Author: Rhyssa Fireheart
Pairing: None at this time
Disclaimer: Don't own it, never will. Just like to play around with it in my mind.
Shinobi don't fall out of trees. They receive rigorous training in chakra control in order to stick to the sides of objects (such as trees) or run across water or even to move quickly in short bursts, making it seem as if they can disappear. So why was she lying on her back gasping for breath, sprawled in the grass with a large root digging into her back? Not that it mattered, she couldn't have fallen, obviously, because shinobi aren't supposed to fall, at least not after they've graduated and become genin and chuunin and especially not once they've reached the rank of jounin.
Dragging herself to her feet, she tried straightening up, gasping at the line of fiery pain down the left side of her back. Something was wrong back there; something beyond simple bruising caused by a not-fall from the trees, but now wasn't the time to worry about that. Right now she needed to get moving again, get back up in the trees she hadn't fallen out of and keep going.
Forcing her body to keep moving, she jumped back up into the branches of the tree. Pausing to rub eyes gritty from dust and lack of sleep, she leapt to the next branch and then another, the uncertainty of her steps fading after several more jumps. There was still a long way to go before she arrived at her destination. Not that it mattered; nothing anyone could do would help the dead.
Izumo stared blankly at the people walking around the market, blinking slowly in an effort to stay awake. The heat of the afternoon coupled with the absolute lack of anything meaningful happening conspired to make the idea of closing his eyes very attractive. The sound of steady breathing to his right told him that his partner Kotetsu had already lost his battle against boredom and fallen asleep. Being assigned gate guard duty was usually reserved as a punishment detail (hellishly cold and wet in the winter, sweltering hot in the summers) except that he wasn't sure what they'd done to deserve punishment. He couldn't think of anything specific they'd done to get the Hokage upset recently, especially not since being her personal guards was usually a cushy assignment. Still, that didn't mean they couldn't be assigned to something as mind-numbing as gate duty on a hot summer afternoon.
The day became a lot more interesting when someone staggered through the open gates and slumped, head hanging, against the outer wall. At first glance, Izumo assumed the woman was a jounin returning from a mission gone bad who needed immediate help. Her clothes were torn and stained and a travel pack hung limp along her lower back. Residents were starting to stare, since most Leaf-nin didn't enter the village through the main gates, at least not looking like this. Kotetsu fell backwards in his chair when Izumo shoved past him to get out of the guard shack.
As he got closer, Izumo realized she wasn't a Leaf-nin at all. The clothes were a darker shade of blue-black and the steel grey flak vest was a different design than what Konoha nin wore. The shoulder guards were marked with four wavy lines; a Mist-nin then, probably here to see the Ambassador. Something had obviously gone drastically wrong if she was injured like this.
"Kotetsu! Get over here and help me!" He yelled to his partner. He checked to see if she had any injuries that needed immediate attention, but going by the fact that she'd walked, or rather staggered, into the village he assumed she wouldn't be hurt any further by continued movement. Kotetsu showed up on her other side, already sliding his hands behind the kunoichi's back and legs to help Izumo lift her carefully. The woman barely reacted to being picked up by the two men, only mumbling something they couldn't understand as they headed towards help.
The hospital entrance was an island of serenity until they arrived. Two shinobi half-carrying a battered nin through the doors attracted immediate attention, and medics rushed to assist the trio.
"She just staggered though the main gates. She's pretty out of it, hasn't said anything we could understand," Kotetsu told the head medic. "We need to get in touch with the Mist Ambassador to let him know a messenger from Kirigakure has arrived."
"We'll take care of her. Go let the Hokage and the Ambassador know about this as soon as possible." Medics in white tunics swirled around the unknown woman in a complicated dance, absently shoving the other two shinobi out of the way.
Several hours later, the evening sun poured rays of light into the hospital room as Tsunade and Shizune entered, the Ambassador from Kirigakure following with a bodyguard. The doctor standing beside the bed turned to the Hokage in relief.
"What's the situation?"
