The very air in Harougakure seemed to bear the weight of grief. Where they stood, the wails of loved ones and the oaths taken in order to exact retribution were less than the sound a gentle breeze would make. Aptly so, yet the fact remained.
Or so, Shido Midoriya would paint it, if he honestly believed it. Under the cover of his disguise, it didn't take much to appear as a grieving old man. The fatigue on his weather-beaten face came naturally to all old ninja; all he had to do now was pout. But even that, had to be believable.
He tilted his head ever so slightly, where Pakura Arata stood beside him. She didn't know anything about his true identity as Gengetsu Maeda. All she knew him as was Shido Midoriya of the Shiragiku Alliance, a ruse he intended to keep alive until the time was right.
"Her body, they didn't even let us see it," Pakura whispered, her eyes weighed down by age and worry, but their symmetry still retained - age veiling what had been, an exceptionally attractive face. Shido's eyes refused to meet hers, glancing instead at the grass below, as if burdened by inconsolable grief. Truth be told, he was gleeful. Things had panned out exactly as planned.
Nisshou Fuyutama was vulnerable in his grief, in his fiery rage. His mind was hellbent on one thing and one thing alone, exacting vengeance on those he deemed to be responsible for Yue's death. A trajectory that would inevitably set him up against the Shinobi Union. For Shiragiku's cause to become a crusade, Nisshou would be the key cog in Gengetsu's machinery, the tool to ensure that the balance of power could truly be shifted. Power did not truly trade hands with a few gentle words, after all. If Gengetsu wanted to topple the Shinobi Union, the only true way was through violence.
But he had to reply her. Silence was his ally, but too much, would arouse suspicion. Break the act.
"Her chest torn open, her skin burned and blistered from the subsequent attack. Those monsters, they must've set this up all along," Shido responded, quietly. "The only people that benefit from the Blood Prison's annihilation are the Shinobi Union. How many of their enemies were locked in within? If only I had known that my actions would have led to this..."
He trailed off, clearing his throat softly. Of course, selling it as a convenient cock up that allowed the Shinobi Union to eliminate those who tried to free Yue was the angle here. Their supposed mercilessness, the instrument to rile Nisshou.
They stood atop a large set of rocks, overlooking the main village. The sea filled their peripheral vision, as the sun tore through layers of mist that obscured the triangular, jagged edges of mountains in the far-off distance. The bridge to enter the main gates was a short walk down, but the view would be best here. Closer views at a funeral were more apt for family and closer friends. They'd get a good view anyway, once Yue's body was floated off into the ocean.
Pakura remained speechless. Gengetsu matched her silence with his own. The proceedings were about the begin.
Merchants of Death
There was a still silence within the confines of Kumogakure’s intelligence division. It seemed like everyone within was waiting for something, anything that could give them cause for alarm. All except for one; Kiyasui Iro was the newest recruit to the intelligence division, having been selected for her contributions to keeping Kumo safe through her journalist background, having stopped many instances of dissent before they could grow out of control. But while the police of Kumo found respect in her, she found herself less respected within the intelligence division. In their eyes, she was still just the rookie.
In the past, Kiyasui was an incredibly talented Shinobi who rose through the ranks quickly alongside her team. Her leadership skills helped keep her team safe and gifted them numerous victories. But her career was cut short when she intercepted an Earth Release attack aimed towards her comrades. The earth itself collapsed onto her leg, shattering the bones to splinters.
The damage was irreparable, forcing her into retirement. Not wanting to be idle for the rest of her life, she took up journalism as a way to get out of the house. She investigated every nook and cranny of Kumogakure, and the Land of Lightning as a whole, keeping herself as active as she could.
She learned of early roots of rebellion within the corners of the country and exposed them quickly enough where interceptions were nonlethal. She rooted out many corrupt organizations hiding within Kumogakure’s walls, including sympathizers to the then budding Shiragiku Alliance, formerly known to the intelligence division as Kaimetsu. Her contributions to the war effort, and her efforts in the past as a shinobi, allowed her to participate in Kumo’s Shinobi-Ware project. They built her a mechanical leg, giving her the freedom to walk how she used to. Not too long after, she found herself within Kumo’s Intelligence Division, the room she now finds herself in.
She had received reports from merchant ships docking into Kumo about a series of airships heading northwest of O’uzu. Everyone in the division knew about the war between Uzushiogakure and Kumogakure. As far as everyone was concerned, it was staying there. But Kiyasui didn’t think so. She had heard rumors, unfounded though they may be, of a Kumo-nin attacking and killing a high ranking member of Harōgakure’s navy during the breakout in Hōzuki Castle. She had no sources to back up that claim, but even just rumors of that could cause massive retaliation by Harōgakure. But Kiyasui couldn’t get that through the heads of her fellow division members.
Over the course of a week, Kiyasui began setting up key points for evacuation that can be set up immediately in the event of a catastrophe. Wide open spaces ensured no one would cause a block in the entryways, and she trained the local police units to run regular drills to keep the line orderly to prevent a stampede. The other division members considered her paranoid, believing no one would dare attack Kumo head-on. But with the Raikage, their strongest member and leader, fighting a war that’s as far from the Land of Lightning as possible, what better time for retaliation than when the village no longer has that safety net? All these thoughts ran through her mind like a raging river. Looking over a holographic map, she set up a series of airships over the area she was told they were at by the sailors at the time. Adding in their speed, she deduced they would arrive in a few hours at the latest.
“You can’t seriously believe they’re going to just show up at our gates.” One of the agents spoke up, breaking Kiyasui from her concentration. “They’d be foolish to even try. Our cannons will blow them out of the sky.”
“They possess long range weapons that far surpass the range of our cannons. They can pick them apart before they’re even at the base of the mountain.” Kiyasui replied. “If they strike now, we’ll have little time for evacuation. The casualties will be immeasurable.”
“You’re paranoid. I’m telling you this for your own good, just stop trying to make this seem like a big threat. There’s no way they’ll risk war with Kumo.” Another agent rebutted. It was clear no one was going to listen to the “rookie.” They clearly know better than she does. But Kiyasui remained undeterred. If she wasn’t going to get the help of the division, she’ll just have to do things herself. But before she could even begin preparations, the entire building began to shake violently. Struggling to keep her balance, she leaned over a nearby table to keep herself upright.
As the shaking subsided, Kiyasui ran out of the building as quickly as possible. Looking towards the cannons, her fear was realized; one of the cannons were completely obliterated. Shortly after, a series of explosions rocked the village. Large chunks of the village wall were blown apart, civilians being crushed by the debris or otherwise vaporized in the explosion. Running towards the center of the village, Kiyasui pulled on a lever on one of the central pillars. All around the village, sirens blared loudly. As people panicked, Kiyasui began directing the police. Tuning into her headset, she began with Channel A.
“Task Force A, reinforce the western escape route! Clear a path for civilians!” She yelled. As she ran into the eastern section of the village, she could quickly see a wall beginning to tumble down. Just below the wall was a child, paralyzed with fear. In that moment, Kiyasui charged her body with Lightning chakra. With a quick burst of speed, Kiyasui knocked away the debris with a barrage of attacks. As she lands, she picked up the child and set her at the gate of the eastern exit, where her parents had also made it. They weren’t leaving without their daughter.
“Thank you so much!” The mother cried out. Nodding her head, the family quickly escaped out the eastern exit. Getting back on her headset, she tuned to Channel B.
“Task Force B, set up a defensive perimeter on the southern exit! Most people will be evacuating there, and it’s clear the soldiers will try to bottleneck them. Do not let them form a bottleneck! She yelled. Running towards Checkpoint B, she saw people pinned under the rubble. Not wanting to injure them further by blasting away the rocks, she used the strength from her prosthetic to give her enough momentum to move the rocks away. As they scrambled out from the rubble, they limped towards the exit as fast as they could, with Kiyasui staying close by to defend them until they made their way through the exit proper. If there were people to save, she was going to do it. As she ran back towards the town center, she looked up towards the ships overhead.
“If we make it out of this, I am so kicking their asses.” Kiyasui thought to herself, furious over the inactions of her fellow agents. As the agents ran out, they began reinforcing the exits as well, following Kiyasui’s cue to get as many people out as possible. The assault continued, just as aggressive as the first, with constant barrages of energy blasts pelting the village. The cannons were struggling to punch through the ships’ armor, leaving a slight dent at best before a retaliating blast completely destroyed the cannon. There were people still out in the square who needed help. Gathering as many people as she could, she started leading them to the southern exit. As an oncoming blast headed towards her and the people, Kiyasui quickly formed a series of handseals and intercepted it with a wave of water and electricity that drowned out the beam of energy. The glow radiated around her in an almost divine light as the people directed their gaze to the one saving them. They once doubted her as a youth, seeing this once famous dancer somehow being recruited as a shinobi. But the battles she faced slowly earned the respect of the people around her. The sacrifice she made to protect her team helped garner even more respect. Her duty to root out corruption in the city added more to that. Their doubts were slowly being replaced with respect with each step she took. On this day, however, any doubts they may have still had were completely erased. Looking towards her one last time, they made their way through the exit.
Making her way back down, she could just barely make out a blast headed her way. As her adrenaline kicked into maximum output, Kiyasui quickly released a massive cloud of storms, with a series of lightning bolts intercepting the blast in a brilliant explosion. As the clouds wrapped over the village, she hoped it would give enough breathing room for people to start heading into the emergency shelters built below the village. But after a few minutes of barrages hitting the cloud, one decisive blast from the main ship completely obliterated the cloud, leaving the village open to another assault. Exhausted, she made her way back to the village center, continuing to coordinate the evacuation efforts. Could she really pull something off this massive? Doubts began to weigh on her as people continued to be crushed by debris, or completely atomized by the blasts of the warships. It was taking its toll on her emotionally, seeing all of the people she worked alongside erased without even a second thought. Shaking her head to break away the doubts, she tuned her device to Channel C.
"Task Force C, round up as many civilians as you can. Anyone capable of Barrier Ninjutsu take the lead. We can't let them break through our defenses until we get everyone out of here!" Kiyasui yelled. Looking towards the western exit, she saw a large field of deris blocking the path, with civilians unable to get through. Leaping over the civilians, she urged them to stand back. Charging a massive amount of Lightning chakra into her fist, she delivered a massive right hook, amplified even further by the amount of force in the step with her mechanical prosthetic. With a swift punch, the debris shattered to pebbles under the might of the punch, and the electrical energy surging through the debris. The path was clear, and the civilians could now make a run for it. Heading back to the center of the village, she saw the airships approaching ever closer. Clinching her fists, she wondered what her next move could be. She's done everything she can to reinforce the three main exits. Continuing her trek throughout the village, she went towards the western exit once more, protecting people by wrapping them in the same cloud of storms she enveloped around the village, giving them time to run. The chakra consumption was exhausting. She hadn't pushed herself this much in years. But even while she was struggling to keep moving, every fiber in her body feeling like they were on fire, she couldn't stop now. Not until everyone still alive was out of the village and into the emergency shelters built below.
Making her way back to the southern exit, Kiyasui's breathing continued to be labored from exhaustion. As more people flooded towards the exit, she carefully kept them in line to keep everyone from crowding each other. Another volley aimed towards the southern exit, blocked even further by the cloud of storms blocking the exit. She could feel each blast thumping against the clouds as if it was a shockwave hitting her in the chest. As she kneeled down in pain, she forced herself back up, continuing to block off the blasts as everyone funneled out of the exit. She could almost feel her eyes trying to shut from exhaustion. A quick slap to the face helped kick her senses back up. As everyone made their way out of the exit, the clouds subsided, and the rubble from the blasts nearly collapsed the alleyway the exit was built into. With a quick and short blast of electricity and water cutting through the debris, Kiyasui continued to limp back to the center. Her adrenaline gone, she found herself unable to run properly, her lack of physical therapy to train her new leg starting to show. But even then, she couldn't give up. Not now. With a quick surge of chakra, she enveloped herself in an aura of Lightning chakra, hoping to mitigate the lack of proper motor control in her leg. She could feel her body trying to rip itself apart from the exhaustion, but she kept pushing through the pain. With more people needing help at the eastern exit, Kiyasui propeled herself at great speed. With debris blocking the way, the civilians hid in an alleyway to avoid the bombardment. In that moment, a blur of electricity punched through the debris with great fury.
"Hurry, go!" Kiyasui yelled. Quickly, the civilians rushed out of the alleyway and towards the exit, with Kiyasui on their six, constantly watching for threats that could cause them harm. As debris began to fall from the wall towards the escaping civilians, Kiyasui could almost feel a sense of euphoria. As if her pain receptors had shut down in that moment. Everything slowed down around her. Jumping up towards the wall, she propeled herself towards the debris, kicking the flying rocks to powder with a barrage of kicks from her new prosthetic. It was built to last, not even taking a scratch from the repeated abuse. Kiyasui always heard tales of people so focused on a single task being capable of erasing the surroundings around them, and leave only the thing they're focusing on in their vision. In that moment, their body moves as if by instinct. Kiyasui was moving without thinking, focused only on saving the people she could see. Nothing else existed to her in that moment. With that moment of calm, she reapproached the center. Reuniting with the task force, she stood at the ready to lend them aid in their duties while she still had that level of calm.
Two familiar faces emerged from the dust. It was Kiyasui's old teammates, Keisan and Jinsoku. Keisan was in the lab when the whole thing went down, testing out a prototype shield to help provide just not personal support, but one day a shield that could cover the entire village, to give the Barrier-Nin a chance to prepare. Many times her shield backfired, but she didn't want to give up on it. When she heard the building's supports giving way, Keisan immediately went into action. Whether it failed or succeeded, there was no time for them to escape. She quickly called her fellow scientists to the middle of the building and gave the shield one last try. As the building fell from a decisive energy blast, all seemed hopeless. But as the dust settled, what remained was Keisan's shield, surrounded by a ring of rubble and debris. In true eleventh hour fashion, her shield worked. Shortly after, Jinsoku had made her way towards the lab where she found Keisan. Jinsoku had been running throughout the village, helping secure vital exit points for the escaping civilians. After the two got the scientists out of the village, they regrouped back at the town center where Kiyasui was standing.
