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Old 07-09-2015, 12:36 AM   #1
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To rebuild and restore, that was the point. Perhaps that was the point of it all. At this specific juncture, with all of Tsuchi no Kuni stuck in a proverbial tug of war, it was truly imperative to restore the public's faith in Iwagakure and rebuild the connections that had been lost in the ongoing struggle with the People's Defense Coalition. So even though the shinobi had prevailed in wiping the capital city of Daichi clean of the PDC's influence, to fully gain a foothold of trust, or even acceptance, they would have to help clean up the mess that they had helped to create.

As Hien passed through the northern entrance to the political hub of the country that was so masterfully constructed into the mountainside, these were thoughts swirling in his head. Being a Culture Specialist, these were issues that the chuunin took very seriously. Iwagakure was not without it's faults, but to be villianized the way they had been, while the PDC gained more and more favor, was infinitely troubling to the teen.

What was needed now was action, boots on the ground, making a difference in the lives of the common people. That was how Stone was going to fix this problem, and the young Kiyama clansmen was moved to be a part of this solution. As the teen moved through the streets, he could feel the tension that his presence caused. No where else was the struggle for support as active, the populace completely split down the middle.

Looks of distrust, barely audible insults and threats, and rough shoulder bumps littered the trio as they made their way to the specific mission site. It was a tense situation, made evident by the usually jovial twins Batsu and Matsu, being completely silent, and vigilant with their eyes as they scoured the civilians for potential violence. Soon, they were greeted by the sounds of construction; hammer falls, saws cutting through wood, grunts of hardwork and loud yells of instruction could all be heard.

Rounding the corner, the three teens had arrived at the site of their mission. Tasked with helping to rebuild the hospital that had been destroyed in the fight for Daichi, the Stone shinobi would be helping to reconstruct a vital part of Iwa's presence in the city. Walking onto the site, the shinobi headed towards whom he assumed was the lead architect, as plans and drafts for the new building were sprawled across the table in front of him. He didn't seem to be in a good mood.

"Kiyama Hien reporting for duty sir. I'm from I-"

"I know who ya are. I don't need ya, a damn green horn, a frighin' kid at that, muckin' up things." The man sighed in exasperation and rubbed at his temples to try to relax himself a bit. He was tired and it showed, but he had not meant to take it out on the ninja. Clicking his tongue, he addressed the brown eyed teen again.

"Sorry bout that. Tings been tough round here ya know? With all the different construction jobs that needa be done, to these damn prankers and vandals I'm up to here wit it all. Anyways, just go and find some work boys. There's plenty to go round."

Stepping back and circling away from the man, the ninja's features were twisted as he struggled to keep his tongue from lashing out. He had decided to be as accepting of the harsh remarks that many if not all the people would have, but no one said it would be easy. As he and the twins looked around for somewhere they could each help out, the boy was looking for someone specific; his partner on this mission and on the job he recently did in Natsuki.

Where are you Kam?
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Old 07-09-2015, 03:36 AM   #2
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Like Atlas, bearing his great mantle, Kam shrugged. The heavy boards slipped from his shoulder, wood grain splintering against his rough, tan tunic and landing with a hollow clunk on the scaffolding platform. Gloved palm and toughened fingertips held the three planks together like a vice while the plain-clothes shinobi brought his other hand to his lips to take a steady drag from his cigarette. He scanned the construction zone as he exhaled.

The Konkaji clansman had arrived at first light, joining the civilian workers as one of their own — another helping hand, unassuming yet unassailable for the efficiency that he brought. Occasional, whimsical breaks like this did manage to draw a few stares from contractors patient enough to wait for the lunch and afternoon bells, but if they were jealous or disapproving, none had spoken up about it to clear the air.

Kam was working. That was the fact that mattered. And what he did, he did well. He had been due to meet the other clansman from the Village first — that was what they had agreed — but upon further reflection, the scout had realised that two shinobi rocking up to lend their ‘stamp of success’ to proceedings could do more harm than good. As an unknown, he could make more of a difference without the added attention.

Still, he reasoned, wiping sweat from his eyes with the back of his thumb, eight hands would be better than two.

