Author: Kraken's Ghost
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Frankto developed and runs Naruto d-20.
Note: Written for Frankto's Naruto d-20 Demon Campaign module.
The fourth day after all contact was lost with the westernmost village in Wind Country, someone fought for his life in the northern territories of said country. The individual bore no name anyone knew, nor did he expose his face for anyone to recognize. He never removed the cracked Hunter-nin mask he wore and his body was of a lean build with an armor padded chest, so the few shinobi that met him didn't even know if 'he' was truly a he and not a woman. He never offered any input on the subject, so people just referred to him in male pronouns for convenience's sake.
Only two things did anyone know of value about him.
He'd ground the symbol of his hidden village off his battered mask which, when combined with the extreme variety of techniques he employed, made it impossible to tell what Hidden Village he'd come from. The other shinobi had started calling him 'Hunter' because of the mask he wore. He responded to that name about as much as anyone else responds to, "Hey, you," which was progress in the eyes of some of the curious Suna ninjas. It was also enough to satisfy the field commanders of the Army.
The second and only other valuable piece of info regarding him was that he was a damn good fighter. Fortunately for most, he had yet to turn his ability on any other shinobi, regardless of their allegiance. Though some were still curious, they had more important things to concern themselves with than the identity of one ex-hunter-nin.
Such as the solar eclipse that dyed the sky red and black three months ago.
The lands of the Shinobi Continent had been in turmoil ever since. Not blatant turmoil that would hint at an outright problem, but rather a subtle, insidious hint of a threat that seemed to permeate the air all across the Shinobi Countries. Man and beast alike stood on edge. Fights broke out in the villages over situations that would normally be ignored or laughed off. Hospitals across the Continent had been flooded by countless injuries, many critical and often having been caused by a close friend to the patient. Formerly docile animals snapped or panicked at the sight of humans they'd known their whole lives. Mutilated carcasses of wildlife were not an uncommon sight for travelers. People quickly learned that even a casual trip from one village to another in friendly territory was never made unless in a group.
Streets became silent and deserted before the sun fully set. Children weren't allowed out to play even during the day and soon the schools had to close due to virtually no attendance. Disappearances abroad increased, even amongst fully trained shinobi. Survivors of the Third Great Shinobi War were sadly used to this part of ninja life, but the disappearances at home that followed was a surprising development even to them.
It was one thing to not hear back from a Chuunin who'd gone out after a rogue Missing-nin into hostile or borderland territory. It was an entirely different situation when an ANBU team got separated on a routine patrol that circuited the Village at a distance of no more than five hundred yards and only one of the team members made it back, with no clue as to the fate of the others. Watch duty become dangerous during the day and nigh suicidal at night. No one went out at night if they could help it and the few that did were always skilled shinobi. Even Jounin traveled in groups of at least three.
Fear was everywhere. People became suspicious of foreigners. Then they became paranoid of strangers on the street, then their neighbors, then their country's shinobi, then their Kages, and finally of their own family. Everyone suspected everyone else of some wrongdoing. Everywhere people went, it was as though something was watching their every move.
Watching you. Not the person next to you, you specifically.
Even the shinobi felt it, but not even their most skilled could divine the source of this tension. It was as though killing intent welled up from the very ground, leaving every man, woman, and child feeling as though thousands of razors were moving at lightning speed just a millimeter from their skin.
The world was in turmoil, society was being strained, the presiding government was being questioned, man was turning on his fellow man, and no one even knew why.
By this time, not a month had passed since the eclipse.
In the days and weeks following, more and more disappearances occurred, only now it was common enough that people finally began to find evidence as to the cause of all the vanishings. Sightings of things in the dark places of the world became frequent. No two accounts were identical and none had gotten a close look at any of the entities. Or if any had seen the hostiles up close, none had lived to tell about it.
Twenty-one days ago, a traveling mercenary group over three hundred men and women strong passed through a small village in the southern territory of Earth Country. Not finding sufficient lodging foe their numbers, they'd bought supplies and moved on. A small group of Stone-nins had passed by them on their return from a long range reconnaissance of the Sand. The mercs had made a camp in a large field, about a hundred feet from the heavily traveled road. The shinobi, not seeing anything wrong with their presence, had merely made a note of it to report to their superiors. Being as the day was late, they'd stopped for the night at the village the mercenaries had just passed through. One of their number took watch and the rest of the team dropped off to sleep. The village became dead quiet by twilight, as was the norm of late. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Around midnight, the watchman had been violently jarred to full alertness when a horrified scream tore through the night air. The Stone-nins were out in the street in seconds.
