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Old 10-11-2018, 03:26 AM   #1
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Default [Solo] In Spirit

“Sir, you wanted me to remind you?”

In Spirit



Haru’s scribbling stopped, the pen resting against his writer’s callus. He rolled it back and forth in his fingers as he reclined into the desk chair, looking to his chief administrative officer, who was leaning half-way into the room, a few strands of hair the worse for wear.

“Thank you, Yumi.”

His nod to dismiss her barely moved his braids. After she had closed the door, he propped himself against the edge of the desk, hands spread wide, for the long sigh that was to follow, but cut his procrastination short and instead began to gather up the papers scattered across his beaten wooden desk before fully exhaling. He stacked them, deposited them in their accordion binders and transferred the documents to the short filing cabinet by the door.

The small bullpen beyond his office’s reinforced glass was alive with activity. It was a busy afternoon in EON’s modest headquarters. There were no windows save the ones fronting the street by Yumi’s desk, through which sunlight slanted steeply, and it was clear that the bulbs in one or two of the high ceiling’s hanging lamps would need changing soon, but the wan illumination didn’t phase a single one of his officers, drafted in on rotation from each of Kusagakure’s three major divisions to follow up on cases in Sougen. Some were in it for the long haul, while others commuted, and Haru respected those who had commitments elsewhere.

His eyes glazed over for a moment. When they cleared, he was staring at his own pale reflection, one hand still on the lip of the filing cabinet’s partially closed top drawer. With a quiet sound of admonishment, he rolled his eyes. He held a different opinion on those who shirked their commitments, particularly if they were a certain Sennin with no real excuse to be wasting time.

Quickly locking the drawer, he donned his blue-collared kimono and shinobi sash, fixed his top knot then left his office quietly. The bustle of the bullpen rose to meet him as he turned around. Tora walked past, pushing a perpetrator towards the holding cells and winking at Haru with a wolf-like grin, which caused his own resting frown to dissolve into a soft smile. Was he really showing his hand so plainly? His resulting chuckle shored up the chink in his armour and he swept past his other colleagues with renewed charisma. Whatever the turbulence inside, he would be damned if he let it show.

Not today.
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Old 10-13-2018, 11:50 AM   #2
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Saki was standing outside, tall and long-legged in a slim-cut maroon three-piece, examining the buttons along his suit sleeve and fussing over a cufflink.

“Waiting long?”

The young detective didn’t look up, but swayed on the spot, as if to start walking.

“Not so much.”

Haru moved to head west and Saki fell into step beside him, a golden shadow. After a few moments in silence spent looking along the weather-warped facades of small business up and down the street, Haru cast an eye over his shoulder.

“You didn’t have to wait, you know. You could have taken a beat, met me on the way.”

“True.” Saki slipped his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “But I’m rendezvousing with someone after we part ways, so sooner’s better.”

“Hm.” Haru was tempted to ask the younger man if she was pretty, and opened his mouth to do so, but could fairly feel the fatigue radiating from Saki so he closed it again. The chuunin had literally just arrived from Kusagakure, with only enough time to drop his bags. Instead, Haru made a small sound and gestured for the pair to turn up a narrow side street, bypassing the foot traffic around the government buildings.

“Tora picked up that POI of yours. Seems to be making headway. Any progress on the home front?”

“Nope. Stonewalled.” Saki’s handsome expression soured. It didn’t suit him.

“That’s a good thing,” Haru interjected. “They’re showing their hand by shutting you down. A little give would be natural if they had nothing to hide.”

“I know. It just seems like a wasted trip.”

“Good intel is hard to come by. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Tora’ll make your guy crack and then the pieces will start fitting together. Or at least, the edges’ll start to take shape.”

Saki was silent for a moment, then nodded. The pair passed back into sunlight to navigate a densely peopled plaza, stripping away their dialogue to a handful of sidelong glances and nods. The currents were against them until they neared the entrance to the theatre district, denoted by its oversized, bright red torii gate. Haru picked the reins of the conversation back up when they could walk abreast again.

“How is the Village?”

“Small talk now?”

“No, I’m serious,” Haru professed, with a chuckle. “I’ve been so wrapped up in everything here.”

“Well it’s…fine, I guess. Hasn’t burnt to the ground. They’re in the same bind we are, only with more shinobi in the mix— …what?”

“Nothing.” Haru kept smiling all the same. “It’s just…that’s the first time it’s been ‘they’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘we’ and ‘you’. Feeling more at home here?”

