Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto.
Beta: Michelle T
Part II: Uchiha
II. Kiiroi Kami
Chapter 11: Seii Taishogun and The Shadow Beneath the City
They circled him, slowly. Poises ready and vigilant. They were armed to the teeth, full armor and all. Their samurai 'chakra coat' burned gloriously even to his limited senses.
"The three generals of Kokkyo…" he drawled slowly, not at all surprised by their appearance. He had been counting on them to be here. If they weren't, then it would have been a great disappointment. "... All here… for little old me? All decked out and dressed up too." He injected a tinge of mocking humor to his tone. "I'm flattered, really. I had no idea I had such avid fans."
None of them bought the taunt. Good.
"This is the one, Tsuki-kun?" said the samurai directly behind Miyamoto, a rakish thirty-something man with a close-shaven head, sharp gray eyes, and a scar running down his right cheek. Naruto recognized the face from the dossiers he had collected. "He sure has the mouth on him."
Zazanha Nobunaga. Noble-born and famous war tactician. Close friend, confidante and advisor to Seii Taishogun Tsuki no Miyamoto. His reputation was a colorful one. The man was neck-deep in vices. Three of them to be exact. Wine, war, and… women… with extra emphasis on the last. He liked black tea and enjoyed Nohgaku performance in his spare time. His favorite weapon was the spear.
"Who cares if he's mouthy. A thug is a thug," said the hulking man blocking the exit through the watchholes. Throughout a lifetime of war and battle, Naruto had met many a warriors, from brawny combat specialists of Kumogakure to armored sword-swinging samurai commanders of snowbound Tetsu no Kuni. However, few of them had a figure that could rival the hulk in front of him.
"Doesn't look like much either. Miyamoto-sama, allow me to teach him the place of his kind," said the hulk, whose name was Nahum 'Grizzly Bear' Bar Sauma according to Naruto's intel. A son of the Bar Sauma tribe, who had long since discarded their nomadic origins to settle down in Kokkyo once the daughter of their chieftain and great grandmother of the current Miyamoto—Lady Isa Bar Sauma—wedded the 4th generation Miyamoto Seii Taishogun. Towering at six feet eight inches and weighing in at three hundred pounds of pure muscle, Nahum Bar Sauma, sworn to be a lifelong companion to Tsuki no Miyamoto and vassal of the Miyamoto clan since six years old, was celebrated as the most powerful in terms of brute strength among the four generals. Atop a thick, corded neck, his square face was tattooed with the blue whorls of the Bar Sauma warrior caste and his hair, mane-like, spotted perhaps twenty traditional braids—one celebrating each victory won for the tribe. While the number of braids of the young Bar Sauma warrior was not something that would impress a veteran like Naruto, who had been in and out of innumerable battles since childhood, it was enough to clearly state that this was no untested whelp with only brawn to his name.
He took one step towards Naruto, coming clearly out of the shadows of the wood columns that held up the roof. There was unmistakable grief and fury in his face, and unlike Seii Taishogun Tsuki no Miyamoto, who had known better than to let his pain and anger lead him to making irrational decisions, Nahum Bar Sauma's grief stricken rage was all pointed at Naruto—and so was the enormous battle axe in his hand. It seemed that by ratting out one among the four as a traitor, Naruto had struck at not just Miyamoto.
Before the massive Bar Sauma warrior got within five steps of Naruto and exacted whatever acts of payback he had in mind however, the wood floor beneath his feet suddenly lit up. Within the blink of an eye, a pentagon made out of glowing fuin had drawn itself on the ground, centering around Naruto. Nahum Bar Sauma stopped immediately, eyeing the fuin warily.
"What's wrong, big guy?" prodded Naruto. "Lost your nerve? What was that you said about putting me in my place just moments ago?" He paused for a second, looking at the tribal warrior who growled in reply, with undisguised amusement. "And here I thought samurai were great, fearless warriors. Well, I guess your kind is all bark and no bite after all."