"What's your orders, captain?" Jinsoku asked. Her lithe frame belied a monstrous physique, and her strength was well known throughout the village. Her brown hair was dusted by debris, her steel colored eyes filled with a sense of zeal, ready to get everyone to safety.
"Just give us the word, and we'll do whatever it is you command us." Keisan spoke. Her soft demeanor was hardened by a sense of tactical brilliance, and was called upon as the team's strategist on many occassions. That sense of tactical ability was heavily imparted on Kiyasui, who used those analytical skills to excellent use here.
"Right now, all we can do is focus on getting everybody out. By my estimate, we've probably got about fifteen minutes before this whole village is leveled. Take that time to start getting as many people to safety as possible. The more we save, the better chance we have of recovering for the future." Kiyasui replied. As all three nodded, they each began searching alleyways, working like a well oiled machine as they picked through debris using Jinsoku's strength and Kiyasui's Lightning Release. Keisan helped provide brilliant analysis, along with some gadgets to help enhance herself, including adjustable shock absorbers in her shoes that allowed her to store and release kinetic energy to increase her strength, allowing her to keep up with the other two. Once they saved everyone they believed to still be alive, they rendezvoued back to the town center, where they could see a cannon's familiar glow.
Hideaki had lost count of the number of instances where his lips twitched when the rookie passed by. He struggled to hide his disdain for her, the crippled upstart that had been a thorn in his flesh for the past months. And as the days grew longer, it her presence irked him that much more.
Kumogakure respected power and strength, the heroics of their Raikage had been etched with brute, freakish acts of force - not wit, or perseverance. A Raikage was a whirlwind of destruction, before anything else. Perhaps Darui's election had masked some of that - he had been, afterall, a fairly shrewd man. But Darui was also a master of the Storm Release. For all his cunning, his now decomposing love for diplomacy and his willingness to negotiate - he was, at his core, a monster.
Hideaki was no different.
The man many expected to shoulder the burden of becoming their next Jonin Commander. A position, which meant that he would one day be considered for the role of Raikage. But while he waited for that, he had been granted to honour of overseeing all of Kumo's internal affairs - answering only to the Raikage. Lord Darui had been kind to him. Hideaki appreciated his trust. Hideaki also appreciated the adulation and love the villagers showed him - with every victory and show of strength. His Lightning was a representation of its wielder - direct, uncompromising and furious.
It shamed him to admit, yet his greatest irritation was having to first share that praise and glory with a certain blonde. Kiyasui Iro.
Oh the talents she had so openly displayed, the praises that had been his eventually toppled into her basket. It didn't take too long for Hideaki to realise back then, that Kiyasui Iro had stolen his thunder; and soon it would be her lightning that illuminated their skies as well. Her Storm Release quickly caught the eye of many of their higher ups, and Hideaki found himself in unfamiliar territory. His dream of rising through the ranks, of one day becoming Raikage - all compromised by this upstart youngster. Iro's meteoric rise didn't last too long however, the earth that their lightning was so terribly potent against, wrapped around her spindly legs - crushing her and turning the proud warrior into a cripple. Hideaki remembered that day too, and as disgusting as it was to profess, he had felt glad.
A cripple would never be the proud face of their mighty village. And so his thunder returned, and roar he did.
The intelligence bureau was a neat place. Painstakingly engineered off the face of a steep cliff, overlooking their village. It was well lit, a five storeys in height, corridors drab and eternally smelling of lavender. Hideaki called it his true abode, before even his own lodgings. And she had to defile even that. She showed up many weeks earlier, hobbling through the lavender scented halls - walking stick making muffled taps on the faded red carpets. Hideaki couldn't conceal the snarl sliding across his jaw when she proclaimed it to be her new 'job'.
Kiyasui had this bizarre notion, this obsession with rooting out what she suspected to be an inevitable attack on Kumogakure. A baseless hunch in Hideaki's opinion, one that Kiyasui began nagging about when Killer B was murdered. One that she began wailing about when the Raikage declared his intent to avenge both Bee and his other friend, the deceased Tsuchikage; by razing Uzushiogakure and that self adulating fountain of overflowing hubris that called itself their leader, Shenron Uzumaki. To Hideaki's rabid gaze, Kiyasui seemed to froth at the mouth at this point - desperately claiming that an assault would leave them open to a vicious counter attack.
In the lavender scented corridors just a week earlier, Hideaki Moroboshi and Kiyasui Iro had finally allowed their contrasting personalities to joust.
"The canons on the ridges overlooking the ocean would tear any fools approaching from air or sea apart, Iro," he had passionately argued, blocking the path to her table with his squat, beefy physique. "Stop suggesting that our enemies are ridiculous enough to charge headfirst into our weapons as though it were third grade technology."
Kiyasui had hobbled forward, meeting his glare with resolve dancing in her own eyes. "Why is everyone in our village unwilling to simply accept that such a massive scale assault leaves us open on several fronts? Look," she had exclaimed almost triumphantly, brushing past him to limp across her table, unrolling a roll of parchment - a primitive map. Clumsily she had yanked a red marker from a drawer, jabbing at the parchment to leave great blotches of red on several points of the map.
"Our closest allies are Kiri and Konoha, one separated by oceans and another separated by what is, essentially, no man's land! And think about this: Lord Darui wishes to attack Uzushiogakure, who are closely allied with the Ocean Federation of Trade, as well as the likes of Kusagakure. Enemies equipped to do battle with us across both these terrains," she had claimed, boldly smacking her palm onto the desk, as though it proved a point.
Hideaki's fists had clenched without him even willing it, his teeth had ground against one another, as morality and loyalty to his village stayed his urge to sink his jaws into her throat for her relentless needling. "Not one of these half bred superpowers have the will or might to challenge us Kiyasui, you would stand in the way of retribution, for the lives lost against that bastard Shenron? A war we never started? Where is your pride as a kunoi-"
"Pride will get our people killed," Kiyasui had interrupted, her blue eyes narrowed, sizing him up. His authority challenged, his superiority trampled, Hideaki's fists had landed upon her desk. She hadn't flinched. His gaze had harded.
"Iro, are you disagreeing with the will of our Raikage?"
A frown had settled upon her youthful visage. "If we want to fight against an enemy, so be it. Shenron Uzumaki is a threat to all of us, and someday he must be dealt with anyway. But we need measures in place, in case the worse does happen and such overt hostility against us is indeed, a trap."
His lips had quivered, anger controlling his muscles. "So we're the fools walking into it?"
"That isn't my concern. In the worst case scenario, we lose on both fronts. And here, it'll be a slaughter."
Her icy voice, he understood, held similar disdain towards him as he held towards her. He had been glad.
"Iro, you might have been a proud warrior once. But now, you're a washed up ninja obsessing over the impossible to stay relevant. Do not forget who you're talking to," he had warned, his temper soothed his perception of her idiocy. An odd calm.
Kiyasui Iro had ignored the insult, maintaining her rigid belief. "Whether or not you permit it, I will ensure as many people live as possible."
The days had passed quickly after, Hideaki and Kiyasui had not exchanged a word after. Darui and his forces had made contact at O'uzu. The Shiragiku Alliance had come into existence just an hour earlier. The lavender scented halls were literred with operatives rushing all over the places, attempting to maintain communications with other villages as well as the battle force at Uzushio's gates. And yet through the chaos, Hideaki kept his eyes firmly placed on Kiyasui's table down the hallway, the woman was furiously at work at her desk. Hideaki frowned.
The Shiragiku Alliance. Now, Kiyasui Iro's madness didn't seem utterly comedic any longer. Somehow, they were at a far greater danger than previously imagined.
A clumsy young woman brushed past Hideaki's table, her jerky movements tipping the precariously placed coffee mug over. Hot coffee splashed over his notes and upon his lap, forcing him to jerk upright in shock. The girl paused amid the chaos in their offices, snapping out of her chore to eye her superior in horror. Hideaki's temples throbbed as his fist clenched, yet the grave nature of his thoughts overcame him yet again, as he gestured her away with his fingers. She apologised profusely, but he sat himself down with a thump, her words trailing away.
They had lost communications with the Raikage's forces shortly after the announcement of the Shiragiku Alliance had gone live. Someone, somehow, was succesfully jamming their communications. Projection, chakra based abilities and technology were all not going through. Total denial of all their signalling abilities indicated one frightening thing: that the enemy had been praying for an assault. Against all conventional logic, Hideaki feared to consider this, yet it seemed that Uzushio had been wanting the strongest military power in their world to attack them head on.
Embers of rebelion had reached Kumogakure months ago, as even within the walls of their village, individuals had been planning revolts. Banners had been constructed, abandonned shacks turned into facilities for crude explosives. Renegades had been planning to storm a stage and deliver their message, though they must have surely known they would get absolutely nowhere.
Yet, the 'message' was all that so-called revolutionaries truly cared about. Hideaki considered the term 'dog whistle', a more appropriate saying. Kiyasui Iro had her ways of making revolutionaries speak. Hideaki Moroboshi had his. They had different methods of dealing with squalers too. Kiyasui Iro had prisoners. Hideaki Moroboshi had disposed of his into the bay.
He glanced one more time towards Kiyasui's table, before rising again. The coffee hadn't dried, and as he harried past his desk after sending his chair spinning; his subordinates in the nearby tables eyed the brown stain in visible confusion. He didn't care.
Hideaki marched down the hallway, into the situation room, a noisy and dark chamber with a huge screen up ahead. Numerous screens hung by the side of this great one, like fruits budding off vines - each showing surveillance footage of their village's borders. The main screen displayed nothing but static - an hour ago it had depicted their troop movements off Uzu's waters. Now, nothing. Jammed. As he strode in, the others stood straight to greet him, but at the bark of his gravelly voice, they returned to their stations. Now was not the time for cheap courtesies.
"Have we managed to restore any contact with Lord Darui?"
At the corner of his eye, three individuals typed furiously at their computers, jabbing at buttons and then pressing their earpieces in an attempt to restore their line with Darui's forces. An older man approached him, silver beard reflecting the blue hue of all the screens. Moon shaped glasses reflecting the irritating lights back into Hideaki's face.
"Negative. Radios are jammed, projection technique was blocked. Pre-existing lines of communication; cut. Something's happened, we couldn't extract him or send someone to him. We've tried."
Hideaki grimaced. "We've been had. They wanted this. They wanted us to come at them; it's probably a trap for Lord Darui like they set for Lady Kuro-"
"Sir, unidentified ships detected!"
Hideaki's monologue was cut short by the shrill cry from a woman further down the room, in front of the great screen. Her computer was flashing in blue. Hideaki and several others made their way down the carpetted stairs, moving past rows of tables and computers to heed her alarm, yet approaching her monitor confirmed their worst suspicions.
They'd been had.
Numerous blips began manifesting within the radar-like detection system, signalling incoming presences near the Land of Lightning's southern borders. Hideaki clicked his tongue.
The woman shook her head. "About a dozen...no, probably twice that...no, definitely almost a hundred..."
More and more blips kept popping up. Hideaki didn't need to ask her the question again. Hundreds. He whirled around. "Get me footage from the cliffs, and arm the bloody cannons," he barked, eyes reflecting the fear he now felt.
The massive screen now switched to a view of the Land of Lightning's cliffs, many miles away from the actual village. A whole line of war ships approached the cliffs at frightening speed, through the footage many tiny beads of light began to appear amidst the incoming ships. Hideaki's eyes widened, as many in the room gasped. Hideaki knew what was going on. They would try to overwhelm the anti-naval cannons and land their troops. From there on, they'd attack Kumogakure head on within hours. A foolish gamble, as the cannons would tear through them. But if they got their forces on the ground, Kumogakure's fate would be less certain - especially with a majority of its fighting force situated on Uzu's seas.
"Contact the barrier corps, raise the barriers! Evacuate the civilians to shelter and fire the cannons. They'll only pose a threat if they get through to-"
Hideaki's command was interrupted by a violent jolt, rattling the entire building. He lost balance, sliding into the desk in front of him. The monitor bore the full brunt of his bulk, toppling over with a thunderous crash; while he dragged the keyboard down to the ground as he desperately sought to rebalance himself.
A man screamed from the front. "Impact! Impact! We're being hit!"
Hideaki pulled himself up, steadying himself as a flood of bodies rushed past him, each preparing to man their own stations. "How the fuck have we been hit? They're at the goddamn ocean, we're out of range of any conventional fucking gun?!"
The bearded man glanced at him in disbelief. "It's Harougakure's armada."
Hideaki clamped his jaws together and hissed at the older man, yanking his collar. "You mean to fucking tell me they've developed weapons that can hit us hundreds of miles out?! Do you realise what-"
Another violent shake, the room swayed and its inhabitants whined and screamed. Hideaki released the man and pointed to the woman behind him. "What the fuck are the barrier corps up to?! Where's the damned barrier?!"
The woman looked at him, mortified. "We don't have communications."
Hideaki was speechless.
His silence didn't last long.
The ceiling above them split open with a thunderous groan, a ball of flame and energy expanded inwards before Hideaki's own eyes. The room was torn open, almost in half, as sunlight poured inside. The entire side of the room crumbled away; blown to smithereens, forcing Hideaki under the desk for cover. A warm body fell on top of him and he batted it aside instinctively, before a pool of blood splashed on him. The woman at the computer was very much dead, glass shards sticking out of her face, her throat a bloody mess where a huge metal fragment had lodged itself. The old man was definitely dead as well. A metal table had landed on his head, completely burying it, and his arms and legs were grotesquely contorted and rigid. Shards of his spectacles were shattered around his frail corpse. There were screams all around the room, as people ran blindly, enveloped in flames, agonising wails and choked squeals as they desperately tried to free themselves from an inevitable fate. There were few survivors in the fiery room, but as Hideaki stood up, a terrifying realisation set in.
