Clash in the Snow Country: Legacy Version
Chapter 31: History of Snow
(Author's Note) Hello all, been awhile. And the reason for that is rather straightforward and at the same time, makes things complicated. That being, I have finally acquired a job. And as such, that is become my utmost priority. To make things more fun, it's a night job and my mornings are occupied with other responsibilities, such as babysitting my nephew. Prior to my job, it was still manageable.
Now? Now my freetime and energy are in very short supply.
I can't promise quick or swift chapter releases (never mind tendency to underestimate how long my material turns out). All I can promise is the same that I've done throughout this story: That it may take a while, but I am still committed to working on my stories with no intention of stopping. It may take longer (I know, it's been LONG enough hasn't it?), but this still will be done. And once it is, my work on Chuuten will begin for those still interested in seeing it. I'll be writing that as much as myself as for the readers out there.
So without further adieu, let us proceed.
I was born 42 years ago. The second child of Yokan and Makiba of the Kazahana Clan, who had ruled the Snow Country for 97 years at that point in time. I was the younger brother by two years to my parent's firstborn, Sousetsu. Those days… hard to imagine those days now… they seem so distant now… like several lifetimes ago.
The Kazahana Castle had stood ever since the clan had come to power. Unlike Doto's Black Fang Castle which was designed to be intimidating and flaunt his power for those he ruled, the Kazahana Castle looked like it had been designed by an aspiring towers surrounded the perimeter, beacons of welcome and warmth as opposed to cold stone sentries that people associated with Black Fang's watchtowers. The gates, a pair of simple large oak doors, were more of a formality as they were rarely closed, in contrast to Doto's approach that liked to keep them closed much of the time and force people to wait to get inside, for the few that had reason to come. And the inside was shaped much like the outside.
Makiba was a woman from the Lightning Country who had immigrated to Snow years earlier. No official standing to her name, but she came to work at the Kazahana Castle as an interior decorator. A woman with a known green thumb, she had been distraught at how bleak the surrounding landscape was, so her first order of business was to import various plants and trees from her homeland. And since they could not survive outside due to the harsh winter climate, Makiba had them located inside the buildings themselves, placing plants and even small trees in the hallways and every room she could.
She even spent an extensive amount of time outside attempting to start gardens on the somewhat warmer days. These attempts always ended in failure, but she never gave up in her efforts.
It was her green thumb that had drawn Yokan's attention. Yokan was known as a fair, yet strict person. Guiding his subjects with a gentle hand, but always ready to make that hand a fist when the need came. It was Makiba's redecorating that had drawn the man's attention to the woman, and the new sense of life she brought to the Castle that motivated him to court her and later wed. Issues raised about the fact that she had no noble lineage were quickly disregarded due to the woman's green touch.
On their twelfth anniversary, Yokan commissioned the construction of a greenhouse in recognition of his wife's desire for a garden, something that still eluded her after all these years and still had yet to give up on. Meanwhile, Makiba had gone and imported many exotic plants and flowers for it, making it, as many referred to it as, a true oasis in their wintry desert.
And that was currently where eight-year-old Doto was sneaking through. "You really think this is the best way, Nii-san?" he asked his co-conspirator.
Sousetsu looked back towards Doto and flashed a wide grin. "Of course it is! Construction on this greenhouse is halfway complete and workers have weekends off on building this! That means no one is paying attention to it and it offers perfect cover for wandering eyes!" He slapped his younger sibling on the back. "You've got to look at the bigger picture, Doto!"
Bigger picture. That's what Sousetsu always said in those days. Always wanting to push the boundaries, always looking for loopholes with a thirst for exploration. The worst thing you could do was tell Sousetsu to 'Keep Out', it only make him even more determined to see it, which is what we were doing that day.
Father had said that the armory was being renovated and that we were supposed to stay out. You would have thought Father would have learned by that point that telling Sousetsu such things only encouraged him instead of having the opposite effect.
Of the two, Sousetsu was smaller than Doto despite being two years his senior, and a lot less muscular. A large part of that was because while Sousetsu often spent his days studying, Doto was drilled by the Sergeant-at-Arms. As usual for the heir, Sousetsu was dressed in fine clothing that would cost an entire village, while Doto wore far more casual clothes. Not that he didn't have fancy stuff as well – thought it was a lot less than his brother – it was just that he didn't have as much of a need for it given he was constantly working and training, activities that would have ruined fancy clothes as his parents constantly reminded him. But what really identified them as siblings was their faces, both having many similar features, most notably around the chin area and the closeness of their eyes.
"You know if Otou-san finds out, he's going to blow a gasket right?" Doto reminded him.
"You worry too much!" Sousetsu replied, waving him off like the thought was an annoying fly buzzing around. "That's if Father finds out! After all, if we don't get caught, we won't get caught!"
Doto slouched at that, his face in an even line. "… aren't you supposed to be setting an example for me, Future Daimyo?"
His elder brother made a face. "Oh, stop that! Nothing's going to change when that happens!" He threw an arm around Doto. "We'll still be the Ultimate Duo! Your muscle to my brains! My determination to your iron will! My resolve to your foresight! My…"
"… monkey to his ape?" came a voice, making both boys jump into the air. They both snapped their heads around towards the speaker.
Tanomoshii Mikata. A young girl who was between Sousetsu and Doto in age. A bit smaller than them, dressed in pink pants, a white dual layer shirt and closed-toed sandals. Flower designs were arranged all over her shirt, giving off the impression she was a real flowery girl as opposed to being the protégé of Yukigakure's Dobei Mamori, who headed the Ice Guard, the detachment that protected and guarded the Daimyo's family. As such, she was a constant sight at the Castle, learning under the Snow Jonin. While she appeared as a delicate flower, she would quickly become a vengeful viper to anyone who dared call her such. To her, there was nothing wrong being a girl in the common sense and being a shinobi. And anyone who disagreed with this, she would either give you a tongue lashing, or just beat the crap out of you. Usually both.
A fact that Sousetsu and Doto learned first-hand when they first saw her. Mamori, horrified that she had beaten up the heirs of Yokan, had feverishly apologized over and over for two days straight, repeatedly slamming his head against the floor as he bowed, even proclaiming he would commit seppuku to make things up to this, despite Yokan's statements of saying not to get overworked over a 'kid's squabble'. In fact, the first thing Yokan had done when hearing about this incident was laugh gleefully, something that just made Mikata flustered.
And she was the love of Doto's life.
To me… she was a real flower and not just because of the way she dressed. There was so much more life in her than all the flowers Mother collected combined; a real sense of beauty about her, walking with an air of grace that would put any real plant to shame. Even that temper of hers was often masked by her poise and grace that I always felt was a fitting metaphor for a rose's thorns. It wasn't apparent at first, but it was there nonetheless if you rubbed her the wrong way. That fire, that PASSION she would show whenever someone ticked her off… that's what truly made her beauty bloom into absolute magnificence.
"Better an ape to a viper!" Doto shot back, sticking out his tongue in emphasis.
Not that an eight-year-old boy would ever admit such things.
"Keep quiet!" Sousetsu snapped at the two of them, hushing them. "You'll get us caught!"
"Wouldn't have this problem if you had taken me with you," Mikata told him.
"'No Girls Allowed!'" The brothers said together, crossing their arms in front of them and making a buzzing like noise. "How'd you find out about this anyway?" Sousetsu demanded.
"Oh, please." Mikata rolled her eyes before prompting smiling at the two. "It was so obvious! When are you boys gonna learn you have no secrets from me?"
"As long as those secrets stay secret, I couldn't care less," Sousetsu said, beckoning Doto to follow him as they approached the wall of the greenhouse, a small window on top. "Now, go pet some ponies or something!"
Mikata just put her hands behind her back, her typical stance when she was confident as Doto got to the base of the wall and put his hands together. "You two are going to get so busted!" Mikata sang out.