A man, one of the mercenaries, was staggering up the lamp lit street. His body was shining with blood even in the dim light and he desperately clutched a tourniquet around the shattered stump of his right arm. Even as the ninjas and villagers watched, the man let out another scream, one born more of horror than pain. The shinobi's medic had quickly stabilized the man and carried him into the inn. He was far too incoherent to pass on any valuable information, but they didn't need him to tell them that something terrible had happened back at the encampment. The medic had stabilized the man to the point where the village elders could care for him, then the Stone team had rushed out the village and down the road as fast as they could.
When they arrived, they couldn't make any sense of what was happening. They couldn't see much in the dark, but they could hear.
Screams ripped through the air like katanas. Some were of the dying. Some were of the mortally terrified.
And some didn't sound human.
Though they desperately tried to rally the remaining mercenaries, it proved a wasted effort. In the pitch black night, the relatively under-trained mercs were scattered into a blind panic, which was taken advantage of by whatever was attacking them. None of the Stone-nins caught more than a glimpse of something dark and large moving amongst the masses. Wherever it went, the screams would follow.
In the end, the shinobi were forced to form a large rock dome barrier around themselves and a handful of mercs they'd managed to grab in order to protect themselves from whatever was out there. The screams were muffled by the wall, but not enough that the shinobi couldn't hear when they finally stopped. They'd almost relaxed in both relief and horror, when the first impact resounded against their barrier.
Several hours of fear followed as the unknown threat continuously tested their shield by slamming and slashing against it in various places. It seemed as though days had passed by the time the attacks finally stopped. In the utterly dead silence that followed, none were brave enough to even speak to each other.
It was well after dawn by the time they broke their shield barrier, less because they wished to and more because their chakra reserves were running low. The mercenary survivors that had been with them took one look around the camp and had to be disabled because of their hysterics. The Stone-nins couldn't really blame them, even as they restrained the mercs.
Three hundred people leave a lot of blood and a lot flesh behind when they're butchered like cattle at a slaughterhouse.
Later at their debriefing, the Stone-nins had been unable to give an accurate description of their attacker to the Tsuchikage. Though the Kage had been angry at the time due to the lack of info, it turned out the description was unnecessary as two days later a band of merchants was attacked in broad daylight on a major trade route running through Fire Country. This time, the lone survivor of onslaught was able to a very detailed description to the Hokage and Konohagakure's ANBU.
The creature had been unlike any beast or summon that had ever been seen by human eyes.
That didn't stop the Fire Council from blaming the Stone for the incident, as it was close to their borders. The Earth Council replied that they'd just suffered an attack not a handful of days prior, which was confirmed by a team of Leaf Hunter-nins that had been escorted to the site of the massacre. The Fire Council still expressed their suspicions, even when the Hokage mildly pointed out that the Stone could hold them equally accountable for all the evidence they had.
Then there was an attack out in Wave Country.
Then the Sound ordered all their shinobi abroad to return to their home territory to deal with an unspecified 'urgent situation.'
Then a band of travelers under Chuunin guard were all overrun in southern Lightning Country.
A boat leaving the Hidden Mist never made it to the main land, though the captain was an experienced sailor of thirty years and the weather was perfect.
A Sand Jounin powerful enough to be considered a candidate for Kazekage disappeared within throwing distance of a Fire Country outpost along with his entire team of Chuunin.
A reported disturbance at a local feudal lord's estate turned out to be the entire mansion's staff fighting a losing battle for their lives, with their mutilated bodies the only thing authorities found by the time they arrived.
All theses events and still no one could identify the attackers. Only the ninjas could escape with their lives and even that wasn't a guarantee.
And still, they had no idea why any of this was happening.
Even after a week and a half of attacks of varying severity, the Shinobi Nations didn't react in a broad way aside from throwing accusations around. Patrols were stepped up, mercenaries were hired to guard the smaller villages, and a general curfew and no traveling order was imposed till the situation was resolved. That seemed to be all the action the leaders of the Shinobi Nations were willing to take.
