Kureno (as Kaede, his new name), Nai (as the Ghoul of the Desert)
Date: December 14, 2010
Shortly after Kureno chose to flee Sunagakure, and before Nai reappeared in the Sand Village to speak to the Kazekage, there was a meeting between a man named Kaede and a monster known simply as the Ghoul…
"Blood Red Sandman - A Friendly Meal"
The Southern Desert - Land of Wind
"Pshaaaaw" Kureno grumbled out as he threw away the empty waterskin. He had fainted in the desert after that incident, and somehow, with some kind of crazy luck, he found himself on a merchant caravan. His wounds were bound, and these good people gave Kureno a cloak, when they found out that he will be leaving their hospitality. In truth, he didn't want to. But they were heading back to Sunagakure. And Kureno was most definetely not welcome there.
This is how he found himself in the desert. He was still wounded, cold. His only companion for now the, the moon that sat on the dark sky illuminating it slightly from behind it's cover of clouds.
Out of water, Kureno wondered how much further he could go. Nevertheless, he steeled his resolve to survive yet another night in the desert. Hopefully, the last.
No one has seen Hone Nai in several days. As head of the Records Department, and someone who has never failed to show up for work even ONCE in nearly four years now, this is worrying. Further, attempts to check on him at his house have met with a resounding silence and a definite lack of presence. This has caused those who work with him, as well as some of those higher-up to become concerned that there may have been foul play…
Out in the desert, Nai can not be found either. But something else CAN be found. Something that can taste blood in the air with the same accuity that a shark can smell blood in water. The Ghoul of the Desert is tracking Kureno by his own wounds. And tonight, it finds him. The air is already cold. But very abruptly, it becomes colder — frigid, infact. The stars in the sky gradually dim, fade, and are smothered in the sky above. The moon loses its luminescence, and instead becomes somehow… Grey. Overall, this results in the light-level diminishing greatly. Kureno's breaths produce mist as the warm air contrasts with the cold. FROST begins to form on his skin and clothing.
And then, following all of this, is a sort of sickening sensation not unlike a very strong source of Chakra and Killing Intent bound together. The difference is that the Chakra is not by itself strong. It is just… Wrong. Not really Chakra per se, just an aura of wrongness.
It is coming from somewhere in the distance behind Kureno, in the direction of Sunagakure. But it is also coming closer.
Kureno at one point even looked up towards the sky, thinking about the moon, the stars and the sun. Such simple things, yet infinitely more vast and complex when looked at from another angle. So easy to forget the joy they bring. Get embroiled in war, in conflict, and all you'll have left is the memory of smiling when you look up at the night sky. And than the moon begins to slowly dim and fade. Becoming dull.
"Huh. It's cold.. tonight." Kureno says as he wraps the cloak tighter around his body. And not just that, something was unexplainably wrong.
"I wonder of Kaede-san should go back and apologize." He muttered. "No, they would just try to capture Kaede. Kaede no longer friend." He stopped than and looked up, trying to glean just a little bit of the earlier majesty the moon had. "Friend…" He muttered, "Does the moon hate Kaede, too?"
He couldn't shake off the feeling of wrongness. It felt as if it was getting closer, and the air was getting colder. He began to think that this was not just a strange anomaly that happens during night. This was something.. something..
He turns around than, peering into the darkness. And yet, he looked strange. As if expecting a guest, a visitor or a friend. He wasn't prepared for combat or an ambush, even though, to think that ANBU might be on his trail was a logical thing to assume. Nope, he just looked.. kinda hopeful.
Wisps of freezing fog rise from the sands, and every animal capable of doing so is instinctively fleeing from whatever is approaching. Rodents, insects, arachnids, reptiles, and anything else in the vicinity — even animals that would ordinarily be asleep at this time of night — are flat-out running for their lives. A constant stream of animals approaches Kureno… And runs past him. They barely even move to avoid him, with some mice or similar rodents scrambling over his feet without a care for what or who the obstacle is.
Natural enemies ignore each other. Scorpions and camel spiders, wild cats and wild dogs, all manner of birds from vultures to finches, all manner of reptiles from alligator lizards to gila monsters to frill-necked iguanas, all come rushing towards Kureno. Some are running in other directions, but in all cases it is moving AWAY from the twisted presence that approaches. The reptiles are among the slowest to flee, the intense cold affecting them adversely, but even they continue to struggle well past the point they should have begun hibernating.
