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Queen of Diamonds

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Mission: Accompany and protect the Heiress of the Samosa Clan to the Village Hidden in the Flowers. Diplomatic correspondence.

 

Target Information

Name: Samosa no Kaya

Age: 25

Rank: Chūnin

Important:

    • Kekkei Genkai: Shōton [Crystal Release]
    • Ninjutsu: Suiton and Fūton
    • Aversion to killing

 

  • Short fuse, do not aggravate!

 

 

The folder with the mission’s information contained an old picture of the Heiress; a faded snapshot, probably from after her Chūnin exam. One of the eyes seemed discoloured and there was a harshness in the set of the jawline, a defiant streak in the arched eyebrows. The soft fullness of her lips was the only thing saving the features from painting a picture of pure animosity.  

The note at the bottom of the paper had been added hastily, scribbled in the Hokage’s slanted handwriting; an absent-minded recollection moments before summoning the Anbu. Given Samosa-san’s long absence from the village during which she had been scouting the lands and reportedly went further into unknown territory than anyone before her, being quick-tempered was almost a given. After spending years with minimum human contact she had most probably developed a taste for peace and quiet, for things happening her way. Being sent on a mission so soon after her return was odd. Not to mention that with her “short fuse” she’d probably not be the best choice for a diplomatic liaison.

“I expect your return by the end of the week,” the Sandaime grumbled, a crease folding his eyebrows. “Samosa-dono wishes to have his daughter back before the festival.”

A small catch in the older man’s voice hinted at his displeasure; it would take at least two days to get to the Village Hidden in the Flowers, and even if negotiations went smoothly, and they rarely did, they’d still need to rush back to make it in time. The Anbu didn’t respond, the cool porcelain mask hiding his frown.

“Ah, before I forget.”

Rummaging through the drawers and sending a pile of papers flying to the floor, the Sandaime found and tossed a scroll towards the male.

“Lady Momori would probably want to have a word with Samosa-san. Make sure she doesn’t.”

Bowing, the Anbu vanished in a cloud of smoke.

 

***

 

“A squad of Anbu is a bit too much, don’t you think, Jiji?” Kaya lifted an eyebrow at the Sandaime, his frown wavering under the brilliance of her smile. His own lips twitched.

“Hm.”

“One would have been more than enough. Two, to keep it fun. But four? What am I to do with all of them?” The mirthful smirk rearranged her features.

“You are to do nothing with them, Kaya. They are there to protect you. Shadows-”

“- not to be noticed,” she finished, shaking her head. “I know.”

The Sandaime cast her a half-hearted glare. She had been back in Konohagakure for no more than three weeks and half the village was already in an uproar. Apparently, the young Heiress’ manners had been found lacking by the more genteel circles. The most favoured adjective linked with her name was ‘insolent’. Blunt frankness did not sit well with the other Clans. Kaya had always lacked a proper sense of social decorum; hence why she was the only Heiress to ever leave the safety of the village’s walls for six years, alone and unguarded, and go travelling.

“I did not mean any disrespect, Jiji.” She bowed her head, a sombre expression shifting the pattern of her face once again.

“I’ve gotten ten more complaints, Kaya.” She bristled, hands fisting at her side. “What compelled you to call Hyuga Tsumi a ‘pompous peacock’?”

“He was trying to pick a fight. It was either that or crash his fragile masculinity by sweeping the ground with him. I believe I made the best decision, knowing how much you detest scandal.”

She was beaming again yet behind the seemingly sweet curve of her lips laid sharpness, barely-concealed anger. Hyuga Tsumi was known for making off-handed remarks, often to deteriorate people’s confidence or make women skitter away, faces hidden behind shaking hands. There was a number of anonymous complaints piled on the Hokage’s desk, but no one was willing to step out of the shadows and speak. Most probably because no one wanted to be molested by one of the oldest, strongest and pettiest clans in Konoha. Anyone, but Samosa no Kaya. She didn’t care what people thought of her six years ago; she seemed to care even less now.

The old man didn’t manage to suppress a sigh - Kaya was no longer a child, but a woman. A woman that was expected to become the new Samosa-dono, lead her clan and ensure the continuation of her line, bearing offsprings that would hopefully possess an ounce of their mother’s Kekkei Genkai. Yet by the looks of it, he was prone to believe she’d rather sprout wings and fly away into the sunset. Nothing seemed important enough to chain her down.

