Chapter VIII: "Side With the Seeds"
"Humans have a knack for choosing precisely the things that are worst for them."- J. K. Rowling
He was raping again.
Ironically it had actually started with "just one" but that didn't last long. Hell, the poor girl screamed longer than his resolve held out. For sure, three days later, he was at it again.
And again, and again, and again.
Now he was on number only-God-knows and it wasn't even about the sex anymore. Not about the power, or even hurting someone weaker.
Those pleasures had most certainly come and gone. They just left him hollow and empty, even hating himself had become too much of an effort.
No, Gatou's regime had been quite good for the bad. As dictatorships often were.
No, this was just about taking what he wanted.
Shit, when you're balls deep in another pretty little thing—that's all they were now, one big sobbing blur of hurt—just because you can?
By then it's just about seeing how far you can push it before it all catches up to you.
Hell was Hell, so you might as well earn your place among the upper echelons, right?
The best of the worst, for sure.
She sobbed once more, broken, hopeless, and lost and he thought he felt something move in him at the sight of her scrunched-up-from-the-pain eyes as they leaked a fresh stream of big fat salty tears.
He dismissed it as a random thought.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Instead, he just kept moving inside of her.
What the fuck else was there to do, right?
He'd already tried hurting them. Beating them till their soft skin turned purple and cracked with blood, leaving them heaped masses of unmoving broken for him to push into.
Not for him, apparently. All that blood—the smell—he killed that one so no one would ever know he had his first "can't-get-it-up" moment.
Not like she'd be missed, he had a knack for picking the ones perfectly poised to vanish without a trace.
Being nice? That's what he tried first. All the goddamn nice in the world didn't shut her up– didn't stop that incessant begging. Not money, not kind words, not empty promises; nothing was ever enough.
That's when he figured out the best insurance is a knife to the neck. That usually gets them to shut the fuck up. But you can't press too hard; you'll make a mess and find out just how much blood is in a girl's body. Despite the periods, there's still quite a bit.
He had pushed the blade too hard with the first one.
She left this world just as he shot some life into her.
He thought it was almost poetic at the time. But even that lost its fun after a short while. In the end it came back to Gatou– men weren't meant to have all their desires fulfilled. But with his considerable financial backing, the businessman could provide. Whatever your deranged, fucked-up mind could dream, his checkbook could buy.
So long as you were comfortable selling your soul to the devil made flesh.
After Kaiza's execution it became about staying alive.
Fuck this village and being its sheriff.
Fuck old man Tazuna's bridge.
Fuck the innocent, they were lost anyway.
Fuck starving like the rest of them.
An eternity in Hell later seemed small in comparison to being strung up on a stick, having your arms ripped off, and being left to bleed to death like some fucking scarecrow.
Might as well live it up for a bit as a pig in shit before his date at the slaughterhouse finally rolled up.
So here he was, plunging into girl number I-don't-even-give-a-fuck-anymore while she cried quietly, each tear begging him to stop.
To stop hurting her.
To please let her go.
Please let her live.
Fuck, he was getting close…
She'd do anything.
Give him anything he wants.
She'd stopped crying.
He was almost there…
She just wanted it all to end.
To go away, disappear into a world where the two of them didn't exist.
Please, just kill her now…
He felt it penetrate him.
The intruding blade was burning like fire as it penetrated his ribs, scraping against the bone.
Grasping the handle was a hand clenched tight while another fisted his hair, drawing his head back.
"You sick fucking pig," a voice hissed as the kunai twisted, digging deeper, and causing him to cry out in pain. "How do you like it…?"
There was a terrible pain as the blade was withdrawn before being plummeted back into him, this time in the soft flesh of his gut. His vision was getting blurry as he glanced down at the naked girl below him. Suddenly, his attacker simultaneously threw him over the side of the bed while dragging the knife through his belly in the opposite direction.
He landed on his back and saw a mass of pink hair that somehow seemed further away than possible before a sandaled foot kicked across his face, breaking his nose.
Blood gushed from his nose and crept up his throat while one of his hands moved to tuck a loop of intestine back into the gaping wound the assassin had carved into him. The black-clad girl snapped her foot out, kicking the offending hand away and allowing his innards to slide out in a warm mess.
He didn't feel it anymore, he was already dead, he just hadn't caught up with the fact.
He was pretty much just a lingering collection of fading thoughts, slipping into the blackness on a river of his own life's blood.
There was anticipation, for the orgasm that never came.
Regret, this is how his wife would find out.
Ending, he was at the cessation of life, the precipice of death.
Empty, his life had never known fulfillment before it was drowned in Gatou's wallowing excess.
He finally left this world, knowing true hate from a stranger that witnessed first-hand what he was: a monster living in the shadows and hiding under little girls' beds.
Takehiko Daiki died in a pool of his own blood, with a withering erection, in a manner befitting a pig signed up for slaughter.
Sakura watched the man take his last few labored breaths as loathing like she'd never known before permeated her entire being.
When she found the hidden entrance to the station's secret basement, her stomach had filled with dread.
The screams she heard emanating from the hidden room gripped her insides like a vice and twisted mercilessly.
But…this… she hadn't expected to find this.
To just walk in on it.
The room was well stocked.
Plenty of bleach, it smelled too clean.
Lots of rope, it sat coiled in the far corner.
Tape, rolls of it thrown haphazardly in a stack near the foot of the bed.
There was even a fucking ball gag laying on the desk–
"What the fuck," she snarled in disgust, turning her bloodstained face around the man's secret rape-room.
The blood on Sakura's face was still warm, somehow it felt still alive. She shook her head and rubbed a hand over her face, smearing off most of the residue and leaving a caking smudge in exchange.
She ought to have put up her mask, but the damn thing was so goddamn scratchy. Sakura would never understand how Kakashi managed.
There was a broken sob. "Oh, God..."
Sakura felt herself die inside but was kneeling in front of the girl in an instant regardless, swallowing the last dying seconds of her childhood. "What's your name...?" she whispered softly, trying to get the girl to look her in the eyes.
"Airi..." she choked out, breaking out in fresh peals of sobbing hiccups.
"Airi-chan..." Sakura whispered, pulling the shaking girl closer. "I am so, so very sorry— I can't even describe, words... I..." the kunoichi was at a complete loss for what to say. What words could encompass such a situation? The Genin held Airi at arm's length and looked her in the eye. "He will never hurt anyone ever again. Not ever. I promise–"
"—h-how am I going to tell my parents," the girl wailed.
"You've done nothing wrong, Airi, it was–"
"Oh, G-God," Airi hiccuped wetly, "he w-worked for Gatou..."
"He won't find you, I swear–"
"We're gonna die!" she practically howled, eyes wide and streaming with tears. "That was the head of Gatou's entire police force! They'll find out we were here! You didn't see that poor man Gatou had killed by the docks, he–"
"Airi!" Sakura interrupted harshly, giving the girl a rough shake and forcing her to look the kunoichi in the eye. "I know, but that's over. We're here to stop all that. I'll clean up here and help clean you up and get you home safely," the kunoichi told the frightened girl. "No one will know you were here, I promise."
"H-He... it hurt so m-much– he hit me," the girl was dissolving into a babbling wreck and Sakura was starting to get nervous, "I saw the rope and b-bags..."
They didn't teach this lesson in the Academy. Sakura felt as if she might have just stumbled upon the Ninja World's dirty little secret. From the age of five children are trained in the shinobi arts. It is the kind of career that literally takes a lifetime to master. It is a craft that must be honed and the teachers waste no time in instructing their students, building them up, in anticipation of that singular, oppressively looming moment that everyone already knew was coming.
Your first kill.
That first moment where a shinobi would claim a life for his or her village, it was the thing that could end many careers. Not everyone could sacrifice their heart for the sake of duty. That's why everyone's taught to have a cause, given something to fight for. That's why they have "The Will of Fire." Sakura just so happened to believe that such a thing was open to interpretation. She would protect her mother and find justice for her father, by proxy that meant she'd help protect the village in order to be trained in the abilities necessary to accomplish those things.
