The day dawned bright and early, as it generally did in places with topography that was flatter than a pancake. And when it came to flatness, it was hard to beat an open ocean view.
On one hand, the view of the sunrise over the waves was magnificent. On the other? I didn't live on a coast. I didn't live within a hundred miles of a coast, and my hometown barely had access to rivers or lakes. I lived in a glorified, overgrown military outpost that had decided to call itself a hidden village once the population got higher than a couple hundred thousand. A beach did not factor into my morning view in any way, shape, or form.
"Shit," was all I said aloud, and my voice was immediately swallowed up by coastal winds howling over the sound of seagulls. Not that I'd tried all that hard to be heard.
I sat up in the sand, dislodging all kinds of beach debris and the occasional live crustacean. My pajamas would have probably been a lost cause after this particular adventure if they hadn't been preemptively ruined by ninja life. I was really just sealing the fate of a T-shirt and a pair of old mission pants. So I just grimaced at the grit and started slapping loose sand from my clothes as I finally got to my feet. Bare feet. Dammit.
A different person probably would have taken the opportunity to panic. The last thing I remembered was going to sleep in my own bed, in my apartment, in my home village. Whatever the hell had happened to put me on a beach I didn't recognize and hadn't conjured up for Isobu's benefit, I had clearly missed it. I wouldn't have missed Obito's Kamui technique firing off again, not after the last time someone had used it in my bedroom, but I couldn't be sure how I had gotten here. Wherever "here" was.
I'd panic once I finished taking stock.
No weapons aside from my holdout? Check, since I seemed to have ended up on this random tropical beach with only whatever I'd worn to bed. I had stuck a plain kunai into a storage seal painted onto the sole of my foot—which most people would mistake for a tattoo at first glance—but that was it. I'd need to rethink my policy of what made an emergency weapon once I got back to Konoha.
Speaking of. No clue where I was? Also check. The weather and plant life—palms, weird tropical flowers—didn't really mesh with what I'd seen of the Land of Fire's coastlines during monsoon season. At least, I was pretty sure it was monsoon season. As for familiar chakra signatures? I couldn't feel any chakra signatures nearby aside from mine and Isobu's, which were sort of requirements for me to be considered alive.
Waaaaait a second.
Isobu? I knew he had to be somewhere he could hear me, or else I'd be too dead to ask. Where are you?
I am here, he responded, but I cannot see you. Everything feels...strange.
I closed my eyes and formed the Dragon seal with my fingers. Then I cast my mental net outward, trying to figure out what was throwing Isobu off...and came up with a result that made absolutely no sense.
The little quirk about being a sensor-class shinobi with a giant sea monster inside of me was that I had to filter out internal and external chakra sources relative to myself before I could even start getting an accurate reading. Isobu was ever-present, and his influence on my search parameters would otherwise just throw all my data into chaos. He was also the reason I couldn't completely suppress my chakra to avoid detection (and hadn't been able to since I was thirteen). The two problems were pretty well intertwined.
But at that moment, I couldn't feel Isobu's chakra just inside me, though I knew I wasn't actively using it. No, it was there in my mindscape and my chakra coils—but faded. The real bulk of him was out in the physical open ocean.
He sent me a mental image—pretty much a world of solid blue, with light filtering down from above—that pretty much confirmed my suspicions.
I opened my eyes as soon as that projected sensation went white. Out in the distance, a gray-green shape exploded from the water like a breaching whale. I watched, stunned, as the creature did a slow pirouette and showed off all sides of his crablike shell and his red underbelly, then smashed back down into the water with a titanic splash. Even from what looked like two kilometers offshore, Isobu was perfectly distinguishable and his joy was dead obvious.
So when the inevitable tsunami rolled in as a result of his frolicking, I didn't say anything about it. "Mass" and "water displacement" and "I can't fly to get away when you do that in the real world" came to mind, but it was all secondary to getting to higher ground post-haste. And not ruining Isobu's fun.
A real ocean! Isobu sounded happier than I had ever heard him. I am free!
Feeling guilty about that was a waste of energy, but I felt sick anyway. Sure, part of that could be attributed to the way the ground seemed to sway dangerously when Isobu's tsunami made landfall, but not all of it. Isobu deserved to be free in the ocean and be able to go wherever he wanted, but he'd long since resigned himself to only being able to chase that dream after I died.
...And yet somehow I wasn't dead. Isobu was out there, I was still walking around, and we still had a connection.
Wait. This is wrong. Isobu's joy suddenly cut off as the realization struck him, too. Are you dead, Kei? Are we both dead and waiting to be reborn?
I'm pretty sure I'm alive, I told him as I peered at the ground from the top of the...coconut palm. At least, I was pretty sure that's what the green things were. If we were dead, I think we would have gotten some kind of warning—or gotten to say something cool before dying.
Good. Isobu blew out a stream of bubbles in his version of a relieved sigh. Baffling, but good.
Any ideas? I asked. I still hadn't gotten out of the tree.
The Great Belly Flop Tsunami was already receding, without causing too much damage to the inland jungle or to the tree I'd been cowering in. I'd gotten out of the way in time. That said, it had left a few dump trucks' worth of sand and ocean-borne matter that didn't really need to be in the trees. I'd still stay out of its way until I was sure Isobu couldn't cause another one by accident.
My apologies, Isobu said, once I finally sent him my impressions of the last few minutes. I was...overwhelmed.
No harm done, I assured him as I finally climbed back down to solid ground. But I take it you're confused as hell, too.
He didn't answer that.