In response, Nahum Bar Sauma roared, threw all caution to the wind, lifted the battleaxe high, and brought it crashing down over Naruto's head. The axe, by the sheen of its naked blade, was made of tempered Damascus steel, and by its monstrous size, must have weighed about the same as an adult man. In the hands of someone like Nahum Bar Sauma, it could easily split a person in half with a single swipe. But before it could fully complete its descent and meet the crown of Naruto's head, it collided against an invisible force. The seal barrier that flashed up around Naruto gleamed with prismatic ripples for the split second the blade of the axe met its wall. The very next second, Nahum Bar Sauma's axe was blown clean out of its owner's hands with a crashing boom. Thrown by the rebounding force born out of its violent collision with the barrier, it flew wildly, missing his ear by a hair's breadth before hitting the far wall behind Nahum Bar Sauma's back with a sharp cracking sound.
Naruto tutted at the glaring Nahum Bar Sauma. "Really? I thought you would be a little smarter than that. Didn't your mother teach you never to come at a seal master with a toy axe… especially when you know that seal master has tinkered with seals in the very place you're standing in? Clearly I was hoping for too much."
"You...!" the young tribal warrior snarled. Before he could say another word however, a rasping bellow stopped him in his tracks.
"NAHUM!" shouted the old man with a face full of blue tattoo whorls and a head full of silver braids. "Do not. Let him provoke you."
The third and—with the death of Kusuki Masashige—the last of Miyamoto's generals, Masud 'Horned Owl' Bar Sauma, father of Nahum Bar Sauma and the sworn vassal from the Bar Sauma tribe to the previous generation's Miyamoto Seii Taishogun. Like his son, he was solid in frame. Unlike his son, he wasn't nearly as tall, standing only at five feet nine and so lacking in the sheer imposing physicality that Nahum possessed. A survivor and veteran of many wars fought on behalf of other city states and border skirmishes, Masud was well into his sixties. Despite his age, there was an air about him that cautioned that this old man was not to be taken lightly.
As he came out of the shadows of the wood beams, Naruto saw the miniature totem pole in his hand, and by miniature he meant barely longer than Masud was tall. He stopped five steps away from the boundary of the seal Naruto had erected and with a heave, embedded one end of the totem into the wood floor. Almost immediately, dark blue vines grew from the whorls on the totem, spreading out from where the totem foot connected with the floor to form a circle to encapsulate Naruto's pentagon.
"Interesting," mused Naruto as he watched the advance of the vines. He could feel chakra from them, thin but honed, the mark of great experience behind them. The elder Bar Sauma was a seal master. His intel from Nezumi had mentioned nothing of this, quite possibly because tribal sealing arts were by and large too esoteric to be known and recognized far and wide. In Naruto's timeline, tribal fuinjutsu was all but extinct. Still, he recognized similar principles in their configuration. Masud Bar Sauma's seal, while strange in appearance, was doing almost the same thing as a quarantine seal. The old man meant to keep him from the larger array that encompassed the entirety of Miyamoto fortress. Sound tactic… in theory.
Naruto answered Masud's unspoken challenge with a flick of his wrist. From within his sleeve, a long, thin string of skin unfurled and as it touched the ground, released a swarm of Naruto's seal eaters. He could sense the power and strength behind Masud's seal but the old man—while a master in his own right—was simply no match for Naruto. A distance of one hundred years of development gearing sealing arts towards battle application separated them. If Masud had time and preparation, maybe it would have been different. But as it was, if they clashed, it would be an easy victory for Naruto. A fact Masud seemed to detect immediately as his vines attempted to avoid the fuin eater's leisurely pursuit.
"I acknowledge a fellow fuin master," said Naruto through his mask. His fuin eater bugs danced around Masud's vines, not quite pursuing, merely keeping the vines at a safe distance. "Shall it be a battle of fuinjutsu between us then, old one?"
In response, Masud Bar Sauma spat at his feet. "Do not wag your filthy tongue at me, shadow kind. I would like nothing more than to feed you to the dogs, but judgement is not up to me today."
"I take it that's a no," replied Naruto, unfazed. "Too bad. It would have been fun pummeling you into the ground." If it was trash talking they wanted, he could match it with the best of them.
"Now, gentlemen," drawled Naruto as he turned around to face Miyamoto. "As fun as this posturing is, I do run by the clock, so if you would kindly tell me the purpose of our meeting, that would be really great for all of us. And no, you will not be able to feed me to the dogs, put me in my place, or any other generally distasteful courses of action—not while you haven't plugged the bigass holes in your security seal array.