The intelligence bureau was an architectural masterpiece. The situation room was the jewel in that creation - hanging overhead past the building, overlooking a 300 foot drop below to the village proper.
A 300 foot drop.
Hideaki's ears strained past the sounds of dying people and flames licking the wooden floors, a low groan seemed to howl from the walls of the broken room. It twisted his intestines and turned his knees to jelly, knowing that the metal suspending them in midair, was failing. And then, the terrifying snap. The whole room shook violently, before massive cracks appeared in the walls that still stood, bisecting the room in two chunks.
The force of the jolt sent Hideaki flying forward, into a gaping hole in the wall where the huge monitor had once been; but years of training helped him maintain his composure. He clawed at the carpet with his fingernails, as steadying himself; as the tables, corpses, monitors and chairs began to slide downwards, towards him, pulled by the force of gravity and the crumbling structure which was singing and groaning its final words.
"Motherfucker," he spat, channeling his chakra to his finger tips. Lightning surged through his hands, piercing the floors as he kept his steel-like vice grip, biding his time to make his next move, to ensure his own survival. He glanced quickly behind, and the skies commanded his attention.
Hundreds of bright, blue lines tore through the clear sky, distorting clouds as they completed their arc, their destination - the spires and painstakingly crafted marvel that was Kumo.
Hideaki Moroboshi knew, at that moment, that despite all their preparation and confidence; the enemy had never intended to storm Kumogakure.
It had developed its weapons for exactly this purpose. To reign supreme in the ocean. To rain fire upon its enemies from unchallenged distances. It had weaponised technology to serve a singular purpose - challenge the once dominant force that chakra had been. Harougakure was freely raining down fire and brimstone from a place they couldn't touch.
Hideaki turtled up as a table flew past his head. The computer woman slid past him and over the edge, her lifeless figure ragdolling past her blood trail, flipping down to the village below.
He curled his body up as the entire structure now sank, preparing himself for the inevitable jump. There would be a moment where the collapsing structure would get close enough to the cliff face it had been built upon, he just needed to seize the moment. And seize it he did. Using all the force his curled up body could muster, Hideaki propelled himself from the concrete and across the cliff face, just as the crumbling control room disintegrated - streaks of lightning bursting from his extended arms. A slab of plaster ceiling which would have split his skull in two parted harmlessly, torn apart by his chakra.
His fingers gripped the rocks on the mountain face, the lightning flowing through his fingers allowed him to effectively slide down the structure gracefully - much unlike the command centre of Kumogakure.
Meanwhile, a terrible sound pierced through the chaos of the collapsing structure and Hideaki's makeshift rappeling session. High pitched sirens went off, wailing a message that everyone would have understood as those first shells ripped through Kumogakure. An attack. Hideaki finally reached the level of other rooftops in their village, nimbly propelling himself away from the rocky mountain. Landing on the roof of one of the town's numerous markets, he surveyed his surroundings carefully. Several sectors in the village were coughing out blankets of thick, noxious smoke. He coughed to clear his lungs, witnessing the carnage below him. The Command Centre and the headquarters of the Intelligence Division were located directly over the market district of the village.
It was currently well into the afternoon, a time shoppers gathered to iron out deals. Flames decorated the streets below now, stalls and rooftops reduced to smouldering rubble. Civilians ran across the streets, screams and cries signalling their desire to avoid being crushed by buildings around them that all threatened to crumble, like the Command Centre had. Others attempted to clear the rubble, to free those who were definitely pinned below. There were also corpses on the street, Hideaki could make them out clearly from here - sprawled and missing limbs, surrounded by flame and blood.
Several low pitched hums altered his focus, making him look upwards to the sky. Harougakure's projectiles seemed to meet an invisible object, exploding into balls of fire hundreds of feet above the village. The skies above the village now dazzled onlookers below, who were too terrified to behold the fireworks - a feat Hideaki was certain, could be attributed to the Barrier Corps finally pooling their energies to protect the village.
Yet not all of the village was covered by this dome of protective energy.
Hideaki shielded his eyes, turning away as several projectiles landed into the eastern portion of the village - sending huge fireballs spreading outwards, and plumes of dust and ash towards him. He bent low and held his arms forward, shielding his face, rooted in position to avoid being blown away by the shockwave. Their barrier technique relied on the same technique being cast at different corners of the village's borders; to create a massive protective bubble. He reckoned that the surprise attack from the seas had destroyed some key infrastructure - namely, areas where the barrier corps would have cast their technique. Without all of its members alive to create the bubble, there were spaces in the technique that a continuous barrage of artillery could easily exploit.
Unless they managed to fend off their attackers, they would inevitably be torn down by Harougakure's bombardment. The failing barrier would only hold out for so long.
Several figures emerged out of thin air around him, marking the corners of the rooftop he stood on. As they stepped towards him through the smoke, Hideaki finally breathed a sigh of relief. Kumogakure Special Forces. The equivalent of Kiri's Hunter-nin, or Konoha's infamous ANBU. Unlike their masked counterparts, Kumo's elite maintained their simplicity, dressed fully in black and ditching feral masks for simple balaclavas.
"Commander," one saluted, stepping forward. "Your orders."
"Do we have another channel restored for comms?"
The Kumo-nin nodded at him. "Yes sir, we managed to tap into a different frequency after the first attack. It's up for now, but I'm not sure how long it'll last before they try to jam it."
Hideaki pointed a finger at him. "Get me connected to the barrier corps and the teams manning the cannons. Get a representative from the police up here as well. I need a sitrep while you're at it."
"Yes sir," the man obliged, instantly flickering away to handle the tasks assigned to him. Another of the figures, plump and short, approched Hideaki to brief him on the situation.
"The initial shells hit command, the market district, residential areas 3 and 4, as well as the barracks. It was a targeted hit. We've sustained heavy casualties in one swoop, medical teams are currently engaged. So far, you're the only survivor we know off from the command centre - the wreckage is still being surveyed. The rest of the main building was evacuated on time, however."
His report was interrupted by an explosion below them. Hideaki turned away in annoyance as heated air rose upwards, causing momentary discomfort. The man continued his report.
"When the first shell hit, Commander Iro mobilised the police. They followed up on the contigency plan she drew up a week earlier, priority is being shifted to evacuation sir. Currently, she's on the ground."
More loud explosions, this time from different districts. Hideaki shook his head in anger and hopelessness. Kiyasui Iro had been right after all, it had all been a meticulously designed trap - designed to lure their military strength and strike them, in a manner so underhanded, yet so effective.
Another member of the special forces stepped ahead, handing Hideaki a large box with a wire attached to it; a small microphone at the end of the curled wire. "Sir, the radio. We've set you up straight to the barrier corps, and the team in charge of the cannons."
Hideaki grimaced. "Good work. And one more thing," his eyes narrowed as he looked around him, slowly, one more time. He hadn't bothered to take in his village's vista when it had been untouched, never appreciated it in its wholeness. Yet, he seemed to be surrounded by pillars of flame now; the pounding and explosions hundreds of feet over his head getting louder - proof the makeshift barrier was faltering. Inevitably, the pillars of flame would soon turn into seas of fire, swallowing his beloved city chiseled into the mountains. But before that, as a proud warrior of Kumogakure - he could act in a way befitting of his pride.
"Prepare the chakra cannons," he remarked, voice clear of emotion. "Both of them."
The special forces members looked at each other, then back at him. "Sir...we don't have a clear shot at the enemy. Hitting them at that range would mean annihilating our forces manning the cannons."
"Hitting them doesn't do us any favours at this point. Aim the cannon for Harougakure. Set it to full power."
"But sir, that'll..."
A truly frightening look had settled into Hideaki's eyes. He turned around and the protesting special forces member stepped back. "The enemy is ravaging our village. It'll possibly turn our home to ash unless we pull off a miracle in the next-"
A part of the barrier shattered above them, as streaks of blue fire rained down from the sky - the resulting explosion spread outwards roughly seven blocks away from them. A wall of flame shot upwards and to the sides, as if fuelled by kerosene - lapping up the side of an entire mountain, sending the natural structure crumbling. Columns of dust and smoke rose upwards, the flames maturing and lapping the buildings surrounding the collapsing construct - bathing Hideaki and the others in orange.
"No, there'll be no miracles." Hideaki somberly pointed out, the hope leaving his soul. "But we have one narrow window to break the enemy. Turn the cannon to the heart of Harougakure. Combine the damage our cannon will deal there, with the inevitable losses they'll incur against the anti-naval weaponry on the cliff - and our enemies will pay dearly for their cowardly assault."
"Yes sir, your command will be heeded."
Hideaki looked into the skies. Past the horizon, new streaks of blue were rising upwards. Harougakure had launched its next salvo. Hideaki turned towards the others again. "You say Iro has taken charge of evacuations, right?"
"Yes sir," one nodded.
"Good. Redirect the efforts of the special forces to facilitating her efforts. I want all our remaining manpower aimed at getting as many civilians out as we can. They won't launch a direct attack on us, we have no hope of even fighting back," he added bitterly, "so, get boots on the ground and get people out. Leave me here with the radio."
"Very well sir."
He was now alone on the rooftop. Grabbing the microphone, his plan was put into motion.
"You will have no support, all remaining manpower is focused on keeping the remnants of our barriers online..."
There was a pause as Hideaki Moroboshi's voice cut through the speakers within their earpieces. An eerie calm, as though the man had accepted some cruel fate without resistance.
"...their weapons are tearing through us here. Thousands dead. Your friends, your families. Your children. I can't motivate you to stay and defend ruins - but I tell you this..."
"...every ship you destroy may end up saving dozens of lives. Including that of your loved ones, potentially. Hold the line."
That simple final sentence was enough for Kumogakure's stunned defenders, as the operators swivelled their cannons towards the ocean line. Nisshou Fuyutama's well trained armada pelted them with projectiles, displacing the stone walls that housed the cannons, shells ringing out against the metal that encased the weapons. Their larger guns boomed, coughing out blue fire that rose into the skies - the bulk of their strength undeniably aimed at the village. But Kumogakure's defenders on this front would not back down, not after Hideaki had roused them with the possibility of saving loved ones yet to be lost.
For that, they would hold their ground to the death. Summoning courage beyond their feeble humanity, they trained their weapons to individual ships, unconcerned that the metal encasing them would eventually give way to the Armada's projectile weaponry, limited in power as those would be. Their shots were precise, a byproduct of numerous drills.
To them, the impact of their firepower carried no weight beyond desperation. Every ship you destroy may end up saving dozens of lives. Whose lives? The child of one? The mother of another? Friends?
But on the oceans, the carnage Kumogakure's cannons were raining down upon Fuyutama's men was frightening. The vanguard suffered most - the lead ship had survived far too long; it's longest cannon had fired three powerful bursts of energy which had mostly likely landed upon Kumo. A shell pierced the front of its hull, sending a cloud of fire tearing through the surface of the ship. The vehicle's fuel cannisters ignited, tearing the ship apart in a violent ball of light.
Shrapnel from this massive expulsion of energy spread outwards, pelting the ships beside it. Fragments of metal pierced the observation bay, as dozens of Harou men from both the nearest ships wailed in agony. The metal rain skewered them to their decks, as survivors slipped on the blood and seawater literring the finely polished expensive floors. Another ship in Harou's armada - prominent in name: the 'Wailer's Fury'; absorbed the full might of one of the anti naval cannons. The first shell tore through the command centre of the ship, as two more pellets buried themselves into the deck. Another fireball of energy split the ship in half, condemning the wreck to a watery grave. Oil spilled from its mangled frame, oil which suddenly ignited in response to another explosion.
And so the battle raged, back and forth. The cliffs poured rock, steel into the oceans, crevices painted by streaks of trickling blood - as Harou's lighter gunpower finally shattered the metal frames protecting the cannon operators. Their allies died beside them, yet Kumo's brave operators screamed defiantly, determined to take down an even bigger target.
The imposing flagship - the travelling abode of Nisshou Fuyutama.
"I'm trying, I can't get a good grip!"
The ground trembled once more as several of Harougakure's projectiles slammed into another part of the village, yet the civilians could pay this no need. Their immediate priority was to rescue one of their own, a young child, trapped under several slabs of concrete. The child's cries were pained and shrill, as if it had been hurt grievously by the falling rubble - making time a precious commodity. Three villagers of a stout composition continued their fruitless labour, attempting to move the largest of the chunks as people ran all around them.
"What's going on?!"
The villagers paused their labour to turn behind, heeding the newest voice. Through the ash and smoke, Hideaki's figure broke through the destruction, his makeshift cloth mask shielding his features from the dust. "You're supposed to be evacuating, this sector's too dangerous - the barrier will break at any moment," he urged, muffled voice failing to hide his desperaiton.
"There's a kid stuck under all of this," one of the villagers, a bald man in dungaries and an apron coughed out. If the raining projectiles didn't kill them, the ash definitely would, as Hideaki noted. "We can't get her out. The rubble's not budging."
Hideaki shook his head. "Where are her parents?"
Another of the villagers, a spindly woman glanced at the floor, her head quickly shaking as her finger pointed beyond the rubble. A building had collapsed there, it seemed like a shell had taken out the top floor and sent it collapsing downward. Hideaki recognised the building - the oldest pharmacy in the village. He squinted to look at the entrace. Someone lay on the floor, arms stretched, back twisted grotesquely. The face was too bloodied for recognition, too tainted by ash and smoke - but one sight of the blood tinged, blonde hair sprawled in a pool of crimson confirmed the victim's identity to Hideaki.