The owners of those three pairs now stood out as they milled around the site foreman’s table. Kam grinned at the kid’s naivety but couldn’t fault his passion; it had been Hien’s idea to lend their talents to the reconstruction efforts while Kam had been angling for bandit duty instead. At the end of the day, those two fools of brothers connected to the Culture Specialist had made a more convincing argument that had appealed to scraps of Kam’s bleeding heart. His grin faded with dry self-admonishment: No place in this business for big softies like you, Kam, and he shouldered the planks again, finally activating the flesh-coloured comms piece hidden under his ear.

On your six, champ. Look up.

He dipped his glasses in recognition.

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Old 07-10-2015, 02:17 AM   #3
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A deep, familiar voice came through on the comm. unit and all the chuunin could was shake his head and chuckle. The twins looked up and saw the shinobi they deemed as "way cooler than our guy will ever be" and both cooed like school girls. Batsu waved exuberantly at the stout man, while Matsu regained his composure and inclined his head curtly, trying his best to act cool. Raising a single hand to his own communication device, the teen addressed the talented Scout. "Remaining incognito as always. It's good to see you Kam."

The diplomacy focused shinobi could do nothing but admire the Konkaji ninja's skills at blending in. He was unnoticeable, owning the ability to perfectly assimilate into any demographic a mission required. Construction workers, cool. Mobsters, just fine. Mercenaries, no matter. The teen admired his comrade for it, and if he were being completely honest, he was almost jealous of the older ninja.

Despite wanting the ability to effortlessly blend, however, now was not the time for them to blend. To be a part of the common man was good, but people had to know there were shinobi here. Their presence had to be felt for the effect that was needed, it was imperative that it be known that ninja hands weren't just good for seals, swords and kunai, but for good honest work; that they could be amongst their own people. It was an approach that the PDC had wielded masterfully and that Iwagakure would have to emulate if they were going to garner support.

So as his jewel powered copies made their way up the nearest ladder to assist their idol with the wood he was lifting, the boy pulled off his sturdy long sleeve shirt and tied it around his waist, which left him clothed in a tight white shirt and khaki colored pants tucked into his bandaged shins and closed toe boots. Gloved hands fastened his hitai-ate tight behind his head; silver plate glistening brightly in the warm summer sun.

The boy went right to it, falling in line behind two others who had been lifting buckets of broken up stones. Despite being a novice, he was determined to look as apt and experienced as possible. Hefting a bucket in each hand, the teen grunted as he got to work.
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Old 07-10-2015, 03:25 AM   #4
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Regarding the twins with a close-mouthed grin of smugness, he quickly turned away from their display and back to his work. Fanboys… It was a new experience for Kam, having someone genuinely in awe of what he did, even if they were artificial duplicates. His post was largely thankless. In fact, betrayal and deceit was his bread and butter; he was more used to being hated and despised. He’d been living like that for so long since becoming a chuunin. He mounted the steps before him, heading towards the fifth level of scaffolding, where his boards were needed. They’ll get over it, he surmised. He wouldn’t rise to it, at least, wouldn’t feed the fandom with anything more than just being himself; he couldn't afford to let something silly like that compromise his work.

Kam glanced over his shoulder as he rounded the top of level three, spying Hien on the ground, ferrying chipped concrete and stone back and forth. The boy’s fervency was evident in the way he held himself, all proud strides but humble shoulders. Kam sighed, in part because he had to admit that his companion’s approach had its own merits, but also because Batsu was practically clambering over Matsu to make the second level and be the one to catch up with their ‘idol’ first. Or was it Matsu over Batsu?

So much for subterfuge.

Kam’s way had sustained him for most of the morning, but maybe people needed to see ‘that’ now, and that ‘it’ had been helping them all along. He put out his cigarette, pressing the still-glowing butt into his gloved palm. The heavy duty accessories could take it, and it was better than crushing it underfoot on a wooden scaffold like an imbecile. After he pocketed the stub, he patted his tunic, under which he had stowed his hitai-ate. He paused, hearing the twins on the stairs behind him. But maybe not.

If he stayed incognito, could he not still do more good? What if he simply retained the pretence and showed the people around him what an alliance of shinobi and working man could achieve? Acting as if he was simply taking the high road and accepting help, especially after having established himself as a man who didn’t need any…the notion had potential. He withdrew his hand, using it instead to lower the planks again, and turned to face the inbound teenage projections. Kam’s comms unit was still switched on, so he merely spoke into it.

Staying in legend-mode. Play along.” From what he knew of Kiyama clansmen, he hoped that Hien would be able to relay the plan to his servants before they did something foolish.
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Old 07-10-2015, 08:00 PM   #5
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CALM. DOWN.