"Not if you don't rat usout!" Sousetu said, running forward and jumping on Doto's outstretched hands. With a heave, he threw his older brother up. Sousetsu flew up in the air and grasped the window seal before promptly pulling himself up.
"Ha, told you!" he called down as Mikata walked over to Doto. "The windows are being worked on, so there are no locks!" Reaching in his robes, Sousetsu lowered a rope for Doto. "Let's do this!"
"Why do you let him talk you into these things?" Mikata asked as Doto clasped the rope.
He looked back at her and a smile appeared on his face against his will. "He's my brother. What else can I do?"
Mikata stared at him and then gave another laugh. "Good answer! Never let your guard down!" she admitted as Doto climbed up the rope. Getting up to the window easily thanks to his peak physical condition, Doto knelt by Sousetsu. Together they pried the window open, unlocked just as Sousetsu proclaimed. Once it was fully opened, the two jumped into the armory…
… and landed in a large puddle of oil.
Both boys looked down in absolute disbelief, their eyes were wide, their jaws were hanging like broken window seals unleashing silent screams. They flailed their arms wildly to regain their balance, but that proved ultimately futile as they went crashing to the ground, the weight of their bodies pressing down on concealed trip wires that ran down the floor and up the walls to several buckets concealed on the ceiling. Tipping over, they poured down piles of itching powder on the two, and this made them shriek.
The instant they did the door opened revealing their father and a number of servants. "Enjoying yourselves?" Yokan asked with a straight face. Mikata appeared from behind the man, sticking out her tongue mockingly. "Told ya to not drop your guards!" She mouthed the words to the two of them.
And as it turned out, Father WAS very much aware of what encouraging us would amount to. I'm sure anyone with half a brain could have told us that in advance. We never did find out what was so special about the renovations, but looking back on that incident now, I'm nearly positive father fabricated the story to try and teach us a lesson. Probably with Mikata's "suggestion."
The thing was about my brother was that he did have a brilliant mind and remarkable foresight with a sense of presence that made people want to be his friend. He could see things from beginning to end, from Point A, to Point B, to Point C, all the way to Z. He could see and identify all possible routes, angles and consequences. The problem often came with that last one. While my brother would see consequences, they never really concerned him. To Sousetsu, a spanking and being sent to his room without supper was always worth it if he succeeded in his ventures, such as going where he didn't wasn't supposed to. And for a time like this, any punishment given to him was secondary to the fact he didn't get to know what the big secret was.
A week later, Doto was attending to his usual studies under a personal tutor. Just because he was primarily doing physical training didn't mean he didn't have study sessions of his own from time to time. His tutor was a woman in her mid-twenties that seemed to seemed to be made out of wood, always standing up straight with poise and with a stern look in her eyes. Never changing in her routine or mannerisms.
When Sousetsu became Daimyo, Doto knew that he would be obligated to support his brother and be responsible for his protection. So when he was not training with the Sergeant, he had to listen to lectures from this woman about what would be expected of him.
"Your brother will become the leader of this country," the tutor said in that same monotone as she paced in the room. "And you will be there when that happens. Whether behind the scenes or by his side, it is your task to keep the head of this country safe. Not just from outside threats, but external threats as well."
After exactly thirteen steps, she stopped, turned around and paced the other way. "It is the Daimyo's responsibility to guide and lead his people, and in turn it is the people that form the heart and will of the country to give the Daimyo purpose. One part cannot be more important than the other. Just as the head cannot move without the body, the body cannot function without the head."
Once again, thirteen steps, stop, turn. "That is why your role is so important. Your elder brother will be the one that will be making the decisions for the future of this country, but it is you, Doto, who must be ready to mend bridges between the government and the people. For if this balance is disrupted, the country will wither and die."
Balance. The country needing both a leader and the people. One not more important than the other. This had been drilled into my head since I could walk and Sousetsu even more so. My parents said it. My teachers said it. The Sergeant said it. Mamori said it. Even the low-end servants talked about it as they worked. It was the ironclad truth for the castle and of our family. Something to live and believe everyday of your life. Be it the weekends, holidays, the start of the new year. And like the naïve child I was, I believed it. Just as I believed it was Sousetsu's right to become Daimyo. He was the elder, he got the benefits and the glory. That's just the way the world was. I never really resented him for that because Sousetsu was always in the middle of things, and made everyone feel like a part of what was happening, myself included and I can remember thinking 'This isn't so bad. This is not a bad way to live.'
How odd that I used to think such things. Time really is a cruel master.
Four months later, Doto was attending his brother's 11th birthday. Just the past week, Sousetsu had been part of negotiations with the Earth Country as part of his royal training. It was supposed to be a simple formality, merely introducing him into the world of political relationships, but Sousetsu not only participated but actually succeeded in impressing the Earth Daimyo so much that the meeting ended on a successful note and increased trade revenue between the two countries, something their father had been trying to accomplish for three years now ever since relations with Water broke down.
So when they had returned, they pulled out all the stops for his birthday, celebrating the date of his birth and that smooth political prowess he had displayed. It turned out to be easily the biggest party Doto had witnessed to date. His parents spared no expense, going as far as to let the servants have the day off and hiring foreign entertainers and chefs to provide the food and festivities. Doto himself was rapidly enjoying himself, even forgetting to tease or ignore Mikata as she blew out sharp whistles for his brother. Doto could honestly say at that moment that he'd never felt prouder of his brother, for he had taken the first real step to his future and ensuring the security of the country. He could remember clapping so hard, his hands turned red.
"To my beloved son, Sousetsu!" his father said, raising his goblet to all around. "Whose actions today prove that he will lead Snow to a successful future!"
The crowd went wild, applauding even harder and harder. Drinks were raised, praises sprouted like weeds and the cheering was deafening with shouts of 'For the Glory of the Future Daimyo!'. Save for one. Doto found himself stop clapping in mid action.
That was my moment of first real doubt. All our young lives, we had been drilled that it was both the Daimyo AND the population that would bring Snow to the future, something that had I had gone over just earlier that very day. Yet, due to one act, suddenly everyone was forgetting the other half of the equation, and just giving sole credit to their future ruler, given what he accomplished would benefit the common people as a whole.
Of course, I immediately shook it off and rationalized it. Sousetsu did just accomplish something great and he was just eleven years old. And even if he hadn't, it was his birthday; the day was SUPPOSED to revolve around him. I convinced myself that it was just a momentarily lapse in judgment for everyone else. And really, what harm could come from it, I wondered. What harm could forgetting about it just once, in light of such a huge success with Rock which had a troubling history to it, and letting Sousetsu get sole praise and acknowledgement do?
None, I reasoned. At least, at the time.
Two months later, Sousetsu had called Doto to his room at night because he wanted to show him something. In Doto's experience, that typically meant he had some scheme to break into something where he was not wanted. Doto could already picture how this would go as he entered his brother's room.
"Ah, Doto! Glad you could make it!" Sousetsu cried out happily.
Sousetsu's room was very different than the other times Doto had visited. Usually a place that was the pinnacle of cleanness, but now, it looked like a tornado had hit it. The bed was completely unmade with the contents spilled about. Books, normally neatly shelved, were scattered about like fallen leaves, many of them opened with notes scribbled on them. Sousetsu's desk was covered in various tools, what looked like small oil spills, and more papers cluttered all over. Of course, what stood out most was the smell.
Plugging his nose, he desperately waved his other hand in the air. "Nii-san, what happened here! It smells like a horde of pigs crawled up in here and died, and then oxen used the remains for their droppings!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," Sousetsu replied rapidly, completely ignoring his brother's reaction. How he could act so normally among such a putrid stench was a mystery Doto never solved. "Just close the door and get in here! I have something to show you!"
