The First Shifting Grains
Gaara is thought to be dead.
Temari and Kankuro piece together the clues and realise the dead ninja's kekkei genkai is the source of the attack.
Baki tries to carry the volatile source out of the village but knows he won't be fast enough.
In the last minute, Gaara's clone takes the body and catapults himself into the air, directing the explosion into the sky.
Baki could only watch as Gaara pushed himself off the rooftop, with meteor force that cracked the stucco beneath his feet, and flung himself into the air.
Both ninja and civilian alike could only watch in terrible awe as a bloom of light exploded above, igniting the night sky on fire.
Terrorism from outside and a massacre from within.
There was much to do in the aftermath.
The morning after the attack was focused on the citizens of Sunagakure and finding places to house those who lost their homes in the destruction. The rest was panic control, and a great deal of placating and reassurances that Suna was not falling, and there would be no consequent attack afterwards.
The body collecting units were dispatched and given the solemn task of retrieving the corpses before they began to rot in the heat.
They tallied the death toll to one-hundred-and-nine.
On the second day, entire streets had to be closed off for infrastructure inspections. The clay, brick and stucco handled fire well and there was no damage in the centre of the village. Shinobi worked fast and civilians took the event in stride, despite their lingering terror and demands for an explanation. Suna was on its way to recovering.
The third day passed in a busy blur.
On the fourth day, a small riot broke. The shinobi incarcerated a total of seven civilians. The cause was unknown.
The fifth day brought an uneasy quiet.
The sixth day brought a swelling of whispers. Even the shinobi wanted to scratch an itch they were told to ignore.
On the seventh day, the interrogations began.
During all this, Suna's jinchuuriki never woke.
"Exactly one week ago, Sunagakure was sieged by a most malicious and brutal attack."
The clear voice of the announcer echoed across the large room with a heavy air.
"We lost one-hundred-and-nine Suna citizens - both shinobi and civilian alike."
No one spoke as the scribe read through the report to a council of men and various witnesses.
"We have converged here today, exactly one week from the attack, to come to a decision on how to proceed further with the best strategy possible for the welfare of Sunagakure."
"This council begins now."
"They want you in there in five minutes." Temari announced.
Kankuro looked up from his seat and glanced to the double doors that led to the trial room.
"How was it?" he asked.
Temari shrugged and replied. "It's everything you'd expect an 'inquiry' to be. An interrogation except they won't admit that's what it is."
"What did they ask you?"
She sighed. "My version of the events I guess."
Temari pulled an annoyed grimace. "No, not everything – I hardly could even if I wanted to. I did try though…at the beginning but they just..." Temari slumped down next to her brother. "It doesn't matter." She sighed. "They took my intel well though, the one about the waiting period between each wave of explosions. Turns out my hunch was right."
"Yeah? What was that all about?" Kankuro added.
"Remember how I was counting the silences in between? Well nine minute is the amount of time it take for a ninja to patrol one section of the outer ring to the next." Temari unstrapped the fan from her back and placed it beside her. "The records were checked and the first wave of deaths were all the ninjas on patrol that night, which basically confirmed my theory that the parasite capsules were lodged on the wall of the outer ring. The patrollers had the highest exposure and were the first parasite vessels due to proximity. For the last three days, my theory helped the teams locate and destroy what's left of the capsules."
"Impressive, at this rate you'll be chūnin in no time." Kankuro added dryly.
Temari scoffed. "Well my future won't matter much if things go the way they're going. This village won't be able to handle another attack." Temari added bluntly. "Now it's all just a game of how well our village can pretend to be strong when we're probably one of the weakest in the elemental country."
"Suna will bounce back, we always do." Kankuro added with forced optimism.
"I sure hope you're right –"
Temari stopped speaking as a group of ninja passed by in an adjacent hallway, their voices echoing against the walls of the building. Whether the sand siblings liked it or not, they could hear the conversation taking place.
"My back is giving out on me and I've got dirt up my nose from moving rubble." another groaned.
"You think you've got it bad? My teams been burying and burning bodies left, right and centre…I'm never getting the smell out of my hair."
"Did you hear anything about the kid?" someone whispered.
"Shut up!" someone hissed.
