Man, you know what would be great? Getting lost in a skyscraper-laden industrial hellscape.
Kei had never had that thought. Not even ironically. Thinking that way seemed like asking for trouble, especially whenever she stared down the actual circumstances of her life thus far.
Or: Welcome to Gotham City.
Notes: The only comic book I have legitimately read cover to cover was an issue of Superman that was bundled into an Easter basket my brother got as a kid. I think he'd gotten killed by Doomsday? Anyway, the poor thing disintegrated like twenty years ago and I've consumed mostly the visual media since then. And even then, sporadically.
I'm here for the characters, the vibes, and for stressing Kei right the hell out.
This story takes place between chapter 95 and 96 of CYB, where Kei spends most of a year deployed and her mental health takes a walloping.
On the Bat end of things, it takes place somewhere between Jason's resurrection (and return to Gotham) and literally anybody knowing who the hell is running around making all the gangs angry. Tim Drake is the current Robin.
Hayate wouldn't say he "woke up" in trouble, exactly. That'd imply that he'd actually fallen asleep anywhere, but he hadn't. As far as he knew, he'd gone from walking up the road to Training Ground Ten to the middle of something entirely alien.
And he had no idea where Kei was. She'd been in his range when the shift happened. If barely. And now she wasn't.
He ducked behind a metal shipping container the second he realized his position was too exposed, skittering away from light and the sound of approaching voices he couldn't understand.
Sinking into a crouch, he ran through the mental checklists Inoichi-sensei tried to drill into his brain. Physically, he was fine. No untoward aches or pains; heck, he hadn't even arrived at his and his sister's planned sparring match. His katana was still strapped to his hip, freeing up his hands, and both his kunai holster and shuriken pouch were full and latched shut.
Hayate even had the extra box of explosive notes Kei left on the kitchen table this morning. His sister's habit of using fūinjutsu practice as a stress-relieving exercise was great for their equipment budget, but it made everyone else really nervous.
The most relevant conversation had gone something like this:
"Sis, maybe you shouldn't leave those lying around."
"I don't exactly have anywhere left to put them."
"Then stop making them?"
"But they help me relax."
"Funny, they do the opposite for everyone else."
And then she'd packed up that week's batch of deadly weapons and stuck them in his mission pack. They came in handy when Team Inoichi needed to blow things up, but at what cost?
Maybe they'd be handy now, too.
The voices were still getting closer. One of them had a whiny quality, breathy with panic and accompanied by rapid footsteps and stutters that sounded like they rattled through his whole frame. Another was scratchier than some of the chain-smokers Hayate heard during his childhood visits to the respiratory unit in the hospital, accompanied by the occasional cough. The third was a growl, domineering and aggressive. There were more, but Whiny, Smokey, and Bossy were the standouts.
Hayate's hands flowed through the seals for the Clone technique. A slightly blurry version of himself—with its copy of his scarf pulled up and over the nose—darted through the shadows and the gaps between the shipping containers.
A warning cry went up. Shadows started moving after the clone, even after it vanished around the far corner.
Hayate crept the other way.
Basic misdirection was still a vital tool in any shinobi's arsenal.
Hayate had absolutely zero intention of making himself a target. If his sister was here, she'd have demanded the same thing. And if being stuck in this building meant he was locked into the same space as a bunch of creeps, then Hayate just needed to find an exit and cut his way out.
There were yet more men lurking when Hayate finally scaled the side of some metal shelving, silent as a ghost. He managed to launch himself from there to the concrete walls, sticking to the new surface just long enough to ease himself down onto an attached walkway. There were doors here and there, but Hayate needed to observe before he picked any route out of here.
The warehouse was larger than any single-room building Hayate had ever seen. Rows upon rows of shipping containers turned the interior into a musty, slightly rusty maze. Plastic-wrapped pallets took up much of the remaining floor space. The shelving units were spindlier than bamboo in proportion to their contents, and flashlight beams crisscrossed the darkness as what sounded like twenty weirdos looked for him. At least, they were probably looking for him. The hiss-crackle of two-way radios sounded alien as they echoed in such a large space.
Back in the first circle of light, two burly men in black coats and strange hats flanked a somewhat smaller man, who smoked a gray trail up toward the overhead light. His coat seemed fancier, with a longer cut, and Hayate could make out short brown hair even from some fifteen meters away. The table in front of them was strewn with paper and coffee mugs, and Hayate couldn't hope to make out what was on it from this distance.
The voices crisscrossed below him, flashlights still moving. Peering around corners.
Maybe Hayate should have made more clones.
Without a sound, Hayate untied his headband and its metal plate and stashed it in one of his many pockets. It was just reflective enough that someone might notice a gleam of light in the wrong place. As soon as he finished, he unspooled his scarf before wrapping it around the lower half of his face. The dull red material was thin enough to breathe through and served as an improvised mask, as it had on other missions, just in case of airborne poisons or a sudden need for a disguise.