Every shinobi has his or her reasons, from power to family, for serving their village by dedicating their lives to killing.
Killing, you were trained and taught to kill. Every lesson learned could be traced back to making the student a more efficient killer.
"It'll be okay, I promise, Airi."
In all those years of preparation, sweat, work, and study, no one had ever said a single thing about saving people.
Apart from a brief unit on medic-nins and basic methods of treating minor field wounds, no one had ever instructed Sakura on how to save a life– how to try and salvage the remains of a broken person that couldn't be disinfected or bandaged.
"T-Thank you for s-saving me, kunoichi-sama..."
"It will be alright, Airi. I promise," Sakura reaffirmed before rising and beginning to unfurl a scroll she had on her person.
The Genin placed it near the rapist's body and clumsily rolled the corpse on top of it. Sakura made a seal and the body disappeared in a poof of smoke, a pool of cooling blood the only evidence of Sheriff Takehiko's existence.
Except for the never-ending supply of rape kit tools scattered about the man's basement. Sakura would leave those as symbolic testament to the man's true nature. His body could be trussed with the rest of his cohorts in the village square. Perhaps the girl could carve "pig-fucking rapist" into his skin to better convey the message...
Sakura felt a tug at her hip and she whipped around to find Airi holding one of her kunai.
"Tell my family he killed me, please–"
"No–!" Sakura shouted, diving at the girl just as an inkwell of crimson life blood erupted from Airi's neck and she fell over onto the ground.
The kunoichi caught the falling girl and laid her down gently. Airi was growing pale and shaking. Sakura held a hand to her neck in a pointless attempt to slow the bleeding while she fumbled for what meager first-aid supplies she had on her person.
"Hang on, it'll be okay," Sakura insisted frantically as she tried to remember how to bandage a wound.
How the fuck was she supposed to do this? This was the part of the book where someone used the shousen jutsu to start repairing the damaged tissues.
Airi was gurgling weakly now, her blood easily staining through Sakura's bandages.
"Stay with me, sweetie," the kunoichi practically begged while she searched her person for the blood replenishing pill she knew she didn't have. Meanwhile the dying girl's blood continued to stain her hands, running through the same fingers that were incessantly trying to keep it within the girl's body.
This wasn't in the book. Nothing she had been taught to do was working, the girl was still dying.
Airi's gurgles had disappeared and all Sakura could hear now were a few soft, wet hisses clawing their way past the girl's purpling lips.
Sakura was focusing her chakra, desperately willing the green substance to spring to life along her fingertips and save this girl.
She needed a miracle of divine proportions. "Oh, God…"
This innocent girl needed a hero, not a killer. "Come on, damn it, work with me!"
The Genin felt something on her hand and for one brief moment Sakura allowed herself to get swept up in the belief that she had actually channeled the shousen jutsu and everything was going to be alright.
Sakura looked down and only found one of Airi's hands resting atop hers in a comforting gesture, the girl managed to give Sakura a weak smile and the kunoichi felt Airi's hand squeeze hers lightly.
And then she was gone.
"No…" she whispered, still applying pressure to Air's neck despite the fact the dead girl's skin would be cooling soon. "Please, no…"
The room was quiet, with only a dead body and Takehiko's tools to keep Sakura company as she wept a few silent tears of salty regret over her failure and the life it had cost.
If only she had gotten there quicker…
If only Takehiko wasn't a sick pig…
If only she had been paying more attention to Airi…
If only she had been faster…
Sakura stood slowly, pulling her mask up to cover her blood-smeared face and doing her best to wipe the blood coating her hands off onto her shinobi shozoku. The kunoichi made her way to the stairs leading out of Takehiko's rape-room and spared one last glance back.
Sakura's earlier thoughts about losing her childhood, her innocence came back with full force. In the back of her mind, the part of her that was probably going to need therapy when she eventually returned to Konoha cruelly whispered about how Airi's body wasn't going to be the only thing Sakura left in that basement.
The Genin couldn't help pondering what if her father was never murdered, she had never become a kunoichi, and the world was in fact the magical and wondrous place she had foolishly believed it was as a child.
"What if" continued to haunt the young girl even as she ran up the stairs, away from what she had left behind.
It was a fabulous night, the kind where the moon was big, the stars bright, and the breeze tickling your skin like the caress of a lover. These were the kind of nights that popped up in books when someone needed to fall in love, or in movies when just the right mood needed to be set for some daring midnight romp or caper. Nights like this held promises of things to come and further delights.
None of that mattered, however, because Jubei was currently sitting in his basement, shut away from the world. Fuck the moon, the stars, and the breeze. Jubei had something better, something precious.
Something that would make him a lot of money.
The sandy-haired man picked up a razor and eyed the smorgasbord in front of him. Any one of his customers would cut a hand off and rape their own mother for ten minutes of play time in Jubei's basement. They were simple creatures, really, ruled by their desires turned crippling needs.
"Gatou is good," Jubei muttered, pulling one of the neatly wrapped bricks closer to himself and slicing open the clear plastic enveloping it.
The shipping magnate had pretty much singlehandedly brought the entire country of Wave to its knees, most people were starving now, too poor to afford... anything, really. But the greedy businessman was a boon for people like Jubei– the scum of the earth was now being nourished and set to bloom like flowers in spring. Sure, Gatou amassed staggering sums of wealth by creating a monopoly on any importing and exporting to and from Wave, but the business was nothing but a front for the man's drug smuggling ring.
That's where the real money was. Nobody taxes drugs, not in the conventional sense anyway. Jubei had to admit it was quite the ingenious plan. Instead of buying drugs from manufacturers like most do, Gatou was able to circumvent them by simply manufacturing his own. Wave's climate was perfect for growing coca plants and Gatou's "ownership" of Wave ensured there was no one to disturb his crops. Once he had that down, it was just a matter of harvesting them and paying some of the locals to refine the leaves and produce the cocaine.
From start to finish, the drugs never left Gatou's hands until someone was ready to put money in them in exchange. After that it was just a matter of getting the finished product onto Gatou's ships to be sent back to the mainland.
Jubei chuckled at the man's ingenuity and luck before sticking a finger into the white powder that spilled from the key and bringing the digit to his gums. The disgusting taste of medicine invaded his mouth and quickly numbed his face causing Jubei to smile.
"Good shit..." he muttered as he began to chop the tiny rocks and powder into a fine snow with his razor blade. The soft "tap-tap-tap-tap" soon filled the basement as the man worked at ensuring the particles of cocaine would be fine enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier in his sinus cavity.
No point in snorting rocks that are just gonna taste like shit and fall down the back of your throat.
Jubei continued his work, pondering the bricks wrapped in brown paper that were neatly stacked next to the kilos of cocaine. Now thosewere a bag of mixed feelings. On the one hand, they were much more expensive than his cocaine and made more money, even though the buyers didn't need to visit him as frequently as his more cocaine-inclined customers did. The downside, however, was that a heroin buyer was ten times more likely to kill himself shooting up whatever it was he just bought.
Furthermore, Gatou wasn't letting his fine china and black tar go for as cheap as the blow. The magnate hadn't quite gotten his poppy fields planted, yet. He was still importing his heroin from an outside source, most likely a manufacturer in Suna. But Jubei was a patient man, all good things come in time. For now he had the opportunity to build up his customer base in this section of Wave. Though it was unpleasant having to sell to users seeing as Jubei was a distributor for cocaine; his normal clients were dealers and much easier to deal with in a business sense.
The man bent low, pressing his nose to the end of a freshly cut line and inhaled it down with a hearty snort. Jubei tipped his head back and inhaled deeply, already feeling the drip. "...fuck me!"
