Beta: The lovely whatxcolour did me the honour and huge favour of looking over this chapter
Raising from the Ashes
Mount Myōboku was an exquisite place that Gamamaru and his toads took residence in since times long forgotten. It was not without its own bloody history, one which had occurred long before the rabbit goddess and her sons graced this land. Although, graced might not be the apt term.
As it is now on the distant lands, humans once inhabited the continent he found himself living on, killing one another without any consideration for how their actions impacted the land and other creatures dwelling on it. Their blood seeped into the soil and in time the great tree formed, the fruit it bore being the only reason the toads and other critters were able to rise and put a stop to the human foolishness. Of course, as the fruit was a result of centuries of human life leaking across the land the now great beings which once sought peace warred against one another as their instinct for dominance grew with their powers.
They really weren't all that different from the humans they once hated
Their coexistence began only once the realisation of the danger presented by the blood tree became obvious. So the great elders of the original thirteen animal clans* made an agreement of peace which put an end to their bloody era and the tree which started it all was burned. A flimsy peace took root initially but eventually a comfortable routine was established. However, their fears had yet to be over for while they were wise enough to know the dangers continuous fighting brought to their land, the humans which dwelled on the other lands did not.
For like the ones which once lived on their soil, these other ones wrecked havoc and wars more bloody than any of the elders thought possible.
Something needed to be done, especially when they discovered another blood tree, this one far greater than theirs had ever been, sprouted there. Yet, they couldn't intervene the way they did for their land, as there lived a being like no other they had dealt with. The rabbit goddess, as the humans would later call her, possessed far more chakra than all of them combined and she seemed to have no difficulty wielding it. In addition, she had birthed two sons possessing the same powers she did and that could spell trouble for the creatures, and the world.
So they sent spies, most perishing before they had a chance to report anything of value. All with the exception of Gamamaru who was able to befriend the sons. He watched and talked and spoke of philosophies which the boys, particularly the eldest had never thought of before. The type of philosophy which made them question their mother's actions.
And such were the events which led to the great battle between mother and children
When the goddess was sealed and most of her power held within the eldest, the great blood tree was destroyed and once again the thirteen clans breathed a sigh of relief. However, it was then that they understood something else. And that was that they could no longer turn a blind eye to the humans living on the other continents. Not when they began possessing the same energy they did, not when their hatred and envy would lead them to wage even bloodier wars amongst one another.
Not when they would lay the seeds for a new tree to sprout
So it wasn't only the toads which began to interact with the humans. The others did too, if only so they could keep an eye on things. There were many problems which rose up from this decision. Several of the young ones, not truly understanding the dangers of the blood tree protested against working with humans, but time quelled all those arguments as many of them came to care for the humans they partnered up with.
But the elders never forgot the true reason this all started and as Gamamaru was plagued with more visions than usual a dark possibility for the future was being painted in his mind.
Which was why today he stood in the same room as the tiny fox elder, who politely declined the food he was offered, causing the toads which offered it to retreat in a hurry, limbs shaking. Everyone knew the stories surrounding the old fox, whose diminutive size was merely another way to trick his enemies before sending them to the afterlife.
"I must say Gamamaru-kun," the old toad had long since given up on getting the fox to address him respectfully, "that while the hospitality here is wonderful I am rather eager to return to my den." The white fox stated, scratching the back of his ear as he patiently waited for the toad sage to say his piece.
"Shōko-dono, I fear it is not good news which caused me to call you," he paused to reach for the giant scroll at his side, unfurling it between them. "Darkness sweeps over your human allies." And as Gamamaru outlined the contents of his visions, Shōko remained worryingly quiet, golden eyes scanning the words on the scroll.
Confusion was not adequate for the situation. The village was alight with the flames slowly engulfing it all, the earth quaking as ninja attempted to crush the enemy in chakra induced craters. The streets were flooded as people desperately tried to put out the flames while shinobi battled the mishmash of foreign enemies invading their village. Kumo, Mizu, Yu and Tani. Ayaka saw ninja wearing headbands from them all, fighting and killing her clan members one by one as they scrambled to regroup and fend off this unseen attack.
'How did they get so far into the country without anybody seeing them?' The answer was quite simple, leading to a far more worrisome line of thought. Who betrayed them?
Ayaka didn't know and she couldn't think as the village was a cacophony of screams. Ear piercing, heart-rendering, furious screams. The sort you will never be able to forget should you be amongst the living when they were over.
These were the sounds of war.