Mostly poisons. Hayate didn't even have a Bingo Book entry yet.
Scarf ends tucked where they wouldn't tangle, Hayate waited until the next unprofessional patrol passed well below before heading across the catwalks. The light was on behind the first door he passed, so that was a no-go. Better find another way.
There were details everywhere that snatched at Hayate's attention, like branches getting caught in his clothes during stealth training. The language was foreign and incomprehensible. Even the smells were strange, all chemicals overlaid with smoke and an undercurrent of too many people. Passing a wire-and-plastic slot window showed a never-ending skyline full of boxy shapes and lights twinkling in the distance, stretching incomprehensibly high into the gray night sky. There were no stars.
Looking out there made Hayate's head spin, but he still had to go.
Hayate sent another clone—this one more of a dark blob than anything—rushing toward the front entrance of the building, flickering just a little as it crossed the lighter patches of floor.
There was a sharp bang and the clone vanished instantly. Something behind it buckled as a projectile slammed through.
Another alarmed shout sent Hayate bolting toward the next door he'd spotted.
A man twice his size spilled out of it, backed by enough light to kill Hayate's night vision in a burst of spots. Blinded and with shouting in his ears, Hayate flipped over the railing by feel and dropped into empty air, landing atop one of the steel containers with an almighty bang.
As his vision started to come back, the yelling got way louder. Something small and fast whizzed past his head, joined by half a dozen others in the din. Holes ripped themselves open in the steel centimeters from his hands and sent tiny metal fragments shooting here and there as shrapnel.
Hayate swapped positions with a mop bucket he'd seen from the catwalk earlier, letting it get riddled with holes. Another clone cartwheeled across the warehouse floor, then split into three to continue the chase without him.
But if this many men were running around the inside of the warehouse, maybe the main entrance was open. He could probably get a Body Flicker to work across that distance. Never mind that he'd never done it before. Deadly peril was enough for anything to be a viable solution.
Hayate darted forward, keeping to the shadows, and his left leg crumpled underneath him on the third step.
He hit the floor before the pain hit him.
Light flickered overhead, pinning Hayate at its edge as he pulled his bad leg in. Blood trailed after it, from a blazing line of pain at the back of his calf. He hadn't screamed—he was trained better than that—but there was definitely a yelp. Just instant, impossible-to-ignore pain.
It was the same leg that Zetsu guy broke two years ago. Breath left him in a hiss through his teeth.
And someone was talking.
Hayate got his elbows in order and pushed himself up, trying to pull his injured leg out of the way. Defiance in every inch of him that wasn't on fire, Hayate glared up at his attackers.
Four men, each bigger than he was even without the optical trick of being stuck on the floor. They each held metal things like weapons, so Hayate had to assume they were. Just because something looked strange didn't mean it couldn't kill him; that was practically the first rule of surviving battles with other shinobi in the field. Anything that could punch through steel was too deadly to treat lightly. The smell of smoke was too strong to miss, this close, and Hayate could almost draw a line from festival fireworks to these strange tubes pointed at his face.
Hayate didn't move. He didn't go for his kunai or katana, all too aware that he couldn't see the problem before the pain hit him anyway.
But he did wish Kei was here.
The men were talking, one of them nudging the others. All of them were a ringing cacophony of anger-fear-desperation behind their harsh voices. None of the ones he'd nicknamed were here, but Hayate could hear them heading back in this direction.
For just an instant, his eyes darted sideways to the open rolling door.
And then the leftmost and rightmost men's heads were sporting neat, bloody holes. Even as their bodies slumped over like Suna puppets, the remaining two shouted and started looking around for their attacker.
Hayate rolled so his kunai holster faced up, ripped one free, and flung it neatly through the back of the louder man's neck. He crumpled on the spot.
Opportunity knocked, after all.
The last man turned to face him as he saw his ally fall dead, and that meant he caught Hayate's second kunai in the forehead. Dying reflex had his weapon spitting with a bang and smoke and flash, putting a hole through the concrete and dirt at his feet.
Okay, time to go. Hayate levered himself up with his katana sheath as an awkward crutch, then found himself just bracing his hand against the nearest wall because it was too short. He limped toward the door anyway, trailing blood.
The warehouse around him echoed with more loud cracks as multiple weapons belched fire in the darkness. A pair of them were at about the right angle to have killed two of Hayate's attackers, up on the catwalks and raining hell down on anything that moved wrong.
Not my problem. They'd been trying to kill him for at least the last five minutes, and he didn't even know what he'd done to piss them off besides exist. They could all drop dead as far as he cared.
Hayate almost tripped over the corpse just outside, which let him spot the other limp shapes backlit by street lamps. His breathing, already labored by the returning tide of pain, only stuttered a little at the sight of ruined fencing and blood gleaming off gravel even in the dark.
What in the world was that?
