Let's go! New PC, new life and vigour! Or something in the sort. I just hope I didn't bum anyone out or kill anyone's exceptions by promising new chapters over the summer. Before you read this, I should warn you. This is un-beta'd. I have a beta-reader, but they are experiencing technical difficulties.
Chapter 17: This is war
This was the decoration of the hallways. Lengths and lengths of deafening silence as far as the eyes could make out. Along with the silence was one of its best friends, darkness. Candles were sparsely lit along the sides, allowing darkness to creep onto the walls and the crevices, allowing it to feel at home. The walls themselves were a dull grey, seeming void of life or any signs of them. Slowly, out of the darkness, a figure walked. It's face was completely covered, save for two soulless eyes. Not even the dirt under it's foot moved as it silently walked by. A pole could be seen in it's hand as it walked. The tip of the pole glinted as it came to light, though not because of the metal on it.
It trickled down from it slowly, menacingly. No effort was made to stop it or remove it.
The figure stopped in front of some darkness, turning towards it and looking inside. It stood still for a moment before raising the pole. For a moment, it disappeared into the darkness before reappearing.
Even then, not a sound came, nor a noise disturb the silence. It was almost as if there was nothing in the corridor at all.
"~~~! ~~~~~! ~~! ~~~~!"
A slow, soft sound seeped into the silence. It seemed almost foreign, wrong for there to be anything except silence there. The sound slowly began to change, moving from a flat sound to something higher. It then dropped, dragging out before changing again. The sounds blurred together, forming more than just a cluster of noise.
The pole dropped to the ground, making an oddly loud, crude sound before another sound came. A body dropping.
A little behind him, the rough sound of metal grinding against something came. Two softer sounds followed. The sounds of footsteps came as figures stepped out of the darkness.
"... You didn't have to kill him..." A male voice said. He stepped out to see glasses and black hair falling over his face.
A grunt responded. "I didn't." Long, red hair came out of the darkness before a skullcap topping it. The body was short and small but not weak. "It's genjutsu. He thinks someone's acting up. By the time he wakes up we should be long gone."
Kota shook his head as he looked around. "... Remind me why we're doing this again...? This place isn't my first choice in places to investigate." The atmosphere seemed to get to him as he clung to the light and stared carefully at the darkness.
"Scaredy-shit." She spat irritatedly as she started walking forward. "We need to check out the captives first before we can even think of them helping us." She stepped into the darkness, disappearing for a moment. "You never know what lurks down here."
He shivered slightly as he slowly followed her. He stopped right before the darkness, trying to peer inside. "...How do you know so much about this anyway? I didn't even know there were slaves until you told me."
Her head slowly escaped the darkness though her face seemed devoid of emotion. "You're looking at an ex-con."
The man's blood run dry as he heard that. His heart almost stopped, the thought that she went through this, that her mind was subject to this kind of treatment and torture... And he didn't even know all what happened in there. "Wh-What? You went through this?"
She stared at him blankly for a moment. "Bwahahaha!" She bawled, clutching her sides as she almost tipped over. "You should have seen your face! It was like you were going to cry!"
He scowled, shaking his head. "This place isn't the best... Who knows what kind of trauma you could have faced if you were here."
"I do," She went back into the darkness. "One of my..." She stopped mid-sentence, collecting her thoughts. "I knew a guy who went through this."
The man's eyebrow went up, but after debating with himself mentally, he decided to let it go. He already knew she could be complicated when she wanted to be. That and someone would be mad if he found out before them.
"They prod you, searching for body for anything useful." She explained stolidly through the darkness. "Afterwards, they just leave you here. Day in, day out. Act up, get stabbed. Don't act at all, get stabbed to make sure your nerves still work." She paused for a moment, her facial expression invisible. "Eventually, you just give up on life. On everything. Until he offers you a deal."
"Orochimaru?" The man already knew the answer, though he said it anyway.