That is, until a Konoha patrol passed through a small village that had been utterly destroyed. Not a single survivor was present in or around the village and every building had been razed to the ground. There was no warning, no usable evidence left behind, and not a single shinobi had even noticed anything was amiss, despite the close proximity of many patrols in the area.
The village was less than twenty kilometers from Konohagakure's walls.
The Hokage, still remembering the Kyuubi incident many years prior, ordered a total evacuation of all of Fire Country's villages into the central area within and immediately around the Hidden Village of Leaf. Konohagakure and the two large merchant villages that lay close by were flooded with civilian evacuees within a few days. ANBU patrols were expanded to cover the entire area and shinobi of all ranks patrolled each of the three urban centers. Tensions were high, but Fire Country had ample resources and emergency supplies to support the heavily concentrated populace. The civilians were surprisingly cooperative and voiced protest only at the situation, rather than at the Leaf-nins who enforced the decree.
After all, Konoha had very nearly lost one war to a mysterious creature of unfathomable origins and power. The Hokage wasn't planning on taking any chances. The citizens of Fire Country understood that.
The other Shinobi Nations (with the Sand being a notable and sole exception) publicly stated they believed the Leaf was overreacting to the situation and privately gloating about what perfect timing the Leaf had to reveal the cowardice they knew them to hold all along. All it takes is a few attacks and the Leaf monkeys act like a war is upon them. Indeed, the other Nations (the Sound in particular) all had a great laugh at the Leaf's expense.
Four days later the Hidden Rain was destroyed, utterly, in a single night.
It wasn't even a true battle. None of the Rain had been able to counter the onslaught on their forces. Only the sacrifice of their leader and their greatest ninjas allowed even a fraction of their forces to retreat to the nearest Great Nation.
The Hokage didn't hesitate to open the doors of the Leaf to the nine hundred or so ninja and civilians that showed up on their doorstep.
And suddenly, every Nation felt the same fear that Konoha felt all those years ago during the Kyuubi Crisis. The Hidden Rain had been a small village and their ninja unexceptional when compared to the legends that the Leaf and the Mist produced, but no ninja village is taken so absolutely.
Most of the other Nations didn't emulate Fire Country's example in their extreme efforts in protecting their civilians, but the most poorly defended villages were most assuredly abandoned and their occupants withdrawn into better protected zones. The Shinobi Continent began to gear itself towards war for the first time in almost two decades.
The air was pungent with the odor of impending violence and bloodshed. The people of the Continent didn't know when or how, but they knew it would come soon.
They were still stunned when Konohagakure itself was attacked.
Truly, their foes knew no fear. With their preparations, combined with their high state of alert, the presence of all their shinobi in one central area, the viciousness of their Rain allies in protecting their new haven and in their thirst for vengeance, and with a warrior as great as the Hokage leading the battle, Konoha would not be taken without critical losses.
What followed was the Nations' first victory, followed by one of their most severe losses.
Konohagakure fought off the first wave of attackers successfully. Their victory came quite quickly, despite the horror of the menace they faced.
The things came under cover of night, advancing in time with the retreat of the sun's rays. In the fading light, the Leaf and Rain-nins finally saw their assailants clearly for the first time, but they couldn't begin to fathom what to call them.
They were things that defied description and imagination. Fiends or Demons, for lack of a better description. Whatever their name, the creatures that attacked them don't belong in this world.
Any other village would have been taken from sheer fear alone. But the Leaf's forces had either grown up listening to stories of the great Kyuubi and the Yondaime Hokage or had actually been present at the battle that cost them their hero and half their population. Though not truly prepared, they weren't taken off guard either. Indeed, some of the shinobi believed that while the battle with the Kyuubi had been won, the war had only been delayed. These shinobi had never truly relaxed once since the Yondaime's death, nor had they stopped preparing themselves for a day just like this.
No, the Leaf wouldn't be taken off guard. And the Rain…
The Rain-nins had lost one home already. They wouldn't lose another without a fight.
And despite some casualties, they didn't lose their new home, much to the surprise of all present.
The fiends were driven back, perhaps unprepared for actual organized resistance. Yells of victory and jubilation rang out from all parts of the Hidden Village. Plans were quickly made for the first celebration in months.
…And then a Hyuuga noticed the fires from the merchant village to their immediate west.