Jubei set himself another line and quickly downed it like the first, taking the time to scrape the leftovers up with the pad of his index finger and rub the sparkling powder into his gums so that he could forget he had a face.
"You are my face," the man quipped, laughing at the joke he made but didn't get. With that bright thought, Jubei leaned down and inhaled what was left sitting out on his table before jumping up, knocking his chair over, and exclaiming, "God-fucking-damnit! Whoo!"
The man began to pace around his basement rapidly, fidgety to the point of almost not knowing what to do with himself. There was nothing on his plate at the moment, save working that special kind of magic that turns two kilos into three. He was sitting on about ten of them right now so he'd have fifteen by the time it was all said and done.
"Almost fifteen," he thought, eying the key head just broken into. An eight-ball or two (or three, or four) was definitely coming out of that one for his discerning taste to continue sampling in order to ensure top quality. Or whatever excuse, really. He had a habit to feed, after all.
People wouldn't be able to get their drugs if the distributor was too busy going through withdrawals.
Luckily, for the people, Jubei was currently at the opposite end of the spectrum. He picked up his chair and set it back in front of the drug-laden table but his entire being rebelled at the thought of attempting to sit still and stationary. He was going to need something to calm himself down so he could either get to work or make a late night trip to Shigiro's and unload some of the heroin.
"Speaking of heroin..." the man muttered, eying one of the darker drug parcels. "Hmmm... should I? To do or not to do?" Jubei shook his head and reached under his desk and pulled out a smaller bag.
A pungent aroma exploded into the room as the distributor opened the bag and extracted a couple of choice looking nugs. For sure, the new management ensured that one could have anything and everything.
For a price, of course.
"Gatou is good," Jubei mumbled to himself as he broke down the herb he kept for the odd customer seeking a more innocent relief than his normal clientele. Money was money, and Jubei wasn't too concerned with what he was selling so long as people were around to pay good money for it. Soon a cigar was gutted and the contents replaced with the freshly ground bud, Jubei already grinning to himself as the aroma flitted up into his nostrils when he brought the blunt to his mouth to lick it and seal it shut.
A little more tinkering and Jubei was set, he lit a match and held it to the end not stuck in his mouth and lit the fruit of his labor.
"Good call, Jubei," the man congratulated himself through an exhale of smoke. "I'll calm down enough to get to work and I won't pass out and wake up on the floor in a puddle of vomit like last time." Jubei reasoned with a knowing look at his heroin supply. "Never catch the fucking dragon, anyway."
"Good call, gumby."
Jubei whipped around and almost dropped his blunt when he spied someone dressed in all black sitting at the table directly behind him. "The fuck are… you…" his protests and exclamations quickly died out when he saw what the young man was holding.
Naruto stood up and slowly walked over to the dealer, dragging his chair behind him and causing the legs to scrape the wooden floor in an echoing screech.
"Don't let me interrupt, continue," the Genin said as he sat himself at the table next to Jubei.
Jubei took another hit and shuddered. The young man slapped him on the shoulder.
"Puff, puff, pass, gumby. Don't be greedy."
The jinchuuriki pulled down his mask, revealing whisker marks and a predatory grin, as the druggie shakingly handed over the burning stick.
Naruto inhaled and laughed when a cloud of smoke plumed from his mouth and struck Jubei in the face.
The frightened man was staring as if he'd like nothing more in the world than to have that strange ninja disappear like they do in books and stories.
"Fuck me stupid, that is nice, Jubei-kun! Can I call you Jubei-kun, Jubei?"
The distributor nodded dumbly. "S-sure... whatever you want... Mister...?"
"Naruto Uzumaki," the blonde replied, passing the blunt back and holding out his other hand to shake Jubei's in a painfully awkward butchery of introduction. "I'm a Genin for the village of Konohagakure no Sato and we've been sent to insure Tazuna-san's bridge gets built. I'm a member of Genin cell Team Seven. This is our first mission outside of Konoha, and I don't really look like this."
There was the briefest glimmer of hope when smoke enshrouded the boy and obscured him from Jubei momentarily.
It died when the smoke cleared and revealed a boy with blonde hair instead of black, blue eyes instead of brown, and a Konohagakure no Sato hitai-ate.
Naruto could only chuckle again as he passed up his next hit. "I'll let you in on a little secret, Jubei-kun. We're gonna kill a bad man. Very bad man, absolutely terrible– man by the name of Gatou." The Genin watched Jubei gulp heavily. "You ever heard of Gatou, Jubei-kun?" Naruto asked, grinning softly as he watched Jubei's eyes dart down to the small flower he held in his hand.
"I-I-I don't, see—the thing is—I don't know 'em, but I heard–"
"Heard of him!" Naruto boomed, clapping the man on the shoulder and grabbing the blunt. "Knew a smart guy like you was in the loop, Jubei-kun."
"Well, that... that is to say I don't know–"
"But we both knew you'd heard of him, Jubei-kun," Naruto laughed heartily as he passed the blunt back to its owner. "We both know we wouldn't be having this conversation if you weren't good friends with Gatou."
"W-we wouldn't...?" Jubei whispered.
"No. No, we wouldn't, Jubei-kun." the black-clad boy answered heavily.
"I'm sorry for what's happened in the village, I–"
Naruto shook his head in the negative. "We're not here for that, Jubei-kun." The Konoha-nin took the blunt from Jubei's quivering lips. "These aren't our lands; this wasn't a fight we signed up for. We're paid, plain and simple."
The distributor was sweating profusely now. "Then I can give you information– I–"
"It's too late, Jubei-kun," Naruto interrupted, silencing the older man with a raised hand. "We're ninja, we can get information. That's what ninja do. See, that's not what you're for."
"I'm not...?" Jubei asked, eyes growing wide.
"No," Naruto replied, handing the blunt back to the now quivering man, "you're an 'example.' See, we both know quite a lot more than we might currently be letting on, Jubei-kun."
The distributor was too scared to supply a response.
"For example," the Genin continued, "we know there's a reason I've given you my name. My life story. Details of my mission. Smoked this with you..." Naruto grinned, laying a hand on Jubei's table. "You know how this ends. It's in your face. I know what you know and we both know why, Jubei-kun."
Jubei was close to hyperventilating, quivering tufts of smoke were blooming out around the blunt's flickering cherry. He looked at his table, where Naruto's hand had rested briefly. Next to it was some spilt excess from the still unsealed kilo.
Naruto gestured to the drugs. "This situation is beyond the bounds of what one would call common normality–" the jinchuuriki leaned forward with a simper and a tsk of disapproval, "–translation: we both know that I'm here because you're a bad, bad man, Jubei-kun."
The distributor grabbed the key and dug a finger into it, bringing the digit to his nose and inhaling like a vacuum. He looked at Naruto and pushed the key towards him.
"No, thanks," the assassin declined with a chuckle. "Maybe if you didn't go around extorting people to keep quiet about your particular service to the community, if you weren't paying some of Gatou's men to handle some of your more outspoken opponents, we might've asked you to join us." Naruto sighed. "Sadly, Jubei-kun, you didn't. And now you are on the wrong side of this little nightshade..."
"Please, God– I was just trying to make–"
"You know what I am, Jubei-kun," Naruto overrode with a laugh and shake of his head. "We both know that isn't gonna help, not if you've already seen one of us. You don't belong to your God anymore."
The man was practically sobbing by now, when Naruto leaned in close, snatching the blunt away, before dropping it to the floor and grinding it out with his heel.
"You made a deal with the Devil, Jubei-kun. Gatou is good, huh?" Naruto briefly considered the question before continuing, dismissing the notion. "Gatou is very, very bad. And you sided with him and his people. The rapists. The escapees. The addicts. The murderers. The drugs. The smuggling. All of it." The jinchuuriki hissed softly before gesturing to himself and the nightshade. "Tazuna sided with us. Unfortunately, for you, 'us' includes me. Everything after you and me is just a contest of who's got the scariest and baddest monster."
