A/N: Hello peeps! Long time no see! As you can see by the lack of updates thus far, 2017 has not been…gentle to me. Lots of things have happened to me. A lot of them are great things. A lot of them are not so great. Regardless, the result is that I'm probably in the busiest phase of my life. I am happy and in good health though I am also under a lot of pressure and has a lot of things on my mind. This year, I hit 29 years old. Believe me when I tell you it's been a milestone for me. So many things happened to me this year. A lot of laughters. A lot of tears too.
I won't bore you with the details but, in the foreseeable future, I'm not sure if I will have much if any time to devote to my fanfiction. I love the stories I write and my imagination has never once stopped churning out new ideas. But the task of writing them down, giving them solid shapes, and refining them is something that is beyond me right now. So, with much regret, I will have to tell you that all of my stories will henceforth be put on indefinite hiatus until a time when I have the mental and physical space to return.
That said however, I have been writing snippets of future parts of the stories. Some of them are short moments that will act as plot hooks. Some of them are entire turning points or character focus in strategic parts of the stories. I have been posting them on tumblr. Recently, I received a letter from a fan asking me why I don't post these snippets on ffnet where more readers will be able to enjoy them and not just the very small number of people who follow me on my tumblr account. Well, I used to not do that because I did not want to spoil the stories and also the snippets aren't meant to be 100% unchangable. They hold the essence of that part of the stories but until the moment when they are connected to the main storylines, they remain in a semi-draft stage and those reasons are why I don't post them on ffnet.
However, because of this indefinite hiatus, those reasons no longer hold true and I shall now start to post the quite significant number of snippets I have written for the stories.
I hope you enjoy them and will tell me what you think or feel about them, whether they surprise you, and whether you feel that any parts could be improved upon.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
FtGoG Snippet 5: Mouse sees the Wind fall
The walk back is quiet. Their Kazekage doesn't speak, and the Miko too, is silent. Mouse and Eagle shadow them, with Diamondback hanging a ways away. There is a tension between them, something big and thorny and too complicated for either to broach the topic right now. Mouse sees Eagle sign with his hand from the corner of his eyes.
Calm before the storm?
Mouse has no idea. Despite all the ill omens he has been spewing regarding the unlikely and in poor taste relationship between their Kazekage and a girl half his age, the Miko is anything but predictable. And even in the worst case… well… despite that he doesn't think their relationship will last, he doesn't exactly wish for it to end in such… spectacular fashion either. Despite what he thinks about the Miko and her influence not only on their Kage but the village as a whole, there is no denying what she means to the village's future and no denying the fact that a Kage in a happy relationship is far easier to work under than one that is not.
Think the missus is going to dump him? Eagle signs again. Hey, talk to me, Mousey. Aren't you the guy who's been saying this is going to end in tears? Now, it's playing as you said it would, and I'm getting real anxious here. She's so quiet. She's rarely this quiet.
Mouse thinks hard about it, about the implication of that relationship going up in a plume of fire, the fallout of that. An angry Kazekage is already hard enough, but an angry Miko? The last time she lost her temper—for a definition of lost anyhow—she incited a revolt. He thinks of all the people that depend on her now, the hundreds of thousands of them… no, the millions of them. Suddenly he doesn't feel very good about having his forecasts being proven right anymore.
They reach the Kage building without incident and without a single word being exchanged between them. She comes into his office for next week's schedule while her bodyguards stand outside, probably heedful of the coming 'storm' between their charges. The lucky bitches, thinks Mouse as he and Eagle slinks in the rafters and into the office itself. They get to flee in the face of the greatest perils of long-term bodyguarding missions—awkwardly witnessing their charge's domestic troubles while desperately pretending that they were invisible. Mouse, Eagle, and Diamondback have no such luck however.
This is going to end in tears, Mouse says with his fingers. Nobody is going to walk out of this looking pretty, least of all us three stooges. He says again. I fucking told you so!
We heard you the first time, Mouse-san. Diamondback signals back as it settles into a shadowed alcove opposite of him. Repetition of the same claim does not make it factual.
Just as he says this line with a crooked pinky and thumb, the showdown begins. Their Kage wordlessly hands the paper schedule to his Miko. She turns to leave. But he stops her with a one-word question.
She turns around, looks at him.
"Why did you come with me to see the widow? Why did you apologize?"
"You mean aside from the fact that her only son died because of me?" Her voice raises a little, and she spears him with a look. In the background, Mouse mourns his last hope of getting out of this without having to bear witness to a lover's quarrel that promises to be spectacular in all the wrong ways.
"I am the one who killed that child," replies lord Kazekage. "You just sat there and watched."
"So, you admit it. He's a child." There is a vicious triumph in her voice.
"He's a soldier of the state."
"A child soldier you mean." she parries right back. "He was thirteen years old."
Which means a whole lot less to ninja than to her, Mouse thinks. But it's not like they haven't seen this problem coming a mile away. The Miko is a consummate pacifist, despite living in a hidden village. While she understands the need to accept the law of her new home, she also has never had to confront the fact in such fashion.
Lord Kazekage pauses for a second, regards her with an intense look as if a stern teacher looking at a belligerent student.
"We talked about this," he says finally. Mouse hears the weight in his voice, an answer to her accusation. "But if you insist, yes, the boy is a child soldier. In fact, there are over thirty thousand child soldiers like him in this village, including my children."