Roughly the size of a low-slung horse, a two-wheeled machine made of twisted metal made faint plinking noises as it cooled in the darkness. Near it, there was another street lamp, which then let Hayate spot two more corpses. Going by the blood, both of them had been picked off by an even bigger not-firework than what people were using inside.
Hayate didn't actually want to see what more of that would look like. Not when he already couldn't run. Medic-nin and doctors hated it when patients tried to run or fight on injured limbs, so Hayate had a whole medical testbook's worth of potential complications painting the inside of his eyelids when he blinked. And if that wasn't a whole core childhood memory, Rin didn't mind reinforcing it. His leg was screwed up enough without straining it.
Okay, but survival. Which kind of depended on not being around the men he'd just ditched.
Hayate scrambled forward, ducking behind a stack of pallets to break line of sight. Blood dripped down his leg and into his sandal, and probably everywhere else because his luck was terrible. Easing back against splintery wood, he pulled his leg in and ran a chakra-coated hand over the injury without making direct contact.
It felt like—yeah, that was a clean wound. Something semi-circular—or just circular, and this was a glancing hit—had carved through the skin and fat at the back of his leg. Clipped the muscle, too, which explained why his tenketsu were out of order and why there was so much blood. But even with the evidence in front of him, it just didn't make any sense.
What the hell were those things?
Regardless of the answer, Hayate hadn't spent half his childhood in and out of Konoha General Hospital to ignore an injury now. But patching himself up was usually easier if all the threats were being handled by his team. Or by his sister.
He was alone.
Boots scuffed in the gravel. Just one pair. A voice, humming through a buzzing filter that flattened it into nonsense.
Hayate had actually thought the warehouse full of angry creeps would have been distracted longer. Showed what he knew. The odds were always against a wounded combatant. Even if Hayate just wanted to get away , not fight some random jerk who was coincidentally also killing the people who'd tried to kill him.
Shit. Whoever-that-was was probably following the trail of blood. This fight was the gift that just kept on giving.
A strangely mechanical voice said something in that foreign language, just as the owner rounded the corner.
With the boots and the bright red metal helmet, the new interloper was just shy of two meters tall and dressed…strangely. The jacket moved like leather, even if it was in a design Hayate hadn't seen before. Whatever material made up the armored bodysuit hadn't suffered in the face of the hole-punching weapons, because the man didn't move like he was injured at all. Steel-plated boots, heavier than even what ANBU wore, and then the armored gauntlets. He carried two of the strange weapons, one sheathed to each side of his waist, and a long strap over his chest that appeared to carry another one. It was the wrong shape for a sword.
Red Helmet said something again. The cadence was different, but the radio-like overlay was still present. He had both hands empty, raised in Hayate's direction as though to appear harmless.
Like Hayate hadn't just seen him kill at least two dozen people. Or heard it.
The man was getting frustrated, and his words came out faster and harsher. The blood on that armor didn't look like his.
Still. Basic courtesy won out, and after what sounded like yet another language change Hayate bowed shallowly and said, "I can't understand anything you're saying, so you might as well give up." Even moving that much made his injured leg scream, so he couldn't go any farther.
"But I can understand you , kid," was the immediate reply, if a strangely-accented one. It sounded like the man leaned too hard on some of the words as the other language's pacing crept in. And his formality was all over the place. "Mind telling me why you were in that warehouse to get shot?"
Hayate stared at him. Hope bubbled up in his chest, which didn't help his breathing much. "I was trying to get out. I don't remember how I ended up there."
Something in the man's body language shifted. The broad shoulders tensed. Confidence-anger-fight-me shifted in a more concerned direction. "You don't remember."
"No, sir." Because if he had, and if he'd been brought there on purpose, he would have taken the initiative away from those jerks. Probably by stabbing first. "Where am I?"
There was a noise like a bunch of gears grinding together as the stranger sighed. "Probably a pretty long way from home, kid. Tell you what, let me look at that leg and we'll see where to go from there. It's better to be well outside the blast radius for the next stretch."
Hayate watched him carefully. Without his team or any other kind of backup, it was clear Hayate was at a steep disadvantage against this world. If he could buy enough time to recover, he'd claw back all of his advantages. Sure, Hayate's pride galled at the idea of needing help from someone who didn't feel even a little like a shinobi, but it wasn't like he'd make this a habit.
Maybe it could be a trade. Hayate waited until Red Helmet Guy approached to take a look at his leg to ask, "Do you need something?" He had bandages. Somewhere.
"I think you're the one who needs something, kid. Like medical attention" Red Helmet Guy encouraged Hayate to stretch his leg out, examining the injury with a critical eye. Reading this man's body language felt extremely strange with no face to assess, but his sensor technique still worked. "Speaking of, you got a name? I can't just call you 'kid' forever."
"Hayate." It wasn't a common name, but it wasn't like "Gekkō Hayate" was notorious here. If he didn't have a single idea why or where or how he'd gotten involved in this mess, then no one else did either. Probably.