“You should know better, Kaya. There’s no honour in shaming your opponent.”

“Tell Tsumi that.” Her huff was low, a breath that tickled her lips, but the old man’s hearing was still sharp.

He was about to reprimand her, for all the good it would do, but a shift in the air halted him. There were a time and a place to try and get certain things through to her and now was not it.

Kaya sensed the disturbance and averted her eyes from the Hokages’ Mountain. The faces etched into the stone always brought a sense of nostalgia. They had greeted her not a month ago, and here she was, turning her back to them once again.

“Are you sure four isn’t too much, Jiji? Surely there are better things for these men to do than escort me?”

It was the last attempt at reasoning; she was going to go and discuss clan politics, for goodness sake, not prevent a war. There was no need for four Anbu men to trail her. She didn’t need anyone trailing her for that matter. The Hokage harumphed, so she dropped it. ‘They’re here anyway. Might as well.’ A quick glance revealed as much as she had expected - little to nothing. They were all male, dressed in the standard dark Anbu uniform. Porcelain masks gleamed in the early morning sun as they bowed to the Hokage. ‘A boar, a fox, a cat and a hound.’ Apart from that, and some minor physical features such as height and hair colour, it was hard to tell them apart. The cat and the fox were of a shorter stature but bulkier built. The boar had a tousled brown hair sticking out in every possible direction and broad shoulders, the tallest among them. The hound came second, his build leaner, yet his muscles were well defined if the tight-fitting black top was to be trusted. His hair was silvery white, like moonbeams reflecting off a sleeping lake, and for some reason defied gravity by sticking upright. The sight tickled something in the back of Kaya’s mind, but she averted her gaze. She might not be able to see their faces, but they had an open view of hers. And staring was still considered offensive, even in her book.

As a child, she had always been secretly fascinated by the legendary Anbu and the air of mystery and threat that hung about them like a cloak. People had a love-hate relationship with the special forces and she could see why. While they were exceptionally strong and one could always rely on them to save the day, they also had the emotional capacity of a conch shell and just as wide range of communicativeness. She’d have better luck engaging a corpse in small talk than any of these men. ‘It’s going to be a long, silent journey.’

“Stay safe, Kaya-san.”

She nodded, a sudden wave of fondness smoothing the harshness of her features. The Sandaime had been an important parental figure during her childhood, more than her actual parents. He had supported her, given her the freedom to breathe when everyone seemed to wish to suffocate her, and had set her free to roam the world to her heart’s desire (and her Clan’s greatest discontent). It pained her to leave him behind again, but before she could get truly soppy and even shed a tear, he smiled, patted her shoulder and walked away.

“Samosa-san, we need to go.”

Absent-mindedly she nodded, tugging at the straps of her backpack. The journey was going to be long, but at least they had nice weather. If all went according to plan, she’d be back in time for the Spring festival and her sister’s birthday.

 

***

 

The air was tacky with moisture; like a damp cloth, it clung to anything it wrapped its tentacles around, leaving a shimmering film behind. It was hard to breathe; the murky fogginess snaking around the trunks of the trees compressed the blanket further. With the gradual slant of the sun, Kaya had hoped for either a downpour or strong wind. Anything to get rid of the oppressiveness. Ever since leaving the Fire Nation’s territory that afternoon, the climate had taken a drastic change. By this point the kunoichi was unaware whether she was drenched in vapours or sweat; only that she felt like she wanted the claw her skin off. It was irritating how the men seemed unperturbed by any of it, despite having it worse than her - their faces were probably glistening with condensed moisture underneath the masks. She at least could wipe the rivulets trickling down her forehead.  

The light seeped out of the forest, submerging it in shifting shadows. At times she lost sight of all four of her companions and with no chakra signatures to confirm their presence, she had to simply hope they were there. Pinpricks scaled the back of her neck and she glanced over her shoulder. The Hound was a few branches behind her, the lightness of his hair a beacon in the enclosing dusk. She was just starting to turn her face when a flash of red caught her attention. Like a ruby winking at her, grasping at a stray ray of light. Something about him nagged her. There was no way to gouge how old he was and chances were if asked he’d not answer. But something in the way he moved, the litheness of his body despite the toned muscles hinted at a young age. Maybe a bit older than her? They could have gone to the Academy at the same time. Or she had seen him on the street? It wouldn’t have been a mission; she had done a handful of those as a Chūnin before calling it quits. He, on the other hand, gave off the vibes of a man that would not be kept awake at night by his enemies’ ghosts.