That was all it took. Even though they shared perception and all heard the Konkaji's words, it was on Hien's shoulders to guide the others, and so he did. At their King's bidding, the twins' joyful expressions relaxed into mild indifference in a split second. Their steps slowed and as they approached the taller chuunin they gave him identical, subdued nods of acknowledgment and strode right past him.

Matsu continued up the stairs to the fifth level and helped one man hoist some of the planks up onto a wall, while Batsu remained on the fourth level. He made his way to a half finished wall and a rather young worker that was struggling. As the Subject came behind him, the man was busy sucking his thumb, freshly bled from a misplaced hammer strike. "Hear, let me."

Gripping the hammer's handle lightly and guiding the nail with his other hand, it took a single, well placed strike to bury it into the wood. He then put out his hands for the man to give him more nails. Hien couldn't help but be pleased, with his avatar filled Subjects refocused it helped him have a clear mind, so that he could work effectively. He was cognizant of the fact, however, that even though they held more utility split up the way they were, his mind was stretched close to his limit.

At his present proficiency in the Mind of the Monarch, they couldn't separate any further, for fear of breaking the connection and one of his copies being cut off, and dying. So they would have to be careful as they worked.

Sweat had begun to saturate his neck and shoulders as the boy lifted two more buckets of broken off concrete and drywall, but the boy was admittedly enjoying himself. He approached it like it were training and thus it was his second set. As he marched with the heavy load, shiny hitai-ate reflecting the sun's bright rays, a shoulder bumped him off his path and the boy stumbled, lost his balance and fell to one knee, toppling over the contents of one bucket.

Ferocious eyes turned to culprit, a large barrel chested man who had no qualms letting the shinobi know who had done it. Spitting indignantly on the ground, the man shared looks with the chuunin and carried on with whatever it was that he was doing. "Dirty ninja." Chuckles and snickers could be heard coming from close-by observers, while the boy turned to his spilled items on bent knee.

The Kiyama clansman spoke lowly into his comm. unit to his partner. "I'm fine." But perhaps he was speaking more to himself.
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Old 07-21-2015, 02:41 PM   #6
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Yup.

That, he was. If it ever came down to it, even a posse of the biggest bullies this construction yard had to offer would snap like twigs if Hien decided to really put his heel down. Kam remembered the bridge at Natsuki.

If only they knew.

If only they knew a lot of things. These people clung to displays of petty power whenever they could, desperate to find traction in the shinobi world. It showed; a lot of their anger was fear or jealousy. Kam glanced around the dust bowl below, eyes settling on workers near the younger chuunin with defences visibly raised: a turned shoulder here, an averted stare there. They had no clue.

No clue.

Protecting the people of this country from threats sometimes meant safeguarding the citizens from themselves, and often that meant obscuring the truth, especially the things that would scare even those ‘tough guys’ shitless. Sometimes, though, it also meant healing them of what ailed them. Now, Kam wasn’t much for empathy — pity was more his thing — but when a wound like distrust festered it bred malice and made even hateful acts seem just. How long before that bully decided to do something more than this little altercation? How long until he underestimated something, or someone, who wouldn't turn the other cheek? How long until he made an unwitting martyr of himself for a cause that never should have existed, and in a manner that could have been averted?

Who can tell? No one...that's the problem.

The sooner the healing began, the better. But this kind of man didn’t seem the type to respond favourably to charity, to receiving help. No…he had to learn to see the shinobi from a different angle — to see Hien’s good side in a light that he could appreciate. Kam propped the boards in the crook of his elbow as he retrieved his personal water gourd for a quick drink. Smacking his lips together thoughtfully, he frowned.

So how are we going to move this mountain?

You definitely had to start with the mountain in this case. Given a large enough seismic shift, the rest of the rocks and boulders would be sure to roll their way too. Maybe that element of danger could be put to use, but not to scare the man or make him jealous of the shinobi’s prowess. He needed to learn respect, on the level. The swarthy chuunin scratched his earlobe, subtly pinching his own unit into action again.

Be that as it may, champ, something’s gotta give. Here, come up and take over for me so we can switch. Just don’t go too far — got an idea.