"The majority of her injuries are superficial bruises and lacerations, Hokage-sama, but there is some severe bruising down the left side of her back. Several ribs along the spine have minor fractures, but the spine itself is undamaged. Those injuries appear to have been caused by falling from a height onto something unknown and landing on her back. In addition, she is suffering from extreme physical exhaustion and dehydration.
"As for her mental state," the doctor continued neutrally, "we've not gotten any information from her; in fact she's not spoken at all. We managed to get her out of her ruined clothing to do a basic examination, but she refuses to relinquish the scroll in her hands or allow us to put her to sleep for any further treatment. The only medic that tried taking away that scroll ended up needing treatment himself, so we've let her keep it. The remainder of her belongings, including several other scrolls which were in her travel pack, are over on the chair."
"I see. Kenji-sama, do you know who she is? Perhaps she'll speak to you since I'd assume she was sent here with a message." Tsunade turned to the Ambassador standing behind her, a distinguished looking man in his mid-fifties with dark graying hair. Stepping closer to the bed, he looked down at the patient somberly before turning to his bodyguard.
"Imari-taichou, this is Niyame-san, isn't it? It's been a while since I've seen her and she doesn't spend much time in Kiri, after all. Last I'd heard she was on a special assignment for the Mizukage. What could have happened to bring her to Konoha in this state?" The bodyguard he'd addressed stepped closer, kneeling down to the face the woman curled on her side in the bed. A large bruise covered her left cheek, the ugly purple already fading to sick yellow at the edges and other bruises were visible from under the collar of the hospital gown. The patient's eyes flicked over Imari's features, her mouth curving into a gentle smile.
"Yes, Kenji-sama, it's Niyame-san all right," Imari continued, speaking directly to the patient, "Niya-chan, what happened to you? Why are you here in Konoha?" She masked her disquiet, keeping the unease she felt from her voice. The woman's…no, Niyame's smile dimmed slightly as she sat up in the bed.
"Imari-chan, I didn't expect to see you here! It's been so long since we've talked!" A sigh. "If you're here though, I guess this means we'll have plenty of time to talk now. When did you die?" It took a few moments for the meaning of her last words to register, but when they did Imari reacted with surprise.
"What? Niya-chan, I'm not dead! I'm kneeling right here next to your hospital bed in Konoha."
"Of course, you're dead. Everyone's dead now." With the sad smile fading from her lips, Niyame lapsed back into silence and refused to say anything more. The people in the room looked around uncomfortably, unsure of what to do next. No amount of cajoling, pleading or prodding could pull any further response from the silent woman in the bed. She simply sat there, looking out the window.
"Well, we need to figure out something. I'm sure you don't want us to hurt her further trying to get that scroll away, but I have a feeling it's very important," Tsunade said. The group had been quietly discussing various ideas while Niyame ignored them all, moving stiffly to sit cross-legged and stare at the scroll in her hands. The ambassador didn't appear to be in a hurry to find out what was in the mysterious scroll, so any method involving extreme physical intervention was out of the question. She was almost relieved when one of her guards slipped into the room to deliver a message.
"Who's she looking at?" Everyone turned at the nurse's question, wondering what she meant. Niyame was definitely looking more alert and staring at the group, or someone in the group, intently.
"She wasn't doing that a few minutes ago," Imari said. "What's changed…?"
Tsunade was quicker than the rest and decided to use the possible opening that had just arrived. "Raido, go over to her bedside, see what she does."
"Hokage-sama?" Raido asked uncertainly. He'd been delivering a message that had just arrived from Suna; he had no idea what was going on or who the injured woman was.
"Just go over there and sit by the bed. See if she talks to you."
"Yes, ma'am, but can someone tell me what's going on?" Not that he was bothered by the orders, but having some unknown woman staring at him as intently as this one was a bit disconcerting. At least the explanation only took a few moments to relate, not that it helped him understand her interest in him. Still, if the Hokage wanted him to sit by the side of the bed, he'd do it.
As Raido moved over to the hospital bedside, Ibiki Morino stepped into the hospital room where the Hokage and the Kirigakure ambassador waited. The ambassador's bodyguard showed no outward change of expression at his arrival, but Ibiki could tell that she was mentally reviewing everything she knew about him. That was fine with him, he'd read over the files Konoha had on her before she came here as well. He ignored the others in the room and walked over to stand next to Tsunade.