"What? It's not like you're not curious too."
"It hasn't woken up has it?" someone muttered in a hushed tone.
"The jinchuuriki?" a perplexed response came.
"Isn't it dead?"
"Well they've moved the body underground from what I've heard. My cousin works the morgue and she told me the vessel isn't down there. I mean…if it's dead it would be down there wouldn't it?"
"Just because it's not in the morgue doesn't mean anything."
"I actually saw the kid before they moved him." Someone admitted in a voice so low that Temari and Kankuro could barely hear it.
"Really?" his companions exclaimed loudly.
"It was dead! I know it was." Another persisted. "I was there when he fell."
"I don't think so." There was a pause. "He seemed pretty fresh for a dead guy. What's it been? A week? Kid looked good…as far as rotting corpses go."
The group of ninja moved away and out of hearing distance.
Both Temari and Kankuro sat in silence as they listened to the footsteps fade away. Gaara had yet to awaken and frankly, his state was setting people on edge. They were his siblings and even they were kept in the dark. But the one thing that both genin knew with clarity, was Gaara was not dead.
A woman with a tight bun with chopsticks came through the door and approached the puppeteer.
"Kankuro-sama, the council is ready to receive you, please follow me." She informed with formal politeness and began moving away.
Before her brother could leave, Temari reached and called him back. "Kankuro," her brother turned around and waited. "I didn't tell them about what Gaara said. I didn't tell them that it was him who gave us the clues."
The boy gave some thought and asked, "Why?"
"The same reason why I know you won't say anything either."
Kankuro looked at his sister and nodded before entering the courtroom.
There was something in Gaara's mouth.
He gave it a lick, then spat the moth out before he accidently swallowed it.
When the genin opened his eyes, he immediately closed them. The burn faded after a few moments but there was a new sensation now, a prickling shiver that ran throughout his entire body. His eyes blinked the fog away and remained open this time as he stared at the figures surrounding his bed.
Seven fully-armoured ANBU stood around his cot, each with a menacing Oni mask devoid of feeling and blades at-the-ready.
"So you've finally decided to come back to the living eh?"
Lady Chiyo stood by the wall in the far corner, her old eyes sharp with interest and cool with caution. Gaara remained motionless under the bed sheets.
"I have to admit, the last week has been certainly eventful." The Lady continued as she approached. "And here I thought retirement was supposed to slow things down." Her knees clicked as she sat down on the chair next to his bed. "ANBU stand down."
The masked soldiers did not move.
"I said stand down." Chiyo repeated with acid dripping in her command. The ANBU removed their blades from Gaara's persons. "Good."
Gaara watched as the old woman turn back to him with aged eyes. She did not speak for a long time. In the end, Gaara cleared his sore throat and asked:
"Where am I?"
"How long?" he rasped out.
Lady Chiyo pursed her lips. "Seven nights have passed."
Suddenly, there were several people in the room, all rushing about Gaara's bed with caution as they began to read his vitals and check his condition. No one talked, they just moved around him like he was some kind of leper. All the while, Lady Chiyo watched in the chaos, her eyes never leaving Gaara's pale face.
Gaara could barely keep his eyes open without sharp needles prickling behind his eyelids. Hypersensitive. The boy could feel the joints of his spine against the skin of his back. The flesh on his bones felt tight and thin, the cotton bed sheets rubbed him like sandpaper and the chains on his wrist felt like immovable lead, obeying far too keenly to Mistress Gravity.
To put it simply – Gaara felt like someone had chewed him and unceremoniously spat him back out, only to go back in for a second round.
Gaara's mortal pains were interrupted by a question.
"Gaara-sama?" a voice from his left asked quietly but clearly. It was a female doctor with a tight pony-tail. "We need to ask some questions to make an evaluation."
Everyone one in the room waited for any answer. Gaara eventually nodded, unable to make much of a response.
They asked his name. They asked him if he knew where he lived. They had him count backwards and made him calculate simple equations that proved to be embarrassingly difficult. It took a few minutes but eventually, his doctors were satisfied with the assessment. Of course, all that talking had been more taxing than Gaara wanted to admit, because he was suddenly seized with an uncontrollable coughing fit.
