Moving at the speed of Miki’s short-legged trot, it took fifteen minutes to cross the village and hike the low slope up to the Fujiyama home. It was another traditional building, nestled between flowering fruit trees and backed right up to the looming village wall. The nearest gate was—west, easily a half mile away.
“Rat, check the gate for forced entry,” Raidou said, jerking a thumb at it. “And the wall between there and here, too. See if anyone scaled it.”
“On it,” Katsuko said, and darted off in a flare of chakra. Sparks glimmered in the footsteps she left behind in the muddy ground, quickly fading. She was ramped up.
“Ayako-san, stay close to Miki-san and the guy in the ram mask,” Raidou said. Miki’s narrow shoulders straightened in pride at the more adult suffix, making his mouth tug. “Hound, front and center. Let’s put your lightfoot trick to use.”
Kakashi snorted quietly, but it took him barely a flickering eyeblink to get up to the front door, which opened with a creak when he pressed a palm to it. Broken lock?
“Hasegawa-san said the side window was smashed in,” Ayako said, as if she’d read his mind. She’d stepped close to Ryouma, hugging herself. “He broke through the door, but it was already too late.”
Kakashi stepped forward, then went briefly still.
Raidou put a hand on his sword-hilt. “Problem?”
“Smells like blood,” Kakashi said, and vanished inside.
Miki’s knuckles turned white as she tightened her grip on Ryouma’s hand. Ayako stepped even closer to them both, until her shoulder brushed Ryouma’s bare biceps. She closed her hand protectively over Miki’s shoulder.
Katsuko was already halfway back to them, running along the top of the wall. Genma took off to one side, vanishing around the side of the building to investigate the shattered window.
Wind rustled through the fruit trees, carrying the scent of fresh blossoms.
The door creaked.
And then Kakashi was back, standing in front of Ryouma and Raidou a half-second before Katsuko landed. Something about him looked wrong. It took Raidou a heartbeat to realize the long, white fingers normally left visible by the fingerless ANBU gloves were red.
“They didn’t take the girls,” Kakashi said.
“But Hasegawa only found Yuna-san,” Ayako said, staring at Kakashi’s hands in pale horror.
“They’re under the floor,” Kakashi said.
Katsuko’s voice was like a lead slab. “The gate’s intact, but the village wall has claw marks.”
“What, exactly, killed the girls?” Raidou said.
Kakashi looked at him. “Something with teeth.”