She had one moment, one fleeting moment before Ryou would enter the tent completely and she would have to start walking to the tiny hut. One moment to try and make something right.
"I love you."
He vanished inside, probably hearing her too late. It didn't matter. She didn't need to hear it back. She already knew how he felt by how much stress her behavior was putting him through. She started for the hut, sand crunching beneath her feet.
"Sorry, darling. I'll try not to cause you so much stress, in the future."
Kyuuen's whispers were carried off in the wind.
Rika just blinked.
She was...confused. Flattered, but confused. She hadn't expected him to change his mind so easily, or to see reason so quickly. Perhaps she had bought too much into the idealistic fool that he portrayed himself as. Maybe he was aware of his position and aware of what he needed to do. He was already quick to admit his own flaws and shortcomings and more than ready to listn to the ideas of others.
And then...all those nice things he said about her. About needing to speak up. And about how he would silence anyone who would stand in the way of her words.
Flattered and confused. And maybe a little insulted. It wasn't like she couldn't take care of herself.
She wrapped her hands around his, gently. She took her left hand and slid the scabbard from the knife, still leaving the hilt in his hands, and his hands in hers. She then stroked her palm against the edge of the balde.
"Not going to lie. This is a very odd request. If you were Nanaya, I would have reason to kill you now. But I want you to trust me-...us. So here. I trust you first."
She held out the line of red crimson, awaiting the next step.
Moxie didn't stir when Ryou entered. She had expected him.
"No. You did fine. You said what you felt you needed to, and that's why I invited you. If I wanted you to stay quiet, Ryou, I wouldn't have asked you to come."
She turned around in the tent and motioned for him to sit down across from her. She grasped a canteen and set it between them, offering water but knowing neither would take it. Moxie's left hand was gripping something tightly, a scrap of white fabric peering out.
Mom's death shroud.
"I miss my mom."
It felt heavy to say it. Weighty, like something she shouldn't wield that often. She had spoken of it, of coruse, to Toya, but this was the first person outside of Toya and her family that she had voiced it.
"I keep thinking that she would know how to fix this."
"Heh." She watched as Ryou's head flitted away from staring at the scrap of Mom's shroud in her hand. She had forgotten; he had one too. "I'm sorry there's nothing I can do. You're right, there aren't many women like her, are there?"
"There aren't. There won't be. Not in our lifetime." She sighed. "I don't know what else to do. We can't force them to join us. We can't convince them to join us. But we can't give up either. I just can't see an offer we could make that the Council would agree with."
"Well yeah, that's the problem with unequal governance. I mean, why is that Yuki and Suna will form treaties with each other, and neither with this place, even though it's just as independant as Suna is? That's the thing I can't get my head around, no matter what I try."
Ryou's brow furrowed in thought. Moxie found herself smiling. He really was quite educated, wasn't he? He had studied the art and science of rule and power since he was a child. It made Moxie regret not listening to when her mom and dad had tried to teach her about those things. Always wanted to go outside, always wanted to practice with her sword.
What good was her sword doing her now?
"Because they're violators of the law, that's why. Troublemakers and ne'er do wells. Criminals. Because legitimizing them would ruin the law they claim to protect. Pch. What good is a law that can't help all of the people living in the land? When did it become okay to give up on these people?"
The shroud folded across her fingers as she slackened her grip on it.
"Mom never knew about the Westlands, but she would've loved them. Did you know when she was Kage, they had no immigration laws? You could just come in, or out, whenever you pleased. All she asked was while you were here, you helped. In any way you could. And if you held that up then she would protect you in return."
Ryou laughed, gently, at some memory he kept ot himself.. "So you're saying the Westlanders have their own idea on what the law should be? That's...what I thought. And what I don't get. I agree with you. Law's supposed to be about helping the whole society. Law's supposed to be about justice too, right? That's what society wants. Well...whose right is it to decide what justice is for the rest of the people? Especially if we were to take them in, there'd be more of them than there'd be 'original Suna residents', and still Suna has right of law, even though half the people won't agree? Eh..."
He folded his arms and stared at the canteen between them.
"Sounds like even Suna itself isn't consistent. Your mother and Noriko-san, even their ideas of justice and policy vary. It's probably the same for the rest of the people, all different."
The wind and the weight of silence stretched out between them. Neither spoke, letting thoughts tumble upon each other, following the paths they created in their mind. Moxie lookeed up.
"...you know, you're right. Whose right is it to decide what justice is? What right do we have to negotiate on Suna's behalf? What right do these people here have to negotiate on the whole of the Westlands? How many Irimaras are out there that suffer every day because of the decisions we make? How much water are we stealing? Why...why couldn't there be a way for all of the people to speak for themselves?"