Dry, gasping heaves strangled its way out of his chest and Gaara had to hold onto the bed rails to stop his hands from shaking.
"Someone get the boy a glass of water." Lady Chiyo reprimanded.
The ninja closest to the genin quickly poured in a glass of water and tucked the rim to Gaara's mouth, and helped the boy drink the refreshment. The boy felt the IV in his arm sting as he reached up to hold the glass, ignoring the suddenly tense ninja whose hand was still wrapped underneath Gaara's own. The cool spring water soothed his throat in cool rivets, like an icy river over a parched desert.
After the tickle in his throat receded, the jinchuuriki looked up at the man that gave him the glass and said, "Thank you."
It was not supposed to be a profound gesture, but the jinchuuriki's gratitude was received with odd stares from the few occupants of his cell.
"If you're done with the boy's assessment, I'd like to have a word with Gaara alone please." Lady Chiyo announced sharply. When they were alone, Lady Chiyo sighed and tapped her fingers against the arm of her chair, her eyes were glacial and narrow in thought. Gaara patiently waited for the elder woman to speak.
"You know," she began with a light tone that belied the weight of the conversation. "I'm having an extraordinarily hard time sensing Shukaku." There was a cool pause. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that would you?"
Gaara lay limp in his bed and thought the woman still had sharp edges even now. It was a welcomed familiarity that warmed him a little.
"He is still here."
"Oh I know." She replied. "But barely. I had to dig deep to find the creature and even then, it was only a shade of the full thing. If that doesn't pique your interest, then maybe Ichibi's lack of appearance since your collapse might get your attention. The creature is neither gone nor under control. There is just a void that shouldn't be there. It is more than a little alarming." She leaned in closer. "So tell me Sabaku no Gaara, what did you do to the demon?"
I forced it into a temporary sleep out of sheer desperation, Gaara thought to himself. And it's barely holding.
The old woman was as blunt as Gaara remembered and her sacrifice had never been forgotten. That being said, there were still some things the genin could not divulge.
Gaara's lie felt chalky in his mouth. "I did nothing."
The elder's eyes narrowed into points and the child knew she didn't believe him, but Chiyo said nothing.
"Very well." The Lady stood up, her bones making odd clicks as she straightened up. "I shall take my leave. I don't know how long they will keep you here, but I expect they'll want to take you to the council room soon. It's best that you don't fight them for now."
"Lady Chiyo." Gaara called out before the elder left, his formal address enough to get her attention. "My seal is breaking. It won't hold much longer."
Chiyo had never been able to stabilize the seal the first time round, he knew there had been complications and imperfection in the design. Not every village was graced with masters in fūinjutsu like Konohagakure. Suna had made do with what they had but it was not enough…not long term and Gaara had endured the brunt of these imperfections. She couldn't help him but he wanted to try.
"Gaara my boy," Her head turned enough that an only a portion of her profile showed. Her lips were thin and her wrinkles deep set. "It was broken from the start."
Kankuro stood in front of Councilman Yuudai and fought the urge to scratch the itch behind his left ear.
But after the twentieth question, the puppeteer found the need to scratch nearly bordering on the ludicrous. He stopped his hand when he caught his father's cool eye, and decided to endure for a little longer. The boy answered as cleanly and quickly as possible, without exaggerating events or getting off tangent.
"So," Councilman Yuudai continued. "You found the connection between the bombs to the dead infiltrator in the morgue by…" the elder looked down at his notes. "Accident? Is that right?"
There was a cold flush across Kankuro's face but he answered with a steady voice, "Yes sir, that's correct."
"Your sister, Temari, also mentions it was just luck." Yuudai looked up with a dry look that matched his equally dry skin and greying hair. "Why were you down in the morgue in the first place?"
"We weren't…happy with being told to stay out of the fight. We went underground to find something useful to do while being out of the line of fire."
Technically, it was not a lie.
"And how did that lead you to the morgue out of all places? Surely you and your sister didn't just spontaneously decide to do a body count."