Saki made a show of looking around, but couldn’t hide his expression of eyebrow-pinching amazement when they passed under the multi-coloured rows of unlit festival lanterns lining the streets. The town had been dressed up a fair bit in his absence.

“Slip of the tongue,” he answered, still looking up, although Haru suspected it was more of an avoidance tactic. He didn’t mind, and chose not to push the matter. He appreciated Saki’s companionship and could see the cracks in the younger man’s stamina beginning to show, slip of the tongue or no.

It was time for the two of them to part ways.

“I can take it from here; it's just a short walk. Try to get some rest after that meeting of yours, or shorten the meeting. If you’re making silly mistakes like that, you clearly need it! I’ll need you on top form tonight.”

The chuunin lowered his gaze to street level and scratched his cheek, perhaps realising the merit in the order, or maybe just its good timing. Or neither. Haru found that Saki usually played his cards pretty close to the chest, and liked to keep them that way. Tora was the open book.

“Yeah… I’ll do that,” he said, and started to drift. Haru put a hand out, catching him gently by the elbow.

“You good?”

“Yeah,” he repeated, turning to regard the sennin, his thoughts clearly laboured. Then, after a beat, he relented and scowled softly. “Forgot I had tonight.”

“I know it seems like a lot to ask, but I need you there. Work something out with your partner.”

“Sure, boss,” he said, donning his mask of the professional once again, but not doing the best job of it. “I’ll, uh, see you.” He made as if to leave, then pivoted to backpedal instead. “Oh, and, uh, good lu— I mean, break a leg!"

Haru watched him jog back the way they had arrived until he was out of sight.

Poor kid.

It pained him to be the bad guy when things needed to get done, particularly on a bootstrap, but it was good work, and a good test for his officers. Besides, as Saki had been the first to point out, galas could also be fun!

Last edited by Calibur; 10-14-2018 at 09:45 AM..
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Old 11-05-2018, 04:00 AM   #3
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The stage doors on the western side of the Nogusa Concert Hall were supervised by a single usher, who laid a hand on the nearest brushed bronze bamboo handle when Haru approached. A mural of grasses and wildflowers adorned the entire facade, and opening the door gave the impression of parting the vines to a secret garden beyond, where only the chosen few could go. He slipped inside with a nod, and was greeted by the groans of cold instruments from the orchestra pit down the stairs to his right. He headed the other way, past racks of pantomime costumes and stacks of props marked by tape and paper slips. Two stage hands broke off their conversation and stepped aside with silent deference. Haru grinned and bowed in return.

"Afternoon, gentlemen," he said, pausing to peer at the set list hanging from the wall, illuminated brightly by a lamp sprouting from the wood just above it. "Are we on schedule?"

When neither man immediately answered his query, the closest of the two, and the younger by a good ten years, mumbled an apology and hurriedly checked his pocket watch.

"Yes sir. Wind Rush Quartet is just warming up."

Pleased, Haru nodded thoughtfully. "And how’s the audience?"

By this point, the older man had closed his slack jaw and overcome his first instincts. "Getting there," he replied, with the assurance of experience riding the words. "Seats were about half full this morning, but we got a new influx with the lunch crowd, and it’s only been building since then."

"Excellent," Haru said, with genuine zeal. It might have been that ‘building’ only meant a little over half full, but that was still a good day for any concert hall in the district, where attendance had diminished as recreational drug use had risen. The old ways of getting one’s thrills were at a disadvantage, which was why they needed to be one of the ways the tables could turn — a symbol of the city fighting back. From the sounds of it, they were off to a good start.

The green room was down a short flight of stairs, where sounds from the auditorium piped through copper flutes lining the wall. He moved through to the dressing rooms, his belly aflutter with a minor worry that the item he had requested be brought backstage hadn’t arrived. They stilled when he heard a deep, resonating hum issuing from behind one of the doors.

Thank goodness. If he’s here, it’s here.

And, true enough, it was. In the next room over, on the table in front of the mirror, sat the cello case. Cracked black leather worn smooth around the edges. A small paper luggage tag with the kanji for ‘Tortoise’. Part-rusted iron clips that needed replacing. As good as old. His fingers found the purple fur lining as soon as he opened it, matted down to a satin-like surface and woke the rosewood instrument from its slumber.

He handled his grandfather’s cello with reverence and purpose, turning it over in his hands before sitting to fix its metal stand in place and rest its neck against his own. Then he meditated, eyes closed, feeling out his relationship to the cello, the room, the theatre and the city as a whole. Finding the gateway to his zen.