Once there was enough solid ground—as opposed to wet sand or fields of mud—I made my way through the beach detritus to the actual beach. While it had only been a few minutes, all of the light gray sand had been transformed to grayish sandcastle fodder and thrown all over the place, with upended driftwood and random seagoing wildlife strewn across everything. An awful lot of edible-looking wildlife was just begging to be examined with a stick, though the specified species of any of them eluded me.
You know, I said, as approached a shark of some variety to use as a test subject, I think our seal is still intact. It's just that you're somehow on the outside instead of the inside.
The seal is not a door, Isobu argued, though I could tell he was as spooked as I was.
I continued prodding at the shark to get some idea of what it ate and also to keep my mind occupied. There was so much that I didn't know about this situation that I'd take any information I could get, no matter how irrelevant.
It let me keep enough of my cool to say, I don't think there's such a thing as a delayed reaction to having my soul ripped out as collateral damage. And we both know that's what happens when these seals break.
…Well, you may not be entirely wrong, Isobu allowed. He turned this way and that in the ocean, or at least sent me his impressions of doing so. He was fully submerged again, weaving through the water with ease he'd never quite managed in my mindscape, where everything just wasn't right for him. I have missed this feeling. I know you wish you were in your home, but this is my home. The waves, the open sea… I just need a little longer to enjoy it.
I could never begrudge him that. Take all the time you need.
While Isobu patrolled the coast in a way he hadn't since before I was probably born, I did some beachcombing. The localized beach disaster left fish all over the place, so I grabbed a weird leaf the size of my entire torso and started gathering some of them up.
I rescued the sharks first, picking up anything with triangular teeth and carefully escorting it back into the surf so it could go on its merry way. They kinda looked like lemon sharks, so there was a bit of cultural baggage lingering in the back of my mind about shark-fin soup and rampant slaughter. Even forty damned years after I'd learned that shark fin soup existed, I still hated that practice. So I wasn't going to leave them to suffer.
Anything that was not a shark and bereft of spines, however, was probably on the menu. Eventually.
You and I can both make potable water. Isobu reminded me unnecessarily, even though he was supposedly devoting his attention to chasing an entire school of silvery fish. It was one of those things that Shirozora had taught me how to do while trying to get me to launch dragon-shaped waterspouts, but apparently Isobu had known the whole time and just never given enough of a crap to tell me. What you need is a container.
And thus did I begin following survival advice from a giant sea turtle monster who otherwise wouldn't leave me alone. Who had not, to my knowledge, ever really needed to know how or why fresh water even existed, never mind actually needed to hydrate. Giant chakra monsters were above such plebeian concerns.
Eventually, I got several things sorted out to something approaching satisfactory standards. Food (fish and coconuts), water (jutsu-desalinated), and a mediocre shelter made of palm fronds were pretty easy to put together with the amount of survival training that had been hammered into my head over the years. I needed a base camp of sorts before I could feel secure enough to explore and probably get into trouble, knowing my luck.
While I worked on that, Isobu did what he wanted. Isobu's colossal shell spines slowly approached the beach as I looked up from time to time. It wasn't obvious at first—he was so damned big even at a distance that the size change was subtle at best—but it eventually became apparent that he was approaching slowly to avoid causing another massive wave that would have wiped out my work. His spines looked a bit like a shark's dorsal fin, and for once I couldn't see his head as he swam. He'd never lowered his head in my mindscape, because he probably didn't see the point of actually swimming efficiently in my mindscape. There was no real point in an unreal space.
I went back to setting up a fire—Local Ninja Cheats at Making Fire with Sticks, More at Eleven—and thus cooking the catch Isobu had conveniently swept up for me. Anything I was dubious about got fed to the gulls, but gutting all the fish with my survival kunai would have given them plenty to eat anyway.
I am going to be the next Bear Grylls at this rate, I said to Isobu, who was finally in waters shallow enough that he couldn't keep his head below the waves.
He was an ordinary human, Isobu said, even as he finally started putting his arms into action and dragging himself further up the...continental shelf? Either way, if he kept going he'd beach himself.
Well, it wasn't like he couldn't turn into a giant rolling spiked ball of death to move however he wanted on land. I left him to it and kept cleaning fish.
Isobu finally made it to shore as I was gutting a blue fish that looked a bit like a parrotfish, but without a beak. I'd hoped it meant the creature would be eating less in the way of rocklike substances, but I couldn't be sure.
And then Isobu interrupted my thoughts with, The fish here are all unfamiliar to me. They seem to be similar, but when I look closer all I see are differences.
I looked up from where I was throwing entrails to the seagulls, flinging things off the end of my survival kunai. And I kept looking up, because although Isobu had always been damned near the biggest living thing I'd ever seen, I had thought he maxed out at a hundred meters. He already would have blotted out the now-risen sun and cast a shadow over the entire beach, but what the fuck?
"You will catch flies with your mouth open like that," Isobu told me in a somewhat reproachful tone. His voice, even in his most modest, self-effacing squeak, and even from nearly ten meters away, would have rattled glass windows. It certainly blew my hair back from my face.
Still, I shut my drooping mouth long enough to come up with something slightly more productive. It was: "You had a growth spurt."
"I cannot hear you," Isobu said, lowering his huge head so it was level with the sand. He had to move his spiked arms out to the sides, bracketing me and my little campsite almost without thinking. What did you say?
I said you got bigger, I told him, suddenly quite worried. I hope you're not too big to notice me shouting now.