Kankuro paused then answered calmly, "We were walking and found a restricted sector with no guards. From a genin perspective, it's pretty much an invitation to go in." Kankuro shrugged. "We just looked around and my sister just began riffling through the drawers. It's kinda what she good at. I can't tell you what happened next, because I don't understand half the stuff that goes on in her head, but she found something that seemed off. Then she followed up on it. Turns out that what we found actually held relevance."
"That's it." Kankuro repeated.
The councilman sat back in his chair and simply looked at the genin with assessing eyes the shade of pale rock.
Then he smiled. It looked more stitched than the mouths on Kankuro's puppets.
"Well, if that is true, you and your sister have a bright future ahead of you. After all, it's quite a momentous feat, saving your village."
Kankuro just bowed at the comment and stood back up straight, ignoring the itch behind his ear getting worse.
The Fourth Kazekage watched as his council fought over which village to blame.
It was all very tedious and rather annoying.
"Enough." The man commanded and the council room obeyed. "This infiltrator, what do we know of him? Which village did he have affiliations with?"
A man to his right with blue rimmed glasses stood up and dutifully answered. "The ninja wasn't wearing standard shinobi uniform but the materials were made from cotton found and sold in Earth country."
"Iwa!" An elder hissed.
"Those vermin have stepped too far! If they want war, we'll give them war!" another man growled from the other side of the room.
"No." The man with the blue rimmed glasses cut in quickly. "While his clothes may have been from Earth country, his shoes and weapons came from Water and Lightning country respectively."
"So either all three countries are teaming up to take Suna down or the assailant really didn't want to be identified." An old councilwoman added. She twirled her fan dangerously calm in her withered hands.
"It's most likely he was a rogue with no affiliations to any village and probably driven by a personal agenda."
The Kazekage watched in silence as the council threw around theories. Eventually, the volume of the room rose to a buzzing level as the indignation and anger from the attack began to swell. The Kazekage once again ordered for silence.
"What of the weapon?" The leader asked.
"The explosives were an aerosol modification of the deceased ninja's kekkei-genkai. It only manifested itself in the bodies of ninja with a particular level of chakra – chūnin level or higher. That's why only the ninjas on patrol were affected before back-up came. It's also why no genin or civilians got sick from the attack. They simply didn't have enough chakra to fuel it." The blue-glasses man noted. "It was not only dangerously effective but had been designed on a biological level."
The jōnin commander on the Kazekage's right side growled. "This wasn't a heavy artillery brute attack. This was chemical warfare."
The Kazekage leaned back in his chair at the head of the circular room and asked, "There are only a few in this world who have the ability to create such a weapon – none friends of Sunagakure." He turned to the analyst with the blue spectacles. "Your team have studied the weapon, I assumed they have all been neutralised?"
The younger man bowed and nodded. "Yes, we analysed the pattern of the infected dead then created a map upon the collected data. We were soon able to locate the capsules hidden in the outer ring of Suna. They were immediately neutralised when the source had been destroyed." The man paused. "The capsules left some trace residue inside and we were able to separate the chemical concoction that allowed the usually weak kekkei-genkai into something so volatile."
A chart was handed to the three highest jōnin captains and the Kazekage.
Blue-glasses continued. "I confess I can barely understand how this was made but I understand that a key ingredient that made the weapon so aggressive was a substance called Hin. We found a trace oil in the lining of the capsules. It comes from a seed that only grows in Fire Country. The Boa plant. It's harmless on its own but when mixed together with the right substances, the seed creates a highly reactive by-product."
"Konoha?!" One jōnin muttered bitterly.
"Of course it's them!" another yelled.
"We don't know that, although I'd be happy to jump to a chance to fight those tree-huggers."
"I say we demand a council with the Monkey King!" someone added derisively.
"Sarutobi will not easily bend to our wishes with such abysmal evidence." Another counteracted.
"We have plenty of evidence!"
"Forget a meeting, we'll demand war!"
The room was a mixture of righteous war demands and frustrated sighs.
The Kazekage watched with disdainful eyes as the room escalated into a shouting rally.
The displeasure in the Kazekage's voice hushed the entire room to a demure silence.
The man crossed his arms and sat back.
"Our relationship with Konoha has been deteriorating since after the war." Their leader announced coldly. "This is only a natural progression of such a decaying 'relationship'."