His right hand cackled with electricity, as the discharge of chakra blasted away the ash around him. "Stand back," he growled, yet the villagers had already backed away when his fingertips trailed towards the debris. A shrill screech of energy burst from his outstretched palm, slamming into the largest slab in front of them, the very structure the two villagers had laboured to budge. The concrete absorbed the blast and expanded outwards, giving way with a loud crunch. The slab split in two, falling harmlessly to either side. The girl was whimpering in the middle, shaking, as the other three rushed forward to get her out. "Follow the human chain," Hideaki muttered towards them, tilting his neck towards the line of people running uptown, "no more stops. The village won't last too long now. Stay, and you die."
He didn't pay attention to their reactions, instead glancing up into the orange skies, tained by smoke and carrying thousands of tiny embers. More new streaks of blue lines rose in the skies. He realised how dire their situation was. There was no chance for victory. Everything now was about reducing the loss of life.
"Sir, the skies!!"
The sudden scream through his earpiece diverted his attention back to the orange skyline and despite his best efforts to portray emotionless and remain in control - Hideaki found his eyes bulging. The individual blue streaks in the sky were now dividing, spouting branches, new blue streaks emerging from their parents, all as even more of these blue projectiles emerged. Their speed far outpacing that of the previous salvos. "Oh my god..."
The words left Hideaki's mouth gaping as he shuffled backwards, considering his options. Options that seemed fruitless. He didn't possess the power to deal with this type of attack, he didn't have it in him to put anything in between such brutality and his people. For decades Hideaki had polished his skills to be a devastating opponent, yet he had no opponent. Such was the cruelty of this attack, the sheer barbarism of it. An enemy that refused to even show its face, yet rained hell upon civilians. He turned towards the villagers who were tenderly lifting the girl out of her rubble, stepping in her way to shield her from sight of her mother's deformed corpse. But there was no more time for tender compassion.
"Go, get out!" Hideaki rushed towards them, violently shoving them by the shoulders onto the cobblestone paths. "Run, go, GO!"
Detecting the alarm in his voice and shocked by his loss of composure, the others took one look where his eyes had been just seconds earlier. The reason for his concern quickly registered into their hearts as the promise of blue fire raining down upon them sent them into a frenzy. Other civilians followed suit, as members of the police force urged for calm, calling instructions and routes of escape through the smoke. Hideaki took a laboured breath through the ash and his makeshift mask, setting a knee down as he unhooked the radio from his back and set it in front of him. His fingers fumbled around the buttons, before another voice sounded in his ear. Finally, he thought, having accessed the barrier corps' channel.
"Listen carefully, whoever among you has the vantage point right now - I need you to redistribute the barrier forces across two areas of the village. The first, cover the main evacuation routes. Redistribute the barriers where the police force has set up the cordons. And focus on the areas of highest civilian density. I need at least six of you to head to the main canon as well. Concentrate all your power on protecting the canon until it's ready to fire."
"With all due respect sir, most of the village is still split acrosss the main population centres. They're sheltering -"
"We have no time. You and I both know it. The barriers will fall. When that happens, all of us will be killed. Protect the key evacuation routes, we can at least buy enough time for an escape. The village is as good as lost - maintaining a bubble around us will be more detrimental. A death trap."
A sigh came over the radio. "Understood sir."
The low pitched whine alerted Hideaki, demanding his attention as a ring of blue pierced the noxious fumes of the assault. A sound that overpowered the blaring klaxons, the screaming, the roar of collapsing buildings. He didn't have to squint forward to know that this was the chakra cannon, the three rings of blue represented the energy coils that had been installed on the chakra cannon, to further purify the energy it emitted. Added lethality to an already devastating invention. Recent modifications to the cannon meant that upon activation of the third coil, the cannon would be fully ready to fire. The first coil indicated seven more minutes would be needed to fire. Seven minutes would be more than enough.
He slowly walked forward amidst the chaos and destruction. Away from the the evacuation routes and away from the stragglers that sought to desperately save their own skins, despite having fallen far from the main evacuees. He now approached the now abandonned shops and homes.
His once mighty village, reduced to such a state in mere minutes. Most of the initial blasts had targeted the mountains and the structures built into them - a sound plan, as these structures had collapsed upon the village proper and shattered the buildings below. Crushed the residents. The following salvos had been aimed at the lower lying portions of the village, yet now, one could not possibly identify the high and low grounds. Through the smoke, Hideaki could still make out a few of the mountains that still stood. Yet at a quick glance, it seemed that most of them had craters in them, or were missing entire sides. He hadn't seen rock burn so well before. The buildings around him were either collapsed on themselves or vomiting fire. The once bustling streets were littered with the dead and dying, moans permeating the funereal air as each step he took forward filled him with even more shame. These had been his wards, his responsibility to look after the people in the absence of Darui.
He tapped his earpiece. "Someone patch me into Kiyasui Iro, or those in her vicinity," he commanded, as the channel switched, through static. He spoke, refusing to wait for a reply. "Iro, or whoever has access to her. This is a direct command. Ensure evacuation of whoever you can, under my direct authority this is your responsibility from here on out. Complete evacuation, do not return."
He tapped the earpiece to deactivate it, setting the huge radio set beside him.
A flicker of movement sent Hideaki's senses into action, as he instictively dashed backwards, drawing his katana and crouching in a combat stance. A shadowy figure landed where he had stood earlier, seemingly emerging from thin air, as the ground caved - yielding to the strength of his arrival. The figure straightened up and lifted his arm, his hands wrapped around the neck of another human being. With a lazy toss, he flung the body toward Hideaki, who simply stepped aside. The body tumbled and flopped around on the crackled cobblestone, coughing out blood in blotches before rolling to a stop just beside Hideaki.
The corpse belonged to one of the special forces members, judging by the build, the man who had handed the radio set to him earlier. Hideaki slowly crouched, his two fingers tracing the man's neck to attempt to find a pulse. But where the voice box should have been, gaped a jagged mound of mush, moistened by a viscuous, warm fluid. He didn't take his eyes off the new arrival.
The man stoodd between Hideaki and the chakra cannon, its low hum breathing through the thick, smoke polluted air. The figure slowly stepped forward, steps methodical and seemingly unafraid.
"Bastard," Hideaki called out, refraining from niceties, "you fucking cowards!"
He spat the final word with utter distaste, channeling his chakra to his arms and legs. The figure continued to make its way forward, ignoring Hideaki's first taunt. Hideaki's thick, cigarette stained lips contorted in anger, the folds around his nose deepening as if to hold his hatred in. "Introduce yourself, you bastard, I like to know the names of the people I kill."
The figure stopped. The smoke was thinner from this distance, the sunlight floating through the smog was barely sufficient for great detail - but Hideaki caught a glimpse of the man. He was young - possibly in his twenties or thirties, with sandy blonde hair. He had a short, squared face and a nose crooked and large. His eyes sparkled, a menacing yellow.
"You Kumo fuckers really are crude, you know that?" The yellow eyed man raised his hands comically, taunting Hideaki. Hideaki stiffened, his hand grasping the katana hanging upon his belt. Yellow eyes cackled upon seeing his posture. Hideaki didn't hide his anger any longer.
"I'm gonna fucking kill you, you bastard. Coming here after killing my people is one of the worst fucking things you could have done," he seethed, fingers tightly wrapped around the fabric lined hilt of his sword. Yellow eyes snorted in response, circling in front of him, coming slightly closer. Hideaki could see him now.
"The name's Keiichi Masamune," yellow eyes responded, his jesting appearance seemed to hardened upon the mention of his name. "I've allowed you to call me bastard thrice now, that's three severe injuries I'll deal on you."
Hideaki began to feel it, the adrenaline. Keiichi Masamune was who they'd been briefed on by Darui, who had in turn been briefed by Kakashi Hatake. He had led the Persimmon Triads' activities in the Land of Fire, directly implicated in the murder of two young Konohagakure-nin some weeks back. Safe to say, Konohagakure's intel about the Persimmon Triads being a part of the Shiragiku Alliance was founded, by the looks of things. But Masamune was not finished with his initial verbal threat.
"And your name, I don't even want to hear it from that shitty fat mouth of yours," Masamune spat, his eyes twitching in disgust, "it's Hideaki Moroboshi, acting Raikage in the absence of Darui. God you fuckers look alike, even! Ugly horse fuckers!"
At the sound of that insult, Hideaki lunged; his sword tore out of its scabbard as pure lightning exploded from the direction of the hilt to the edge of the blade. Hideaki's speed carried him to the side of his opponent before the human eye could even blink, his body twisting as the lightning infused blade completed its arc into Masamune's exposed neck -
A flash of electricity forced Hideaki to alter his course instantly, as Masamune's arm appeared between the blade and his own neck, lightning coursing through the blonde man's own forearm. In the miliseconds of this exchange, Hideaki saw it all, the pinpoint precision as only Masamune's veins radiated lightning; the rest of his pale, reptilian skin unaffected.
Hideaki forced himself aside, flipping twice in the air and falling back. Masamune merely turned around lazily to face him, his face still contorted. "Horse fucking pieces of shit. Look at this fucking shithole, you call this a village? Shit looks better this way, not even gonna lie!"
Hideaki grit his teeth. "Every word you say just-"
"Shut the fuck up," Masamune growled, his lightning infused arm pointing forward. "I came here to test my mettle against one of this shitty village's so called best. I'm disappointed. What the fuck do they feed you in your Academy? Darui's revered shite?!"
Hideaki's rage boiled over, his fingers quickly forming the hand signs. A loud VOOOOOMMMM erupted behind him. The second coil was charged, but that didn't matter. Hideaki's mind was overcome with hatred, and here was an opportunity to express it.
Hideaki slammed his hands on the ground, his whole body glowing in yellow electricity - as streams of electricity ripped out from his fingers and out of the soil, tearing through the nearby buildings and straight towards Masamune. The first stream collided head on with Masamune; who raised his arm to defend himself. An explosion of light accompanied the high pitched cry of two lightning based techniques colliding. The buildings struck by the lightning were torn apart, as the deafening sound of concrete collapsing on itself now drowned out the low pitched hum of the chakra cannon - the already damaged structures fell apart, collapsing ahead of him - but after his attack surged forward, Hideaki did not relent. As buildings crumbled before him, he burst forward into the chaos, his blade poised to land the killing blow. Masamune was where Hideaki wanted him, his lightning infused arm glowing through all the dust and smoke, and so Hideaki spun wildly in the air, his blade forming a tornado of energy.
The unpredictability of his movement would transfix as well as decapitate. Masamune's arm moved in to intercept him and Hideaki repositioned midair, stretching his spine and ceasing his excess of movement to allow the yellow eyed man's arm to harmlessly pass beneath him. Hideaki's arm whipped forward, his blade passing straight through Masamune. Gracefully he twirled in the air and stuck the landing.
Masamune exploded into a cloud of smoke, as a log split into half where he had stood. Substitution, Hideaki thought in anger, but he had no time to feel anything aside from pure adrenaline pulsating in his vessels as a movement on his right caught his eye. He ducked towards the left by instinct, as a stray kunai split the smoke around him; but a stray knee entered from his left, catching his face during the duck. Hideaki felt his jaw buckle under the impact, his teeth burying into his soft tongue. The knee slammed into him a second time, this time into his nose. The impact temporarily blinded him, disorienting him as nothing but blackness and stars filled his world. He tried to move his sword hand, yet something was gripping it. His eyesight returned on time, and he staggered forward, quickly dropping to his knees and pulling his sword hand towards him.
Masamune who had tried to backhand him, was caught by surprise and staggered with him, offset by the momentum switch. But he was a skilled fighter as well, as he snapped Hideaki's arm downward in the process, forcing his wrists open and letting the sword tumble harmlessly forward. Hideaki howled in pain but brought his fist forward, jerking quickly backward and dislocating his own arm accidentally in the process - a victim to Masamune's vice-like grip. His fist though, made impact, right under Masamune's chin, drawing a laboured breath from the blonde as he was lifted into the air. Hideaki roared and tightened his dislocated arm's fist, summoning all his strength into a downward punch, aimed at Masamune's abdomen.
Masamune gasped, the air forced out of his lungs as his body crashed into the cobblestone, cracking the hard surface. Hideaki leaped over, determined to end the fight as a kunai slipped into his fingers from his own utility pouch, but Masamune's reflexes were still superhuman, despite having the wind knocked out of him. His left hand snapped like a viper, forcing Hideaki to recoil in response - yet just too late.
Hideaki felt it. A burning sensation along the side of his face, as his right side immediately turned black. The burning was replaced by an intense, sharp pain, as though someone was tearing his face in half. He howled in agony as the salva spewed forward from his mouth, the pain dysregulating his disciplined breathing, forcing him to gag on his own spittle. In his pain, the kunai fumbled through his fingers as he staggered backwards, his fingers wrapping around the right side of this face.
There was nothing but a hole. He felt nothing. No eye, no skin, no pain upon touch. There was a blur of movement in front of him, Hideaki suppressed the fear, the anxiety, the realisation that Masamune's attack had shaved off the front side of the right part of his face, the crushing reality that he was no disfigured. He forced his throbbing face to turn to the right side, to allow his left a greater deal of vision - only to see Masamune's bloodied face expanding at his periphery, stick like arms gripping the katana that he had forced out of Hideaki's hand; poised to bring it across the Kumo-nin's neck.
Hideaki ducked, allowing the katana to miss his neck, as Masamune somersaulted on top of him, swing the katana from above again, which Hideaki now rolled away from. Masamune landed and whirled around, twirling the katana into a backhand as he got low, propelling himself forward for another strike - but Hideaki was now ready.
The Kumo-nin smashed his fist into the ground, as a bolt of lightning exploded from beneath the incoming Masamune, vaporising him instantly as the sword dropped from his fingers. Hideaki leaped forward to reach the blade, twirling the hilt between his fingers as one by one his fingers seemed to take their time wrapping around the hilt. Because this was a trap. A cleverly executed one by his enemy, to take advantage of his blind spot; but Hideaki had seen it. He could smell Masamune's charred flesh behind him, could sense his movements, could hear it amidst the chaos of collapsing rubble, the chakra cannon and flames, the distant moaning, the chaos.
