"Want help?" Takuma asked Yumiko and Dai, who were patching up the men they had slashed.
Yumiko looked up from the chest wound she had made at Takuma. "How are you done so quickly?" she asked. "I'm still on my first."
"Didn't cut them open," Takuma knelt beside Yumiko and began helping her treat the wound. They were Leaf shinobi in a foreign land— they had no 'authority' to kill in the Land of Frost. As such, no killing. The cuts that Takuma's teammates had made weren't fatal— and he himself had gone with the unarmed assault because he thought it would be a hassle to treat the bandits. It was more efficient to bruise them until they couldn't move.
Yumiko turned her eye to the five bandits he had beaten up. They were lying flat on the ground on their belly with their hands and feet tied.
"What's that?" she asked, pointing at the thing of white around the restrained bandits' wrists and ankles.
"Zip-ties," Takuma said after glancing at his bandits.
"Zip-ties… as in what they use in packing?"
Takuma nodded, "They're compact, tough, super hard for a civilian to break if you place them properly, and as much I like ropes and knots, zip ties are so much easier," which was why many police organizations back in his home world had been using zip ties along with traditional handcuffs.
Takuma helped Yumiko and Dai patch up their bandits, stripped them of their belongings, and confiscated any and all weapons to ensure they didn't try to plan an escape later on. With five fewer people to take care of, they were done before Raiden's team, who, just like them, didn't have a dedicated iryo-nin on their team.
The nice thing would've been to help them out.
Did they? No.
Neither Takuma nor Yumiko or Dai had any interest in helping them out. Dai stayed inside to keep an eye on the bandits while Takuma and Yumiko walked outside to see the villagers gathering around the community hall. The screaming and shouting had pulled them to the hall, and with no noise pollution in the quaint little village, it seemed that the sounds had reached quite far as the number seemed to keep increasing as more and more people emerged from the streets beyond.
Takuma and Yumiko stayed silent as Iruka and Raiden addressed the villagers. There was a great commotion that reached its peak when they finally realized that the village's bandit problem had been solved. They cheered so loud that Takuma, who had gotten used to the up-close raucousness of the Ring, had to cover his ears.
"This means we're getting great feedback, right?" Takuma whispered to Yumiko.
"We better," Yumiko smiled.
A middle-aged man, the village chief, followed Iruka into the community hall, and when he returned, he raised his hands into the air and yelled,
What followed was a festival with great food, booze, and ecstatic vibes heating up the people in the cold village. The Leaf shinobi were pulled into the celebration despite Raiden's resistance, but Iruka convinced him, and they participated in the festivities.
"Where did you go?" Yumiko asked Takuma, who returned to the large bonfire that the villagers had started.
"Nature called," Takuma lied through his teeth. He glanced back at a few village youngsters who grinned at him, but he shot them a chilling look and placed a finger on his lip— which made them scurry away from the bonfire, away from the celebration. The cold weather of the Land of Frost rendered a low and low supply; however, the demand was high and high— and the crazy markup because of that was just too good for Takuma to pass on.
Iruka came to them with flushed cheeks and slightly raised lips. "You three did good. I'm proud of all three of you," he sounded happy.
Takuma looked at the tankard of mead in Iruka's and wondered if he was drinking too much, but Takuma also knew that shinobi with their chakra-altered bodies could process alcohol much faster than regular people. He hadn't drunk alcohol in his body, but the alcohol buzz was anything like his weed high that he came out so much quicker than in his previous life, it took a lot of anything to get a shinobi inebriated.
"What's going to happen to the bandits, sir?" asked Yumiko.
Iruka's buzzy look turned serious as he looked in the direction of the community hall. "The village will follow the Land of Frost's laws and punish the bandits accordingly…. They don't have the capacity to hold these people in any form of prison, so those bandits will probably be hanged, or if some people get lucky, they'd be kicked out of the village with no supplies… and it's tough outside in this cold. Punishments in villages like these, away from big cities, can be much laxer or harsher depending on the crime…. If we were Hidden Frost shinobi, we could've mediated, but we can't do anything."
Takuma knew this world to be much different than the one he had come from. He knew better not to see this world through the lens of morality molded in his past, but he couldn't altogether leave it all behind with a snap of his finger.
"I'm going to sleep," Takuma sighed as he got up.
Whatever happened to the bandits, he didn't have anything to do with it. After leaving the village in the morning, he had no reason to return.
The following day the Leaf shinobi left the Shiyuka village as soon as the sun came up, leaving the villagers after ensuring they wouldn't be overrun by the bandits they had caught. The cover part of the mission had gone well… but now they had to do the real mission.
