Prologue: That clan
In a forest beneath a mountain and just in the outskirts of the Land of Fire, there was a ninja clan compound; large and prosperous and also something of an oddity amongst all clans. During the violent and unstable years of the warring clans period, they had not been invaded once. In fact, no one went near their land of their free will.
They were (barely) known as 'Samsara'. The clan did not have enemies or allies and mostly kept to themselves, grew their own food and cotton and reared livestock in the rich plains they'd owned so long that no one remembered who had used to live there before.
They did kill. Sporadically, without a pattern, never choosing the same target twice in a row. Sometimes the Samsara would interrupt battles of other clans, leaving corpses of both behind. No one had ever found a clear reason for this senseless destruction, and the Samsara did not offer one.
The one thing most did know about them was their blood limit. Chakra drain, fast enough to kill even a ninja in seconds. Worse yet, they could coordinate the power and work together from a distance. It was not unusual for their target to never see them before it was too late. In time, their forest and their mountain had become the dreaded horror and vague nightmare of all shinobi.
The Samsara did not mind the isolation. They had their own reasons and their own way of living. Outsiders were not needed.
Sunlight seeped through the canopy and painted bright spots on grass and the little group of children kneeling in the meadow. Tidy black rows of crows, also, sat on the branches of the surrounding trees, silent for once and listening in.
"We do not have many rules in this clan. Do you all remember the ones we do?" asked the old man. He was bald and wrinkly, but there was something friendly in the deep crow's feet around his eyes. His voice was like old leather, worn and weary and comforting.
"Yes," chorused the children. They all wore robes of orange, red and yellow, warm and friendly colours. Some were grinning, some babbled at each other, some stared at the old man in earnest concentration. They looked to be about five years old, energetic and bright eyed. The old man smiled, wrinkles deepening into crevices. "Well, then, do tell. How about you, little Karma?"
A girl with dark hair and dark eyes smiled and spoke.
"We do not drain clan members. We do not drain young children. We do not tell clan secrets to outsiders. We do not judge."
The old man nodded, satisfied. "That is correct. Because of our nature, we Samsara appreciate and support individual freedom. Today, I will explain to you the reasons for these rules, because they are the inexcusable exceptions to that freedom. If you break them, you might be sent forth by the clan head."
The children grew serious at the words. Some glanced around at the trees. To an unassuming observer, they would not have been special. The children, though young, knew better. This was the forest of rebirth and death. All clan members were born in the forest, most died there as well.
And while the children would not come to their heritage and curse before their teenage years, they could already feel the calm aura the trees gave off. The old man felt it far more keenly. It would be his time to leave, soon. He lingered for the children, for the story he was about to tell.
With a steady voice, he spoke, the words taking the rhythmic lilt of a story.
Long time ago, not so very far from here, lived our ancestor and founder. He was born to an unwed mother and unknown father and much of his childhood he spent helping his grandfather fish in the nearby river. It was a harsh life, for his mother despaired him and his grandparents would rather that he had been born still.
As we are wont to do, in time he remembered who he had been once. Three days he wandered along the riverside in turmoil and confusion, trying to integrate both lives.
He had been Buddhist in that life lost. This was a fair fortune, for he had known to expect rebirth. While he had not thought to remember his previous life, he still withstood the confusion of identity and sorrow of loss. His lost family, friends, wife, children. Culture, language, mythology, the entire world and its complex, rich history. He grieved bitterly, yet lived on and grew to become a serious, kind man.
He did not know of his curse, as we do. He was alone, as we are not. In time, as he came to his blood, he found himself having killed his mother, his grandfather and grandmother by accident.
Through conflict of his existence as an illegitimate son, he had still loved them, and this was the moment where he came closest to madness. The empty hunger had not visited him yet, nor the fear of slipping away in sleep, but both of those can be withstood far easier than loss of love.