Only after he made Sousetsu open his windows did Doto comply. With the night air breezing in, it helped things somewhat as his elder brother beckoned him to the table. "Now, watch."
Sousetu dipped a paintbrush into a jar filled with that oil stuff and began painting it on a spinning top. Painting that oil stuff all around the circumference of the childhood toy. Once he was done, he placed it on the desk and backed off.
At first nothing happened. Then to Doto's amazement, it jumped up on it's own. More than that, it began spinning around! So fast, Doto nearly swore he saw sparks flying off from it. "How is this possible?" he demanded.
Sousetsu had replied with so much jargon that Doto did not even begin to understand, and was more than positive his elder brother had made up more than a few of those words in his explanation. "But the point is…!" Sousetsu wrapped up as Doto's head stopped spinning. "…that this could be a whole new source of energy! Just imagine the possibilities!"
The spinning top finally stopped as it lay back down on the desk. Reaching out for it, Doto picked it up gently in between his fingers. "Countless," he said, still in complete awe.
Then it blew up in his face.
"… it still has some bugs to work out," an embarrassed Sousetsu admitted.
"… you don't say…" Doto replied, his face completely blank and his hair standing on end. "… new energy source won't do us much good if it blows up in our face."
That, of course, just prompted Sousetsu to go into his whole 'Big Picture' rant. But what astounded me most was that this was not a side of my brother I had seen before. I had never pictured Sousetsu as a tinkerer and inventor, though the more I thought about it, the more it did make sense. Sousetsu always had the desire to go into forbidden places. One could even go so far as to label it the desire to reach for the unknown, to grab hold of the mysteries and begin to make sense of it. The zeal to overcome anything with 'Keep Out'… that burning drive to create and, as the saying went, to reinvent the wheel… all came around to the same route: The need for discovery.
Of course, also typical of my brother was that he was so fixated on his new invention that he overlooked the fact that his room was a disaster zone. Though as I later learned, this was not the first time Sousetsu had done such a thing before, and some of his favorite servants would clean up the room quickly before anyone ever realized.
I don't deny I felt a wave of relief upon hearing that. That while my brother may still may not be as concerned with the consequences of his actions as he should be, he was beginning to realize that he did need to start for accounting of them, even if his way of going about it was a bit sloppy.
So when the servants came – all of which acted like this was perfectly natural – I suggested we hide out in my room while they tended to that mess.
His room was far plainer than Sousetsu's normally was, but that was largely by choice. Doto merely considered his room a place to rest and work, with his real life being outside, working and contributing. His bed was simple, though it did have a thick quilt from their grandmother for the really cold nights. His bookshelf had some books on it, though far smaller than Sousetsu's. The selection dealt with more adventure and fantasy stories than texts on politics or economics. He had a small desk against the wall with a few papers on it, a lampstand, and a radio, which he used to listen to Stone Sentries every night. One thing that stood out was the south wall, decorated with trophies and awards he gained from his daily training regimes, which, for Doto, was easily the best part of having a room: Being able to bask in his accomplishments.
"You worry too much," Sousetsu said as Doto closed his door.
"No, I worry just the right amount! You can never worry too much!"
The future Daimyo just shook his head with a sly grin on his face. "Worry is the greatest threat to a man. You can spend hours saying 'what if this happens, what if that happens' over and over." He walked towards Doto's own desk, which looked brand new despite it being two years old. "And completely forgetting about the joys of life right now. We may be the future leaders of Snow, dear little brother, but we're still men. We're allowed to have hobbies. Such as…" a knowing smirk crossed his face as Sousetsu suddenly yanked open a drawer and pulled out a model dragon. "This!"
Dragons. My own private fantasy and ambition. Such AWESOME creatures. Everything about them appealed to me, from the sharp teeth and claws, to those long whip-like tails, to those radiant wings that would put even eagles to shame. Most said that dragons didn't exist in this day and age, and even more said they never existed period. I can tell you… if there had been a chance to see a real one, an actual living specimen straight out of legend, not even the combined efforts of Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara would have kept me from seeing it.
"Gimme that!" Doto screamed out, his face turning a shade red as he grabbed the model dragon out of Sousetsu's grasp. "Do you have any idea how long it took me to get that! That's first class metalworking, from the depths of the Earth Country! Those are actual gold scales on it, and REAL rubies in the eyes! The design is from one of the most famous artists of all time, and one of his last! It took me three years to save up for that!"
"Calm down, Otouto," Sousetsu said, holding up his hands. "I apologize, I repent. And more importantly…" He put his arms down, walked over and patted his brother on the shoulder. "…stop acting like it's some pervy magazines."
"It is something to be proud of," Sousetsu said in a far calmer voice. There was a steady gaze in his eyes and a warmth about it. The same warmth that made people believe and want to be his friend. He gently took the model dragon from his brother's hand. "You worked hard for it. You should be happy and honored. And more importantly…" He set it on the desk, just right under the light, making the entire dragon seem to 'glow' on that. "It's something that should be shown, not hidden away." He gestured at the dragon. "It deserves to be on display."
"Well… yeah…" Doto said, unable to help admiring it. "I just had to go… under the table a few times… and Mother and Father…"
"See, there's all that worry. I'm telling you, Doto, that's what's going to lead you to an early death if you let it keep eating at you," Sousetsu interrupted. "It's your hard work, your efforts and your time and money. If they can't understand that, then too bad for them!"
Walking over to his brother's book case, he browsed through with it. "Always wanted to see what you read. Never really looked into them."
"You want to borrow one?" Doto asked, gesturing to the rows of books. "Pick any one you want."
"I think I'll take…" In a flash, Sousetsu reached across to the end of the shelve, which made Doto's face fall in horror as he took off the last book. Flipping it open revealing the cover was hollow and instead of a novel inside, were a series of loose pages. "Flight of Dragons. Author, Kazahana Doto."
"SOUSETSU!" Doto moved faster than he ever recalled before as he leaped over and grabbed the manuscript. He moved so fast that Sousetsu was caught completely unaware, falling flat on his butt, while Doto just tried to calm himself.
"Sorry brother…" Sousetsu said, picking himself up. He was far more mellow this time around, like feeling he had crossed a line. "Didn't mean…"
"Just how many of my deep dark secrets do you…" Doto trailed off as realization kept into his face. "… Mikata's been snooping around again, hasn't she?"
His brother gave a nod as he finally picked himself up. "You know her," Sousetsu took a moment to brush the dust off his clothes before continuing. "If you don't include her, she'll invite herself so you regret it."
"I'm going to have to change the locks again," Doto muttered under his breath. He wasn't sure if Sousetsu heard that, or guessed it, but a smile appeared on his face nonetheless. "Why does she insist on bothering us?"
"She says we're the only ones her age here."
"There are plenty of servant kids around. She can bother them."
A soft chuckle came from Sousetsu. "And this is why she only invades your room."
The heir appeared to have recovered his resolve because he came forward. "Putting our resident troublemaker aside, I had no idea you had aspirations of being a writer, Doto!"
"I don't," Doto said looking forlorn at the manuscript in his hands. "It's just… notes… ideas, and what I envision with dragons. It's not so much as a novel as it's just… chicken scratch."
Sousetsu brushed off his younger sibling. "Stop making excuses, it's a novel and it's a damn good one."
Shock jolted up his spine. "You've read…?"
"Of course not! Who do you think I am?" Sousetsu said, a little hurt at the accusation. Before Doto could say anything, he added, "I'll read it when you're ready for me to read it. I'm just saying I'm positive it'll be great. You just need to do it! We can talk to Mom and Dad and let you have some time off from training and Mrs. Woodstock so you can write! This isn't a sin, little brother! The parents may be running the country, but they can'tdictate every little thing we do! So come on, write something!"