His hands moved instinctively to tune the instrument, head sifting through each pluck of the strings so that his ear could find the right pitch. Jurou-sama’s cello had always held its tune remarkably well, and it sounded so unlike anything Grass country had ever produced. Haru could only wonder at its origins. But regardless of its storied past, and where it had been, what mattered was where it was now.

What lay ahead.
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:12 AM   #4
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When he returned to the wings, Takamura was waiting for him. His accompanist stood with his narrow back to Haru, rocking lightly on his toes and clasping his hands before him, gazing through the curtains at stage right. His head was bobbing to a rhythm that didn’t match the onstage orchestra’s. Haru drew level and planted his cello before him like a cleaver sword, bow hanging from a spare finger.

"Thank you for bringing it," he whispered, with a slight bow.

The other man nodded distractedly with the flutter of a smile but did not speak. Haru gazed at Takamura a moment longer, enough to take in the light sheen over his shaven head, the tremble at the corner of his eyes, and the glimmer of a different smile behind lips parted to mouth melodic nothings. He always got like this; it was just Takamura’s habit of the craft. Nerves before a performance, driving him forward, the rocking in his feet keeping him moving enough to contain his kinetic energy. How he always kept his fingers so still was a mystery to Haru.

His own were tapping the rounded crest of the cello’s scroll in time with the orchestra’s shamisen section. He wasn’t thinking about his own piece. Thinking wasn’t going to get him anywhere but into a state of second-guessing. Feeling was key. He knew the piece they were going to perform — knew it in his soul, in his body. It was a part of him. He was more likely to forget how to walk onstage and raise his arm or shake his head.

Haru took a step closer to the edge of the wings, where shadow met stage lighting, and tracked his eyes across the small mountain range of peaked black hats to the sea of faces beyond and up, up to the grand circle, where they began to thin out. The upper circle was practically empty. He had hoped that in the hours since his arrival, the audience would have grown. It was good, still, but not the best. However, their applause chased the disappointment away. Loud cheers, yips and whistles punctuated the ovation.

That’s right.

This was not your average crowd. These were people from all walks of life in Sougen and beyond, drawn to see all manner of performing artists in the space of a day, while the festival was not purely about the music. Nor were the cheers. It was also about hope, and community — unity in the face of an epidemic sweeping their nation.

The orchestra took their bows, twice, then shuffled out stage left, while the stage hands swarmed onstage to reorder seats for the next large group and push everything upstage, leaving space for Takamura’s grand piano, which was rolled on from the wings and fixed in place. After its stool was set, a single chair was positioned horizontally across centre stage with a music stand in front of it.

Haru quickly caught one of the retreating concert hall employees by the shoulder and shook his head firmly, causing the man to pause, grimace and hurry back onstage to remove the stand. A rustle of intrigue issued from the seating galleries, backed by a bristling of new commotion as the lights began to dim. He ignored whatever it might be and looked instead to Takamura, who was still as a statue. Gone was the nervous energy. Only the perspiration remained, but Haru could tell it had cooled. The man finally met his gaze, his features devoid of doubt, and the pair nodded. Then they walked out under the cover of darkness to take their seats.

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Old 11-21-2018, 03:48 AM   #5
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When the lights came up, Haru sat poised, his grandfather’s cello resting against his left collarbone. Behind him stood another cello — his own — brought onstage in a planned turn of events to clip onto the back of his chair so that its fingerboard crested the back of his right shoulder. His duet was to be a trio. He clasped his hands together with a bow hanging from each pinky finger as if in prayer but instead mouthed a near-silent jutsu to feel a familiar rush of chakra to his shoulder. Takamura waited, hands on his lap. The crowd looked on, hushed.

Two ethereal limbs clawed their way free of Haru’s torso, ghostly fingers and joints snapping into place behind him and clothing themselves in sheaths of grass to flex their animated digits, roll their wrists and squeeze their palms a few more times. Naturally, it was a matter of showmanship, as was handing over the spare bow and readying himself, but with all said and done, it would also be one of the more memorable dramatic entrances of the festival season. Takamura met his eyes with a marginal head dip and the glimmer of a smile, then flexed his own fingers before laying them lightly on the keys.

Not yet.

