A Stranger's Tale in a Stranger Land
Disclaimer: I don't own either Claymore or Naruto, and no, I'm not telling you who do. Wiki it.
Summary: After faking her own death, Quicksword Irene sought escape from her world, and set sail for another...
Even though the captain had announced that land had been sighted over an hour ago, the ship continued pitching back and forth, like an ornery horse that wasn't used to the saddle. And Irene for one was sick of it. Of course, she was in no condition to complain, considering that she was lucky to have just this. And 'this' consisted of the cargo hold of the merchantman Snarling Whale. Its rat-infested, dark, and miasmic interior had been her home for the months long voyage across the great ocean. To the outside observer, she projected a sense of elegant indifference to her environment. But in her heart, she was sick of it.
Still, she had to admit, the prize was worth the price. Since the New World had been discovered less than two decades ago by explorers, voyages were still sporadic and limited. Only the bold and adventurous, who saw nothing but gold and treasure as they sailed their ships on missions of trade or plunder dared to make the perilous journey across the ocean that had never been put into navigational charts.
Well, and people like her.
People like her for one reason or another didn't fit into society and had no choice but to flee, as far as possible on pain of death. Once, she had been a powerful warrior of a special breed of warriors, all of them women who were once little girls with no place in society. Some were orphans. Others were foundlings. And for every one of them, one day a man dressed in black and come and claimed them, luring them with promises of power, promises of vengeance, to fight against the great enemy of all humanity.
The training was brutal, but the men in black cared not. They culled the weak and harvested the strong, assured that there was an infinite, cheap supply of female outcasts that society had no use for, except for what they were being trained for. They were to be humanity's saviors and the Organization's assets. To ordinary people, they were silver-eyed witches, their identity tied to the massive blades they wielded. Claymores.
And how ironic that the power of Claymores sprouted from the very enemies they were trained to kill. She, like every other warrior, derived her power from a lump of foul demon. It made them stronger. It made them faster. It made them youthful forever. It gave them the power those men promised. And it severed their link to humanity. With it, humanity's gratitude to its saviors was always lukewarm.
And now, she dared to leave such a life, a capital crime according to the rules of the organization. Once they enveloped their claws around a young girl, they squeezed until all the juice was out. Most Claymores died in combat, battling demons that preyed on the helpless. Others…
Thinking of those other fates made her twitch her face, in a way that the foul stench of this cargo hold could not. So, faced with the prospect of a life she did not want to continue, she had faked her own death and sought to flee elsewhere. And the place this ship was sailing towards was the farthest place from the world she knew.
She had no idea what kind of world was waiting to greet her on the approaching shore. Tales from drunken sailors flowed and circulated through the masses eager for news, filling their heads with stories of natives with magic that cures the sick and destroys entire cities. Of giant animals that lived, waiting to feast upon human flesh. And of gold, yes, lots and lots of gold. Gold and silver and gems all so common, they were as precious as rocks on a shore. In short, she knew nothing. But that didn't stop her.
As she sat contemplating the circumstances that carried her to this point, the Snarling Whale sailed into port. Its design unmistakably foreign to any watcher as she docked in this land that the natives called Wave Country. In the hold, Irene noted the creaking of wood, and the bright lance of light that shone down, a sight that she had quickly learned to treasure as the voyage went on. Calmly, she stood up, picking up a satchel of her meager belonging. She wore a simple traveler's hooded cloak. Underneath it, she wore a brown armless leather tunic. A layer of bandages covered the stump where her left arm had been. Dark pants and sturdy boots completed her outfit. The massive sword that characterized those like her she kept wrapped in cloth and strapped on her back. Its awkward shape jutted out from underneath the cloak. Idly, she wondered if she should have disposed of the blade. Although its weight was of no consequence for her, a smaller and lighter blade would have been better. But in a moment of weakness, sentimentality had triumphed over reason and she had decided to take it with her.
A last piece of home? She wondered. Home was across thousands of leagues of ocean now, and she did not miss it. Still, she supposed that the familiar weight of it felt comfortable and made her feel safe from whatever dangers awaited her. The timbers of the hold creaked as she walked towards the light and up the steps onto the deck of the merchantman. The bright sunlight momentarily forced her to narrow her eyes into slits; such was its intensity for her eyes after living in darkness for so long. She smelled the tang of saltwater and heard the cries of seagulls. The air tasted so fresh. But this was no time to be relaxing as the captain of the ship came marching up to her.