"Okay," said Red Helmet Guy. "Call me, uh…" The guy hunted around in his head for a translation. Hayate saw him doing it. "Aka…boshi?"
Red Hat. Sure.
"Akaboshi-san." That was absolutely not this guy's name, but it seemed about as smart as harassing ANBU to ask. "What's the damage?"
"Someone," Akaboshi said carefully, even as he dug around in some spare pocket or other until he came up with a roll of bandages, "shot you. In case this is news." It was. He prodded carefully at Hayate's leg with the perfunctory care of a medic-nin, then started wrapping the injury tightly. "And since the actual bullet is apparently on the warehouse floor, I'm gonna just get you prepped for the doctor."
This guy was lucky Hayate had enough chakra control left—between the adrenaline spike and the lingering confusion—to slam down on the pain signals before he screamed. Instead, he forced his breathing even enough to say, "Can the doctor understand me?"
Akaboshi shrugged. "There are translation services."
Not-my-problem-I'm-busy was the next read Hayate got on him. That was layered over a deep, thrumming pit of concern-protect-spite like a sheet over a pitfall, completely failing to hide the shape underneath it. None of those were hostile intentions, which was more than he could say about most of these people. They were jerks.
This guy was also a jerk, but a currently helpful one. Hayate's fingers didn't itch for more kunai.
And Akaboshi hadn't asked about his weapons or about the dead men. Just kept winding the bandages around and around.
With a sigh, Hayate dug through his own pockets and produced the cheerfully-labeled box of explosive notes he'd left unopened. His sister's handwritten warnings stretched along the sealing tape. "Here."
Akaboshi didn't take it immediately. "And this is…?"
"Stick them to anything you want to explode. Then ignite them." There was no way the full explanation would make any sense, and fire worked just as well. Hayate waved at the warehouse with his free hand. "Please burn that."
Akaboshi paused for a long few seconds, though his hands didn't stop moving.
Hayate stared back. He'd learned the art of the utter stillness at his mother's knee, and he was still using it to suppress his chakra signature to nothing. But today, his sister's bored expression worked fine. And explosives could earn a lot of goodwill in the right place.
"I think I like you, brat."
By the time Hayate was carefully bandaged up and lifted onto the back of what Akaboshi called "a bike," the warehouse was in a hundred pieces that were all on fire.
Man, you know what would be great? Getting lost in a skyscraper-laden industrial hellscape.
Kei had never had that thought. Not even ironically. Thinking that way seemed like asking for trouble, especially whenever she stared down the actual circumstances of her life thus far.
She'd started the brand new day with enough sleep debt to kill someone. Someone else, anyway; she'd clearly survived. But Kei still rolled out of her bed, made breakfast for herself and her brother, and left a box of replacement explosive notes for Hayate's perusal whenever he staggered out of his room. Staying up until two was the kind of decision Kei was pretty sure a competent guardian wasn't supposed to encourage, but she'd missed him and Hayate wanted to know everything about her deployment.
Everything she could tell him, she did.
And in the morning, she'd gone to set up Training Ground Ten for their assessment spar, digging straw dummies out of winter storage and setting up ring targets for accuracy drills. Anything necessary to see how far he'd progressed in the months she'd been in the field.
Gekkō-style Leaf Kenjutsu was only a style insofar as their mother filed the serial numbers off some samurai murder method. But it was theirs. And with Gekkō Miyako two years dead, Kei was the only person in Konoha who could still call herself Hayate's teacher in that one, narrow field. So they agreed—once a month, one fight.
She was late. Kei had broken her promise by a whopping four months.
The only way to avoid breaking that kind of promise was to not make them. And Kei had looked into her brother's dark eyes before her latest string of missions and thought, I need to be there for him.
And she failed.
Just one more thing to toss on the pile.
And now this.
Being a sixteen-year-old special jōnin was already enough work. Her new home was a tangled web of half-assed shōnen manga worldbuilding, the stabby kind of politicking, and small rashes of explosions. She'd fought battles to the death with increasing frequency since she was nine years old. Her mother's death almost two years ago left her and her brother as pitiable, clanless orphans attached to Sensei's household—in the eyes of the public—and somehow didn't cut down on Kei's actual mission workload that much.
This place smells absolutely vile.
Oh, and the whole possessed-by-a-giant-monster thing. There was always a bright side.
You don't even have a nose, Kei told him. Half the benefit of having a voice in her head was the constant presence of a verbal sparring partner.
Unfortunately, you do.
Isobu was very grounding. He cut through the all-encompassing fog of aching loneliness. Having him constantly pushing was necessary when it was day four of solo deployment and she hadn't heard a friendly human voice in even longer.
Now, the situation before us is…? Fill in the appropriate assessment.
She kind of needed that push. Especially after looking down at exactly the right—or wrong?—moment and reading the words "Gotham City Credit Union" on one of the buildings about five blocks back. It cut through the shrieking internal alarms that demanded to know where the hell she was—why she hadn't been able to sense her brother since arriving—and replaced it with baffled shock.
