Crow in the Shadows: Investigation
Sorry about not releasing a chapter last week. I got a little busy and a little lazy lol. To make up for it, I will be releasing the chapter after this one in less than a week, and that chapter would be quite long. Anyways, enjoy! No action, a feeble attempt at comedy haha. Special thanks to chakrawizard555 for editing. Thanks dude!
Itachi got dressed in the standard Konoha attire which he and his teammates had arrived in. Mikasa Odara was kind enough to wash their outfits so that they may wear them today, hugging each member of their team before they left the Inn to resume their investigation. This flirtatiousness on her part brought all four of them uneasiness, Itachi receiving the bulk of it, since she had decided to add a little kiss on his cheek just for being ‘such a cutie.’ Needless to say, the rest of them made sure to tease him mercilessly for this as they made off towards their point of separation, with even Himura getting in on the fun. Itachi took all of it with his usual air of indifference.
They had set out from the Inn at about 8:00 AM. Aoran was more alive or dead by this time as the morning commuters flocked the streets, though not in great numbers, the sellers calling out from both sides of the avenues. The wheels of wooden carts trudged onwards with a melancholy air, some girls were hauling buckets of water from a nearby well and chatting animatedly, these and other commonplace activities for a small village whose usual humdrum was altered only by the presence of these four passing strangers in blue shirts and pants, green flak jackets, and metal-plated headbands.
Itachi’s first stop was a small flower shop with traditional architecture of paper-paneled, wooden walls and smooth, sliding doors of the same constitution, as well as curved eaves at the edges of the tiled roof. When he entered the small establishment, which was called the Naki Flower Shop, he immediately took notice of the lingering scents of many flowers, which were too diverse and mixed for him to identify. There was a girl at the counter of about his age, chubby, dark haired and round-faced. She blushed at the sight of him, donning a bright, wide smile and offering a greeting in her silky voice, introducing herself as Naho. She was met with disappointment, however, when Itachi requested for the attention of someone older who would be more abreast of the happenings around town involving Akakuma.
With a rustle of her flowery, white kimono on the wooden floor and a sullen expression on her puffy face, Naho took her leave via a door behind the counter, returning shortly after with an elderly man in a faded, brown yukata, which was threadbare from overuse and fell in great folds over his thin, emaciated frame. His head bristled with unkempt, feathery wisps of white hair, which grew only out of his sides and in the back. His great nose was, unquestionably, his most prominent feature, outshining the drooping wrinkles on his sallow face, his tiny sunken, brown eyes, wrinkled lips, the white stubble on his chin, and the dark mole on his right cheek. This fellow was introduced as the girl’s grandfather, and leaned on a wooden stick as he emerged from behind the counter and squinted his eyes warily at Itachi. Naho fetched a small chair from among the flower vases for the old man to sit upon before returning to the counter, occasionally stealing furtive glances at Itachi as she twiddled her thumbs. The elder sank into the chair and rested his chin on the back of his hands, which sat atop the handle of his cane, all the while staring at the young boy before him. Itachi was unnerved by the man’s apprehensive manner, massive nose and grotesque mole, but nonetheless, he took a deep breath and began the interview.
“That beast!” cried the old man in a hoarse voice, “Curse that beast! Devoured all our cattle! Evil thing! You say its name is Akakuma?”
“Yes.” replied Itachi, “So, it eats cattle?”
“It eats anything, my boy! It’ll eat yer soul out!” said the elder vehemently. “Even so-called ninja can’t beat it. It’s a demon! Ya can’t beat a demon! Those poor boys from Konoha didn’t think so and look where it got 'em! I reckon y'all should scamper back to yer little village. You look too young to die! What're you, ten or eleven years old?”
“Anyways, did it only attack cattle?” Itachi asked, paying no heed to the old man's rant.
“Don’t change the subject, lad! That’s VERY disrespectful! What’s wrong with kids these days, huh?! I’m trying to save yer life here!” the elder roared sententiously.
“Please, sir, just answer the question.”
“Is that anyway to talk!? I’ll teach you some manners here yet!”
The old man immediately lifted the cane and swept it towards Itachi’s head. The young shinobi evaded it with ease, but the elder would not give up. Barely coherent curses pouring from his lips along with a great deal of saliva, he kept swinging and slashing his wooden rod, his face livid with rage, Itachi edging out of the way each time without effort. This continued for a few seconds until Naho’s grandfather swung the cane so hard that a sickening crack was heard, his back having apparently been thrown out, and he collapsed to the floor in an undignified heap, spewing and spouting insults at the young Uchiha who was staring blankly at him. Young Naho hurried over beside her grandfather’s prostrate form, tears emerging from her eyes. Seeing that his aged opponent was unable to continue his vicious onslaught and finding the high din of the girl’s vociferous wailing much too bothersome to deal with, Itachi quietly and hurriedly exited the shop, greatly annoyed by the entire incident.
The day got away from Hoji rather quickly as he proceeded with his investigation. He was opportune to talk to a tailor, a couple of farmers, a blacksmith, a owner of a ramen shop (who looked eerily like Teuchi-san), and a group of children at play in the street. However, he spent far too much time speaking separately with each of these individuals, abandoning facts and questions and instead drifting into normal conversation which, due to his amiable and sanguine temperament, tended to last from thirty minutes to an hour, two hours in the case of the children, who had beguiled him into playing with them. When it was all finally over, the medical-nin was shocked to discover that it was already 2:30 PM, wondering to himself how the day could have drifted by so quickly. Now short on time, he hurried to the local hospital to keep his appointment with Shiko.