"Ibiki-san, I didn't expect you so quickly. We've been trying to figure out a way to get the scroll away from the patient with hurting her any further, but she's already injured one medic. Still, it seems that she's responded to Raido for some reason …" Tsunade paused at the sight of Ibiki's upraised hand.
"I've already heard all about her arrival from Izumo and Kotetsu. I've reviewed the medical records and have read what data we have on Niyame Kisagawa in our files." He looked thoughtfully at the Mist ambassador before saying, "Are you sure this scroll is important? I've heard there were several others found in her travel pack that had details of some serious illness in Mizu no Kuni and some sealed sample bags. What makes you think this other scroll is valuable, besides the fact that she won't give it up?"
"Mostly just that she won't give it up. When she spoke to Imari-taichou, she said that everyone was dead," the ambassador replied, gesturing to his bodyguard. "They know each other very well, so there's no reason for her to say that unless she believed it to be true. I've read the scrolls that we do have and the news is pretty grim. I think we need to know what information she's protecting in that other one as soon as possible."
"I see." Ibiki studied the woman in the bed before him. She was sitting up in the bed, staring at Raido Namiashi and ignoring the other residents of the room. Tangled strands of braided black hair covered her face, partially concealing the damage there. Assorted scratches and bruises were visible against her tanned skin and he could discern the faint white tracery of knife scars covering the backs of her hands and forearms. Moving around the foot of the bed, Ibiki waited patiently to see how she would react to Namiashi's presence.
"Uhh, good afternoon, Kisagawa-san." At the sound of his voice, she jerked slightly. Her eyes held an aura of panic as they roamed his features. He waited a moment before speaking again, "How are you today?"
A look of confusion gradually stole over her face. One hand slowly released its death grip on the scroll and she reached out to gently brush her fingers over his scars. Surprised at the reaction, Raido pulled away slightly before freezing, letting the feather-light touches linger over his face although he looked uncomfortable.
"I don't know you," Niyame said in wonder. "How can you be here if I don't know you? The only people I've seen here are ones I know." Her fingers continued roaming his face, brushing over the scars gently, moving from the bridge of his nose, across his cheek and sliding down his neck to be stopped at the collar of his shirt. When she started to repeat the gesture, he forced himself to not pull away in distaste; it felt too intimate and personal.
"I'm here because you're in the hospital in Konoha. You're Niyame Kisagawa, correct? I'm Raido Namiashi. Can you tell me what happened to you? What happened in Mizu no Kuni to send you here like this?"
"You're not sick, are you, Namiashi-san?" Her hand shifted suddenly, the back lying against his forehead as if to check his temperature, before going back to gently brush his scars one final time. "You don't seem ill. There's no summer fever in Konoha, is there? That's a good thing."
"I've never heard of summer fever, so I don't think there's any here in Konoha. Why is that a good thing?"
"Everyone gets it, you know. And everyone dies now. You'd know if it were here, so you must be safe. Of course, Konoha's safe. It's not near the ocean. It always comes from the outer isles first. But it could be here. Has anyone died lately?" Her voice was earnest despite a dreamy quality to the tone.
"Kisagawa-san, we're a village of shinobi, of course people have died lately." Ibiki's sarcastic response cut into the conversation. Her eyes flew up to stare at the new speaker, clearly unsure of what to think of the interruption. Raido took the opportunity to move back slightly, hoping she wouldn't stop touch him again. "Do you mean died from this summer fever? I'd have to ask the medics, but I don't think so. We would have heard about it by now."
"Yes, you would have heard. So many die from it you know. Everyone's dead because we were too late." Her hand groped blindly for the scroll in her lap. "I don't know you, do I? How come someone I don't know is talking me now that he's dead?" Ibiki stared at her for a few moments before motioning for Raido to remain where he was and then walking over to where the others waited.
"Doctor, the reports on her said she was suffering from extreme physical exhaustion. Is it the type caused by lack of sleep for several days?"