Kaya shook her head. There was little point nudging her memory to spit out that one time she probably caught a glimpse of hair like his. It was probably an insignificant accident, like bumping into someone in the shop. You apologise, pick up the dropped goods, and off you go on your merry way. Konohagakure shinobi were faceless strangers to her, just like these Anbu.

Jumping to a slightly higher branch, eager to stay away from the milky mist suffocating the ground, Kaya slipped against its smooth surface. If it wasn’t for her chakra-coated hands, she’d have plummeted down and made a fool of herself.

“Are you alright, Samosa-san?”

The Boar was the only one that had spoken to her. And while his voice was void of emotion, the baritone was deep and reassuring. Enough so that she didn’t scowl at him for calling her Samosa-san. That was her father’s name; and, as far as she was concerned, she’d rather not be associated with him more than necessary.

“We should make camp soon.”

The Fox was perched a few branches off to the right, crouched like a beast ready to pounce.

“We won’t reach the nearest village before dark,” agreed the Cat, cocking his head to the side, as if listening to someone whispering in his ear.

And with that, they were off again, in search of a place to spend the night. Kaya’s knees ached and her feet, her poor little flat feet, were numb. She should have been used to it by now, with all the travelling she’s been doing, but the humidity set off all her old-woman rheumatic ticks. ‘Nothing a hot bath won’t fix.’ By the looks of things, the next opportunity would be when they reached the Village Hidden in the Flowers.

By the time they found a suitable spot and set up camp, the welkin was an inky canvas; an overarching dome pressing the humidity upon them. Kaya wiped the perspiration off her face and pinned her frizzy hair on top of her head, trying as best as she could to ignore the uncomfortable feeling of her clothes sticking to her like a second skin. The small clearing they managed to find, void of the fog’s creeping tendrils, was just big enough to fit all five of them without bumping elbows. The men moved around soundlessly, disappearing and reappearing like ghosts, making Kaya’s body tense until the cramps in her feet traversed the curve of her spine and settled in her shoulders. If they were normal shinobi, it would have been fine - casual chatter would have put her at ease. Yet the iron silence that reigned, alongside their masked chakra signatures and scents led her into a false sense of being alone. Every subtle noise they made set her off - any movement of shadow caught with the corner of her eye, any rustling of blankets or leaves; she was like a ticking bomb, waiting to explode. ‘Why are they not talking at least among themselves?’ She eyed them, her ears trying to catch even the faintest whisper of a word. Nothing.

That gave her pause. Nothing. No hooting of owls, no flutter of wings, no night hunters on the prowl. Not even the leaves stirred. The silence was disturbed only by the five of them. Kaya slowly spun on her heel, gaze trained on the shadows. The movement was fluid and measured; fore- and middle finger rose before her face.

“Kai.”

The chakra pulse travelled softer than a baby’s breath - not a single cloud of fog shuddered. Her range had grown impressively in the past couple of years, stretching for miles. The low-frequency and the barely-there imprint allowed her to spot even the minutest disturbance while remaining unnoticed by other shinobi. After a whole minute of waiting Kaya stood up, the popping of her knees oddly loud in the tense silence. She could feel the men looking at her, senses sharp and probing at their surroundings. The wave stretched as far as it could go before dissipating.

“When was the last time any of you noticed any wildlife?”

Her voice was hoarse and grating. The back of her throat was sticky with humidity.  

“Before the fog,” the Fox replied.

She nodded, fingers still raised to her face. Kaya could control her Kekkei Genkai without using hand signs, the same applying for most of her Water and Wind techniques. Only the odd combinations scavenged from her travels required her to actually use her hands. Yet the gesture offered a sense of reassurance.

“There’s no life for miles; not even a mouse in the shrubs.”

Her hand slipped down, brushing against the kunai pouch strapped to her right thigh. A thrill climbed her spine, needle-like nails digging into each vertebra, snapping her shoulders back and straightening her posture. ‘There’s something lurking in those shadows.’

Pure instinct bit into her and she dropped to her knees, palms pressing into the ground. Crystal formations erupted from the soil like daggers, splitting the shadows in pursuit. A screech pierced the air as one found its mark; with foreign blood coating the structure, she could sense it. Those precious seconds were enough - she jumped sideways, missing a hook-like nail by mere inches.

