Chapter Two: Naruto's POV – Whispering Woods and Kitty Cats
My head feels like a thousand pieces of broken glass and when I finally get the strength together to open my eyes it's almost like I can actually see the pain. I feel a wave of nausea well up and it's a miracle I manage to roll over on to my side so that I don't choke on my own vomit. I retch for what feels like forever although my stomach is empty after the first minute or so.
It takes me a few more minutes before I'm ready to try and stand and it's times like this I'm thankful – grudgingly – that I've got the fox on my side. I don't know exactly where I am or how I got here, but I'm pretty most other people would have died back there in the water. The fox is powerful, I'll give him that, and he's not about to let me die if he can help it even though keeping me alive must have cost more chakra than even I can begin to imagine, hence the nausea. Knowing him he probably could have gotten rid of that too, but the bastard probably enjoyed watching me puke my guts out.
Now that I can stand it is time to work out where I am. And so I look around and I can't quite stop the shiver that runs down my spine at what I see. The first thing that I see is the sun. It's a dull, ugly brown, almost like I'm seeing the sky through a haze of dried blood. Judging from its position, it's a little past noon, but the sunshine doesn't feel the least bit warm on my skin. If anything, it feels… off, like the scales of a serpent brushing past. The beach that I'm on is little better. There's nothing but sand as far as I can see, matte black and vaguely unsettling, and the water near the shore moves with the sluggish consistency of clotting blood. And then there's the smell. I didn't notice it before because I was throwing up, but I notice it now. It's the smell of death and looking more closely at where the waves wash up onto the sand I can see why. All of the fish are dead, their scaled bodies limp, their eyes wide and glassy, slowly putrefying as the waves move them back and forth against the sand.
It doesn't take a genius to see that I can't stay here. It's too open and it's near the water and I know those things from the ship can swim and I'm not stupid enough to think myself in the clear just yet. So instead I turn from the ocean and make for the trees. The trees, I think, that seem every bit as wrong as the beach, the trees that move and sway and sigh even though the wind is little more than a whisper, a whisper that brings memories of fangs, and claws, and wild, slit-pupil eyes.
The mass of trees is dense and I can't help but feel a little bit dirty as I leap from branch to branch. There is a strangeness to the wood here, something I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps the wood is a little too soft, with too much give in it. It feels less like wood, I think, and more like flesh. The colours are wrong too, the browns are too brown and the greens are too green, and it's tempting to close my eyes, because looking at those colours hurts, as if they were never meant to be. But it's the quiet that unsettles me most, the utter stillness save for my own movement and the semi-somnolent whisper of the trees.
I pick through the trees at a fair pace, looking for higher ground. At the very least, I need to know if I'm on that island I spotted from the ship, and if I am, I need to know just how big it is. But it's hard. The trees might be tall, but the higher up I go, the denser, more tangled the branches become. The voices get louder too, and by the time I reach the canopy, the forest isn't whispering anymore, it's screaming. I try, just once to cut my way through the canopy and after that I decided that maybe walking on the ground is better. There is something chilling about hearing a tree weep with each blow of the kunai, something soul numbing about seeing a tree bleed, thick rivulets of black-red blood welling up from each chip in the wood, the blood coming in spurts in time to the beating of my frantic heart.
It's hours before I hear something other than the trees. It starts with a sound not unlike dripping water.
The sound is so soft, so subtle, that I can barely hear it. In fact, I'm not sure if I can really hear it at all. And all around me the trees continue to whisper, although there's something different to their whispers now, an undercurrent of hate and fear.
The sound is louder now, not a drip anymore, but a pulse, the beating of some inhuman heart. It's like thunder in my ears and I realise, for the first time, that the trees have fallen silent, that their branches have fallen still, and the only sounds that aren't in my head are my own ragged gasps. Before I know it, I'm running, my hands clapped over my ears, screaming inside my head but the sound is still there and it seems to come from every direction all at once.
And then it stops. Just… stops. When I finally stop running I can see sand again. It's matte black sand and the water is just like I remember it, a thick, viscous ooze heavy with the corpses of rotting dead fish. For one insane moment I wonder if I've just gone in a complete circle, but then I realise that the shoreline is different, that there are rocks, jagged and black, like fragments of the night sky tossed to earth, littering the sand. Wherever I am, it is somewhere other than where I began and that at least, is a start. But then I freeze, because something is coming out of the water.
It's one of those creatures from before and a sense of horror, so great that it's all I can do not to cry out, washes over me. It is one thing for such monsters to emerge at night, when the waning light of the moon can only hint at the madness of their form, when the darkness is still deep enough to hide what the world should never see. It is quite another thing to see them in the full light of day, to see those eyes and claws, and teeth shimmer with tenebrous menace beneath a blood red sun, to see the roiling mass of twisted black flesh heaving like some vast ocean of impossible corruption.