"Ah, wouldn't you listen to that? Hearing him rattling off non-stop just pisses me off. Are you sure you want to listen to this guy, Tsuki-kun? Can you even trust the drivel that comes from his mouth?" said Zazanha Nobunaga as a sharp, biting smile spread across his face.
At his question, Tsuki no Miyamoto stepped forward. Unlike his generals, he looked calm, unperturbed.
"He did give me the proof on Masashige. That we did not like what we were seeing was not something of his doing."
By the sound of that, Miyamoto did suspect Kusuki Masashige of duplicity. But why the inaction before Naruto came to force his hand? Lingering feelings of loyalty and camaraderie perhaps? Or an unwillingness to face corruption so close to home? Naruto didn't get much time to ruminate on that, for Tsuki no Miyamoto was pressing on with questions.
"Yurei…" The three generals grimaced as Naruto's chosen alias for working with the samurai of Kokkyo fell from Tsuki no Miyamoto's lips, as if it were some dirty words they didn't want their leader to utter. Well, tough fucking luck! Prissy samurai and their trophy sense of honor and propriety. "... the last time you were here, you talked of incoming attacks I don't see, and enemies I don't know." Miyamoto looked him in the eye. "Who are they?"
In response, Naruto simply held out a hand with a folded up missive clutched in his palm. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the missive over to Miyamoto who caught it with one deft hand and unfurled it.
It was the very same coded missive in Big Rat's mails that keyed Naruto in to his and Nezumi's relationship with the Uchiha clan and the massive plan that had been in the works for the span of a near decade.
"This is…" The code was military grade, requiring time to break through, but the Uchiha crest in vermilion at the tail end of the missive was unmistakable.
Alarmed by the look on his liege's face, Zazanha Nobunaga stepped close, glanced at the missive in Miyamoto's hands and frowned.
"That doesn't make sense," he said. "The Uchiha do not take requests from mere underworld criminals."
"You would be right that they don't. They have standards. Besides which, underworld criminals have the habit of bouncing checks all the time. Makes for bad business," said Naruto. The Uchiha and the Senju were the closest to noble class that ninja of this era had. Regardless of the samura's disdain for the 'shadow kind', even they acknowledged strength where it existed. "But their client in this case is no mere underworld criminal."
"This is the symbol of Nezumi," countered Nobunaga, pointing out the seal in dark scarlet right beside the Uchiha signet. So the top samurai did have an idea on who was king pin of the underworld then. That would make his job somewhat easier.
"It is," Naruto concurred, "but in this case, Nezumi is simply another name on the payroll, right alongside the Uchiha. And this payroll, it was settled recently… with Hi no Kuni treasury notes."
There was a beat of silence as the generals and Seii Taishogun processed what he had just said before…
"Impossible!" exclaimed Zazanha Nobunaga, expression breaking from its previous calm disdain to show dismay for the first time. His sudden reaction prompted the younger Bar Sauma to look over quizzically, not yet comprehending the full implication of Naruto's statement. Standing beside his strategist and childhood friend, Seii Taishogun Tsuki no Miyamoto said not a word. Only the hardening of his expression betrayed Miyamoto's full comprehension of Naruto's insinuation. A fiendish grin spread over Naruto's face as he observed the silent exchange between Miyamoto and Nobunaga, their almost immediate grasp of the hint in his statement.
You both are forces to be reckoned with. There's no question about it, he thought to himself. He had tested Miyamoto on might and what he had seen just now proved that at least half of Kokkyo's top military personnel had the mental capacities as those of their stations should. The missive, despite the damning content of Uchiha and Nezumi signets, actually contained little actual information other than a date and a vague raid plan. And it was in code. Even if the both of them could immediately break the code—without already having suspicions and information of their own before Naruto handed them this proof—they would never be able to reach the conclusion so quickly. The both of you will be useful allies in this war. Not assassinating either of you and assuming command was the right choice.
On the other hand, not all of the generals were as quick of wit as the Seii Taishogun and his strategist.
"What? What did he say, Za-kun?" said the clueless Nahum Bar Sauma. Standing beside his son, Masud Bar Sauma was quietly watching Naruto with keen eyes, seemingly content to let Nobunaga and Miyamoto decipher whatever was in the missive.