"Alright, alright," Doto said, walking over to his desk. It seemed like a hungry monster ready to devour his hands the second he sat down. "I… suppose I could write a little more on it. Just to… vent my frustration at that girl rampaging through my things." He shot a look at Sousetsu. "But only if…"
"I'm going, I'm going!" Sousetsu insisted as he was already making a beeline for the door. "I'll leave you to your work. I'll even make sure Mikata doesn't bother you."
He was out the door the next moment, preventing Doto from offering a snide remark. Alone, he sat on his desk and started sorting the manuscripts down as he reached for his pen.
Sousetsu stuck his head back in. "Oh… and Mikata made me promise to pass this along: She says toss the pervy magazines. The dragons she can understand, but the magazines have got to go."
His head darted back out just in time to miss the flying hollow cover.
If the night of the 'Grand Party' was when I was most proud of Sousetsu, I think this was the night I felt the most fond of my brother. Why I thought 'him becoming the Daimyo and me being his support can really work!'. Because despite getting under my skin and getting me angry… he also succeeded in reflaming the passion I felt when I first started writing down my novel. Because I think he just gave me what I really wanted to hear but was always afraid to pursue: Encouragement. Someone willing to come up and say "I like what you're doing and you need to do more of it."
I can remember writing up a draft of a character to model after my brother. Either the proud mentor or the buttmonkey of the piece, it was a tough call. And I must confess, seeing Sousetsu's expression at the latter was a VERY tempting notion.
And while I wrote that night, I could remember committing myself to supporting my brother. That night had reaffirmed my beliefs threefold that our life paths were not just for the good of the country, but for ourselves as well. I would go the distance for him, pay any price because the cause was right.
In the beginning, that seemed to be enough.
Three years later, a twelve-year-old Doto was walking through the massive storm that constantly surrounded Yukigakure, set up by the village's founder, Hyouden Bansou, who was still alive to this day. Over sixty years of age, the man had spent his life fighting and gaining accomplishments. Accomplishments that sadly were limited to only this part of the world with Snow, the Water Country, and maybe one or two other minor villages nearby. Heck, if you went to places like Konohagakure, Sunagakure, and Iwagakure, most would just go 'Who?' when asked if they knew about Bansou, whose name never reached widespread recognition and fame.
It was a painful reminder why many villages and countries considered Snow a 'backwater country'; that no matter what the exploits they did manage to achieve, they would go unnoticed. What was especially frustrating was that they knew it was possible for minor villages to gain status across the continent; perhaps the best example was Amegakure's Hanzo, whose legends and status were spread across the lands like wildfire.
But that wasn't why Doto was at their shinobi village. He was there because Bansou wanted to start a village 'birth day'. Taking one day of the year to celebrate all the newborns of the village, seeing it as a symbol of hope and renewal. His father had been supportive of the idea and wanted a representative of the family to be there to honor this celebration. He, his mother and even Sousetsu were all tied up with previous engagements with the Lightning Country, so Doto ended up going with Mikata, Mamori, and three of the Ice Guard.
It was the first and only time Doto had ever seen the elderly founder of Hidden Snow. He wore thick gray robes that looked more befitting of a priest than a shinobi, complete with a long wool cape; a cape which held much of his shinobi equipment as opposed to weapon holsters. As with many Yuki-nin, he wore gloves and closed-toed shoes due to the climate. What was most recognizable about the man was the long white flowing beard that reached down all the way to his chest, giving him the impressive look of an elderly grandfather. It was often joked that the beard was the source of his strength and if it was ever cut, he would become blind, deaf and dumb.
It was the sight of him that made Doto wonder if the real reason for this Birth Day celebration was because Bansou knew his time was short and wanted to leave his village in the best condition as he could.
So Doto and his escorts had spent most of the day in Snow, partaking in the festivities and meeting several families and their newborns, including the Rouga, Kakuyoku and Fuyuguma families. The Rouga whelp was especially loud, constantly crying for attention.
Doto was supposed to meet with the Snow Founder, but an emergency from the Kazahana Castle came up that required his attention, so he had to leave earlier than he intended. A real shame, as he had been looking forward to meeting the man. Mikata had really been enjoying herself as well, and she wasn't happy at leaving early much like Doto was. Unlike Doto, she made her displeasure at the idea very public, once again embarrassing her mentor as he tried to shove her away and apologize to the entire crowd. The Ice Guard escorts just muttered 'put in a transfer'.
And this was how Doto ended up lost in the whirling snowstorm. Her antics had continued when they were trying to leave the village, going out of control and resulting in Doto getting separated from the rest. Being lost in this storm without the specialized compass to guide him was a living hell.
Which, of course, was the general idea to keep intruders out.
Cursing that girl once more, Doto waved his hand in front of his eyes in a vain effort to clear the raging snow so he could see. Hope sprang within when he saw a vague humanoid shape in front of him. FINALLY! He thought as he pressed forward. "About time! I thought you ninja were supposed to be – "
He stopped in midsentence when he was able to look at the figure he was approaching. The realization of who he was seeing chilled him to the bone far more than this snowstorm was doing. A small, hunched woman with a wrinkled face, and missing teeth.
The witch! The Enigma of Snow herself! Youba Akufu!
"All hail, Doto! Hail to thee, head of the Daimyo Guard!"
"YOU!" Doto shouted, moving back the way he came. "You're supposed to be DEAD! Why are you here? To crush my bones for your beard? To use the jelly of my eyes for your toast? FOR – " he stopped, bumping into a second Akufu. Doto jumped into the air, shrieking loudly.
"All hail, Doto! Hail to thee, Commander-in-Chief!"
"WHEN'D YOU GET THERE!" Doto shouted, backpedaling through the snow. "STAY AWAY FROM ME! TURN SOMEONE ELSE INTO A TOAD! I'M NOT – " Once again, he bumped into someone. Now on the verge of panic, he was unable to muster a scream as every strand of his hair stood on end at the sight of a THIRD Akufu!
"All hail, Doto! Thou shalt be Daimyo hereafter!"
That last one struck home on Doto to his core, finding himself unable to do anything. It was like one of those sirens of legend; he was completely mesmerized, completely enthralled to what he was hearing as the three Akufus circled around him, all shouting 'All hail!'
That's when the Ice Guard finally came running over. The Akufus backtracked further into the storm, their words lingering in Doto's mind as they disappeared and the shinobi demanded if he was okay.
Maybe I should have put a stop to it right there! I should had told Mamori what had happened, had him mobilize Snow to track down that witch and be done with it. How easy would it be to blame everything on that witch from that day! Over a dozen different ways went through my mind on how she could have affected me and made me her own personal plaything to overthrow my brother! Subtle genjutsu to make me power hungry, putting me under a spell to turn my back on what I believed. Or replaced my soul with a fraction of her own! A dozen different ways to say that it was her fault, that everything I have done is the result of her ambitions. Even then this occurred to me, and I should have hunted her down and forgotten that whole thing but I DIDN'T!
And why didn't I? The answer differs from when you ask me that question.
At the time it wasn't because I was traumatized, fearing her wrath. It was because deep down… I was intrigued. I didn't want to admit it, not even to myself… but that's the truth nonetheless.
Now… I simply do not need to make such excuses. I am who I am.
Three years later was when it happened. Hyoudon Bansou, the Eternal Maelstrom, the founder of Yukigakure… passed away. At age sixty-eight, after leading the Hidden Snow Village for thirty-three years, the man finally passed on to the next life. A quiet death, merely dying in his sleep. But to Snow, it was a mark of his power. He wasn't killed in battle, his enemies didn't slay him. He lived a full life and met death on his terms. The Snow Village could think of no greater honor for their leader.
