“No.” The word came from Fushin, or blue haired, yellow eyed wind dude, and apparently the leader of this little group.
“You haven’t even listened to what we have to offer.” I countered.
“You work for Kiri?” He said.
“Well, kind of, it’s complicated.”
“Are you or are you not active Kiri nin?” He prodded.
“We are, but it’s changed okay, or it’s changing, it’s… there was war, everything broke, now we’re rebuilding. Things are getting better.” I held up my hands.
“Better for whom?” He pointed a finger, “For all the bloodlines that were abused, killed or sold as slaves? Or civilians left out in the cold because the shinobi system only caters to the wealthy?”
I actually had to pause at that point because it was very true that the shinobi game was pay to win.
“Well, the former’s no longer policy.” Suigetsu answered that question, “The entire reason for the whole bloodlines is gone, the seven families.” He clicked his tongue as he pulled his thumb across his neck, “And you realize shinobi jobs classed D and lower are covered by the countries’ daimyo.”
“Then why has the bamboo village been left unprotected from thieves?” He snapped, “We had to take them out ourselves.”
“Because Hot Water doesn’t have a local shinobi village.” Haku interjected, “Which means any shinobi they contract would have to come from out of country and any mission that takes a shinobi out of their home country is instantly rated C or higher. Those do get subsidized, but the cost isn’t completely covered. That’s more a flaw of the location and the fact that the non shinobi armies of the Hot Water Daimyo aren’t covering that area.”
He seemed less sure this time, but he still continued. “But they shouldn’t be left in the cold. They’re being attacked and they can’t do anything about it because they don’t have any money to hire normal shinobi protection.”
“If that’s your concern I’ll pay for shinobi protection.” I said this time, “Hot Water borders Fire, right?” I looked at Zabuza this time, “How much would it cost to fund a rotating guard?”
“Considering Fire’s population, not that much. One of the reasons they’re able to dominate the market is the sheer volume of shinobi they produce means they have the lowest prices in the regions for their newer teams. If you pay upfront for a year of time they might even give you a discount.” He picked his teeth. “Not that it matters that much. If they don’t want to come with us we have other ways to deal with them.”
“Is that a threat?” This was short haired boy, real name Amuda, who took a step forward.
“Yes,” “No,” Zabuza and I answered at the same time. I glowered at him.
“Can you not?!”
“No.” He said simply, “But sure, try your pitch again, they’re clearly riveted.”
Zabuza gestured to the group. Though Fushin was talking to me, most of the others had checked out. The blonde girl, Chino, was blowing bubbles out of her hands while top knot, real name Sutaro, was laying down recovering from his wounds. Purple hair rubber producer, aka Kayru was playing with a ball he’d produced and looking up.
“Are we going now? These guys can scrap, but we don’t need to be used by a ninja village again.”
“That’s not what the deal is.” I countered, “It’s an opportunity.”
Karyu snorted, “That’s what they called it whenever they volunteered us to do those suicide runs. An opportunity, or helping the community, working for our country, but it was always the same. Go die, because you’re disposable, worthless.”
“Well they were wrong. We wouldn’t discard you, we can even give you protection.”
“Yeah, a good weapon isn’t discarded after a single hit.” Zabuza said.
The scowl on his face when Zabuza said that made me spin and poke him in the chest. It probably looked comical considering the height difference. “You are not helping.”
“That’s what shinobi are.” His gaze moved past me to the group, the Lightning Group as they called themselves, “That’s what they’re trying to be. Naked blades working for little folk. Except a naked blade is exposed. It doesn’t matter what powers these guys have, if they keep playing this game they’re going to wind up dead. We don’t even need to do anything, just leave them alone.”
“We can handle ourselves.” Chino said this time, standing up. Her eyes shifted, “I can see any threats coming.”
“Yeah, until someone cuts you down.” Zabuza responded.
“What he means is, you’re out in the wind here a bit. If you come with us we can give you resources, a solid base to work on, a foundation to build a home. There will be work, but you won’t have to fight anyone if you don’t want to. You’d be more useful for making things instead of hurting things, and you’d be able to pick and choose your jobs. No harsh conditions, no forced jobs, you’d have a choice and a good place to make it from.”
“We have a choice now.” Fushin re-entered the conversation. “We choose to work with the people, doing the jobs they can’t afford to get done.”
“There’s a limit though.” I said, “It’s not bad, what you’re doing, but he’s right. This is reckless and in the end you’ll help maybe a handful of people at a time and only for as long as you’re around.”
“Then we just have to stay around.” He said, “It was nice meeting you, but it feels like you can’t really offer us anything. We’ve worked with the villages, with Kiri, and they threw us away. We don’t need that again. We’ll be fine on our own.”
“But we haven’t-” Zabuza cut me off then, wrapping his large hand around my head and covering my mouth.