"The kind of offer which makes no logical sense, the kind of offer which no sane person would accept... but at that point none of those things apply to you anyway. In that state of hopelessness and despair anything seems better." She turned, looking back at Kota. "Why do you think Guards are so loyal? Because no way in hell they're going back to what they had. After getting their soul back, they do anything to keep it."
"So we're here to see who we can convert."
"Wrong." She said bluntly, cutting him off before he could say anything else. "We're just watching. Seeing if there's any people of interest. Your friend is the one doing the converting."
"He's not going to like this."
"Then tell him shut up and get on board. I thought human relations were your expertise." She shot.
"So are his apparently." He let out an exasperated sigh and shook his head. "He always seems to have a way to make you feel like you're wasting your time or not making sense. Plus, he's beginning to ask questions about my plan."
"Hey, this isn't just some game of shoji." The redhead growled as she spoke. "I can't just do whatever the hell I want and rush things. People's lives are at stake. The least I can do is take my time and make sure I don't kill anyone I don't want to."
Nodding silently, the two continued through the darkness, looking at the captives.
The prisoners came in all different shapes and sizes. Some were huge, seemingly made of rocks and muscles of some indestructible material, while there were those which looked like they even lacked enough bodes to survive. No one seemed to be beyond the snake's choosing as both males and females were silently laid on the floor as they walked by. Most of them didn't even move or look at them, just staying there, watching the wall or staring into nothing.
"... None of these people seem... alive." The comment was unnecessary, though no one even moved to try an prove him wrong. It just seemed to float stagnantly in the air, before dying out. "What are we looking for? Movement? Acknowledgement? Violent cursing?"
"I... don't know." She said blatantly. A growl left her as she ran a hand through her hair. "I wish I could tell you... but..." She stopped and turned to one of the cells. "I've only seen it once before. It's something you'll know the moment you see it, something that'll burn itself into your mind... But something you just can't explain... Jeez, I must sound like a jackass right now..."
The man stopped, shaking his head for a moment before looking into one of the slaves in the cell next to him. "...OK then. I'll just have to take your word on it."
After looking at a few of them, the girl turned to the man. "... You've got your work cut out for you. Orochimaru seems to have done his homework on this bunch." Her hand came up, pinching her nose bridge as she spoke. "The people in these cells barely even seem to be breathing... Far less able to rise up."
"So we're scrapping this then?" Kota asked. "Because if so at least I have a story to buy you some time."
She shoved her hands in her pockets, swinging her foot in a random direction. "... How good do you think this guy is?"
"Well, he caught your eye." He casually replied, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm yet to see him work on anyone other than myself, so I don't know if he's that good or if I'm that bad."
"Guess its time to find out."
"You heard me."
"But! Th-This isn't what I agreed to!"
The quiet and calm atmosphere almost betrayed the scene. Despite everything outside seeming to move in slow motion, calmly going about and living their lives, in the empty shop things seemed to be moving at high speed. It hadn't even been three seconds but things weren't going good already.
I expected this. I knew he wouldn't approve but not to this degree... He thought to himself as he saw the expression on the white haired boy's face. "Truth be told, you did. I said I needed your words."
"I could write something." He cut the man off to say it.
"But you as anyone should know, words are just random noises without the right feelings behind them." He responded calmly, trying to counteract the boy's actions.
He looked around quickly, as if trying to find something to change the subject to.
"Even you see that what you're doing is rubbish. There's no other way for this to happen. You need to come with me."
The boy's face contorted to a form someone never wants to see. Fear. It was written all over his face, from the sweat clearly formed on his brow to the jitters in his eyes. They darted all over the place, as if trying to find somewhere to run or hide.
And the man noticed.
"And we should go now."
The back breaking straw seemed to be cast. The boy leapt out of his seat, his hands shaking wildly as he spoke. "You must be mad!"
"No, but I'm slowly getting there." He rested his elbows on the table, locking his fingers and placing his chin on them. "You told me that you were part of this, that you were willing to help. Why are you backing out so much now? If memory serves, you were the one who was pressuring me to tell you my plans."
