The humid air made the ash stick to our bodies, to our skin and bones and teeth as people opened their mouths to pray but screamed instead.
"Ku...Kushina-onee-chan...it hurts..." a strangled voice that sounded nothing like memories whispered as a little boy's face contorted in front of me, tear streaks cutting through the grime on his cheeks as green eyes hid behind eyelids.
"Hold on, hold Houko-chan, just...please just, someonepleasehelp!" My small, trembling hands tried desperately to stop the flow of blood but I feared I was doing more harm than good as I peeked the glistening edges of intestines through the cut on my brother's stomach. I knew nothing about stitching wounds; as advanced as my knowledge was, for a six year old, I knew not much more than avoiding situations instead of resolving them.
"Please! Someone!"I shouted, but we were alone in the crowded streets, just two more orphans set up for sacrifice. The fire was nearing, I could tell, as a burst of air heated the side of my face.
Any warmth in Whirlpool was bound to be harmful sooner or later.
"Onee-chan..." a gurgle between the screaming the filled the air. Everything was choked with dust and ash and sounds of people fleeing from the attack; a horse galloped suddenly past us, trampling a person to the ground; another man down.
"...Hidden village of the Mist-"
"Don't stop running just..."
"No! Mother, Fa-"
"..Oil based! Not even the rain-"
"Run, run, run,"
"Wake up wake up wakeupwakeupwakeup,"
The word tipped to the side as a building a few houses down collapsed to the ground with a tremendous groan and rumble, producing fresh screams in its disaster.
My brother opened his eyes and stared at me blankly, a stranger as he slipped away, away...
"No! No please no, stay with me Hou- stay with me oh Kami someone help please anyone someone help help help!"
In that instant I wished I believed in some kind of God because if I couldn't pray, I could do nothing at all.
I could barely see as tears collected in my eyes, burning from the heat of the stinging wind as I clutched at the limp body of my brother, blood gushing down my front as I added my own shouts of denial to the symphony.
If only I were bigger, stronger, older. If only I knew what to do...
But I was nothing. A six year old alone and helpless.
An explosion sounded, farther away than the last one. Maybe the enemies being driven back, I guessed, looking upwards and seeing flames against the darkness of the night sky which was being swallowed by smoke. Red and orange and yellow against the murky greys and blacks of Whirlpool.
I tried not to sob but I was dying.
With one last tortured, lingering look at my brother, dead and limp and gone, I left the last of my family on the filthy ground and ran away, carried by the shouts of strangers.
Just another body, now.
It was just my luck that I decided to steal from a stall at the same time as some other kid as desperate as I for some food.
"Oi you punks! Come back here!" The bellow from the large, beefy man almost made me flinch, but I was too dizzy from the impact caused when slamming into my surprise partner in crime. There was no time to lie moaning on the ground, though, as the stall owner stepped towards us with a large wooden stick in hand, anger set in every line on his stupid-looking face.
Oh-oh. Time to scram.
I stumbled to my feet and leaped away from him, having advantage in speed since a skinny 7-year-old girl was much more nimble than the pig I faced.
"Catch me if you can, ugly!" I laughed, avoiding the forms of strangers as I tumbled away. I looked back quickly to stick my tongue out, clutching the piece of bread in my hand as the apples were jostled in my pockets by my spontaneous running.My grin disappeared and I halted almost instantly, however, when I saw the furious stall-owner towering over the person I had slammed into. He was skinny and even smaller than me, his features petit and graceful as his dark blue hair hung in disarray on his shoulders.
If I didn't do something this kid was going to be beaten to a pulp. But then again if I did something and it didn't work, we might both get beaten to a pulp.
"Oi, lard-face! Have your stupid apple back!" I hollered, making some of the passer-bys, already distracted by the commotion, stop and stare at the scene we were creating. I leaned back and threw a green apple with all my might. I may not have been the fastest of my kind but in strength I wasn't half bad.
Before Mr. Half-wit could turn completely at my outburst, the apple spun through the air and smashed quite impressively on his head with a force that would bruise. Apple sauce was splattered in the wind.