Chaos had taken up residence in Uzushiogakure and there was nothing Ayaka could do but mechanically avoid the strikes from a man she knew nothing about except for his Kumogakure allegiance. It wasn't Ayaka who delivered the finishing blow, in all honesty she was never much of a fighter beyond the things she learned as a child. No, the one who saved her life was a man she had known since youth. His hair, a bright red matched only by his eyes, was as familiar as her own and she couldn't withhold her sigh of relief.
Nobou stood tall and strong, as though he was still a young man despite his years. His kimono was stained with blood and Ayaka wasn't given enough time to determine whether any belonged to him. Her husband wasted no time cutting a path for them as she guided them towards the vibrant chakra of their daughter. 'Still alive,' she thought, knowing full well that in this madness alive could very well be a temporary state.
They stopped only long enough for Nobou to help a failing clan member whilst Ayaka grabbed the child hiding in the nearby rubble. They tried to get the man on his feet, but he was too wounded to keep pace and in this situation Nobou couldn't afford to carry him.
The man, 'Hikaru—Hisamu—Hideki,' Ayaka couldn't recall but he gave them a sardonic smile, knowing full well the situation. He nodded at her and the child she was carrying. "Get Shinji to safety," before turning to face the chaos. He was going to die and they couldn't afford to prevent it. Not when the cost could be their child. Thus with heavy hearts they moved ahead, Ayaka clutching the wailing child tighter to prevent him from falling as he fruitlessly attempted to reach a parent he will never see again.
Grinding her teeth in frustration she carried on southwards, towards Natsumi. Once they got to her they could risk taking the time to think about things. They just had to get to their daughter first.
Death waited for no one.
A three-man squad from Mizu —'Kaguya members'— ambushed them with inhuman grins and bloodlust in their eyes. A split second was all the couple received before the fighting started and Nobou struggled to keep all three men at bay. 'The chakra cost will be great,' Ayaka thought momentarily, attempting to stay lucid amidst the pandemonium surrounding her.
'It was worth it,' she thought as the chains seemed to erupt from her back and deflected what would have been a killing blow to the back of Nobou's head. She attempted to keep her distance from the Kaguya that saw her as too much of an inconvenience, using her chains to try and confuse them so she could have a chance to finish them off. No such luck on her end as the Kaguya, while not advancing too far past her chains, was still agile enough to avoid any damaging blows. Ayaka wouldn't be able to keep this up indefinitely.
Meanwhile Nobou was having a slightly better time at fending off just two attackers. Avoiding a slash for his jugular, he skidded across the ground further from his wife. He crouched to avoid another that might have decapitated him before jumping, striking with both of his legs in opposing directions, kicking the two Kaguya he was engaging with in their faces. He returned to his initial position between the two shinobi, wasting no time in striking at their feet in an effort to unbalance them. It worked on the one before him however the second one was quicker and avoided the hit, laughing gleefully as their blade reflected the flames of the burning buildings before striking at him again.
Some, especially on the mainland, claimed the Hyūga to be in possession of the greatest taijutsu style in the elemental nations. Nobou had to disagree, for having the ability to shut down an enemy's tenketsu points was all well and good but a Hyūga was just as easy to cut down. No, the Kaguya, as far as the Uzumaki was concerned, were far more superior in this regard, at least those who possessed their famed bloodline. And he thanked the gods that it seemed fewer and fewer did. For those were enemies worthy of the fear they received. Bloodthirsty and savage. You could hack all you wished but were more likely to end up with a ruined blade and a bone through your skull.
He should know. He fought them during the two great wars which ravaged their recent history. Those were the true monsters of their wretched shinobi world. In comparison these two were nothing more than cheap imitations. Though, one could make the same argument in regards to him. After all, old age cared not about who you once were.
This wasn't the time to be reminiscing about the past. His wife and daughter needed him to be strong. He needed to see them to safety. And for that he needed to live.
With renewed vigour, he angled his sword and parried the blow of the Kaguya, acutely aware of the other approaching him from behind. He was prepared to avoid another strike when the glint of a newcomer's blade made an appearance, slashing at the Kaguya that was attempting to attack Nobou from behind. The newcomer made the old man sigh in relief despite having often chased him away from his home and daughter in the past.
Uzumaki Takeshi had a reputation for being cocky which was only enhanced by his prowess in battle which wasn't unimpressive. He declared his love for Natsumi though his daughter was smart enough to refuse the boy who was taken by surprise at her utter lack of interest in him. And whether from determination to get his way or genuine feelings for Natsumi he continued to pester her over the years till she said yes. After thoroughly humiliating him in a fight. They had been nearly inseparable since and Nobou grew to accept the inevitability of the boy marrying his daughter, even if he admittedly grew fond of him.
