|[Sep. 18th, 2013|10:38 pm]|
There was a flicker of movement behind the cracked shutter as they approached; something rattled inside the house. At least someone was alive in there, Ryouma thought. Or something. |
But when Raidou's fist thumped against the door, anxious feet scuffed over wooden floorboards, and the latch jiggled and turned. The door eased open a hair—opening inward, Ryouma noticed; easier to barricade, but also easier to break down. He couldn't see the villager on the other side.
"You're Konoha?" It was a woman's voice, hoarse, tight with fear.
"Born and raised." Raidou edged closer to the gap in the door and turned, baring his left shoulder and its unmistakable scarlet spiral. His voice gentled, warm and smoky in its baritone depths. "We're here to help."
Another voice whispered urgently on the other side of the door. Ryouma caught only the rise and fall, the hiss of sibilants, and a harsh warning: Oneesan, ANBU...
"Stand back," the first woman said at last, raw-voiced.
Genma and Raidou glanced at each other and stepped back, out of the thin shade cast by the overhanging eaves. The door cracked wider, revealing a sliver of a dark-haired woman in the figured green kimono of a prosperous peasant. She was in her late twenties, but her face was haggard with grief and fear. A younger woman hovered behind her shoulder, gripping a straight-bladed knife half-drawn from its sharkskin sheath. Their eyes darted from one mask to another, found tattooed shoulders, empty hands. It wasn't until they found Katsuko, slouching deliberately at Raidou's elbow, that they began to relax.
"Are you here to find Hiroshi?" the first woman demanded.
"Morita Hiroshi?" Genma asked.
The woman's knuckles whitened on the doorframe. She jerked her head.
"We're here to try to find out what happened to him and the others, yes, ma'am."
Her breath hitched in something like a sob. The younger woman rammed the knife home in its sheath—Katsuko flinched for the blade's ill-treatment—and tucked it into her obi, then reached out to catch at her sister's shoulders and draw her back into the house. "Oneesan, you knew, you had to know— He wouldn't have left you like that—"
She threw a fleeting glance over her shoulder at the ANBU. Genma looked to Raidou again. Raidou shrugged, and ducked his head under the lintel to follow.
They kept their boots on, though even Ryouma felt uneasy about stepping on the polished wooden floors. The house was small but neat and clean, built in the old style with one main room with a raised floor and sliding paper doors opening, presumably, onto bedrooms and a kitchen. A little girl crouched in a corner behind a wooden chest, clutching a rag doll to her chest and staring wide-eyed at the intruders. Ryouma wished he could slide his mask off and give her a smile. He wiggled his fingers at her instead, in a tiny wave. She gulped, and hugged her doll closer.
The younger woman eased her sister down onto a cushion on the floor and stayed crouching by her, staring up at the ANBU. "My oneesan is Morita Fumiyo, Hiroshi's wife. I'm Tanaka Ayako. Will you — Would you care for tea?"
"Thank you, no," Raidou said. He settled down across from her, on his knees. Genma knelt at his side, while the others folded up behind them. There wasn't quite enough room; Ryouma and Kakashi's shoulders jostled, and Katsuko accidentally kneed Ryouma in the thigh. This room hadn't been built for so many occupants, or at least not so many large men and one sharp-jointed woman, and Raidou had left the village women plenty of space.
He said quietly, "Can you tell us about Hiroshi?"
Fumiyo covered her mouth with her hands and blinked hard against the tears. "He— He was only going to the shrine," she said thickly. "In the woods, the one to the god in the waterfall. It was after dinner, but he liked to walk at dusk, he said it cleared his thoughts after the day's business. He's a silk-buyer, you know," she added, straightening a little in pride. "Last year was bad, but this year will be better, he said. In a year or two he'll be able to set up his own weaving shop, instead of just buying the raw silk and selling it on to the traders. He was so full of plans, he was going to make this village prosper— He wouldn't just have left, he couldn't have!"