Neither musician’s fingers moved. Haru’s cello was the first to make a sound: deep, syncopated chords plucked by green fingers, steady as a stream, building the bass. Jurou-sama’s rosewood followed when Haru put bow to string and pulled the first note from memory, then the second, the third, the fourth — two minims to accompany each bar played by his spirit self — the part he had once played as a child, while grandpa Jurou had taken the melody. It had been their last duet, never before played live, but locked up tight for decades and now reimagined.

The melody issued from the rosewood like the first birdsong of the morning, bright and hopeful but mourning the night. It grew until the plucked line could no longer sustain it and the green fingers finally put bow to string, resuming Haru’s steady pull and push harmony, the steam having reached the seaside to lap instead upon the shore. Only then did Takamura begin, mirroring the second cello until the torch could be passed and the backing taken to new heights. The chakra arms dipped momentarily, bow falling softly into the custodial palm of a third arm, which had been folded into the space behind Haru’s back, but returned to the fray in a manner Jurou-sama never would have foreseen. Indeed, this was where tradition gave way to innovation and the baton of generations was to be transferred to new hands.

The grassy palms drummed against the cello behind him like the wings of a dancing hummingbird, and as ever greater numbers of arms folded out of his back, the percussive beat intensified and the plucked notes returned. It sounded less like like two men and more like four. Haru hoped his grandfather would approve of the choice.

How long ago it seemed now when the two of them had sat side by side on the corner of block eighty-two, chipped white flagstones dazzling in the warm spring sunshine. A lull in their busking, Jurou-sama counting their take for the morning.

‘Grandpa,’ he had said, ‘what’s this song called that we’re learning?’

‘Doesn’t have a name, Sprite. Not anymore.’

‘What happened to it?’

‘Well, I suppose it got lost, somewhere along the way.’

‘Back where you grew up?’

Jurou-sama had paused then. It happened every time the land of Bear was mentioned. Though he had been oblivious at the time, Haru could now recognise that there had been a pain in his grandfather’s eyes.

‘Yes,’ he had answered, quickly changing the subject, ‘but don’t you worry about that. What matters now is the name you give it.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes you! Unless you think your mam or pap deserve the honour.’

‘Not a chance! You can’t go back on that!’

‘Then what’ll it be, Sprite?’

It was the song they had chosen to perform at the concert later that year. Haru had spent months contemplating the name but had never arrived at a decision. Even after deciding to craft his life with his own two hands as his grandpa had advised, Haru couldn’t put a name on his song of the soul, if this was even it. It was still Jurou-sama’s at that time.

But now it was his. So he played, and all across the audience unfurled a tapestry of Rosewood Dreams.

~ <> ~


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Old 02-07-2019, 06:21 PM   #6
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When he stood, Haru felt his grandpa by his side. When he bowed, it was for both of them. And when he cast his gaze wide across the sea of faces illuminated by the stage lights, he thought he could, for a moment, see Jurou-sama’s among them.

He exited stage left with a wave of his free hand and stood there silently, arms trembling with emotion as the outpouring of applause continued to fall on the stage like the surging waves of a storm. He passed his cello and bow to the helper hovering nearby before returning to the heat of the spotlights, tinted honey-yellow, and the warmth of his largely standing ovation. Unfastening the second cello from the chair, he planted it further downstage and assumed a wide, comfortable stance behind it, beaming, allowing the high praise to run its course.

When he spoke, a hush descended.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my utmost honour to have performed for you in today’s finale, to share this space with you. The Nogusa Concert Hall’s Awakening Festival would not be the same without the patronage that each and every one of you has brought.”

Handing the cello to another helper who ran on from stage right, he waited for the ensuing ripple of applause to fade before proceeding.

“As you may be aware, the spirit of dedication runs through this festival, from which proceeds support our theatre district’s many charity institutions, whose combined efforts extend far beyond Sougen. Each of the acts you will have seen are dedicated to someone or something important in the lives of our performers, and mine is no different.” He paused, nodding once to himself. “My grandfather and I were set to perform this very piece on this very stage some twenty years ago, but he passed before that dream could ever be realised. The dreams that he instilled within me, I hope to have shared with you today, for you to see the kind of man he was. Hold your loved ones close and be proud of the ones who came before, who shaped you. But remember: we are the ones for now. What we do shapes others. And just by being here, you have brought generosity and hope to projects across Sougen and our great nation. Thank you.”

He bowed one final time, deeply, clutching the second bow in both hands, knuckles pressed into his thighs. The lights went down and he exited stage right, where he traded the bow for his grandfather’s instrument and sighed.