He buried them near the riverside and wept, bitterly, and where his tears fell, golden flowers bloomed, the colour of the leaves of our sacred trees in autumn. We believe this was also a sign of the latent power in his mother and grandparents, power that bloomed to be ugly and beautiful in their son. It might have been the blood of his unknown, unknowing father that made the difference.
He left the village after that and while wandering he knew hunger. Food he found easily, water as well, but his hunger would not be sated. This world rejected his existence, rejected his foreign soul. His body produced chakra, as do ours, but it was consumed faster than he could replenish it and he despaired having to prolong his life by taking it from others.
For some time, he persisted by choosing to take the life from those already doomed, and those who would harm others. Remember, our rules were not yet his rules. Perhaps, in his loneliness, the thought of doing something good was a path he needed to walk.
It wasn't enough. Slowly, his will to live dwindled and so did the drain grow ever stronger, as if eager to take him back to the world beyond. He might have taken his own life in time, had he not met her. The daughter of a peasant, kind and fair and the love of his life, who was not repelled by his powers, nor by his old soul. In time, they grew to be friends and confidants. Later yet, he asked for her hand in marriage.
Their first child was born in the winter months of dreary, pale woods that clawed at the sky with bare branches. Death watched the land and a dreadful chill was in the air.
The child did not kill her mother in birth, but it was close. She was born eyes alight with the underworld, and her father despaired, for he knew then that she had inherited his curse.
Two more children were born to them, all of them sharing the blood and the power. Desiring to protect his family, our ancestor took his children and his wife to this mountain forest and made it his own.
His eldest daughter had been a fearsome warrior. It was she who studied our power and discovered its secrets. She learned the way of ninja, how to fight with minimal cost of chakra, how to manipulate the curse. It is her legacy that we now are a force to be reckoned with and that to attack us here would be suicide. Not even Uchiha and Senju dare trespass our land.
His second child, only son, had been a scholar and an engineer. He was the one who designed the network of chakra, who made the structure of our village so that others could build up on what he started. He also tirelessly scribed his father's stories, his mother's legends, his sisters' pasts, for he more than anyone else despaired the loss of knowledge. It is in his memory we ask for your memories to be preserved for the generations to come.
The youngest child was a gentle soul. It was she who suffered the most for our way of life and it was therefore she who thought of future generations and their pain. She was the first to understand that we must not shackle each other, in order to remain united. In her will, live in joy, dance and sing and rejoice at this second chance, no matter how much the world may reject us.
In time, the family grew into a clan. In honour of our founder, they chose our name after the cycle of reincarnation. In Japanese, rinne. In Sanskrit, samsara. These two languages everyone must learn, to remind us of two facts: we are family, and there is still a world outside this compound.
Three rules were also set. We must not drain clan members. We must not drain young children. We must not tell secrets to outsiders.
For some time, the fourth rule did not exist and, indeed, we followed the way of our founder and took solace in the fact that we hunted the criminals and the dying only. It was a way to settle the guilt of taking the life of another.
Then came a time when two particular children were born. They grew to be handsome boys both and seemingly stable.
One took great pride in his ability to protect the innocent and travelled often, seeking evil where it may lurk. He was powerful and virtuous, admired by many in our clan.
The other felt strongly his own ancestry and spent much of his time in studies of history. His was a brilliant mind, easily able to comprehend, held in highest regard.
Then, slowly, their days grew sour.
The one who took joy in righteous crusade began to see evil where it was not. He slaughtered those that mocked him, those that were different from others in ways he did not approve. Those that stole to survive, those that sought the company of their own gender... he saw evil and slew them.
The one who took joy in his past grew into old preconceptions. His people had been at war for a long time and grew an enmity with their opponents that lingered through generations of peace. He began to demand that our records of these people were inaccurate and had to be changed, that they were more animals than men.
One day, the one who fought evil was found to have slaughtered an entire village. The one who sought knowledge, in turn, murdered a family member who had once been one of his enemies.