The world seemed to spin in slow motion now.
Hideaki twisted around violently, bringing his sword across him and it made contact with the real Masamune's body, slashing across his chest, tearing his combat vest open - but failing to stop his momentum. A flash of lightning exploded forward from Masamune's fingertips, tearing into Hideaki's liver, as his right side was torn off. Hideaki gasped in shock and agony, his knees buckling as his liver absorbed the savage impact of the attack. He landed right on his knees, as the flesh from his right flank landed on the ground with a soft and wet 'plop'. Another burst of energy tore into his left shoulder, as Hideaki watched his entire right arm fly off, somewhere into the back, into all the rocks and smoke.
"Nuhh," he coughed, as Masamune danced around him. He heard the familiar screech of electricity as a burning rod passed straight through him, skewering him to the ground in front.
His entire face was numb, he couldn't move his lips to even scream properly. Pink froth bubbled from his lips and trickled to the ground. Hideaki Moroboshi had been beaten. His brain was blank, as his left eye moved to observe his right ribcage. It was now pouring blood, like a little chocolate fountain.
Masamune now stepped in front of him. He pressed his fingers to his own ears, clearly speaking into a earpiece. "Priority One has been taken care off. Are you ready to extract the crystal? Good."
Masamune's brilliant yellow eyes turned towards Hideaki. "Yeah. The crystal that allows you to concentrate chakra into your cannon. Military grade technology, useful for reverse engineering and...well...a bedrock for improvements."
His tone was casual, controlled and lacking in spite. With laboured breaths Hideaki glanced at him in first confusion, then utter disappointment. In himself. His enemy had been goading him all along.
"I suppose you already realise that I was merely a diversion," Masamune muttered, his eyes still fixed on the cannon. A loud vooom permeated the air, as a huge shockwave emanated from the cannon. All the smoke that surrounded them was blown backwards, as the entire ground began to rumble. Masamune turned back to face him. "Though nice touch, directing the cannon to Harougakure. Honestly, we didn't expect that but - it's a great plan."
Hideaki's one eye widened in shock. "You're...nhhhnnnhhh...not going to...stop it?"
Masamune looked at him, gaze steely, unfeeling. "Kumogakure has just opened fire on innocent civilians. The same way they started a war with Uzushiogakure that has, inevitably, cost you your Raikage as well. Afterall, your village's fixation towards avenging Kurotsuchi and Killer B has been...well documented."
Hideaki realised what was happening. Masamune bent in front of him, the lightning in his arm finally fizzling out. "Your village was always going to be destroyed. We would have needed to salvage your greatest asset - the cannon's blueprints, its power source. Maybe we'd have focused your cannon towards Uzushiogakure. But, this works too. Fits your village's military status," he finished, almost mockingly.
Kumogakure's aggression was the fuel the Shiragiku Alliance needed to launch the offensive Kakashi Hatake had warned them all about. Darui had fallen for the bait. In Hideaki's rage and desperation to punish his enemy's brutality, he had sealed their coffin as villains in the international eye.
"I suppose to you, one of the villains has just revealed his master plan. And this is, technically, the part that's my undoing. But you're completely paralysed. I took out your lower body's functions when I impaled you through your chest. Your spinal cord's fucked." He paused, wiggling his index finger, before pointing at the earpiece attached to Hideaki's ear, almost poking fun of it. "Your right arm is dislocated and can't rotate towards me. Your left arm's gone. Normally I'd hit your spine in the neck as well for a guarantee of total paralysis but...I want you to be free to see it all."
Masamune merely turned around. The ultimate sign of disrespect to an opponent who had not yielded yet. "Goodbye, Hideaki Moroboshi. You were a fierce opponent, yet, had you tampered your rage...6 minutes would not have been descriptive of your battling prowess. You might, have possibly won."
Again his fingers hit his earpiece. "Remember, when Fuyutama's attack hits the village, draw your seals and escape. Allow the cannon to fire, oh and feel free to get rid of the jamming now."
With that, Masamune was gone, disappearing in a cloud of smoke. A large groaning sound caught Hideaki's attention, as in his agonising final moments, he turned his head one final time. The cannon was now visible, most of the smoke had been blown back, as its muzzle slowly rose overhead, behind the shattered buildings. With great effort he forced the dislocated end forward, pushing past the burning pain to lift his arm closer to his ear. He tapped his earpiece, re-activating it, his eye was gradually closing, vision becoming blurry. His insides were in agony. This was it.
"My god someone stop him, he's breaking through!"
The voice in the radio was alarmed, but in his final moments, Hideaki had no time to worry about it. "Whoever is listening, patch this to Kiyasui Iro, or whoever may listen. I'm relinquishing my command of Kumogakure in the absence of our Raikage. The acting commander and acting Raikage will be Kiyasui Iro, I overrule any objection - as my authority permits."
He coughed out twice, before a vile feeling clenched his insides, forcing him to vomit. Gasping in response, he steadied himself. "Iro, if you're listening, you...you were..."
A huge explosion of energy ripped forward from the cannon, in front of Hideaki. The stream of condensed energy streaked upwards, just as the ground around him began to vibrate, numerous explosions now rocking the village, overpowering his senses. The streams of energy he had seen earlier in the skies were now making impact. But his command had gone through. The village's destructive bolt of energy from the cannon would reach Harou very soon.
Hideaki knew he'd be dead by then. But he could feel the souls of those who were yet to die still pulling him to hell. He turned away, as the buildings and rubble around him began to turn into fire and explosions rocked his world. But something else floated atop the village. A sole speck. Amidst the destruction, Hideaki reached out for it -
A ball of energy shone from the speck in the sky, expanding outwards in less than a second, enveloping Hideaki in a white flash of light. "You were right," he muttered, finishing his sentence.
There was nothing.
The Aftermath, A New Leader
The destruction continued as volley after volley of hailfire from the ships above tore the village apart. Kiyasui had just reunited with the police force when one of them approached her.
"Ma'am, Hideaki wants us to get out of here. Now. Get everyone out that's capable of evacuating. He's activating the primary cannon, it's aimed at Harougakure. If it hits, their village will be leveled."
The officer explained. Kiyasui's headset was tuned to a different channel at the time, so she didn't hear the orders from Hideaki. Nodding her head, she, Keisan and Jinsoku continued rallying the civilians, even as her body continued to feel as though it was wrapped in flames. She had pushed herself to her physical limits and beyond. Five minutes felt like an eternity, her mind still in overdrive as her body propeled itself towards the civilians, getting them out of harm's way as she rallied them to the last evacuation point that was still intact. By the time the sixth minute passed, she could see the cannon glowing brightly, even below at the streets of the village. As her chakra began to run itself empty, her electrical aura subsided, and her senses returned to normal. In that moment, the pain shot through her body. It was agonizing. She knelt down from the pain and screamed, as every single nerve ending was firing at once. Punching the ground, she forced herself back up to her feet, with some assistance from Jinsoku pulling her back up. Looking up to the sky, she saw a brilliant flash of light. The cannon fired. Whatever it was aimed at would bear the unbridled power of one of Kumogakure's most powerful weapons. Everything seemed like a blur to her, the explosions ringing in her ears. She could barely make out Hideaki's last words. Telling her she would be taking the reins of what was left of the village, and that she was right.
She knew any response would have fallen on deaf ears, she knew damn well he was dying. Gritting her teeth, she started getting everyone out of the village. Just mere seconds later, a massive explosion wracked the upper portion of the village where Hideaki would have had to be to activate the cannon. It nearly knocked her to her feet, but the fellow officers around her helped pull her back up. With one last push, Kiyasui and her team started rallying the survivors still in the village towards the exit, keeping a vigilant eye for attackers. It seemed a ground assault wasn't likely, far as she could tell. All she could see was the village she called home falling apart before her very eyes. Kumogakure always prided itself in its defenses, considering itself imprenetrable. But Kiyasui knew better. No village can ever make that claim. There will always be something that proves them wrong in the end.
All she could do is feel some sense of satisfaction that her constant plans and drills weren't for nothing. That they helped save a great deal of people. And for Hideaki putting his life on the line to make sure the cannon fires. All of the remaining survivors were finally out of the village and into the massive bunker below. It was crumbling, like a house of cards meeting a stiff breeze. Kiyasui could only look on in shock. Everything was gone. As she walked towards the crowd of people, they all seemed to gather around her. Speech. Something to let them know what's going on. She felt they deserved that much.
"A ruler should not stand apart from their people. A ruler must know sacrifice, for how else are they to know those who till the fields, who tend to the cattle, and who raise our children? A ruler should know pain and sorrow, for war is bloody and cruel. A ruler who asks their people to fight is one who asks them to die, and no person should die for a selfish ruler or an unjust cause. A ruler should know justice, but also mercy, for not all crimes are committed with evil intent, but rather in grief and shame. I am not just a ruler. I am the peasant in the fields. I am the painter at the easel. I am the young soldier donning their father’s rusted armor. You will not find me sitting upon a bejeweled throne disdaining my supplicants, but working beside your mothers and fathers, fighting beside your valorous children, and aiding those who have suffered in the name of unjust rulers.
Henceforth, Kumogakure shall not be just a name: it is a principle. From this day, Kumogakure is a principle that stands for honor, an everlasting honor that binds its people. A principle that is a beacon for the lost, the helpless, and the forgotten. Kumogakure is a principle that you should declare with honor as you stand side-by-side with the people of Kumogakure as kin. Kumogakure is not a name; it is to be proud, it is to have honor, it is to be loyal, and loving, and kind. Kumogakure is not a name; it is a people. And you are the people of Kumogakure! I will do everything in my power as Raikage to uphold everything Kumogakure stands for. If you wish me to rule, I shall do so as a sovereign of the people; and if you permit me, if you accept me as such, the Sovereign of Kumogakure! For the Honor of Kumogakure!"
There was a brief pause, but the silence was shortly dampened by clapping. Followed by more clapping. What was once silence has eruped into applause. They welcomed Kiyasui as their new Raikage, their hero. It was a bittersweet moment, one that will take a long time to heal. But Kiyasui knew there was much to be done. One of her old teammates, named Keisan, was part of Kumogakure's Shinobi-Ware division. Her black hair, once tied into a ponytail, had been dirtied up by the dust and debris falling around her. One of her inventions helped save her fellow scientists, a dome-like shield projection that kept the building from collapsing on them. As she looked towards Kiyasui with her tear-filled, yellow eyes, she handed Kiyasui a laptop. They both knew what needed to be done. As she opened the laptop, she began a communications link with Konoha. As the screen flickered into view, Kiyasui looked towards it.
"This is Kiyasui Iro, Raikage of Kumogakure. Kakashi, I'm reaching out to inform you that Kumogakure has been destroyed. The invasion of Uzushiogakure was a trap to lure Darui away from the village. Harougakure's armada attacked. I was able to get a good portion of the people out of the village thanks to early evacuation setup, but many lives were lost. There are only a handful of survivors left from our intelligence division. Hideaki, Darui's second-in-command and head of the intelligence division, is dead. He sacrificed himself to buy us enough time to get out of the village. We've got nothing left but the clothes on our backs, and even then that's little. If there's any aid you can spare, even the smallest amount, it will be greatly appreciated."
"I understand. We can't send much, but I will make sure you get as much aid as we can possibly send. How bad is it out there?" Kakashi asked. He knew it was perhaps not the smartest question, given the look he could see in Kiyasui's eyes. He had seen that look many times before. He saw that look in the eyes of the people during the Nine-Tails attack on Konoha many years ago. He saw the same look during Pain's invasion on the village. It was a look he could never forget; One of defeat, but also a hidden sense of determinism.
"There's nothing left. The village has been leveled. The entire assault lasted for maybe an hour, give or take. I kind of lost track of time during the evacuation process. I spent an entire week preparing for this, forseeing Harougakure's attack from a mile away. But when it actually happened, it's a miracle that most of my contingencies went as well as they did." Kiyasui replied.
"I see. You did good. I can see from behind you that quite a number of people made it out alive. I commend you for your well-planned evacuation efforts. We could all perhaps learn a thing or two from your example." Kakashi spoke, truly impressed by the young woman's planning. If she was indeed the new Raikage, it would make her not only the first female Raikage, but also the youngest. But Kakashi knew that experience trumped age above all else, and Kiyasui was a prime example of that. The conversation, though brief, was enough to give Kiyasui time to breathe. As she nodded her head, she closed communications and handed the laptop back to Keisan. Looking towards her people, Kiyasui began setting up relief efforts as she waits for Konoha's aid. In the coming days, a refugee zone was set up just on the outskirts of the village. Tents, food, and other vital supplies began to slowly trickle in, with Kiyasui lending as much aid as she could to both her people, and to those spearheading Konoha's relief efforts. She was going to be there for her people, every step of the way. She was not going to leave them behind. This was a time for people to unite, to heal, to help. Revenge was far from her mind, because it was that revenge that led to this in the first place. From this point on, Kiyasui decided that diplomacy was the way to peace, not mutually assured destruction.
Every push up felt like agony to him, as if his own body was rebelling, telling him he could not proceed. But Kenshin embraced the pain, even as it strangled him, the agony took his mind off worse thoughts. The sun had come up about an hour earlier, through the hospital blinds, bathing his chamber in a healthy orange. But it was just an estimate for him, since he had been pushing himself past his breaking point on the marble floors, soaking in the overpowering scent of the antiseptic floor cleaner.
He felt his arm creaking beneath the bandage, struggling under his measly 65 or so kilograms of weight. What was his pain in comparison to the people who had died? His former comrades from the village? Who had tried to take him in without killing him, who hadn't started any war? Nobody was even at war, so why were people dying for him? The questions hurt him. He had spent the last few days allowing them to consume him. Perhaps he was selfish afterall, perhaps the cost of war was truly something he couldn't bear. Criminals dying meant nothing to him - Kenshin had convinced himself that he was different from his father in that regard - that he was willing to do what had to be done, in order to deliver justice.