"He's saying that the enemy of Kokkyo…" said Nobunaga before pausing and glancing in reluctance at a deathly quiet Miyamoto. Whatever Nobunaga was asking for—whether confirmation or consent—he never got, for Naruto had forged on and completed his statement.
"... is the daimyo of Hi no Kuni itself."
Before Naruto came here, there was but a moment when he considered holding back the big revelation of who was the mastermind behind the downfall of Kokkyo. Samurai, after all, were rather big on honor before reason. Even the samurai he knew—long after their golden era and several cultural revolutions that saw them adapting to the new world order—still clung to romantic notions of an undying loyalty from a vassal to his sworn lord. The ones he knew had gladly gone to their deaths even when they knew they had been betrayed by their own lords.
The samurai of this time, where such notions was held as the cornerstone of a samurai's honor… there was no telling what they would do if he told him point blank that the lord daimyo—who they had been taught from birth to maintain absolute loyalty to—had gone and betrayed them with a scheme that was every level of dirty and cowardly in the samurai's rule book. They might just decide he was one big fat liar (not that he wouldn't lie to get his way; he would, but not in this case) and attempt to take his head and present it as gift to said daimyo.
On the other hand, time was of the essence. From the little Naruto had gleaned from Big Rat's correspondence with the Uchiha and the fact that Miyamoto had played the opening hand—signaling his knowledge of things afoot to the entire city of Kokkyo and whatever spies caring to pay attention—the culmination of the daimyo's grand plan was drawing near. It was already the beginning of winter. Most of Kokkyo major trade routes were still blocked or harassed by scores of rouge ninja and robbers. Once November ended and winter came in full swing, the trade routes would close up entirely, leaving Kokkyo with its sabotaged supply reserves and deteriorating social conditions to a slow but inevitable implosion. Decisive actions must be taken before winter came in full, or Kokkyo would fall with or without the assistance of a sieging army at its door.
With that in mind, Naruto had decided for a quick and upfront revelation. If the samurai at least gave him the benefit of the doubt and started investigations to confirm the veracity of his claim, it would be enough. If they did not, the fact that they would soon find themselves at war at an incredibly inopportune time and could use a little help on the side was still unquestionable. Failing that and in the case that they decided his presence alone was too much for their samurai sensibilities to handle and attempt a go at his head… well, it wasn't as if Naruto himself was a harmless little thing that could be easily taken down by a few samurai with little idea of what he was truly capable of when provoked.
He might not be able to take on all four master samurai in close combat at once, but he was more than capable of a swift and safe exit should things head south. Whatever followed would determine how he would make use of his newly acquired crime syndicate.
Just as he expected, the reaction was immediate this time as both young and old Bar Sauma roared at the same time, one with derisive laughter, the other with indignant anger. Their chakra coats, ever so tightly wound around them, flared briefly like firelight, sending out invisible ripples felt only by those trained in chakra arts.
"Insolent! You speak nothing but lies!"
"Ludicrous! Why would Daimyo-sama scheme against his own loyal vassal? If that's all you have to say, shadow kind, then you are not nearly as clever as you presented yourself to be."
Naruto stood unfazed as he coolly regarded the Seii Taishogun and his generals.
"You call me insolent, yet your own strategist and liege lord figured out what I was talking about rather quickly. My dear samurai, if I didn't know better, I would say I hit a sore spot you all didn't want to admit," turning his attention solely onto Miyamoto, he drawled, "After all, you out of all the people here should know most about the history between the Miyamoto clan and the daimyo line of Hi no Kuni, shouldn't you? Those bones in the closet of your ancestors… is the hatchet buried, or is it still there?"
Jackpot. At once, his statement directed the tribal warrior's attention to the deathly quiet Miyamoto and Nobunaga. There was but a beat of silence when the two Bar Sauma waited for a rebuttal but they received nothing of the sort. Miyamoto was quiet, face blank as he stared at the missive in his hand. He appeared to be in deep thought. His lifelong friend and war strategist Zazanha Nobunaga wore a dark scowl on his face.