"Yes, that's what I would guess it's from, judging from how she's acting. The nurses have said that she'll doze off occasionally, only to jerk herself awake a few moments later. It's as if she refuses to allow herself to sleep. That would also account for her current mental state as well," the doctor replied. Ibiki only nodded at the confirmation of his own thoughts. Turning back to the patient, he whispered something to Raido before taking up position at the foot of the bed.
"Kisagawa-san, can you tell me why everyone dies?" Raido asked.
"Because it changed. Summer fever changed and no one knew it. We didn't notice until it was too late for some places. People got sick like usual, but we should have known. We should have known it was different this time. Why didn't we know?" Her voice rose as she was speaking, becoming more urgent sounding. She reached out to grab his arm, shaking him to get her point across. As Raido gaped at her, she dropped her hand and turned away, once more ignoring the room. She jerked away when he touched her shoulder.
"I'm sorry; go on with your story, please."
"I… yes, of course. I wonder what you would have been like when you were alive..." Niyame looked back down at the scroll she clutched, and hesitantly began to speak once more. "It took over three weeks before someone realized that people were dying who shouldn't have been; before we realized that people were dying at all. No one dies from summer fever, but they do now. Treatment is easy but no one bothers, because no one dies from summer fever. Except that now they were. Dying, I mean. Everyone dies…." Her voice trailed off sadly.
"You've already said that, Kisagawa-san. But why did people start dying from a common illness? Was it an attack from somewhere?" Ibiki's stern words jerked the woman back to the hospital room. Namiashi seemed unsure of what to say next and Ibiki didn't want her to start staring off into the air again. "What did the Mizukage do about the sickness?"
"The Mizukage made sure people were healed as soon as they showed any signs of summer fever, of course. If you heal it right away, then there's no problem. You don't die. But most people didn't bother getting healed at first. And once Kiri's residents realized that people were dying, they overwhelmed the medics trying to get healed. We were so busy taking care of the people in Kiri, we forgot about the other villages and the outer islands. We forgot all about them. It was too late for them, because summer fever starts there, you know."
"No, I didn't know, actually. Why was it too late for them? If all you needed to do was heal people once they caught the fever, then why would there be a problem?"
"Because everyone dies! They all die if you don't heal them quickly enough." Niyame's voice lost the sad vagueness it had held, becoming more forceful and angry. "We took too long to realize what was happening! It wasn't until people started dying in Kiri that the medics realized that something was wrong. Summer fever moves inland, usually by the time it reaches Kiri the fever season is in full swing in the smaller villages and it's almost over in the outer islands. Don't you get it? If people were dying in Kiri, how many more were already dead in the rest of the country? We should have realized what was happening earlier than we did!" Shoulders shaking, she drew her legs up to her chest and dropped her head to her knees.
Ibiki watched her for a few moments, giving her time to calm down before asking his next question, "What did you do about it then? If the medics learned that healing the new strain of summer fever was all that was needed to prevent deaths, what did you do after that? I'd assume that the Mizukage didn't keep the medics sitting around Kiri doing nothing. You were sent out into the rest of the country to see what help could be provided, correct?"
"What good would it have done? You're fine if you can get healed within the first two weeks. It had been over three weeks since the fever had gotten to Kirigakure."
"So it was just assumed that everyone outside Kirigakure was dead and they concentrated on the village instead. Is that what you're saying?"
Niyame sighed, lifting her head to look at her questioner. "Yes…no…that's not what I'm saying. The Mizukage didn't want to let us go at first, so it took a while to get teams set up. At least two members of each team were either a full medic or a combat medic-nin so that we could help anyone we found. It wasn't so bad in the first few villages; they hadn't had summer fever for very long, so we could heal many of the sick and save them. Once we got closer to the coastline though, there were more and more dead to deal with. Some people seemed to have a bit of resistance so they weren't as ill, but so many died. It seemed like everyone died. A few of the smallest villages are completely gone now. So many dead." Her voice faded away slowly and she stared down at the bed once again.