He was a big and beefy looking fellow. So were his two friends behind him armed with cutlasses. He mentioned something or another about payment, but she wasn't sure. She just wanted to tune everything out and keep absorbing the atmosphere. Awkwardly with her teeth and right arm, she reached into the satchel and held the purse that contained the second half of the money she had promised for smuggling her across the ocean. She let so and the weight landed with a cheerful jingle in the captain's waiting hand. He grinned in avarice and started counting the money right on the spot. But Irene paid him no mind. She waited in silence until the man was satisfied. And it looked like he was. The bow he gave her as she walked to the rope ladder that would carry her down was polite enough. The solid swat across her backside and the leer was anything but. Nonetheless, she climbed down without a second glance.
The port city in front of her looked familiar yet different. There was no doubt that this was a port city. Other ships were docked here at the harbor. Some of them were as large as the merchantman. Workers hauled barrels and crates to and from those ships as busy as a line of ants. There were shops and stalls everywhere along the wharf, displaying everything from trinkets to live animal performances with monkeys and mice jumping through hoops with a live lion caged in the back. She walked along the dock. The people here looked different. Most of them had black hair and slit eyes and generally stood shorter than she was. Some of them turned to look at her, her exotic features standing out. A couple of them whispered amongst themselves. She had no idea what they were talking about, but the term 'gai-jin' seemed to be on everyone's lips. Irene supposed that would be the first order of business. She had to learn the language from somebody. And this port was a good place to start looking for tutors. It was one of the regular places where trade took place. Now where do I find a merchant or seaman who with knowledge of their language…
No sooner had she finished that thought when she felt herself flying through the air. There was nothing but a flash of light to her left and suddenly she found herself landing with a thud that made her wince. As she laid on the ground, men and women scrambled around like headless chicken. Dumbly, she realized that she couldn't hear anything. The last thing she remembered hearing was the loud boom before her rude flight. Suddenly, she realized another thing. Her cloak was burning. But before she could get up, she saw a pair of feet approaching her and someone yank the cloak off of her. Whoever it was, he was vigorously stamping out the flames with his sandaled feet. She looked up and saw a man with unruly red hair. He wore the black pants and long-sleeved tunic that she had seen were common with people here, but this man didn't look like one of them. As there eyes met, she saw the shock of recognition and later the look of revulsion and fear.
No, definitely not a native. He knows exactly what I am.
Whistling as he went, Griffith walked without a care in the world. He had walked down the same road a hundred times before and the way his life was going, he would probably grow old and die in this town. Today the sky was cloudless and the sun beat down warmly while the sea breeze blew against him. Yes, it was a good day for catching fish. Ahead he could see the docks and the boatyard, where the small fishing boat he owned was docked. The little boat was the most precious thing he owned, it being the only thing that fed him. He supposed that once upon a time, he would have been disappointed with this time. Yes, he had been much more adventurous, and would never have tolerated the meager existence he had now. But ironically, it had been that adventurousness that led to his life today.
To his mild surprise, everything was not the same it had been yesterday. A ship was docking; its shape, its lines, everything about it screaming its foreign origin. It was no surprise that ships from his side of the world did occasionally sail here. Why, they might even be carrying young men, all ready to escape the boring monotony of their lives and bet on the sea, like he had been. Staring at the unbroken hull and the intact sails, a touch of bitterness came over him.
His life had been bound to the sea since he was thirteen, starving and running from the demons of his past, when he had stowed away on a ship like that one. Over the years, the filthy boy grew into a sailor. When the ship had set sail for the New World, he had been all for it, only seeing the rumors of wealth beyond imagining and nothing else. The crew soon found their enthusiasm curbed as the untrustworthiness of the sea charts was exposed as their ship found itself beset by storms where there were none mentioned. And the ship had arrived at its destination, battered beyond repair, half the crew dead, and the rest of them destitute and stranded in a foreign land.