"This proves nothing," said Nobunaga finally, but it lacked the conviction of a man who knew without a shadow of doubt that what he feared worst would not come to pass. "This is but conjecture, based on vague hints. You have no proof."
"How funny," retorted Naruto. "You don't sound so convinced of your own words, Nobunaga-san. For a strategist famed for seeing fifty steps ahead of your rivals, you are being awfully coy all of a sudden. What's the matter? Is the truth so difficult to stomach coming from a shadow kind? A pity. I had thought…"
That was as far as Naruto got. Before another word escaped his lips, Nahum Bar Sauma had raised a meaty fist high, his chakra flaring like a star, and brought it down into the floor in an explosion that sent splinters of marble and wood flying. Whereas his fist stopped inches deep in the wood and marble floor, his chakra didn't. In the blink of an eye, that tightly wound fiery coat was streaming from him and into the floor, spreading like the cracks in shattered glass and making contact with the outer layer of Naruto's barrier seal array.
There was a flash and the loud crackling sound of samurai chakra colliding against ninja chakra. Nahum Bar Sauma's was an unstoppable force, even against the impenetrable structure of fuinjutsu. Naruto jumped on reflex, bounding up a nearby wood column. In the shadow of the flash, he saw Masud's creeping vines reaching for him. He answered the old man's opportunistic attack with a flick of his wrist, sending a second array to counter the vines and erect yet another barrier around him.
As the dust settled in the battered chamber, Zazanha Nobunaga coughed while looking at the younger Bar Sauma with a long suffering look.
"Great," he said in a voice that implied this was not the first time this had happened. "That's the third floor you busted up this month. Now I'm going to have to call the maintenance foreman in tomorrow to fix this up. He's already way overpaid. You do realize this is coming out of your salary?"
Crouching on the ground with his closed fist burned, and bloody, and inches deep in the wood and marble floor, Nahum Bar Sauma cast a smugly satisfied look at the remains of Naruto's first seal array. What was once an impenetrable A class personal barrier was now charred black wood and stone, its structure and power spent in a hopeless fight against a foe it was never designed to battle.
"I would gladly pay for the new floor..." said Nahum Bar Sauma as he turned his head at Naruto who was crouching sideway on the wooden beam and watching him back with newfound interest and wariness. "... if it means I don't have to hear the incessant prattling of filth unfit to even walk the ground of this hallowed place." Turning back to his peers, he declared with hands thrown wide and his chakra flaring like a forest fire. "Tsuki-sama, Za-kun, I ain't never been a smart guy like the two of you. But whatever problems you have, it can't be solved by the likes of him. I don't care what he has to say and I don't care for whatever complicated, sour bones lay between the Miyamoto clan and the daimyo. My heart and soul are yours, and always will be! Give the word, and I will erase this filth from your eyes! Whatever information you want out of him, I will squeeze his bones and flesh until he squeaks his heart out!"
That, thought Naruto, unfazed by the threats levered at him by the tribal warrior, was kinda awesome, but also kinda stupid. Could have wounded me if he aimed a little higher, but decided to show off instead.
Straightening to a standing position while still hanging sideway from fifteen feet up the floor, Naruto snarked back.
"Big words for a guy with a little brain. So you have some sparkly tricks up your sleeve. Could have used it for something that actually struck instead of grandstanding for your friends here. What are you? A lovesick little girl?"
"You!" snarled Nahum Bar Sauma right before he was bulldozed over by Naruto's next statement.
"You do realize that's not gonna work on me a second time, do ya? And what if I had decided to cut my losses and leave… and set up a big surprise for you in the main complex? Think your fist can go against a seal array a thousand times bigger than that one? Think you can get all the people inside this fortress to safety before it goes big badaboom on your asses? You want to see some real fireworks? I can show you some," he snapped his fingers, curling them like claws, before throwing Nahum's earlier words back at him. "Just give the word, big guy."
His statement seemed to have gotten through because Nahum Bar Sauma stopped dead in his tracks. A pale, stricken look spread across his face the instant Naruto mentioned blowing up the fortress's master seal array in retaliation. Beside him, Masud Bar Sauma and Zazanha Nobunaga tensed. Miyamoto on the hand simply sent a stern, unamusing look his way.