"I asked to be sent to two of the outer islands as part of my route. I wanted to see how badly Abunta and Moetra were affected; I had to see for myself. Did you know that they'd actually be one island if the sea level was lower? That's how close the islands are. Children from each island raid the other as practice for when they become genin. It wasn't really very hard; water walking is one of the first skills island genin learn after swimming. After all, if you live surrounded by water, you'd better be able to deal with it. And sometimes, when the tides were right, you could walk from one island to the other even if you didn't know how to water walk; that's how shallow the water is in a few places. Of course, the kids get in trouble when they're caught, but all the adults understand. They did it themselves when they were kids, after all." The silence in the hospital room was complete. Even the sounds from outside seemed muted, hushed, so that her quiet words could be heard.
"Abunta is closer in, so we went there first. The village there is a little bit larger than the one on Moetra, but that didn't mean a thing. So many, so many gone, there were just so many gone…. It hurt to walk past the houses and see all those bodies lying there. No, that's not true; it was harder to see the survivors and the living dead. We treated the ones we could, but it was too late for so many of them, far too late. We stayed around long enough to help bury one of the families that had been wiped out. I found out later that it was Michiyo's family. She never told me she was from Abunta, yet we'd worked on teams several times in the past. I never got to meet her family. We probably raided each others homes as kids and I never knew we grew up so close.
"We finally went over to Moetra to check on the residents there. The islands aren't far apart so we just ran across the water. Maybe it would have been better to take a boat. I don't know. It would have taken us longer to get there. The village on Moetra is smaller, so seeing so many people missing was hard. You could tell where all the new graves were because of the fresh dirt. Someone had been keeping up with the deaths; probably some of the living dead. So much fresh dirt."
Ibiki heard a soft gasp over the sound of Niyame's words, and turning his head slightly saw how pale Imari-taichou had gotten. The ambassador's head was bowed, hiding his expression. He turned back to Niyame as she continued speaking.
"Did you know there is a clan of artisans on the island of Moetra? Renowned throughout Mizu no Kuni for their ceramics and glassworks. In their clan, it's expected you join the family business and learn to handle glass or clay. Even the children are involved somehow. They say the founder of the clan chose the island because of the clay found there and they've been part of Moetra for several generations. But now, no one knows if the clan will survive. So many dead on the island. And the living dead are the hardest to see."
"You've said that before, 'living dead'," Ibiki interrupted. "What does that mean? Someone is either alive or dead; there's no middle ground." Niyame looked surprised when he spoke, as if she'd forgotten the rest of her audience in the room.
"Because you don't die right away. It can take weeks for the disease to finally win. You just get weaker and weaker and weaker, and finally it hurts to even breathe. You can't breathe and everyone dies. They all die and it hurts, oh how it hurts them!" Niyame's head was bowed again, the bald words being forced out from behind clenched teeth. Ibiki waited to see if she would continue on her own before speaking again.
"What did you find on the island, Kisagawa-san?"
"I told you! Dead, dead, dead people! The recently dead, the walking dead, those who didn't know they were dead. There were so many of them. Who knows if that clan will survive now? All because we didn't pay attention in time. It's all our fault…."
"You still haven't explained why you called them 'walking dead' though. What did you do once you reached this island?" Niyame didn't answer for long moments. She just sat there, shoulders shaking and her head bowed over her knees. Ibiki was getting annoyed again at the lack of progress when she spoke again.
"They're walking dead because there's nothing that can be done for them. I said that if you get healed in the first two weeks of catching it, you'll be fine. If you've had summer fever longer than that, it's harder to heal. It takes a lot more energy and effort by the medics. If it's been longer than a month, there's nothing to be done. Do you understand now?" She looked at the others in the room, not really seeing the confusion on their faces. "You can't do anything for them. They'll just get sicker and sicker and weaker until they die. You. Can't. Do. Anything. They're dead, even though their bodies haven't realized it yet.
"Do you know what the worst part is?" she continued without pause. "The children. They're so full of life and energy and so their bodies fight longer. They're all dead, it just takes longer for them to realize it." Once more she dropped her head to her knees and started rocking back and forth, murmuring "everyone's dead" in a strained voice. Raido stared at her expressionlessly, one hand on her shoulder while Ibiki watched for several seconds before moving over to stand before the Hokage and the Ambassador.
