-sama could take the position of a counsellor, and Kankurou-sama could become the Kazekage.”

“We just want to pull Gaara-sama away from the field of politics.”

I see…you guys have been thinking about this.

If the young shinobi did that, then it would be hard for external forces to see this as a coup. If the political changes in Suna were carried out in that way, then other villages wouldn’t have a reason to lend assistance or intervene.

“Kankurou-sama!”

Sunagakure was a relatively poor village.

Of course, there were even poorer villages.

Kankurou thought the improvements that had come to Suna under Gaara’s rule were incredibly great.

However, when the young shinobi interacted with other villages, they realised that Suna was still ‘poor’ in comparison. And thus, they began feeling resentment.

For example, if you asked Kankurou or Temari, then they’d say ‘compared to the time during the Konoha Crush, everyone’s daily lives now are seriously so much better’.

But, the young shinobi only knew ‘now’.

“Kankurou-sama!”

“Kankurou-sama!”

“Please, tell us your decision!”

Twenty pairs of earnest eyes pinned their gazes onto Kankurou.

He had no choice but to give them an answer.

 

 

Gaara felt like he was seeing a mass of grave stones lined up side by side.

He could understand why even robbers didn’t approach these ruins.

The sand here was a beautiful pure white, to the point that you wondered if they weren’t the crystal remains of shattered bones. The concrete buildings that rose out of that sand had to be skyscrapers those old people had built.

Even now, you could feel that people used to live here.

Chairs that were no different now than they were then, metal pillars that had once been street lamps, awfully spacious roads, lightning trains* lying on top of rails with no one riding them, computers buried in the sand…

There was no way of knowing where the people who lived here had gone.

There was only the moonlight and starlight shining down, and the heavy feeling of death.

It was a dazzlingly white cemetery of sand.

In the middle of that landscape, there was Hakuto.

Next to her was an unknown shinobi.

If you had to guess his age, he didn’t look much older than Gaara. He had a medium build, but one that had obviously been disciplined, with shorn back black hair. He looked similar to Gaara.

“So you’re the one who abducted Hakuto.”

Hakuto wasn’t tied up, and she wasn’t being carried.

Whether he could still call her situation ‘abduction’ was something Gaara hesitated over, but he had no other words to use.

One man, and one woman. You’d think it was a certain sort of situation.

However, there were words Gaara had to say because of where he stood.

“I am Shigezane of the Houki tribe.” The man spoke without hesitation. He walked towards Gaara with a clear gaze in his eyes. His steps were firm on the sand, letting out thudding sounds.

“I’ve heard of you, the master of Metal Mining.”

“It’s an honour if you’ve heard of my name at all.” Shigezane replied. “I would be opposed if I was poorly skilled in the technique handed down to me by the Fourth Kazekage.”

“My father used to praise your skill.” Gaara said.

There were no lies in what he said. He hadn’t met the man before, but ‘Shigezane of the Houki’ was known as a man who used a unique ninjutsu to take out metal crystals from the earth below, a pro in mineral mining and fort destruction.

Similar to the magnet release, the technique also allowed the user to take out gold dust from the ground. It had been taught to Shigezane by Gaara’s father, who’d been concentrating on the village’s financial situation.

How ironic.

Gaara’s jutsu had been influenced by his father as well, however it was mostly characterised by the ability to manipulate sand that he’d been born with as a Jinchuuriki.

The truth was that neither of the three sand siblings had inherited the Fourth Kazekage’s jutsu.

That was why knowing the man in front of his eyes was his father’s disciple made strong, strange emotions rise inside Gaara.

“I don’t know who’s instigated you to do this,” Gaara said, “But what you’re doing right now is being nothing more than a decoy. Do you really intend to uselessly die doing that sort of task?”

“…I’m fully aware of I’m doing.” Shigezane’s eyes were unwavering.

Only people who intended to walk right into the arms of death had that look in their eyes.

The look in his eyes was the same as Hakuto who stood next to him.

And with that, Gaara understood.

“Gaara-sama!” Shijima yelled, “I’ll start ahead of you!”

“!”

Shijima was running towards them. She clutched houshuriken in her hands and, while creating a feint kage bunshin, kicked against the crystal powder-like sand, leaping into the air.

“Shigezane!” She yelled, “You who kidnapped the Lady despite being part of the Houki tribe, take your punishment!”

“Shijima?!” Shigezane quickly made a seal.

It was the water release.

That was a technique unsuited for the desert, with few users.

But, we’re also scarce of techniques that can deal with the water release.

The sand beneath Gaara was shaking.

It’s from underneath!

Gaara made a shield of sand, but he couldn’t reach to protect Shijima.

The attack was  made of water.

A column of underground water burst out of the ground beneath Shigezane’s feet.

It was a high-pressured water blade.