She flinches, as if just now remembering something distasteful. He's not done however.
"That's not all. Every single adult soldier in this village starts out as one of them, including I, and everyone else who came before me, and everyone else who will come after me. This is not unique to our village. This is true with every other hidden village out there. But you know what else is true?" He leans a little bit closer, as if making a point. "Not a one of them is forced into service. It is their choice to serve, just as it is your choice to stay and make a life here. You don't get to make light of their choice just because it doesn't agree with your world view."
She looks down, as if chagrined. Perhaps it is different from her perspective, but from the perspective of a ninja, this whole thing didn't have to happen. The Kazekage's expression softens somewhat at the sight of her.
"You cannot ask an entire society to change the way they live just because it doesn't fit your view on how the world should operate, Kagome. Perhaps it is different in your old home, but you chose us. You chose this village. Now, you must accept us, and make the best with what you have."
He's handling this very well, Mouse thinks. In all of his service, he hasn't ever heard lord Kazekage sounding like this, like he's almost… gentle. But then again, the opponent is his woman. Anyhow, this uncharacteristic gentleness is proving effective. She has gone quiet now and seems to be contemplating something. Mouse holds out hope that this night isn't going to become the domestic shit show he has feared. Just as he thinks this however, the Miko lets out a question that blows his hope to kingdom come.
"How many people have you killed?"
She doesn't even look up, just lances the air in the room with this chillingly delivered question. Eagle makes a sign beside Mouse. Mayday! Mayday! On his part, Mouse wonders if he should start sending out discreet distress signals to warn the outside team that shit is likely to go down soon. Lover's quarrels among ninja have a way of blowing out of proportion. In this case, when one side is the literal strongest warrior of the village and the other side is a woman whose powers can casually bitchslap Bijus, little guys like Mouse best take precautions.
Down below, lord Kazekage is momentarily frozen. But then it passes. He stands up straight. He's not an especially tall man, but the Miko is petite, and so he towers over her. He spreads his hands in one motion, face dark with fury.
"Do you really want to hear the answer, my dear?" he says. Whatever warmth was in his voice has long since gone. "I will tell you what you don't want to hear. You have been sharing your bed with a killer."
She lets out a quiet gasp. Her right hand goes up to grip her left arm as if she is trying to steady herself.
"But you already know this. That day, I told you no, that this wouldn't work, but you barged your way into my life. You knew who I was then. You knew what I've done. But you still asked for it, for this…"
He cups her chin with one hand, forces her to look at him.
"Do you regret this now? Do you condemn me now?"
There is a moment of breathless silence, the air choked with tension. Then, she puts her hands on his and pulls it away. Holding his eyes, she says.
"Seventeen million souls died by my hands."
At that moment, the office is so quiet one could hear a pin drop. Mouse picks his jaws off the ground, turns to Eagle and signs.
Because he needs to check whether he has heard that correctly or if by some freak chances he has been put under a genjutsu without even noticing it. Eagle looks back at him, just as askance. Across from them, Diamondback is still as a statue. Down below, an impossible conversation is playing out.
"... Probably." The Miko adds as an afterthought.
"Probably?" Lord Kazekage doesn't even bother to hide the surprise from his voice… or his face.
"There were around seventeen million people… humans… on the island nation where I came from. When I was done, there was not a single person left alive. That island nation was separated from other countries by great seas that my power couldn't reach through without some time so… probably."
She looks out the window at the skies outside. It has turned dark then, with distant stars dotting the great black expanse. She turns back to him. There is a sadness in her eyes, a weariness that seems at odds with the youth of her face.
"If there is a killer in the bed we share, then it isn't you. So no, I don't condemn you. With what I did, I have no right to judge anyone, least of all the people who took me in when I had nothing."
Lord Kazekage sits down in the chair of his office, momentarily stunned into speechlessness. He looks at her long and hard, a young woman in her early twenties who clearly does not have much experience with true war battlefields, and who is a consummate pacifist by both words and actions. For someone so used to seeing fierce warrior men and women, she looks soft, frail. Mouse can see the questions clear as day churning in his head.
Seventeen million is a lot. Not even the casualty of all three great world wars combined even compare to that number. Seventeen million is…
…The total population of Kaze no Kuni and Hi no Kuni combined, says Diamondback with a few curt signs.
It seems the Miko guesses the same for she smiles a sad smile, sits down in a chair next to him and tells him her story for the first time.
"You once guessed that my power was a force of nature. It is more than that. It is something that grows the more it is fed, the more I use it. But I didn't know this back then. You have to understand. I had lived most of my life in peace. I never had to fight for anything, until suddenly I had to fight for everything."
She pauses for a moment then, gathering her thoughts.
"There was an old woman, an old Miko who taught me the ropes in the beginning. She had good eyes and she saw what I had. She told me the same thing you did—that I needed to get a grip on this power, that it would be key to ending the conflict. But I didn't really listen to her. I had been a normal girl for most of my life then. I didn't have any reason to believe I was that special, or that I had the power to decide anything like that. I was not alone in that fight, nor the leader of that group. I had friends that fought with me, that stood before me in the battlefield. Besides which, I wanted a normal life. I wanted to go to college, to marry and settle down, and live happily… as an ordinary woman. Learning the Miko arts, learning how to fight demons, doing it every day for life… it all seemed so… out there. And if I did it—if I committed to being a Miko—it would be like I have given up on my dream of living a normal, happy life. So… I… didn't really give it my all. I learned a bit, and then I mostly stayed on the sidelines. I did my part but..."