Voices of agreement supported his words.
"However," the Kazekage paused, "The Leaf village is just as likely as Stone, Cloud and Mist."
"But they also happen to have two genius sannin that happen to have the skill set to create such a weapon!" The jōnin commander spat. "It is leaning more towards the Fire than any other element. It cannot be a coincidence."
"True." The Kazekage agreed. "But once again, there isn't enough evidence to be absolutely certainty that it was Konoha who did this." There was a pause then their leader added with some weight, "But it's highly likely."
It was not an answer they wanted, but the Kazekage spoke the truth. With such an ambiguous enemy, Suna could only fall back on assumptions. It was a frustrating place to be.
Also, it was not lost on anyone in the room that Suna couldn't economically support a project as large as war. It could not be done.
Their wealth was almost as dry as the desert around them.
Temari watched as the council progressed and found that she barely cared much for it anymore.
Being only genin, Temari and her brother wouldn't normally be allowed to attend such a meeting of this magnitude, but their unusual involvement on the attack had warranted them a seat at the table. It was an honour. It was also very boring, more for Kankuro than Temari.
The meeting kept running around in circles and Kankuro was falling asleep by Temari's side, so she had to periodically keep pinching him in order to prevent him from collapsing into the back of the Kazekage's chair.
However the next words caught both Temari's and Kankuro's attention.
"The last topic to be addressed is about the second front we had to defend during the attack seven nights ago." Councilman Yuudai announced with his gravelly and condemning voice. "We lost one-hundred-and-nine citizens – good and loyal shinobi of Suna and even some civilians. As unforgivable as the chemical weapon might have been, we lost twenty percent of our comrades to an enemy within our own walls."
Yuudai paused for dramatic effect and Temari resisted the urge to scowl.
"Twenty-one of our own died at the hands of a boy that was meant to protect us. Clearly his performance has left much to be desired." The elder continued. "We can no longer capture the enemy who caused this attack, there can be no manhunt to appease our rightful need for revenge, to avenge those who have fallen because that man is already dead."
There were murmurs of agreement and approval of the man's words.
"We don't even have a village to blame! What can we do?" Yuudai stepped forward in front of the room. "I'll tell you what we can do. It's the only thing left to do. We must punish the one assailant we do have."
There was bile in Temari's throat and ash in Kankuro's tongue as they listened.
"The jinchuuriki must be dealt with. With any means necessary."
The room was met with neither approval nor disapproval.
Whilst Gaara may have been a loose cannon that most wished to be gone, many also realised that getting rid of him was nearly impossible. A few in the room also remembered that the jinchuuriki was still the youngest child of their Kazekage, and should still be treated with respect.
All in all, the council had mixed feelings. Elder Yuudai on the other hand ploughed on.
"I know what you're thinking honoured witnesses. It can't be done. The vessel is too precious and too dangerous to be killed. But I have a solution."
For the first time jōnin commander Baki spoke.
"Oh? And what will this solution be Elder Yuudai?" His voice was polite while his eyes were warning. Tread carefully wise elder.
"Take the source of the problem." He spread out his hands. "The demon."
There was a moment where the words sunk in and both Temari and Kankuro realised what the man was saying.
"A new jinchuuriki." Yuudai gave Baki and small razored smile. "Problem solved."
Temari yanked her brother back down from his seat and hushed his growls.
Baki only responded with a cool blink then flat words. "That's very…ambitious of you Yuudai-sama. Who do you have in mind as the replacement?"
"Someone more suitable than the current one, someone that can be trained and tempered to handle such power."
Baki almost gave a bored sigh. "Someone such as your grandson?"
His words were met with an icy glare. "As a matter-of-fact, yes. My grandson has –"
"Your grandson has not been born yet. Are you willing to place such a gamble on a foetus?" Baki cut in. "What is to say he will not be worse than Gaara-sama?"
"Gaara-sama's situation is unfortunate, we understand that many factors that led to his jinchuuriki status had been…unstable. However, since then we have observed and studied the current demon vessel and learned what not to do. The event of last week only supports my argument. Why use a broken tool when we can forge a new one?"