Jubei looked green and sickly, as if vomiting was an easy slip towards and an uphill climb against.
"You are that unfortunate housefly over there, Jubei-kun," Naruto said, pointing towards a spider web in the far corner of Jubei's basement ceiling. "You started hanging around with the wrong flies, the bad flies. They're dangerous, they hang out near the webs in life." Naruto held up an open hand. "Crime. Addiction. Violence. Preying on the weak," he ticked off finger by finger, "those are the things in life that you flirt with until you suddenly find yourself tangled up within them."
Jubei continued to stare at the struggling fly, the insect twitching in its current entanglement.
"Just like that poor fucker over there," the blonde said with a pointed finger towards the fly, "and, just like in real life," Naruto explained, now indicating a spider that was currently making its way, long legs rising and falling on the silken web, towards the entrapped fly, "there are bad things in these webs. Scary things that come out of the dark to catch naughty little flies who've flown too close to the web...
"You and everyone else under Gatou are nothing but one big fucking feast of fat little flies that think they can rise above their station and play God just because they've managed to stay perched on the biggest pile of shit in their neck of the pasture."
"Is it– is it going to b-be… will it be quick?" Jubei asked in a choked whisper.
"It'll be a choice, Jubei-kun," Naruto replied as he casually laid the Ebony Blade on Jubei's table. "I think you might've chosen the wrong side, Jubei-kun. I don't gamble much in life, but I do like to think of myself as a risk taker," the grinning jinchuuriki acknowledged with a smile. "And I kinda like our odds of getting to Gatou and cutting his fat belly open to feed the screaming masses of these people. The people that you've enslaved with your greed." Naruto stood up suddenly and grabbed the terrified man's long hair, pulling him back and exposing his throat. "We will be hailed as heroes when we present the mutilated bodies of Gatou and every-single-one of his followers like cows gone to slaughter..."
Naruto smiled and shook his head. "I commend the quality of your product, Jubei-kun. You've got me rambling like a lightweight. Is that indicative of the quality of the rest of your stock?"
"Y-yeah, only the best from Gatou. It's like getting it from the source, no middleman to make cuts when you get your hands on it first. It's all profit once you make a return on a key. No one else distributes in is area, Gatou assigned it to me." Jubei said quickly, rushed.
"You mean you actually work for Gatou?"
"Yeah, he has us all around this island. Each of us is responsible for managing our sector." he responded shakingly. Jubei pulled out a cigarette and failed to light it with on his first attempt. His hands trembled as he pulled out another match and managed on his second attempt. "I gotta make sure people here get from me," he said through a cloud of smoke. "If I find people going around Gatou, I have to call in the janitors."
"Janitors"? the Genin asked with a raised brow.
"They clean up. Messes go away." Jubei said dumbly as he went in for another drag.
"Well, that's good for you in the end, Jubei-kun." Naruto offered as he turned towards the table in front of them. "Because that brings us back to the choice I'm going to offer you. The deal of the century. Are you listening good, Jubei-kun?"
Jubei nodded, eyes darting around frantically. Behind his would be assassin a lone marabunta buzzed near the spider. He wondered if it was preparing to drag the spider off to lay its egg in the arachnid.
"You can let me cut you down, carve you up with that sword you see sitting in front of you…" Naruto said with a grave nod to the Ebony Blade. "It'll hurt, a lot. I'm not chopping off your head or anything." There was a brief pause. "Yet. For now though, it'll be the long good bye, Jubei-kun. Bloody. Messy. Loud."
"Pleas, n-no! What can I-"
"Or," Naruto held up a hand to silence Jubei, "don't interrupt, you can take the easy way out. Pick your poison."
Jubei's cigarette quivered in his lips when the blond teen swept his open hand between the cocaine and the heroin.
The assassin picked up his sword and sat back casually with a nod to Jubei.
Jubei looked around his basement, forlornly, slowly sweeping his eyes about in a desperate search for anything.
His eyes landed on the marabunta and the spider. He reached for the brown package, the one nearest him.
The Brotherhood assassin moved behind Jubei as he tore the heroin brick open and scooped out a handful. Jubei looked at his powdered hand before slapping it to his nose and choking down a hacking snort.
In front of him the spider twitched violently as the marabunta watched its larvae hatch before buzzing off.
Jubei looked at the spilt heroin and dipped his nose down before coming up with a powdered face. The sight of the larvae burrowing out of the arachnid before beginning to consume its still living body made Jubei smile for some stupid reason that he didn't quite get. Marabunta usually only laid a single egg and hauled the spider off…
It was like going to sleep, right?
Had to be better than getting butchered like a pig to serve as some warning to a man that didn't give two shits about Jubei, anyway.
Not like the blonde killer wouldn't find track marks if he'd bother to roll up Jubei's sleeves.
The ceiling was getting closer.
Or maybe he was floating away, Jubei couldn't really decide as he wondered what it was like to have a face.
"What if I'd used a spike…"was his last thought before he screamed, somehow far away from yet still engulfed by the awful, all-consuming feeling of penetration.
A few drops of blood fell from the katana protruding from his gut before the blade danced with black fire. The unnatural flames danced along the blade's edge until they reached Jubei and he screamed.
His clothes didn't so much as catch fire, rather his skin bubbled before boiling over as mass of the chakra fueled fire erupted from his gut.
He screamed amidst the waves of the most awful pain he could have never imagined for an eternity that was borne from start to finish within the span of a few seconds before it stopped.
He could smell his overcooked innards.
"Burning" wasn't the right word, but "disappearing" was the last that came to mind.
Naruto raised his mask and hid the grin he was sporting at the sight of Jubei's semi-hollow body. Indulging his inner-Anko had been interesting, he didn't think the little druggie had it in him to do it without being forced.
"...too bad I lied about the choice part, Jubei-kun," Naruto chuckled as he withdrew a pair of sealing scrolls. The Genin unrolled one on the floor next to Jubei's chair and walked over to the table. "I'm tempted to be greedy right now and turn a profit..." Naruto thought aloud before glancing over in the dead man's direction. "How'd that work out for ya, gumby?"
An unmoving face, locked in the rictus of pain and suffering, atop a gaping shell was the silent reply Naruto received.
"Didn't think so," the jinchuuriki agreed, grabbing a single kilo of heroin and sealing it in the second scroll. "Just one to trade to Tetsuo for a favor, nothing extra for personal profit. Karma points for me." Naruto walked over to Jubei's body and tipped the chair sideways, causing the corpse to topple out onto the unfurled sealing scroll. "It's time to get you over to the big show, Jubei-kun. All your friends are already waiting for us."
A hand seal and a puff of smoke later, Naruto was heading towards the basement's stairs, wondering how Sakura and Sasuke were faring. Something Jubei had confessed stuck with the blonde and he paused briefly.
He formed a cross seal and a shadow clone popped into life. "Henge," Naruto muttered, causing the chakra construct to take on the appearance of one of the unopened keys of cocaine.
Nodding to himself confidently, Naruto strode up the stairs.
Behind him the fetid maggots had finished with their host and were now spinning themselves new cocoons to mature in.
A marabunta buzzed in the background.
"Is everyone ready to go scout the village and pick up supplies?" Kakashi asked when his three students limped back into Tsunami's living room after getting cleaned up from "training." "Excellent!" Kakashi chirped, interpreting the three simultaneous glares from his students as a collective "yes." "We'll be on our way, Tsunami-chan, expect us home in midafternoon." the Jounin called, grinning at the young woman's rosy blush as he swept out of the house with his three disgruntled students.
Once everyone was outside Kakashi called a halt and turned to face his students. "Everyone henge now, well before we get into town. Remember to be inconspicuous, and don't get involved in anything that might draw attention," he ordered, using a henge of his own to look like an unassuming traveler. To match his students who had opted for various levels of shabbiness.