The creature's body opens up – a closet of mangled bone and jagged teeth – and one of the people from the ship drops out. Too horrified to move, I can only watch as the creature runs its claws over the woman's body, touching, probing, and testing. It is checking, I realise, to see if she's alive. I can only hope, for her sake, that she is not. Unfortunately, she is. The woman stirs, wakes, and screams. Or tries to. I see her mouth open and close in a single convulsive moment of absolute terror but no sound comes out. The creature looks at her, its enormous bulk shifting from side to side, its claws digging lightly into the sand. Finally she screams, a long, shrieking wail, before the creature opens up again, it's insides dripping with sharpness and shadows, and then she is gone. But her scream lingers, echoing past the beach and into the forest behind me.
At last I can move and the first thought in my head is to run. But there is only one of those things and I know they can be killed. If that woman is still alive… So I force myself to turn and look at the creature straight on. If I cannot even look at it there is no way that I can kill it. For several long moments, I stand there, hidden in the trees that line the beach, as my inside twist and the nausea and horror well up like the vile waves against the shore. At last, I feel the beginnings of control return. I need to move now, before commonsense and cowardice get the better of me.
But then the waters part and there are more of those things. One by one they emerge from the miasma of putrid water and dead fish. My mind whirls at the cavalcade of misshapen flesh, of shapes that no normal creature could ever have, and that no sane world would ever suffer to exist. It is too much and there are too many of them. So I run, and run, and run as deep as I can back into the forest. I hear the screams as I go and try not to think about why they might need those people alive.
It's hours before I stop running, and by then it's nearly sunset. The hissing sigh of the trees and the shifting movements of their branches are still unsettling, but they are preferable by far to the things I'd seen at the beach. I need to find something to eat – though if there's anything safe to eat in this damned place, I can't be sure – and a place to hide for the night as well.
The sound is back again.
I swallow and slowly, quietly, reach for a kunai. Then I move, stalking quickly through the forest as the pulsing throb that only I can hear grows louder in my head. They're close, it seems to say, so close. The trees are wailing now, shrieking and laughing, and jerking about like puppets without strings. And then, through the coming darkness of dusk and the shuddering trees, I see it, clear as day.
A flash of white.
I break into a run.
Another flash of white.
Fire hot enough to fuse sand into glass and then some.
I explode into the clearing and there she is, the ninja from before. She is magnificent. There's blood all over her shirt and an ugly gash along one leg, and her eyes, slightly slanted, I realise now that I'm a bit closer, are a shade so dark that I can't tell if they're onyx or simply a blue, or green, or purple so dark that they might as well be black. But it's the look in her eyes that catches my attention. They are shining like twin ebony stars, filled with a mix of fury, hatred, and raw defiance that stirs something inside me – inside the fox – that is five parts blood lust and five parts pure admiration. There are five of the creatures around her, and the bloodied remains of what look like three or four more scattered around the clearing. There is fire everywhere, on the ground, on the trees, in the air, and I know that it won't be long before more of those creatures show up. My mind is made up even before I know it. She's a ninja and strong, to boot, so this is actually a battle that we can win. I might be strong, but I'm arrogant enough to believe that an extra pair of hands won't help later on. Besides, it's not like I have to hold back now. It's easier too, to fight these things when you can't see them so well. Your eyes don't see enough to be truly afraid, your mind doesn't have information to realise that what you're fighting against shouldn't even exist in the first place.
My attack hits one of the creatures with a howl. The winds lift the creature up off the ground and throw it backwards, the sheer force of the blast driving it through tree after tree, a thick cloud of dust rising in its wake. The other creatures look up, startled, and it's all the invitation that she needs.
Her hands flash through some seals. "Raiton: Jibashi."
The thought comes crazy, as it is at a time like this, that I like her voice. It's a woman's voice, not a girl's, not quiet, but not loud either, more like self-assured.
A stream of lightning crackles from her fingertips and one of the creature's lights up, its whole body wreathed in electricity. The acrid scent of ozone fills the air, along with some other, subtler yet infinitely more horrific smell: it's a mix of sulphur and ash, of old blood and tar. Whatever these things are made of, it's isn't normal.
The remaining three split: two of them on me, one of them on her. I give ground, letting one claw pass harmlessly over my head as the creatures lunge forward together. Their teamwork nearly takes me by surprise. They are big and they are fast, but their claws and teeth make them look awkward, and it seems inconceivable that these two clumps of unearthly wrongness might actually be able to work together. But they do. One of them becomes a storm of teeth, trying to pin me down beneath its bulk, dozens of mouths biting and slavering with putrid ichor. The other tries to get behind me, its eyes rolling wildly as its claws swipe at the air just shy of my neck.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu."