Tunnels were full of combustible mine dust and gas, so such a technique was necessary for digging through bedrock without creating igniting sparks.

But it was also a fact that if you took a direct hit from a water blade, it would cut clean through flesh and bone.

Shijima’s houshuriken were pulverized by Shigezane’s water attack.

The wind sealed inside her houshuriken burst and exploded but, while it did weaken the water’s pressure, the water attack still had enough power to cut and scrape Shijima’s skin and clothes.

“Tch!” Gaara clicked his tongue, and started running.

He didn’t want to see the kunoichi who’d come along to help him cruelly killed.

The correct action to take in this situation was probably to sacrifice Shijima so he could witness Shigezane’s technique in action and see through it, but that kind of a ‘correct’ answer was a bullshit one.

Gaara had never, not even once, been a man who lived for doing the ‘correct’ thing.

He was a man who lived for the sake of love.

And love, love was holding out your hand for anyone at all, without expecting anything in return.

That was why Gaara ran.

“I’ll be taking your life!” Shigazane sent out another geyser of water.

“But, that’s too simple an attack.” Gaara said.

He turned his sand shield at an acute angle, and rather than receiving the attack, deflected it to the side.

No matter how high-pressured of a water blade it was, if you gave an angle to its kinetic energy, then it lost its cutting efficiency.

The white sand surrounding Gaara shifted, like a blooming flower.

It almost looked like he was in the middle of a white rose.

Another rush of water, and another, and another.

The rushing water became a storm surrounding Gaara, but it was quickly soaked up by his sand and wind, and never managed to reach him.

A long-distance fight had a high likelihood of endangering Hakuto.

He’d be able to end things in close range combat, Gaara decided, and moved to close the distance between him and the enemy.

At that moment, Hakuto, who had been doing nothing until now other than watching the fight with a sad look in her eyes, let out a shout:

“Gaara-sama, Shijima, run!”

“Hakuto!” For a single instant, Shigezane looked over his shoulder, just as surprised as the others.

And with that instant, Gaara had time to get ready for the next attack.

Shigezane had been making a new seal. You could feel that he was gathering large amount of chakra.

A large attack, huh.

Gaara instantly started preparing to defend himself.

But then, with a low groan, the sand under Gaara’s feet starting to swirl.

Quicksand?!

Quicksand was a phenomenon that occurred when sand had become full of water, and thanks to that water saturation, started behaving like a faux-liquid.

His earlier water attacks had been a strategy to saturate the sand around me with water!

Like a ship being dragged down under a giant whirlpool, in no time at all, Gaara’s body had sunk all the way to his abdomen. If he didn’t do something to save himself, he was going to be swallowed up whole by the quick sand.

But, dealing with this kind of sand was tricky. He couldn’t repel it with a shield of sand, because in this situation, the sand was his very enemy. The sand was being manipulated by Shigezane’s chakra, so he couldn’t regain full control of it either.

He’s got me…this whole plot of land was a trap!

But, that didn’t mean escape was impossible.

The truth was that he was perfectly capable of escaping. He could regain control of a small amount of sand, wrap it around himself and fly out.

But, Gaara didn’t do that.

It was because he’d seen Shijima had been pulled into the midst of the quicksand as well.

Shijima had been injured in the previous attack. It didn’t look like she could escape.

If she was dragged down into the sand, then she would inevitably die of suffocation.

Even if Gaara defeated Shizegane, he wouldn’t be able to reach her in time. Even Gaara wouldn’t be able to find her quickly if she sunk into such a large area of sand.

And so, Gaara used his sand to leap towards the sinking Shijima.

“Gaara-sama?!” She cried, “Why are you…?!”

“Don’t speak.” He said, grabbing her by the hands and pulling her to him. At the same time, he pulled a shield of sand all around them.

It looks like we won’t be able to escape in time with flight…!

“Hold your breath.” He said to Shijima, and the whirlpool of sand swallowed them both whole.

Gaara had enclosed the both of them in a dome of his own sand, and as they sunk down into the darkness, he frantically tried to maintain the air.

 

 

“I understand.” Kankurou said. He had come out of his careful deliberating to give a firm nod.

“Ahh!”

“Kankurou-sama!”

“Kankurou-sama!”

“When me and the others installed Gaara as Kazekage, we didn’t do it with any usual methods either,” Kankurou said. “You could say this is just a repetition of that, couldn’t you?”

“Thank you very much!” Their jubilant voices cried.

There was no turning back anymore.

“So, have you finished drawing up a specific plan?”

“Of course.”

Kankurou looked at the protocol he’d been handed, and inwardly sighed.

It was the exact same type of plan to seize control of a city that was taught in textbooks. It covered the main points, but there was no imagination.