If they were a family, Naruto was clearly the "problem child." His clothes hung off him in tattered rags and he looked emaciated from what Kakashi could see through some of the holes on his shirt and cloak.
Abused and up to no good seemed to be the motto for his blonde student's disguise.
With a weary sigh, Kakashi lead them off Tazuna's property onto the dirt road that would take them to the village proper.
"Twenty bucks says we see people starving in the streets like in those "sponsor a child" commercials, any takers?" Naruto offered with a glance at his two teammates.
Sakura was poised to scold the asshole for his lack of tact when Sasuke fished out some ryo from his pocket and held the notes up. "I say we get pick pocketed at least once," he bet, shaking a hand with Naruto before returning to gazing at the road ahead.
"You two ought to be more sympathetic towards the villagers' plight," Sakura admonished with a disapproving shake of her head. "Especially you, Naruto. You support yourself, you ought to know how difficult it can be to keep a roof over your head."
"Maybe," the blonde shrugged nonchalantly, ignoring the fact that his Brotherhood contracts had always kept his personal coffers comfortably stocked, "but there's only so much to entertain yourself with when blending in amongst a weary and oppressed people, Sakura-chan." Naruto grinned with a glance towards the Uchiha. "Proving Sasuke wrong is always fun, too." he added in an afterthought.
"Hn." the Genin grunted, dismissing the blonde with a glare from his Sharingan before turning his gaze towards their sensei. "Are we expecting to be attacked in the village, Kakashi-sensei?"
"Only if we are very sloppy, Sasuke," Kakashi replied, turning from his Icha Icha briefly, "if we remain discreet I'm confident we will avoid harassment. I find it unlikely Gatou and Zabuza could have already mobilized an effective response to our presence in Wave. I'd say we probably have a day or two before the next move is made."
The Genin nodded and returned his eyes to the path ahead.
"Think they've found our little welcoming gift, Sensei?" Naruto asked hopefully.
"I'm sure they've found the bodies. I'm curious as to what the immediate response has been." Kakashi replied, turning a page and giggling at the content on the next page.
"...guess they'll probably try and... cover it up..." the jinchuuriki offered weakly as he found himself deeply perturbed by the sounds manifesting behind his sensei's mask.
"Heh heh hee..." the copy-nin paused and reread the same passage again. "Yeah... probably, Naruto." he said offhandedly. "That or they'll up the security detail patrolling the village. It most likely depends on who first stumbled across the bodies and how many people actually saw them. Either way, mounting a response should be difficult seeing as how Sakura took care of the man Gatou had running the police force..."
"Fucking pig," the girl muttered darkly.
"Indeed." Kakashi replied noncommittally. "Regardless, everyone is to remain alert and on the lookout for Zabuza or any other shinobi. We should be alright, but it never hurts to be diligent."
The three Genin nodded despite Kakashi's face being buried in his book once more and the four continued on in silence until the outskirts of the village came into view. Beside them, a dreary looking villager gulped down the last remaining drops of sake in his bottle before tossing the empty container to the ground and stumbling off the dirt path and into the woods.
Naruto walked over to the bottle and picked it up with a grin. "One try," he muttered, swinging his arm in a few practice tosses before finally tossing the glass object up and into the trees.
A second passed as the Genin held his breath in anticipation...
A hollow "thunk" echoed from the trees and preceded the unmistakable sound of a body slumping to the ground. "Ow, goddamnit!" Team 7 heard a voice call out dazedly. "...the fuck...?"
"Point for me!" Naruto congratulated himself gleefully, holding up a hand to Sasuke that the Uchiha grudgingly high-fived.
It was a rather impressive shot.
"Stop that." Kakashi ordered with a condescending slap to the back of Naruto's head that caused the jinchuuriki to scowl petulantly. "We're the good guys, remember?" the Jounin questioned rhetorically as he pointed at himself, Sakura, and Sasuke. "We're here to help the villagers, not abuse them for our entertainment, Naruto."
"Yeah, we'll maybe we should rethink that whole stance, Sensei," Naruto began, "I've been thinking–"
"—did it hurt?—"
"—and—fuck off Sasuke—I've been wondering about our whole help the villagers stance."
"Go on." Kakashi encouraged as he and his team finally reached the village. A gaggle of dirty children ran by, following a particularly beleaguered child clutching a dead fish like it was treasure.
"Well, why is that our stance, exactly? Not that I don't mind all the neat extracurricular activities we've been getting into," the blonde hastily added, "but our job is only to technically protect Tazuna-san and his family. Ensuring the bridge gets built has nothing to do with protecting this village, honestly. It's kinda just a bunch of extra work, isn't it?"
"Well, Naruto, I'll begin with a simple question: what is the point in building a bridge if no one is alive to use it?"
"...guess it'd be pretty pointless..." Naruto admitted cautiously, already sensing holes in his previous assumptions and feeling a "lesson" coming on.
One had to be cautious; sometimes lessons could cost a person their face.
"Exactly. But, your lacking common sense aside," the Jounin quipped, pausing briefly for Sakura's enthusiastic "here, here!", "there is a more important lesson to be learned here– one that you all could benefit from." Kakashi waved a hand at the village lazily. "Life, as I'm sure you know by now, is made up of choice after choice. To steal or starve. Kill or be killed. Good or bad. Lie or be honest. The list is terribly cliché and expansive, but exists none the less. With me so far, students?"
The three Genin chorused a "Yes, Sensei" before the Jounin continued.
"Good. Naturally, however, we've arrived at a prime example of one the more difficult choices in life: the choice between what is easy, and what is right." Kakashi continued, watching as a young girl Sakura's age (though she was dressed much older than was appropriate) walked out of an alley tucking some ryo into her bra. "Standing up to bullies, tyrants, dictators– that is not something everyone possesses the capacity to do," the copy-nin continued while a middle-aged man came sauntering out of the alley zipping up his pants, "most of the time it's easier to just go with the flow and follow whoever is winning."
"Like siding with Gatou, Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura asked.
"Exactly, Sakura-chan. It's easier, to work for Gatou and become one of his thugs, than it is to stand up to him. There's no denying that, and the people of this country are terrified. They don't know where their next meal will come from. Medicine will soon be in short supply. Help has yet to come. They don't know when it'll be their turn next for Gatou's henchmen to come knocking at their door," Kakashi explained as the quartet walked to the previously scouted market. "Control through fear is a powerful weapon, but it breeds rebellion. It creates people like Inari's father, the ones willing to go against the grain. Gatou was smart to have him publicly executed, I'll give him that. It's the kind of thing they'd do in Kiri, honestly, but that's beside the point. I'm not concerned with giving you three a lesson on morality," the "yet" went unspoken but the three Genin heard it all the same, "I want you to realize the effects of only thinking about the here and now without any regard towards the future."
"So, what, you want us to plan ahead, Sensei?" Naruto asked as they turned onto the village's main street and a donkey brayed, dragging its member on the ground as it pulled a cart. "'Cause I've already got a savings account..." the blonde supplied as his eyes unwillingly fixated on the beast of burden's fifth leg. Naruto grinned before turning to Sakura and pointing, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
"Not quite what I was referring to, Naruto," Kakashi replied, chuckling while the pink haired kunoichi rolled her eyes and flipped her teammate the bird. "It's about deciding whether or not to side with the leaves, or with the seeds. Gatou's people have picked the leaves– they look nice right now, high atop the branches as they dance merrily in the wind. The seeds are not to be envied as they wallow around in the ground, but they will grow, if nurtured.