Not when you mutter like that, Isobu replied, and I sighed aloud in relief. I know you said something, but your voice does not carry well to my ears when I am... Isobu's right hand made a vague gesture that I recognized as one of my staples when I couldn't find the right word. He probably meant "colossal," but it was a bit of a toss-up if he'd even noticed his size change until I'd brought it up. This is easier. And it does not hurt you.
Hooray for functional telepathy. Highly selective telepathy. Which was attaching my brain to that of an island-sized turtle monster who nonetheless cared about me enough to be concerned even in the midst of his dream come true.
I smiled. Selective telepathy was just fine.
So, what else is weird about this place? I asked, while returning to the task of cooking. Specifically, to skewering all the fish I wanted to cook on sticks, and then carefully angling them toward the fire in such a way that they didn't fall in.
It was kind of silly, really. I wasn't hungry yet and Isobu didn't need to care about eating. Despite being larger than before, he probably hadn't made the transition to a biological existence or else he would have complained about it already.
If he somehow had made that kind of change without either of us noticing it, then there was no way I was going to be in charge of feeding him. He could kill his own armadas like a big boy.
Isobu didn't seem to take any note of my griping thought process. Instead, he said, For a start? This.
When I looked up, he was already turning his huge shell to one side so I could see his leftmost tail better as he lifted it out of the water. It took some shuffling, because even with his arms he wasn't terrible maneuverable unless he wanted to try his hand at turning himself into a tractor tire.
There was something big, brown, and very much hostile wrapped around Isobu's tail like an attacking anaconda. It even had its double row of teeth hooked into the particularly spiky end of Isobu's tail-tip. Going by the way it coiled around his tail so many times, it was probably twice as long as the appendage even if it was skinnier.
I stared in open-mouthed shock.
These are not a feature in our oceans either, Isobu said bluntly, before he swung his left tail in a motion not unlike a cracking whip. The big brown sea serpent flew off the end as though suddenly turned into the world's fishiest Slinky. If not for Isobu's spikes, I might've even entertained the idea that it survived the toss without getting itself gutted all the way back to its backbone from multiple angles.
But alas, no.
I sighed aloud, plunking myself back down on the driftwood log I'd chosen for a chair. We're a hell of a long way from Konoha, aren't we?
That would be putting it mildly, Isobu told me.
Dammit, dammit, dammit.
I ran my hands through my sand-encrusted hair, shaking little grains out and onto my shoulders. My fingers ended up snarled in salty tangles, and I pulled the knots out with all the ferocity I usually saved for combing.
I needed to think through this.
I hadn't ever really made a habit of asking Isobu about his life before being caught by the First Hokage and handed over to Kirigakure. Isobu, until now, had never offered any of his experiences for reference or otherwise, probably because reminiscing about his freedom was too painful. But I was pretty sure that a Tailed Beast was about the best possible expert on fish, monsters, and other things to be found in the vast blue ocean. After all, he'd been one of them.
And if he was right, then I was farther away from my other friends and family than I'd been since I was born. Immediately, my thoughts jumped to Kakashi and Hayate, because those two were going to start a fucking riot if I went missing without a trace. Obito would help until Sensei got him to start searching, and Rin would probably have to run every kind of damage control in existence. I could only hope they were all safe and hadn't been targeted by whatever the fuck had sent me this far out into the middle of nowhere. Oh god, and what about my students? I'd been putting them through Chūnin Exam prep and they'd be expecting me to show up for training. And Sensei and Kushina and Tatsumaki and Naruto and his team and Gai and oh my fucking god I needed to get home.
And I didn't have the slightest clue how to do that. If even Isobu was lost, then I was dead.
You still have me, Isobu broke in, before the weight of that realization crushed me.
I looked up, belatedly realizing that at some point I had gotten to my feet and started doing a pitch-perfect headless chicken impression. I froze in place and let my arms drop to my sides, even though Isobu had been inside my head for so long that there was very, very little I could do that could really embarrass or surprise him. Still, behaving like a panicky kid was not helpful.
Isobu's red-on-gold eye didn't waver, and he lowered his head so I could easily approach him. He even crossed his arms underneath his spiky chin so I could use them as platforms. With that kind of invitation, how could I say no?
Once I was sitting on the lower jaw spikes that camouflaged Isobu's mouth from immediate view, I sat back until my back was against one of them and I had a foot next to Isobu's strangely humanlike nose as a way to brace myself.
"Sorry for panicking," I said somewhat grudgingly, though Isobu had known me for long enough by now that he wasn't surprised. I laid my right hand flat against the tip of his nose. In a clearer voice, "You're the best survival buddy anyone could ask for."
I did say we were partners. That will not change even if you are preoccupied with your problems.
An embarrassed flush crept up the back of my neck. "You didn't have to say it like that, jerk. You were worried too."
And I will still be worried five minutes from now, an hour, or a day as long as we are in an unfamiliar place. But I wanted you to know that you can rely on me. Isobu sighed, and salty air blasted up from his mouth with enough force to ruffle my clothes. Since you seemed to have forgotten.
"Well, you know me. I'm a slow learner that way," I said sheepishly. I looked directly into his eye, which on its own thoroughly dwarfed me. "So, I guess we need a plan."
Isobu just sighed again and nearly blew me off his face. In the interests of that not happening a third time, I climbed up from his face and onto his head, then flopped onto my back to think.
I was a jōnin of Konoha. I was marooned on some foreign shore, sure, but I knew how to survive in the great outdoors. I was not alone, as Isobu would remind me until the end of time. I would survive this and go home and see everyone again.
