Chapter 4: Mysterious Kazu
“…and by the time I got there, the hunter had already escaped with Hisa-sama.” Mineo’s head hung in shame as he reported to his leader. He had been entrusted with such an important task but yet he had allowed the hunter to get ahead of him. It wasn’t that Mineo hadn’t been able to keep up with him, but Tetsuo had told him to to maintain a certain distance. It was a good way to show the Sakurai clan that they trusted them, even though Mineo, himself, wasn’t so sure about it. It wasn’t really the clan that he doubted…it was that one ninja in particular: Kazuhiko Sakurai.
Mineo had always felt that there was something odd about him. He was strong, was successful on all of his missions and was suspiciously mysterious. He had learned this in a training session with Kazu, he had never used that much of his chakra before and even though it had been a tie, Mineo had been exhausted while Kazu had shown no signs of tiredness.
“Don’t worry, she’s with one of their strongest ninjas.” Tetsuo comforted, barely even believing his own words. Tetsuo liked Kazu, but this certainly didn’t mean he blindly trusted him. Kazu knew how to respect his superiors and had the right mind-set for a ninja, which was admirable for someone of his age. He was twenty-one and as far as Tetsuo knew, he was Eiji’s adopted son.
There was nothing strange about that. Eiji’s wife had died young, leaving the prestigious clan with only one heir and knowing how important an heir to a clan like the Sakurai was, there would probably be plots against him. To prevent the clan’s fall, Eiji had presumably adopted a son that he thought would be able to succeed if his own son, Yutaka, failed to.
But that’s not what Tetsuo found so remarkable about the situation. What he couldn’t really put his finger around was why there was so little information available about his background, in fact, there was no information about him available at all. The few things that were on his ninja profile was his name, rank and occupation. And he always accompanied Eiji everywhere, which either meant that Eiji trusted him a lot or Kazu was immensely strong and needed to stay in his sight.
Personally, Tetsuo believed it to be the latter one. But he had always been undeniably loyal to Eiji, which also put Tetsuo in a difficult position. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to find relief in knowing that his granddaughter was with a strong ninja, to be protected by him, or to be worried that Kazu could turn out to be a different person from what everyone believed him to be.
“Gather Yoroi and Bekkou and start mission Retrieval,” Tetsuo instructed, “Find Hisa.”
Mineo’s brows furrowed in a thinking manner as he had completely forgotten about those two. In his mind, they were probably already up to something. Mineo let out a sigh of defeat but decided not to mention it to Tetsuo.
“Woooohooooo!!!!” Bekkou’s stretched body twirled on the river water, which was headed towards a waterfall that lead to the sea, “This is awesome!”
“Ahhhhh!” Yoroi swam with all his might toward a giant rock to avoid going down the waterfall, , “We’re gonna die!!!!”
Bekkou grabbed Yoroi’s collar to bring the boy down with him as he slid down the waterfall, “YEAAAH!”
Yoroi wrapped himself around Bekkou, “NOOOO!” His cry echoed before they landed in the sea, making the water splash in all directions.
As they came up again, Bekkou pumped his fist in the air, “That was amazing!”
“I’m alive…” Frozen with fear, Yoroi clung to Bekkou’s huge belly like a scared cat. He took deep breathes to calm his nerves while Bekkou dragged his boney body out of the water.
“Let’s do it again!”
“NO!” Yoroi whacked him over the head, “We were supposed to catch fish, eat, and move on! Why do you always make a game out of everything?! We could’ve died!”
“YOU could’ve died…” Bekkou pointed out, reminding Yoroi that his body had the same effect as rubber and he could bounce off things or, in this case, float.
Yoroi fell back on the ground and sighed heavily. Bekkou was going to be the death of him.
Hisa walked a few meters behind Kazu as they tried to find their way back. There was a main road leading back to the civilized places, but Kazu was sure there would be more ambushes waiting for them there. They needed to find a shortcut, one that not many people knew about. He couldn’t fight and protect her at the same time, especially if all the rumors he heard about the girl her lack of physical skillswere true.
Kazu rolled his eyes, trying to discreetly catch a faint glimpse of Hisa behind him. He wanted to somehow ask her if she really was unable to fight as a ninja, but he didn’t want to offend her…and he didn’t know how to socialize with people.