Was it bias then? This feeling that tore through him, was it just because people from his home village had been murdered?
He grit his teeth and forced another push up, exhaling in agony as his ribs creaked, where Rock Lee had fractured them those few days earlier. In spite of such a beating, Rock Lee too, had pulled his punches. Hairline cracks of the ribs, yet no overt breaks, no bones that protruded into his lungs, no contusions, no damaged organs. Rock Lee had wanted him to hurt, but had refused to truly immobilise him. Kenshin hated that the Hidden Leaf showed him so much mercy, he convinced himself with every push up, that they were going easy on him because his father was an important official.
Yet, the doubt always remained - that they still saw him as a comrade.
He knew who had commandeered the effort to rescue him, of course. The elite team who had rescued him had been sent over by Shido, to extract him the moment they received information about Konoha's raid upon the Land of Focus. The days however, had made clear his deepest fears. Intelligence was one thing, but for things to have transpired the way they did, where they did. From the order to recruit Zassō, an individual who was absolutely set against joining a new faction, all the way to the duration between the Konoha attack and the Shiragiku intervention. It all reeked of a set-up, which Kenshin had been the bait for. It had all been too opportune.
Konoha had now lost two of its own against Shiragiku. It's top Jonin's son was now a confirmed traitor. These two facts alone had consolidated Shiragiku in its entirety as an enemy of Konoha.
Kenshin tried to shake his thoughts clear, but his arms finally collapsed under his weight. He hit the marble with a loud thud, as his ribs stung beneath.
He groaned in agony. "You're kidding me," he complained to himself, rolling onto his back, panting.
"You must want to remain in the hospital indefinitely," a voice remarked from above. Framing the doorway was a familiar figure: Kundō. She was one of, if not the only, successful recruiting operation Kenshin had undertaken. Maybe she worried about her lack of knowledge of the wider world; a leader needed to prepared for possibilities their citizens fail to imagine. Or maybe it was a skill grab; wanting to grow stronger meant traveling beyond her home.
Regardless of her reasoning, hospital sitting wasn't one of them. Kun walked forward upon receiving no response, coming to rest near the groaning Ken.
"You should be in bed recovering." Not giving him a chance to protest, she set down what she was carrying on a nearby table before lifting Kenshin up bridal style and placing him atop the covers.
Once satisfied, she pulled up a chair before unwrapping what she had brought with her. The aroma of freshly made food soon filled the room.
"What's on your mind?"
"Now thanks to that," he gestured towards the packaging her fingers were now deftly unravelling, "nothing but food."
He straightened up as she returned a blank gaze at his retort, numb to his brand of offbeat humor. He leaned into the inclined bed, exhaling softly. It was easy to forget how physically capable Kundō was - she was lean and fit, yet her physical strength seemed to belong to some other realm. In some regards, she reminded him of Tsunade from his old home.
"In all seriousness, keeping us here seems all too convenient. Like something big's happening but we're not in on it," Kenshin muttered, shaking his head. "I've had a lot of time to think this over, as in seriously think them over. Not those mere moments of doubt that I used to entertain in between missions for the Alliance."
He raised an eyebrow and turned his neck to face her. "Don't you feel that way sometimes? No, particularly in the last week. What are the chances that Lord Shido's own men extract me from a firefight against Konoha?"
Kenshin knew now that the higher ups weren't trying to hide anything. His fate had been sealed when he accepted the task to recruit Zas. His role as bait. The injuries he sustained against Rock Lee had been a convenient way of keeping him out of the fray, now that they had already succeeded in using his talents in the recruitment stage. Kenshin suspected the higher ups would have kept him out of it some other way, even if he had emerged unscathed from the Land of Focus.
The package fully unwrapped, she pulled out silverware to go with it, before grasping a piece of thinly sliced fish and a small patch of rice. Once securing them, she maneuvered the chopsticks to Kenshin's mouth. "Eat." Her tone left no room for refusal. Once satisfied, she took another strip and more rice, repeating the process.
"So what you're suggesting is this was a conspiracy. You were a chess piece on the board. You did your part by creating as much instability and manpower gains as possible. But now that everything seems to be moving, you're out of the equation," Kun responded. Truth be told, she had her suspicions boosted by the pothead. Personal distaste for the kunoichi's lifestyle aside, Kundō could tell she was smart. Sharp even. Either way, the pothead's flat-out refusal, even rejecting a mercenary role, set-off alarm bells in Kun's mind.
"In that case, what are we missing out on?"
He chewed slowly, unwilling to challenge Kundō's nurturing. "You'd make a brilliant wife you know?"
After making his snarky remark, he swallowed what was left of the food bolus, addressing her question directly. "Everything seemed natural up to the point of Shiragiku's founding. All of it. Removing the tailed beasts both to boost our own strength and to deprive the Union of theirs. Kirigakure's own actions against Harougakure that day for example, we could make out right there that the Great Villages had their own agendas as well. Son Goku's disappearance from that cave after Ichirou-kun was killed...yes and so on," he trailed off, as Kundō hovered another rolled lump of food in between the chopsticks.
He munched it down, chewing again for a few seconds and taking that time to compose his words.
"But let's just remember that Shiragiku is made up of hundreds of different factions - the villages are just the most prominent ones. But with hundreds of factions come hundreds of agendas. I never wanted to consider this, but I have to right now..."
He trailed off, he thought of Shido. Shido Midoriya had been like a second father to him after he left Konoha to find himself, to make his own path. Freedom from the shadows of the village, his siblings...and his parents. For the first time in his life, Shido had recognised him as his own person, and not the son of Densetsu Uchiha. Shido had befriended him all those years back, when Kenshin had won his first tournament - acknowledged his talents and befriended him. Months later, he had entrusted Kenshin with his dream - a dream where their world would experience equality and not monopoly - a dream that Shido could make a reality, with the resources he had at his disposal.
Lord Shido Midoriya of the Iron Isles of course, was one of the richest men on their world. Perhaps among the top five. But his humility and his vigor had moved Kenshin, his eternal opposition of the wealth the Great Nations continued to accrue - his outspoken nature on the role of the feudalistic Daimyo in an increasingly democratic world. Shido believed that the Minor Villages would have to come together and form a political block - a show of solidarity that would bring the Shinobi Union to the table. A show that would highlight the unfair taxes and unequal trade deals that had been signed in times long since gone.
The Shinobi Union back then had measured and calculating leaders who were open to diplomacy, such as Gaara and Kakashi. The motives of the cuckolded Mizukage had been always difficult to ascertain over the recent years; and many had always feared Darui and Kurotsuchi's aggression, their unwavering desire to punish disloyalty and rebellion. If two of the shinobi union reacted violently against their Alliance, they would need to be able to engage in war - as dreadful as that would be.
Therefore, Kenshin had accepted that a war would in all possibility be fought - for freedom. He had accepted the cost of likely going against his own people, if that was what justice and freedom for others meant.
Kenshin had taken the journey, seen their continent and its inhabitants. He had seen how much others struggled while those in the Great Villages or closely allied to them enjoyed the fruits. He had remembered the stories that had been passed down to him again and again, from these villagers and his own; about the days when his father had been all that stood between many of these minor villages and brutal persecution. But the gangs had returned when he abandoned his crusade against crime.
And when the gangs returned, no more help came.
For years Kenshin had wondered and yearned for tales of the exploits of the Human Torch. But every time he or his siblings begged their father to recount his tales by the fireplace, a grim look would overtake their father's usually gentle face. Growing up, all Kenshin wondered had been why his father had abandoned these people. The people beyond Konoha's circular walls. He had the power to protect all of them, so why had he stopped?
It was this distaste of his father's actions that had led to Kenshin asking the same question to Shido.
"Your father committed no crime, Kenshin. He possibly believed that he could change the world with Konoha more than he could by his lonesome. And eventually the poison of the Daimyo, which has corroded all the Great Villages, intoxicated him as well."
Kenshin had eyed him hard, confused by the mixed message. Shido had leaned closer, the dimly lit hall's candles had emphasised the determination in his aged eyes.
"The poison, of inactivity in the face of injustice."
Kenshin had responded to Shido's request. He had spoken to numerous villages. Been rejected by some, but recruited others. Individuals and villages rallied to the cause. Kaimetsu, it had initially been called. The destruction of the old ways. Shiragiku, it eventually become. The Chrysanthemum - the marvelous flower layered with petals, many upon many, a bizarrely beautiful sequence.
But perhaps that was where his and Shido's motives had diverged. Powerful men had powerful friends. And Kenshin knew that Shido had enough manpower on his own self to challenge at least one major village. In the recent weeks Shido had repeatedly chosen violence and aggression, when the Great Villages had shown restraint and calm. He had repeatedly prodded them, goaded them, forced them into corners. Then, he had clearly sent Kenshin into the Land of Focus' territory again.
Likely to start a conflict between Konoha and Eigakure, which had been averted.
Maybe the determination he had seen in that charismatic elderly man's eyes hadn't been a bonfire of freedom, but the sparks of something else.
A new dominion.
He blinked a little, as Kundō held another piece of food in between the chopsticks. She gazed blankly at him and gestured again, poking the food around his closed lips. He realised he had been drifting away in his own thoughts, as he opened his lips to allow the food in.
"Sorry, I got a little...carried away," he muttered as he chewed, swallowing once more. "I'll do more than consider it. Maybe Shido Midoriya's and my motives for establishing the Shiragiku Alliance have finally diverged. Maybe our ideas of freedom are becoming increasingly different."
"Maybe they were never the same to begin with," Kundō responded. Relatively new to the "Shiragiku Alliance" as she was, she couldn't help but feel how disjointed it was at times. Something so big and unwieldy headed by an individual at the height of wealth and prestige. She had never met this Shido as Kenshin had, but maybe all that wealth he held was suspicious. Kun was one of the "little people" after all; the splinter of a fallen clan living in a remote village blockaded by the elements. So a man already possessing an abundance of resources at the head of a growing organization screamed "oligarch" to her. At least, to her intuition. Something Kun ignored for too long.
"Seems the pothead was right to have her doubts about us."
"Would seem so," Kenshin replied with a nod. "Now the problem is how we deal with it. Evidence, is the real issue."
"Not quite," a voice interrupted.
Kenshin rolled his eyes, barely bothering to look at the doorway, where the voice came from. "You could at least knock," he groaned, evidently apathetic to the figure's stealthy approach. "The hospital isn't the place for theatrics, Pakura."
"Hardly, and that wasn't my intention," Pakura sharply replied and stepped through the door frame, slowly pushing the door shut behind her. "I was thinking of a time and way to talk to you about all of this, but I think my concerns about your health were misplaced."
"Clearly," Kenshin smugly countered, raising an arm to flex his muscles. His swift movement interrupted Kundō's chopsticks, which had been angled towards his mouth. She stopped abruptly; expression transformed to something resembling annoyance. Kenshin read it quickly enough, swiftly lapping up the food before more wrath could set in. He eased back into his bed. "In all seriousness Pakura, you've heard what I was telling Kun. I don't think whatever you've brought here is too far from that topic."
Pakura's brow raised. But a smile formed soon after. "At least you're smarter than you were after you left Konoha. Guess that brain took awhile, but it's growing - that, is a relief."
She dragged a simple stool to the foot of Kenshin's bed, unholstering her katanas and seating herself. Her light armour clanked and screeched in an uncouth manner as the metal stool accommodated the battle gear. Kenshin's forehead creased. She must've just returned from some battle. The metal lined gauntlets she wore were flecked with drops of water, but her sleeves had powdered stains of brown on them. Blood, perhaps a day old then.
"Shido's double crossed the Alliance," Pakura remarked casually, as if the matter bore no gravity whatsoever. "Or at least, that's how it is on paper. Shenron, Shido and a few of the others likely never shared the same viewpoint that most of us did. Most likely Harougakure as well. Nisshou Fuyutama never cared about anything but the supremacy of his own loved ones."
She breathed out slowly. "They were always angling for a war. And now, they've got one."
Kenshin held out his hands. "Slow down Pakura. Shenron, Nisshou...you're talking about key cogs of the Alliance, and Shido being in league with them? Didn't Shido always say Shenron was a means to an end? And what's this about them having a war-"
"Kenshin," Pakura curtly cut him off, "listen to me. Just listen very carefully and ask your questions after I'm done."
Kenshin opened his mouth to protest, but she maintained eye contact. His jaw tensed and his eyes lowered, a few seconds passed and he found the patience to nod his head. Pakura relaxed. She looked first at Kundo, before returning her eyes to Kenshin.
"Kumogakure fell this morning. Darui led an attack on Uzushiogakure; one that decimated both sides. Harougakure launched a blind-sided counter offensive - Fuyutama unleashed an attack that essentially reduced the village to ashes towards the end. Kumo's cannon was fired at Harou as well - there's nothing left of both villages. Uzushio took the brunt of Kumo's might, they've held on, but Shenron's dead."
He had nothing to respond with. All Kenshin could do was stare at Pakura in stunned silence. She examined the look in his eye, understanding the burden the news had on him before proceeding. "Listen Kenshin, this wasn't a coincidence. Darui attacking was merely the fuel Shido needed. Fuyutama's fleet had already been mobilised anyway - they had always been armed to exploit Kumo's defences. I need you to know something. This wasn't a counterattack - it was a premediated slaughter disguised as one."
Kenshin shook his head, eyes gradually widening in horror. "Pakura...what - no, how long have you known about all this?"
"Weeks now, but I swear I didn't see it panning out like this," she said softly, her head hanging in shame, eyes obscured by white locks of hair. "I had become convinced months back that Shido was actively making efforts to initiate a conflict, but..."