I just had to figure out what I was going to do. I rapped my knuckles gently on Isobu's head. "So, is this an island?"
I have given serious thought to scouting around this...landmass properly, Isobu said rather than answering me immediately. He lifted his head, and me, to look around. I will tell you if it is an island, and then we can prepare to leave it.
"And while you do that, I'm gonna scout the island itself for resources. If it is an island," I said, sitting up. I rolled fully to my feet and glanced down at the drop off his head. Pretty high, and with zero leeway, but maybe I could dive…
Don't, Isobu interrupted, dropping his old-fashioned affectation in impatience. Do not even think about it.
"Spoilsport," I muttered, but climbed down his head anyway. A hop, skip, and a jump and I was back on the beach. Any normal person would have broken at least one bone, but hey, ninja training and conditioning was good for something.
Avoid being eaten by anything too small. It would reduce the chances I would find you whole.
"In something's stomach!" I yelled up at him, but he was already pushing off into the sea again. Keep me updated on what you find. I'll do the same. And you stay safe too.
Isobu huffed a laugh, dislodging the more enterprising birds that had decided to colonize his head after I left it. As if anything around here could hurt me.
Given the sea serpent, I wouldn't have been quite so quick to assume that. But leaving Isobu's bravado aside, his mission was important. And he wouldn't have been the most feared creature in our world's oceans if he hadn't been able to take care of himself. For the most part.
I heard that.
I snickered under my breath, then devoted my attention to cooking the rest of my catch. I'd start my first shift as an adventurer afterward.
A total lack of paper or ink meant storage seals were not going to be a thing. I could reseal the survival kunai into the already-existing one on the sole of my foot, but making these inflexible things reusable came at the cost of storage capacity. Preserving or packing anything would have to come after I'd made a container. Knowing my luck, there wouldn't be any convenient beach trash for me to use and I'd have to make everything out of coconut fibers.
What I wouldn't have given to live in the era after the invention of duct tape.
Anything interesting? I asked Isobu through our link, since packing the fish up in leaves for transport was a fairly mindless task.
After a few seconds, Isobu finally said, You are definitely alone. There is an old fishing village on the opposite side of the island, but no boats in the water or people on the beach.
Well, shit. Then I guess I'd better head over there and check it out, shouldn't I?
It depends on why this place is abandoned. Isobu sent me an image of sun-bleached buildings and a thoroughly empty main street reaching back from a sheltered bay. There were docks and ships around, but the ships were shipwrecks and the docks looked like they'd seen better decades.
Still, free shelter and firewood. And I'd probably be able to steal any crockery I wanted for the next leg of the journey.
You know, we haven't really tested our capabilities like this, I said to Isobu, after deliberately not making any move toward heading for the abandoned town. He'd just snap at me if I did, especially without considering warnings. I don't feel any different, but do you think I'd still be immune to poison or disease if you're out there instead of in the seal?
Isobu thought about it, in between sending me more images of underwater life that I couldn't recognize. There is no way to be sure until you test it.
I looked down at my hands. Well, then it's a bit convenient that I just cut my finger on what looks like an oyster. I'm pretty sure I'll be fine, but...
While Isobu bellowed at me from the other end of the island—and disturbed birds so thoroughly that they fled over my campsite—I started braiding thin vines to form rope. Once I had enough, I tied all the slightly charred fish into a bundle so I could finally travel with them. Stringing coconuts together was a waste of the water inside them, so I just carried two with me and set out on my journey. Assuming I found what I was looking for, I wouldn't be back.
I'd never been trained in jungle traversal specifically, but treating the place like the Forest of Death seemed like a good start. Half of what was in that place was either poisonous, predatory, or both, and a number of the animals had decided to imbibe Miracle-Gro instead of food during their formative years. Seeing thirty-foot-long tigers never exactly got old, but it was certainly a hell of a rude awakening for foreign teams. Konoha-born shinobi just rolled with it.
...Or freaked out. But most of the kids got over that part pretty quickly.
My only specific concern was that I was still underdressed in the shoe department, so I had to be more careful where I put my feet. Staying off the forest floor was harder than it would have been in the Forest of Death—smaller tropical trees did not a walkway make—but I did my best. And when I did have to return to the ground, I made sure to avoid anywhere that looked like the dirt was moving. Other life forms could deal with the jungle ants. I refused.
I made it to the top of some kind of hill, then climbed even further up a tree to get a better view. In about twenty minutes, I'd ninja'd my way through what would have probably taken a normal person a few hours to cross. When I spotted the village's highest building, it was like all of my survival training and the associated bruises had been worth it.
Now, I just had to get there. Crossing the forest would do for now, but I had to wonder if just hitting the beach and running around the rocks would be the faster choice. Sticking to my choice for the moment, I asked Isobu, Find anything else that's interesting?
There are more serpents where the first one came from. I got the distinct impression that Isobu was using a sailor's knot to turn one of said beasties into a non-issue, but he was kind enough not to send me a visual.
I was suddenly a lot less willing to run over the waves after that little tidbit. Not that waves and water walking skills really got along that well. How many of those things do you think you're going to have to beat up?
That depends, Isobu said, and this time I got the image of a...what the fuck?
Why does that sea serpent have hair? I demanded, because unlike the first one? It didn't really resemble a fish so much as a biome-displaced legless horse. With hells of sharp teeth and the kind of face that looked entirely too small for them, but regardless of the minor details like that it didn't look like the other one.
You may as well ask why my siblings and I do not resemble one another. He was already tossing the aggressive thing away, giving it a swat with his right tail.