I slid to a stop beside him as he howled in pain, upsetting the dust around us. Yet, to my disgust, he did not let go of the boy he was holding painfully from the scruff of the neck, even as the other stick-wielding hand lifted to cover the offended spot.
"Come on, stupid, are you gonna struggle or not!" I growled at the pale kid who looked at me with frightened grey eyes. I sighed.
Leave it all to Uzumaki Kushina, will you.
Like the animal we orphans had become I leaped and latched onto the man's hand with my teeth, biting and scratching as hard as I could. This action was immediately followed by a shout of pain as the boy was let go, which was great, and a blow to my head, which wasn't that thrilling.
"Shit..." I stuttered as I also fell to the ground, clutching my head, trying to scramble away dizzily. I cracked my eyes open to see the massive man holding up the wooden stick in position to strike, sky cloudy above him, when out of the blue a fisted hand slammed right into his family jewels.
A high pitched squeak slipped the man's lips as his eyes went wide and he doubled, falling to his knees. I looked at the attacker and was not surprised to see the boy I had helped was my saviour. I blinked away the pain and forced myself to my feet as he rapidly helped me up.
"Let's get out of here," he said softly and I didn't even have to nod as he pulled me forward, running. Behind us the crumbled man wheezed something that could have been 'stop them' but I didn't look back as we snaked around people. No one followed his instructions, however. This wasn't a rare occurrence in Whirlpool Village, and everybody was too aware of out monetary problems to stop two children trying to survive.
I was surprised when the boy didn't stop down the first safe alleyway or shadowed corner where we could say our thanks and part ways, but my curiosity to see where he was taking me drowned my suspicion. We passed barred shops, puddle-strewn lanes and collecting rubbish as we neared the part of Whirlpool Village I mostly resided.
"Up here," he said finally as we walked down a gloomy alley lined by slimy walls.
"Where are you taking me?" I asked, crossing my arms and looking around as we went up some fire-way stairs that went up the side of the building.
"Just...somewhere nobody will bother us whilst we eat," he said and smiled so placidly that I didn't have the conviction to frown in distrust. If this was some kind of trap or joke I would fight myself out, like I had done many times before.
We came to a stop at the upmost flight and I could feel the cold wind on my skin as the protection of the walls fell away. I looked at the smoky rooftops under murky skies and grinned.
However ugly it was, it was home.
"Through here," he said, pointing to a grimy window he had forced open. I turned my grin towards him and slipped through into what I found was a room which looked as if someone with little resources had tried to clean and furnish. The result was a dust-free yet still mouldy room, walls unattractively sporting streaks of brown. It didn't smell too bad, though, and in the middle of the room were some old newspapers acting as a mat under a legless table supported by four bricks. Some pots and pans were set seemingly randomly around the room, though I guessed it was to catch water from drips. My eyes widened as I looked around.
This was obviously his home, as pathetic as it was, though for someone living in either an orphanage or the streets, I couldn't say much. Nevertheless, the point was that a stranger had brought me to his home. I turned at him, incredulous. No one remotely smart ever did that. If I were stronger than him and decided to take it away, I could, and he would be helpless against it. I could tell people about this abandoned treasure; any shelter away from the constant rain and wind was mercy to anyone.
"Why the hell did you bring me here? Are you crazy?" I asked, not sounding grateful at all even though part of me was quite touched. The boy blushed but didn't look away and for a moment, despite his stature, looked quite defiant.
"No, I'm not. I...you saved me back there. I haven't met anybody else in this village who would risk their own hide to help some stranger. I'm not stupid. If you did that...why would you harm me now?" He asked, frowning. I looked at him in surprise but felt a smile growing on my face, albeit a sad one. Sometimes I couldn't help but mourn that, even as young as I was, I already knew that Whirlpool was a 'every man for himself' place.
"For fun? You look like such a runt," I joked, suddenly more at ease with him after the kind revelation.
Once it was clear someone was not a danger I could never help be nothing but annoyingly friendly.
The other boy looked uncertain for a moment before catching the joking tone and smiling and eyeing my small frame.
"You can talk. Don't forget I saved you too, I don't owe you anything," he stated as if to clear the air, moving towards the table and fishing out two slices of bread from inside his ripped-up jacket. I, however, didn't move.