She trailed off. Kenshin could feel it now, the rage. His fingers formed a fist as the clung onto his sheets. Pakura had been one of Shido's most trusted underlings this whole time. As her unique talents afforded her great standing in any military, he had respected her power and experience - turned her into one of his top commanders. "Pakura, you let him go on with all of this?"
Pakura looked upwards, a deathly calm sweeping across her in contrast to the chains of regret that seemed to anchor her just seconds ago. "Stopping him in any form would have meant jeopardising the chances of a historic movement's success. The Shiragiku Alliance had to succeed, Kenshin. Would you have stood in the way of the people's freedom?"
"This isn't freedom," Kenshin shot back, his teeth grit now, his anger bubbling to the surface. "This wasn't what he promised Pakura, he told us war was a last resort - but if it was fought, it would be a necessary one. That's how I convinced people to join us."
His fist slammed the soft bedding. "But now you tell me you've known he was plotting to start a war from the start? And you withheld that from me, as he swindled me with his ideals of honour and justice? You allowed me to sign thousands up to die?!"
He leaned forward, matching her icy stare with his own fury. "What have you done?"
Pakura remained composed, refusing to back away. "The Shiragiku Alliance had to live. Without it, this cycle of oppression would never end. One day Kenshin, you'll live in our world. A world of actions and consequences. Of blind eyes to slights for the greater good. One day, you'll realise that every great action comes with great consequences."
"But for now, we're both on the same page. The matter of then is less important than the matter of now, and the matter of tomorrow. Our priority has to be stopping Shido Midoriya."
Kenshin's breaths had become harsh, his throat clenched to keep his rage internalised. Pakura's calm bothered him greatly. Entertaining thoughts and enlightening Kun on the possibilities of his much-idolised Shido's ulterior motives had been easy. Being confronted by the fact that the man he respected so much had manipulated him and so many others, turned freedom into a trap to drive conflict - it had shattered him inside. Pakura's own actions deeply affected him, yet he was able to acclimatise quickly.
Some served Shiragiku. Some served the Great Nations.
Pakura Arata's allegiance had always been to one thing. The oppressed. She had no family, no loved ones. Her sole reason for existing had been to uphold the values that she felt she had trampled on in her youth - when she had been a famous S-rank criminal. Redemption had turned her into a fabled hero of justice, as fairy tales would describe.
"Pakura," Kenshin hoarsely croaked, still unable to reel from the news that they were already in a wartime scenario. "Just tell me one thing. Why is Shido doing this?"
From the stool she straightened up, folding her arms. She smiled. Now, he had asked her the right questions. "Shido Midoriya's existence in itself is a lie. There wasn't ever a virus or phage that disrupted his flow of chakra," she stated. "He's always been using a transformation technique to hide his true form. The real Shido Midoriya died in the yacht incident 50 years ago."
"Who is he?" Kenshin growled.
"Gengetsu Maeda," she replied softly, her expression hardening, fingers wrapping around the foot of the bedframe. "The Ironshield of Sunagakure, former war hero. Faked his death, turned into a criminal and gained control over the Land of Wind's underworld over these past decades. Those people who took you out of the Land of Focus? The Persimmon Triad's fiercest fighters, led by Gengetsu's own right hand man...Fuyukage Haseyama. The Shinobi Union also know of good old Gengetsu's existence now, yet I was just a little quicker."
Kenshin slumped backwards again, his hand rubbing his temples. "My god, what have we done?!"
"Setting aside the resources at his disposal, wild cult leader-like popularity and a silk-smooth tongue, we've let a warlord take control of the largest human organisation slash army to oppose the Great Shinobi Nations," she stated, her grin widening. "And as of today, he's gotten their strongest piece of the board. Any guesses who he's going for next?"
"Konoha," Kenshin muttered, still shaking his head. "How did I not see it? The tailed beasts? The emphasis on the military might we would need? All that shit about Reiki?! Fuck!"
"He overlooked one crucial detail," she countered, her smile yet to be erased. "That we'd catch wind of his plans beforehand. Part of the reason I had to keep my tongue sealed was to feign absolute loyalty. If we dispose of him on time, we get to protect his Alliance - and we can eliminate him. This Alliance, cannot die Kenshin. Too many have already sacrificed themselves to bring life to it."
The anger and hopelessness evaporated; a sliver of hope extended to him might as well have been a lifeline. Was this the responsibility that came with coaxing people to go to their deaths? What kind of human being wouldn't leap at the chance to rectify such a sin?
"How?" Kenshin asked, he was fearful to even hope - but Pakura's confidence inspired his second relevant question.
"He's busy coordinating the advance on Konoha. That gives us time to undermine him - three allied nations will engage the bulk of Shiragiku at no man's land. If we play our cards well enough, we'll prevent the war from escalating and draw both sides to the table. Kakashi, Gaara and Yoshitsune can be reasoned with."
Her eyes seemed to gleam. Kenshin had the feeling she had used her inactivity well, her lack of opposition to Shido - no Gengetsu Maeda, her silence and apparent complicity to the war crimes he was about to commit, the blood that would run through his fingers - had been turned into precious hours to mount her counter offensive.
"We'll mount a coup from within Shiragiku, with the help of the Shinobi Union - expose Gengetsu and preferably..."
She trailed off. Kenshin finished her sentence for her.
"...we kill the son of a bitch," he finished. She shot him a questioning look.
"He was the man you respected above all else Kenshin. Don't harden your resolve carelessly based on a moment of anger. Hesitation down the line will get you killed," she pointed out.
"Pakura I'm not that big a fool," he replied, much calmer again. "I've spent enough time in my father's home to know who the mysterious warlord in the Wind was. There's a big name in every country - but the terrifying nameless ones make for the best stories. At the end of the day he's a piece of shit drug pusher, murderer and now this - planning an entire war. I'll kill him Pakura, it doesn't matter who he pretends he was."
Pakura nodded. "Fair enough."
"What did he plan to do if he won?" Kenshin finally asked.
Pakura scoffed. "If he's allowed free reign, he will win. And once he does, I assume the remnants of the Great Nations will be of no challenge to him. He'll be the head of whatever comes after, either in the open or from the shadows. Simply put, Gengetsu Maeda has possibly amassed enough resources to put him as the leader of the world born from the chaos he will create."
Kenshin snarled. "No, he won't. He won't get away with this."
"Atta boy," she said with a smile. "But we won't be alone. We have her after all..."
Kenshin stared at her blankly. Pakura chuckled. "You'll get it soon enough. Anyway, get yourself ready. We've got an important date coming up soon, so we'll need to get some travelling in."
"Huh?" Kenshin's eyebrow rose.
Pakura sighed and rolled her eyes. "We need the Shinobi Union's help, remember? Well, we're going to have to get things in motion for that before Gengetsu gets wind of our plans."
Kenshin paused. He had completely forgotten about needing the help of the Shinobi Union. Could she be meaning the help of...
"Anyway, I'll leave you two time to get ready," she said curtly, getting up and gliding across the clean room towards the door. "Sorry I didn't talk to you too much, Miss Kundō; the boy's told me tonnes about you though!"
"What?" Kenshin responded, attempting to interrupt her, but she had already passed through the doorway. He sighed and slid back into his bed briefly. Kundo remained next to him. He turned to face her.
"You heard all of that from her, Kundō. And I'm guessing you know it's all downhill from here - and this isn't what I got you onboard for," Kenshin spoke out, not waiting for time to grant him softer words or the appropriate ones. His doubts and rage still burned raw, guilt still swarmed him - after all, Kundō had been one of those he had recruited in his great vigour to strength Shiragiku. A Shiragiku which at the moment, seemed to be the plaything of a megalomaniac, or even worse - the stairs he would use to ascend to his throne.
"She's putting it too slightly, all this talk about bringing that bastard down from the inside. The fact is whoever goes after him possibly isn't going to survive, whether or not we succeed. This wasn't what I promised you all those months ago when I came to your village," he said, looking into her eyes. His own were filled with regret.
"It's like you said that day when I first woke up here. I had the power to get people onboard with all of this and, I now have the power to undo it. But you were never involved in all of this the way I was."
He paused and took a deep breath. "You're a good person Kun, the absolute best. If you decide to return to the Land of Snow, to protect your people, to stand with them while our world is about to fall apart - I would never fault you. And I'd tear through anyone who tried to."
How could he ask her to come with him on this journey after all? How could Kenshin tell her that after the last few months of travelling together, of essentially living together and fighting together; that he would not be able to live with himself if any harm came to her? It hadn't taken much for her stoicism and courage to inspire the love he had for her; the days only made that feeling so much stronger. But these were words he would simply refuse to say at that moment - words he believed; she would not need to bear if she made the decision to return to her people.
She let all of Pakura's information wash over her. Sorting through it wasn't the herculean task it might prove for Kenshin. After all, Kundō simply wasn't as invested. Being the relative newcomer meant she could take a step back and coldly examine the facts in a way veterans of the alliance couldn't.
Still, Kun started from the beginning. Three villages annihilated: Uzushiogakure, Kumogakure, and Harougakure. Two sides of an alliance, one blinded by ambition and greed, the other biding their time, sacrificing tens of thousands, if not more, on the altar of "true peace". Or at least, that's what they told themselves to avoid the crushing guilt of sending so many to their graves. Of the side striving for empire, two players were now more or less out of the equation, leaving "Shido", who was in fact someone far worse, in the driver's seat.
Meanwhile, the side who was complicit, with the ultimate aim of peace and a new way of doing things, planned to strike and remove the last key chess piece from the board. All in the aim of bringing the last three "reasonable" members of the opposing union to the negotiating table.
Her earlier thought of the pothead's refusal returned in force. They knew. She hadn't been there when the pitch was made, Kenshin recruiting her in the days and weeks after the failed attempt, but it clicked.
"They knew the alliance was rotten from the beginning, didn't they. Eigakure, the Land of Focus. How does a smaller village, even one coming into their own, stay ahead of the large ones? Knowledge. Knowing everything about everything to do with potential adversaries. Even the most benign information could prove devastatingly useful later," she said aloud before sighing.
"I'm not leaving. They will be fine. Moreover, I couldn't face them, or my ancestors if I were to jump ship now. Additionally, I'm still immature. I have much to learn if I'm to be the resolute, well-versed leader the village will need in the future."
"Besides, our story is just beginning."
Kenshin was taken aback by her resolute nature to stick it through to the end. He had expected her to protect the village, to fall back from the inevitable slaughter.
He smiled warmly in response.
"Just beginning, huh?"
He guessed that would be the best way of putting it, for now.
They had been traveling for a few days now. The Land of Lightning was living up to its name, with a thunderstorm over their heads at any given moment. As Honrui stopped for a second, she clutched at her temples, as an intense pain began to rush through her head. As Sora turned around, he tapped Honrui on the head, a soft glow of golden energy forming around her.
“Everything alright?” Sora asked, as Honrui recomposed herself.
“Something’s not right. It feels like something terrible has happened. We need to get to Kumo, quickly.” As Sora nodded their head, the two quickened their pace. After half an hour, they could see smoke in the distance.
”No.” A voice quietly rang out. It was Gyūki, the Tailed Beast Honrui took control of after the death of Killer B. “No!” He yelled loudly. “We need to get to Kumo, now!” He commanded. The two broke into a full sprint as they closed the distance to the village. As they arrived at the gates, there was almost nothing left. On the outskirts, the buildings were barely standing, some slowly collapsing under their own weight. But the center was where it was worse. Nothing stood at the center but a crater. Honrui couldn’t do anything but fall to her knees. Her sorrow too hold of her, and her tears fell in tandem with the rain.
She made a promise that no more innocent people would have to die, not if she could help it. That promise, much like her resolve, was broken. In that moment, Honrui let out a bloodcurdling scream, one so loud that even the gods could perhaps hear it. Not even the thunder around them could drown out her screams of anguish. Even the once angered Gyūki could resonate with the deep sorrow in Honrui’s soul, and his emotions turned from anger, to apologetic. Her sorrow slowly began to turn to anger, as she realized there was only one individual with something strong enough to level a village so thoroughly; Nisshō Fuyutama, and his Harōgakure Armada. Her sorrowful screams turned to screams of rage as she gripped her scythe tightly.
“Honrui, I know the emotions you’re feeling right now. But there’s nothing to direct that anger at. Anchor yourself so you may weather this storm.” Sora spoke. He was right. There was nothing she could channel her anger at right now. But something else disagreed. A sudden cacophony of voices began to erupt within Honrui’s mind. As she fell to her knees once more, she clutched at her head, screaming. “Kill.” The voices would all say, overlaying one voice after another. “Punish.” They would say once more. They all formed a silhouette of Sora. He brought her here for nothing. Picking up her scythe, she turned towards Sora, rage filling her sickly green eyes.
“We came all this way so we could get the water needed to cure me, and now it’s gone. I have no way of curing me, or my wife, now!” She screamed, rushing towards Sora with blind fury. In that moment, Gyūki began reaching out to Sora, forming a mental link to him, and him alone.
“If you have anything up your sleeve, now’s the time to use it” Gyūki told Sora. The old Gyūki would have relished seeing Honrui slip into the darkness. But the months they had been together, he began to see a lot of Kumo in Honrui. Her resolve to change things for the better resonated deeply with him. He saw her past, how all she wanted was a better life, for everyone. She was shown the wrong path many times under a false pretense that it was the right way, but everything she did, it was to help people in any way possible. When he felt her sorrow at Kumo’s destruction, he felt an entire village worth of pain and anguish, as though she was the voice the village no longer had, to cry the tears they no longer could. And the anger he can feel from her now, it’s an anger he only felt from the likes of A during the war. He could feel all of Kumogakure within Honrui, and he felt at home once more. And he didn’t want to lose that home again.
Nodding his head, Sora looked back to Honrui. Letting out a sigh, he adjusted his stance. “Izanagi, going to need your help with this one.” He pleaded. As he took an open palmed stance, he waited for Honrui to swing her scythe. As she did, Sora moved forward out of the scythe’s range and grabbed it by the hilt. Pulling Honrui towards him, he tapped her on the center of her clavicle. In that moment, a burst of golden energy erupted from the impact, sending her backwards.
