The blades of vengeances have fallen swiftly. The shinobi are no more as 'Absolute Justice' has returned...now, it is the Samurai that rule the Five Major Nations!
But at what cost? Have they become the very thing that they despised the most...? Heroes and villains seem to change roles every day, but one thing is for certain - we yearn for our freedom, for days gone by where we flew the skies unhindered.
The rolling hills of Kusa no Kuni seemingly flowed endlessly into the horizon, creating a layer of green underneath the blue skies. Heaven and Earth, perfectly divided by the green waves speckled with floral life. The particular stretch of plains that I walked upon were untouched by the ravishes of war. No scars were cut deep into the earth as one might find anywhere else in the world now. It was simply pure, although my presence poisoned it with every step.
I pressed on, trudging through the tall grass in search of my home. This, however, seemed fruitless, as the hills never ended. Human taint now coated the trail I took, a path that I did not know myself. I had been lost for quite some time, yet not in the traditional sense. I had been lost as someone who has lost everything to chance. I had no home to return to, no surviving friends nor family, I had not even met a single Taki ninja in years. As I carried on through the herbs I tried to remember what hope felt like... I couldn't.
Upon exiting the cave, his body darting forth in some incomprehensible blur, the lad would begin to scour every nook and cranny of the country side. His objective? To gather those worthy and bring them into the fold. It was a simple task but a rather complicated one so far as the execution went.
After all, the boy had been in seclusion from the world for how long now? Far too long if anything. He hadn’t even the slightest clue of where to begin. Just how much had things changed since then? Were former allies still friends? Had their foes forgotten of their existence? Such things made his situation all the more fickle.
Kurutta would have to tread lightly (for now). Removing his insignia from about his arm, he’d stash it within his satchel. It was probably the safest thing he could do – no?
The boy would proceed through the untamed wild grasses of what he assumed to be Kusa. Such fields were iconic and hard to mistake despite the short comings of his memory.
As if a wild beast stalking through the plains, he’d creep his way playfully towards the nearest city. Crouched at the knees and hunched over, he’d conceal his position and slink among the shrubbery. At this point it was nothing more than a child’s game to him.
It had seemed that Fate had long since decided upon my destiny, for I carried on through the grass for what seemed like hours with no end in sight. The rolling hills never changed, never shifted, never became anything more than that; hills. The only change that ever occurred came from the breezes, which bent the grass and gave the impression that the hills were moving, rolling over in waves pushed by the wind. A great, green ocean just as vast and endless as the real one.
The noon sun hung in the air without clouds in sight, casting its heat upon the earth below uninterrupted. The temperature was mild, but after having traveled so far a distance it began to take its toll. I was fatigued and lacking in rations. I checked my stores only to quickly realize that I had absolutely nothing left. I could do nothing at this point but press on, move towards my imminent death. Fatigue would eventually overcome me, and I questioned how death itself would feel like. Whatever it was, it couldn't be worse than the sense of absolute hopelessness that I felt now.
My knees trembled suddenly, giving out from beneath me as I collapsed into the grass. They ached, and as I pushed on the ground I found that my arms did, too. Pain was overcoming me, yet I knew that this wasn't my time, not just yet. I wouldn't let Fate claim me so early, I just needed to press on a little further. My insects crawled underneath me, pushing against my weight with the aid of hundreds of comrades. The cloud lifted me into the sky, bringing me high above the grassy fields below, giving me a more aerial view of my surroundings. Yet as I climbed I could see nothing else except Kusa. Perhaps if I just flew a little higher...
It wasn’t long before the plains had lost their novelty. The lad found his enjoyment quickly dulling as he ended up coming across nothing. It was a sad sight to see to be honest. After all, the boy had expecting something more… eventful to occur upon arriving in the old world.
Standing up right from the grasses, he’d break into a well deserved stretch, his back arching and popping several times along the way. It was then that he’d pause, his eyes averting toward a black and ominous cloud in the sky.
What exactly was it? The boy couldn’t be sure and needed to find out!
Sprinting closer towards the object of his attention, he’d find himself slowing to a jog as it slowly became more identifiable. It appeared to be a man riding upon a swarm of… insects? His body would shudder in disgust at the thought, tongue showing slightly with distaste. He’d make effort to contact the man however.
After all, some company was better than none… right?
Hands cuffed at the mouth, he’d call rather loudly at the stranger.
It wasn't so bad up here. The clear blue skies calmed me as I gazed off into the distance, coming to terms with the fact that Taki no Kuni simply didn't exist anymore. It had been destroyed, overcome by enemy forces and ripped apart. It was by mere luck that the plains of Kusa had been reborn, a gift from the Gods, really. Perhaps my people had then angered these Gods, and such was our punishment. Complete and utter annihilation. I was the sole survivor, but for what reason?
The peace that had begun to settle upon the scene was suddenly interrupted, however, as sound broke the silence that had long since overcome my travels. I awoke from my trance, dazed and confused as to who could possibly be this far out. Moving to the edge of my cloud I peered over, my body still aching with every movement. There, down below, stood a man. His words were unidentifiable; whether this was due to the distance or the shock, I did not know.