“I let you try Mokuyabi, they didn’t bite and we need to keep moving.” With his other hand he bodily picked me up and pinned me to his side. I started to struggle, but felt a spike of intent that made my head swim. By the time my vision cleared we were out of that clearing and away from the group. Blinking my eyes I glared up at Zabuza but he didn’t say anything as the others followed, disappearing into the forest.
“That was bullshit!”
“Sorry Ume, but he’s the team lead on this.” Chojuro poured me the tea as we sat in the inn room. We’d flickered several kilometers away before doubling back and hitting the road. The mule was in the stables at this small inn but we were only staying a single night and leaving early in the morning.
“I could have convinced them if I had more time.” I said.
“Not really.” He rubbed his head, “You made a lot of good points, but they weren’t really for it.”
“But, rubber.” I said weakly. “It’s, we just…”
“Rubber boy wasn’t going to come with us without the rest of them.” Suigetsu walked in, sitting down with a smoothie in hand. “He’s lost people and now those guys are all he’s got. Windy has authority problems, which is why he is the leader. He doesn’t like taking orders so he gives them, probably was a slave of some sort. Rest of them follow suit, don’t have a direction, so they take his because they like where he leads them.”
“Since when are you good at reading groups?” I said.
He took a long sip, “Not that hard. Windy’s you, Rubber boy’s me, girl’s like Haku, leaning on someone else for purpose. Other two didn’t get enough, but Gonmaru and Benjiro come to mind.”
“Great, they’ve pooled together their hatred to make them a stubborn unit.” I let out a breath of air.
“We could kidnap rubber if you really want him, but if they really are like us, they’d fight us tooth and nail to get him back. Zabuza wouldn’t want that risk.” Suigetsu leaned back.
“Right, so what now.” I said, laying down. “We aren’t on a real mission, we’re just running from assassins.”
“We’re running from assassins but it’s still a mission.” Chojuro said, “We can still look for the swords. Hot Water is a tourist destination, which means we can scan for gossip, see if there’s any leads.”
“And if there isn’t?” I said.
“Well, if we’re passing through anyway we can hit some hot springs.” Suigetsu said with a smile, “I wouldn’t say no to another bath.”
I couldn’t sleep, which was no big surprise.
Finding out you’ve been shoved out of a country because people are trying to kill you has the tendency to ramp up your paranoia. It was surprising they’d been able to keep the fact that there were assassins on us this entire trip off my radar but I had been pretty distracted. From skimming the coasts, to that giant freaking energy explosion, to the yakuza fiasco and then the artisan village, we really had been hopping from one distraction to another. It also made me notice as soon as we were out of the desert, they’d done a steady rotation of some of the group not being around even while we were at inns. Now it was obvious they were posting a watch rotation, which I wasn’t a part of for obvious reasons.
They hadn’t told me how many they’d killed. Maybe I didn’t want to know, but it irked me. I didn’t want to just be protected, so tapping my fingers in the night I rolled over and pulled out some parchment and started making some seals.
My sealcraft wasn’t exactly mediocre, if only because mediocre was based on averages and on average, most shinobi didn’t make physical seals. Which was just odd, but I could reliably make three paper seals. Storage, flash bangs, and disguise seals, mostly because I understood those seals the best. Storage seals only required inputs for physical sizes, explosive seals were tricky and I didn’t like experimenting with them because there was so much that could go wrong, which was why I only did flash bangs because it limited the amount of potential damage to myself and the people around me in close quarters, and disguise was the henge jutsu, just without conscious upkeep. The last one was the most complicated and only because there were independent inputs for almost all the aspects you wanted to change. I could tweak things like height and hair length, but somehow I could never make the seal make any parts of me a different color. No matter where I put the color designation, it always defaulted to just one of the colors which was fine if the input was brown, not so much if it was white, blue, red or green.
The amount that sealcraft resembled coding was probably the exact reason I wasn’t any good at it. I didn’t have the patience to deal with every single line that closely.
I didn’t need a disguise as much since I could use physical disguises, but Zabuza stood out like a sore thumb. He was just too broad to blend in and I don’t think he’d object to a henge seal. I didn’t know how big his pool was, but holding a henge all day was draining and a seal would help lighten the load a bit. Plus it made me feel useful, if only a little bit.
I held up the seal and looked about the room to see who was around. There weren’t any mirrors in this inn and I really needed to look at this seal from the outside to gauge its effectiveness which meant using it on someone else. While I was working they seemed to have switched shifts and Suigetsu was laying on the ground, lightly sleeping. I could wake him, but I wondered if…
I set the seal on his forehead and with a bit of chakra and a pop he lost about half a meter of height but was now twice as broad. Turning from a normal shinobi to what looked like a Tolkien Dwarf sans the beard. The snort of laughter that escaped from my nose nearly startled me and it did cause him to stir as he looked around a bit confused.
“Oh, Buyo what are you…”
The sound in the distance made the both of us turn to look at each other. I almost moved to stand but he grabbed my arm. “Stay down, we have to… what the hell happened to my hand?”
He stared at the now twice as wide fingers.
Another loud pop went through the air, before suddenly something crashed through the window.