“Too preachy? Too much?” Haru grinned at the young stage hand, who seemed lost for words, until the stage manager, Akuro, answered for the boy, poking his head around a nearby curtain from his place in the wings.

“Nah, just the right amount of preach,” he said, with a wink.

“Hope so,” Haru replied. “Can’t go scaring them off before the party tonight.”

“A crowd that big? And the chance to rub shoulders with everyone’s favourite acts and celebrities— well, local ones? Even if a tenth turned up, that’d be something.”

Haru spotted his accompanist heading down to the green room but held his ground, wishing to look out at the audience just one more time. Feel his grandfather on stage, holding the space. He motioned to swap places with the stage manager. They sidled around each other until Haru could see the fringes of the tiered seating emptying out, with most people in the centre left to pick up anything not stored in the cloakrooms and wait their turn to file along their row. Most were standing. Those still seated were typically older.

“Something, eh?” Haru mulled the thought over distractedly. There was something holding his attention, but it wasn’t the seventy-odd attendees who comprised the tenth of Akuro’s estimate. It was just one person. An older man, heavily his senior, sitting just left of centre in the stalls, fixated on the stage, whose face was the spitting image of his grandfather’s. Not a mirage, nor a trick of the light. Almost exactly identical, and enough to induce a momentary weakness in his knees. Haru withdrew from his vantage point with a sharp intake of breath and gripped the cello’s neck for support.

All questions dissolved into a single undeniable urge to simply know what it could mean, and Haru passed his instrument to Akuro’s second, along with instructions to return it to its case and retrieve his belongings from the dressing room.

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Old 02-19-2019, 06:51 AM   #7
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The old man was one of the last to leave. He had sat for a long time, staring toward the stage, then risen, picked up his coat and shuffled out, holding a cane but never using it. Haru took the stage exit, walking quickly along the building’s mural wall to stop near the main exit on the corner. He stood unobtrusively under the painted grasses, behind the open doors, and peered through the glazed glass panes at the slightly distorted figures that stepped into the early evening light.

He felt silly. He had places to be — a whole evening’s festivities for which to prepare — but here he was, playing a game of hide and seek with a man who, from a distance, bore a resemblance to his decades-dead grandfather.

Just to check, he told himself. Up close, he imagined the likeness would resolve into little more than a trick of the light or a mirage conjured by the heat of his emotions. He could justify that, then be on his way when the glimmer of curiosity turned dun.

There were a few elderly men leaving as he looked on. Most wore dark colours, like the man he’d seen. A few were in more traditional dress, and a couple had coats. The evening was a cool reminder of the day that had preceded it. He rubbed the sleeves of his kimono to warm his arms as he kept otherwise still. None of the men, even through the slight warping of the glass, looked remotely similar to Jurou-sama, which drew a small sigh. He hadn’t realised he’d been holding his breath. Was it relief that he’d been wrong or disappointment from wanting to be right? The latter, he decided. It bound Haru to the spot. Just a little longer.

There were no canes. None of the older gentlemen held one. It was a bit more provincial than the typical fashions around these parts, and most had a significant other or family member in accompaniment who they could hold onto for support. But no. Wait! Coming down the steps, cane in one hand, was a man whose height and frame where definitely reminiscent of his grandpa’s but his gait was stiffer. Age could do that, for sure. And when he stopped to inhale the fresh air, tilting his head back, Jurou’s angular chin and crooked nose were definitely present, but his hair was longer and his jawline dusted with ice-white stubble. Plus, there was the small matter of the scarring down the left side of his face. All in all, this man looked more worn, more broken in, than Haru’s grandfather. Haru could barely contain his excitement behind its wall of confusion. What did this all mean?

He needed to speak to this man. That much was obvious. But not here, not now. Privately. Haru followed at a distance, leaving the theatre district. The streets grew quieter as the old man threaded his way through a residential area and Haru began to question his choice to effectively stalk this complete stranger, this potential victim of mistaken identity, while there were far more important things for him to be doing. What if he confronted him and that was just the case?

Jumpy Sennin accosts Hapless Octogenarian!

Sougen Stalker Shirks Responsibilities!


But what if it wasn’t? If anything, the man should be flattered. There would simply have to come a point and a way in which Haru could approach sensitively. But that wasn’t here, and probably wasn’t even a task for today. If he could just know where the man was going, he could return at a later date to enquire after his identity. He was a Strike Force Commander, after all. He had the means.