The words slip from my mouth on instinct as I summon three clones. Any more would be pointless. These things are so close that they'd only get in the way. Two of my clones turn to grapple with the creature behind me, the other joins me in attacking the one in front of me.
My shadow clone leaps straight at the creature, throwing shuriken all the way. They don't do much, but they catch the creature's eye. Whatever these things are, they can't tell shadow clones apart from the original and that brings me no small measure of relief.
"Fuuton: Juha Reppu Sho!"
My right hand lashes out as the chakra I've poured into the technique takes solid form. A huge spectral claw, fox-like and tinged scarlet, lashes out to grab the creature. There is a hiss like hot iron plunged into cold water, as the chakra-laden wind bites into the creature's flesh. For a moment I regret my choice of technique. The claw is more than just a projection of my hand, there's feedback too, and the creature's flesh feels like thousands of maggots crammed together. I squeeze and hear the snap of countless bones as the ghostly claw mimics the action and crushes the creature in its grip. I toss the mangled carcass aside and turn to face the last of the creatures attacking me.
The claw fades – it takes far too much chakra to use for more than a moment – so I switch to exploding tags instead. My clones converge on the creature and its limbs become a storm of striking talons and claws. One of the clones is dispelled instantly, and the other two don't last much longer. But they serve their purpose. Two explosive tags, attached to kunai, bite into the creature's flesh and by the time the explosion clears, there really isn't all that much left behind.
And then there's just the two of us. For a moment the woman says nothing, merely contemplates me with those slanted eyes of hers as she uses some bandages to dress the wound on her leg. We need to go now before more of those things get here but she won't say a word and I can't help but notice the guarded look that's crept onto her face. She's measuring me up, I realise with shock. She can't seriously be thinking of fighting me, can she?
At last she speaks. "Why did you help me?"
"Because you were the only one I could help."
Her eyes narrow and I think for a moment that she might be angry, but then she speaks again, and her voice is soft and filled with something that might be regret or maybe shame. "There were others… other people, I mean… but I couldn't help them. There were too many of… of those things." Her eyes flick to the ruined carcass of the creature at her feet. "So I ran."
"I know." The words hurt for me to say, but I need to say them every bit as much she needs to hear them. "So did I."
She chuckles and if there's an edge of hysteria to it, neither of us choose to say anything. "What's your name?"
I think about giving a false name, but at this point, what does it matter? "Naruto Uzumaki." I pause before adding, "We should probably stick together. We've got a better chance that way."
She stiffens but nods and then moves past me into the forest. "Well then, come on. We need to get out of here."
"Wait!" I shout even as I follow her into the forest, away from the clearing, wondering at how easily she agreed and if maybe it's a trap. "What's your name?"
A rueful grin is on her face when she turns to answer. "Yugito Nii."
Ah, so that's how it is. Her cooperation makes more sense now. After all, us jinchuriki need to stick together.
X X X X
Standard Disclaimer: I neither own Naruto, nor am I making a dime off of this.
Okay… so that was chapter two. By now, I think, the influence of Lovecraft is becoming a bit more apparent. Certainly, there were elements to the forest and the beach that I feel fit well with the sort of imagery that he employs (to say nothing of the creatures), imagery that I think fits quite well with the Naruto universe, especially if you take a darker view of Naruto. That said, as you can see I don't quite agree with Lovecraft's view (or rather the position that he often puts forward in his stories) that humans can do nothing more than cower in the face of unspeakable horror. Naruto was never one for cowering, but he's not a complete idiot either. He knows that there are times when you should just run. What remains to be seen, however, is just how effective any action he takes will be.
For those of you wondering about Sailor Moon: Requiem, don't worry I'm still working on it. I have a chapter in the works, but it's tricky and I want to make sure that I get things right.
As always, keep in touch. I appreciate your feedback and look forward to your reviews.
A note about jutsus – I watched the anime in Japanese (with subs, of course) and read the manga through scanlations. As such I've gotten used to seeing jutsu names in Japanese. Keeping the jutsu names in Japanese also seems to be the standard in Naruto fanfiction, so I've decided to do likewise. That said, here are the jutsus in English (translations from the Naruto wikia):
Fuuton: Daitoppa – Wind Release: Great Breakthrough
Raiton Jibashi – Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder
Kage Bunshin no Jutsu – Shadow Clone Technique
Fuuton: Juha Reppu Sho – Wind Release: Beast Wave Violet Wind Palm