"The problem with the leaves is that they will fall and die, this is inevitable despite how long it might take." the Genin were listening attentively, finally catching onto the meaning of their teacher's words. "When we decided to continue on this mission, we chose to side with the seeds, and thus became farmers of men. It is now our responsibility to nurture these seeds and see to it that the leaves don't steal all the sunlight." Kakashi once again gestured to the village as a whole. "A lot of these people already believe Gatou to have won, and people like Gatou tend to think their reign on top is going to last forever." the Jounin pointed to the crowd gathering in the market square. "The leaves will always fall, no matter how many sit high in the branches. Be patient, plant a seed, and grow a tree instead."
Naruto smiled to himself as he walked off towards the part now forming the crowd. The village square was open to the sky with a shanty town's worth of manned stalls, each offering their own fare. In the center stood a fountain set atop stone lined with a few benches for patrons of the market.
It was an odd feeling to be in this market. To Naruto's right, a young boy sat with his mother behind a stand lined with dried and salted fish. The woman swatted lazily at a trio of flies walking around on her face. Her child squirmed uncomfortably and whined a piteous moan.
Naruto knew he was starving, but his belly was still swollen and distended.
There was a smell. Unclean and decaying, it lingered throughout the market like an oppressive haze that seemed to grip the people mercilessly. They were defeated. Scared. Mothers were clutching their children close, as they kept away from the men with swords– Gatou's ronin. Lining the market's main square were several shops and restaurants offering to prepare what had just been purchased from the market. They had awnings out front that covered tables were men sat smoking as they sought refuge from the sun.
"Third world" wasn't the right term, but it was the first that came to mind.
"Today however..."Naruto thought as he watched several of Gatou's police force hassle some of the stragglers. They had turned off the fountain and drained the blood. Now they were piling the bodies on karts for trips to what Naruto imagined had to be the most fetid and unsanitary morgues in all of the Elemental Nations.
The jinchuuriki stopped to admire some rancid beef in the stall off to his right. The greening meat was covered with a few burrowing maggots the wiggled around vigorously like fat pigs in shit as they flourished while everything around them died.
Naruto was grateful for the mask hidden beneath his henge, pretending that the cloth helped filter the smell a little.
One of the officers, a man around Kakashi's age, gave the disguised Genin a pointed look and Naruto had to swallow his grin before he moved on, veering off to one of the market center's side paths. The heat was stifling, something that growing up in Hi no Kuni had taught Naruto to appreciate, but Wave had humidity that wasn't present in Konoha. The wet heat had a way of clinging to you like a second skin and causing you to perspire simply by being outside.
The smell was worse in this sector of the market, but he could see a smaller crowd gathering as people once again began drearily flocking to another point of interest.
Naruto thought he spied the young girl from earlier disappearing into an alley behind a restaurant that specialized in food obtained from the nearby docks as he began to make his way through the crowd. The people seemed to be forming a modestly sized semi-circle as they tittered back and forth in their mundane attempts to get a view of what seemed to be another gathering.
As the Konoha-nin neared the fetid epicenter of the gathering he stopped breathing through his mouth as the rotting stench was now palatable on his tongue. It was unnatural in a similar sense to seeing a dead and decaying body dug up from the grave. It was smell gone rotten to taste that threw itself down Naruto's throat and festered in every taste bud on its way down.
It was the most godforsaken thing Naruto had ever witnessed.
Naruto found himself a reasonably positioned spot that wasn't over exposed behind a young girl with long black hair that sunk below her shapely things and contrasted nicely with her modest white yukata.
The blonde grinned and decided to examine the quality of her face.
It was then that Naruto met what had to be the happiest man in all of Wave Country.
"Have a look around, brothers and sisters," a man prompted, drawing Naruto's attention away from the girl. "Can you see how these poor, unenlightened fools are forced to wallow about in the mundane?" He was wearing a ragged cloak with a hood that hung like wrinkled skin on his thin frame. "Do you see how sad it is, the way they skitter about, forever finding themselves unfulfilled?" The speaker gestured towards the larger crowd of people staying back from the small assembly, revealing a hand that only had three fingers.
The mangled and rotting appendage was covered in purpling scarlet lesions that continued to travel up the man's entire arm.
"Pity them, my brothers and sisters!" the man boomed. "Pity them because they won't ever experience Divine Grace as we have." He walked up to a young teen, the boy's neck was covered in angry red insect bites that oozed a trickle of puss. "They will never know love!" he yelled, throwing his arm around the startled teen and giving him a squeeze and moving on. He turned to an old woman who was coughing blood into a handkerchief. "They are forced to live in fear as they drown themselves in sacrilegious rivers of their own perversions."
Naruto watched the man walk back to the front of the assembly "But that fate is not for us, my brothers and sisters. We are loved. We are blessed."
The blonde questioned everything he'd ever learned or heard about the word "blessed" as he scrutinized the current assembly. Everyone was sick in varying degrees. At the very back of the assembly a little boy sat by himself, scratching the oozing lesions that pockmarked his skin. Near the middle, a man sat, shaking, as he weakly pawed at a bright red sore atop the crown of his head.
"But do not mistake my intent, brothers and sisters. Do not hate these poor, unloved people. Cherish and pity them, for they are not enlightened. They are not cared for in life. And they," he lectured, pausing briefly as he hugged another emaciated little girl who had run out from the crowd and joined the congregation, "are not blessed with the Father's divine gifts."
"I never struck you for the religious type, Naruto," Sakura whispered as she came to a stop next to her blonde teammate.
"Nothing else to watch," he shrugged as he turned back towards the pockmarked man.
"But it is not so for us, my brothers and sisters– there will not be despair for His blessed children!" the man smiled genuinely, like a child might when he was bursting to tell a secret he held to the world. "Rejoice, my Family, and know that they," he pointed to the larger crowd gathered around the congregation, "could never take this moment from us. They cannot comprehend our love. They cannot comprehend their sickness. And, most lamentable of all, they," the man lowered his hood with two rotting hands causing the crowd to gasp and take a collective step backwards, "will never know the feelings of grace, love, and fulfillment that accompany the Father's divine touch."
Naruto eyed the speaker with revulsion. His visage was riddled with bulbous protrusions imbedded under his leathery skin, giving him the appearance of a scaly man. The rest of his body was dotted with scarlet lesions that sat like drops of color in a brown sea.
"That's weird..." Sakura muttered, making a face.
"The lizard-man? No shit." Naruto shot back.
"No, idiot," the kunoichi hissed, "he has tuberculoid and lepromatous leprosy. That's not normal–"
"Do not lament me, for I am blessed with the Holy Father's love. It enshrouds me like an impenetrable force of divine comfort that no one could ever hope to encroach upon!" he paused before running to stand upon the lip of the fountain head. "Arise, my brothers and sisters– stand!" he commanded, "for we are blessed! And that is why I am asking you to join me today!" the speaker voiced as an old woman hobbled up to take position among the congregation– there was something in her eyes, what it was, Naruto was not certain, however. But it was growing. "In doing so I would only ask one thing of you all and see only a few demands in return..."
"Who are you, psycho?" someone from the crowd shouted.
"I am Love," he said with a chuckle, "and I am asking you all today to abandon your names and embrace the divine life our Father has shone upon us!" he urged, hopping down and slowly making his way to the old lady at the back of the precession and grasping her face in a loving caress, "What do they call you, my dearest?"
"Chikako…" she wheezed.
"Chikako, I would see you break free from the wretched spiritual shackles that enslave them," Love ushered, pointing towards the outer crowd, "and obliterate oppression by embracing Charity."
"…the fuck are we watching, Sakura…?"
"I don't know! A lot of these people have bot fly wounds– it's uncommon–"
"What are you called?" Love demanded of little boy with a swollen stomach.
"Then I would see you banish uncertainty and embrace Providence!"
"Must I keep a constant eye on all of you?" Kakashi asked as the man continued to speak with the members of his congregation one-on-one. "It was bad enough tracking down Sasuke from his little detour, now I have to worry that you two might get all preachy and 'holier-than-thou' on me, too?"