"You looking ragged, pops," the boy said, the humour in his tone contrasting harshly with the severeness of his expression and posture. Nobou took it back. The boy was as irritating as before.
With reinforcements at his back, the older man chanced a look towards his wife and truly gave a sigh of relief when he saw Reiji and Sōtaro by her side, making quick work of their enemy.
Say what you will about Takeshi and his family, but the kenitsu* branch of their clan were a force to be reckoned with. They swung their great polearms with confidence and precision, twisting and turning almost as if they were dancing while their enemy fell dead at their feet. It wasn't hard to see where Takeshi's confidence came from.
The Kaguya weren't stupid and knew the odds weren't in their favour but that only seemed to spur them on further. Their attacks of the remaining two gained momentum for a moment before they joined their other fallen clansmen. Good.
"Where's Natsumi?" Takeshi demanded, his eyes blazing, mouth set in a firm line. Nobou didn't answer, instead, turning towards Ayaka who joined their little party, the shaking child held firmly to her chest. He wished the boy wouldn't have had to see all of this. He wished none of this occurred but lived long enough to understand it was pointless crying over the past. It would only get you killed in the present.
"She's still there, they are probably with a group of survivors or wounded," the lone woman stated grimly, looking down the river towards, Natsumi's presumed location.
"Let us go get her and the others. We'll escort you to the tunnels. We will continue fending off these invaders while you escape," Sōtaro declared, tone leaving no room for argument.
"The tunnels are collapsed," Ayaka immediately stated, closing her eyes in pain at the memory.
"…survivors?" the man asked, hesitating as his gaze bore holes in the woman.
"None." It chilled them to the bones. Although it seemed to not last as Reiji attempted to lunge past them, prevented from advancing only by his brother's chokehold.
"Let go of me Takeshi!" He trashed, fighting his brother with all his might. "Mother's there you asshole, let go of me!"
"ENOUGH!" Sōtaro's voice boomed, putting a stop to his sons' antics. "You've heard their status and you will join them too if you do not cease this foolishness at once." His words were cold, seemingly unperturbed by the news but the old couple knew better. They understood where he was coming from even if his youngest seemed unable to accept it.
Reiji broke free from his brother's grip, picking up his polearm and giving his family a vicious glare.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, that's mo—"
"This is a war boy. We mourn our loses when it's over."
War was the playground of death.
"We're wasting time we don't have," Takeshi finally added in. "Ayaka-san please… please lead the way." He too picked up his weapon, gripping it strongly in an attempt to suppress his shaking. He was old enough to catch the tail end of the previous war, understanding his father better than his sheltered sibling who was thrust into battle in the last place he ever imagined. In the last place any of them imagined.
They set south once more, following Ayaka's instructions as they did their best to minimise the amount of combat they engaged in. A strained tension fell upon the group but it seemed Reiji was willing to complete his original task.
Crossing over on the south-east side of the Mogami River, the makeshift team increased their pace, pausing only long enough for Ayaka to place a quick explosive on the side of a building and collapsing on top of some wayward pursuers.
They found Natsumi and a couple others, injured as Ayaka correctly assumed, hidden amongst the rubble of a partially collapsed building. 'Thank the almighty gods,'the elderly woman thought in relief as she rushed to her daughter's side, remembering part way that she was still carrying Shinji in her arms. Not that she would have made it as Takeshi practically swooped by Natsumi's side and engulfed her in an embrace she didn't feel she should watch.
This wasn't the time for reunions and the two quickly recomposed themselves. A quick headcount of the injured revealed far too many for the others to carry and Ayaka's stomach churned at the thought of purposely allowing more of their villagers to die. 'Most aren't from the clan,' she thought before her rationality returned and she mentally kicked herself. War made on priorities, and blood would always trump village but that gave her no right to think like that. Not when she numbered amongst those that were meant to care for the whole village.
"Reiji get one of the critical ones," Shōtaro ordered, internally relieved when his son didn't make a scene.
"Do you have a plan Shōtaro?" Nobou asked, his eyes never stopping from scanning his surrounding. A good thing as despite her sensing abilities Ayaka felt too distracted to trust herself as their only method of warning for incoming foes.
"If the tunnels are compromised," pain flashed across his eyes and Ayaka felt for his loss, "we'll take the waterway."
"And if those are overrun as well?"
"The tunnels are compromised?" Takeshi and Daichi, a boy she knew well that numbered amongst the injured, spoke simultaneously.
"Ayaka-san, what can you tell us about the northern entrance?" Shōtaro carried on, unperturbed by the interruption. A true veteran of war.
"It's too far," gods she felt too useless, "I can't tell from this range." His face, if possible, grew grimmer but he gave her a decisive nod.