The second wave wasn't anything like the first. The creatures were larger, faster, and in far, far greater numbers. A veritable horde of things swept through central Fire Country, overrunning and destroying everyone and everything they could.
Dawn came and with it, a somber occasion. For even against such a huge host, the combined forces of the Leaf and the Rain emerged victorious, though at great price.
One of the merchant villages had been totally lost. Some of the shinobi had managed to escape, but most of them were gone, as well as the majority of the civilians. Konohagakure herself had taken great damage in the assault, though her forces had emerged mostly intact. Still, the fear that fled in the night's fighting returned ten-fold.
Now they didn't face a single demon, but a legion of darkness, whose scope and power remained unknown even now. And the creatures couldn't care less what banner the humans followed.
In the wake of their shock at a direct assault on arguably the strongest Hidden Village on the Continent, the other Shinobi Nations finally decided to ignore their grudges of old, at least for the time being. The skies above the Continent were filled with swarms of messenger birds and summons, all carrying battle plans and intelligence on their common enemy. Not wanting to become the next Hidden Rain, the smaller Nations opened up negotiations with their larger neighbors; an action that led to the virtual annexing of almost all the smaller Nations into the territories and protection of the Great Nations. Only the Sound stubbornly refused to follow the lead of the others, though they did reluctantly ally themselves with the budding confederation when it became apparent that they would be entirely on their own if the situation degraded further.
And now, here they are, in the rocky lands of northern-western Wind Country; an army of allied shinobi, each one bearing the symbol of one of a dozen different Hidden Villages, converging on what seemed to be the source of the scourge sweeping their lands. With the combined intelligences of all the Nations, their leaders were able to draw lines that mostly converged in this one mountainous area at the furthest reaches of Earth and Wind country. The attacks were most frequent and most severe here. The western half of Wind Country had been in such dire straits that the lands had been mostly abandoned long before the Kazekage ordered an evacuation.
The Army had thought themselves prepared. They came in unheard of numbers, with the best each Nation had to offer. Even Missing-nins had emerged from the woodwork to join the fight. Some took up their old banners and some remained independent, but all looked to face this menace that threatened their world.
The Army advanced, eliminating the demonic creatures wherever they found them. The fiends were hellishly powerful, but they knew little of ninja trickery and battle tactics; a flaw the humans took ruthless advantage of. Little by little, the Army made their way through the tall pine forests until they finally emerged in the valley their spies had led them to.
…And there, they met the Legion.
A horde more monstrous than any human army ever amassed turned almost as one upon the shinobi forces. Where as the initial attacks seemed to be committed by one tier of demon, possibly the lowest, and the Assault of Konoha revealed a stronger level of the creatures, this Legion revealed yet a greater class of fiends. These 'generals' wore white masks, and guided the horde with total dominion and inhuman brutality. Under such pressure, the demonic host quickly turned the tide against the shinobi Army.
For well over two hours of battle, it seemed as though neither side was winning. The Legion's forces were overwhelmingly vicious, but the Army's resolve was unshakable even in the face of such a dark enemy. Both forces were locked in stalemate and they seemed far more likely to destroy each other entirely than give any ground.
…And then space tore itself apart.
Far off into the valley, well on the other side of the demonic host, crackling bolts of dark lightning and spats of foul-looking burning fumes began to emerge from a wide, shallow crater in the earth. The midday sky darkened as the hissing bursts of energy grew in intensity and frequency. With a sudden, echoing boom that cracked through the air with the sonic force of a hundred blasts of thunder, what can only be described as a hole in reality ripped into being.
The hunter was one of the few humans close enough to see through the rift onto the other side. He couldn't describe the world that lay beyond, mainly because his attention was drawn to the seemingly endless mass of demons pouring forth from the tear into the valley, but however fleeting the sight on the other side was, it was still enough to terrify him to the core of his battle-hardened soul.
Even without the reinforcements, the Legion still would've won the battle. Just the presence of the portal (for that certainly must be what the rift is) whipped their fiends into an unnatural frenzy far greater than anything the White Masks had managed produce. After that, it wasn't a battle so much as a massacre. The hunter didn't know who ordered the retreat, but he did know it came too late.
It was too late to run, too late to hide. Only the people at the edges of the Army would have any chance of survival, but he doubted even they would make it to safety.