She fell quiet for a second, lost in thoughts.
"Then it got bad. My friends fell, one by one. Until it was just me… and the enemy." Mouse has never heard such hatred and dread from the Miko before. "... I panicked. For the first time, I called upon the full breadth of my power. Perhaps if I had been in a better state of mind, I might have been able to control it, but I wasn't. I was terrified, and in despair. All the people I loved, gone. The man I loved and trusted with all my heart, gone. All of my faith and my hope, gone. I was all alone in a hellish realm, trapped in the illusions my enemy wove for me."
Her hand comes up to her chest where her heart was. She closes her eyes.
"... In an instant, I ripped out the souls of every single living being on that island, humans and demons. My power has no true counter you see, not when it is at its strongest. But that war I was in had been five hundred years in the making. My enemy, he knew this power well. The old Miko told me that he feared it above all else, but because he feared it so, he understood it better than anyone else. Since the day I was born, he had been preparing himself. In that very same instant, as I was lost amidst the screams of a thousand innocent souls I hadn't meant to hurt, he descended upon me. He trapped me in my own mind, wove a dream for me so sweet that I couldn't immediately break free. Then he took control of my body, and rode it on a bloody rampage across the lands."
She falls quiet once more. The room is so silent they can hear the sound of her trembling breath. When she finally opens her eyes, Mouse has to remind himself that he was looking at a young woman who has just recently passed her twentieth years. But in that moment, she seems as old as the great desert itself, old and worn and brittle as glass.
"... I didn't wake up until months after, when someone risked death to break the enemy's grip on me. I came to in a dead world, everything burnt to the ground, every soul ripped apart and eaten alive by the enemy, and I… I was drenched in the blood of my own people, and wearing armors made from their bones."
She looks down at her hands, for a moment looking like she's seeing something else in their place.
"We fought," she continues. Her voice has gone quiet, as if it has taken everything she has to tell that first part. "Neck and neck, for seven days and seven nights. With the help of the man who broke me free, I won over the enemy. I ripped apart his heart, shattered his soul into a million pieces, and then I devoured every last bit of him to prevent him from ever rising again. And just like that… it was over. A war five hundred years in the making, and involving more powerful demons and priests than you will ever see in a single lifetime. A war that had taken everything I had and destroyed a nation. Over, in a matter of days… but though I won, there was nothing left for me."
Silence again, for a full five minutes this time. Lord Kazekage reaches over and holds her hand in a rare gesture of empathy. She looks at their conjoined hands, looks at him, smiles. It is a weary, exhausted smile, but it does not lack for a certain sense of sweetness. Sweetness that is reserved for lord Kazekage alone it seems.
"And then you came here?" he asks. She shakes her head.
"I begged for death," she says. "I had nothing left to live for. My family were still alive in a different country, but I knew then that I could never go home again, not after what I did. So, I begged for death. The man who broke me free was there still, dying, but he had the strength to end me. The elder half brother of the man I loved. A great and powerful demon. He had a sword that could tear open doorways into other worlds. He used it to open rifts straight into the heart of hell where he sent his enemies. He could also use it to resurrect the dead, but he didn't do it nearly as often as he could. The bastard."
She laughs. It's a tired, jaded laugh filled with nostalgia and old regrets. It is a laugh that sounds too old to have come from one as young as her. "Had circumstances been different, I think I would have called him brother-in-law. He would have hated it too, for a mere human to call him so."
She drew in a long breath.
"So I got on my knees in front of him and pleaded with him. I told him this power I bore was a terrible burden no mortal should bear. I told him that it would be a mercy and if we ever met in some other life, that I would be forever indebted to him." She pauses for a second. "But he refused me. He called me a liar and a fraud. He accused me of having forsaken the oath I made to the Miko that came before me, to Midoriko, and to Kikyo."
Mouse glances at Diamondback. The representative of the research branch is scribbling away furiously on its notepad. Rare are the times the Miko shares anything on her power, on her old home, on the people of her past. And here she is, spilling as if a dam has been broken. The name Midoriko is something he has read once before from her dossier. Supposedly she was the most powerful Miko and likely to be mother to the one Miko they have in their village. The other name he knows nothing of, but for it to be mentioned in the same breath as Midoriko, it must be of equal importance. Down below, the conversation continues.
"Pillars hold things up, and salt keeps things clean," she speaks as if reciting an old oath. "But it's a poor exchange for losing yourself. People go back, but they don't survive, because two realities are claiming them at the same time." She looks at lord Kazekage. Her gaze is as deep and unfathomable as the great abyss. It is not the look of a young woman barely past her 20th year, but one belonging to some other unknown creature from a shadowed world. "In the endless darkness of that nightmare, before Sesshomaru came to break me from the enemy's hold, two hands reached for me. Midoriko and Kikyo. They made me promise to them that regardless of how things turn out, that I would carry on living, would carry on their legacy as the Miko of the Shikon no Tama. I begged him for death but he called me a liar and told me he had no need to humor the likes of me. With his last strength, he opened a rift between worlds and threw me inside. When I woke up, I was in the desert."
