Date: December 17, 2010
A private conversation between Sousa and Nai provides a glimmer of hope that the Ghoul of the Desert may yet be quelled…though it also reveals another, very dark possibility.
"Blood Red Sandman - The Record of Misu Yane"
Kazekage Administration Dome, Records Room
"So you can imagine what a mess it's been lately," Sousa's voice echoes through the hallways, gradually drawing near the records room where Nai typically works. "The message center was flooded with birds bearing panicked inquiries from tournament officials, everything from what happened to me to when I intend to return to what color confetti should be used in the awards ceremony. It's as if nobody remembered there was a chain of command in place for such emergencies." Sousa enters the archive room and walks swiftly amongst the aisles. "Of course, that's been the least of my worries. There was a reason I was summoned back, something I'm not at liberty to discuss, but it seems like every five minutes one of the Council wants to drag me into a room for a private update on how the situation's being handled."
Sousa peers this way and that as he walks, scanning the aisles. After sweeping the length of the room, he pauses and listens for a minute. "I believe we may speak without too great a fear of discovery," he says at last, lowering the volume and tone of his voice. "Would you care to relate to me your…unique perspective on recent events?"
Dressed in his usual robes, hood, baggy clothing, and bandage wraps, along with tinted goggles, Nai does not look any worse for wear. Maybe he vanished for more than a week with no warning, after spending the last four years coming to work literally every single day. He has never had a sick day, a personal emergency, and has a LOT of vacation time on file that he has yet to use any of. Nai is dependable. Nai is regular. Nai is always there when you need him. But for the past two weeks he has been missing, and his absence has been felt in more ways than one.
Not only were people worried about him as a person, but they were also very confused and near to panicking when it appeared that dozens of files and records had seemingly vanished along with Nai. Some were trivial or at least mundane, but more than a few were confidential or even top secret. This lead some to begin producing conspiracy theories that Nai had been a spy all along, or that he had once been loyal but had been bribed, or that he had been kidnapped or that someone had tortured him for the location of certain files, stolen them, and that Nai might even now be dead — or perhaps in need of rescuing.
It is unlikely all these rumors failed to reach the Kazekage's ears, but they probably seemed as important as the nattering of insects next to the other concerns on his mind. Nai has returned, intact and subdued — as usual. He quickly cleared things up, and pointed out where most of the 'missing' files and records were. For those that were still absent, he went directly to the registry of who had accessed those documents last, had someone go contact each individual, and then find out where those people had put the files when they were done with them. Sure enough, none of the documents, whether they were mundane or classified, was truly 'missing'. They'd just been stuck somewhere with no concern for the filing system or others who might come along after.
Now everyone that Nai works with feels embarrassed that they hadn't thought to try such a method of resolving issues themselves. Some lashed out in their humiliation, demanding to know where Nai had gone for two weeks without warning. Nai simply said it was an emergency and that he was not at liberty to discuss it. If anyone had questions, they could ask the Kazekage himself.
To which someone responded that the Kazekage had requested he report to him as soon as he was found or had returned. Nai took this in stride. "Of course," he rasped. "I was about to do so before these… 'Issues' were presented to me." This brought about renewed embarrassment because now his co-workers felt they had interfered with Nai reporting on some secret mission for the Kazekage. Nai had not attempted to assuage their guilt, and instead provided some instructions without either condemnation nor forgiveness in his tone that regarded some other duties that had fallen by the way-side while he was 'away'.
Then he went to meet Sousa. And now they are here, in a corner of the Records Department in the far north-east, behind a book shelf. Nai says, "Yes, this is a good place to speak. This aisle is sound-proofed, unlike the others." He indicates a metal box in the shelf to the right that resembles a wall-safe. "Some very old documents are stored in these boxes. They are sensitive to vibrations, thus the boxes and the frames they are stored in are designed for dampening vibrations and the materials themselves are likewise resistant to molecular vibrations. The combination of design and construction prevents even an earthquake of the scale we suffered during the siege to damage these records."
This may be interesting, but it is hardly an answer to Sousa's question. Is Nai stalling? "Did you know that even though these 'safe boxes' are stored here in the normal Records Department, as opposed to Restricted Access Records, they are actually part of the Restricted Access? To open any of these boxes requires two specially-trained shinobi and appropriate equipment, in order to generate a 'Chakra bubble' around the documents before the box is even opened, and to then maintain it when the document is withdrawn. This bubble prevents anything from touching the papers and thus greatly reduces the risk of damage to these rare files. A device called a 'momentum prong' is then used to turn the pages without touching them. A momentum prong functions by the principle of—" Yes, he is stalling.
Sousa rests an elbow in one hand and cups his chin in the other. Fascinating…this is a rather new behavior for Nai, something Sousa doesn't recall seeing in any of their sessions. He's tempted to just let Nai prattle and take notes about it, but the incident is too volatile not to prioritize. "This isn't like you at all, Nai-san," Sousa interrupts. "You do know I'm trying to help you, yes? And you really do need help this time. Despite your urges, you're such a reasonable, clear-thinking person. Something must have gone seriously wrong for you to indulge yourself in the Academy." Sousa tilts his head. "How are you feeling right now?"