He left the planks leaning on the scaffold and holstered his gourd, walking past a nearby mason and patting the man on the shoulder. “Need a refill on that mortar?” The older man glanced up through coarse, wiry eyebrows then down to the shallow pan at Kam’s feet, forever stained with specks of lumpy, grey paste. His apprehension was clear. Who was this stranger going out of his way to offer help? As his eyes begrudgingly tracked up the plain-clothes shinobi’s frame, Kam noted the way his weather-beaten expression turned from one of suspicion to opportunism, and then turned away with a smug grin when the man finally nodded.

"Pick up a tray of mortar for this guy up here while you're at it. Change of scenery."
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Old 08-01-2015, 12:19 PM   #7
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"Roger that Kam. A 'lil change of scenery might do me some good."

After "fixing his collar", the teenager finished refilling his bucket with the spilled stone. Hefting the load once again, multiple pairs of unfriendly eyes traced the chuunin as he ferryed the pails of stone to their destination. Hien's own eyes caught each gaze in his own, recieving each look of hostility or disgust from the civilians surrounding him with orbs of unwavering determination. The young shinobi would not be intimidated and he was not going to be deterred, not when there was so much work to do, so much to rebuild.

Clapping his hands free of dust, the teen moved to a large, mud caked hole just to the left of the main building, mere yards away from the scaffolding that his team members were on. Water was being poured into the hole, mixing violently with a porridge-like grey liquid. It was the mortar mixing pit and the pit boss was a tall burly man, skin as dark as onyx, with arms that rivaled the rippling body of a reptilian constrictor. His hands were clasped tightly around a wooden staff that swirled through the mixture, yet the rust colored pupils of the man were locked on the approaching ninja; his mixing slowed with each encroaching step.

Hien's own sepia filled pools of conviction were locked with the larger man's as he drew closer, only stopping at the base of the hole and a large, empty steel pan at his feet. The ocular test of wills was finally broken as the clansman gestured towards the pan. "Fill 'er up please." With incredible speed and obvious practice the muscle bound construction man pulled the wooden staff from the grey mixture below. Turns out that the staff was much closer to an oversized soup spoon and the pit boss overturned it's contents unceremoniously into the steel pan, bits of liquid mortar flying everywhere. The Culture Specialist had been peppered with the stuff, yet he stood there steadfast, a stoic expression painted across his face.

Rusty orbs looked the teenager over and scoffed at what they beheld. "Hmph....Oops." Returning to his work, a slight grin pulled at the man's weathered, cracked lips. The Kiyama boy's face held an identical look of mock amusement as he wiped the liquid fastener from his cheek. Picking up the pan, he made his way to the stairs of the scaffolding, offering the older chuunin a wink as they switched off.

Meanwhile, the Twins had buried themselves in their work. Matsu was soaked in his own sweat as he traversed up and down between the fourth and fifth levels of the building, carrying everything from wood to steel wiring. Batsu on the other hand was almost done with a whole wall of wooden planks, the efficiency with which he moved garnering looks of awe from those who hadn't done even half that in over triple the time. The King would be remiss if he said he wasn't thankful for the piece of mind that all this hard work had afforded him.

Arriving at the man the Konkaji investigator had conversated with only moments before, who was busy chipping away at some of the excess mortar seeping over the bricks he was using, the chuunin laid the pan next to the kneeling mason. Looking up at the youthful face of the boy and his stainless shinobi headband, the experienced man looked away with a shake of his head.

Retrieving his paving tool, the man scooped up a good amount of the mortar and began to lay the mixture between the bricks. "Thanks kid. Old bones like mine grow tired of the to and fro of fetching more of this stuff. 'Preciate the help. By the way, don't mind Tsuneo down there, he's harmless, if not a bit untrusting."

The sweaty teen looked down at the mortar man, who had stolen a glance up at the shinobi, and could only imagine what could've happened to make a man of such impressive stature weary of others. The boy wanted to change the negative perceptions of every man and woman on the site and in the city, but as he gazed at the melanin rich man, he wasn't sure how he was going to do it.

"Hey kid!" The concentration of the young ninja was averted as he was hailed by the old mason. "Do me a favor and quit yer gawking will ya? After I finish this here coat, lay down some more bricks."
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Old 10-08-2015, 06:32 AM   #8
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Accelerating, Kam’s heavy boots clipped sharply down the steps of the scaffolding while a coarse palm drew a cool sigh from the metal railing. Below him, the foreman was issuing a new set of commands to the ground crew, which involved a good deal more heavy lifting, pushing mining cars of broken stone to one side of the site and returning with newly delivered trolleys of brick. It was two movers to each cart, which was a natural buddy system that Kam could work with — one that he dead was set on making his own, moulding it to his purpose. He rounded the base of the stairs with a swing, feet kicking up dust as he paused to scan the pairings that were forming.