It is only when the vast majority of the creatures are well past where Kureno stands that the first physical indication of the pursuer's presence is provided. Beyond the shroud of shadows and twilight that engulfs part of the desert, the horizon has normal moonlight and starlight shining down upon it. So it serves as a perfect backdrop for a spindly, humanoid figure to be displayed against when it simply stands up from the sands and stays still, staring at Kureno. From its outline, it is very thin, and strands of wirey hair stick out in various directions from its head. Little else is able to be determined from this distance.
From how perfectly still it is, and how thin it is, it could be mistaken for a scarecrow fairly easily. But it is not a scarecrow. This becomes immensely obvious when the thin figure bends over and dives back into the ground. A mound of sand begins rushing towards Kureno like a very large burrowing creature.
Kureno glances at the animals running past him, and he offers his hand to a small mouse to run up at it. When the mouse does in fact run up Kureno's arm he shelters it with the other and brings it closer to his eyes, as he stares at the terrified little critter.
"Aww. Kaede protect you. Kaede promises." Whether the mouse understands or not, it probably thinks that staying there might be the best course of action.
And when Kureno looks up again, he can see the figure in the distance. He slowly lifts up one hand to offer a wave when the figure disappears into the ground.
"Uh oh. Kaede scared. Mouse better hide in Kaede's cloak. Okay?" He nods at the Mouse, and the mouse, without needing Kureno's vocal input quickly disappears under his cloak.
Kureno than watches the mound of earth moving towards him. His first instinct is to create several crystals in front of him and underground. But strangely he doesn't act on it. Instead, he stares at the moving sand and says, "Why you hide from Kaede? Kaede not hurt you." He says, in the strange manner of speaking rarely a japanese has.
The rushing mound of sand comes to a stop about a dozen feet away from Kureno. Then it just sits there as he speaks to it. No further movement comes from it. A whisper on a cold breeze reaches the Seishukuni's ear. The words, '…Will not hurt me…' are audible on the mild wind, though also somehow hollow and uncertain… As though they might not actually be words, just imagined.
Then from immediately behind Kureno, real words speak into his ear from a real mouth… Though one that stinks of rotting meat, and is lined with jagged teeth. "But I will hurt YOU."
The mouse seems to grab a peek at at the mound of earth as it stops and in a moment looks towards Kureno. Kureno though just pats the mouse on the head with a finger and shoves it back into his cloak.
He waits a moment and than when the words from behind him come, he turns around calmly and is stricken with a expression of horror as he sees the Ghoul of the Desert itself!
He remains with that expression for a moment and than he relaxes just a bit. Maybe 'untenses' slightly is better a description.
"Why? What has Kaede done to you?" he pauses, "And who did that to your.. skin? You look hurt." Kureno says with certain determination, even though he remains alert, only slightly.
The rich baritone voice that the Ghoul speaks with, far more aristocractic in tone and inflection than his raspy voice he uses as Nai, offers only, "TIME made me what I am. About a hundred years buried beneath the earth, with no food, has left me withered and decayed. And every time I go without something to eat, I suffer pain as I did when I was still trapped underground. Constant agony, with no reprieve. But you can make the pain go away. All you must do is stay right where you are and not lift a finget to stop me." The yellowed eyes with red-on-red irises and pupils, stare unblinkingly into Kureno's own eyes.
Kureno listens to the words, the hair on his neck standing up. Kureno knew that something was terribly bad. He was terrified. Terror climbed up through his spine, but the kind of person he has become leaves him wildly optimistic even in the face of such danger.
He thinks carefully about what he is going to say.
"Well, if mister Wither and Decay is hungry, perhaps Kaede can find food? Kaede is hungry too." He pauses, "Maybe than the pain goes away?"
He than nods sharply and stands up, taking a step forwards, and trying to place his hand on the Ghoul's shoulder. Possibly a terrible mistake. "Kaede and Mister Wither and Decay can be friends! And find food! Yeah?" This Kureno, or blabbing idiot if you will, looks fairly resolved to keep his end of the promise should the Ghoul accept.
The Ghoul can see the pulse in Kureno's neck. He can hear the blood rushing through Kureno's veins and being pumped by his heart. He can smell the fear being released as a chemical into the frigid, dry air. Some part of him is disturbed — but not disturbed that he finds this all appetizing. What he is disturbed by is the fact that he is not horrified. And yet the pangs of hunger continue to tear at his withered innards like a mass of white-hot razor blades that intelligently aim for the most sensitive parts of his nerve-dead body with the intention of causing pain. He can not continue to suffer like this. He suffered for almost a century in this manner. He will not let it happen again.