Her voice breaks a little near the end, just before she stops completely. Something wells from her eyes. Not tears, but a silent, dark despair that no words can describe. And beneath that despair—Mouse breaks out in cold sweat—is madness. Black and lurking like oil at the bottom of a dry well. He sees then that though her body is whole and largely unscarred, she has nevertheless been horrifically brutalized by this ordeal; sees then that she has been kept quiet by shame, by guilt, by pain; that though three years have passed, little has truly healed. And now, the wound opens to show the rotted blood and fetid flesh, opens to show that something else—something more dreadful and abominable than even the enemy that was devoured by her, has grown in its place.
For a single feverish moment, Mouse fears that this madness would subsume her, that from her flesh a monster would grow and feast upon the souls of all those who walk this earth. But then it passes. She leans back in the chair and suddenly she seems shrunken: a slender young woman, clad in simple white, with tired blue eyes that are steeped in sorrow.
"I said it." The words gush from her mouth like blood from a wound. "Finally... I said it. I have… I have never ever said this to anyone before… not even out loud to myself. I never thought I…never thought I would..." She brings one hand to her lips. Though her eyes are dry, a single sob wracked her slender frame and breaks free from her mouth.
She looks at the Lord Kazekage. She is waiting for his response, waiting for his judgement. He is her lover and her protector. He is also the avowed leader of his people and sworn upholder of the law. And she has just confessed to possibly the most horrific crime in recorded ninja history. It might not have been committed in Sunagakure, but that does not change the possibility of a repeat in the future. Beyond even the Biju, she is without a doubt the single greatest threat to Sunagakure's existence. If she were to lose control again…
She waits with bated breath, the tension coiled tight and hot in her ribcage. Half of her is fear and sadness, and the other half a self-flagellating eagerness. Would he cut her from him? Would he throw her out? She is the beacon of hope for a lot of people in Sunagakure, but in truth she may be the single greatest existential threat their village has ever faced. It is the duty of the reigning Kazekage to deal with such threats as quickly and decisively as possible.
He sits there in his big chair besides a desk filled with papers and unsigned documents, still like a statue. It is only Mouse's many years of service as a shadow that allow him to parse the minutiae of lord Kazekage's reactions. Beyond that stillness is the tightness of his shoulders, how his left hand is balled into a fist and his right hand strains to hold back the nervous tic he has whenever he is agitated. If he had a kunai in his hand right now, Mouse is more than sure he would have started twirling it round and round without even realizing it. He is trying to make it seem like it doesn't affect him that much but in truth it does. Beyond the carefully blank look of his eyes flit recognition and pity, but curiously no fear, and no anger.
Eventually, the stillness breaks. He turns to stare at the ceiling above him, draws in one big breath, turns back to her. Mouse sees the tension bleeding out from him, some weighty choice having been made. He seems almost sad in that moment. It makes for a strange expression on the face of the usually fierce Fourth Kazekage.
"Well…" he says as if he's discussing the weather. "We are going to have to adjust your training. Less exercise, more meditation. And we need to bring in a genjutsu specialist and probably someone similar to the Yamanaka to see if you still have that vulnerability to mental assaults. If no, good. If yes, there are measures we can take."
Now it is Mouse's turn to still with shock on the rafters. Measures? We?... She just admitted to murdering seventeen million people because she could not control her own power! He turns to the side to see if he's alone in his shock. He isn't. Diamondback crouches rigid in the corner, fingers and pen frozen, while Eagle merely looks back at Mouse, his head shaking imperceptibly. And yet the Miko below does not look surprised in the slightest. On the contrary, she looks as if she has been expecting this.
"...Are you sure?" There's an odd timbre to her voice. She says the words slowly, as if by lingering she might offer him the time to rethink and retract what he has just said. But he does no such thing.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
She stares at him. "Even by your laws, I am a mass murderer."
"And by your laws, I am a war criminal," he replies with a shrug. "Are we going to compare our mistakes and see which one of us is worse? Because I am sure I can match your quality with my quantity."
She doesn't answer him, merely looks away. He sighs, loud and audible, as if he has expected this.
"Or would you rather I tear you apart with words?" he asks. "Tell you what a monster you are? Would that be more to your liking? To be flogged for crimes none but you remember? But what point would that make? That subjectively, we are both monsters? That objectively we are humans, and are bound to mistakes like all humans do? But because we were born with the burden of extraordinary powers, that our mistakes are so much more extraordinary compared to those of others?"
She turns around at that and stares at him. Her eyes are dry like driftglass, and they seem to see into him, and then through him altogether. She wears a strange expression on her face, a rictus of intermingled gratitude and some vague, aimless anger. Eventually, it fades into a sad smile.
"This is so like you," she says faintly. A hint of wistfulness clings to her voice. "I tell you I murdered seventeen million people, and you say we should adjust my training. I tell you that I am burdened by a world rending power that has no true counter, that I'm a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and you say there are measures we can take. As if there are measures to deal with what I can… what I did. Do you know how weird you sound to me?" Despite the wording of her question, her words are undeniably infused with an exasperated fondness.