"Then I really don't get why you've brought me here," I said, as if I were asking to be kicked out. The concept seemed almost impossible, but if I could convince the boy to let me stay...if only for a bit, it would be such a relief. A roof over one's head was a blessing like no other.
"You seem like a good person," he said simply as he set the food down on the wood and then slid two stack of newspapers from under the table, one on which he sat.
"Well, aren't you a quick judge..." I grumbled but neared the make-shift table. The boy smiled.
"No, just a good one."
"And modest too!" I laughed and sat down. I wasn't going to lose anything by befriending someone with a house, I decided. I took out my food. One slice of bread and two apples.
"What's your name, anyways?" I asked as I mentally divided the food.
"Takeo," he responded. I looked up at him.
"Dontcha have a second name?" I questioned. He looked down.
"No. What's yours?"
"Uzumaki Kushina, and you better remember it," I grinned, pulling my red hair away from my face. We stared at each other for a second and I felt something inside me, as if something big where happening and I were in the middle of it all, not knowing what was going on.
"Are we gonna eat or what?" I asked, scared of the feeling. Had I just made a new friend? Was I finally going to outrun this damn loneliness?
"Sure," Takeo said and I watched him with thoughtful green eyes before being distracted by the food he was dividing.
I had probably just made one of the best decisions of my life.
I slid across the mud, practically screaming with laughter as Takeo tackled me to the ground where we rolled whilst the other children did the same around us, kicking and throwing mud everywhere. Nature seemed to be in war with itself as we scrambled over the puddles, creatures of dirt and water.
I yanked my ankle from Takeo's grasp and leaped forward, almost slipping to the floor once again before regaining my balance with a fistful of mud in hand. I twisted around and threw it at Takeo's chest, who had gotten up to chase me. Someone from his team tried to take me down as I neared their base, where the 'eggs' they were protecting were held, but I swiftly rolled them around so that I was on top and lifted myself from them. I skidded to a stop beside the eggs, grabbed one whilst avoiding a lump of clay thrown at me and then started running back into the fray only to fall straight on my face as the ground beneath me trembled slightly. Takeo's chakra was in tune with the earth element, I knew, and though we hadn't gone to the academy for a long time, Whirlpool had always been strict believers that those with ninja abilities should discover their potential early on.
"No fair!" I spluttered and narrowed my eyes as I concentrated in sucking the water out of the clay in front of Takeo. As expected the suddenly solid mud made him stumbled and fall just as I had. He grunted and then twisted around to hold his snubbed toe.
"Ow! Kushina, that hurt!" he howled as I laughed, trying to get to my feet through the mass of bodies playfully keeping me down as well as trying to take the egg away from me. I kept hold of the wooden form, kicking and scratching and laughing before I suddenly stopped, a chill running down my spine. Surprised gasps and hushed silence was the only warning I got before someone lifted me clean off my feet. I cried out in surprise and immediately started struggling but I was held in a highly efficient clasp.
"Found you," the male voice of my captor said as fear surged inside me. I looked wildly around to see the rest of my friends looking at me with awe and terror, only to feel anger surge inside me when I saw that Takeo was similarly being held by what I knew was a jounin ninja.
I tried to struggle out of the grasp holding me, but the hold on me was nothing like the amateur grips of bullies and stall-vendors. This was someone who knew how to restrain someone, for I could barely shift my arms and legs. I glowered furiously as I gripped the wooden egg to my chest.
"Let me go! Who the hell are you? Let me go let me go!" I screamed, trying to squirm even if I knew it was futile, trying harder once I saw Takeo doing the same. The children around us did nothing but watch, knowing that even if they were outnumbered, we were outmatched.
"Keep still, you brat!" The man growled and somehow hit me lightly on the head. All at once I fell still and limp in his arms.
I glowered furiously. There was no way some asshole ninjas were going to arrest me. I didn't pay much heed to the fact that everybody present had probably committed the same robbery acts as Takeo and me, so it didn't make sense that they were capturing only us. Maybe this was about the apartment floor?
"There you go, good girl," The man said and I had to fight in order not to start struggling again in pure spite.