Kei sat at the base of a gargoyle statue and got the panicky breathing out of the way because Isobu would otherwise judge her for it. The first rule of survival in unfamiliar places: Keep calm. Fear was reasonable, but it'd kill her just the same.
Geography class was a far-off fever dream of ages past, but Kei was still pretty sure Gotham wasn't a real place. Or it hadn't been.
Konohagakure was like that too.
Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. And Kei didn't want to experience this world-hopping bullshit three times. Unless it was to get home again.
Think this through. Isobu, inside their mental world, turned the storm of Kei's anxiety into something that lapped gently at the shore. If she let him, he'd give her the sensation of standing in sand and surf and hope it'd calm her down more.
Kei pressed her hand over her eyes. Of course this had to happen on her first day home in four months.
It helped somewhat that the smell of a city—asphalt, smog, pigeon crap, and so on—was so incredibly alien to her current body that it couldn't be reasonably faked by one of her known enemies. If someone who read Kei's Bingo Book entry got creative and smacked her upside the head with genjutsu to incapacitate her, most of the time the caster could only inflict images and experiences they could imagine. Torture and violence and so on. "American metropolis" was not in their playbook.
Oh, and Isobu's existence made her pretty resistant to genjutsu. He wasn't shy about intervention, usually by reaching into Kei's chakra coils and twanging the whole network like guitar strings.
Are you done? Isobu sent her the impression of a truly condescending pat on the arm.
For now. Kei sighed. The next breath of Gotham air was no improvement. Kei clambered up the gargoyle and sat on its head, mimicking its contemplative pose. First thing we need to do is get our bearings.
Kei's chakra sensing range was very large. There were a few different problems with this.
First: It wasn't radar. Reaching out to anyone in her range was more like an earthquake. Or a plague of car alarms. In a world she didn't understand, she had no idea what kinds of problems a burst of jinchūriki power might cause as it traveled.
Second: Perceiving other chakra signatures depended on their strength and on proximity. Hayate was a lot of things, but a powerhouse was not one of them. And, knowing that, he'd trained instead to suppress his chakra signature to a pulse so low it could be outshone by a houseplant.
Third: The area of a circle was the radius squared times pi. Kei's range was more than a dozen kilometers. If Hayate was actively hiding , she'd have to search most of that on her own.
Fourth: Hayate's range was maybe five meters if he pushed himself. He wouldn't know where the hell Kei was unless she broke stealth. Or tripped over him.
In a city where Batman probably existed.
And her poor brother was lost in a city where guns absolutely existed.
Kei hadn't even felt the barest hint of his signature since that initial half-second, right after landing flat on her back on top of a dumpster and rolling right onto cracked asphalt. She knew it was him, but maybe something had happened and he was suppressing his signature down to nothing to stay safe.
Fuck. I hope he's doing it on purpose.
Kei climbed down from the gargoyle. Walking to the other end of the gravel-lined roof, she flipped through her mental inventory. Katana? Check. Storage scrolls? Two of them, check. Money? Not check, because of course not. Shelter? Not check. Actual plan for getting home? Not check.
It wasn't a great day to have problems. This did not stop problems from happening.
Story of my life, apparently.
Maybe her thoughts would get clearer if she could find the waterfront. Less unfamiliar noise. The sea breeze drowned out everything else.
And the wind said… Okay. That way.
The sea is in every direction, Isobu corrected her. Was Gotham supposed to be an island? Well, it was now. I have no hopes of it being any cleaner than the air.
Ah, port cities.
Kei started stepped up on the edge of the roof and surveyed the skyline.
Against a muddled gray sky and its pervasive cloud cover, a bright circle of light made even the moon look dim overhead. Kinda creepy how well the Bat-Signal worked. And thanks to the air quality, the beam was almost solid from Kei's vantage point.
Kei could follow the Bat-Signal. Meet people. Maybe even get help.
Except…weren't the GCPD supposed to be corrupt? She didn't remember. Her jackrabbit heart rate didn't help.
Comic books had the kinds of continuity consistency problems that could be caused by some dude punching the universe or a big alien invasion or something. Or getting a new writer. Or format. Vague recollections of cartoons from her childhood were great and all, but she'd known even as a baby American nerd that the rules changed with each new show.
She had literally no idea what version of Gotham City this was. For all she knew, they were due to be nuked by some League of Shadows scheme led by weird-voice Bane. Everything in her head could be complete bunk.
And she didn't have any idea where to start looking for that information. No clue who to ask.
Okay, change to suit the circumstances. You're not deployed, officially, but you have an idea of what might be expected. A—a uniform.
She didn't want to be seen.
Kei's "work" outfit was just the official Konoha uniform. The only hint of customization was in the underlayer of armor mesh and her headband's metal plate being sewn into a bandana instead of a plain black band. There was something comforting about being just another face in the crowd, albeit a scarred one. Being boring was safe. It was as close to anonymity she was likely to get, for the rest of her life..