He blinks, cocks one eyebrow. "I'm the weird one?" He parries right back. "Shouldn't I be the one to say that? For as long as I have known you, you would cry for the pain of complete strangers, for people you have never known, for sinners and innocents both, but for yourself, you would not even shed a tear. I would say you are a glutton for punishment. And you tell me I'm the weird one? You cried for me..." He pauses. There is a look of faint surprise, as if he himself is caught off guard by the secret he has just confessed. But then it passes, as if it does not merit more than a single thought. He looks down for a second this time. "… Knowing what I did." Then backed up. "But not for you. Do you truly think so little of yourself? Put so little value in yourself?" Another pause, and slower this time, with quiet words pregnant with a sincerity that seems ill fitting in their usually ruthless Kazekage, he says. "Do you not know that you are precious to me?"
Now it is she who is stunned into near speechlessness, her eyes wide and mouth parted. Mouse doesn't blame her for that reaction. For someone like lord Kazekage, that is probably as close to a declaration of love as it's ever going to get. In front of Mouse, Eagle makes a warped hand signal that roughly translates to either 'awww…' or 'aewwhhh...'
She sits like that for a full minute, silent. She looks down and for the first time Mouse sees wetness in her red-rimmed eyes.
"Rasa…" she says, and somehow imbues that single word with so much weight. He wipes the wetness from her eyes with one hand.
"This is no longer about that boy, isn't it? It couldn't have been easy telling me the things that happened to you, the things that you did. But that's not even the main point isn't it? What are you trying to tell me, my dear? What brought this on?" An almost imperceptible shiver runs through her. Lord Kazekage must have picked up on it, because immediately he states as if to reassure her.
"I promise you, whatever deep, dark secrets you have left, chances are I have seen or heard of worse, and I am not walking out on this, not until we lay to rest every bone of your past."
She stills as she hears this. The expression on her face grows hard and cold and sad for a split second, before it thaws, softens as she studies him and sees nothing but honesty. She draws back a little and starts with a simple statement.
"My power…. It's growing."
A power that can wipe out a continental population in its infancy, is now still growing. Mouse thinks to himself. It says something about her that he is more concerned about the way she speaks of her power as if it is an entity separated from herself rather than the actual content of her declaration.
She allows the lord Kazekage a moment to think over this statement before forging on.
"My enemy…I have no words to describe him to you. His nature or... what he could do. Remember that one guy, that soul eater, who tried to kill you and failed? And you tried to kill him in retaliation and you did kill him but somehow he never stayed dead? Somehow he just keeps jumping from one body to another, like… a snake… shedding its skin, but the things he sheds is not skin but bodies?"
"Orochimaru." There is frustration in the lord Kazekage's voice… and not a small amount of grudging respect. In their world, strength begets respect, regardless of the atrocities committed. That the disgraced Sanin of Konoha has committed an act of war against Sunagakure does not change the fact that he is one among the strongest warriors of their world.
A tiny smile appears briefly on her face as she savors his frustration, the parts of him that aren't the unfeeling, implacable leader of a village of trained soldiers. But it disappears at the blink of an eye, chased away by thoughts of her once enemy. She presses on.
"Magatsuhi…" There is something in her voice as finally she puts a name to this great enemy. Some dark emotion too complex and contrary for Mouse to nail down. Not entirely fear, perhaps some hate, a pinch of revulsion, a hint of sadness, and something more, something else. An unnamed something that lies at the crux of it all, in between hate, revulsion, sadness, fear. "... is similar… I suppose. The way a shark is to a goldfish."
Lord Kazekage rises an eyebrow at that comparison. There are not that many individuals in their world who can stand on the same level as Orochimaru. When one takes into account the disgraced Sannin's vast knowledge and genius as a Ninjutsu researcher and inventor, there are even fewer such individuals. To have him be the little fish in her comparison. She must know Lord Kazekage's silent question. She knows him too well to not have seen it, but she doesn't even pause, doesn't second guess herself, doesn't backtrack and rephrase her statement. Instead, she forges on.
"He was born… partly from humans, from our darkest parts, from our malice and our hatred and our thirst for violence, but he never was one of us. He was… an entity far beyond your tailed beasts, powerful beyond compare, cunning, ruthlessly determined, and possessing a patience that comes with a lifespan measured in centuries. He was all but unkillable even to Midoriko, the most powerful of us."
"Even when it appeared that he was crippled and sealed away for good, he found ways to slip through the bars of his prison, even if it took him hundreds of years, even if he had to borrow the hands of creatures so much lesser than him. He rose, again and again, in different forms and under different names to visit maladies on the humans he despised. He was a disease, a mockery of humans. In some places, people revered him as a dark god, a devourer of the sun. As eternal as he was dreadful, immovable, unchangeable, a shadow that awaited the absence of light. I have battled divine spirits less powerful than him. I… the only reason I could even stand against him is because of a quirk in our power's interactions. Because from the day I was born, he held a part of me, and I held a part of him, and so it was I alone that could truly hurt him."
Well, that didn't sound ominous at all, signs Eagle. For once, Mouse finds himself agreeing. Mouse's imagination, a pool of combined thoughts and subconsciousness from the seven hosts that make up his gestalt sapience, draws an ugly picture from this description. Something more powerful than a tailed beast, equipped with the mind of the snake Sannin and the spite and malice of the most craven members of their shadowed world. A worrisome enemy indeed, if what she says is true. Mouse has no reason to doubt the Miko, but bias gets the better of even the most logical humans.
She pauses, draws a long breath. The act of speaking of things held in secret for so long tires her more than she thought.