"Those of you who can walk do so. We can't stay here and we can't carry you all either."
"Father!" Reiji shouted aghast.
"Silence boy. If you wish to stay and die here do so after you gained the maturity to make such a decision. Till then do as ordered."
'The blood beast,' his old nickname came to mind and Ayaka internally agreed with the assessment. Even when well past his fifties the man was imposing and instilling fear with a single look. 'Ah, we are what remains of the old generation,' she thought, flashes of the titans which once lived during her youth crossing her mind briefly. 'His generation is too soft to make any more war beasts.'
"I'll carry you Fukushi-baa," Daichi's voice rang clear as he crouched before the frail woman. She resisted weakly, looking at those younger than her and insisting he help them. Not that Daichi listened as he practically forced her on his back. It was wise, the others would likely be too heavy and while any other day it wouldn't have proved much for the boy, the makeshift bandage wrapped around his middle said enough about his state.
A couple more got up to their feet and two more were taken up by Reiji and Nobou. They totalled to fourteen. A number too big to go unnoticed in this madness. Especially as most were non-combatants. A series of familiar howls erupted out of nowhere and for a moment Ayaka's heart soared. They might yet survive this. Hope was then replaced by renewed vigour as all the survivors scrambled to follow Shōtaro's orders. They proceeded as carefully as they could towards the northern village entrance. Shinji gripped Ayaka's kimono tightly as he forced himself to remain quiet, tears dried and small body trembling in fear. She sent a prayer to the gods looking down upon them. Maybe they'll take pity on us.
She knew of course what her husband and Shōtaro would say. 'If the gods are real they don't give a shite about us,' which might have been true, but Ayaka liked to think it was not. If only to comfort herself in moments like these.
They crossed the Mogami once more, taking a detour and sticking close to the outer village walls, and noting how odd it was that most of the north section of the village remained untouched. 'So they really only breached us from the south. Likely from the mountains where security was weaker.' They really had been betrayed. The only question remaining was the who involved in this coup.
Ayaka confirmed little activity in the north. Fighting was occurring but it wasn't as intense. They encountered a couple enemies on the way which Takeshi and his father seemed to enjoy killing. Unsurprisingly, Ayaka herself felt a horrible satisfaction well up inside her at the sight of their corpses. 'May your souls never find peace.'
Arriving at their destinations they saw they weren't the only ones who had the same idea as people crowded at the docks in hopes of getting into a boat. For unlike the other entrances, the northern one was a water canal going through the Byouya* chain. If one was to follow it to the end it would eventually spill over into the Kaizoku sea* from where people could make their way to Nishiroku or Ryoroku.* Though Ayaka had a very good idea of where they were heading and it wasn't one of their country's islands or the even more distant eastern continent (Mizu no kuni was clearly out of the question) but something far closer. In fact if she was right they wouldn't even have to leave Shonshū.* For before reaching the sea, this canal crossed through Kinai,* more importantly it passed through their capital.
1. Original six animal clans= The original six 'summoning' animals which gained chakra before any of the others. They are the:
All the other summoning animals which will be seen, developed (into those super powered beasts) later.
2. kenitsu (ケンイツ - 剣佾) meaning blade dancers, are a particular section of the Uzumaki clan which train almost exclusively in buki-taijutsu and excel at the use of polearms. They are however not as talented in the use of seals.
3. Kaizoku sea= So if you imagine the basic Naruto map, that little island near the land of noodles is Uzu no Kuni (google it) and the sea to the north-east is what I named Kaizoku.
4. Nishiroku and Ryoroku= In my story Uzu no Kuni isn't just the island mentioned above. It is an archipelago composed of several islands, four of which are inhabited and one which has been the cause of much dispute.
-Sonshu (尊州,Sonshū, "Noble States" or "Noble Provinces")
-Yushin (熊森, Yūshin, "Bear Woods")
-Nishiroku (二氏陸, Nishiroku, "Two Clans Land")
-Ryoroku (漁陸 ,Ryōroku, "Fishing Land")
and the disputed Nanakusa Island (七草島, Nanakusa-jima,"Seven Herbs Island")
5. Sonshū=please see above
6. Byouya(san)= Is a mountain chain that passes through Uzushiogakure
7. Kinai= So Sonshū is the primary island and also the one Uzushiogakure and Asahama are located in. This island is divided up into 8 provinces controlled by one of the 8 noble clans (there is a lot of lore involved in this that will be revealed shortly) Kinai (畿内, Kinai, "Capital Region") is the province rulled by the Asahama clan which is also the clan from which all Uzu daimyō to date hail from.