His eyes continued looking around as he listened.
"And stop that." Kota said firmly, causing him to stop fidgeting and stiffen. "What are you looking for? Keep your eyes on me and talk."
"I thought I would just talk to them to bring their spirits up, or to make sure no one broke under the pressure..." He started, his voice almost starting to break as he continued speaking. "B-But this? This is madness! This is illegal! Do you know how many problems could arise if I get caught?"
An aggravated sigh left the black haired slid back in his chair. "... Really now? Really?" He sat back up, leaning forward towards the boy. "Do you know what we're doing? What I'm doing? Did you honestly believe that you could just have a casual talk and then wash your hands clean of this? Act like it never happened?"
"But...!" He started muttering.
"But nothing!" He said strongly, letting some of his impatience and frustration leak into his voice. "Weren't you one of the people who had the most to say about the deplorable conditions here? Weren't you the one so shocked to hear that there were slaves? Weren't you the one who once wished for something better than what you already have? What's wrong with you? What's gotten into you, or rather, what's gotten out? Where's your backbone? Where's your desire for freedom, for a better future?"
He broke eye contact, opting to look outside at some unseen object. "..."
This wasn't the response he was hoping for. He was looking for something more inspiring, more hopeful. However, the last thing he was going to do was give up.
"You shouldn't speak to me anymore."
That was something he wasn't expecting.
"I... I won't say anything to anyone." He muttered lowly, his head dropping to the floor. "And I'll try not to get in your way."
He allowed emotion to show on his face, his eyes widening. "...What...?" This word was nothing compared to what was going on in his mind. It was racing, desperately trying to understand what was going on. He knew he had to convince him to join, but leave?
"Someone like me... wouldn't be of much help." He finished.
Kota's hands trembled as he heard that. His knees were almost weak as he forced himself to his feet. "No... Wait... Where's this coming from...?"
The boy's fist start to shake. "Someone like me... Someone like me... who's a coward." His voice was low and itself trembling. "The last thing I want it to make the phrase 'You're only as strong as your weakest link' true." He looked at his own hand, shaking his head in disgust. "Someone like me, could never be of help to you..."
"You're afraid, that's it." He sighed as he spoke, though the kind of sigh was up for debate. It was somewhat a mix between two. He was satisfied to know what had gone wrong but at the same time... fear was a problematic thing. It can control easily and is hard to break... but can even control once it has been broken.
"You need strong people... People who don't feel fear... People who'll do what needs to be done without beating an eye..." His voice slowly left his throat, defeat and anguish radiating not only from it but also his body language. "I'll never be able to do something like that."
The man looked at him a few moments, letting the words sink. Maybe what he was saying was true. Everyone knew how tricky fear was to deal with, so maybe he wouldn't be of use. Maybe he would just get in the way.
Or he could just be wrong.
The boy's eyes widened a bit as her heard this. "Wh-What?"
"Yes, you may think that fear is useless, that all it does is stop or imped but you're wrong. Anyone who doesn't get afraid, who doesn't feel fear is useless." He announced. "Fear keeps you sharp, it makes your mind and reflexes work faster. Besides..." He lifted his hand, lessening the grip on his nerves and letting it shiver. "You're not the only one."
A slight nod came as assurance before the hand disappeared from sight. "Just talking about this sends my blood pumping but also my nerves. The idea of doing something like this, of having an impact so great on so many people is honestly frightening. But also, with so much gain comes the threat of equal loss. However, you're missing the big picture."
"Big picture...? What big picture...?"
He swallowed, before continuing. "Do you know why we're going to rally the Slaves? Why we're going to see them beforehand? They're slaves. If we wanted, all we have to do is just free them and tell them that they owe us one. After all, they do."
Silence came. He let the silence sit for a while, before continuing to speak.
"Because, we're got getting workers. We're not getting slaves. We're not getting random people."
"We're getting comrades."
The boy's eyes widened as he heard that.