More precisely, there was nothing accounting for surprise developments. Developments like, say, Uzumaki Naruto.

Kankurou altered a few things with a red pen, and handed the protocol back.

“I got it.” He said. “But, promise me this. No blood will be spilled. If any blood is spilled, there will be retribution. Until the very end, this is going to be a peaceful operation to suppress the upper brass, and take Gaara’s position.”

“Yessir!”

“Who drew up this plan?” Kankurou asked.

“I did.” Maizuru stepped forwards, looking proud. His cheeks were red.

“I see.” Kankurou said. “I’ve understood all your feelings well. You’re not going to do anything bad, will you?”

In the middle of the second round of their cheering, Kankurou looked up at the ceiling, searching for a sky he wouldn’t be able to see.

He couldn’t return to those peaceful, easy days anymore.

 

 

Darkness.

Deep darkness.

Something thick and red was spreading around him.

Blood.

The smell of blood had always been surrounding the young Gaara.

“Why…am I different from everyone?”

He had been born as a Jinchuuriki. He had been the child of the Kazekage, but even though that person was his father, he had tried to have Gaara assassinated.

And so, Gaara didn’t know any other way of interacting with people besides hurting them.

He wondered how many people he had killed.

There were people he’d killed just because he didn’t like them, and there were people he’d killed en-route to a mission.

His uncle Yashamaru had been like a parent to him, but then he had become an assassin, and Gaara had killed him. He had killed others like him too.

Gaara couldn’t judge between good and evil.

He just…killed.

He killed and killed and killed, and built up a literal pile of bodies in streams of blood.

He thought that…had been loving himself.

 

 

When Gaara woke up, he saw the face of a beautiful woman in front of his eyes.

“…Hakuto?”

“Have you woken up, Gaara-sama?” Shijima was the one who was nursing him.

“It’s you, Shijima. I apologise.”

Mixing up the face of one woman with another could be taken as insincerity. Even Gaara, as ignorant of the ways of the world as he was, knew that.

“No, it’s fine…” Shijima said. “You regaining your consciousness is more important than anything else.”

It looked like he’d used up a surprising amount of chakra.

His body felt very heavy.

“Where are we?”

“It looks like an underground cavern.” Shijima said. “It seems the sand has streamed down to the cavern where the underground water came from.”

Gaara’s eyes finally adjusted to the darkness.

Shijima had an emergency light stick in her hand, and he could see the shapes of ancient buildings surrounding them in the glow it gave off.

He couldn’t see the sky. It looked like they’d been dragged down somewhere very deep.

“How much time has passed?”

“Around three hours.”

“I see.” Gaara adjusted his breathing, and began to wait for his chakra to restore.

Hakuto hadn’t looked injured. She likely wouldn’t be killed straight away, right?

There was still time until dawn. He had to stay calm.

Shijima spoke, “May I ask you something?”

“If it’s something I can answer.” Gaara said.

“…Why did you save me?” Shijima was genuinely puzzled.

She had probably expected him to abandon her back there. She wouldn’t have gotten sad about it either.

That’s what shinobi were like, after all. First, there was the mission, and then, there was yourself. It was natural to think that way.

“No reason.” Gaara said.

“No reason…?!” Shijima exclaimed. “You saved me by abandoning not only the Lady intended to be your wife, but your own well-being– there isn’t any merit in that! I’m just a shinobi-!”

“Oi.” Gaara felt a little irritation rise in him at those words. “Don’t speak as if the value of life changes according to the person in question.”

“Eh?”

“No matter whose life it is, the value of it is the same as any other. Not to mention, if you’re a citizen of Sunagakure, then you’re part of my family.” Gaara himself didn’t understand why he felt so angry. “Certainly, there are times when a higher-up has to order his subordinates to die, but that’s while hoping to the very last moment that they have a possibility of living. Facing certain death is different from suicide, and entrusting someone you believe in with a difficult mission is different from standing by and watching them die.”

“I understand that.” Shijima said, “But, this was a fight with your honour on the line. If it comes to light that you let the woman you were going to marry be snatched away-”

“I know. The colleagues who think poorly of me will use this for their propaganda -no, they probably plotted this for that purpose to begin with.”

“Then why?”

“Because I I wanted to save you.” Gaara turned so he could meet Shijima’s eyes through her glasses. “…A long time ago, in the middle of the fighting during the ‘Konoha Crush’, I met a man. Uzumaki Naruto. He was an incredibly strange shinobi.”

“That legendary…?”

“His techniques, and his knowledge were both awful.”Gaara said, “Different from me, allowed to live like a human being despite being a jinchuuriki…I thought he was a complete idiot.”

He had still been young, back then. It was a memory from the chuunin exams. At that time, Gaara had been sent to participate in the chuunin exams as a spy to crush the village of Konohagakure from within.