When the buildings fell away, they were replaced by ornamental gardens and a graveyard. The man was walking so well without the cane that Haru suspected there was a more significant reason he carried one. Marching through the consecrated grounds like a man on a mission, he only slowed when he reached the public shrine dedicated to honouring those who had fallen in battle and knelt before it. Haru hid, silently slipping between gravestones until there were only a few separating the two men. He observed the man take something from his coat pocket and set it on a ledge below the inscribed prayers then mutter something indiscernible.

“What are you waiting for?”

Haru frowned. The man repeated his question, more urgently this time, rising from his knee with a puff, rounding to regard the faceless tombstones that flanked him on all sides. Silence and anger, indignant features contorting, fingers curling to fists about his cane.

“I know you’re there, shinobi.”

How?

“Step out of the shadows.”

Haru did as he was asked. There was no point in hiding and holding out for the possibility of a subtler investigation, only the here and now with a man who should, by all rights, never have been able to discern the Sennin’s presence. That alone warranted an immediate response.

“So it is you.” The man seemed gratified by what he saw, smiling grimly. “Come to kill me, then. Here to finish the job after murdering my sons. I’ll not go quietly, I warn you.” And he fell into a low combat stance, holding his cane like a sheathed sword.

An utterly baffled Haru stood dumbly across from him, still reeling from the assumption of his intent, particularly if the man knew who he was. Then he looked over the man’s shoulder, to the shrine, and spied what had been placed there: a black dagger. All confusion fell from his face and a shiver crossed his forearms. The slack left his body and his guard went up.

“Identify yourself immediately.”

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Old 03-18-2019, 09:34 AM   #8
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The man grimaced.

"Stop pretending you’re anything other than what you are. Murderer. I warn you, I know how to deal with shinobi. My boys taught me well enough for that."

The old man’s voice was remarkably level in its refusal to answer the question Haru had posed, but there were other clues there. The Sennin took a wary step closer, angling for a better view of the dagger laid on the altar.

"If I have wronged you," he started, doubtful that he hadn’t but hopeful that he could resolve the matter without violence, "then you need to tell me how, so I can understand."

Haru had killed enough sons to warrant enough father’s grief. There was no penitence that could make right that kind of loss. But each of those men had entered into combat with dark intent themselves, and if that dagger was any indicator, the men he had killed were Chuku. Suggesting that the man before him was something similar. But perhaps less well trained. There was the age factor, but then there was the mention of the means by which he had learned to engage a shinobi, and the fact that he was still glaring Haru down.

A true Chuku would never have allowed this meeting to transpire.

"Listen," he said, taking another step. "If I have killed people that you love, it means there were people to love you." Another step. "And I doubt they would want their father to die at the hands of the same man who took their lives."

The man’s face was like granite. He had ceased to be the elderly fellow who reminded Haru of Grandpa Jurou. He was the opposite. But maybe not. After all, he hadn’t advanced, and the telltale signs of discomfort were clearly settling in: a twitch here, a kink in the neck there, a roll of the shoulders and—

Oh, he doesn’t like that.

The man’s eyebrows flared as he pulled his cane back sharply, resembling an out-of-work, out-of-shape samurai.

"Not another step, boy."

Haru did as he was told, spreading his hands slightly to show he was agreeable enough not to push his luck. Only now he was just plain curious.

Does he want to kill me? Does he not?

"What do you want, old man?"

The man didn’t stop glaring, but his fingers visibly loosened around the cane’s ‘hilt’ as he worked the question over. With his mouth, apparently, as if attempting to discern whether the taste of it sat well enough with him or he should spit it on the ground in disgust.

"To know—" he began, cutting himself short. "Nothing." He grumbled. "Not any more. I have nothing left that I want. Nobody left to live for."

It was a piteous remark. Haru could feel this man’s pain.

"But nobody left to die for, either."

Best to talk him down from whatever this last stand represented; distract him from despair.

"So tell me what you wanted to know. If I can help, I will. Then…if you still want to fight…we can."

This seemed to settle the man’s lips and quell the intensity of his eyes. He did not answer immediately. Haru waited, aware of the dying light in the empty graveyard, which in ten minutes or so would be illuminated solely by a row of candles on the shrine’s altar. The man began suddenly, haltingly.

"I wanted to know…where your grandfather stole that melody. It cannot be his."

"You—" Haru didn’t know how to respond, but was unable to prevent his knee jerk reaction to the man’s dire accusation. As if sensing the Sennin’s confusion, the man made to continue.