Doto's father couldn't have agreed more. He felt that the Government should help assist Snow in these times of change. It was Sousetsu, now 17, that offered to oversee the transaction. Their father readily agreed, and their entire family, along with nearly half of the staff on hand from ministers to maids, arrived at Yukigakure to see the new leader of Snow appointed. Already rumors were going about the village about the new 'Kagirinai Kachuu'. Doto snickered at the fact that until this point, Snow didn't actually have a title for their leader. They couldn't use the Kage name for obvious reasons, but no one had ever thought they would need one with Bansou leading them.
Another aspect of his prowess.
"While the pain of loss," Sousetsu said aloud to the gathered masses of ninja and citizens in the village square, "is great to us all, it is also a mark of progress! Let us mourn and honor Bansou-sama's memory… but let us also welcome his successor! Ladies and Gentlemen of Snow, Shinobi and Civilian alike, I give you your new Kagirinai Kachuu: Yacho!"
From the other side, a large, well-built man came over. The most notable trait about him was that he wore armor that looked straight out of the Warring Clans era. To Yacho, it made no sense to go into missions with only flimsy cloth for protection, and armor was far more appropriate. He was Snow's Weapon Master, having mastered every weapon he could get a hold of from katanas to bows and arrows to pikes and beyond. In fact, it was said that his armor was covered with seals so he could summon a weapon at any time from anywhere.
That, however, was not a testament to his skills. In fact, he was horrible at fuuinjutsu, as well as genjutsu, and only average in ninjutsu at best. He actually had friends and associates design and implant these seals into this armor. While he may not have been able to actually help, it was crucial in getting everyone to work together and motivating them to proceed. It was said that this is what made people chose him to be their legendary leader's successor.
The man was in his full armor, with a large angry boar head on each of his shoulders that served as his personal insignia. He wore black wool clothes as opposed to the usual gray. Each stepped seemed to leave hollowed impressions wherever he walked, said to be as a result of all that weight his armor had with its weapons storage. His face was cheerful, like a man who saw life as a game.
Sousetsu stepped to the side to allow Yacho to take center stage as he addressed. His speech started off strong, though he began fumbling a short ways into it. Sousetsu swiftly inserted himself back by Yacho's side so smoothly it had to have been planned.
Which it was, Doto knew. And in no time, the two were speaking like they had known each other for years, finishing each other's sentences, complimenting each other, even exchanging jokes. They ate the crowd up. That was his brother, having seen a potential flaw ahead of time and making sure he was ready to deal with it.
"And now," Sousetsu spoke up again the crowd promptly quieting down for the young man to speak again. "I would like to announce that in light of this change, the government will also be changing up the status quo. Times are changing with Yukigakure and we must make sure that our leaders are up to date with those changes. As such, we will be making several revisions. The first of which involves my beloved younger brother, who from this day forth will be made the new Head of the Daimyo Guard!"
This part had definitely not been planned ahead. At least, no one bothered to tell Doto himself, who was visibly shocked by this proclamation. It took Mikata's prompting of her new 'Boss' to get him to start moving to the large stage to join his brother and the new leader of the Snow Village. Whispers were already going around about a teenager being given such an important post, and more importantly, if he was really capable of such a job. Immediately, Sousetsu patted his brother on the back and launched into a speech on Doto's accomplishments, stating that there wasn't a single doubt in his mind that his brother was more than ready for his duty to the government.
Doto, however, heard none of this. For he was lost in his own thoughts.
One can argue that Sousetsu was not forgetting the other half of the equation. That it was a time of change for those in charge and that's where the focus was needed. I would actually agree, it was not Sousetsu's speeches and intentions that froze my mind.
It was the people's reactions.
This was supposed to be Snow's moment. This was supposed to be about appointing a new leader for the Snow Village. Yet it was not Yacho that the people were focusing on. It was my brother. He had turned the crowd entirely onto him, overshadowing the man who was supposed to be honored. And then he goes and talks about changes in the GOVERNMENT? And everyone ate it up. Why was the crowd entertaining speeches on changes in the government when they should be wondering where Snow will go with its new leader? Because of my brother, the golden idol and shining light of the country. Having us change to accommodate the new leadership in the Snow Village, that was all well and good… but there were times and places for announcing changes in the Government, and this was NOT one of them! Why did no one else see that? But the people all ate it up, coming to the point where I was POSITIVE they forgot who Yacho was.
I nearly refused the post my brother gave to me. Not because it was too sudden, not because it I couldn't do the job, and NOT because I had better things to do… but because for the first time in three years, I remembered that witch.
"All hail, Doto! Hail to thee, head of the Daimyo Guard!"
The first part of her prophecy had come true.
But as with my previous doubts, I rationalized them away. This was the position I was being groomed to do all my life. Sure, it was sooner than I expected, but that didn't mean the Witch had predicted this. It was common knowledge. A four-year-old ramen addict could have made such a prediction.
The only difference this time with my rationalizations… was that I wasn't able to fully convince myself. The doubt remained.
The Head of the Daimyo Guard. The top person in charge of protecting not just the Daimyo's family, but the castle as a whole. The Ice Guard was naturally a portion of this, a squad of Yukigakure's shinobi to protect the Daimyo's immediate family. The rest of it included the samurai personnel, far more numerous and organized than the dozen or so Yuki-nin.
Doto was tempted to set up several 'restrictions' for his parents on where they could and could not go as they could have during his childhood. Doto ended up resisting the temptation, knowing the difference from when his parents had done so to just a personal pleasure.
So instead, to celebrate, the brothers went and pranked Mikata, calling for an unannounced 'Surprise Drill' right outside her door. It ended up working too well as she ran out of her room in nothing but a towel, having been in the middle of a bath and running all the way to the courtyard to see what the problem was. Upon realizing what they had done, Mikata pummeled both of them in record time, stripped them down to their undies and strung them up by their ankles outside in revenge.
No one else had been amused by this little Prank War, so their father declared himself the Winner and locked all three of them in the dungeon for a week.
All three of them felt the price was worth it. Now they were ready to say goodbye to their childhoods and step fully into the world of adulthood.
The years rolled by as they cemented themselves into their roles. Sousetsu spent more and more time in his room, studying and working on his own volition instead of exploring or scheming. Doto was sure he still tinkered in his spare time; you couldn't completely remove fun from your life, after all, though Doto was positive it was nowhere near as extensive as it used to be. As for him, his model dragon still stood on his desk, and his manuscript had reached into the hundreds of pages and really started to come together as a story.
Mikata herself had stopped harassing them as much as she usually did, stepping up in her duties and becoming Mamori's right hand, meeting his expectations as he always knew she would. It just took longer than the Jonin wanted.
Over the next few years, things were like that, with the three of them taking on more and more roles and responsibilities and the staff becoming more accustomed to these young leaders running things. Yokan actually said more than once he would step down early and enjoy a nice retirement at this rate, feeling Snow's future was secure.
Three years later was when it happened. Doto and Sousetsu had been talking in his room, much like the old days, talking about the costs of the military and Yukigakure as a whole when Mikata rushed inside, startling them both.
"It's your father!" she had cried.
Kazahana Yokan, beloved Daimyo, husband, parent, often regarded as the Father of the Country… had suddenly been struck with a deadly illness. Doctors from the Castle and nearby towns, even top medics from Yukigakure had all rushed to the Kazahana Castle in record time. Quarantine steps had been taken to make sure it didn't spread. In a flash, the Castle had transformed from a vibrating sensation of life and activity to a place as cheerful as a graveyard. Everyone was concerned for the man's well being, with all work and productivity coming to a halt. All awaiting news.
The news came two days later… the man had passed away, losing the fight and succumbing. A state funeral had quickly been arranged with many from all over Snow and even a few other countries, the most notable being the Rock Daimyo coming in person.
The two brothers were standing inside, looking down from a window as the funeral was being prepared in the main courtyard. Sousetsu was uncharacteristically quiet during this time, just glancing downward with a forlorn look in his eyes, almost as if he was trying to memorize the entire area. Doto had been by his side, feeling that it was the best place for him to be. Their mother was handling all the preparation work and seeing to the visitors.