Her once sickly green eyes began shifting into a livelier green, as she began trying to readjust herself. But before she could fully get back on her feet, Sora closed the distance once more, this time tapping her upon the forehead. As the impact rang true, another burst of golden energy erupted from the impact. In that moment, she could feel the voices getting quieter.
“Now, Honrui, get him out of there!” Sora yelled. As her eyes widened, she nodded her head. Tensing every muscle in her body, she let out a scream that seemed to drown out the storm. The ground before her began to crack in response to her efforts. Blood began pouring out of her eyes, nose, and ears as she continued pushing with every ounce of strength she had. In an instant, an explosion of dark and gold energy erupted from Honrui in a blinding light.
As the light began to fade, Honrui looked down at her hands. They looked normal. Quickly, she looked down at one of the many puddles forming from the storm. Her sickly green visage was gone. She looked normal once again. As she fell back over, Sora rushed to her aid, tending to her injuries. The voices were finally gone. No more whispers, no more demands. She was free.
“How did you do that?” Honrui asked, her wounds healed after what she had been through.
“I must confess that I wasn’t entirely truthful to the meaning of our journey. I didn’t need the water to create a ritual to sever you from Jashin, that was actually for my home. I needed the water for the trees to restrengthen their protection. I pleaded with Izanagi to weaken Jashin’s control over you, because the only way to break a pact with a god is through force of will. But with someone like Jashin, it’s more complicated than that. You have to force Jashin out through sheer strength, which is a monumental task. So I needed to gather as much natural energy as possible in order to do that. I didn’t know if I had enough, so I kept holding off until the time was right. Now I now how much I need for when we meet your wife.” Sora replied. Honrui went through a whole range of emotions listening to Sora’s words, before ending on ecstatic, knowing there was a chance to finally save Jitoku, too.
Looking towards the ruins of Kumogakure, Honrui stepped towards the crater. Placing her hands on the earth, she could feel the memories of the people who were running for their lives in response to the attack. Focusing her chakra, she began sealing it closed, reforming the walkway that once circled the village center. There were no buildings left at the center for her to fix, but over the course of the day, she slowly began repairing the buildings on the outskirts that barely survived the attack. As night began to fall, the two took shelter in one of the houses that were repaired to keep dry.
Before too long, Honrui could hear footsteps at the village center. Looking out of the window, she could see three figures, all female. One had blonde, long hair, one with short, brown hair, and the other with black hair tied into a ponytail. They seemed to be at awe of the village’s semi-restoration. As Honrui and Sora stepped out of the building and made their way towards the village center, the brown haired girl adopted a defensive stance upon noticing their arrival.
“Easy, now. We aren’t here to fight. We’ve been fixing up what we could, here.” Sora spoke, trying to ease the tension. His visage was focused on heavily by the blonde haired girl, who eyed him with fascination, how his gentle, green hair swayed in the wind, and his pink eyes seeming to hold several lifetimes worth of wisdom. As the brown haired girl nudged her, she snapped back to her senses before shaking her head.
“You fixed this place? Amazing.” The girl replied.
“Well, not me specifically, it was her that did all the heavy lifting. I just kept her chakra levels in check while she worked. I’m Sora, Sora Hataya of the Blooming Grove, and this is Honrui.” Sora replied. The three recoiled in suspense at the name. They knew Honrui as one of Shiragiku’s top commanders. The brown haired girl once again shifted into a combat stance before the blonde haired girl put her hand on her shoulder to get her to stand down.
“I doubt she’d rebuild our village just to fight.” The girl spoke. “I’m Kiyasui Iro, Raikage of the village you’ve been rebuilding. So what brings you here?” She asked.
“As you know, I’m from the Blooming Grove. It’s in rough shape right now, and I was hoping to procure your lightning touched spring water to give the forest more life.” Sora replied.
“I think we can manage that. The Blooming Grove took in many of our honored dead and it’s just as much an ally to us as the Shinobi Union. But we ask a favor in return; we want you to help us set up relief efforts while we wait for aid. We need as much help as possible in the coming days. Would you be willing to help?” Kiyasui asked.
“Of course. It’s the least we could do to help. Whoever caused this assault, it wasn’t in Shiragiku’s name. And I hope to bring them to justice once I find them. But for now, you guys need help the most. It’s high time Shiragiku help people properly instead of antagonize them.” Honrui replied. Breathing a sigh of relief, Kiyasui brought them to their underground shelter and told everyone of the situation, how these two newcomers would be helping set up relief efforts until they received aid proper. In the coming days, supply lines began being built to expedite supplies coming to the village, and it seemed like they were being given another chance to do what’s right. And they had two unlikely allies to thank. To make things official, Honrui agreed to an alliance with Kumogakure to align their sights on improving the world not through war, but through understanding and peace. She needed likeminded individuals for this cause, however. So it was more of a first step than anything else.
The clouds rumbled above them; a bizarre yellow glow began lighting the edges of the cloud cover. A single bolt of lightning streaked through the air above, filling everyone's nostrils with the scent of charred wood, as a single parchment of paper floated down gently towards Honrui.
As her hand grasped it, the parchment unfurled - revealing a set of letters inscribed in a foreign tongue. However, as her fingers remained on the paper, the letters began to rearrange themselves, into words Honrui would understand. A cipher, coded to unwind at the mildest hint of Honrui's chakra.
The words were still shrouded in secrecy, yet, Honrui would make them out perfectly. It was, afterall, something her friend had left her.
Meet me at the crossroads of your home. We've been betrayed, I need your help. Thunderbird.
The letter crumbled to ash after several seconds. Thunderbird was an alias Pakura Arata used several times in the past, in correspondences with Honrui. A nickname meant for her specific consumption. A message warning her of betrayal after the fall of Kumogakure, was urgent. The secrecy and subtlety with which the message had been delivered, was meant to convey as much.
”What was that?” Sora asked, seeing the letter on Honrui’s hands. Before he could see what was on it, it was reduced to ashes.
”A sign to come back home. Something big is happening, and I need to get back to Kōhōshu quickly.” Honrui replied. As the two got ready to leave the gates of Kumogakure, Kiyasui quickly stopped them.
”Wait, before you go, I want to give you something. I heard through various reports you’re Gyūki’s Jinchūriki, and that I have no ill intent with how you handled B. You honestly gave him what he wanted. He didn’t want to die in his sleep, he always told us the only way he could die, was by battle. Otherwise, he wasn’t doing it. I want you to have these.” Taking out a large, wrapped cloth, she handed it to Honrui. Opening the contents revealed B’s seven Supervibrato Lightning Release Swords.
“These were B’s. He would have wanted you to have them. He always respected the adversary who could best him in combat, and there were very few who could. I’m sure he’d want you to put these to good use. Think of it as a token of gratitude for helping rebuild much of our village. I think we can take care of the rest. And Sora? Whenever you need our spring water, just stop by. I might have a pot of tea brewing, too.” Kiyasui finished, an earnest smile that she hasn’t been able to provide for quite some time, now.
“Thanks, I appreciate that. Can’t ever turn down a good cup of tea, so I’ll take you up on that offer.” Sora replied.
“Thank you. I will take good care of them.” Honrui replied. She saw firsthand how a master uses these blades, and she heard tales of how not even the Sharingan could keep up with B and his swords. She hoped to meet that level of skill with them one day. Using her Metal Release, she stored the blades within her body so they’ll be at the ready whenever she needed them.
“Those swords are a token of trust, take care in using them.” Gyūki advised. Seeing the swords once belonging to his friend being given to the one who ended his life felt strange, but equally welcoming. She was filling in the role B once took, and they were mighty big shoes to fill, indeed. “You will need training in how to properly use them, if you want to use them how B did. I can’t show you how to use them, but I can explain how they can be used, in due time.” It was much for Honrui to think about, but she was willing to learn. However, it would have to wait; what’s important is the trip back to Kōhōshu. As Sora and Honrui went out the front gate, it was time for them to head back. Sora had never been to Honrui’s village before, so it would be a new experience for him.
1 week later.
The trip was largely uneventful. Sticking to the less traveled roads meant less of a chance of running into any potential trouble that had been using the main roads lately. After a week’s travel, the two found themselves back in the Land of Rain. The rain was fairly light today, making the trip a bit easier than it usually would. As the two made it to the crossroads leading to Kōhōshu, Honrui waited for Pakura’s arrival.
And amidst the light drizzle, a figure finally appeared ahead of Honrui, seemingly materialising from the droplets of rain.
"Honrui," Pakura called, shuffling through the mud streaked pavements to close the distance between them. She paused awhile, quickly studying the figure behind Honrui. Even under overcast skies, his emerald hair gleamed - an almost supernatural aura preserving its lustre, as if amethyst coated eyes weren't enough to convince Pakura that Honrui had actually succeeded in her quest.
"A grave cleric huh," she continued, finally turning away from Sora with a curt nod to him. She refrained from saying the next words that came to her mind. Can we trust him?
It was a useless question. Honrui wouldn't have brought someone they couldn't trust, plus the grave clerics tended to keep out of the affairs of the outside world; from whatever they had discussed at Honrui's daughter's shop that afternoon. Wiping rainwater from her face, Pakura looked Honrui dead in the eyes.
"Shido moved against the Great Nations. After Kumo's actions last week, war was inevitable. He'd suckered us all from the start, he pushed things to that point," she whispered, her voice rough. "We're already too late to stop the bulk of the fighting. People are going to die, but if we act quickly enough, we can stop it from escalating."
In that one week, Shiragiku's military forces were already marching forward to consolidate their foothold on No Man's Land. Kirigakure's silence and the Land of Iron's insistence on remaining neutral, had been something the remainder of the Shinobi Union had been forced to reckon within. Konohagakure was sending its forces to meet with the incoming minor villages in No Man's Land - while Iwagakure and Sunagakure had sent their forces to challenge Amegakure and Kusagakure, who were amassing in the north - in an attempt to prevent Konoha from being overrun.
No Man's Land was going to be a slaughterhouse in the next few days.
"We've already organised pockets of resistance - key leaders that have been shocked by how quickly Shido has committed to war, but many in Shiragiku share his enthusiasm to fight. Anger and a feeling of oppression blind them to the fact that they're being used," Pakura stated with a shake of the head. "But we need you, Honrui. And I know it's a big ask, but we need Kouhoshu as well. If we can kill Shido - no - Gengetsu Maeda, we can usurp the chain of command and force a ceasefire. But we have to be decisive and play our cards right."
There was no point in calling the warlord by the name he had used to cheat them into a war.
"If Gengetsu catches wind of our movements by the slightest, he'll march against us," a new tone of danger seeped past her voice, "and I doubt he'll keep us alive. So I ask you this massive favour Honrui, and I need to know, are you with us?"
"So we've all been made fools of." Honrui replied. She had never met the man personally. It was Jitoku who went on in her stead that day when the Shiragiku Alliance was first officially formed. But what Jitoku said of this "Shido" was he had an air of deceit around him, that everything he said sounded like half truths and flowery embellishments. "My wife always told me this "Shido" character seemed to have something hidden, but she could never quite pin him down. She felt uneasy in his presence. When Jitoku has a bad feeling about someone, her educated guesses always tend to be correct. In any case, this is Sora Hataya. He's been a great help to me. I'm no longer tethered to Jashin's dark influences thanks to him, and he helped me bond more strongly with Gyūki."
"A pleasure. We both helped each other out, to be honest. We were in Kumogakure after the village's destruction, and her efforts in helping repair a large portion of the village landed us in the good graces of the Raikage there. She helped guarantee my forest's continued wellbeing, and also helped provide an alliance with whatever thing Honrui will have going on in the near future. Looks like I may need to stick around a bit more and help deal with this "Gengetsu" fellow. Tahose who take advantage of the downtrodden for their own selfish goals is a fool who can never be bargained with. Because he holds the cards, and you're just the table he plays them on." Sora replied. As he looked towards the walls surrounding Kouhoushu, he got a sense of ease being near its presence. "Before we leave, I have one more thing I have to do while we are here. I promised Honrui here I would tend to her wife's Jashin affliction, as well. From what she's told me, this Jitoku hasn't been as heavily plagued by Jashin's advances as she was, so it may be far easier to help her."
"Whatever the case, you can count me in. This bastard has manipulated us for too long. It's time we do something about it. I'm at my best now, and I can actually do something to help, for once." Honrui spoke once more. Utilizing her Metal Release chakra, she released the seven swords Kiyasui gave to her as a parting gift. Using the advice Gyūki told her, and the mental training she undertook during the week of travel back to the Land of Rain, she was able to near-perfectly mimic the late B's stance, with some adjustments of her own to accommodate her smaller frame, before absorbing the swords back into her body. "Thanks to Gyūki, I was able to learn a thing or two, and I think I can better handle myself in a fight, if the need arises. I'd rather settle things without conflict, if at all possible, to prove we aren't the bloodthirsty savages Gengetsu want to paint us as. But if it comes down to a battle, I'll be ready."
"I'll be at the ready, too. I might not look like it, but I can handle myself well in combat. I can make it harder for your adversaries to fight back, and keep you guys strong and healthy throughout the fight. This is a cause that I feel needs to be attended to, and Izanagi has agreed with me on that. Izanami feels there have been too many dying in such a short period, and would like something to be done about that." Sora replied.
"Well then Sora-san, welcome aboard," Pakura nodded, glancing at him with a smile. She turned back to Honrui, her hands slipping on the hood of her raincoat to obscure her silver hair. "We're in this, then. I'll be in touch with all of you Honrui. He has ears and eyes everywhere, so we'll keep this as hush as we need to. Once he has his hands full with his machinations, we'll take him down in one swoop."
There was a flash of lightning and she was gone, as Honrui and Sora turned towards the village.
The battle for Shiragiku's future had begun.