It was a rather embarrassing spectacle; the medical-nin mumbling sheepishly to his team captain that he was unable to get much information over the course of his investigation. To this, Shiko merely sighed before stalking off into the hospital, Hoji following close behind him in a timorous manner. It wasn’t a very large establishment. It had that smell which was common in any hospital, the walls were plain and whitewashed, the corridors dimly lit, and the lobby was moderately sized and sparsely filled. The nurses were dressed in their typical white uniforms, speaking very politely as they directed the pair towards the morgue. It was situated at the back of the hospital; a small, red building the purpose of which was denoted by a small plaque on the wooden front door which read, ‘MORGUE.’
The two proceeded inside and Hoji immediately felt a chill run down his spine, a result of the sudden drop in temperature. There was a man in his fifties, a grizzled long ponytail running down his back, a gaunt, cadaverous face drooping with wrinkles, and a sharp, upturned nose jutting out between the large lenses of his horn-rimmed spectacles, which magnified his sunken, green eyes. Shoving both hands into the pockets of his white coat, he introduced himself as Doctor Takani and, after they stated their purpose, led them to the bodies of the chūnin who had previously fallen at the hands of Akakuma.
The first corpse was that of a stocky Uchiha boy by the name of Naki. His left arm was missing halfway between the shoulder and the elbow, resulting in a grotesque stump, and his right eye had been torn out of his face, having been in the path of a deep gash that ran from his forehead down to his chin. There was also a very conspicuous, sharp crack on his skull. Proceeding with his analysis, the doctor then directed their attention towards his broken left arm, nose, and shattered ribs. As one would easily suspect, his death was surely not a pleasant one. Hoji remarked that the wounds were most likely inflicted by a brutal savage using excessive strength. The left arm was not cut, but rather, was pulled completely out of the boy's torso, the eye-gouging cut on his face having most likely been inflicted by a large, clawed hand. The crack in his skull was probably inflicted by something sharp and his shattered ribs were likely a result of blunt trauma.
The next body was that of a young shinobi named Takeru Shinji, whose wounds were no less horrible, the most conspicuous of which were his crushed spine and the large hole in his chest, roughly fifteen centimeters in diameter by their count. As for the third, which belonged to a chūnin named Amaru Hi, the head was never found, having been ripped from his body completely. This aside, though, he sustained no other wounds on his body. The last, that of a boy named Eni Hakamaru, had injuries just as grotesque as those of his teammates. When Takani had finished, Hoji gave some remarks of his own, which Shiko took note of with a nod of his head.
After this little expedition, the duo headed towards Yaku Restaurant to meet up with the others. The building's interior was quiet, dull, and sparsely filled, their teammates already there waiting for them. They were all seated near an open window, out of which Himura occasionally stared over the course of the meeting, gazing out at the hustle and bustle of the town. Shiko was a bit miserly and bought only plain rice balls and water for the whole team to share, despite the considerable amount of money Konoha had given them to pay for their expenses, to which Hoji mumbled his disapproval.
They proceeded to go over the information each of them had gathered from their investigations as they devoured their lackluster lunch. The details didn’t differ by much. Akakuma was most likely a nocturnal creature that killed livestock, poultry, and any people it might find wandering around. Among his victims so far were two farmers, three fishermen and a small child, as well as the team of chūnin sent to deal with it originally. The farmers were returning from a long walk on a Saturday night and their bodies were found in the middle on the road the next morning. The fishermen were busy with their trade one Wednesday night on a small river that ran through the forest just outside of town. Their boats were found completely destroyed and their bodies were discovered on the shoreline, all with missing appendages. The child had been recently assaulted by his mother and ran away from their home in tears. A search was called that same day when he didn't return, but nothing became of it. Two days after, his body was found rotting in the forest, gruesomely torn apart like the rest of Akakuma’s victims.
The strong men of Aoran gathered themselves together to hunt the beast responsible for these killings. They proceeded into the forest armed with sticks, spears and staves, led by the retired Ame ninja Kato, but ere had they advanced into the monster’s territory when they heard a deep, horrendous cry from within and retreated back in fear. Then, after Konoha was contacted, four very unlucky chūnin were dispatched to deal with it, only to share the same fate as Akakuma's prior victims. Everyone gave their comments and Shiko proceeded to create a remarkably cunning battle strategy revolving around what little of Akakuma’s abilities were detailed in its file and the information obtained from their investigations. It was determined that they would head into the forest later that night at exactly 10:00 PM, find the beast, and bring it down once and for all.
Upon dismissal, the ANBU returned back to their hotel. Some intended to rest in anticipation for the night’s ordeal, some hoped to train in preparation, but all of them had to come to terms with the fact that, come dawn, either Akakuma would be dead at their feet or they would be added to its increasing list of victims. Also lingering on their minds was the possibility that, even if they were to come out victorious, they would surely not be unscathed, and not all of them were guaranteed to see the sunrise of the next day.
To Be Continued
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