Considering everything that had happened, he supposed things could have been worse. An old woman he passed gave him a dirty look. Yes, much worse. He stood out in this place, not because he was from another land, but because of what he done here in this land. He had been one of the more fortunate survivors of that ill-fated expedition. Griffith had walked around in rags along the coast begging with hand signs for food. In time, he had learned how to speak the local language. And it was then that he came to be in service of the business mogul Gatou. Gatou needed henchmen who weren't squeamish about breaking heads and Griffith needed to eat. And everything had worked out, until Gatou died. When that happened, he was out of a job again. And now, he lived here, amongst unforgiving people who remembered who he had worked for, too poor and unsure about prospects elsewhere to move.
As he reminisced, Griffith noticed a man walking through the crowd towards him. He waved. "Ah, good morning, Griffith-san."
"Good morning, Saito-san." He answered. Saito was the wealthiest of the merchants in town. Griffith had a good idea what he wanted. "I assume you wanted to talk about the ship that just docked?"
"Exactly. The ship is carrying a load of goods that are of interest to me." Saito said as they walked together. "I need you as an interpreter with me at the meeting with her captain. I'll pay the usual fee. What do you say?"
"All right, I'll do it." Griffith responded. He did this sort of thing as a side job, since travel across the ocean was so infrequent. But when opportunity came knocking… Well, it beats fishing. "I'll be down at the docks when you need me."
"Ah, excellent!" Saito said cheerfully. "I'm meet you them this afternoon. Until then, goodbye." With one last wave, he walked off, leaving Griffith who whose spirits were much lifted at the prospects of more cash in his pockets. He walked with a slight smile as the ship in front of him got bigger and bigger until he could see the individual sailors as they hauled crates and barrels out of the ship. And since he was in such a good mood, he even fantasized about stowing away on this ship, and going back home. Home…
And as if struck by lightning, his mind violently pushed that fantasy away. No, home was here now. Everything he had cared about was dead. There was nothing back home for him. There was-
Suddenly, a roar that sounded like the end of the world assaulted his ears. His body jerked by instinct, startled. It took him a moment to overcome the panic and assess the situation. In front of him, one of the ships docked was nothing but a flaming wreck now. A thick cloud of smoke rose into the sky. He wondered what could have caused the explosion. Could it have been an accident? Could the ship had been carrying oil or gunpowder?
From his position, Griffith could see sailors from the ships next to the wrecks passing buckets of waters, putting out the fires that dangerously blew closer to their vessels. Meanwhile, people who had been closer to the explosion were either picking themselves off the ground with difficulty or not moving at all. Along with many others, Griffith charged forward to help. The closest person that he saw who was in need of help was lying down on the ground, unmoving, clearly thrown backwards by the blast. To make matters worse, the cloak he or she wore was on fire. He scrambled forward furiously and ripped the burning cloak off before stamping it repeatedly with his feet. As the last of the flames were put out, he finally set his eyes on the one whom he just saved. It took him less than a second to realize that the person was a woman. It took him another second to realize that the woman lacked a left arm. But before he could begin to ask if she was all right, he noticed the pale, almost colorless hair, and the silver eyes.
And compassion turned to hatred.
She walked through the crowd with trained grace. The people going about their work paid no attention to the slight cloaked figure moving amongst them. As the explosion thundered in the distance, the crowd reacted as they should have. They panicked, they rallied, or they just kept gawking. She did none of these things. Quickly slipping into an empty alley, she abandoned her previously walking pace and rushed forward, navigating the alleys with the speed of someone who knew her way. Indeed, the location of the safehouse, and the way to get there the fastest, were in no ways secret to her.
She knew exactly what that explosion had been. After all, she was the cause of it. As she made a sharp right turn in her sprint, she thanked the incompetence of her would be murderers for screwing up the timing on whatever trap they set on the ship that had brought her here.
Now, she had a delivery to make.
With one last look behind her to check for any tails, she knocked the backdoor in the way that the code specified. A muffled voice answered her.
"It's open." She turned the doorknob cautiously and stepped inside. The room was dark and full of boxes in every corner, obviously a storeroom of some kind. In front of her was an old man of average height, overweight, and smiling friendly at her. She didn't buy it for a second, for she knew that the man in front of her was no ordinary shopkeeper. She closed the door.