"I also—"

"No. No, you do not get to accuse my grandfather of theft, and I should not have to defend him, but the song was his. He composed it, long before I was born, long before he came to this country. From Bear, if you must know. Where you are from, I would say, judging by the metal you carry. You will not speak ill of him."

Why am I wasting my time on this criminal?

"That’s enough. You’re under arrest."

Last edited by Calibur; 04-06-2019 at 01:02 AM..
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Old 03-29-2019, 07:49 PM   #9
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“Did you ever wonder if you were killing your cousins?”

Haru paused, scowling at the interruption, the handcuffs dangling inches from the hem of his robe. He had wished to ignore the hurried question, but was compelled to think on it. If only this man knew how closely he resembled the man he’d seen fit to accuse of plagiarism. How odd his question became when viewed in that light, as if they could be brothers; as if his sons, or anyone Haru and the other shinobi of Kusagakure had killed in their war with the Chuku, could have been family. In truth, he had considered that possibility, but not at the expense of his duty. He was a man of Grass, not Bear. Above all else, this was his home, while Jurou-sama had also chosen this place. And now this enemy of the people was simply trying to throw him off balance. The tactic was obvious.

“Nice try. But my cousins, my brothers, my sisters, are of Kusa no Kuchi. I was saving my cousins. Drop the cane, hands behind your back.”

He closed the remaining distance quickly, one eye on the still-brandished cane, upon which he thought he could make out the line of a seal, as if the item housed a concealed blade. He could have imagined it; the daylight was fading, and the cemetery keepers had yet to ignite the torches in the area.

“I do not need to extend this courtesy.”

Haru was one more act of defiance away from casting a Kamigami riki no Jutsu over this turnip of a man and cowing him into prostration. He extended a warding hand in the direction of the cane.

“This is your last chance. Drop—”

“You’re so much like Jurou, it hurts to see.”

Haru momentarily misplaced his grasp of the language and finished with an uncharacteristically vague “—it.”

Then he staggered as if struck. How much like…? came the first of many unbidden reactions, fractured, before they could be resolved by logic. He could afford a second or two to make sense of what he’d heard, so he spoke to fill the void.

“No. No, no. You can’t sway me with a simple search into the public records. You—”

“Already you deny the truth. But I see it.” His little granite face twitched once, then his entire body relaxed as he stood up, speaking matter-of-factly, as if to a child. “Stubborn, clinging to your ways. His ways. I’d imagine he was more a parent to you than your own father.”

Haru was confused, frustrated by the man’s freakishly accurate commentary and furious at his own imbalance and hesitation. Why did these words affect him so? Why did his back tingle with — what — trepidation? Was he to simply believe this enemy of the state because he’d come prepared, with a script?

“You’ve changed your tune. Don’t want me dead?”

The man flashed his teeth in what might have been a smile.

“Dead? Now that you've all but admitted to the killing of my sons — your own first cousins? Your guilt would be enough, would that you could feel it like you deserve. No, grand-nephew. Dead does neither of us any good at all.”

He shook his head resolutely and offered up the weapon, pulling upon its hilt to reveal a gleaming blade under black lacquer. A surrender, unexpected, and unusual in the extreme. Haru wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, and in all honesty wasn’t likely to any time soon. Better to fathom all of this back at the station, tomorrow. The tingle in his back rode his spine to his shoulders as he lifted the cane from the old man’s raised palms and readied his handcuffs, motioning for his prisoner to turn around. It would be a quick enough journey back to the city proper. Then, after a night in the tank, the old extremist could answer Haru’s more composed questioning. If he tarried too long, he’d be late for his own fundraiser. He wasn’t some billionaire playboy philanthropist who could just waltz in whenever he pleased.

‘No, neither of us,” the Sennin said, playing along. The man had finished his sad little shuffle and his wrists were ripe for the restraining, even through those baggy sleeves of his. Haru dipped the cuffs underneath and brushed the man’s wrist with his knuckles.

Pain.

—the shit?

Unbridled pain. White hot agony, his left shoulder ablaze. Haru stumbled, dropped the cuffs, took a knee and planted the cane fast against the ground to steady himself, but the feeling only persisted, like nothing he’d felt before. While inside he was screaming, he was silent save for the jagged edge of haggard breaths escaping his lips. Whatever this was, it couldn’t affect his...his… He was blacking out. Then he felt hands on him, cradling him. The old man’s stout, tough-skinned fingers and square palms lent him the strength to stand, releasing him when he was on his feet. Haru peered out from his squint to watch the man’s blurry form take a step back.

“What did you do to me?!” he rasped.