What the Konkaji saw caused him to press his fingers wearily against the base of his forehead as his rainy day predictions panned out. It was laughable, really, watching Hien’s original antagonist call on two of his cohorts to add their muscle and make his cart less of a chore while everyone else coped with only one partner. And this person thought that shinobi were the cancer feeding off the country? Kam shook his head, pressing his lips together sternly, and jogged forward to accept one of the last mining cars. His arms bulged in their sleeves at the effort of simply getting the loaded vessel moving, but he was able to overcome the coefficient of friction with only a silent contortion of his features.

As the cast-iron wheels rattled over the uneven ground, the shattered masonry inside the container shifted, throwing the weight from side to side so that Kam had to use his whole body to stabilise it. Elbows and knees bent sharply with each shuddering step, but he was keeping up with the others. Some even turned to watch as he drew parallel. When his feat of strength did finally catch the eyes of the trio ahead, he noted their grim looks of respect and bore his grimace into the ground, bowing his head against the strain. So they do at least give a damn about the average man. That gave him hope that the mind of the man he wanted to convince wasn’t completely unreasonable.

It was when the undercover chuunin felt the hands of another worker close over the rest of the cart’s handle that he glanced up to accept the assistance. It was one of the three, either aiding of his own volition or sent by the apparent ringleader. Managing to catch the nod that passed between the two men, Kam was quick to offer one of his own. This guy trades on respect. Among these kinds of people, Kam recalled, that grade of currency was hard won, but it meant that by being someone worthy of his regard, Kam could take the first step towards proving that shinobi were just as deserving — no more, no less. He'd needed an in; now he had the makings of one.
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Old 10-11-2015, 03:22 AM   #9
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"That's the spirit kid. The work's only hard when you make it hard work. Treat it wid a lil bit of respect and love, and you'll be made in the shade." With a weak chuckle, the experienced man returned to his work, if that's what you would call it.

Masterful, weathered, hands glided with practiced ease along the fresh layer of mortar, spreading it evenly onto the bricks Hien had laid down. This was their third layer finished together and the two had figured out a bit of a groove. They had found a rhythm. The Kiyama teenager would almost say that he had begun to enjoy himself, if not for the mortar master's incessant racket.

"People say I talk a lot, but the way I see it, with all of this knowledge and wisdom contained within this wrinkly skull o' mine, it's gotta come out some way. That reminds me, one time......

Jeez! This guy doesn't quit huh?! Hopefully the Twins are doing better.

Of course Hien could simply tap into his Subjects' sensory information and see what they saw and felt what they could feel. But he had long resorted to giving the brothers their mental privacy and often times he felt like they could.....tune him out. So now as he stood on the scaffolding that skirted the burgeoning hospital building, he pondered on what they were up to.

A floor up and a dozen meters to his left, Batsu stood with proud eyes at his handiwork. That wasn't so bad. thought the more rambunctious of the two jewel avatars. There wasn't much time to admire his progress however, as a group of men carrying a large glass pane passed by, nudging him unapologetically.

"Yea. Nobody likes a show off, kid." The man who Batsu had relieved of duty on the planks had returned, thumb bandaged up and a smug look on his face. "You're a shinobi aint'cha? I suggest that you keep a low profile from here on out, folk 'round here ain't too partial to you cats. Me being one. Now, if you don't mind."

The man held his hand out, expecting the young shinobi to return his tool to him. Yet there was hesitation in the Batsu's movement, despite not being the kind that was moved or upset when it came to politics, he knew this wasn't right. There laid a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach and he couldn't resign himself to let the status quo be.

Reaching out to the man, the handsome teen returned the hammer. Gripping the tool gingerly, he stepped past the young chuunin. "What's been done to you?" The man turned to look back at the amber eyed teen with a raised eyebrow. "I mean, I'm not the smartest guy out there, but to me it's pretty simple. We're out here trying to do some good. From the minute we become ninja, service is what we're taught. To serve our village, our country is THE goal. The only goa-"

"So, what do you call Jondori huh? That wasn't no service, and that bogus clean up after.....hmph! That was YOU guys!" A worker within earshot gave his own two cents. "Yea! 'N how bout the capitol building huh? How do ya explain that? Service?! More like hostile takeover!"