"Yes," the Ghoul responds. "There is no need for you to find food, however. All that I need is right HERE." He starts to raise a near-skeletal hand from his side with the intention of seizing 'Kaede' by his throat and tilting the youth's head to provide a good angle for biting into his throat. "I will solve both of our problems," he lets out in the deep baritone that was his original voice before his vocal cords turned to dust.
But then he stops before his hand can raise high enough to grab his intended target, because Kaede put his own hand on the Ghoul's shoulder. He almost moves to defend himself, but something holds him back. Perhaps a fatal mistake. Some Ninjutsu require only a touch. He should have assumed this man was a ninja in the first place!
Then Kaede speaks. "…Friends?" the Ghoul asks in a tone of vague incomprehension. The Ghoul inside of him wants him to scoff at this offer and just eat this boy's flesh right off the skull without bothering to skin him first. But another part of him, the part that existed before becoming the Ghoul, and that has been maintained since being released from beneath the earth, surges forth with such eagerness that it makes the Ghoul take a step backwards in a mix of confusion and fear. His raised hand drops to his emaciated side.
The loneliness of 151 years clings to him like the same cloak of shadow and ice that currently floods the area. He can not simply cast off this weight. Straightening up and setting himself, the Ghoul says nothing to Kureno. Then he finally speaks without moving his jagged-toothed mouth at all. "Stay here. I will return soon." He waits for a response from Kureno, but whether it is a confirmation or a denial, he just sinks gradually into the ground and vanishes without a trace.
Kureno's smile shines; if it were luminous at all instead of a metaphoric statement, it'd be enough to shine the way for a group of people walking into a mineshaft. That's how genuine it was. His eyes were touched both by fear and happiness. In some deepest pit of his conscience, barely hearable over the screech of terror his still sane synapses were emitting, he somehow felt that this creature, the Ghoul of the Desert, was in some sense… a good guy? No, no, that is not it. Instinct or not, Kureno wanted to try to befriend this guy. If not just for the gutt instinct but simply cause two are safer in the desert. And it's lonely walking around alone. .. Loneliness.
Kureno dips his head down slightly as that word echoes in his head over and over again. Loneliness. And it was perfectly synced with the Ghoul of the Desert stepping away from Kureno's friendly grasp of the creatures shoulder. He wondered even, where did he find such courage to touch the creature. What was he thinking? Strangest of all, it felt right. Like he has done a deed opposite of what Kureno would do. So hard has he been trying to escape the Himself he no longer wanted to be. And coupled with the cold and the bloodloss, it all seemed to fall into place easily. Kureno was dead. Only Kaede now existed, wearing the flesh Kureno once was. But was it truth that Kureno was really gone, or is it just wishful thinking?
Well, if Kureno were hatred personified, than yes, there is no more of that.
Kureno looks at his hand when the Ghoul moves away. Did he do something wrong? Maybe he offended the Ghoul. What irony.
For a long moment, Kureno strained his ears, hoping that one of them would say something. Kureno could think of nothing. It was awkward and he scratched the back of his head slowly when the Ghoul finally spoke up and Kureno, or Kaede if you will, looked at the Ghoul and smiled, "Alright! I'll be right here." He says, as he sits down onto the sand watching the Ghoul disappear.
"Hey wai—" But too late. He was already gone, so Kureno looks up towards the sky, and whispers, "How long is soon…?"
The supernatural cold and the darkness vanish along with the Ghoul, leaving only the stars and the moonlight, and the usual cold of a desert night. Minutes pass. After almost twenty minutes, the Ghoul returns. This time, the freezing shadows do not cloak him or accompany him. Perhaps because he does not wish them to. Being dragged across the desert by its torn-out throat is a small desert-dwelling deer. The Ghoul approaches Kaede and then holds up the animal. It dangles from his right hand. "I have brought food," he states plainly. Then he opens his grip and the deer drops to the ground heavily and gracelessly.
The monster holds up his other hand and tosses a large jug of water on the ground next to the deer. "…And water," he adds on. Where did he find that jug of water? The Ghoul's mouth is already bloody, but the hole in the deer's neck does not look like it is large enough to have been made by teeth. More like a knife… "Do not worry. The owner of this water has no further use for it."
Kaede's eyes had been closed. For how long now? He wasn't cold. Not from the desert. But the bloodloss had numbed his fingers. It was strange, he was floating somewhere dark. Somewhere… 10 minutes? No, 20 minutes passed. Or was it half an hour? He couldn't tell the time. Was he slipping up? Losing his edge? Funny. That couldn't happen. Than came the pulling sensation. He's senses were still keen, and he had this sensation that someone was coming. And it was pulling him away from the darkness. But than, he saw something, something that lasted for a long time, before his eyes opened and he looked at the Deer.