Once activated, her Kekkei Genkai acted on instinct - the crystals lurched after the beast, trying to capture it but the creature was quicker. The Anbu seemed to have no better luck. The Boar’s Wood Release served as a shield (that gave her pause; there were few shinobi that could use Hashirama Senju’s Wood Style), while the Fox’s Wind made the fog’s heavy body shuffle and shudder but nothing more. Kaya rose from her crouched position, coming to stand back to back with the men.

“Samosa-san, stay back. Let us deal with it.”

“Do I strike you as a woman that will shy away from a battle, Boar-san?” Her smile’s cutting edge reflected in the crystal dagger clasped in her hand.

A movement to her right caught her eye and a cluster of crystals erupted from the tree’s bark like fungi, adding another wound to the creature’s flank. Whatever it was they were dealing with, it wasn’t messing around.

“Any idea what it is?”

Kaya frowned, teeth chewing on her lip. There wasn’t anything coming to mind - no summon or even ghoulish creature that she had ever met or heard of.

“No, but-”

A kunai whistled past her ear, embedding itself into the mass of darkness leaping her way. Instinct told her to duck, but that meant allowing the creature to breach their line of defence. Wood and crystal collided as a barrier burst forth before Kaya, saving her face from the creature’s claws. Before it had the chance to bolt and hide, the crystal snapped shut, trapping it into a glistening prison.

“Bloody hell!”

She echoed everyone’s thoughts. The thing was no wild beast or at least not what one would consider a wild creature. It was small, child-sized, but its limbs were elongated and its back had a certain curve to it, hinting at a pedal manner of moving. Its hands were adorned by hook-like claws, each longer than a kunai and probably sharper. The body was covered in a thick coat of hair or hair-like substance that seemed to lack some of the usual solidity. There was something almost aerial about it; even confined within the heart of the crystal, its form refused to remain solid. Kaya leaned forward, transfixed, only to leap back with a yelp when the creature’s form changed, shrinking, giving it enough space to manoeuvre and jump at her, smacking against the unbreakable inner wall. Kaya’s back hit something firm and a hand grabbed her elbow, steadying her. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed the painted smile of the Hound’s mask, the smooth surface basked in shadows, and for a brief second she could have sworn she saw that red gleam again.

“What the hell is this thing?”

“We need to get rid of it,” the Fox’s voice sounded strained.

She could practically sense the men’s chakra wrapping around her like a blanket before spreading out like the tendrils of a vine; searching for other hidden monsters in the darkness.

“Samosa-san-”

“No!”

Heads turned her way.

“I’m not going to kill it.”

“But it’s your crystal...”

“I can let it go and you can catch it,” her glare didn’t elicit the usual reaction but then again she could not see their faces.

She threw a last glance at the squirming mass, an ugly disfigured being that repulsed her and wrung her heart at the same time, before walking away. Her backpack and cloak lay discarded by the trunk of the tree. She picked them up, grimacing at the moisture that had seeped into them before returning to the where the men stood, pointedly ignoring the crystal jutting out of the ground.

They all walked to the other end of the clearing that had remained unmarred by their elemental assaults and dropped their backs. The Bear’s hands moved in a blur and the ground shuddered, wooden beams growing out of it like trees, each thicker than Kaya’s thigh. They locked overhead with a hollow thud, enclosing them like a pearl in a clam. It wasn’t roomy, but at least it was safe. The impenetrable darkness startled Kaya - she hadn’t realised how much light the few meagre stars had been providing until they vanished.

“Jee, Boar-san, you have no consideration for my reputation. Locking me in a tiny space with four men. My honour will be tainted.”

Before the last syllable even slipped past her smirking lips, all four of them startled and stepped away, backs smacking into the wall.

“Samosa-san!” The man’s exclamation unleashed her laughter. “We would never!”

“I know, I know.” She waved off the sounds of discontent, “I was just kidding. Forgive me.”

A couple of low chuckles popped into the silence like firecrackers.

“Any volunteers to shed some light? Or am I to risk it and grope my way around?”

It was probably childish, jesting like that, but at least the heavy atmosphere that had persisted throughout the day finally started to disperse. A couple of minutes later their little yurt (it was a stretch of the imagination to call it that, but the second best was a coffin and Kaya would rather not refer to their resting place that way) was illuminated by the jolly flicker of a fire, a tentative thing barely battling the humidity. Her eyes stung, but it made her feel better to finally be able to see her companions; well, sort of. Their expressionless masks still unnerved her.