Weren't all of you guys deliberately designed? ...By Kishimoto, anyway. I had no idea if the Sage had decided that rampant biological impossibilities was the popular trend, too.
Isobu gave me the impression of a shrug.
He could do that as many times as he wanted and I would never understand how he did it. His joints and that gesture, together, didn't make any sense.
I gave up and started trekking toward the village again, noting absently that my mollusk-inflicted cut had already healed. Isobu could fight as many overgrown mutant eels as he wanted, as long as he was still having fun. The jungle was less fun for me, but hey, I'd be fine.
When I finally got there, assisted by one last chakra-powered leap into the village, my first impression matched Isobu's.
The village was almost entirely gray, with faded, peeling paint providing the only notable color. Whoever had been here last had just left the exposed wood to rot in the salty sea air. Some of the buildings looked like they'd fall over if I touched them. I'd never managed to destroy a bar with one finger, so I was briefly tempted to try it out before my impulse control caught up. I would need some of the bottles in the bar, and would need to hold off until I was done scavenging.
So I eased the door open and stepped inside with my bundle of fish. I dropped my coconuts on the counter and commenced the world's quietest liquor raid.
Weirdly enough, most of the various bottles I found were unopened. I dumped out something that smelled like grain alcohol for the bottle alone, then reconsidered and decided to look for something else when the contents started eating the floorboards.
You see why I was being careful? Isobu was chewing experimentally on one of the other sea serpents. Not sure why he bothered—he'd told me once that he didn't have organs so much as a TARDIS-like internal dimension. Maybe he wanted a pet and it had refused to comply. If I had approached too quickly, he went on as if he didn't have anything in his mouth, the wave alone would have washed the town away.
And since you were thoughtful enough not to, I now have all the...beer bottles I need. And they were legitimate beer bottles, which didn't exist in Konoha. I didn't recognize any of the brands on the faded labels, either, and the thick layer of mingled mold and dust on the entire damned bar was making the entire process of assessing my score messier than it had to be.
I finally decided to just grab a few of the larger non-corrosive liquors and dump the contents out for convenience's sake. I also stole a bag from a side room, just to keep everything together.
This is kinda like playing a more insane version of some survival horror game, I said to Isobu after a moment's thought. Only I'm pretty sure there's less radiation.
...And how would you know?
...God dammit, Isobu. I didn't need that thought.
He laughed at me, because apparently I was more entertaining than whatever new sea beasts he was "befriending." In the superior firepower kind of way.
With my prizes secured, I set about exploring more of the town.
Its second impression wasn't any better than the first. In fact, it was indisputably worse.
The village's more residential area looked just as bad as the main road, with the cherry on top being a half-dozen flattened houses. I didn't see any signs of actual people, corpses or otherwise, but something big had descended from on high and just mashed the structures down like sandcastles. No storm would have left a fucking handprint in the foundations, and I was at a loss to define what would have. The boot prints around the place were equally large, and seemed to walk out toward the nearest stretch of coastline.
Akimichi clan members were capable of getting that big but lacked the requisite malice, and I was sure that a Susanoo or other projected attack would have left other signs. This part of the village well and truly looked like a giant had gone to town.
Isobu, take a look at this, I suggested, sending him the clearest mental image of the damage I could manage. I had to jump about ten meters straight up to get it.
It looks like something my siblings or I could have done, Isobu said, after a small delay. But there would have been other evidence. And we do not have feet shaped like that.
...Out of all nine of you, Saiken, Kurama, Gyūki, Son Gokū and you are the ones that have hands, right? Isobu didn't even have rear legs. I sat back on my heels as I thought, running a hand over the ridges in the massive boot-print. They were impressions made in dry sand—or at least sandy soil that had long since dried out—and crumbled at my touch.
This mystery was starting to freak me out.
One could make the argument that Shukaku can make his paws into hands, at least. And Saiken's hands are much too small.
Which still probably meant that Saiken could pick up a small car and throw it. Size was entirely too relative when it came to Tailed Beasts.
I sighed to myself, then paused and sighed out loud since it wasn't like anyone was around to hear me. I'm going to keep exploring. Let me know if you find any interesting ships on the bottom of the bay or something.
Isobu made a noise that was some kind of affirmative before going back this his explorations.
Looking at the devastation of the village, I bit the inside of my cheek to help myself think. Though I was no expert on the local anything, I could get more information if I had a pair of eyes in the sky. Kind of silly that I hadn't realize I could just bring Tsuruya into our little conspiracy. And hey, she'd probably even know how to get home!
...Well, assuming she knew where we were. And if not, well, she could always go home once the summon time limit ran out and tell everyone else that I was alive.
I picked at the newly-healed cut on my finger. I'd summoned Tsuruya so many times that the blood price was practically painless at this point. And besides, I was a fast healer.
Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, Ram. With the hand seal sequence complete, I pressed my right hand against the ground and watched the seals start to spread. "Summoning Jutsu."
The universe stuttered. I felt the jutsu take a small portion of my chakra, as it always did, but then the air itself seemed to punch me directly in the chest, right where Isobu's seal sat. Distantly, I heard Isobu shout something in surprise, and then I was lying flat on my back in the dirt and something was blotting out the sun.
Isobu? I thought up at him, once I'd gotten my breath back. I couldn't have been stunned for more than a few seconds, since Isobu didn't comment immediately on it, even to complain.
What just happened? Isobu asked, leaning down to look at me more or less directly. The gold in his eye seemed to glow even in the shade, and he had me surrounded by his arms as though I was a child he needed to protect. His voice took on a concerned tone as he asked, Did you just summon me?
