Konoha Children's Crusade
Takumi took a deep breath and checked behind him for the hundredth time to make sure that he hadn't been followed. The darkened corridors of the Daimyo's palace were even spookier than usual this evening. It wasn't helping that he hadn't been able to sleep on the trek back from the Hidden Sand Village. His nerves were completely shot. Dark shapes seemed to be scuttling about within the shadows. His stomach was roiling and his forehead was coated with a fine sheen of cold sweat. He was regretting that sake he had drunk in the hopes it would calm his nerves.
He clutched the dark cloak he was wearing to disguise himself a little tighter. He was expecting to have to explain his way past the Daimyo's guards, but he hadn't seen any in the palace. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen anyone since the two guards at the main gate just casually waved him inside. No challenge or anything. At first he had just assumed that they had been forewarned of his arrival and were expecting him. But now, with his footsteps echoing about the empty hallways, with no lights and no other people, he was beginning to suspect that there was something very wrong.
It wasn't his problem. Not right now anyway. Takumi's mission was to make his report to the Daimyo about the latest information from the Hidden Sand village. The Daimyo had asked for Takumi personally to meet with certain advisors to the Kazekage and to ask them certain... questions. "That is my mission," Takumi whispered to himself, "to ask and report back. That is all I have to concern myself with." He rubbed his sweating hands on his cloak and tried to forget what those questions were.
The Daimyo's private apartment and bedchamber was just around the corner and down the hall. Takumi paused and took calming breaths. Once again he looked for any sign that he was followed, or for that matter any sign of life at all. The palace remained as still as a graveyard.
Takumi swallowed and headed down the long hall. It was empty, but the moonlight shone through the large windows making it better lit than the rest of the palace. Takumi was just about to reach out to knock on the Daimyo's bedchamber door, when he heard the noise.
It was a dry scrape. Like something sliding very gently over the mosaic floor. He froze and listened as hard as he could, but the noise never repeated itself. He looked around the whole hallway to check, but he was all alone. He turned back and reached out for the door again.
"I wouldn't do that Takumi-san. The Daimyo went to bed early with a stomach ache. He is bound to be upset if you wake him," said a smooth voice.
Takumi jumped and spun around. There was a man standing in front of the nearest large window, silhouetted against the moonlight. Takumi panted until he calmed down. He sensed the man looking at him with wry amusement. When he had caught his breath, he straightened and took a step forward.
"I am glad to see you my friend," Takumi said with forced cheerfulness. "Can you tell me why the palace seems so empty tonight?"
The shadow shrugged. "The Daimyo was feeling ill. I suppose the staff is just trying to be quiet in order to give him the chance to rest quietly."
Takumi walked forward and stared out the window alongside the shadow. "You are still here," he said quietly.
Again the shadow shrugged. "The Daimyo believes that my work is too important for me to afford the luxury of having an early night. Indeed, it appears that I am most fortuitous, for I was just hoping earlier today that you would arrive. I need the results of your latest meeting with the Kazekage's council in order to finish my projections." There was a pause and Takumi felt himself being studied.
"I have been a diplomat in the service of the Fire Lord for over twenty years," thought Takumi to himself. "I have been threatened, I have had insults hurled at me, I have been chased out of kingdoms by mobs. I have faced it all in the service of the Daimyo with restraint and decorum." He swallowed. "So why does being examined by this man make me so nervous?"
"You seemed troubled," said the man in a kind tone. 'Would you care to share with me what is bothering you?"
Takumi took a deep breath. "I have met with the Kazekage's advisors... They received me well enough. They spoke to me with courtesy and obeyed all the forms."
"But?" prompted the shadow.
Takumi sighed. "I approached the councillors named to me personally by the Daimyo in private. I'm afraid that the majority have... reservations."
"Hmm," said the dark figure rocking back and forth on his heels. "A majority have reservations... does that mean that we can count on the support of a minority?"
Takumi shook his head. "I presented the letters to those who expressed sympathy with the Daimyo's plan to change the leadership of the Hidden Leaf. Upon reading those letters, all but one of those councilors withdrew support immediately."
"And that one remaining councilor?"
"Councillor Teruo expressed doubt that things would go as the Daimyo planned, but would be willing to assist in exchange for... what was promised in the letter."
The shadow chuckled. "Good. It's nice to see that some people in this world can still be swayed by power." The dark figure studied Takumi again and sighed. "But that is not all is it? What else is bothering you?"
Takumi looked away. "My dear Takumi," the smooth voice went on, "We are both highly trusted advisors to the Daimyo. If we can not speak our minds plainly to each other, whom else can we trust? If you have any reservations I want to hear them now."
Takumi took a deep breath. "My lord," he started quietly. "The letters I handed over to the interested Sand councilors contained promises that I was not made aware of."
"Oh?" said the shadow. "Do tell."
"There were all the standard things that were discussed in the meetings, however the letters that were sent contained... references to certain bloodline traits... that we would be willing to part with?" Takumi finished weakly.