Pity she wasn't wearing it. This nonsense caught her out in civilian clothes instead.
But she could hide a different way.
Superheroes were all about secret identities. Showing up bare-faced to a superhero conversation was either a sign of confidence (Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) or the survival instincts of a lemming (a surprising number of other people).
Kei didn't exactly have a secret identity here. Or any identity at all. She was lost in a foreign city with no backup.
Cold marched up and down her spine. Hayate needed her. This needed fixing, now.
One open storage scroll later, she had a partial solution. The somewhat-planned result of an art bender and packed by accident, Kei's mask was modeled after a simplified version of Isobu's face. Red paint marked the eyes and the jagged mouth, and the top and bottom of the mask mimicked Isobu's various spikes. Since this multiverse nonsense caught her off-guard, she was still wearing her off-duty zipper hoodie and fished other gear out of her winter clothing section. Close-toed boots, gloves, and her mesh armor underlayer.
(Scroll cases with enough explosives to level a building if planted properly.)
Basic, sensible precautions.
The effect was kind of…Japanese urban punk? Was that even a style here? Even if it wasn't, she'd probably get called out as a closet cosplayer. Her budget was miniscule.
I see that the mask was a bribe for my good behavior.
Yep. Not that he needed it. Isobu was good.
This back-and-forth managed to carry Kei through the first leg of her journey. While she was pretty sure superheroes in Gotham used grapple guns and Batmobiles or whatever, Kei wasn't a baseline human. She had a very long jump and superhuman stamina. She was physically able to cross the city in short order if she chose.
So, with that in mind, it took her just that amount of time to get overwhelmed and frustrated.
Even a lifetime ago, cities were places to visit. Fully urban space was a sensory shock Kei hated with a bone-deep intensity she didn't want to examine. It wasn't even on the level of thought. "Thought" would have implied reason; this was emotional. Once it reached the point where she could think about it, the whiny inner voice that justified kneejerk emotions started to make itself known. Stress amplified the effect. The worst part was that Kei knew it was happening.
And she couldn't entirely claw back control while Hayate was gone.
She didn't trip. All of her training would fight that.
She didn't falter. Her body could move on autopilot even when her head throbbed in time with her pulse.
But her mind was whirling in circles.
There was no amount of running through Konoha that could prepare her for traversing an actual city. Konoha was a backwoods village in a very literal sense, with only a handful of paved roads and entirely different architecture. There was too much everything here, from buildings to people to cars to things she couldn't name. All of it grated on her senses.
Stop here. Now.
Kei picked a random rooftop, found an air vent, and slowed in its shadow. Her chosen perch was too broke to bother with roof gravel; it was cheap asphalt-adjacent material that probably leaked constantly. The main benefit was the lack of rocks in her shoes.
Now walk to the other side.
Kei did, though it was more of a stagger. It was like the ground kept surging up to meet her.
But that was—unlikely. Because of plate tectonics. Something like that.
The water will help. Go.
Kei flipped over the humorous seafood restaurant mascot on the front side of the building. It was some kind of cartoon shrimp when she glanced back. She couldn't even drum up an automatic flicker of resentment for that constant cosmic joke.
All in all, silver linings were pretty thin on the ground.
But she made it down to the boardwalk intact, breath heaving in her lungs. Her boots crunched against debris, all too loud in Kei's brain, but the actual sound was gone.
Snatched away by the wind.
And there was wind, constant and whooshing and cutting out the sound of distant cars, of ships navigating the dark—
Kei finally got close enough to the water to feel the moment all the city pollution was replaced by the overpowering pall of sea salt, seaweed, and dead fish. Seagulls didn't scream much past sunset, nor did they fly, but Kei's cautious glance at the nearest street lamp revealed a storm of moths. Every once in a while, something dark and darting would snatch one and vanish into the night. Wildlife did its own thing, maneuvering around humans without fear. Life and death, on and on.
It was better. More real.
She could really feel out the limits of her headache like this. Wind ripped at her clothes, like it would at home, and the air was almost clear, here. She tried to grasp those sensations above all others.
It was probably a futile order, but Kei went to find a public bench and sat down once she did, exhausted. The nearest street lamp was dead; another balm on her overtaxed brain. The city's noise was gone.
Not gone enough. In her mind's eye, Isobu shuffled up onto the mental beach they shared and lounged half-in, half-out of the shallows. Tell me. What can we expect from this world?
Because if there was one thing really useful about having a Tailed Beast using her remaining pop culture memories like Netflix, it was his ability to pick useful questions.
Kei lifted her mask and pressed a hand over her eyes. Breathing carefully just reminded her of all the wrongness crowding against her senses. Overstimulation headaches weren't something she dealt with often—not since the war and people throwing massive ninjutsu around like party favors, not since Isobu—but it appeared they were geared up for a sequel regardless.