That didn't mean he himself wasn't going to try.
Somehow, by some twist of fate, the hunter had been separated from the major areas of the slaughter-fest. This would have been more fortunate for him if he hadn't been pursued by one of the generals. The hideous creature sprang and twisted its body as it and the hunter exchanged a flurry of attacks. The hunter wasn't foolish enough to believe that he had a real chance of surviving this battle and he was using advice his old sensei had taught for when he faced a much stronger opponent.
Hit and run, use simple yet effective distractions, and for the sake of Kami-sama keep an eye out for any means of escape.
The sight of the river flowing down through a small mountain gully was both a blessing and a curse to the hunter. A blessing, because he had yet to see any of the fiends walk on water and a curse, as the sight of it distracted him enough that his opponent got through his guard and slammed the sharpened edge of its mask into the hunter's chest.
The hunter was flung backwards through the air, but managed to roll with the blow so that his feet stuck onto a tree branch he passed. He stood upside down and watched as the demonic creature did the same on a branch a few dozen meters in front of him, its claws sinking through the bark as easily as a steel knife sinks through soft bread. The hunter panted lightly behind his white mask and he used the pause in the fighting to carefully check his injury with his free hand.
His chest bore a nasty gash that was slowly bleeding through his clothes, but the ANBU armor had saved his life yet again. Judging from the hole in the breast plate, though, this was the last time his loyal armor would protect him.
The fiend cackled suddenly, its white mask splitting into a hideous grin at the sight of blood on the human. The hunter's own white mask stared expressionlessly back at the leering face of his opponent.
The sight of a slight irregularity on the demon's mask suddenly caught the hunter's eye. There, above the eye socket and near the horned fringe, a small notch existed in the otherwise perfect, alabaster surface.
The hunter frowned at the sight, realizing that he'd made that notch. He recalled infusing his ANBU katana with chakra to hone its already formidable edge to unnatural perfection and slashing at the demon with it. At the time, he'd aimed at the creature's disproportionate limbs and torso, but at one point he'd been forced to bring the sword down on the fiend's mask to make it cancel an attack. What struck the hunter as odd was the way the thing had retreated sharply at the attack, even though the blade had done little damage.
…Perhaps he'd been going about attacking this creature all wrong.
Going on the offensive for once, the hunter palmed a few objects from his side-pouch, then quickly formed a couple hand-seals. Three simple Bunshins appeared on the tree with him. As one, they all leapt outwards towards the demon.
The hunter wasn't surprised when the creature leapt straight at him, instead of his doubles, but he was gratified to find that the beast didn't know anything about body switching skills.
The white mask ripped its claws through the hunter's body and screeched in fury as the shinobi dissolved into vapor. The demon twisted in mid-air, using its many limb joints to great effect as it slashed apart another Bunshin. It roared even louder at this and homed in on the real hunter. Kawarimi again saved his life as he switched places with the Bunshin that had positioned itself behind the demon.
Even as the white mask tore through the double, it felt something lightly press on the top of its mask. It recoiled at the sensation and in its gyrations, it managed to twist around enough to catch the hunter's arm between the edges that served as the mouth of its mask and crush down on it.
The hunter made a sound of pain as the bones in his forearm snapped like twigs. Only the reinforced ANBU bracer on his arm kept the demon from ripping his hand right off. The shinobi slapped his free hand on the surface of the mask, then reached back to draw a tanto from one of his many holsters. Infusing chakra into the blade, he stabbed downwards, making a long yet unfortunately shallow furrow across the creature's mask.
The demon shrieked and released the hunter's arm, as it kicked away from the human. The hunter was again thrown through the air by the move, but he was fortunate enough to find yet another convenient branch to latch onto. The shinobi cradled his mangled arm as he watched the white mask right itself in midair and latch onto the side of another tree.
The demon swung its eyes around and roared triumphantly at the sight its wounded prey. The creature crouched low on the tree trunk, ready to launch itself at the hunter.
Then a small wisp of smoke drifted across its field of vision.
The detonation of the handful of explosive tags let loose a concussive blast that shattered the trunk of the tree the demon had been perched on. The boom wasn't as loud as the opening of the portal, but it was still enough to make the shinobi's teeth rattle in his skull. The demon itself disappeared in a rising plume of fire that was only partially dispersed by the falling trunk of the severed tree. As the upper part of the trunk struck the ground, it shook the surrounding earth with enough force to make the bark jolt under the hunter's feet.