Ryou smirked, somewhat bemused and irritated all at once.
"It's funny but...I reckon they're doing better than us. At least they've divided themselves by region and they've got a leader for each, y'know, so you've got somebody speaking for each smaller group with similar interests...somehow feels like more are represented that way. Don't you think? The way they argue's almost proof of that. Sure, they're never going to come to a consensus at this rate but at least none of them are going to stand for anything that jeoperdizes the people they're here on behalf of. Just like Irimura didn't concede, no matter how badly he's hurt.
I don't know much about Suna, but where I come from, it's just a bunch of old rich guys who, to be honest, fight very little from what I've seen. They all want the same things. Well the thing is, the poor don't give a shit about most of those things, but they don't get any say whatsoever, and yet things still get passed without them. Actually, it's not just the poor - it's anybody who doesn't live in that circle who gets left out of the loop."
"You see what I'm saying about how the Westlanders have a better system in place, as far as the whole population goes? It's crazy to think about."
Moxie squeezed her eyes together. She felt it. Something Ryou said, there was something to that. The Kyoumougan flirted with her curiosity, tempting her with glimpses of how her ideas could be solidified and how they could be executed. She was about to open up the vision to the future, when she remembered something.
"Use that strength to protect the people of this world. Because this world is so beautiful."
It flashed in her head like lightning, infecting every thought. Moxie was on her feet. Excitement and clarity spurred her on, propelling her from the tent and back into the campsite. She had to keep moving, keep walking, because the tremendous fear and doubt that comes with every great idea was right behind her and if she didn't act on it now it might tackle her and smother her.
Handsigns. Fire leapt from her mouth and into the center pit of the camp, roaring it to life. Soldiers from each Westland faction stirred, concerned that she was about to turn her fire on the rest of them, but they didn't attack. Her fingers spat out threads of chakra and hefted her tent from right above Ryou. Two threads swept down to her jacket, freeing the gold thread from the edges of her airship captain's coat. The brown tent and the gold thread swirled together, stretching and stitching.
By now they had all gathered around the fire. Toya, Rika, Ryou, Kyuuen, Dai, Senpu, Konoka, and Ayasato. Their followers, their soldiers, their friends, all watching to see what she was doing.
She let the fabric fall into her hand, folded neatly. She motioned at one of Senpu's men, holding a spear, who handed it to her without thought. She turned the spear over and thrust it into the ground, then tied the fabric to the shaft.
A flag. A brown flag with gold stitching.
Moxie reached in and pulled out her Sunagakure headband and hurled it into the fire.
"I am no longer here representing Sunagakure. Instead, I am here to represent a new idea. A new future for this land, not just for the shinobi, not for the Westlanders, but for anyone who crosses into the desert. A future decided by the people who live in it, not by those who sit at the top.
For the entirety of history, we have been ruled by the strongest fighters, or the richest nobility, or the shrewdest traders, or the simply those who were tough enough to live a day longer than the other. But that does not give us the right to rule over the lives of others.
My mother was Kazekage, and she tried to make Suna a land for everyone. She loved everyone that entered the village gates, and did all she could for each and every one of them. But that benevolence came from her, not from the title of Kazekage. Kazekages have been tyrants, war lords, healers, sentinels, inventors and protectors over the ages. The office does not ensure a future for everyone living under his or her rule.
You, people of the Westlands, know this better than anyone. You know that listening to those around you is the only way to survive in the harshest edge of the world. You choose leaders, and your leaders represent the interests of all the people. This meeting is the perfect demonstration of that. Each of you carries with you the burden of your people and you fight for thier individual futures. "
Moxie grasped the flag and lifted it, stabbing it again beside her.
"My mother had a dream. A dream of a world without war, without conflict, because life itself was difficult enough without fighting each other. That dream can never come true the way we govern. Until each and every man who owns a small well looking for a small life has a say in how law rules over him, there will always be the discontent, the disillusioned, and the destroyers.
I, alone, represent a government that has no name, no capitol, no structure, no military and no laws. I cannot promise any of you anything, other than that I will march across the land and convince every person that this has to be our new future. To the east, to Suna; to the north to the nobility that will still listen to reason; to the south, to the trade unions. But this dream will not live without you, people of the Westland.
So I ask you now, join. Not with me, but with each other. Take an equal share of the future of the Wind Country and create the future we've all dreamed of."
She stared at Toya, locking onto his eyes.
Because she was afraid to look anywhere else.