"Well?" The man asked. She reached and pulled the scroll out of her cloak.
"Here." She tossed it at him, who deftly caught it. Opening the scroll and scanning the contents, his smile widened.
"Very good." His head nodded up and down. "Yes, very good. So, this is it. The infamous Fushi Tensei, Orochimaru's immortality jutsu. You've done well."
"I've also got half of the Sound Village out looking for me." She said without a moment of self-congratulation. "That explosion in the harbor? That was them. I've done my share. It's your turn now."
"I understand." The man sealed the scroll and tucked it into a travel bag. "Well, it's time for me to take a vacation to Water Country, and back to our masters in the Mist Village, don't you think?"
"You've better go now. There wasn't anyone following me when I came in."
"All right. I'll be going now. Behind the boxes to your right, there's a hidden entrance to a tunnel that will take you out of town. Just release the seal and the fuuinjutsu will fall." The man started walking away, but then stopped and turned around. "Just curious, what's your name?"
"It's Mikuru." She automatically told him the codename given to her for this mission. "Why?"
"Oh nothing," He said with a leer. "Always good to know who one's friends are."
Worst pick-up line, ever. "Just get moving, old man." Mikuru told him coldly. "And I don't want to know who you are, 'friend'".
"Well, fair enough." He conceded and left, leaving her in the storage room by herself. It took a while to find a candle amongst all the other things and move the boxes out of the way. When she did, she undid the seal around the wall as the old man had said, and the wall shimmered, revealing the tunnel that had been promised. She stepped inside, with only the candle for dim illumination.
Mice scurried out of her way as she batted spiders' webs out of her way. Idly, she wondered just how extensive her village's connections were in this backwater part of the world. A tunnel like this would have helped a lot on her last mission…
It took her over an hour walking through the tunnel to reach the end, where there was a dead end and a ladder. Putting down the sputtering candle, she gripped the rungs and climbed up. Then, pulling down the rope that opened a trapdoor, she ascended back to the surface. The tunnel did indeed lead her out of the town. Looking around, Mikuru could only see wilderness around her. She quickly jumped and climbed up a tree to get a better view from above. Seeing the road leading south not far away, she smiled. Perfect. Just the way I want to go.
If that old man were here, he'd no doubt ask why she wasn't heading back to the village. And then, Mikuru would have had to kill him. After all, some secrets were more secret than others. Like the second, duplicate scroll she kept on her. Like the buyer she found willing to pay big money for such a juicy secret. Like her retirement plans…
A scream in the distance brought her back to reality. Whipping her head in its general direction, Mikuru could spot several people gathered together ahead of her on the road. Cautiously, she silently jumped from tree to tree to get a closer look. As she approached, she thought she could make out one of the figures.
Oh no…Not him…
But it was just who she hoped it was not. The pale skin and long black hair, both belonging to Orochimaru himself. And even worse for her was the corpse he was standing over. She could tell at a glance what had happened here. That stupid idiot of a courier got himself intercepted by one of the scariest man in the world. Mikuru could see her future disappearing has she saw Orochimaru address the men around him. At his command, they jumped away and spread themselves out around the forest. She was trapped. Maybe they thought that they had gotten lucky with the bomb on the ship. Well, now they knew that someone gave that man the scroll and that certain someone happened to be her.
Shit! I can't believe this. She swore and thought frantically. Getting out through the forest was not practical. That was what she allowed herself to think anyway. Deep in her mind, behind her pride, she saw Orochimaru and couldn't help but turn away. Getting out by road in a disguise was also obviously not an option. For stealing his most precious secret, Mikuru had no doubt that Orochimaru would kill every person, burn every wagon, crate, or box coming out of the town just on the off chance of killing her.
No, the only way was backwards. The only exit left was through the port. If these bastards didn't have radios, it's unlikely that that their pals who tried to blow her up back on the docks knew she was still alive. Even if they did, she'd take her chances with them. Stealthily, she moved backwards until she reached the mouth of the tunnel again. Going back inside, she moved a lot faster through the tunnel than the first time. She figured it was only a matter of time before they asked around and found the little shop that was actually a safehouse. Then, they'd tear it apart and she didn't plan to be there when it happened.
This is the worst day of my life.
To be Continued...