Though it seemed his tactic worked, the hunter refused to let his guard down as the black smoke slowly began to rise up away from the remaining portion of the tree.
With an ear splitting screech of fury and agony, the demon launched itself from the burning embers of the shattered trunk. Its once perfect white mask was now shattered almost entirely. Large holes had been blown into it and what wasn't missing was scorched black and riddled with cracks. The fiend let out another screech as it twisted and roiled in midair and the hunter tensed for a moment in near panic.
Much to his surprise, though, the creature ignored him entirely and instead hit the ground running, heading back in the direction of the fallen valley.
Not willing to waste the opportunity, nor wait around for other fiends to arrive, the hunter turned and leapt from tree to tree, making his way towards the surface of the river he'd spotted earlier. As he moved, he bandaged his ruined limb with the efficiency of a veteran, not pausing even as his feet touched the slick surface of the water.
As the hunter ran along with the flow of the river, his thoughts were plagued by the sheer tenacity of the foe he'd just faced. He had forced it to retreat, but he'd slapped enough explosive tags on the thing to blow a hole through a bank vault and the thing's mask still survived the explosion. He couldn't truly call it a victory, though fortunately it wasn't truly a defeat either.
He'd identified an almost certain weakness in the white masked generals, which the leaders of the Shinobi Confederation would certainly want and need to know. Perhaps he'd even see fit to inform his home territory, though the odds of them listening to him were slim to-
The sky darkened from red-tinted black to the deepest pitch of an abyss. The hunter paused in his course as waves of dark distortion ripped around and through him, coming from the direction of the fallen valley. Just when he thought his senses couldn't handle it anymore, the distortions in reality faded and the sky lightened.
The hunter turned westward and watched in silent confusion as the darkness receded from the sky to the point where the late afternoon sun was again revealed.
Something had happened. Something significant. Something that had affected the portal in the valley.
A thought occurred to the hunter, one that sent icy tendrils of dread throughout every part of his hardened soul.
Something hadn't happened to the portal; something had come through it.
Almost in response to the shinobi's dread, a massive chakra unlike anything he'd ever experienced before swamped the hunter's senses and threatened to send him into a fit of mindless animal panic. Behind his mask, he mouthed out words of denial, even as his eyes dilated in terror at what he saw.
A monstrous form rose above the treetops in the not so far distance, silhouetted by the sun and rendered black and featureless. It rose higher and higher, its shadow spreading further and further, until it blocked out the sun's light for the ravine the hunter stood in.
There it seemed to pause for one infinite, terrible moment, as the hunter's mind refused to acknowledge the sight.
Then the monstrosity opened its mouth and let out a blasting roar that bent the forest's trees away from the epicenter and reverberated throughout every bone in the hunter's body.
And the hunter, the lone, little ex-ANBU with the bleeding chest and the crushed arm and the cracked armor, had only one word repeating itself over and over again in his mind.
The hunter didn't remember turning nor did he remember starting to run. He was already panting heavily by the time his mind realized what his body was doing.
His life didn't matter now. Neither did the lives of the countless shinobi in the Army. All that mattered was warning the Shinobi Nations. He had to make it back to Sunagakure, so the Kazekage could warn the other Kages. Nothing else was important.
And as the hunter began his long run, the massive entity began a march of its own, towards the panicking and retreating shinobi of the Army.
As it fell upon the disarrayed human forces, it let out another roar that echoed across the mountains, one that drowned out the screams of humanity even as it heralded their destruction.
Written as the introduction to Frankto's N-d20 demon campaign module. He's quite wickedly delighted by this, so I consider it a success. Look up the N-d20 forums for more information on the campaign and N-d20 in general.
I'm storing this fic here on to have a public archive of it. I've been planning on doing it for some time, but have never gotten around to it. And now that this is all finished, it's time to work on other projects.
Edit: 10/07/07 – Just cleaned up and edited this piece a little bit. It hasn't gotten any attention since I first posted it, so I decided to clean it up a little bit. I liked it a lot when I first wrote it, but now I don't know what to make of it. Frankto was satisfied, so I suppose I am as well.