"People who will accept shortcomings. Why? Because they'll cover up for you. Why do you think teams work so well? Because they're able to help each other where they need it. That way, no one has to be invincible. You have a team for that."
The boy stared at him for a while, before shaking his head. "But... where do I fit? Someone like me, who can't even believe in himself. I mean, look at you. You don't have a single bit of wavering in your voice. I can't even stand up straight while talking about this."
"True. However, that's unimportant."
He stepped forward, throwing his arms out and yelling. "How is that unimportant? Explain that to me! Just tell me how I'm supposed to do this in my current state!"
"Because, you believe."
"Wrong. I feel nothing for myself. The dirt on the ground has more potential than me." He spat, kicking some up as he spoke.
"I never said in yourself." He admitted. "But if I might be rude enough, let me tell you something."
"If you can't believe in yourself, believe in me who believes in you."
"Nice speech." She clapped for him as they walked. "Though, that leave me wondering something... Why the hell are you here? Don't you have something to be doing?"
Kota nodded in agreement. "Alright, you got me. I said we'd go right away but I told him to give me an hour or so to work something out."
"And you're talking to me...?" She let the question hang as she rose an eyebrow.
He sighed, scratching his arm. "Well, how am I supposed to get passed the guards? The only way we got passed them this morning is because of your genjutsu. We need your help."
"You know I can't get involved." Tayuya said bluntly, shoving her hands into her pockets. "He knows about me, and not just how to piss me off. He'll notice the sound genjutsu. Its not that common anyway, so you'll have to be good to get a lie through."
"So what, I'm going to have to improvise? Again? I've been improvising almost everything!" He frustration seemed to slip out as he said that. "Aren't you supposed to be planning?"
She scowled, turning her head to give the man a full view of it. "For your information, I did come up with a couple plans. However, there's a reason I haven't told you about them."
"What could possibly keep you from telling me? Do you have any idea how it is to be in the dark for so long?"
She removed her hands from her pockets, stopping and turning to completely to face him. "Oh, my bad. I just figured you wouldn't be too hot on the idea of KILLING SOMEONE!"
The man seemed to freeze, a horrid look filling his eyes as he looked at her. "... Of what...?"
"Tch, you heard me fruit basket." She stared him down as she said that. Lifting up her hands, she showed hers to him. "I just got this insane idea that you wouldn't want your hands to look like this."
"... But your hands look normal..." He muttered, his mind still trying to wrap itself around the idea of killing someone.
"To you." She started, letting her eyes drift to her hands. "All I see when I look at them... is dirt."
"After all the lives I've taken, after all the things I've done, after all the people I've hurt... I doubt I'll be able to look at them as clean again. All I can do is hope that the little good I do will help me at least learn that dirty hands can be used to clean things." She explained, tearing her eyes away from her hands when she finished. "And like I said before, I'd prefer it if no one who didn't need to die died."
He looked down at the ground for a moment or two, understanding what was going through the girl's head. "... I understand. Thank you... for considering me."
"That wasn't called for." He looked up, to see her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
"You spoke so much about believing and teams, yet you don't get it yourself." She began walking, putting her hands back in her pockets. "The most important part of being a team is consideration. I can't just do whatever the hell I want, I need to make sure it doesn't only benefit me but the whole team. And you need to trust that I'll do that."
He looked up and nodded. "... You're right. Thanks."
"Just quit thanking me and get lost." She continued without turning. "You've got someone else to convince."
"Right." He turned and began heading in the other direction.
"Wait." The redhead called out. "There's one thing... One thing I really need to warn you about." She paused, letting an audible sigh leave her lips. "I can't do anything about this, so it's frankly pissing me off by thinking about it."
"You life is in serious danger now." Her words were blunt, almost like a shovel hitting you. "Unlike earlier, there's the chance of the ultimate variable appearing. Orochimaru. If, by any chance, he suddenly goes and cruises through his collection while you guys are there not even I can help you. He'll notice my getjutsu a mile away and we'll all be dead in no time."