"How did you kill him?" asks lord Kazekage.
She smiles in response. It is not a nice smile, but one filled with bitterness.
"I didn't," she says, then goes on to explain. "In the aftermath of our battle, I broke his heart and shattered his soul into a million pieces. But even then, I had doubts. How do you kill a shadow? How do you wipe out the malice in the hearts of men? You may spend your entire life trying to pursue a futile cause. He was something that we weren't entirely sure could truly die. He was a child of humans, born from the dredges of our hearts. Our violence and malice nurtured him. If there was even a shard of his soul left in a world filled with filth and darkness to nurture it, then, there was a chance, a microscopic chance that he would one day rise again. I knew this. I thought of it, even as I fought him in those seven days and seven nights. What is death to a creature like him? I could harm him, hurt him, but he needed no air to breath, no light to see, no grounds to stand on. He did not even need a physical body. He could feel pain, but that would only feed his hatred of humans. To truly end him, I… I did something unthinkable."
Uh oh… thinks Mouse, already seeing where this is going and not liking it one bit. At once he recalls what she has said she did earlier. He thought it a figure of speech, but it seems it is not.
"Once the dust settled and I made sure that nothing remained of Magatsuhi's physical shell, I scooped up his broken soul, and devoured every last piece of him."
She pauses once more, leans back into her chair, turns her eyes skyward—"How do you kill an unkillable entity?" she repeats the question to the silent chamber. "It's simple. You infect him. You corrupt him from within. He drew strength from the purity of his purpose. So… I… infected him… with myself."—and then back at lord Kazekage.
"Us humans are inherently flawed. Though we seek purity of heart and of purpose, in truth, we are tainted with life. We know love and loss, sorrow and joy. We are easily swayed by doubts, regrets, distractions, temptations. Magatsuhi didn't know any of this. He was like a child in that regard. I wielded my humanity against him. I cut him with my human joy and sorrow. I crushed him with my human doubt and regrets. I corrupted him. My humanity became his death."
She stops there, looking out the window behind the lord Kazekage. The sun has set over the horizon of the village. She watches the last light stretch in a single fiery line across the open vista. In the distance, the sounds of great bells ringing, reverberating through walls and stones, white smoke rising from red brick chimneys. In the air are the scents of spices and bread fresh from the ovens. A symphony of life arises from the village ground. It is autumn, the third autumn Sunagakure has ever witnessed. She sees red leaves floating in the wind. A gentle breeze ruffles the papers on his desk.
In the rafters, Mouse fidgets with nervous anxiety. He doesn't know what to think about all this. Souls, demons, the human heart wielded like a weapon against an entity beyond even the tailed beasts. They all sound like nonsense to him, but the Miko's power is something very palpable. He doesn't know what to think. It is almost like the Miko's old world does not function by the same metaphysical rules as their world. He cannot even begin to imagine what that world is like, where souls are weapons unto themselves and young women like the Miko can send monsters like the Biju packing with the barest efforts.
She's a Jinchuriki! Eagle signs, which then prompts Diamondback to look over to its comrade in what is likely annoyance.
Oversimplification. It states with a single, curt gesture. The Miko is entity far more complex. Different metaphysic system. Different methodology. Different starting parameters and outcomes.
Tomato tomahto, replies Eagle. She has got a thing in her and it's a dangerous thing. She's a Jinchuriki, same as lord Gaara. No wonder she has a soft spot for him.
Mouse ignores his bickering comrades in favor of carefully observing the happening going on below him. Despite the disturbing connotations of the Miko's statement, lord Kazekage appears remarkably calm. Unlike previously when she told him of her seventeen million people body count, this time, he doesn't even bat an eyelash. In contrast, he looks as though he's expected this and appears deep in thoughts.
After about a minute or so, the Miko makes to say something, but he holds out a hand in a stopping gesture. He stands up, and walks to the side of his large desk, takes out a hip flask and two brass cups in a drawer, pours himself a cup, pours her a cup. He hands one to her. The liquid inside is a glossy rose gold color and carries a faintly sweet scent. Something to calm her frayed nerves. Something with which to sooth her parched throat. She has been doing a lot of the talking and it is obvious that she will be doing more momentarily. He sits down, drinks from his own cup, and gives her a look as if to say 'go on'.
She frowns at him, but eventually brings the cup up for a sip. The sip turns into a long gulp, and then before long, her cup is empty. She looks at it, then back at him. The mar on her brows goes away. A wan smile blooms on her face. It is pregnant with a tenderness that makes Mouse want to sneak out of the room and leave them be.
He nods. "Six years old. That wine's been in my drawer longer than you have been around here. You shouldn't drink so fast. Good wine is to be savored. Besides which, I don't normally share."
She puts the empty cup on his desk. "When I first came here, I wasn't even at drinking age yet." Her voice turns a little accusatory. "You taught me all the vices of adulthood."
"Would you rather learn them from someone else?" he parries right back. Setting the flask aside, he makes a vague gesture pointing at her.
"So… this Magatsuhi… you talk of him in past tense, but you don't act like he's already behind you. Is he in there?" There is the barest stress on the last word of this question. Pointed intention.
"A piece of him. A vestige," she says simply.
"Should I worry?"