“But…” Gaara said, “That Naruto came to fight me face to face. What it meant to live, how much merit there was in pain…and what it meant to love someone, those are all things that he taught me.”

It was a very precious memory.

And it hadn’t just been Naruto.

Rock Lee. Haruno Sakura. Nara Shikamaru, who would eventually become his brother-in-law. Temari and Kankurou, who had supported him even when they were afraid of him.

Everyone had been so young.

“I met him, and I learnt how to love a world beyond myself…And, I wanted to one day love someone the way my mother and brother and sister had loved me. The reason I was able to think like that…was because Naruto existed.”

A light that had illuminated that deep, eternal darkness.

That light had been Naruto.

 

 

There was a dream that Gaara still remembered to this very moment.

The dream he had seen in the middle of the Infinite Tsukuyomi.

His father, mother, and Yashamaru had been there. He had been there, young and unstained with blood. And there was also Naruto, his friend.

Curiously, he hadn’t seen any things like a lover, or a high status, or glory as a shinobi.

He had just felt terribly, terribly happy.

Gaara didn’t regret throwing away that dream.

He believed that living as they did now, not in dream, but in reality, was the future that they had picked for themselves.

But, the one who had made it so Gaara’s dream was so blissful had been Naruto. If he hadn’t met Naruto, he wouldn’t have been able experience that genjutsu with the bliss of friendship.

Plus, it was a certain fact that right now, Gaara really did have friends and family by his side.

 

 

“Naruto had nothing to gain from what he did. It would’ve been good if he’d killed a hateful enemy like me. But, he didn’t. That’s why…” Gaara gave a wry smile. “I thought I wanted to try and do something illogical too.”

When he said it out loud, it certainly sounded silly.

But, it also sounded strangely refreshing.

“Something illogical?” Shijima asked.

“Yes. Like the wind that crosses the desert. Not restricting anything, and loving everyone…the truth is, I thought that I wanted to try living in that manner.”

“…yes, I see.” Shijima nodded, her eyes looking like she was looking at something very far away.

“But, I can’t really do it.” Gaara said, “I have too many things I can’t throw away, and far too many things I have to protect.”

“You are the ‘Kazekage’, after all.” Shijima said. She smiled.

Shijima’s smile was different from Hakuto or Temari’s.

For a moment, Gaara vaguely felt like it resembled his mother’s smile which he’d seen so long ago. Then he wondered whether this wasn’t the ‘mother complex’ that Temari talked about.

“I’m like that as well.” Shijima said. She lifted a finger, tracing the edges of her glasses. “I….”

Shijima took off her glasses.

Her eyes were closed.

She looked just like Hakuto, but, Shijima’s smiling face it was filled with much more sadness.

“I sacrificed myself,” Shijima said. “For the sake of researching how to replicate the secret ‘Sharingan’ of Konoha.”

“…Was it Orochimaru?”

“Yes.”

Orochimaru was a legendary shinobi of Konoha who had fallen onto an evil path. He had killed Sunagakure’s Kazekage and pretended to be him for a period of time, while carrying out awful experiments. The details of what had happened back then hadn’t been clarified to this day, but to think that one of those test subjects had been right next to him.

“The experiment ended in failure…and I put a seal on my own eyes.” Shijima said, “I had to, because I didn’t have the jutsu to restrain the Eye Technique. And I entrusted the matter of becoming the clan successor to my little sister, Hakuto.”

Shijima put her thick, bulky glasses back on again.

So that was the reason. Now Gaara understood why Shijima wore those glasses so unsuited for the battlefield. They were a restraining tool used to curb the unrestrainable doujutsu.

“Why…did you tell me that?” Gaara asked.

Even if they were from the same village, one should never carelessly reveal details about their own jutsu.

That was an iron-clad rule of shinobi.

Because revealing the secrets of your own jutsu to someone was no different than entrusting that person with your life.

“I, too…wanted to try doing something a little illogical.” Shijima said, smoothly standing up. “Is that bad?”

Her figure was dimly illuminated by feeble light. She looked terribly beautiful.

“No,” Gaara stood up too, “It’s not bad at all.”

“We can find the path to getting out of this cavern with wind release.” Shijima said, “I’ll guide us out.”

“I’ll be relying on you.” Gaara said, “I want to conserve as much chakra as possible.”

His fatigue had gone somewhere very far away.

It was time to continue their pursuit.

 

Extra Translator Notes:

*  This puzzle me quite a bit initially, because the kanji literally says thunder/lightening-car but there’s no such kanji used to refer cars in rl!japan, so I initially just went with a verbatim translation. Later though, I figured it out. Train in Japanese is ‘electric car’. Electricity in the nardyverse is powered by lightning. Thus lightning car = electric car = lightning train lol, which is the same as an electric train in the real world.

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