"It's attention-grabbing, goddamnit," the jinchuuriki retorted as he spared a glance towards his sensei and Uchiha teammate, "there's something… off about this whole thing. No one should be that happy. Ever."
Naruto hadn't expected to run into any religious zealots in Wave, the occasion just wasn't something a shinobi usually considers. What the hell kind of religion was this man actually preaching? If the Genin didn't know any better, he would have said that Love was specifically targeting the detritus of society. Half of these people already had at least one foot in the grave, and the other half was so riddled with disease that the blonde would be hard-pressed to name even half of their conditions.
Furthermore, despite that the general populace of Wave was wary enough to stay back for fear of contracting... anything the converts might have, Love seemed eager to go out of his way to embrace them all, one by one, as he encouraged them to give up who they were and be "born again."
Whatever the fuck that meant.
"Help me, I'm dying!" someone shouted frantically, drawing Love's attention. "Save me! They're killing me!"
The congregation parted around the man, allowing Love to march right up to him and grasp his shoulders. "What is your name, my brother," the leper asked confidently with a warm smile.
"Minoru, sir..." he muttered, pawing at the festering wound atop his head.
"And what could possibly be killing one so full of life such as yourself, Minoru?" Love asked in the tone one would use to placate a child frightened over nothing.
"I don't know!" Minoru moaned. "It hurts, and they're starting to spread..."
Love nodded in understanding. "You are not dying, Minoru– far from it. You," the zealot comforted, cupping Minoru's face with his managed hand, "are so full of life that the very notion of death would run in fright from your very presence." Love gently tilted the man's head downwards and examined the scarlet lesion that oozed puss from atop the man's head. "You are blessed, my brother, with the very essence of life. Our divine Father has seen fit to gift his love upon you—as he has all of us—so that you may come to love Him and spread the love we all share with the entirety of the world."
"H-He has...? How?"
"By making you the very embodiment of what it is to grow life in the nest of decay, my brother! You are a scion to us all, so blessed by the Father's loving gifts!" the man insisted, making sure everyone was paying attention to his words. "But it is a simple choice you must make for a magnanimous reward that you shall see, Minoru." Love proposed, taking hold of the other man's head. "Do you know what the Father envisions for you, my brother?"
There was a pause and the jinchuuriki looked around nervously. "What the fuck is going on here?"he thought frantically. This crazy man was recruiting for some crazy church cult for the already dead.
It was uncomfortable to watch and Naruto found himself having another one of those quiet little break downs that were annoyingly becoming a more frequent occurrence. The kind where something he held to absolute fact and devotion was called out and forced to have a spotlight shone on it.
Is this how he would seem if he were to pray to the Night Mother in public? Would he look any less insane preaching a killing cult rather than a death cult? There was most certainly a reason the Brotherhood was not a commonly spoken topic. Only a certain crowd of people spoke about the guild of assassins in anything more than wives' tales and whispers. They tended to be the prideful. The powerful. The hated. The loved. The hurt. The cheaters.
"Evil" wasn't the right word, but it was the first that came to mind.
Those were Naruto's people, the flock he tended in the name of their dread father Sithis.
The gaping void the stood before all, Unholy Father to the Night Mother's children. So terrible was her devoted love to the abyss that she bore him six children and murdered them all in the name of Sithis, the dread father.
Her love was what enshrouded every Dark Brother and Sister and from her voice they carried out the work of delivering souls into the hands of the gaping void, the eternal chaos, Lord Sithis.
That was what Naruto believed and the young Genin was truly perplexed about where he quite stood in the world.
The question of what he truly wanted in life came through his mind but Naruto buried it away ruthlessly and focused on his surroundings.
"Legacy" was the answer that had echoed back, but it only begged the question of what the answer was.
"Minoru, our Father would only see that you transcend death, shed the oppressive shackles that consume those poor souls who do not know His love by choosing to accept His blessed gifts. Those piteous fools," he gestured to the watching crowd, "most of them will never know His precious love. But that is not the cruel fate that has been cast upon you, my brother..."
Minoru's eyes were wide in fear and anticipation. "It isn't...?" he whispered back as the entire congregation hung on every frantic word of their conversation with baited breath.
Naruto shifted uncomfortably as Love stood over Minoru and began running his fingers over the kneeling man's head. The disguised Genin couldn't quite see what it was, if anything, the delusional prophet was doing to Minoru besides just simply touching the kneeling man's head.
Minoru stiffened and let out a soft, keening moan that went unnoticed by all except the supremely observant.
Love pulled his hands away, cupping... something in front of Minoru. It was far too small for Naruto to see, the whole of it was able to be concealed in the palms of the man's hands.
It was far easier to believe that it was nothing and both men were simply insane. Naruto was quickly beginning to realize this country was far worse off than he ever bothered to consider. Gatou seemed to have absolute control of his little country-turned-island-getaway. The drug lord's power and greed had elevated him to Kingship and given him a country to rule and burn to see his coffers forever full.
And then there was everybody else. An entire country's worth of people forced to sell their souls or shut up and just keep moving along, life instantly transformed into a living, breathing third-world country. Everything was dirty and nobody bothered to care. The smell was everywhere and in some places it simply got worse. The overbearing decay of starving people withering in the sun hung oppressively in such force that it encompassed all the senses in its unrelenting assault. Wave Country had become all-encompassing in its melancholy. This was where the islanders were born, where they would decay, where they would suffer, where they would die, and where they would rot.
Gatou sat high atop his throne to lord over his mockery of a kingdom that he had erected upon foundations built from the discarded bodies of Wave Country's withering population.
And that was why this situation was so terribly wrong and unsettling. Today Naruto had met the happiest man in all of Wave– quite possibly all of existence, if the blonde was to be honest with himself.
More disconcerting was the fact that Naruto was now currently watching the second-happiest person in Wave kneel in front of the first. Minoru's eyes were shining brightly, all despair and fear eradicated from their glassy depths, as he watched Love walk to a nearby withering tree that had been planted for decoration.
The preacher knelt down and placed whatever it was that he held in his hand into the dry soil before standing and striding back to Minoru. The latter man was crying tears of joy that carved salty rivulets down his dirt-covered cheeks as he gripped the front of Love's tattered cloak in fanatical reverence.
"I would see you annihilate death with His love and become Genesis, my brother," the leper spoke lovingly to Minoru as he raised the now openly sobbing man to his feet. "And I would see all of His children find love in the Father and their brothers and sisters!" he continued, now walking closer to the outer circle of people merely watching the sermon.
A wave of tension rippled through the air and the crowd became visibly nervous as the entire congregation turned to watch their leader approach the watching crowd.
The sudden role-reversal was unexpected and the jinchuuriki fought down a spark of paranoia that shot through him as he watched the sick man approach his location. Love drew closer and Naruto could have sworn the leper had eyes only for him. His hand twitched as it ached to pull out a kunai, dispel the henge, and slaughter every single one of these twisted fucks if only for some peace of mind and respite from every single impulse that was howling inside his skull at the threat that could be felt but not sensed.
A pair of beleaguered men parted and the girl with the admirable backside stiffened when Love's tattered cloak brushed her elbow as the older man came to a stop.
Directly in front of Naruto.
He was smiling but Naruto didn't care because the stench rolling off him was so overpowering that the Genin was surprised he couldn't visibly see it. The two inspected each other, Naruto wary and Love politely curious, until Love raised his hands causing Sakura to take a step in front of her teammate.
The kunoichi instinctively pushed Naruto back and drew the attention of the vagabond.
"Over here, gumby," the disguised Genin interjected, "you got something you wanna say, or are you just window shopping today? The hell's your name, anyway?"
"I am Love," he answered simply, as if explaining sunshine to a blind worm that lives underground, "and I would never attempt to entertain the mere notion of expecting you to understand what that means." The preacher gestured to those surrounding Naruto with his raised hands. "You, and the rest of these poor fools are unloved, unclean, and unguided."