"You sure these runts are the ones?" The woman holding Takeo asked, seemingly not preoccupied that the boy in her arms was trying to flail around ceaselessly. She had dark hair, typical of the region, but her eyes were a piercing purple that was quite disconcerting.
"Yep, I just felt it," he replied, which didn't make much sense to me at the time. I didn't linger on it, however. Instead I brought the large wooden egg up to under my chin and with all my might, before the woman holding Takeo could do more than open her mouth, I threw the round projectile as hard as I could at my captor's sandal-wearing foot. With a sickening crunch it connected with his toes and I too advantage of the moment of pain-laced-surprise to slam my head backwards unto his chin and writhing as hard as I could, using heels and elbows as my weapons. I was dropped on the ground and didn't waste a moment as I propelled myself forward, almost snarling in my desperation to get away.
"Get him!" I ordered everybody who had been rooted to the spot by the surprise occurrence. They didn't waste a moment in doing what I said, however, for we were used to having to spring into action to either fight or flee at a moment's notice.
All the mud-covered children, looking like creatures of the forest with their features covered in dirt, sprang on the man, biting and scratching and punching and kicking, anything to bring him down as I leaped towards Takeo, but the woman was not to be taken by surprise and sidestepped me easily.
From behind a hollow pop sounded, followed by grunts and gasps and cries of surprise. I looked back quickly to see the rest of the orphans around a chunk of solid clay, smoke curling around it ambiguously.
Shit, a replacement.
Not only was I horribly under-trained, I was clumsy and reckless and; I wasn't going to win the fight. But hell, when had that ever stopped me?
I threw myself on the ground and like an animal l threw myself towards Takeo and the woman again, and again, and again, but it was to no avail. I was no match for the ninja, even with Takeo struggling and shouting in her arms, all I was managing to accomplish was throwing mud in the air.
"I would have demanded money if I knew this was going to be so problematic," I heard above me suddenly as a shadow came over me.
There was a brief, terrifying moment of wetness enveloping me, of the world blurring as if I were looking at it through a waterfall before I promptly passed out.
"This mission is a bunch of crap."
"Kushina! Look, just shut up and keep a look out."
"I am keeping a look out! Not like I can exactly see with all this conveniently placed mist everywhere anyways. Pretty though. Do you have some food?"
"Dear Kami...here. Now please be quiet."
"Mmm, yum, sure."
Finally some contentment in this miserable week.
Ever since being recruited for the ninja academy of Whirlpool over a year ago by those two then-mysterious ninjas, which had previously broken down because of an attack from the hidden village of the Mist a few years earlier, Takeo and I had been training to become a ninja, a title which we had previously viewed as belonging to the people who were failing to keep the country and village in order; the authorities who did nothing to help us. We later found it was much more complicated than that. Ninjas were simply those who were supposed to bring income to the village, those who were, though failing, trying as hard as they could to save us. But with the Great War in full toil, and therefore the Whirlpool Country Lord refusing to pay us anything because of the lack of missions resources, and the danger any ninja was in once out of the village, the work force was struggling to meet any ends.
Once the ninja academy leader had made me understand that, showed me that in order to help Whirlpool I has to become a ninja, I was only too eager to join and soon form the idealised notion that it was the path to the saving of Whirlpool, and all our orphanage friends we still tried to convince that what we were doing was good. It was hard, though, for in those times being a Ninja in Whirlpool was not something people thought one should be proud of.
It was the title of failure.
But I would stick to it, as is my ninja way. I would become the strongest ninja in Whirlpool and put my hometown back together.
I chewed on the rice ball as I thought about our current mission. I didn't have much to say about it except;
It was wet.
It was cold.
And it was boring.
I was under the impression that other hidden villages did not deploy teams so soon, especially alone, and extra especially if they had been barely training for a year, but there we were, hidden in the outskirts if Whirlpool Village and trying to spot any attempts at infiltrations from Hidden Rock Village or as I liked to call them, those assholes on the other side of the mountains.
I finished off the onigiri, licking my fingers and smiling like a cat when in one instant the air tensed, Takeo gripping my arm so that I could feel his fingers digging in and; was that fear on my tongue?