The man stopped, his fist shaking a bit. "... Ok. I'll keep that in mind."
"And I'm finally done moving in!" She girl grinned as she looked at her work.
In the room was now two dressers and a mess of clothes on the floor. Along with that was a familiar ball of fur aimlessly walking around the place.
"Moving in? More like crowding." An annoyed voice came from on the bed.
"Ehh? What was that? Got a problem?" Tayuya leaned over to the boy, her hands on her hips. "Cause, I'm always ready to go duckass."
He only stared up at the ceiling with his hands behind his head. "If you brought your stuff over from your room, why didn't you bring your bed."
Her hands dropped, a scowl crawling onto her face. "Well... You know, can't bring it and too big for that you can see..." She turned her head, folding her arms. "Shut up duckass! You're probably jumping on the inside as we speak."
The girl gave one final growl before turning to the door. "You know what, I'll leave you to take care of yourself. I want no repeats of passed events."
As she left the room, her ears picked up the sound of more footsteps.
"Why are you following me?" She asked, still facing forward.
"Bored." Was the deadpan response she got.
"And who says that I want you following me around?" The girl yelled at him, walking a bit faster.
He still persisted, following nonchalantly behind her.
The sounds of his heart beating almost burst his eardrums. It seemed to always be there, haunting him. Even now, the sweat on his brow and palms alone was enough to tell him one thing.
You are insane.
What in Kami-sama's name possessed him to do this was beyond him.
Believe in me who believes in you.
Why would anyone believe in him? Why him? He didn't know anything about him, anything about his backstory yet he believed. Something had to be wrong with him. But at the same time, it was as if something was right. It was as if he could look passed all the useless features and see his true worth, not just the ones that were obvious.
The man stopped, looking down for a moment or two. Then, he pressed his ear to the floor underneath them.
"... You ready?" His voice was low, barely loud enough to be heard.
He swallowed hard, the beating of his heart seeming louder than before.
"Let me go first."
He moved the steel grate silently, placing it in front of him.
Giving one last look, he stepped forward, allowing his feet to drop.
He dropped down, catching himself with his hands.
His hands vanished, a soft sound coming from below.
And now he was alone. There was no telling what was going on down below. The slaves could broken free on their own and just be staring him down, examining their new prey. Or maybe he just fell onto a trap, one which killed him instantly. A number of possibilities ran through his head as he stayed in the silence.
"Come on. It's clear." The voice told him.
Badum. Badum. Badum.
He crept closer to the hole, each step getting smaller and smaller as he got closer.
Badum. Badum. Badum.
The hole was in front of him, his body freezing as he looked at it. His body trembled as he looked at it and what it represented. His fear, the chance of death, danger...
Because, you believe.
He strained to make a fist and fell through. His eyes closed and his mind expecting the worse.
But all that came was the ground. He stayed there for a moment, waiting for immense pain or screams to follow. However, nothing came. Slowly, he cracked an eye open to see Kota standing in front of him, patiently waiting.
"From here on, you're in control."
The man nodded, folding his arms. "I can't tell you how to talk, or what to say. The only thing I can do is help. After all, this is your show."
He swallowed hard again, looking around. The lighting in the corridor was doing more than just creep him out. The way the fire only seemed to light up around itself was beyond weird. The darkness seemed to be darker than usual, with something almost already crawling out to get him.
Nodding, he stepped forward towards the darkness. He stopped in front of it, his heart racing faster than ever before. His fist trembling, his palms sweating and his throat dry, he took one step into the dark. Then another. And another. At first, he saw nothing. His eyes slowly adjusted as he spent more time in it though.
"What the...?" Was the only thing that could come out as he saw what was happening.
A grate of metal bars stood in front of him, a definite barrier between him and what was inside. But the inside was what really got him. It was obviously a cell, could never pass for anything else. Except a coffin. The floor was completely messed, with a combination of unidentifiable substances littering it. His mind told him not to ask but that wasn't even the worse. On that indescribable floor was a person. Barely. Their body was slimmer than thought humanly possible. Body stuck out and told the boy greetings, his muscles were so small that they barely stayed on his arm. The most striking thing about it was how the person was. There just seemed to be there, lying on the floor in defeat. They made no effort to turn and look at him as he approached and they made no effort to come closer as he touched the railings.