The silhouette sighed and hung his head. "I told the Daimyo that he was being... careless by including that promise. But he did insist."
"My lord, the very notion that we would go into the business of 'harvesting' byakugan and sharingan and selling them to the highest bidder was what drove off our support of the Sand council. Some of them, while they could support the removal of the current Hokage found the reward being offered to be... distasteful." Takumi swallowed. "Those that did not, were worried that retaliation from various members of the Uchiha and Hyuga clans would be not worth any reward."
"Strange. The contact we have within the Hyuga clan actually recommended that as a way in which to raise some quick profits."
Takumi shook his head. "I distrust that woman my lord. I find her a most disagreeable person to work with."
The shadow reached out and tapped one finger against the windowsill. "You would agree though that we do need her? The Hyuga clan and the Hokage are tied very closely together. Without a powerful Hyuga to sway the clan, we would have no hope to remove the Hokage."
Takumi shook his head even stronger. "My lord, I must confess I have very strong reservations about the very nature of this plan."
The shadow sighed. "I see." Slowly, he reached out one hand to give Takumi a reassuring pat on the shoulder. As he did so something silently writhed out of his sleeve, and then darted quickly towards Takumi.
Takumi clapped a hand to his neck. "Ouch!" he yelped.
"Oh I'm so sorry," apologized the smooth voice. The setting on my new ring is quite rough. I must have caught you on your neck. I do hope you are alright?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," insisted Takumi. There was curious burning sensation around the sting.
"Good," said the smooth voice. "I'm glad. Would you mind telling me any of these reservations of yours?"
Takumi shook his head as if to clear it. "I understand the goal of removing the current Hokage from office. I even approve of it. Some of his actions have been really quite... distressful."
"On that point we agree. Go on."
"Well, I approve of the gathering of the popular support among the Leaf village councillors." Takumi shrugged. "I can see no other good way to dispose of him. However I find most of them to be a rather disreputable lot."
The smooth voice chuckled. "When you ask for volunteers to remove someone from power, you must expect the power hungry to step forward."
"True," said Takumi wiping sweat from his brow. "But this batch seems to have a more personal grudge against the Hokage and his... associates than I would like. If they are out for revenge, it will make them harder to control."
The shadow shrugged. "We must work with what we have got."
"But do we have to work with the rest of the groups involved with this plan?" Takumi shivered.
"You've voiced your objections to working with the Hyuga representative already..."
"I cannot be expected to give my trust to someone who is willing to sell her own flesh and blood," interrupted Takumi.
The smooth voice had a note of distaste. "Please do let me finish, Takumi-san. I quite agree with you there. But what else can we do? The Daimyo orders, and we obey."
Takumi shivered again. He felt like he was beginning to have a fever. "But the soldiers he has brought in," he croaked. " By the gods, whatever was he thinking when he decided to offer them a position in the new Leaf village. They are simply..." He struggled to find the right words.
"Barbaric? Repulsive? Consorting with dark powers?" suggested the smooth voice. "Again, you are quite correct. But there will be those in Konoha who will always support the Sixth Hokage. I understand the Daimyo's reasoning. The Black Wind clan easily matches the military power of the Leaf. There are not many who can."
Takumi looked unsteadily up at the silhouette. "I worry my lord. I cannot in good faith support this plan of the Daimyo. It is just... not right." He took a deep breath to calm the roiling in his stomach. "Replacing the Hokage is one thing. But this current plan goes far beyond that. Given the allies and the offers being made here, it seems like the Daimyo has a personal grudge against the Sixth Hokage, the Uchiha clan and the Leaf village as a whole. This is not a plan to transition the Sixth Hokage out of power and put the Leaf Village under a new leadership more to our liking, this is a plan to destroy Konoha in its entirety!"
The other man dropped his head and stared at the floor in deep in thought. Takumi pulled out a lace handkerchief and blotted the sweat from his brow. "You are quite astute," said the smooth voice. "I can see all the points that you bring up. I agree with your assessment that as things are currently, this plan will no doubt lead to the destruction of Konoha." The silhouette stood up straight and clasped his hands behind his back. "We must find some way to alter the current situation," he said crisply, "You are quite correct, Takumi-san, this will simply not do. I will add my concerns to yours. Together we shall speak to the Daimyo first thing in the morning."
Despite how awful he felt Takumi smiled. "Thank you, Thank you very much." The hallway seemed to spin around him he staggered.
The shadowy man caught him. "My poor Takumi," he said. "Whatever is the matter? Have your travels drained you?"
"I appear to be feeling a little ill," rasped Takumi. "I'm sure it will pass."
The smooth voice tsked twice. "You appear to have caught a touch of what the Daimyo has. Don't worry," he said, pulling him upright. "I am more than capable of dealing with the Daimyo on my own." Moonlight reflected off his grin. "In the morning you will find that all these concerns have just faded away."