Both men had elevated their voices and multiple eyes and ears were fixed on the trio. Batsu had only meant to convince a mind or two, he was no master orator, he couldn't handle this battery of questions. Fear and panic painted the lad's face, because he knew was in over his head.

Sensing his twin's distress, Matsu halted in his work and as he approached his brother's growing circle of men, he asked to be excused before standing side by side with his fellow Subject. "Sirs please. If you'll only listen for a moment. We have come here specifically to help rebuild this hospital, that we had a hand in destroying. Yet as we do that, we also hope to reform the bonds pf trust that we all once shared. Look at us!"

With his last syllable, the teen spread his arms wide gesturing to them all. It was a small crowd gathered now and the apt Kiyama shinobi continued on, his silver tongue in full effect.

"Brother fights brother. Families are ripped asunder as they debate whether to back us or the PDC. "Regular" everyday joes who fight the good fight. Yet those joes wouldn't tell you that to perfect the skills they have, horrible experiments had to be performed. Mutilation, deaths, complete desecration of areas as they overmine the once lush surroundings. You won't hear about these things cause of how much they try to turn the populace against the shinobi. Highlighting our wrongs."

"That's right!!!"

Batsu held up one hand to silence the crowd of workers as they began to murmur loudly in agreement. This time he spoke, his brother's presence and confidence spurring him on.

"Who here is without fault? Who here has never made a mistake? Well if you have, then you and Iwagakure have something in common. We know that we've messed up and we're doing our best to make things right. All we request is a little patience, we aren't perfect, no one is."
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Old 05-15-2016, 10:55 AM   #10
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“Tryin’ to take on the world there, by yer’self, eh boss?”

The man’s voice was thick and nasally, his arms skinny and cast in leathery skin. Kam shook his head wistfully but paused to consider his next words carefully.

“Guess so. Someone’s got to.”

Suddenly, the cart hit a bump that sent its wheels spinning in their bearings and tipped the cargo. Though he could have handled this accident himself, the undercover shinobi chose to relax his grip just enough that it forced his companion to bear half of the weight. Only together did they rein in the runaway car and make it to their destination, which drew a relieved grunt from Knuckles.

“Heh, not all the time!”

Kam rolled his eyes, more at the irony of the aside than its intended levity. Truth be told, he had expected the other fellow to say something of the sort, timing a localised Ground Shaking jutsu to follow his own remark and instigate the call for teamwork. He rubbed his brow with the back of his bared forearm, toiling on.

“Huh. I stand corrected.” With an appreciative smile, he pretended to ponder the sentiment while congratulating himself for tricking his companion into unwittingly revealing his better judgment. There was some under there — in this one at least — but he stood a greater chance of reaching Knuckles’ boss with an ally at his side, whether that pawn knew it or not.

When the pair had reached the bricklayers’ carts, they turned their trolley to face the fresh skip waiting below, off to one side, and tipped in its contents. Then, as the clamour of debris faded, they pulled the container back from the ledge and applied the foot brake, stepping away for the masons to do their job. As fresh bricks were stacked within, Kam crossed his arms to survey the rest of the site. His eyes were immediately drawn to the commotion surrounding Hien and the twins. When he noticed a similar reaction from Knuckles, he turned to the man, aside, and sniffed.

“Like there’s even time to argue? Shit needs doing, not discussing.”

“Preach, boss, preach.”

As the two conversed, the other men joined them, including the brute who had insulted Hien. The real boss. Not the pit boss, but the shit boss. Chief of assholes, and the man Kam had taken it upon himself to reform, however he could.

“Wuz this guy sayin’?” came the throaty question, bubbling up from a thick neck, blunt chin and cracked lips. Taller than Kam by five inches or so, the man was a mountain in mass. His accent, on the other hand, suggested a molehill of education.

“That all them layabouts would be better stickin’ to their jobs, rather’n gettin’ caught up in all that.” He jutted his chin in the direction of the scaffolding. “This guy gets it.”

“Huh. Get it? I live it,” Kam asserted. “But this stuff happens all over. Anywhere there’s rebuilding to done ’n shinobi had a hand in tearing it down, they try to build it back up alongside the people. Division.” He suggested as much with the accompanying jut of his hand. “Waste.”