The leader of our clan at the time had once been Chinese. He did not easily adapt to our kind of life, for he was of a communal society and appreciated tradition, harmony and custom. It was not an easy decision for him to change our rules, either, but he saw the need. These two, by judging others as evil, had broken our most important laws.
The clan head henceforth forbade us to ever make moral judgements over stealing lives and drained the life of the two criminals. It is said that upon death they grew into twisted, diseased trees and soon withered away.
The children watched the old man in horror and wonder both. Some had tears in their eyes, some sat still as statues. No one spoke or fidgeted. A boy next to Karma shuddered, his face pale and wan like he was two steps from leaving the world.
The old man smiled, breaking the sombre mood. "This is why we must not judge others as evil or inferior. We kill to live, but choose our victims without personal moral. And never may we ever judge clan members for who they used to be. Now, today's lesson is over. Go run home, I believe your help is still needed for the midsummer festival."
Most of the children cheered and ran away, awe and horror already lost, but not the lesson.
Karma remained and approached the elder, who was slowly climbing to his feet. It was clear that his time was near, she thought, and wondered when they would celebrate his travel to the beyond. Perhaps next year. Maybe sooner. It was a sad thought; he had always been kind and friendly.
But there was no reason to despair death.
"What is it, little one?" His voice was patient and warm, there was no sign of annoyance. Karma gathered her courage. They want me to always tell if something disturbs me, she reminded herself.
"I, I've started to remember. I was European and lived most of my life after the second millennium. Lately, I've dreamed of my teenage years. But, well, there's something that bothers me."
The old man raised an eyebrow, mild curiosity in his eyes. "Do tell. I won't judge."
Both smiled at the word, almost unwillingly. Karma took a deep breath. "I remember this world. From my other life. There was a story, it involved the Senju and the Uchiha and the Uzumaki and a lot of other clans. And they all lived together in villages, but there was still war and bloodshed. There was chakra and hand seals and techniques and blood limits, just like here. The clan symbols match and all."
The old man looked at her, this time with academic curiosity. "Well, really now? That is very interesting. But hardly a cause of much concern, the clans in our world do not live with each other. Certainly not Uchiha and Senju. The parallels are likely meaningless, some kind of a cosmic coincidence."
Karma bit her lip. He didn't know what she had seen once, enjoyed once, of course he didn't understand her anxious fear of future. "There were also two men, Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara. They made peace between their clans and built that first village, Konoha. But Madara went insane."
She looked up, her young face serious and frightened. "He tried to send the entire world into a genjutsu. He might have destroyed it in the process."
The old man was silent, his eyebrows furrowed. Karma did not speak another word. The trees swayed, as always, in a wind that did not exist or, at least, did not blow in this world. They, too, seemed to wait and listen in anxiety.
"Now, that is very ill news indeed. I'm not yet convinced it was of our world you saw, but we should go meet the clan head regardless. I do believe the end of the world deserves our attention, even if the risk is low."
Karma took his hand and smiled, relieved because he had taken her seriously. As far as she knew, no one in her clan had ever remembered anything related to this new world. And it had been a manga series, of all things.
They walked away from the forest, a small girl supporting a limping old man, leaving lush green trees and a sun spotted meadow behind.
Author's Notes: That story the kids were told isn't 100% truth, because it is told as a legend and a lesson. Those two criminals probably did exist, but not at the same time. That sort of thing.
Silver Queen deserves half the credit for this story. I wrote the thing, but she was invaluable in refining ideas and came up with a lot of stuff I incorporated into this. I will also not apologise for writing a self-insert (even though Karma isn't really me), because I think the genre gets a lot of crap for poor reasons. There's no reason it can't be a good story, like Dreaming of Sunshine shows.
I have about four chapters written, hence the reason I posted this. I generally don't want to post chapter by chapter, because I don't trust myself enough to not stop writing for half a year, but this won't be a long story so I figured that where I've gotten is good enough to start posting.