"Hey, decayman, what happened to you?!" He stares at the deer, and than looks up at the one holding it. "Oh. There you are." He chuckles and scratches the back of his head. "Ahh, I had the strangest dream." He begins.
"I dreamed of a Raven that flew higher than any bird ever could underneath a dark sky. And than, just like that. It fell from the sky and through the well of clouds. It was sad. And it's flesh. It was falling off of it's wings." Kaede seemed genuinely sad as he told the story, "And as it fell, it passed a eagle that looked down on it. And than it passed a hawk, barely managing to dodge it. And the Hawk looked down on the Raven. But than, maybe it got tired of the birds looking down on it, it aimed straight for a pigeon, and fell on it, killing the pigeon, but the Raven has slowed it's descent. From than, it kept hitting every bird on the way down to save itself." Kaede nodded his head. "I kept running towards where the Raven would fall, but each time it hit something it kept falling away from me, faster and faster." He paused for a long moment. "Than I woke up."
He sat in silence for maybe a total of 10 seconds before his mood swinged all the way around and he leaped off of the small dune and towards the deer. "Hey, wait, how are we gonna eat this with no fire?" He looks towards the Ghoul, "Got some fire?" Kaede chuckles, perhaps assuming the Ghoul doesn't. And besides, it was kinda really wierd asking the Ghoul for fire. "I appreciate the thought. Water will be enough." He grabs the jug greedily and takes two long gulps of water, exhaling into the cold air, his breath misty, but barely.
He than looks towards the Ghoul and his face darkens. "Thank you… I wish I had something to giv— oh, wait just a sec." He holds out his hand, palm facing skywards as he concentrates, while smiling. And he just stands there for a moment, not doing anything. Maybe he wants something?
The Ghoul pauses for a moment. Then he says, "I can produce fire." He then slams his palms together, interlocking his fingers. The release of an unwholesome energy similar to Chakra but somehow 'empty' causes several nearby stones to leap from the ground and strike each other at angles, over and over, until they produce sparks. The sparks land on the deer's carcass repeatedly, until the embers begin to take hold and smolder on the dry, thin-coating of fur the desert animal bears.
After that, the Ghoul leans low over the embers and cups his hands around them. One might think he was going to blow on them in an attempt to fan the tiny flames, but instead he >inhales<. And when he does so, that part of the deer seems to wither in a circle around where his hands are cupped. The sudden extreme dryness of the flesh allows the heat to build as the Ghoul then introduces oxygen into the mix. And soon, the corpse has a nice little blaze upon its surface, and the smell of smoke and cooking meat fills the cold desert air. It turns into the scent of burning meat eventually, but the Ghoul seems not to notice. He just grows some claws from his fingertips and cuts away at the chunk of burning tissue once it has grown sufficiently. Then he places that on the ground seperate from the rest of the corpse, and begins tearing off other chunks of the deer and sticking them on stone 'spikes' that he causes to rise from the ground, so that they can be held over the fire and cooked properly.
"It must be nice to dream," he says belatedly in response to Kaede's explanation. "I have not dreamed in a very long time. I can not even remember what it is like." A sickening *crack* violates the near-silence of the desert at night. The Ghoul holds up the deer leg he has just broken off and rests it in the air over the fire. The steadiness of his hand despite its withered state speaks more of a statue than a person. Perhaps this is because the Ghoul does not breathe and has no nerves or muscles to twitch or flex and thus foul up his body's movements. Staring into the fire with his disturbingly wide-eyed and unblinking eyes, the Ghoul says, "To dream is a sign of life. I know I no longer qualify as alive in the technical or medical sense… But I wonder if perhaps my soul has already fled my body and I am just an imitator… A monster that took residence in this withered shell and claimed the memories of a dead man as its own. What if I am truly dead? What if I was never alive to begin with, and the recollections I have of living are 'false' memories from a different life that was never mine to begin with?"
Kaede's hand closes when Nai asks the questions. He looked skywards for a moment. What was it like to dream, really? What was the sensation?
"I can make you dream." Kaede says smiling. "If you want to." He lowers his head a bit chuckling. "Dreaming is like floating in empty space. It has no sensation. It is there. But you can't hold it in your hand. It's like a movie, but you are the actor…" He than stops and looks down at the deer.