Slowly the insects began to reenter my body, but not before gently lowering me to the ground. For some reason I felt no fear and no desire to guard myself against the nin who stood before me. In the state I was in I'd be surprised if I could manage to even fight back. Looking at the man - or should I say boy? - I was compelled to introduce myself. This itself was mere habit. Turning my shoulder slightly, I would reveal the glistening headband that was tied there. I wore the symbol of Takigakure with pride, and I would make clear my alliance. I would only be able to muster out one word, however; my name.
Turning my shoulder slightly, I would reveal the glistening headband that was tied there. I wore the symbol of Takigakure with pride, and I would make clear my alliance
The boy's eyes would widen excitedly upon spotting the marker of his homeland. Could it really be? There were still those outside of the village that had lasted for so long? The mere though of it was remarkable, ridiculous and rather unbelievable!
His eyes would narrow skeptically however as he'd lean in more closely to examine the head band. A finger raised to prod it curiously. It seemed too... new to be real, that or the owner had taken such good care of it during all this time. Either way, it was need for concern.
Going to a bit further of an extreme, he'd attempt to bite down heartily upon the head band. Nothing less would leave the boy content of its authenticity.
I stepped back in fright as the nin before me failed to respond with words, but rather a sound that implied that he was nothing more than an idiot. His actions seemed primitive as his eyes narrowed in on my headband, and I glanced nervously at it. Was he perhaps an enemy of Taki? If so, how much trouble would I find myself in? My insects stirred restlessly within as the boy's hand raised up, a finger rising to prod the waterfall depicted on my headband.
Suddenly he lunged forward, his mouth opening wide as he moved to bite the headband. Reacting on instinct my hand lashed out, aiming to strike the boy in the head before he would reach the band. Just what the hell was he trying to do?! How long had this boy been kept from civilization that he resorted to attacking with his teeth? "What the fuck are you doing?!" A mixture of anger and fear welled within me. Anger for the boy's actions, but fear for the same reason. I eyed him nervously, awaiting his response to my hostile actions. I could only hope that they wouldn't return tenfold.
Suddenly he lunged forward, his mouth opening wide as he moved to bite the headband. Reacting on instinct my hand lashed out, aiming to strike the boy in the head before he would reach the band.
This old man's reactions would be too slow. His body was weakened and unable to keep up with the spry lad's actions! (You said you were exhausted not me.) Head ducking low at the last second, he'd weave under the stranger's arm and lunge at his torso. All this time his eyes were set upon the prize.
Ideally his actions would send both tumbling to the earth, giving him more than enough time to examine the head band while the man recovered from the shock. Clawing at it somewhat playfully as if a kitten, he'd stare back and forth between the band and the man's face, swerving from one to the other and then back once again.
Given a moment or two, he'd nod satisfactorily and remove himself from atop the stranger's figure. The head band seemed real enough. Much to the boy's surprise, there actually were Taki nin still loafing around!
A welcoming hand would extend outright as if waiting for a hand shake and would suddenly withdraw as something else struck the boy's memory. Digging furiously within his knapsack, he'd reveal a head band of his own. It bore the same insignia...
I'd hit the ground before my arm had even completed its arc. A wave of pain exploded throughout my fatigued body, rendering me paralyzed and subject to the boy's whims. His eyes darted back and forth, apparently inspecting the mark on my arm and my face, as if he knew me. I felt his hand brushing against the metal, almost playfully, and I was completely lost as to his intentions. I couldn't discern if he was mentally unstable or simply stupid.
Suddenly his weight was lifted from me, ceasing an endless pain that had come since the moment he had brought me to the ground. My breathing was heavy as I pushed myself back up, tilting my head curiously as he exclaimed "Nichan!" His hand extended, open palm reaching for my own, and as soon as he had reached out it was retracted, shuffling through his pack as if searching for something. I was, at this point, utterly lost and confused. I feared for my life in the hands of this mania--
My mouth dropped open as the silver band was brought forth from the bag. A burst of adrenaline coursed through my veins, revitalizing my body if only for a moment from sheer excitement. Hope, it would seem, had not been lost forever. Here, for the first time in seven years, stood a shinobi of Takigakure. Given that his mind was clearly somewhere else, here was a brethren of mine, another survivor of the war, wandering the same land as I was.
I lurched forward, grabbing hold of the headband as I peered in closely, much like the boy himself. I had to verify that this was indeed the true insignia of my home. I could feel hot tears sliding down my face - pure happiness filled me. I turned my gaze to match that of the boy before me, hoping that his mental state was enough to answer my simple request.
"Please! Take me to Taki!"
My tone was near begging, but I was desperate. Desperate to return home and desperate to see if there were other survivors. Desperate to help bring my village to its former state, to serve the village that I had served many years before. I was, with any hope, finally going to return. But what surprises would lay in store with my arrival?