"Hey, Nii-san, it's going to be starting soon," Doto said finally. It seemed like they had been staring out the window for hours. He started heading towards the door. "Come on, we need to be going."
"Only a few hours," Sousetsu spoke up.
The young brother came to a stop. "What?"
"I'm no longer going to be Future Daimyo." He was referring to the fact that once the funeral was over, he was going to be appointed the new Daimyo. It had actually been their mother's idea as she felt that by showing the new appointment swiftly, they would show the visiting nobles, as well as their own country, that not only was everything under control, but their new Daimyo was more than ready for the task.
She also privately admitted to her two boys that she was a botanist, not a politician. She couldn't stand in for Sousetsu; all she could do was support him as she supported Yokan.
"And you'll be a very good Daimyo," Doto confirmed. He couldn't recall the last time he saw his brother so… weary. It was like he suddenly became an old man, with all the weight of the world on him. "Now we really need to be…"
"Have you ever thought of spring?"
The question caught Doto off guard. "No. Not really."
He didn't get the chance to elaborate on his answer because Sousetsu gave a small smile that cut off his younger sibling. "I know that technically speaking, we get spring. The Snow Country goes through the months and changing of the seasons, but all we ever experience is the white passing of snow."
"That's the life we live," Doto spoke up, finally rejoining his brother at the window. "Snow has its beauty. There's a certain sincerity to snow. It's vast, endless, constant. A firm foundation upon what we built and the symbol for what our country stands for."
"One beauty," his elder brother repeated. "Yes. Snow certainly is beautiful. For a time. But we miss the joys of the other colors. Of flowers blooming, richstreams flowing. The sense of life returning to the land."
Finally, he turned towards Doto. "If I am to be Daimyo, I want to do something about that, Brother. I want to bring spring to this country. Even if all it is is just a simple declaration at the beginning of March. And not just spring, but summer and fall too. I'm going to expand on what Mother started and bring a new sense of LIFE to this country! So everyone will see Snow as a blooming flower instead of this desolate, backwater country we're always associated as!"
A smile appeared on the young man's face. "And I want you to help me, Doto… as Snow's Commander-in-Chief!"
His blood suddenly seemed ice cold. "What?"
"You've trained for these things, you've studied them." Sousetsu said. "And it'll give you even footing with me. If I'm to do this, I want you at my side. The TWO leaders of Snow bringing about this great change! For the good of the country!"
The ultimate military power in a country. Even the Shinobi Leaders had to answer to this personage. It was traditionally held by the Daimyo, reinforcing the fact he was the ultimate authority and that a village leader, even a Kage, was, at best, a partner. In times of war, that could bring the power of Daimyo to near absolute. There had been stories of coups or where a Village Leader had assumed that position during the Second Shinobi War, but never had anyone deliberately bestowed it on someone else like this.
With those three little words, all the warmth had been sucked out of the room. I often wondered if my brother noticed. A hint of his one great flaw was present as he went about his grand vision of the future, that I wondered if he was actually aware of my… discomfort. It felt like I could barely breathe! Like an icy hand had reached into my body and snatched all the warmth away! The Head of the Daimyo Guard, that was one thing… but this…!
"All hail, Doto! Hail to thee, Commander-in-Chief!"
I didn't answer my brother then. I left the room, fleeing back to my private sanctuary. What my brother thought of my reaction, I will never know. Maybe he felt it was too big of a surprise, maybe he felt he was asking too much. Maybe he just knew me better than I knew myself. I locked myself in my own room, completely missing the funeral. So warped was my mind that I needed time and space to just THINK!
Flying through my head like vultures, numerous thoughts crossed my mind. What was I to do? The second part of that Witch's prophecy was coming true, should I go through with this, or should I turn down my brother's offer to try and avoid destiny? Did my previous doubts, which seemed so small at the time, actually have some validity? Was the Balance being further destroyed or was it possible it was wrong?
It was that last thought that snapped me out of my mid-life crisis. The possibility that the balance between head of state and the population was wrong. It was that thought that allowed me to actually explore my doubts instead of rationalizing them away… and I thought 'what if Father, Mother, even Sousetsu knew this?' It was an aspect I hadn't considered before. That all the talk on the Daimyo being important to the country was deliberate. That they recognized it as an admirable, but ultimately flawed concept.
After all, look at the Human Body analogy they often used. But the thing is, if you lose an arm, or a leg, or even both, you can still function. Sure, not as efficiently as you were, but you still possessed a degree of mobility and capacity. It was said Sand had a means to replace lost limbs with that puppetry ninjutsu they used. So the idea of restoring the body even after grievous injury wasn't ludicrous, but if you lose your head… then it's all over. The arms and legs can't move without the head! Heck, it was a fundamental concept for Shinobi! Hunter-nin were instructed to keep the head from a corpse and destroy the rest! Maybe they DID know what they were talking about!
The more I thought about this, the more it made sense! It was like I had closed a door and locked it behind me! Sousetsu knew the old way of thinking was flawed and that CHANGE was needed! Why else would he want power spread between the two of us! Why else would he want to bring the ideas of spring to change Snow?
Overjoyed, I had broken the mental dogma and began thinking for myself, I left my room right there. Arriving just as the ceremony for my brother was beginning. I walked up to him and stood by his side. I said nothing; I didn't NEED to say anything. I just looked at him and gave a firm nod. He broke out in a small smile. That was all we needed.
Ten minutes later, the new Daimyo was born and the new Commander-in-Chief was ready, greeted with a mixture of applause and confusion. And I can remember thinking 'Yes. That's how it should be. That's exactly how the population should react. And it feels good.'
So Snow got its new Daimyo. At the age of 20. Building up on the Kazahana reign during snow. With his father's old advisors and staff, they advised and guided the young man. Sousetsu didn't do anything to stand out; he didn't make any new decrees, he didn't enact any sort of celebration. He merely took the job and continued to build off his father's foundation. It was almost like there had been no change in Daimyo, things were going so smoothly.
The same could be said for Doto. During that first year, he poured himself into the Country's military. The Hidden Village, the samurai guard, what was needed to finance these operations, the works. Doto did this because he wanted to know his new responsibilities inside and out. Every detail was deemed essential and Doto put his entire being into making sure he knew exactly what he was to do with these assets.
After a year of hard grind work, Doto realized that the Festival of Lights was happening. Once every six years, right at dawn, the coming sun would shine down on the Rainbow Glacier and light up all seven glaciers at once, making a wide spectrum of colors dance on those seven glaciers. For a full hour, people could watch this wide array of brilliant colors dance across those glaciers. It was one of Snow's most popular attractions and something that was more widely known to other countries, something Doto always found cruelly ironic: The Snow Village could produce a legend worthy of those among the Five Great Villages and never be known, but an attraction that happened once every six years was known.
Deciding that he warranted a break from his new duties, he wanted to attend the Festival and invited his brother along. Sousetsu had been shocked, completely forgetting about the Festival. He had accepted in an instance, then almost immediately retracted, saying he was involved in something important that night. Taking that to mean some important meeting, Doto just patted his brother on the back, suggesting that the next opportunity they would take a day off to do something together.
So taking Mikata along (Doto didn't even register the fact it was just the two of them until they arrived), he attended the Festival. Mikata herself had proven to be one of his most valuable aides during this time, with her more often working like an assistant to him rather than on her duties in the Ice Guard. That didn't mean she didn't continue her own training to hone her skills, as she was quickly becoming one of the Snow Village's top shinobi.
Arriving with ten minutes to spare, they saw a large crowd had gathered, with people from all over Snow and other countries. When the sun broke across the horizon, everyone was swept into the array of dancing lights, completely enthralled.