Actually, I was hoping to get Tsuruya, I admitted as I sat up and shook the dirt from my hair. Despite the initial surprise, I was fine.
I admit to not understanding the mechanics of space-time ninjutsu as well as you do, Isobu said after a moment. Explain your thought process to me.
If I could summon her, we would have been able to get a message or maybe a lift home. But something, I don't know, redirected me? Like a phone operator, even though I know I signed Tsuruya's scroll. And even if the contract was cancelled, it should have just gotten me nothing. Or else teleported me to a summon realm. Like Jiraiya and Rin. Though since I had signed Tsuruya's contract back when I was thirteen, I wasn't sure if there was any other animal that I had an affinity for. Surely that much time to influence me would have made it permanent?
I do not like the implication that whatever sent us both here has the power to sever contracts written in spirit and blood, Isobu told me, settling more of his weight on his elbows as he focused on me.
He didn't really need to—if he flicked his tails hard enough he could probably launch himself back into the water without any problems. And I knew he loved being able to swim freely. But apparently he thought I needed a babysitter.
Until I got over yet another person this situation had taken from me, I had no choice but to agree.
"I don't like it either," I said aloud, pressing my fingers over the seal on my chest. The pain and shock of it were long gone, but it had been an unpleasant surprise. Now we just needed to adjust our plans for the fiftieth fucking time to compensate for it. So I would redirect my thought processes if I had to use a crowbar to pull it off. "But, well, now that we know summoning links you to me, should we try this the other way around?"
You want me to try summoning you. Isobu's mental voice came out as flat as the average local topography (mainly literal sea level) and his vast red eye narrowed. What usually happened when you allowed the crane use the Reverse Summoning on you?
I shrugged, then decide to sit up. "Mostly, I felt like I was getting yanked someplace. It didn't hurt, and it got me where I needed to be, so I put up with it."
There was a reason Rin fussed over me despite my jinchūriki status. I ignored pretty much anything that didn't actively hurt me, symptoms-wise.
Isobu slowly raised one hand to his face in a gesture that was all too familiar to me. Clearly, we need to leave the matter of food and shelter for just a moment. We need to know what we are capable of here, or else we may get other unpleasant surprises.
I tucked my legs into a yoga sitting position, then raised my hand like I was in class. "Isobu?"
What? He'd hooked his blunt fingers in the spikes along his jaw and sighed, looking down at me again. I was a natural when it came to exasperating people, even when I wasn't trying and the victim was a giant turtle monster and also one of my best friends.
How to put this…? "I feel like I should point out that summoning you didn't actually cost me any more chakra than summoning Tsuruya did."
Is that so?
"Yeah, it is," I replied, and rolled to my feet. "Wanna go test if you can randomly throw me in the water?"
Isobu rewarded my flippant tone with a long, level stare. It was a little like being under my mother's judgmental eye whenever I did something particularly reckless. Sure, she'd been dead for more than ten years and Isobu wasn't a parent, but the feeling somehow remained.
Fine. I will head out to sea and summon you. Be prepared to hold your breath.
Oh, that boded well.
Isobu avoided using his rolling death tank mode, instead choosing to drag himself out to sea like the giant turtle he was. He could probably have leapt, too, but even thinking about that option reminded me of the Great Belly Flop Tsunami and how I didn't need to see a repeat performance. Or worse, Isobu trying to top it.
He may have flattened a bit of prime beachfront real estate, but who cared at this point? It wasn't like there was anyone around to appreciate it besides me, and people had accused me plenty of times over the years of being a bit too destructive.
I still couldn't figure out if Isobu was a bad influence on me, or if I was the bad influence on him.
I am ready to begin the summoning, Isobu sent, once he was a distant gray-green mountain of spikes in the bay. Only humans need to use blood, conveniently enough.
Yeah, that's pretty easy on you and your total lack of a circula—And then there was the same sensation of being pulled to one side by a vaudeville hook I remembered. Then cold argh fuck and I was underwater.
There was something about the ocean, even in tropical waters, that was always a shock to the system. Figuring out which way was up took about half a second, and then I was on the remainder of my lung capacity without needing to worry about water shooting up my nose. I didn't need to surface just yet, but it felt wrong to be upside-down, since Isobu always just knew and was probably judging me.
Then I opened my eyes.
The water was clear. Not just clear, like in a glass of tap water or anything so mundane. Beneath the waves, I could see the sandy bottom of the bay and the sunken galleon hiding there. I could look up and see the sun hitting the surface of the water and shattering into a million pieces and refracting like crazy. Fish darted around, a riot of color and activity patrolled by the occasional shallow-water shark that probably hunted all night. I'd seen a lot of great views in my lifetime, but this had to be one of the best underwater ones.
And if I swam forward just a little, I could grab onto Isobu's chin spikes and get hauled back to the surface with no trouble at all.
You know what's weird? I don't really feel any pressure right now. I know I'm about two meters below the surface, but I'm fine. I thought at him, while I used his spikes as a wall to kick off of. I spiraled lazily through the water, though I knew by the end of this little journey I'd be dealing with wet clothes and complaining all the way. It was just too pretty to not enjoy the moment.
I had wondered about that. Isobu's pupil was much wider than it normally was on the surface, even though the light wasn't all that bad. Since we arrived here, have you noticed any other adjustments to your body? I know I am larger, and perhaps my fingers are more flexible.