And suddenly everything seemed much more serious.
Here we were, two ten year olds hiding in the trees, supposed to go undetected from ninjas trained by war. And we had spotted them, sneaking with the intent to kill our people, to bring us down, wipe us out. To eradicate us.
I found anger tasted so much better than fear.
From the corner of my eye I saw Takeo looking at me and I turned my eyes in his direction, keeping the men below us in sight.
'Lets go' he mouthed. I stared at him.
His eyes widened, and he began shaking his head, don't do it don't do it his looks spelled.
'They will kill us.'
I narrowed my eyes.
It wasn't like I was going to jump down screaming bloody murder and attempt a massacre. But if I could follow them back to their camp, find out something useful instead of simply acting like the canary in the cave, testing for poison, the at least this near suicide mission would make some sense.
We waited in apprehensive and excited tension respectively as the ninjas passed beneath us. My blood was lightning inside me, burning from the inside out as part of me urged to jump down and kill the strangers-(a limb for a limb)- whilst another side was repelled by the very idea. There must be another way.
Takeo and I had been specifically chosen for this mission because of our subtlety skills. True, it had been debatable whether I, who was at best loud and clumsy, was right for the job. I had however developed a way of hiding my chakra signature because of the excess of it I had. By charging it and then 'doubling it over' in a sense, I managed to neutralise it so that to anybody trying to find me by sensing my chakra I would be no more than a civilian.
Takeo, on the other hand, would never be able to do that because of his low levels of chakra, specialising more on concentrating it than spilling it like I did. But because of that same reason it would be hard to detect him for low levels of chakra could go unnoticed by tired or untrained sensors. Most ninjas were unable to sense unused chakra in any case so as long as we didn't do anything drastic...
I tapped Takeo on the shoulder and as he turned to look at me signalled for him to follow me. Before the fear in his eyes could get to me I jumped down and went the direction the Rock ninjas had come from. Takeo jumped after me, looking backwards into the shadows of the misty forest which creaked and rustled around us, where our enemies had dispersed to.
"Kushina, what are you doing!?" he hissed immediately, grabbing my arm. I turned to glare at him.
"We have to find the camp, Takeo, so that we at least have its location. Anything we can find out, be it ammunition or numbers or plans, would be worth the trouble," I left my arm in his hold, stepping closer to that be were brushing. Physical contact was something that had always come easy to me. He looked at me and I could feel his resolve faltering.
"Now we know that they are here, and we might as well follow the track they left, but I'm not good at that. Help me find and follow it, ok? We'll be quick and clean. Ok?" I asked again and he looked at me, clear grey almond-shaped eyes staring.
"This better be worth it. If something happens to you..." he growled in a whisper and I had to smile, grin, sigh a laugh because it felt so good to have someone.
"Let's go then."
We curled around the gloom and fog, slipping under bushes and over trees whilst our hearts thundered and our nerves screamed. We were scared every second; tense, alert, trying to sense oncoming danger so desperately we could barely think. And all the while Takeo followed their trail, peering and searching and kneeling and guessing. His hands were shaking and a bared my teeth to every scrap of moonlight that managed to creep through the foliage. For more than four hours we travelled, avoiding people and losing the track only to find it again, until our very bones were exhausted.
And then we reached their camp.
Once at the edge of it, we shot into the trees and thanked the powers of nature for the concealing smog that dampened our scent and sound. We shook and watched from our perch, feeling terror grow.
There were so many of them, no one who hasn't been in a war can comprehend the magnitude of the sight. Weapons, deadly looking a leering in the darkness, which I had never seen before. People deformed by contraptions on their bodies, moving awkwardly to and fro as other cloaked ninjas sat in groups or alone, tending to a need or other. Threats everywhere; in every graceful movement, in every word shared.
And then, the most terrifying of all where those normal looking ninjas. People who, if it hadn't been for the signature on their bands, could have been from Whirlpool.
People who were going to kill and be killed without a second thought.
I heard a tiny gasp from my side and looked rapidly, panic gripping me with such force that for a second I forgot how to breathe, but Takeo was in no danger. Instead, his face as he watched the ninjas that extended through the clearing as far as we could see was...indescribable. The mixture of retched feelings were scarred in his features like a curse, a terrible, ghastly premonition of defeat.