"Listen up because this is important!" Raiden addressed the group as they ran on the road. "We're going to meet Hidden Frost shinobi, so I want everyone here to be on their best behavior! From the moment we make contact to the moment we enter the boundaries of our village, I want all of you to be laser-focused with every fiber of your being dedicated to this mission. Don't let your guard down even for a second!
"There's a reason why Hidden Frost organized a face-to-face exchange and did not send the information by a carrier eagle— this information is important for both the villages. Your village is relying on you— your country is relying on you! Complete this mission and prove they were right to entrust you with this responsibility."
Takuma clenched his fist and kicked the ground harder. He felt his heart pick up beats, pumping his blood in anticipation.
He was finally doing something of importance. Yes, he didn't have Nenro's connection, Masaaki's new clan backing, or Taro's parental support— but he was doing something of importance that none of them had done. They discussed the missions they went on, and neither of them was as important as this one. A hand-off with foreign shinobi. For the C-rank mission category, where shinobi contact wasn't anticipated, this mission was the top-tier mission for the category. He had just saved a village from a continuing future of exploitation which was a great mission in itself, but now he was going to do something that made it look lackluster.
This was a turning point, Takuma could feel it.
After four hours of travel, they arrived in the middle of nowhere. They had passed through a large belt of agricultural villages before arriving at the edge of a natural forest where a one-structure stone shrine stood.
Takuma had seen these types of shrines during his treks around the Leaf village. They were shrines dedicated in honor of local deities such as forest guardians. He hadn't been religious in his previous life, but after finding himself in a new world, he wholeheartedly believed that there were existences belonging to higher planes. How else would he find himself in this world, in the boy's body?
So, he made sure to clean the shrines he found.
"A kilometer into the forest is a clearing," Iruka stood beside the shrine with a rough map in his hand. "That's where we make contact with Hidden Frost shinobi. They're allies, but we will still be careful. If you have any preparations, do it now before we head in."
Takuma pulled up his pants and tightened the straps on his weapon packs and arm and shin guards. He took a breath and imagined a mask over his face. His restless heart settled down a level as he felt a focus rise within him. He would go in and come out. That was all.
The two teams headed into the forest, and soon they arrived at the clearing. The situation could've turned two ways— if they arrived first, they would've set up traps as they waited for the Hidden Frost shinobi— but as it turned out, they were the last to arrive with a group of Hidden Frost shinobi already present in the clear.
Four shinobi, three men and one woman, dressed in shinobi gear with a blue and gray color scheme that matched the Hidden Frost. They all had pale skin, suiting the cold weathers of the Land of Frost. Something to notice was that all of them had swords on their backs.
Takuma judged their gait, balance, how they held themselves, where they were looking, the sword length, and everything he had learned to look for in fighters. Then, he compared it with kenjutsu users he fought in the Ring to prepare himself in case things went south.
They looked at the eight Leaf shinobi in nervousness. It was understandable; they were outnumbered 2-to-1, and if a fight ensued, the odds weren't looking to be in their favor.
'If one of them is a jonin, then that might be different,' thought Takuma, but there was no way to tell that.
"The weather is warm today," said the leading man, older than the other three Hidden Frost shinobi.
Raiden responded, "You think so? I feel the weather is just right. Perfect for tea, actually."
"You think so? How about we go have tea after this."
"It'd be my pleasure."
The Hidden Frost shinobi eased. The secret code which tested their identity was confirmed, and they could initiate the transaction.
"The information?" Raiden immediately got down to business.
The Hidden Frost shinobi nodded and took out a pack of three scrolls from his pocket. They looked like any other scroll would, and from a glance, there was nothing special about them. The Hidden Frost shinobi and Raiden stepped toward each other as the rest stared at each other with a healthy dose of tension hanging in the air.
Takuma's eyes followed the two men who were about to exchange information. From the looks of it, the second part of the mission was going to be boring— and Takuma was fine with that because boring was simple, and simple was always good during missions. According to Takuma's standards, he did enough fighting in the Ring and wished for zero action during missions. If surrender was an option, Takuma would've demanded it from the bandits— but they had to scare and injure the bandits so they wouldn't rise up.
'Hmm?' Takuma looked towards the sound.
For a split moment, he thought it was a branch breaking or something similar, but immediately, his mind shot up similarities between what he heard and what his Lightning Release: Shock sounded like.
Before realization settled in… before Takuma could even turn his neck completely… before anyone could react— a lightning-covered kunai shot out of the evening shadows of the forest around them and—
Takuma jolted, his eyes widening as the lightning streak disappeared…
… into Raiden's body.
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