Scene Change: ….
The fire crackled, throwing glowing ashes into the strong wind that had blown in a few hours before. The same wind whipped at the flames that produced these ashes, causing flickering shadows to glance around the worn walls.
Yari glanced at her two children, still sleeping peacefully, despite the loud rustling of the brush and the presence of the cloaked stranger in their midst.
"Are they yours?" The Stranger asked in a light voice, directing a wave of his hand at the two forms curled near the fire.
"Hmm." The children's mother answered with a nod of her head, not wanting to give any hint of her intentions to the man who had appeared so suddenly, and yet managed to overpower her before she even noticed his presence.
Whilst his entrance had been terrifying, it did prove Chara's theory right. He was indeed a shinobi, a real shinobi.
That was even more terrifying.
With a flourish and a sigh the man pulled out a pipe. Obviously it was some form of sleight-of-hand, because Yari neither saw him produce it, nor light it, nor give any hint that some sort of ninja art had been performed.
When the hermit saw her gaze he asked, "You want some?" and handed the pipe in her direction. With a shake of her head she refused, not knowing how to smoke a pipe that was nearly a metre long and yet still retain her dignity.
"Suit yourself." He sat down near the fire, with his back to the two kids and faced her. "Now, how about you tell me why you're here, eh?"
Taking a deep breath, Yari responded, "My children and I need passage to Earth, and we need to be there soon. She gestured at the surrounding cliffs and slopes "Whilst, normally I would not have any issues climbing your average mountain range, from what I've heard these mountains are anything but average."
The anonymous man sat in silence for a time, occasionally taking a drag from his pipe. After inhaling for a third time he said, "So… you spoke to Chara, and she suggested that you come to me?"
Yari nodded. "Yes, to the three hermits."
He snorted. "I want to find out who gave us that ridiculous name."
She was about to answer when something caught her attention. The words that had just been spoken came from a different voice.
Just as Yari was to ask the man before her about it, over his shoulder a second head appeared.
Someone was sitting back to back with him.
The first man chuckled, seeing her shock, before addressing the new arrival. "You shouldn't do that. She's scared enough as it is, and you're making it worse."
The other man, who was identically clothed to the first, stood. "Well, hurry up. He's getting grumpy, and you know what he's like when you miss his sessions."
"I'll be delayed." The first man said in a tone which brooked no argument." Just tell him to go over what we did yesterday."
"Takeshi won't like that."
"Tell him I'm working."
With a grunt, the newcomer left, stepping into the shadows outside the range of the fire and vanishing without a sound.
'That's two.' Yari thought
"Sorry about that. That other bastard has never, ever, had consideration for other people's feelings." A shadowed smirk seemed to flit across the visible section of his face before the impassive look returned. "Now, first things first." He produced a small round object about a centimetre in diameter from inside his cloak and began rolling it between his fingers.
Yari saw his eyes flicker towards her children, and a great swell of worry began to grow within her.
"…What are you-"
The Hermit's hand blurred as his arm snapped down, sending the tiny object into Kureno's mouth, which he, after a soft cough, swallowed.
As her eyes widened, equally with shock and rage, she threw herself at the man sitting cross-legged opposite her. "What did you do you-" She stopped, but not on her own accord.
The tip of one of her own knives was inserted into her ear canal; the other was so close to her left eye that she didn't dare blink for fear of slicing her eyelid in two.
His voice came out in a sharp hiss. "Let's get things straight. You do not do anything other than what I say, do or allow." The now violently changed man tilted his head back, giving Yari full view of his face for the first time. "Understood?"
After the green haired victim gave a small whimper of confirmation he pulled the knives away, letting Yari breathe once again.
"Good." His manner once again reversed, turning back into the slightly warm tone he had been using before. He straightened his hat, which had been dislodged in his rapid movements, giving Yari her second glimpse of his face that night.
One side of his face was heavily wrapped in bandages held up by the occasional wrap which went around the head or neck, shielding the left completely from view. This in itself was not unusual, as injuries happened all the time. No, the interesting thing was that the bandages were all black, and covered in squiggly symbols that Yari didn't recognise, all written in gold.
"Now!" His outburst spooked Yari, and she scooted back slightly. The Hermit seemed displeased by this reaction, as his single visible blue eye narrowed sharply, but he otherwise didn't react. "Now…" He said at a lower volume. "We need to decide on a price, a cost for our services."
He produced another pipe, one different the one he had been smoking before. This one curled around so that the end produced smoke near your ear. "Something suitable."
Yari looked uncomfortable. "I have little money… and nothing else of value." She reached for the collar of her shirt through her open jacket. "I guess I could-"
"No." He waved a hand at her. "That won't be necessary. I'm lonely." He paused, and then grinned. "But not that lonely."
Yari didn't know whether or not to be insulted.
"Information would be suitable." He took a deep puff. "The last time someone came through here was a month ago, I think. Anything happen out there." He gestured towards the glimmering lights of the town, far down the mountain slope. "You could also tell me where you are going. Things like that."
After a short pause in order to enjoin her thoughts, Yari responded. "May I ask what you did to my son?"
He eyed her for a bit. If the mother of two didn't know better, she'd say that he was assessing the distance between them.
"I poisoned him."
A rough intake of breath followed this announcement. "What! Why?" Yari's anger burst to the surface.
Looking at her from under his eyebrows, he muttered, "It was to keep you in check."
The worried mother wrapped her arms around herself. "I won't do anything! I promise!" She pleaded desperately to the hermit. "Please, give me the antidote… or… or something!"
He leant back and exhaled another puff of smoke. "Ok." He said, "I'll give you the antidote at the far side of these ranges. It's an extremely slow acting poison, so it'll be nearly a month before it takes effect. But if it does." A disturbing sneer once again speared itself across his features. "You'll regret it."
With her eyes downcast and shielded by her hair, the only indication that Yari had heard was a persistent shaking that had afflicted her hands.
The man stood with a grunt. "Either I, or one of the other 'Hermits,' He made quotations in the air with his fingers, "Will collect you in the morning. I'll collect my payment later."
As he strode from the field of light given off by the fire, he turned the right side of his face towards her and gave her the 'V' for peace, despite the fact that his bandages were in the way.
"Don't go away now…"
Wobbling to her feet, Yari gathered up her knives and, after she was sure she wasn't going to be ambushed, pocketed them.
Creeping stealthily over to the now low burning fire she curled up between her two children.
"Did I make a mistake, kids?" She said, as she slowly breathed in and out, both to avoid waking her children ad to still her rapidly beating heart.
Not one leaf moved out of place when the bandaged hermit landed on a branch near the top of a large tree. Looking over his shoulder he scrutinised the distant glow that was the fire he had just left. His concentration was broken when another figure landed next to him, once again without causing the branch to shift.
"What was with the terrorising, Bastard?"
'Bastard' grunted. "Shut it, Idiot…"
The other man grinned, his white teeth standing out sharply against the all pervading blackness of the night.
"How we've changed," 'Idiot' said, as he looked over 'Bastard's' shoulder at the dilapidated dwelling. "I remember when things were… reversed... for lack of a better word. Isn't that right, Naruto?"
'Bastard' removed his kasa, revealing a long, thick mop of blond hair.
"Shut it, Uchiha." He repeated.
The next chapter will NOT take this long, I swear!
Just in case a few of you were wondering, Yari and her kids are not going to turn out to be super OCs… because I hate those!