“Samosa-san-”

“Forgive me, Boar-san, but Samosa-san is my father at worst, and my mother at best. I’d much appreciate it if you just call me Kaya.”

A smile took away some of the words’ sharpness. Apparently, she had lost the few social interaction instincts she had while traversing the wilderness. It had been so much easier, talking to people that didn’t know who she was and didn’t care to find out; that didn’t mind some harmless jest or some sharp reproach. Ninjas took offence, no matter what she said. It was the reason why she wasn’t mad that the Hokage sent her off on a mission so soon after her return. In the span of three weeks, she had managed to deeply offend six clan members, scandalise half the civilian population and even have a couple of sparring sessions with some Chūnins that had gotten insulted by something she had probably meant as a joke.

Kaya rubbed her face, wiping away some of the dampness that clung to her brow. It took her a moment to remember she had a keenly developed Water Affinity; extracting the water molecules from her clothes and hair didn’t get rid of the irritating sense of stickiness, but she was no longer shivering and the urge to strip was more manageable. With a flick of her hand, she did the same for her companions.

Her Kekkei Genkai had kicked in late so she had spent the early parts of her life developing her Water Affinity to such an extent that she had excelled in the Academy on the sole basis of being able to manipulate it with ease while the other kids struggled to form Shadow Clones. When the Crystal Release had activated, she had found herself juggling two rather clashing ninjutsu. In the end, she clung to both, the latter being Kami given and the first being an old friend that had never betrayed her. As of recent she often forgot that there was more to her than crystals and diamond sculptures gleaming in the sun.

“Thank you, Kaya-san.”

She gave them a small nod of acknowledgement, her eyes trained on the flames. There had been a time when she had wished it had been Fire she could contort. It would have made many cold nights more bearable. Not anymore; rigidness was her trademark - either in the emotional department, or the ninjutsu one.

They ate in silence, warming their stiff bodies, clustered together like chicks. Kaya took comfort in their proximity; it reassured her even if their silence was disturbing. ‘It’s probably part of the training - not talking to the person they shadow. Keeps it impersonal and professional.’ Without a word, they soon moved away, getting ready for the night. No one expected her to keep watch so she curled in a ball, face pressed against the wooden wall. The scent was familiar; it smelled like home, like Konoha. It was soothing and soon enough her mind drifted off, lulled to sleep by the gentle pop of the fire.  

 

As soon as Kaya’s breathing grew even, the men sighed with relief. They had almost expected the Heiress to stomp around, demanding they find an inn or at least provide better shelter for the night. Instead, she had slipped into the deep sleep reserved only for the innocent and the tired. All four of them felt a small spark of jealousy - it had been a while since they had had a good night’s sleep.

“So what now?” The Fox was the youngest among them, having joined their ranks only a few months ago.

“We proceed according to plan.”

“But that thing-”

“There’s nothing to be done about it. It’s trapped in Samosa-san’s prison.”

“Can’t we make her get rid of it?”

The cool porcelain mask hid Kakashi’s amused expression. Had Izuni paid no attention to the briefing they had had about Samosa no Kaya? Not even the Hokage could bend that woman’s will. Not to mention her fundamental repulsion towards manipulation.

“Does she strike you as the type of woman you can make do something?”

The youth shrugged, his head tilting to the side. A shudder shook his frame a few moments later as he seemed to consider the question. She’d probably lock him in a crystal and be on her merry way.

“We are safe for tonight so we should rest. Tomorrow will be a long day.”

With that Tenzo crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall. Chances were none of them would be getting any sleep, confined in such a small space with the Samosa Heiress but they could at least pretend. Kakashi tried not to look at her. The picture in the file had barely done her any justice. It was like looking at two completely different people; comparing a vague memory with a vivid nightmare. The blood-red hair, the two different coloured eyes, the tanned skin - they were all features that had been bleached out from the photograph. Six years of travel had left their mark - the youthful beam of her smile had acquired a cynical sharpness. Now, she resembled her famous diamonds - too many sharp edges one could cut himself on.

He followed Tenzo’s example, willing his mind to slow down. With the corner of his eye he could see Kaya’s body shuddering. He ignored the instinctual reflex to cover her with his blanket. He was there to protect her, not coddle her.