Once it was over, it happened. A single moment that led to a defining moment in Doto's life. One he never saw coming and yet by all accounts, he probably should have. Just as Doto and Mikata were about to leave, they passed by some foreigners. Four of them. One was an adult that looked in his late twenties, with the other three being young teenagers. The man had white spiky hair that descended down his back, red lines below his eyes and a distinctive wart on his nose. Of the three youngsters, only one really seemed to catch Doto's attention. The boy carried himself with the poise of someone three times his age. His sun-kissed hair made him stand out, like a diamond in the rough that completely outshined his two companions.
They were arguing with someone, an elderly man with a broken cane. Seems that one of them had bumped into him, making him lose his balance and snapping his cane in two. He was arguing with the white-haired man, who was repeatedly trying to apologize. It had even drawn the Glacier's management into it trying to settle the peace. All this, Doto caught.
While Mikata had caught something else. At the feet of these foreigners was a small metal headband with the engraving of the Leaf.
"Leaf-nin." Mikata said under her breath, immediately throwing up her guard. Doto understood the concern, but felt it was unnecessary. Foreigners came all the time to see the Rainbow Glacier and it wasn't surprising that shinobi themselves would want to.
"You can relax," Doto encouraged, looking into her eyes. "I don't think we have to worry here." Walking over to the quarrelers, the manager was desperately trying to calm the old man down and failing miserably.
"I believe you dropped something," Doto announced, making all eyes turn on him. Residents of Snow immediately recognized him and his escort. The white haired man glanced downward and gave a nervous gulp. Before he could comment further, the young blond boy just casually stepped over the headband and seemed to make it disappear right before Doto's eyes. Caught completely off guard by this action, Doto just found himself staring at the spot before Mikata shook him out of it.
"Oh, right," Doto said. Holding up his hands to get everyone's attention, he spoke. "It was a simple accident, nothing more." The old man was about to protest further but he continued. "I think some goodwill is in order." He looked at the manager. "Perhaps we could offer some souvenirs."
"We would… but… we had no vendors."
"What?" Doto asked. Vendors, small business, lots of people came by at this time. "There is a specific fund set aside for – "
"We were told that there were financial troubles and we weren't able to have any this time," the manager replied slowly.
Financial troubles? Since when? Everything was perfect last time he checked! His mind was swarming from this information. Even breathing seemed difficult right now. "Mikata, please help this gentleman out and offer our sympathies." The old man protested immediately as she gently took his arm and led him away. "The rest of you are dismissed," he said to the management and small crowd. They all began departing. He was about to go and clear his head when the white-haired man came forward.
"Here," he said, handing him a small bag of money. "I was trying to give this to your gentleman, but he was more interested in yelling than anything else."
"Thank you," Doto said, snapping out of his stupor as he took it. "I trust you are enjoying the sights?"
"Ah," the Leaf Ninja replied with a slow nod. "Thought you saw that. Nothing nefarious, I assure you. We just completed our first A-class mission and I thought this would be an excellent way to celebrate our team's success…"
"Relax." Something about this made Doto feel better. A small reminder that everything wasn't collapsing around his ears. "You aren't causing any trouble and you are hardly the only visitors to our little Festival."
The man gave a laugh. "Well said. I'm glad we were able to work things out like sensible men."
"Sensei," the blond said. "Snow's Commander-in-Chief clearly has some troubles he needs to sort out. We'd best not delay him further."
Doto was more than a little surprised by the boy's declaration. And even more when the man deferred to him. This boy… young man… acted more like a well-seasoned adult rather than a fresh genin. Not to mention very well informed and observant.
The blond kid stepped forward, a smile on his face. "He is concerned with the well being of his country. As he should be. We apologize for any disruption we caused. Snow is a beautiful country. Many may not see, but I promise you, there are those who can see its value and appreciate it. It's nice to see that those on top understand what's needed and value what's truly important."
Child prodigies. I had heard of them. Snow even had a few in its history. But speaking with this young man… it seemed less than a skilled child and more like an adult in a child's body. Someone who had lived and experienced the world. Even the way his team acted, the sensei and his teammates, held him in such high regard it seemed he was the leader. And even with those few sentences I spoke with him, I could see why. There was just this… aura about him. A sense of destiny about him that you couldn't shake off. I remember asking the young man his name.
It was a name I vowed never to forget.
They left after that. I tended to the old man and took off back to the Castle, determined to find out what this lack of funds nonsense was about. I was convinced it was just a simple accounting error. Just an oversight.
The truth was far harsher.
I walked up to the Minister of Finance. He was new to the job, only having started five months prior. Upon returning, I confronted the man. Being firm, but making it clear I wanted answers. He looked me straight in the eye and said:
I lost my voice upon his response. I had to hit my head against the stone wall in order to collect myself. Words failed me. Bankrupt? How? Why did this happen? More importantly... WHEN did this happen? Why had I not heard of such a thing BEFORE it came to this point?
Leaving the young man, I went to confront my brother directly over this.
Doto found Sousetsu had retired to his room. Ignoring all courtesy, he slammed the door open. The wooden door splintered from the impact and the doorknob itself fell off from its forced collision with the stone wall. The Daimyo was at his desk, writing something. Without even looking as Doto stomped over, the elder brother spoke. "Now Doto, the door didn't do anything to you…"
"This is no time for jokes!" Doto said, slamming his hand on the desk, sending papers scattering into the air. "How on EARTH are we BANKRUPT?!"
"Oh, you don't need to worry about that," Sousetsu said lightheartedly, finally turning around to see his brother. "Mom's cashing in some old favors, so by the end of the week…"
"NEVER MIND THAT!" Doto shouted.
Upon hearing his brother yell with such intensity, Sousetsu seemed to shrink in his chair, shutting up. Wondering if he had crossed the line, or missed some important detail, Doto continued in a softer voice. "Brother… this is not a case of a missing document or a person missing. How did we lose all that money? What happened? Why didn't I know before?"
"You're right. You're completely right," Sousetsu offered. He seemed to age right there. "Do you remember my ambition I told you the day I became Daimyo?"
Doto gave a nod.
"I've recently been involved a long string of investments. Pulling resources and finances from every angle I could in order to make that dream a reality."
"… worthy of costing us the entire royal treasury?" Doto inquired. "I just got back from the Festival of Lights and they said – "
"They had no vendors this time…" Sousetsu put on a pained expression as he finished his brother's statement. "I completely forgot about that. I'm so sorry." He took a deep breath and walked over to the window. The moment he left his desk, Doto thought he smelt something… familiar. He couldn't put his finger on it and Sousetsu opened the window, that smell disappeared entirely and Doto wondered if he imagined it.
"I guess much hasn't changed since we were kids, has it, otouto?" Sousetsu said, looking out the window. "Always so focused on the goal, I missed the obvious repercussions."
"And what is the goal?" Doto demanded. "Just what are you doing that's so damn expensive?"
Sousetsu glanced back and gave a small smile, though Doto thought it seemed more befitting a frown, if that made any sense.
"The work I am doing will bring wealth to this country!"
Doto was completely taken back by this. What did worth had to do with this? Plus, Sousetsu's demeanor changed so quickly it felt… forced. Almost like his brother was trying to distract him from something. "I realize I made some grave oversights, brother, but rest assured, they are for a reason! When this plan comes through, Snow will have everything it needs and more! Wealth, renewed life… spring!"
Against his instincts, Doto just gave a nod. "Alright. Whatever you say." He began heading out towards the door when just a lingering fragrance of that smell caught him when he passed by the desk. This time, he was able to place it. Looking back, he said. "Sousetsu-nii-san… is there something else you want to tell me?"
"… no. There's nothing of consequence, so you can just run along and…"
Doto made his gamble. Reaching out, he grabbed the nearest drawer and opened it. Inside of it was several small cans of a black paint-like substance. That same paint he remembered with his brother's tinkering and that top all those years ago.