He turned to me and we looked at each other in despair, even as part of me fought it, even as it said; we can win this, we can do it, don't give up, don't, don't, don't...
Slowly he reached upwards and touched my lips, where the moisture ended.
It was always so easy to make me cry.
In the silence of the hidden camp we jumped down and ran into shadows.
Two desperate figures holding hands.
I sat down on the saggy stack of newspapers and looked around.
"It's been a while, huh?" I said to the empty room. The stains on the walls had gotten much worse, spreading to the floor where puddles sat eerily still in tints of green. Our old furniture, which had grown to be an actual table and chairs, a paper lamp and kitchen things, lay rotted on the ground, falling apart like useless memories. The smell wasn't awful though, just decaying wood and mould drifting through the holes on the rood, as well as the window I had to break to get inside.
But despite all the change, it was still that attic room Takeo and I had lived in all those years ago.
I grinned uselessly at the silence that greeted me, just the faint sound of seagulls and boat bells in the distance; a nostalgic sound, and I felt a deep sadness which reached into every memory and feeling and hope. I sat there for a very long time, just breathing the village in, remembering the things that had taken place in it, which was...everything.
How could I leave this behind? Whirlpool. My poor, dying home.
How could I abandon the only thing I had ever known?
My smile didn't drop though. I lifted my chin and peeked at the grey sky through a hole in the ceiling.
"I'm going to miss you," I said loudly, confidently. I tear shivered down my face.
We were going to some foreign village in Kami-knew-where (I hadn't been paying attention, too shocked to even pretend) called Konohagakure. Hidden village of the leaf, that meant. I imagine stone buildings with plants cracking the sides, made slick green with moss, the streets groggy with dead leaves. I imagined seas of trees and foam of dirt. The seagulls would perch on palm-trees. Millions of them.
And as beautiful as I made it, ugly Whirlpool was better.
But we had to leave. When Rock attacked they would let the civilians live if there were no ninjas. We are leaving for them, I thought, even as I felt sick with guilt.
Had I become a warrior only to flee when push came to shove?
I felt bile rise every time I thought about it, and I breathed hard, calming down my thinking about Takeo's calm, truthful, brave face.
It's better this way. He had said, and kissed me softly as I cried harder. It had been strange; he had never comforted me that way and I would never say the kiss didn't mean something for it meant everything it had to; security, trust, promise.
Another deep breath and I found myself calmer after the memory.
I sat quietly in the broken village and clenched my fists, trembling with fury. In one sudden movement I jumped up, out of the window, on the roof and screamed:
"I promise I'll come back for you! I'll come back, the strongest ninja of Whirlpool and save all of you! I promise and I always keep my promises!
It's my ninja way."
Pretty long for a prologue, I would say.
Started writing this story months ago...when it was revealed who Naruto's parents are (OO, we all went) and though it's not my usual style (which is normally heavy on romance, for fun) I'm loving this. I've written 50 pages and shall hopefully update regularly because of it though I warn you all now- I write incredibly slowly. But this, as I say, will hopefully be remedied by the head start.
I do like feedback and though I don't demand it, do keep in mind that they actually remind me I have this pending and should work on it. Heh.
For those interested to read further
The story will contain romance, the main pairing quite obviously being het , but keep in mind that Minato, unfortunately, dies. But there WILL be a bit of everything. Not necessarily with Kushina but when I say everything I do mean pretty much everything. And when Naruto shows up his pairing will be eventual yaoi.
I don't really recommend that if you don't like this you leave since the story won't centre on it and people should try and keep an open mind, but I want no negative comments about pairings, please, since it is a personal choice of mine and won't change my mind. :)
Also, this story will be in what I find a strange writing style, simply because I can't dedicate myself to jotting down all of Kushina's life in detail without resulting in a 500 page novel and bleeding fingertips! So one chapter can contain a single day/week or 5 years at one go. Especially since this was actually supposed to be a one-shot and turned out into this...monster.
Right, tell me what you think!
Also, A/Ns are not normally this long, don't worry!
Next chapter in Konoha! Whoo?