She takes a moment to think things through. "No," she says finally. Laying a hand on her heart, she explains. "We are bound, he and I, in ways that you can't comprehend. This is not a seal like the one you used on Gaara… nor anything anyone in this world can hope to replicate. He's no Biju waiting for my lapse of control to escape and wreak havoc upon our village. He's a part of me now, and we… we are never to be separated."
She takes another moment before continuing on, addressing concerns yet unvoiced.
"He's a shadow of himself, a speck, a shard. It's not even coherent… or sentient for that matter. Even when he was whole and at the peak of his strength and I was younger, I was still his equal in power. I suppose… if it had a few millennia, it might grow into something that could actually threaten me, but... "
She looks down at her hand, at her unmarred palm, an expression on her face like she's seeing something that used to be there.
"... But I'm not an eternal thing like him. I'm only human you see. I don't live that long. When I die, I will take the last shard of Magatsuhi with me to the grave."
Immediately, an image came forth from the shared well that serves as Mouse's repository of memories—an event not that was long ago witnessed by a host of Mouse's consciousness. The Miko, looking slightly younger than she is now and holding onto an unconscious Jinchuuriki, stood beside the Lord Kazekage in the council chamber. She extended a hand and told him to cut her open. Blood welled from the wound in her palm, ran down her bare, pale arm, dropped down onto the floor. It made a sound like breaking glass. In that memory, Mouse hears her voice crisp and clear.
I am made of flesh. If you cut me, I will bleed like everyone else.
Back then, this was said to reassure the anxious council members in the wake of her swift defeat of the Shukaku—something not even lord Kazekage could do, at least not with such contemptuous ease—but Mouse sees now that the meaning of this statement runs far deeper than any sitting in that room could ever imagine.
There's a brief spell of silence, one broken when lord Kazekage speaks next.
"And this thing about your power growing?"
She doesn't answer. Not with mere words anyhow. Instead, she turns to the window behind him. She doesn't do anything, doesn't gesture with her hands nor frown in concentration. She gives no sign that she's doing anything at all, anything beyond sitting quiet and motionless in her chair and looking at the skies above the village. Nevertheless, something happens. Something twists in the empty space between her and the skies. Something vast and heavy and infinitely beyond mortal comprehension. At once, the clouds darken. The skies become overcast. A shadow overtakes the setting sun. Bolts of lightning streak the suddenly overcast skies. A rumble of thunder that shakes the cups and rattles the papers on lord Kazekage's desk. And then, it rains.
A thick, gray curtain poured over the village. A torrential downpour the likes of which Mouse has only heard about in some far off land where the skies cried three hundred and sixty five days out of a year.
"A last gift from my dearest enemy I suppose. Or a curse… This used to be difficult," she says, her voice somehow still clear and audible above the sound of the rain. "The first time I did this, it took everything. But now…"
As suddenly as it started, the rain peters to a stop. Some invisible pressure leaves the room.
"Now it's not."
Lord Kazekage regards the Miko then the skies with pondering slowness. "Impressive," he says finally, with a casualness that is more fitting for a conversation regarding the weather than phenomenal feats of power. "But what does this have to do with the boy… and the mother? What is the point of all this? You didn't just tell me you house the fragment of an eldritch abomination for nothing, did you?"
His questions jolt Mouse's thoughts. That's right. All of this talk of demons beyond even the Biju and world rending power, all these secrets unveiled, but she has yet to answer the one question that started this all. Why?
Why did she ask to see the widow? Out of a sense of responsibility? Of guilt?
There's something else here. Something more. She's waffling, dragging her feet. She is a child hesitating to confess to some naughty deeds.
In his thoughts, Mouse goes over the event that precipitates this talk between Miko and lord Kazekage. An attempt on the Miko's life. Not the first one, there have been many more before that, ever since she made her position clear to the council and the village at large. But the first that she knows of. And the hands that delivered that attempt, a child's hand. The move is well calculated. The dissidents in the shadow well knew whether it succeeded or not, they would still have struck a blow against someone they viewed as an existential threat to the village.
Mouse peers into the Miko's face down below. A lovely face that would not look out of place in Wind's royal court, young in features, but her eyes are old. Something passes through in her expression, and she says.
"Because I needed to see… that they were real, as real as you and I. I needed… to stop pretending that there weren't consequences to my actions, to my existence. And you…need to know…"
She withdraws something from the pocket of her dress, presents it to him. A bone pendant, speckled with blood. The child's missing pendant it seems, the one the widow has been asking about, her gift to her son on the day of his graduation from the academy. The lord Kazekage frowns, but she offers no more explanation.
"You have been hiding things from me," she says softly. Despite the statement, there's no hint of accusation in her voice. "What do they call me when your enforcers aren't around to make sure they are nice and quiet?The Calamity? Bloody maiden? She who walks on the bones of children to preach peace to a mercenary village? So many names for only one person. I know them all. I've heard them all."
He freezes, face hardened in the blink of an eye. She's not supposed to know that, any of that. That was an explicit order to all those who are allowed to interact with her. For her to know means that someone somewhere went against an order from the Kage. In other times, perhaps this could be overlooked. But in this time when ideological struggle threatens to tear their people apart? She smiles again in the face of his suspicion.
"Your people are well-trained. None of them tattles. But I don't see the world the same way you do. People who are dead to you…"
"... aren't dead to me. And the dead don't need to obey the Kage's orders, do they?"