Well, I've always been a pretty fast healer, thanks to you, but I didn't used to see cuts close in seconds. And obviously my lung capacity is different, I told him. Granted, a couple of minutes was nothing by shinobi standards, but I had never been specifically put through underwater endurance training like Kiri-nin. What really worries me is that I don't feel the water pressure. I just feel the water itself.
That is probably due to my influence, Isobu replied. When I gave him my best disbelieving look, even if it was underwater, he said dryly, You are the partner to a Tailed Beast who specializes in Water nature transformations. I have more than a few tricks up my nonexistent sleeves. Granted, I have never given them to a human, but so much about this situation is already strange that seeing us influence one another is almost at the bottom of the list.
But before this the connection was mostly through chakra, I pointed out. Any non-spiritual physiological differences are still weird enough that we should at least track them. I paused. Also, what the fuck? It would've been nice to know if I had some kind of resistance to killer water pressure before this.
Isobu rolled his eye—okay, I was officially the bad influence of the two of us—and tilted his head forward, scooping me into the dip between his jaw spikes and the rest of his face. I let all the air in my lungs stream out in a rush of bubbles, and was free to take a deep breath when we hit the surface.
Sure, I was still sitting in the improvised bucket of seawater that was Isobu's facial structure, but hey, I could breathe again. While he tilted his head to empty the water out, I clambered up his face and onto his head for the second time that day.
I will drop you off on the shore. And then you will work your way through your entire arsenal if you can, Isobu stated. There was no arguing with that tone, so I didn't bother. We need to know not just the changes, but the limitations of those changes.
Fiiiiiiine. But really, it would be something more productive than even exploring the island. Isobu's lap around the place had confirmed there were no other settlements, and I hadn't seen any signs of large predators that'd target a person. Surviving on a deserted island with all the right skills was more an exercise in avoiding being irrevocably scarred from isolation and boredom once things were all sorted out, right?
How would you even know?
...I think I read a book on this kind of thing, once?
Isobu dumped me on the shore with no ceremony whatsoever, then settled back into the water to lurk.
Half an hour of experimentation later, and I'd confirmed that all of my Water ninjutsu more or less worked as I remembered. I hadn't practiced with seawater in ages, but the chakra costs were the same as with the rivers and lakes I was more familiar with. I'd gotten into the habit of brute-forcing my way around having to actually use environmental water in my attacks over the years, so going back to my roots (and the somewhat lower chakra costs of actually using water that was there) had actually been kind of nice.
So, that was about one-third of my arsenal taken care of. I launched one last Water Dragon Bullet out to sea, where Isobu obligingly bit its head off, then started work on the rest of my techniques.
Unfortunately, I was out of options as far as fūinjutsu went. While I was capable of inflicting horrific damage with spontaneously generated explosives, as always, my bigger and more complex seals aside from the revised summoning technique all needed me to put their structure together on paper if I wanted to get the maximum effect out of them. Sure, there was a workaround to most of that, but I liked my soul where it was and feeding myself to a Shinigami didn't really have much appeal.
And then there was the matter of my kenjutsu techniques, which all were stymied by my lack of a sword. Projecting my bastardized edition of the Samurai Sword technique through a kunai just didn't compare. In the end, it was yet another thing that had to go on my shopping list for whenever I found human civilization again.
The last thing on my list? Isobu's chakra. Reaching for it produced a sensation not unlike slamming my fingertips in a door, and a complete lack of response in Isobu that was more worrying than my pain. His chakra was still in the seal and still flowed inside my coils, but apparently I was down to passive abilities (that I had never noticed before) and had to leave his energy out of consideration for my arsenal.
While I contemplated the sharp reduction in my ability to defend myself and started meditating on ways to compensate for the loss, I pinged Isobu. Ready for a status update?
Report, Isobu said, in a passable imitation of Sensei's commanding tone.
Kenjutsu relies on a weapon I don't have, Water Release ninjutsu is fine, fūinjutsu is down to anything without paper or ink, and when I tried to use your chakra just now I got an emphatic "nope." I sighed when I finished rattling things off. Though I also have the Academy Three and the Rasengan, among other things.
So, you are reduced to your own skills and strength.
Yeah, back to basics over here. You?
Isobu made a scoffing noise. Unlike you, I have never needed to rely explicitly on the strength of our bond. My power is my own.
I mentally subtracted the attitude implied by his word choice, then said, But you can still use the Rasengan and fūinjutsu, right?
Well, as much as Isobu had ever used. He mainly manipulated the properties of matter to make them explode, like I did. It wasn't from a lack of talent—rather, he didn't need the vast majority of utility seals that I'd ended up learning to make my life easier. Other than helping his fellow Tailed Beasts through fūinjutsu, he could do all I could and more just by throwing his power against something with enough force. Now that he could write in the real world whenever the hell he wanted?
I am as strong as ever.
That answered that.
So that was why the seagulls were going nuts. Isobu's experiments with control leaned, on the whole, toward "this user has no sense of scale" than anything, and local fish paid the price.
I bit my lip as I thought. While the skills we had carried over, Isobu's chakra itself didn't.
Until I could figure out what the hell had happened and deal with it, I'd need to focus on what I could do.
It is not all that different from the time before you got that tattoo, is it? Isobu mused.
I raised my left hand overhead, as though grasping at the sun. The sleeve tattoo seal that ran from my wrist to my shoulder blade was active so I could channel chakra through it. If I pushed a bit more, I could make the ink seem to sway under my skin, letting the crane and the copy of Isobu seem to be occupying an active ocean. Without Isobu's chakra in the mix, I could probably do...well, basically anything I wanted with it. Frying my own chakra coils again wasn't something I was capable of under my own power.