Temari and Kankuro looked at their father who was sitting at the head of the room. His stern face and crossed arms had not moved for many minutes as he listened in silence. Both genin would never argue in the middle of such a meeting but their father could. But as the seconds dragged on, it became apparent that the Kazekage would not argue against the murder of his youngest child. But of course it wasn't surprising. He never argued before.
Oddly enough, someone did speak up.
"Now, now, let's not be hasty. The boy isn't even here to defend himself, surely you'll keep at least some form of decorum for appearance sake."
Lady Chiyo walked placidly to her seat near the Kazekage and sat down slowly, her bones audibly creaking as she lowered herself.
"Now let's stop arguing like a pack of nasty children and focus on the important issues at hand. Like our crumbling economy and dismal military status, or perhaps the dangers of the other villages hearing about our weakened state, because I'm sure they already have. We are currently the weakest link in all of the major shinobi villages. Let's not waste time on drivel yes?"
Her sharp tongue did not match her sleepy façade as she leaned back in her chair to assess the room.
Yuudai's displeased grimace at her interruption was quickly covered by a shallow bow and smile. "Of course, but I should inform you all that the council has already voted on implementing the plan to have a new jinchuuriki. It's all a matter of method now. Everyone in the room knows the project is an old one, and for the first time, the vessel is weak. The extraction is now possible."
Chiyo clicked her tongue. "Too hasty Isamu Yuudai." The elder woman almost rolled her eyes. "At least pretend to keep appearances, or have you lost the meaning of tact in your old age?"
Yuudai's polite smile was dry and brittle. "Hardly Chiyo, it is you who has lost your faculties. It was your seal which was inadequate in the first place."
It was an underhanded blow and Chiyo's eyes sharpened to razorblades at the councilman's words.
There was something positively unnerving about the two elder's verbal lashing towards one another.
"Indeed Yuudai, far too hasty."
The voice was like sandpaper, and came from the farthest corner of the room.
All eyes landed on the tall man in the grey coat, and silk turban wrapped around his forehead. He was almost too tall with a face so unremarkable, it was hard to remember it. It was his eyes however, that were the most peculiar feature. The man's pupils were too large, almost doll-like and so disproportionate, that it nearly eclipsed the sclera of his eyes.
The whole effect made him look like a ghoul.
"Masa," Yuudai nearly sneered derisively. "Really, I had no idea you were capable of leaving your quarters. I was under the impression you were chained down there."
"My research demands time and dedication." The mysterious Masa answered calmly. There was next to no inflection in his tone.
"I do wonder what would bring you out of your tomb Masa?" Yuudai leaned back in his seat and eyed the new speaker with some curiosity. "Last time you decided to show your face was when The Third wanted the abomination made. We all know that project fell flat." The councilman tapped his chin. "So why are you here Slaughter Man?"
It was hard to tell when the room fell so quiet.
The tall Masa shifted and pulled out eye drops, and silently dropped moisture into his eerie pupils. He closed the cap then slipped it back into the numerous pockets of his coat.
"The same reason you're here Yuudai-sama." Disturbing large eyes now landed on the Kazekage for the first time and Masa continued. "The jinchuuriki."
It was then that the door of the Round Room opened.
The silence in the room was stifling.
Every eye turned to the door and just watched. They watched as they pulled him in by his hands, chained and cuffed with chakra-suppressors. He was still wearing a dehumanizing hospital garb that reached to his calf and draped off one shoulder. They could see him limping with partially atrophied muscles, and the clatter of metal from his chained feet was the only sound that permeated the council room. Seven ANBU guards surrounded him like a human barrier made of demon masks.
It looked less like an entrance and more like an execution procession.
The jinchuuriki looked ahead without acknowledging the world around him or the numerous eyes stinging his skin. He was quiet and docile – like a lamb to slaughter.
When the boy reached the centre of the council, the static in the room snapped and everything became still.
"Welcome Gaara-sama." Masa stepped forward and a smile made of brittle glass stretched across his face. "Hero of Sunagakure."
Note: The courtroom is a war zone disguised by sickly smiles and acid politeness. And there is more than one player on the field.
Don't trust the man with the demon eyes.
This chapter was born from my reviewers and carried on the backs of my followers.
I thank you.