If it was this bad for her, what was Hayate going through?
And why hadn't he called for her?
Isobu's chakra creeped out of the seal, routing carefully through her coils to poke at the brewing headache. It didn't especially help; her awareness of his power just added to the roiling soup of unhappy stimulus. Once he noticed, he pulled back.
At least he realized that. The city couldn't realize shit.
…Though it was Gotham. Maybe the whole place was cursed and sapient and evil. Environmental debuffs for all, and to all a good night.
This is…not our world. Isobu shuffled Kei's mental card catalog, pulling out images of costumed crime-fighters so rapidly that Kei didn't bother trying to keep up. The result was a little like a newsreel montage if she let awareness drift closer.
It's not. For one thing, guns exist. Cars. All that stuff that got stomped on when you watched Power Rangers in my head that one time. Not sure about the robots.
The effects were unrealistic.
Not the point, Kei told him. Though, yeah, that was kind of the point of those dude-in-a-monster-costume shows. Not important. I can—there are basics I know because it's partly based on my old world. But I can't narrow it down much.
"Why so serious?" had been a meme or whatever for years. Even if the actor died not long after. Kei remembered putting that quote on her AP exam (though not which one), crossing it out so the mysterious examiners wouldn't be able to dock her points, and then wondering why the hell she'd submitted to the peer pressure. Maybe that had been the year with the food fight in the cafeteria. A lot had happened since.
If you observed more humans, would you have more ideas?
About the only consistent thing she could be sure of—for now—was that Batman didn't condone killing. If there was a Bat-Signal, there was a Batman. Therefore, Kei was going to make an instant enemy if she added to the city's annual murder rate. She didn't need more of those. She'd already made enough bad first impressions to last three lifetimes, if not more.
No…killing? Understandably, Isobu had a little trouble with that idea.
Not that I know of. Not humans, at least. Though it was probably more of the comic book writers not knowing or caring how brain injuries worked. Or censors. Probably censors. Heroes who killed were less "heroic." For all other considerations, the Punisher…existed.
Wait, wrong company. Did DC have one of those?
Regardless of that copyright consideration, Kei knew her hand-to-hand combat skills were better than the average shinobi. Even those of her rank. She'd trained with Gai, back when she had more free time and wasn't constantly facing down comically lopsided numbers. She probably needed to train with Gai again, just in case her months-long streak of hyper-awareness and stress made her hands deadlier than before. Perhaps too much so.
Avoiding fights sounded like the best option.
That human's rule is not my problem.
You also don't really value human life to begin with. I don't think you get to have an opinion on this.
Isobu rumbled, but he couldn't legitimately disagree.
Regardless of the city's hostility, which probably ran all the way down to the groundwater, Hayate needed her to have her shit together. Therefore, she wasn't allowed to sit around and mope until her brain started behaving.
The second Kei decided to psych herself up like that, the universe's perverse sense of irony reared its ugly head.
Pop! Pop-pop-pop! Pop!
It was the wrong season for fireworks. The echo off the buildings sounded tinny and high, despite the muffling effect of distance. Without the benefit of, say, earplugs rated for firearms, Kei still covered her ears with her hands and tried to shake off the way the noise hammered nails into her head.
Maybe the city liked the curse theory and wanted to prove her right.
So, of course, there was a mass gunfight breaking out right this second.
Kei headed for the rooftops to get away from it. Two streets over, warring headlights and muzzle flashes were a little farther away, and the warehouse roof was—well, it wasn't quiet. Some people were yelling from inside the building. Someone had left a skylight open, explaining the voices, and there weren't any alternate windows, and the situation was still dangerous but—
I could almost certainly numb the pain.
—but Kei's head was killing her. Spiking. Constantly.
And then I'd have an Isobu-hangover instead. Slipping along the side of the roof to avoid alerting anyone who still had their hearing, Kei went for the next vantage point. Coming down from larger doses of Isobu's power was a problem only fixable by sleeping, and nowhere was safe. Not yet and not here. It isn't worth it.
None of these gun-toting chucklefucks had infinite ammo. They'd have to run out eventually.
Suffering now is not going to increase your chances of finding a solution.
Kei grumbled under her breath. I could channel your power all the way up to a full transformation and I'd just have a bunch of new problems.
Novelty is good. And Isobu swung between enabler and personal roadblock depending on what would get him what he wanted. In this case, control.
Kei had to lean against the edge of the roof to steady her pounding head. Putting the mask back on had helped cut the excess light, but apparently her pulse hated her now. Isobu—
And then the perversity of the universe hit some threshold she couldn't intuit, because there was a voice near her saying, "Who the fuck are you supposed to be?"
Kei bit down on the urge to laugh suddenly, hysterically, before she turned to face her new problem.
Kushina asked Kei, once, how long it took for her to go from nothing to fighting. The answer nowadays was, "No time at all."