Gotta look for the silver lining, right?
Ah, well, I suppose if we see anyone and I have to fight them, it's not like I'm defenseless.
I punched the air a couple of times, then settled into the Strong Fist starting pose. I wasn't anything like as strong as Gai, but his intense training methods gave me a good base to work from.
Isobu snorted. Be realistic; we hardly need fear anything in these waters. All we truly require is planning time and supplies before we set off.
Does that mean I get to ride on your head until we hit the next island?
I will consider it. Or he'd make me ride in his stomach because it was safer to hide in a pocket dimension than to travel the sea on the back of a giant turtle. There were still big sea serpents out there somewhere.
...Gai would probably try to fight them. It'd been a long time since Manda, hadn't it?
If the next thought in that sequence is "I should try fighting one," I am going to veto it.
I laughed quietly to myself, shaking my head. Boredom hadn't eaten my judgment away that much. Not yet.
Isobu and I passed the rest of the time until sundown with yet more companionable ribbing. I gathered food for what was going to be my first real sea voyage in years, then set up a real shelter in one of the surviving buildings in town. There was still enough scrap material to MacGyver a canoe or something if I knew the first thing about engineering seaworthy vessels, but Konoha training sadly neglected that particular skill. All I really knew was that things needed to be waterproof and have a...thingy that sat in the water and kept them from turning over. Inverted shark's fin.
Basically, I completed what tasks I knew how to tackle. Isobu entertained himself.
It was almost like home.
Just before the sun finally disappeared under the western horizon, I finally gathered as many blankets from around the abandoned town as I could find, then made a nest on the floor of my chosen den for the day. And of course, that was the local dive I'd raided for bottles earlier. With a cheery little blaze in the fireplace, heat suffused the building even as the sun finally gave up and went to bed.
I found a buoy, Isobu said while I rolled one of the blankets into the shape of a lumpy pillow.
I frowned. As disinclined to the entire discipline of oceangoing anything as I was, I was...pretty sure that buoys were those floaty things that people used to mark coastlines. Some of them had lights on them, to warn ships of one hazard or another. What's it look like?
Take a look. Isobu ran an assessing eye over the entire device, then sent it to me.
The buoy in question bobbed in front of Isobu's eye as he surfaced, his night vision being far better than mine. The base looked like the usual rounded, fluid-filled vessel I barely remembered from pictures, but made of rusted iron instead of neatly painted steel or aluminum. Rather than any kind of ladder structure, or a light on top, someone had attached a wooden sign and a big, clanking bell. It was also sadly bereft of lazy sea lions.
Is this thing attached to the seabed?
Yes, Isobu responded, in the kind of tone that implied I was a complete ignoramus for not understanding how buoys worked.
I liked to think of myself as more "ignorant" than "ignoramus," but Isobu's nautical understanding frankly would have made most of my comrades sound clueless anyway.
I looked through my mind's eye at the emblem on the wooden sign in front of Isobu, while my real eyes closed. Painted black wood served as a background, while the middle ground was two crossed bones as sharply angled as the cardinal points on a compass rose. The foreground image? A grinning skull bisected by a crescent moon with both points facing upward. Or maybe it was a mustache.
I scratched my head. ...Well, I'm stumped. Do you think it might be a pirate flag?
In what universe do pirates have flags? Isobu demanded, turning the buoy around with a careful twist of his chakra in the water. The other side had a plain white cross with the same crescent balanced across the middle, sans the skull.
You mean the ones that attack the Land of Water don't use them?
Why would they need to? The majority of water-bandits in the ocean are shinobi or former shinobi, or else dead men walking. And you know exactly how interested many shinobi are in advertising themselves without backing from their villages.
My brain stuttered for a second, unable to process the idea that pirates wouldn't, before I remembered that I'd lived at least one lifetime where both Captain Hook and Captain Jack Sparrow were cultural icons. Sure, they weren't real, but skull-and-crossbones flags were always pirates. Unless they were football teams. I refused to believe that my brain was lying to me.
...Those are stories.
Shhhh, let me be excited for a second!
Isobu waited precisely one second. Go to sleep. If this is important somehow—
And if it is, how should I know? Other than pirates-versus-ninjas being an age-old debate—
—it can wait until morning. I will keep watch for ships.
Isobu, who was not a cetacean, could nevertheless sleep kind of like one if he wanted to. It wasn't a biological requirement to avoid his brain breaking down, but he took naps if there was nothing else going on. Try not to sink them instantly?
If they do not seem hostile, I may not.
I sighed. Good enough.
Isobu settled deeper into the water, sinking down toward the seabed and the anchor that held the buoy in place. If I looked out to sea, I would not have seen anything but placid water despite knowing damn well there was a giant sea monster out there.
...Wanna watch what I remember of the pirate movies I've seen?
Isobu rolled his eye, looking up at the moonlight filtering down through the waves. The sight of it was strangely comforting. Good night, Kei.
AN: Welcome to Ocean Stars Falling, which has been posted before in The B-Plot.
I'm gonna post here until everything's caught up, which will be chapter nine. After that point, I'll post a chapter once a week. I mean, I already have fourteen of them written, so why not? For those of you following from when I was posting this on The B-Plot, hello again! For those of you new here, hello as well!
Trivia: Kei's only knowledge of One Piece comes from four randomly-numbered episodes of the 4Kids dub. In 2002. Yeeeeeah, she doesn't know anything.