It seemed that the boy's reaction wasn't quite as crazy as Iizuka had first imagined, for he too found himself following suit. A pleasant expression crossed the lad's face as he'd join in on the melodramatics before him. Arms extended towards the sky with Katsu-kun in hand, he'd leap twice and twirl about. The emotional surge was just too great for him or his plush to bear.
"Yay! We found one Katsu-kun! We found one!~"
He'd soon calm down however upon hearing the man's quivering voice. His brother's disposition had changed rather rapidly from that of joy to desperation. It was almost... unnerving.
"Please! Take me to Taki!"
Eyes staring skeptically, he'd zoom in closer for further inspection. Oketsu-dono had instructed him to only bring those of great value. Would this brother meet expectations?
Taking a step or two back, he'd shake his head persistently as if unable to fulfill his request.
"Can you give to Taki?"
The boy would leap once more, spinning about as he'd sing with a rather odd and carefree tone.
Somehow the plush bear hadn't previously piqued my interest, but now my eyes were focused entirely on it as the boy even referred to it with a name. I had thought he was a little off, but to be his age and still have an imaginary friend? It was clear that he was either retarded or traumatized, but in my situation beggars couldn't be choosers. It was, however, cause for concern, for I would soon be placing my trust in this boy to return me to my home. Needless to say, it wasn't one of my best decisions.
His upbeat and happy attitude faded as soon as mine had, however, as my begging seemed to upset him. He peered in, inspecting me, then stood back, shaking his head and swiftly crushing my dreams of returning home. "Can you give to Taki?" I didn't quite understand the request, nor could I understand his actions as he leaped and spun in the air, speaking again in a sing-song voice, "Give ALL the thingsss!"
I looked around confusedly, unaware of what exactly he was asking for. My hands ruffled through my belongings, searching for something I could give in return for my passage to Taki no Kuni. The jingling of coins was heard as my hand brushed against my bag of ryo, and I found myself untying it from my belt. In this particular bag there was a total of 100,000 ryo - the rest was stored in another pouch on my body. I'd hand this over to the boy, rising to my feet to avoid begging once more.
His eyes would stare curiously at the man as he'd watch him search his own belongings. The boy was referring to skill as an offering to the village but apparently his words had been mistaken. Either way it was an amusing prospect as his imagination began to grow all the more rampant. Had this lost brother stumbled across some rare and ancient artifact during his isolation? Did he plan on forfeiting it as a humble gift to the village?
Much to his disappointment a rather large bag of ryo would slam against the ground, its coinage jingling as it'd make impact. The weight of the purse was more than self evident from the sound it created. What was young Kurutta to do? Oketsu-dono had instructed him to bring those of great value... Would this count too?
He'd stare once at Nichan's face, then back at the offering, and then back once more. It seemed that the man had regained some dignity at least and gotten off his knees. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt just this once to bend the rules a little?
The thought of denying this man his home stabbed at his heart more so than his companion would ever comprehend. He just couldn't do it.
Out of respect he'd accept the offering, stashing it away within the folds of his own knapsack before beckoning for the man to follow. Arm pointed in a general direction before dashing off, he'd shout once to make his intention rather clear.
"Let's go home Nichan!"
He'd pause given a few paces however and turn to wait for the man. It seemed that this nichan was more of an ojisan if anything...
Their journey would be oddly nostalgic, though rightfully it should be. After all, the boy was guiding them through the old passage ways which had once lead to Taki. Though slightly different from the paths of before, memories of days long gone would come forth once more as they'd make their way through the country side.
His pace would trickle to trot as he'd motion towards an opening within the gargantuan natural barrier which sealed Taki from the rest of the world. Without hesitance, he'd dive into the darkness.
And upon emerging at the other end? The two would come face to face at the gates of their home.
He took my offering, but it would appear as though it wasn't the compensation he sought. What else could I have given to him? I had nothing else but a few weapons and my insects, but I wasn't truly willing to part with any of that. The money - well, I had plenty of it, and there would always be more. The boy took the bag of money, stored it within his own knapsack, and then took off. His arm outstretched pointed the way, and I sprinted after him.
"Let's go home Nichan!"
A new energy welled up within me, giving me new purpose and feeling again. Hope - that mysterious sentiment that had once been lost to me - was now found. I was on my way home, darting through the plains of Kusa that now faded to simple patches of grass. Moving through the countryside, I began to remark upon familiar sightings in the area. It was, of course, changed to a degree, yet I could feel nostalgia in the path we took. The memories of traveling this very path in my past came back to me.
Soon enough the pace we had started upon slowed to a slow jog. The boy motioned to the entrance, and I followed him close behind. It was well hidden, to say the least, and the barrier that it was a part of closed Taki off from the outside world. Perhaps we truly had survived, and not only that, perhaps we were strong. Darkness overcame my world, but it wasn't long before light had revealed it once more to me. And what, you might ask, was the first thing I saw?
The gates of my homeland, gloriously standing before me.