He thought it was pretty safe to assume that she really hadn’t mastered any shinobi art since she had complained about being acrophobic and that was a ninja’s way to travel –a very basic skill, usually one of the first you needed to learn.
Exhausted from all the walking, Hisa looked at Kazu’s back. She didn’t want to complain but she didn’t know what to do to break the painful silence either. She was a very social person and found communication between people very important. But when it came to Kazu she just didn’t know how to start a conversation. He would either remain quiet, making her feel awkward or he would avert the topic and say something along the lines of ‘I will protect you with my life’, making her blush like a little girl.
She knew it was his job, but for some reason it made her feel like a damsel in distress and imagined him to be Prince Charming, which was absolutely wrong because she had agreed to marry someone else.
Hisa shook her head and took a deep breath, trying to muster up the courage to start a conversation. It was the only way to get the silly thoughts out of her head, “…Your name is Kazu?”
Kazu turned his head a little to the side at the sound of her voice. It was soothing and sounded friendly, that’s also what he had thought the first time he’d heard her speak. He wouldn’t express it in words, but he liked it. When they were younger Yutaka had told him that princesses had a nice, soft voice that made you feel all warm inside. But he had never been sure how much of that was true because he didn’t care enough, or at all, to find out and neither did he associate with the female population. But perhaps he’d been right…for once.
“It’s Kazuhiko.” He responded after a long pause.
“Oh, so it was a nickname…”
As she had predicted from the start, Kazu averted the subject, “The sun is setting, we should rest for the day.”
“Finally!” Hisa thought, but said something more refined, “Hai, we should.” She smiled.
Kazu blinked awkwardly at her smile. He really wasn’t used to these kind of people.
Yoroi’s eyes widened, “What was that noise?!”
Bekkou cleared his throat and bared his teeth with a guilty smile.
“Did you fart again?!” Yoroi covered his nose as fast as he could, “I told you not to do it next to me!”
Bekkou rubbed the back of his head, “Sorry, I tried holding it but something about fish just upsets my stomach…”
Bekkou held up his hands in defense, “It wasn’t me! I swear!”
Both of them slowly turned around as they felt a warm breath against the nape of their necks. As soon as they came eye to eye with a grizzly bear, both of them let out an ear deafening cry that echoed throughout the forest.
Kazu’s view was like a wolf’s gaze longing for the moon. He couldn’t remember when he had developed the habit of staring at the moon, but he found himself doing that a lot, especially when it was a full moon. He wondered if there was something more behind his admiration for it than it just being a habit that he had developed over time. He didn’t remember being this interested in the moon and it was last month at the Rimae village that he had first felt like this.
“So you’ve finally noticed, kit?”
Kazu’s ninja reflexes kicked in and he snatched a kunai from the strap around his leg. He looked around cautiously, making sure to scan every perimeter of his environment. There was no one. He looked at Hisa who still seemed to be fast asleep, not far from him.
“Relax, kit!” The voice sounded again.
Kazu whipped his head around but there was still no one in sight and he only sensed weak energy around him, which was probably from the animals in the wood.
“I told you to relax, didn’t I?” The voice mused, “Humans…”
This time Kazu didn’t try to look for the source of the produced sound, knowing there was no one near. It was impossible to sneak up on him without him noticing and he hadn’t even been fully off-guard. That meant that this ninja was using his skills from a distance.
“I am not.” The voice argued, “I’ve always been here.”
The voice roared with laughter, “In your head, here.”
“…I’m hearing voices?” Kazu couldn’t believe this was happening to him but he stayed calm anyway.
“I’m not just a voice!” It sounded insulted before the tone changed to a gleeful one, “I’m here to guide you!”
Kazu raised a brow, “Guide me to what?”
“You foolish kit! You really don’t remember a thing, do you?”
“…Apparently not?” Kazu really had no clue what was happening anymore and the only way to find out was by hearing out the weird voice.
“I heard that, you know! I’m not weird, I’m just doing my job! We’re gonna seek adventures, you and I!!! I can see it happen already!”
Kazu sat down on a rock and stared in front of him. He was tired and that was probably the reason he had started hearing voices that weren’t there. He had to rest for a bit –it was really needed.
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