"Well, that's probably all the information she has. If she spent weeks trying to help the sick, traveled to the outer islands and then turned around and headed here, I'm not surprised she's exhausted. Actually, I'm surprised she's as coherent as she appears to be." At the first signs of anger in Imari's eyes, he held up a head before saying "Yes, I'm sure all Mist-nin are strong and capable and excellent shinobi. No one is disputing that. That doesn't take away from the fact that she should probably be sleeping right now. Was there anything else, Tsunade-sama?"
"Just see if you can get that scroll away from her, or if she'll give it to Kenji-sama instead."
Turning back to the bed, Ibiki found that he didn't need to do anything else though. Raido had the scroll now, forgotten while the woman finally grieved. However much Ibiki may have wanted to see what it contained, the scroll was handed over to the ambassador without hesitation.
Several hours later, Tsunade stared out the window of her office, thinking about the information written in the other scrolls she'd read, the ones from Niyame's travel pouch. It was morning already and she'd wasted the entire night reading through book after book of medical data and history. The Mizukage would probably be surprised to find she owned several of those books, since they had originally come from Kirikagure. It was in one of those books where she found the notes carefully written on the page margins.
The unknown Leaf medic detailed how summer fever, a minor viral disease found only in the Water Country, was actually a cyclic disease that changed every 30 years or so. The notes documented the most recent prior outbreak and how decimated the population of the country had been at the time. No wonder Mizu no Kuni was the smallest of the Five Great Countries. It wasn't just because of the location, but also because the population was frequently winnowed by this fever, war between the countries and their own blood-thirsty habits. She wondered idly if anyone from Konoha had ever thought to send this bit of information to the Mizukage or if it had been held secret, another weapon to use in the never-ending war between the lands.
After a week of constant requests, the medics finally released Niyame from the hospital and allowed her to move to the Mizu no Kuni Embassy in town. She reluctantly settled into the room assigned and set out to speak to the Ambassador the first chance she got.
"Kenji-sama, do you have a moment, please?" She found him sitting in a sunny room over-filled with plants, tingeing the light fainting green. He continued staring out the open windows, not responding or acknowledging her presence. Just as she was about to ask again, he turned to her and sighed.
"I suppose you want to return home and see what has happened," he said quietly.
"Yes, sir. I didn't have much of a chance to see to the family. I'm not even sure how many or who survived out on the island. I'd like to see to that as well as speak to the Mizukage about what can be done for the outer islands," she said.
In reply, the ambassador reached into his jacket and pulled out a scroll then tossed it onto the table beside him. "I'm afraid that isn't possible. I've received orders from the Mizukage about you."
Niyame was shocked. She'd only been in Konoha for… a quick pause to add up days… just over two weeks. It hadn't even been a month since she left Mizu no Kuni, why would the Mizukage have sent orders already? Uncertain, she picked up the scroll and opened it slowly, reading the words there with a sense of disbelief.
"I'm to remain here, part of the embassy, until ordered otherwise by the Mizukage. I won't be part of your guard detail but will be considered a 'special' jounin under your command and I'm to follow your orders without question." She let her hands drop, the scroll forgotten as she stared at the ambassador in disbelief. "Kenji-sama, this makes no sense. I'm needed back in Moetra to see what's happened to the family. I not going to be any use stuck here in Konoha. Besides, I really don't want to reside here surrounded by enemies"
Kenji didn't look at her at all; he just said again, "That isn't possible. Your brother, Yuhiko, will have to look after the family for now. He's also been placed under my command on detached duty, just as you are, and I've sent him orders regarding the situation and what I expect him to do. You will be more useful here in Konoha. Perhaps you should consider getting to know the residents as more than just enemies."
She begged, she pleaded, she threatened to simply leave without permission (that resulted in the threat that she'd be declared a missing-nin and ordered killed on sight), but in the end, Niyame bowed to the orders from the Mizukage. She was now permanently attached to the embassy in Konoha and under the authority of the Ambassador. And despite her own desires, she was now a resident of the Leaf Village.