Nai stops speaking as soon as Sousa begins to interrupt. He waits silently, and then waits some more when the Kage is done speaking. The gleaming lenses of his goggles reflect Sousa's image as he stares at the Kage without saying anything. Then he answers the question on how he feels with a single word. "Afraid." That appears to be the entirety of his feelings. But, perhaps realizing this is not necessarily all that helpful, he asks, "Do you know what it feels like to be buried beneath the earth in perpetual agony for 81 years? Do you know what it feels like to lie in the darkness alone, with no one to talk to, no one to hear the screams you can no longer even generate because the air ran out a long time ago? Do you have any idea what it is like to not know if you will ever be free of this torment, to spend literally EVERY moment during that time silently praying to anyone and anything that will listen to save you, or at least to end the torture if it is too late to be saved?" He then lowers his raspy voice even further than it already says, "Do you know what it is like to be afraid that the pain will last forever, and that one will continue to exist alone for eternity, and then to suddenly be released… Only to find one is a monster that does not fit into human society anymore? I know all of those things in intimate detail. I know that I have spent all the time since being freed from my imprisonment lamenting my 'condition' and the fact I must stand apart from everyone else even as I stand amongst them, because if they found out who and what I was, I would be rejected instantly. I do not fear physical death. I do not even know if I have enough human left in me to die. But I fear the death of who I am. I came out of a nearly a century-and-a-third of isolation with my 'self' intact. Even when I resorted to my current habits, before I met you, I took no pleasure in what I did. I regretted it. I was disgusted by what I had become. That means I still had my true personality in place. Now…"
He sighs and turns his head away. "Now, I do not even know if I actually survived my ordeal or not. I think perhaps I died at some point, and I just did not realize it. Further, I am afraid maybe who I have been ever since being released is just echoes of a dead man… Memories of a life I never truly lead… And that this undead creature I am now is who I really am… That the Ghoul just inherited the memories of Misu Yane, and now those memories can no longer suppress the true personality beneath."
Nai turns quickly and suddenly, attempting to reach other with both bandaged hands and grab at Sousa's clothing and hold on tightly. "These are the doubts, worries, and fears that plague me. I am not just afraid now… I am afraid ALWAYS. I do not sleep like you people do. I have no reprieve from my thoughts. And every passing day leaves them darker than the day before! I am dying on the inside, Sousa! You have stop this before it gets worse! If you can not or WILL not…" Nai lets go if he was successful in grabbing Sousa in the first place, and moves away. "…Then it would be best if I left this Village." He almost said, 'Then what good are you?' but lashing out at the one person who can help him would not fix anything. He retains enough sense and experience to discern THAT at least.
Sousa listens quietly as Nai describes his experience. Of course Sousa has no idea what that's like. Might be interesting to simulate it with genjutsu on a few battlefield test subjects sometime, but it would be tricky to make it accurate, and anyhow it still wouldn't give a personal knowledge. It doesn't take a genius to make a guess at how costly an experiment like that would be. e.e
Sousa makes no move to prevent Nai from grabbing his garments, though he doesn't react in any welcoming way either. After Nai has said his piece and let go, Sousa tilts his head back thoughtfully. "Hmmm…at present, there is one piece of consolation I can offer to you. I do not believe that you are dead." Sousa folds his hands into his sleeves. "Did I relate to you my encounter with Death-san, back during the siege? He made mention of beings called False Immortals, and spoke of his annoyance at the severe lapses they caused in the accuracy of his records-keeping. Like how it would be for you, I imagine, if somebody checked out a record, then kept it far longer than they were allowed." Sousa smiles in amusement. "I believe that the record of Misu Yane is still checked out. Death-san would have little reason to be perturbed over a mere carbon copy."
Nai did not hear about this 'Death-san' or meeting him. He listens intently — or presumably intently, given his features are hidden — and then just stays completely silent until the end. He seems to be waiting for something. "…Is this a joke?" he asks. Nai is not one prone to anger, but for a moment he almost seems to be enraged or insulted somehow. His rasping tone changes to his natural baritone without him seeming to realize it, as he demands, "Are you mocking me? You spoke to DEATH?" He watches Sousa closely, and then apparently decides this is not a joke after all. He staggers as though struck and reaches a hand up to press against his bandaged face, as though he planned to hide it from view somehow.
"False Immortals… So I am not the first? Or at least, there are others like me somewhere? Enough that this is an ongoing problem?" He lowers his hand and turns swiftly towards Sousa. "Was any indication given of where to find these others or who they might be?"
Sousa nods matter-of-factly. "Indeed I did. The enemy attempted to seal my consciousness with an agent they'd managed to slip into the village, but the nature of the seal bound me to said agent, and, well…he was terminated shortly after creating that bond. I was drawn toward death due to that link, and I eventually met Death-san himself. Or herself, or itself, it became rather complicated. At any rate, yes, it would appear there are multiple individuals who are cheating death, and Death-san takes it rather personally. I'm afraid I don't know anything about their numbers, location, or any other details, though." Well, at least this seems to be distracting Nai from his troubles. And if they could find other False Immortals, they might have useful insights…but that's a pretty big 'if', isn't it.
Possibilities fly within Nai's consciousness. "If there are others… They may have gone through this same deterioration of self that I am currently undergoing. If so, they may know how to prevent it or even reverse it. And that would be a very good idea. One of the main concerns I had was that… The 'other world' that Team 01 discovered… In it, the 'Dead King' that rules over all with his legions of Undead… His name was Misu Yane. I believe that it would be best for ALL of our interests if I was kept from becoming the Dead King on THIS side of the anomaly. I believe the Dead King is what I will turn into if I can not stop this 'corroding of self'."
Then he bows and says, "I believe we both have some research to do. Thank you for your assistance, Sousa. I mean it. I am not just being polite. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."