Interested, the boss scratched his jaw. “All over, like? You been doin’is a while?”

Checking on the bricklayers’ progress with a glance over his shoulder, his head returned with a bobbing nod ending in a sad shake. “Yeah,” he sighed, reaching into the thick folds of his vest. Opening the packet of cigarettes he found there, he shrugged. “Name a place that’s suffered since Hima and I’ll have done my damnedest to be there.”

He shuffled the cigarettes with a shake and bent his head as if to seize one then looked away, reconsidering, before offering them to the other men instead. Only the boss refused, waving them off. “Mind if I ask why?”

Kam responded with a look of incredulity. “Why?! Why not? Why are you here? This city, this country…it needs all the help it can get. Sure, there’s money in rebuilding, and that’s what keeps food on my plate nowadays,” he admitted, rolling his eyes as he struck a match, “but we’ve all lost things. Pride, homes, people.” He tossed the matchbox to Knuckles, shaking out his light as he took a quick drag and long release, and closing his weary eyes to accentuate the point. “Some more than others,” he finished, his voice low, gravelly, as if surprised by the painful memory his explanation had unearthed.

Then he felt a meaty hand on his shoulder. “Those dirty pigs took some’n from you, din’ they? Done it to all’ve uz, mate. Hate ‘em. Fuck ‘em. Damn ‘em. Don’t beat yerself up. Iz their fault. Their war. Their ruin. Disease is what they is, and we’re better off without ‘em. Good man like yerself shouldn’t blame anything else.”

“Aye, I hated them. I wanted to find the ones responsible; find and make them pay for ruining my life while I served theirs.” He caught the matchbox as it sailed through the air, turning it over in his coarse palms before rattling it in front of him, face set. “Used to fight fires, and now this is the only blaze in my life I can bear. Couldn't go back to it after Hima. Spent a long time since then figuring out what to do. And this? It made sense to me. So here I am.”

The bricklayers had, by this point, finished stacking and securing the trolleys’ new cargo, and were now calling for the various workmen to ferry their loads back to the other side of the side. Yet as the quartet turned, the boss paused, bafflement creeping across his features. “Wait…”

Kam was surprised the man had caught it so quickly. “Yeah, 'hated', past tense.” He took another ironic drag of the cigarette. “Wasn’t healthy. Wasn’t me being good enough, strong enough, true enough to make up for their failings. Figured there was a bigger picture out there beyond me, us, or anybody at this site, and hate was blinding me from seeing it. Spent enough time putting shinobi on pedestals to realise they weren’t angels when shit hit the fan. But no one is. We just muddle along, trying to make things right. They’re human. Mortal. Fallible. But then you see one or two who're, like you, like me, willing to stop at nothing to get this country back on track, and you think: ‘Maybe we’re more alike than we want to admit. Maybe those one or two deserve the benefit of the doubt that they can succeed. And maybe others do to.’ Because there’s a decent number of people out there who only want to tear things down.”

Pulling his cart in a half circle during his speech, he sidled along the rail to make space for Knuckles but the other man was visibly hesitant to join him.

“It’s like you said, mate: ‘We can’t take the world on alone all the time.’ And against that other lot, we can use all the help we can get.” He turned the thought over, a sour expression working its way across his features. “Probably damned myself to you now. Mock me, beat on me, you won’t tear this pillar down. Took too long to build. Too much blood and sweat in the mortar.” He eyed the vacant spot to his right, then the other three men. “No? That’s fine, mate. It’s the bigger man who accepts he was wrong. Who accepts that people can be wrong, but have it in ‘em to make things right.”

He dropped his gaze, collecting himself before the first push. “I hope you see that one day.”

Kam had known it would be impossible to change the men’s deep-seated emotions with a single speech, but hopefully the seeds had at least been planted. Now it was their choice whether to tend the garden.

Dicks. That, they were. Nevertheless, they were still deserving of his merciful stewardship as a shinobi. Sometimes the lines between his calling and the characters he played were hard to see, especially when the devil on his shoulder whispered for him to look the other way — to leave the assholes to live their petty lives and die in obscurity, or to nip their potential for rebellion in the bud for security reasons — but his better self always won. Save them from themselves, because someone has to.

And so, with a push and a wheeze, he got his cart rolling again, muscles aching until his steps gained speed and his cigarette was pumping out clouds like the smokestack of a train.

Last edited by Calibur; 04-20-2017 at 03:56 PM..
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