"And what, exactly, do you mean by that, gumby?" Naruto growled, bristling at the diseased man's tone of superiority.
"That I pity the lot of you, especially you, young one," Love spoke softly. "I can feel your false god slowly devouring you from the inside with your own heresy. And, like all false prophets, one day you will be discarded and cast to the wayside because no one has use for a hollow shell..." the man intoned softly, causing the young Genin to step forward in a threatening manner as he continued. "Your faith is misplaced, young one. One day, my Father will devour your false god and wash away the stains of your idolatry with His love... if you'll but open your heart and let him."
"You're fucking crazy, man," Naruto spat, "you people oughtta get some medical attention instead of wasting what little time you all have left chanting prayers and swapping diseases."
"You are the one stricken with sickness, heretic," Love countered, "like the rest of these suffering lambs, you are riddled and consumed with fear. Cowards, afraid to let the Father love you. Weak, giving up control of your lives to unworthy kings. Disgusting, as you mock your disease all the while begging for a cure..." The man laughed before continuing. "You and everyone else in this ungodly hovel are more of the same– nourishing dirt set to help in farming the righteous."
Naruto lacked an adequate response but it didn't stop Kakashi from placing a hand on his shoulder in warning. Love seemed to chuckle at the display before tenderly grasping the hand of the young teen girl Naruto had been admiring earlier.
"But the same does not apply to you, dear," he insisted, eyes shining with mirth as he led her closer, "I can feel the Father's love about your person, I can feel that you are truly blessed..."
The girl tilted her head to regard Love curiously, revealing a face marred in pasty lesions, like pallid, rosy splotches that traveled down her neck as well. The jinchuuriki heard Sakura give a slight gasp of shock as he learned the girl clearly had her good side and her bad side.
"What is the name society has attempted to shackle you with, my dear?" Love asked her, pulling her small hand to his mouth and tenderly brushing his lips against her knuckles in a display of affection that unsettled Naruto, as if he was descending a flight of stairs and missed a step.
"Rei..." she murmured softly and Naruto could hear the blush in her voice.
"The most beautiful bell at the ball, by far," he whispered, just loud enough to make sure Naruto heard, "and I would see you dispel the corrupted illusion of pulchritude that ensnares so many by embracing the gifts the Father has blessed you with and becoming Verity!" the man pulled the girl from the watching crowd and deposited her amongst the congregation before returning to his position at the forefront. "And would see you all free, brothers and sisters, free to embrace our Father's gifts and spread His divine love!"
"How do we do this?" someone from the assembly cried.
"By reaching all the way to the four corners of this earth!" Love cried, beginning to walk towards one of the village exits, the crowd parting from his way as if repelled by force. The man stopped briefly to address his congregation a final time. "Proliferate the Father's love; go forth and multiply, my brothers and sisters."
And then he was gone, walking away from the now dispersing group of unwanteds and invalids, his tattered cloak disappearing amongst the sea of the dirty, rotting, and oppressed.
Those gathered finally left, leaving Team 7 standing amongst themselves. Naruto took another look at the hand Kakashi was resting on him and gave a jerk of his shoulder, causing the Jounin to remove the offending appendage.
"So what did we learn, children?" the man asked his students.
"That, clearly," Naruto scoffed, "Wave is the asshole of the world, Sensei."
Kakashi sighed, shaking his head. "Then I suppose that makes you a hemorrhoid, Naruto," he replied before turning to Sakura. "What were your observations, Sakura-chan?"
"Um... well, a lot of these sick people are afflicted with maladies not common in this area," she began, ignoring the glare her teammate was leveling on their Sensei for his previous comment, "quite a few of these people seem to have Murine typhus as opposed to Epidemic typhus. Most people catch Epidemic because the Rickettsia prowazekii bacteria is transmitted by lice, but Murine is transmitted by fleas carrying Rickettsia typhi that are usually found on vermin. People that get Murine typhus are differentiated because they have a pretty decent chance of developing neurological symptoms like seizures, confusion, and imbalance..."
"Interesting, what else did you notice, Sakura?" Kakashi prompted.
"Well, some of the bot fly wounds were rather odd. Usually a person gets one and does something about it, but some of these people are covered in them... if I didn't know any better, I'd say that a few of the people had been bitten by sheep bot flies instead of human ones, that's not normal."
"How can you tell the difference without actually seeing the fly?" Sasuke asked.
"Because human bot flies lay their eggs on house flies and mosquitoes—insects likely to land on a human—and the heat from our skin causes them to hatch and burrow in. Sheep bot flies place their eggs directly in the nasal cavity of the host. You can pick them out by looking for swollen noses, discharge if the lesion is infected, little details like that."
"Those fucking things grow inside people?" Naruto asked incredulously. "Fuck me, this place is Shino's idea of a wet dream," the blonde muttered before turning to Sakura. "And you call me gross? How the fuck am I going to sleep with that ungodly knowledge infesting my brain?"
"It's not my fault you can't be bothered to open a fucking book," the kunoichi snapped back.
"That'll be enough, thank you," Kakashi interrupted, filing away the information Sakura had supplied him with for later. "Let's head back with what we have, Sasuke wasn't able to find much, but we'll have to make it work," the Jounin said with a nod to the pitiful bagful of produce that Sasuke had managed to scrounge from the market.
Team 7 began their trek back to Tazuna's, each member lost in their thoughts on the bizarre occurrence they had all just witnessed. Wave was quickly snowballing into quite the insurmountable task and the three Genin were indeed curious as to what their Jounin sensei would propose for their next move. Eventually, however, the group found its way back to the market square, absorbing into another crowd that had begun to gather.
The mood changed instantly, the people gathered weren't curious, they were buzzing with fear. Armed ronin were pouring into the square, taking up various positions around the crowd and scattered throughout the Market proper, each one resting a threatening hand on their sword.
Many of those located on the outskirts of the crowd began to hurriedly make their way home while the ones staying turned their eyes towards a man who was stepping up towards the raised platform were Team 7 had left the bodies of their victims to serve as warning. The man wore a baggy, pocket-lined coat along with a purple beanie atop his head.
"Afternoon, citizens," he laughed, causing the lines tattooed under his eyes to crinkle, "my name's Zori!"
Zori motioned behind him and several ronin stepped forward to deposit a trio of bound and beaten villagers on their knees in front of him. The two men seemed barely able to remain conscious, their bruised and bloodied faces resembling eggplants, while the woman of the group was shaking violently as tears streamed down her face.
Zori unsheathed his katana and grabbed the first man by the hair, pulling his head back and exposing his neck. "We're here today to reassure all you fine citizens that Wave is indeed safe, and that your humble police force will soon exterminate this new terrorist threat," he promised, smile never leaving his face, "we've already apprehended a few sympathizers and are working 'round the clock to ensure every-last-one of them are rounded up. To aid us in this search, however," Zori changed track, now pointing at those watching, "you can ensure that you are all back in your homes by sundown in accordance with the new curfew Gatou Corp. is instating. Anyone found wandering about at night will be presumed to be in league with the insurgents," the ronin stated, drawing his katana across the man's throat and kicking his bleeding and spamming body towards the crowd, "and they will be dealt with accordingly."
The crowd gasped as they watched the man twitch in the throes of death while his blood stained itself into the ground. Naruto committed the man's face to memory, knowing that his soul would make a wonderful offering to the Night Mother, further fueling the void.
"Are there any questions?" Zori asked the silent crowd expectantly. "No? Then I'm glad we understand each other..." he smiled before motioning to the ronin standing nearest the other bound man. "Next, please..."
A/N: Hope you enjoyed, folks. And, because I know at least one person will try and point it out, yes, I know there is a gap between the assassinations and the trip into town. It was intentional. Simmer down, you'll see. Other than that, go listen to some Wilco, it'll make you a better person. Thanks for reading, see ya next time.