Kei reached for Isobu's chakra and Isobu, perhaps inspired, clapped a phantom hand over hers like a high-five. Instantly, pain flowed away. The usual irritation seeped into the exposed riverbed in its place. It might have even been genuinely hers; making the best of this situation still didn't mean she was in a great mood. The black lenses in this ANBU mask, aside from cutting some of the sensory overload, also hid the giveaway glow in her eyes.
All inside of a second.
Thoughts aligned, she and Isobu both peered at the target.
White guy, mid-thirties to forties somewhere. At least ten centimeters taller than her. Brown hair, dark eyes, scar splitting an eyebrow; expression twisted up into an intimidating sneer, or what he thought was one. Gangster? Statistically likely. Weapons: Pistol, with somewhere between six and twelve rounds available. Only one holster. No visible blades or blunt instruments. No badge.
The (lack of) ambient light and her positioning had kept him from clearly seeing her katana or kunai holster. Kei didn't tend to carry a lot at her belt aside from the scroll holsters, but those were tucked up against her back and harder to notice past the bulk of her hoodie, which fudged her outline somewhat. She probably looked like a convention escapee.
The man raised his gun one-handed. No trigger discipline in evidence. "What, you deaf or something? If you're working for that cape, you'll be dead before—"
Kei broke his arm.
It was easy. Grab the gun arm, pull, and then swing with her empty hand. Feel the impact rock the entire limb. Remove the gun, finger off the trigger, pointed at the roof and not a person.
Her opponent was disarmed and mauled before he had time to scream. And he did scream.
A gleam of light—
Kei ducked and the man's forehead exploded like a struck watermelon. Back-to-front shot. No mercy.
—And now we have our next contestant?
The spray of blood and bone and brain mostly missed her, even at such close range. Her would-be attacker was too tall and Kei hadn't been fully upright.
If it's at range, I doubt it. Snipers relocated. If they didn't, people tended to figure out the trick sooner or later and blanket the area with artillery. Or just a ton more goons.
She wasn't sure there were that many more goons, honestly. The gunshots had mostly died off.
In that initial snapshot moment, Kei was almost certain the shot's trajectory was at a slight upward angle. Otherwise, the gore wouldn't have just grazed the top of her mask and her exposed hair. It stuck to her gloves when she checked. Whoever had shot her opponent was probably—
Street level. There was so much going on down there that Kei didn't care to search.
What a disappointment. And yet, not entirely unexpected. Sounded like someone had been poking through the war movie section of Kei's mind. The rules of sensible combat were entirely different in a world where guns existed.
She wasn't going to chase a sniper right now.
Kei rolled the corpse over and dug through his pockets until she found a cell phone. While technology had come a long way from the brick-sized monstrosities of the Nineties, she wasn't quite sure where the button-free specimen in her hand came from. It was, however, similar enough to the technology she knew. The fingerprints she left on this thing were going to be pretty hard to miss, for any reasonable forensics team, but it wasn't like she existed here.
It's probably fine. She poked it until the lockscreen gave her an "emergency call" option.
"Nine-one-one, what's your emergency?"
"Shootout at the docks." Her accent in English, which was the result of a whole lifetime of unused phonemes, was even worse when reflected back at her through the speaker. She could hear the feedback and wince at it. "At least twenty people involved. I'm using one of their phones. Uh. Please hurry? I think he's dead."
Unless there were metahuman abilities that could be awoken via headshot. Kei couldn't really think of any. She had a vague notion that disintegration was more likely to give people superpowers. For…some reason.
"Is it safe for you to stay on the line?"
Okay, too close. Kei was fairly certain some bullets arrived before the sound did, which was a deeply unhelpful thought to have right now. "No. But I'll leave the call running."
Kei also left the dead guy's gun next to his hand (with the safety on), put her glove back on, and ditched. The tinny voice of the 911 operator wasn't audible once she'd fled to a different rooftop.
She wanted nothing to do with this flavor of big city nonsense.
1. Jason "Robin II/Red Hood" Todd was in the room Hayate didn't check, having broken into the office like a minute beforehand to steal information about this particular gang's operations, or waiting for the opportunity to do so. He saw the (other) gangsters shooting at a kid-sized shape and went all in.
2. The Batfamily has a lot of omniglots. Various members can speak English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Urdu, Vietnamese, and probably a few more thrown in. It's ludicrous, but also convenient for Hayate.
3. Kei has a massive environmental debuff to her sensor ability, thanks to Gotham being Gotham. This is because it functions as an actual sixth sense and not a ninjutsu she can specifically turn on or off. Her only option is to drown out the input (usually with Isobu). Hayate, meanwhile, can get a read on local humans just fine. Even if he did just get shot.
EDITED 1/30/23: THIS STORY IS BEING CONTINUED UNDER THE NAME "A NINJA'S GUIDE TO GOTHAM" IN A SEPARATE STORY. DON'T STICK AROUND HERE FOR UPDATES.