"Just my hobby, brother. You have your book, I have my little trinkets," Sousetsu said, speed-walking over and slamming the drawer shut.
"… Sousetsu." Doto looked his brother completely on, all friendly pretenses long gone. "… don't tell me… that your… paint job… is the investment you're talking about."
Even after all these years, Sousetsu was still the smaller of the two, and physically weaker. But this new revelation had left Doto too stunned to stop his brother from forcing him out of the room. Upon the slamming of the door, the sound drew the attention of the guards and servants, making them running to see what had happened.
Without giving an answer, Doto just left.
Betrayal. That was the only thing that came to my mind that fit the situation. Sousetsu had tried to deceive me. Deliberately. Hiding the financial situation, trying to distract me from discovering the truth. He had truly become a politician: learning to say one thing, leading you to believe you understood, but in reality meant something else completely.
I couldn't understand why. Until that time, I had felt that we were still close. Working together, brothers in arms, for the future. Why would he suddenly distance himself now? Why resort to half-truths and lies? When had this rift occurred?
I can remember thinking back on the situation, wondering just how much of what my brother had said that night was true. Had he really forgotten about the Festival like he claimed… or had he just lied, hoping everyone would buy his sweet words? Just what was so important about these investments and his so-called 'hobbies' that warranted the loss of the treasury?
I had no answers to these questions, possibly because I had to face the reality: I no longer knew my brother. I had no idea what his intentions were, what he was planning, much less the rationale behind it.
All I had was the one truth: The Government had to remain strong. So I took matters into my own hands. I spent two entire weeks reworking the military, initiating cut backs, cutting salaries and expenses. Any corners I could cut. To get something back into the treasury.
I avoided my brother during this time period. Months on end. Making excuses to avoid seeing him in public, always saying I had some other engagement. I wanted to get my mind off of this betrayal of my brother. I tried focusing on writing my novel. I toyed with design plans of building a life-sized scale model of a dragon. I began moving a lot… closer… to Mikata. Something she accepted without question. The one thing I should… needed… to do was what most people would have thought of: Talk to the one other person who really knew Sousetsu and could give me some peace.
I was hesitant to talk to mother about my fears because I felt if I did, then I would get confirmation of them, having undeniable proof that something was very wrong. So I stalled, came up with excuses, deliberately arranged meetings when she had free time. It was a cowardly thing to do, but also somewhat hilarious. I was running the military of an entire country, encountered a Witch straight out of legend, even see rising legends from a shinobi village… and THIS is what stopped me cold in my tracks: Talking to my mother.
I'm sure there is some sort of adequate joke here along the lines of 'mama's boy', but I never did figure it out.
And Mikata was less amused, kicking me right on the rear end and making me go. A punchline if I ever heard one. Or… kick.
I made two attempts to talk to mother about this. The first was right after Mikata gave me my little… jump start. Mother had lost a little weight since father's passing, the grief still fresh. Seeing my distress made her warm up immediately, wanting to help with the problem. And I chickened out, unwilling to drive in the nail that the family might be worse off. I lied through my teeth that I needed help with my reorganizing, that I had overlooked several elements that I could use her help on. This seemed to re-energize the woman, life flooding back into her as if she suddenly was ten years younger. We talked all the night on the 'problem' without ever talking about the problem.
When Mikata learned of my actions, she proceeded to kick my ass, just like in the old days and threaten to drag me by the ear to mother and make me spill my guts. Literally if she had to, pulling out a kunai to drive the point in. While I knew she would never do anything that extreme… I also remembered my view of her back in the good old days. That of a rose and thorns… and wasn't willing to take the chance.
So over a week later, I attempted to talk to my mother again. But on that morning, the Castle was hit with a second tragedy.
Mother had fallen out of the window. Over four stories. She had died on impact.
Everyone was shocked and distraught over this news. But unlike with father… this was far more puzzling. The railings and supports were firm, there was no signs of a struggle on her body. Anything to support Mother's death as a accident or even homicide fall flat, leaving only one option that shook us even more.
But even this wasn't accepted. Certainly not by me. If this had happened earlier, maybe I could believe that Father's death made Mother's grief so strong, she had such extremes. But I had just spoken to her a week earlier, and saw with my own eyes the life flooding back into her. I could not, would not, believe that the same woman who just regained her purpose would throw everything away. So in the end, the case was deemed a tragic accident because no one else knew what to call it.
My old trainer, the Sergeant, led the investigation. And much like my encounter with that witch, my insidious mind was working with the angles, seeing various possibilities that could explain this. But unlike with the witch, where I was trying to pin all the blame on her… this was the opposite: It lead to the idea that the blame might have belonged to someone else.
It all came from the timing. I tried to approach my mother to talk about Sousetsu. About my fears and concerns about him. I couldn't help but think 'the time I went to approach my mother over this is the time that she had a mysterious 'accident'. At first it seemed too farfetched a theory… until I thought about what my mother would have thought if she had learned of Sousetsu's little secret…
… or more importantly… what would SOUSETSU do if he found out I was going to mother…
I couldn't help but think of the possibilities. Maybe it was because I was already thinking ill of my brother. Maybe it was because I was just looking for an excuse for the rest of the Capital to see him as I was seeing him. Maybe it was even due to that Witch's prophecy… with the third part still to come.
The obvious flaw in this line of thinking was that if this nagging suspicion was right, why target Mother and not myself? I was the one that knew, not Mother. It couldn't have been that much harder to arrange an accident for me in the same manner. Or the other side of the coin: What if mother herself had discovered Sousetsu's actions and been so ashamed, she… had her accident.
I kept going in circles from all this, from conspiracy to just random chance. Half the time I couldn't agree on the variables I should be using to discover the truth. So in the end, I dropped it. Decided to proceed forward with a straight head. I made my decision; I would confront my brother… no… I was determined to watch my brother. Make sure he wasn't putting his own interests ahead of everything else. I promised myself that the issue I wanted to bring up to my mother would not die on the wayside. That I would discover the truth about Sousetsu's intentions, no matter what they may be. A direct confrontation, for many reasons, had to be avoided. I would use my status and resources to discover the truth, get the hard facts and then shove them right in Sousetsu's face if my fears really were right. And if they weren't… then I could stop my efforts quietly without revealing my intentions.
As if Fate itself decided to slap me upside the head, it threw a completely different curveball in my direction. Something that would redirect my energies into solving a much grander problem, making everything else, including my brother, second priority.
Two months and thirteen days after my mother's passing. In my twentieth year of life, after five years of being the Head of the Daimyo Guard and two years as Snow's Commander-in-Chief, it happened.
The Third Shinobi War.
(Author's Note) And so the first part of this comes to a close. I recall saying that I intended to make this entire flashback sequence one chapter. And I was on edge on keeping that promise. Even with the job obligation.
But I looked back on my work on Chapter 17 where I did that exact same thing. And while gauging the reactions on it, as well as the reality that I didn't have the time to dedicate to it as I once did, I decided to break it up. It's my intention to have three parts to it and then continue on with Doto. So here's hoping that works out.
Part of the reason it's so long is that there was just so much opportunity and fun with this sort of flashback. I could go and encompass so much of the world of Snow that I've built up over this story: Hidden Snow's leaders, their own legacy, events at the world at large, interactions that Doto would have had not just with his brother, but family members, coworkers, associates. It was a grand opportunity and I fully intended to seize it. Still do.
And as you can see, also avoided the traditional flashback method. I rather like this one a bit better, getting Doto's little monologues and thoughts on events as they happen. Do let me know how you liked, or disliked, this approach.
Yokan – lingering winter
Makiba – meadow
Ototo – younger brother
Dobei – Earthen wall
Mamori – defense
I do not own Naruto. It belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. Also, any jutsu that Tellemicus created that are used in this story belongs to him. Big thanks to Paintball-Gamer for beta reading this!