"...What is this...?" He muttered to himself. "... Is this a way to live...? To just sit there, not reacting, not moving, nothing?" He turned around, seeing the man standing behind him. "Are we doing this one by one or all together?"
"I'd like to say it's up to you, but we can't afford one by one. Do groups maybe. At that way you'll know that you're getting to everyone." He explained.
He stepped back, making sure that his voice wouldn't only be heard in the cell in front of him, but be able to carry down the corridor.
"H-Hello...!" He started meekly. No... I can't be weak now. Not for them. If I have to believe in him, then they have to believe in me.
"Slaves, Captives! Even though I know you aren't listening, lend me your ear!" He held out his hands, trying to grab attention.
If it worked was anyone's guess. No one moved, nothing stirred. Everything just seemed to exist, just seemed to be there. For a moment, he felt like a complete idiot. Nothing there moved, not even the flames of the lights, not even his own shadow yet he was supposed to move the people held captive. But, he swallowed it. Even if he felt stupid, this wasn't and for the team, he needed to put it aside.
"I cannot say 'I feel your pain', I cannot say 'I understand how it feels', I cannot sympathise with you. To do so would be injustice great enough to rival your being here. Your problems are yours, your feelings are yours and I will not belittle them by placing myself there. What I speak about is myself. Myself, my dreams and my feelings."
The man rose an eyebrow at this. He lowered his folded arms and stepped back.
"However, that doesn't mean I can't ask. You, sitting there staring at the floor. You, resting on the wall looking into oblivion. YOU, lying face up waiting for the next horrid thing to happen to you! I ask, is that all? Are you content? Do you honestly believe that this is it? Can you honestly just sit back an accept things how they are now?" He paused, taking a step or two.
"But, again I am belittling you. Only the wind itself knows how many times its rounded the planet before conjuring up a storm. Without doubt there is reason behind what you do. But, what if that reason could be changed? What if, there was more?"
"However, I am no messenger from above. I am not here to save you, nor am I here to make your life any better than it is. I will not rescue you, I will not make things any better than they already are. In fact I might actually make them worse." He gave another pause, putting his hands down and turning his back. "After all, it was all by one man you are all here. It was all by one man's word are we in this state, in the forsaken abyss. So now I say... the only way to get more, to finally attain the 'if'..."
"Is to make it!" He yelled, turning and swinging his arms out. "No one is going to save you! No one is going to make anything better for you! No one is going to do anything, not now or ever for you!"
"Unless you start yourself. You don't have to rise now, you don't have to yell, you don't have to scream. All you need is to start. To let the fire ignite, let it call out to you, let you soul and body hunger for it like never before. And afterwards, I will be there. I will act as the rope, helping you from the depths of the gorge. But let me make something clear! Let this be an understanding! I do not work for you. Nor do you work for me. You will owe me nothing afterwards and vice versa. Why...? Because..."
"We are comrades!"
"We don't do for each other, we don't try to use each other! We help, we build up, be move towards a common goal! So, if you have been here so long that you can't imagine being of use, if your soul has been discarded and damaged beyond repair, if your mind can't get around the idea of even moving... We are here for you! We will lift you up! And we will give you something to believe in! That way, if you can't find the strength in yourself... If at any time you need something to keep you going... You will have me, him, her any everyone around you! And we will be there to do anything that you can't by yourself!"
"So for now, wait. Think. Spark inside. I will return. And we will move together."
Gah, the speeches are giving me trouble. Plus, I haven't been finding anything near inspiring on this site recently. Anyone have any recommendations or anything? Anything to help me when I get stuck for something. Well, either that or more Doctor Who. But, that might be the problem.
And yes, I'm months late.