“It’s…it’s more than me,” the man said. He sounded afraid. Humbled, even. “You should…you should see for yourself.”

Haru saw the glow before he saw the arm itself, a limb of searing white fire reaching for the sky, burst from his shoulder, pure chakra. Like before, when he was a child, but at the same time never like this. Never before had he felt anything, nor been able to lay his eyes on it for more than a few seconds before watching it dissipate. This one stayed. In its hand sat a curved bow.

A weapon?

Generally speaking, chakra arms didn’t do that. And 'generally speaking' meant they never did.

And yet…

He was getting used to the pain. Was that strange? Or was the arm getting used to him? He closed his mouth to curb his panting, forcing air through his nostrils instead. To take control of the situation, he needed to understand it. That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a start.

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Old 04-06-2019, 04:40 AM   #10
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“Never in my lifetime did I…”

The old man was quick to catch himself before revealing the rest of that thought, dragging a calloused hand over his features. His hesitancy stuck in Haru’s mind, a thorn caught under his blanket of pain, although it wasn’t some earth-shattering revelation. Still, he clung to it, forcing a hand under the blanket in search of the prickle he could hold onto as a distraction — anything to break the sensation of his skin tearing itself apart. There were other glowing fingers now beginning to seek the surface, wriggling up like aggressive maggots.

“Gods…” he shuddered. Only then did he sob, once.

It was a primal thing, resurrected from a place of profound grief. This was the part of him that had frightened his grandfather to death. And now it threatened to crack his mind apart, or his body, whichever came first. Unless he stopped it. Here. Now. He fell to his knees, pounding the grass with his knuckles, forcing every ounce of his chakra away from his extremities, back to his core. The arm contorted at the joints as if a string inside had been pulled suddenly, shortening it. But it did not dissipate. It pulled back.

It’s…it’s not…

No. Even if that was the case, he would quell it now. He would not lose himself to the madness. And not with the old man watching, even though Haru had ceased to perceive him as a threat. He pulled again, drinking deep from the reserves of his power, then lifted his fists from the matted craters they’d created to perform a familiar seal sequence. Two sinewy green hands latched onto the foreign limb’s wrist and forearm, causing it to thrash angrily, battling the slender, leafy protrusions that had grown around it like meaty vines. He twisted his head to the side to watch, breathing heavily, pulling, dragging the arm of white fire back under his skin, even while it charred his element arms. So he grew another two, ready to hold on with his own fingers of skin and bone.

Whatever it takes.

The bow fell from its rigor mortis grasp, dissolving into points of light. Then, with a shudder, the rest of the arm began to slip grudgingly back into its human sheath. His three remaining element hands criss-crossed each other in a composite joint lock, their coiled grass-blade tendons constantly snapping and reforming to bear the strain. When only the hand remained, Haru placed his own on top of the pile and pushed with all his might, a guttural groan erupting from spittle-flecked lips.

“Eaaarraagghh….!”

He slumped onto his heels when he felt fabric again, drained of all but his rudimentary senses. The old man, more a shape than a figure, swayed before him. Or maybe he was the one swaying. Haru stayed his hand, afraid that if he let go, the arm would reappear. The old man spoke.

“You may think me the enemy,” he said, slowly, “of all you hold dear, as you are mine. But I do know something of what ails you. Don’t speak, sprat.”

He didn’t — couldn’t. This man sounded so much like Jurou, only Jurou had called him ‘sprout.’

“I can give you answers.”

Another tactic. A hoax. A scam to buy leniency.

“But I know you would not believe me. So instead, I sincerely recommend you find someone who can teach you the deeper lessons on chakra that all your training could not. On what it is you possess. I hear the Miko have such knowledge. And when you have had your fill of that, you can come find me. I’ll not make it hard. Look for Mitsuru.”

On what basis of trust did this man think he was in a position to make such guarantees? Then again, Haru had been about to arrest him on, what, suspicious activities? Threats made in the act of self defence? The man, Mitsuru, had more to say.

“I have nowhere to run. Not anymore. When you find me, do what you will. But arrest me now and I will take my secrets to the grave, family or no. You have to decide what it is you wish to do. What life you wish to craft with your own two hands.”

Can't be—

“What kind of man will you be?”

The kind that didn’t know what was going on, and the kind that sat there on the grass, long after the man from Bear had taken his cane and walked away, long into the evening, late for his own party.

~ <> ~


Last edited by Calibur; 04-06-2019 at 04:42 AM..
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