Though he could could see his companions speak, the drumming of his heart in his ears overtook the words of all but the monk.
"I hope these people do not try to force our hand."
The sentiment was far too optimistic. Here, like elsewhere, the wants of the few would outweigh the needs of the many. Here, like in the past, the brave fools and the stubborn leaders, unknowing prophets of their own demise, would spout some drivel about resisting the fate that the Shiratsuyu represented. Perhaps it was that their strength invited challenge, or perhaps it had always been that others had been loathe to part with power. Their motivations had never mattered to Hantei, and a considerable few had ever had the courage to detail their thoughts before him.
They were all utterly too attached. He turned away from his company of four to look upon the man he had dashed upon the mountainside. The wound in his chest aside, blood had begun to drip from the corner of his mouth, down and along the side of his chin. It was only then that he realised that Itsuki had dispelled the cold, the snow, and the ice from around them. The act was understandable, given the man's temperament. He turned back to the four, and took a step towards them. The movement of his hand, up and back behind him, and the whip of his naginata back towards him were as one, such was their familiarity. Though he could not see the blade, he could hear the soft wet sound of its exit from the corpse, even past the louder sound of its grate back up through the stone into which it had become embedded and the rush of air slashed asunder by the path it cut as it shot back into his grip. He took hold of it not by the shaft, but by the three-foot scarlet sash, attached at the weapon's end by an iron ring.
He hefted the polearm into the air as a fisherman might a catch, and let flow a considerable amount of chakra into it. If any of what they sought had yet made it into the world with them—and he had no guarantee that they had—he'd be able to find them. When the blade remained lifeless, dangling aimlessly in his grip, he took the shaft in hand and spun the naginata upright.
"He sent us ahead of them. A clever ruse, but a futile one. We will have to find somewhere to wait for them, and we cannot anticipate into whose hands they might fall." He was quiet, but voice was deep, rock rumbling across rock, and impossible not to hear. He brought his empty right hand up, and the sleeve of his robe fell to his elbow, revealing a bare forearm. Entangled around his wrist was a rosary, each bead so black that one could be forgiven for thinking that they played some trick on the eye, except for one. A single bead seemed to thrum against his pale skin, echoes of blue beneath betraying the black exterior, as if lit from the inside. It seemed to Hantei that the glow was fainter than it had been hours ago. "It has taken too much from me to bring us to this place," he told the others, "and we cannot stay here."
Another peal of thunder, perhaps the only element of their environs unaffected by Itsuki's influence, echoed off the mountainside. Hantei turned to look over his shoulder. He did not relish the thought of the long, aimless walk.