Lord Kazekage takes the pendant from her. He looks at it for a brief moment. Has she been keeping this since the day of the failed attempt?
"So now you know," he says finally. "But does it change anything? To know that you aren't loved by everyone in this village, that someone even now is plotting your death, that people died and will keep dying because of your actions… or your inactions. Now that you know, has your dream changed? Will you stop waking up tomorrow and go to work on your crusade? Has anything changed at all?" He looks at her long and hard. "No. Nothing has changed. It doesn't matter that the world itself is against you. It doesn't matter that everyone else tells you, you are crazy for even trying. You aren't someone who will let that stop you from doing what you believe in."
She shakes her head in response.
"Context changes everything. And you… still don't comprehend what I can do." She pauses once, looks out the window.
"I feel them," she says. "Their thoughts are thorns, and they think of me always. They have plans, and they know now that they can hurt me… even when you protect me, even when you shield me from the consequences of my own actions. If I stop holding back," Her voice grows quiet, heavy, as if the thought of it alone is difficult to conceive. "... I can just reach out and... "
She stops there, unable to continue until lord Kazekage prods her.
"And… what? You can just reach out and do… what?"
She doesn't say a word for a full minute. When she finally does, it is with a quiet, almost muted voice.
"I can make it stop." She looks at the bone pendant in lord Kazekage's hand. "I can make them stop. I won't even need to step a foot outside of this room. Their minds are like clay. I can touch them, change them, and they won't resist at all. Not like you." Then up at him.
That moment, it feels as though every drop of Mouse's blood curdles in his veins. He thinks of what she implies, the consequences. The many rationalist personalities that make up Mouse's gestalt consciousness scream in protest. This is insanity. She is talking of something so far above what they have seen thus far in this world that it bothers on being surreal. If this weren't the Miko, he might have thought her a liar. But the more cynical personalities in him call for caution. This is the Miko. This is a power that managed to uproot seventeen million souls in the surge of its first awakening. Nothing is ever simple with her.
"I can… change this world… with a thought," she whispers and in her eyes it seems like something finally breaks. Her words, soft and quiet as they are, rebound in the chamber.
"No more violence. No more war. No more senseless death. No more child soldiers being given an illusion of a choice and forced to fight in the place of adults. No more little boy assassins like the one that died because of me and we will never have to face another grieving mother like we had to today. This world... "
Her voice breaks as something spills forth from beneath her usually moderate veneer. Anger, frustration, a cutting fierceness that she seems to display only in the face of lord Kazekage…. And beneath even that…. teeth, and claws, and thorns, and eyes that looked up from the depth of the abyss.
"... is wrong."
Something ripples through the air. A quiet scream tears through space as everything visible and not seem to warp. Something stretches. Something tears. The fabric of spacetime is bent and twisted to its very limits. Something vast and terrible is trying to come through to their end of reality, beckoned by the sound of her voice and the black fury in that one word of hers, and the sheer weight of its presence is pressing down on Mouse with the sharpness of a thousand steel blades. Mouse's hand twitches around the handle of his kunai. Useless. There's nothing he can do, in the face of this dark goddess. Useless! For the very first time in his artificial existence, he feels the touch of terror.
"But I can make it right again. You always talk of the ends justifying the means. So what does it matter if I need to mold a few… if I need to…"
But it appears he won't need to do anything, because suddenly the Miko comes to a jolting realization, as if remembering herself. At once, the dark fire in her face abates. Reality reasserts itself as she crumbles in her seat, trembling in fear and shame. Her cheeks are flushed and her breath come from her open mouth in wet, heavy gasps. She looks away from a pale-faced lord Kazekage and finally Mouse sees a tear sliding down the curve of her cheek.
"But that's... the beginning of the end, isn't it? Road to hell and all that…" She whispers, voice hoarse, almost broken. She gets no reply from lord Kazekage, only a heavy silence. Another minute passes as she slowly collects herself.
"That… is why I needed to see the widow, and why you need to know. I needed to see that she was real. People are not… clay… to be molded."
What have we gotten ourselves into? In the brief silence that ensues, Mouse thinks, teetering on the edge of panic and paralysis. The seal vector that lays the foundation to his intelligence gestalt strains under a logical burden it was never designed to deal with. Protect. Observe. Obey. Those are the orders Mouse was given at birth, engraved upon the wetware that came from six different living beings. Protect the lord Kazekage. Observe the village and be vigilant for threats. Obey the orders he is given. But there is no protecting the lord Kazekage from the Miko. And no amount of observation would change the fact that she is an existence beyond comprehension.
Obey, he thinks. Obey the orders that are given. Kill her, a different part of his gestalt mind whispers. The vessel is made of flesh. She can die. There must be a way. This vessel was meant to be throwaway fodder.
Kill her, and we shall brought ruin upon the creators, murmurs another part as it wills their thoughts to the world outside them, to the impossibly blooming desert and the thriving trade that has come pouring ever since. She is foundation. She is earth and soil and water and sustenance. Kill her and all that will go away. We will once more be beggars in our own home.
Amist that struggle, another facet emerges, gibbering in madness.
There is nothing to do but wait and see. It says. Upon the heart of a sleeping mad goddess, we have built our empire. We have drunk from her blood, eaten from her flesh, and built armors from her bones. The time for actions is long past, my brothers. It is done, this blood pact. And we drones shall oversee it til the day we die.