"Maybe I don't know exactly what it is like to dream. But I know one thing, Mr. Decay. You /are/ alive. You wonder if you are an imitator, with the memories of someone else. But no, that act alone is proof enough. Maybe you are a imitator. Who knows." Kaede shrugs. "But you are alive. Maybe your soul has left before you died? Maybe right now, it is in some cold place, far away. Maybe it is looking for you? Or maybe you should look for it. The one that has lost you, I am sure, needs you." He pauses again, "But even with that said, I think you do have a soul. Maybe not a whole one. But you have." Kaede chuckles as he holds his hand out again, after taking a piece of deer, which was surprisingly tasty despite it's method of roasting, or maybe Kaede was so hungry he didn't even notice.
Sand lifts off of the ground and gathers in his hand as Kaede chews forming a figurine of something. "I remember the rest of the dream. Before the clouds darkened, and the Raven fell. The Raven was actually a brilliantly shining white Hawk." And indeed, in his hand, in Jade formed a figurine, like a badge, of a Hawk you'd fine on banners. And that banner would be a proud one if it had a Hawk the way Kaede's one looked.
"I thought, not so long ago, that Crystal was in fact destruction. Resonating chaos. I was stupid and silly. I filled myself with hatred. But now. I see what Crystal really is. It is beauty that knows no entropy. It will never change. It will remain forever. I too, am a imitator. I am a different person. I changed, but so drastically, the old me is dead. Maybe you too are a new person. Maybe you just got tired of the old one, and threw out the old plan. And began anew."
He than holds out the badge to Nai, with it's crystal clear artistic beauty that could potentially rack up quite a number of Ryo, the lines elegant even in this darkness with so little light from the moon. And the most striking feature is the nearly invisible pattern and the shape of the distorted light falling on the crystal that make it seem as if the Hawk is beating it's wings. As if alive. "I know one thing. I will catch the Raven before it falls, and make it a Hawk again." Kaede smiles again, and holds the hawk for Nai to take it if he wants to.
The Ghoul listens and observes as the hawk is created. The speech about him being still alive is nice to entertain briefly, but he does not believe it. It is too simple. The Ghoul is too old and cynical to believe such drivel. But the sentiment is appreciated, at least, as is Kaede's willingness to listen. The Ghoul stands up and offers the roasted deer leg to Kaede, as he accepts the hawk with the other hand. The claws on his fingertips have already vanished back into the bones, though the blood remains coating them.
"Thank you for listening, and thank you for the kind words. However, I believe the truth shall reveal itself in due time, and I may not like it regardless of the results. If I am already dead then I am a pale shadow of a man that once lived. Nothing more than a monster. But if I am still alive, or at least am the genuine article… Then I cannot hide myself in the comfort of knowing I am simply a monster. I would have to accept responsibility for my actions and to dwell in guilt for eternity."
The Ghoul then turns and says, "I doubt we shall meet again. If we do, you had best hope I am not hungry. There might not be any hunters nearby next time to take your place as my meal." Before he departs he says one last thing. "You may call me Yane." Then he sinks into the desert sands and vanishes.
Kaede nods his head when the Ghoul expresses his gratitude, but he can't help but feel like there's a imminent goodbye. All he can do now is grab the deer leg and silently wonder why did he even fear this creat— no, man. Sure, his flesh was all wierd and he was a shinobi obviously. Though, the chakra was wierd. Wrong. But still. He hasn't met a more humane person than Ghoul. He lowers his head slightly when the Ghoul says they will not meet again. And there was that bit after that. He didn't like the warning. But warnings never stopped him before.
He wanted to say that he too had a lot of crimes to dwell in guilt for an eternity. But Yane had said goodbye and disappeared. Kaede stretched his hand out, as if to stop Yane, shouting, "But wait, I didn't give you a happy dream about the hawk…" Too late, perhaps.
Kaede quickly finished up the leg, stood up from his perch and thought about the fact that Yane took the hawk. Maybe Kaede was overthinking it, but taking a present from someone you'll never meet again? Well, maybe Yane wanted to sell it. Yeah, that was a possibility. But, Kaede was dead sure that it was in some way a cry for help. Or something very close to that. Even a cry for help can be a goodbye, if one only has a badge to remember someone by. Kaede wouldn't allow such a fate. Not for his first friend!
He looked westwards and sighed, "Just you wait, Yane. Kaede will come back and Kaede will help you." He said, as he turned again, and headed eastwards. He had walked this path once before. Kusagakure wasn't far.