Tutting mockingly at the stricken Bar Sauma, Naruto sneered and proceeded to dig his claws deeper. "Yeah I thought so. You really didn't think that through, did ya? I was hoping you weren't all brawn and no brain as my first impression suggested, but I guess I was being too positive. You are something of a special deal, aren't you little Bar Sauma?" Then he flicked his chin at Miyamoto. "With subordinates like this, I'm surprised you haven't run this city into the ground. Maybe I should have done you a favor… and taken this one out along with that Masashige snitch."
Once again, his comment provoked a roar of rage out of the hotheaded tribal warrior. But this time, before Nahum Bar Sauma could move an inch from where he stood, Seii Taishogun Tsuki no Miyamoto had stepped in the way with one hand raised as if commanding his general to stop.
"Cool your heart, Nahum," he said, voice frosty and eyes hard on Naruto. "It is unsightly for a samurai to lose control of himself. Unrestrained passion is the province of lordless ronin, not true warriors."
If Naruto ever needed proof of Tsuki no Miyamoto's absolute authority over his oath-bound Bar Sauma general, this moment would be it. Before his eyes, the giant Nahum Bar Sauma who previously was like a quaking volcano, wilted at once. Collapsing onto one knee and with his head downcast, he cried out.
"Miyamoto-sama…" he stopped there, as if unsure of what to say. His entire demeanor was suddenly that of a meek servant who had just realized he's made a colossal mistake. The look was ill-fitting on the mountain of a man. It was a sight to see.
"Gee, you sure got him whipped," said Naruto mockingly, before he himself came under the famed hawkeye gaze of the reigning warlord of Kokkyo.
"And you," Miyamoto started, "for someone who claimed to come seeking an alliance, you are quite eager to provoke your hopeful allies. I would question the wisdom of one who seeks to work against himself out of whims."
"Fine! I'll stop poking your dog with a stick," replied Naruto, unable to resist one last jab. "Ruin my fun with your straight man talk why don't you? But at least I can be glad that there are some sane heads in this room. Here I was all worried that I would be preaching to brick walls. So… now that we're done dancing, shall we talk business? Or shall I take myine elsewhere? Preferably out of this city entirely before it goes down in flames?"
"Speak," replied Miyamoto succinctly.
"Tsuki-kun!" Zazanha Nobunaga exclaimed. "He has no proof! You can't be seriously considering…"
Tsuki no Miyamoto silenced his strategist with a single raised hand. "Regardless of whether or not he speaks the truth," he said, not taking his eyes off Naruto. "the fact remains that we face imminent war against an enemy we know little of. If this one…" he gestured with his head at Naruto. "... knows even a little of what we shall face in due time, then I will hear him." There was a pause as Tsuki no Miyamoto waited for possible rebuttals from his subordinates but none came. When he spoke next, he addressed Naruto directly.
"The last time you were here, you spoke of a mutually beneficial alliance for the sake of Kokkyo. Explain."
Naruto didn't need to be asked a second time. "It's simple," he launched directly into his proposal to the samurai. "War is coming to Kokkyo, that much is without question. The only thing in question is your ability to survive it."
"The standing Kokkian army has never suffered defeat," protested the strategist Nobunaga.
"The standing Kokkian army has never before been sabotaged from the inside by one of its own four generals," Naruto bit back immediately. "It has also never fought a war in which time plays against it, and the city walls to which it entrusts the protection of its citizens is made completely obsolete. The longer you let this standoff continue, the longer your trade routes remain closed and the faster this city will sink into chaos. Your enemy, who doubtlessly knows that time favors them in this battle, will leverage hit-and-run tactics against you, bleeding you out until your famed army is but a shell of its former self."
He paused once, surveying the bitter acceptance on Nobunaga's face before continuing. "But most important of all is the fact that the standing Kokkian army has never before fought against an enemy it knows nothing about. Even if you were to discount a unified Ame army at your door as little more than the usual, there's a new player in the game this time around. Tell me, my dear strategist, do you know anything about the Uchiha clan? Do you know what to expect from them? How they fight their battles, their tactics and preferred weapons of choice, their war doctrine, their strengths and weaknesses and how to counter them on the battlefield? Do you know how to spot their infiltrators in your ranks? Wars are won or lost on the quality of intelligence. You, of all people, should know this."
By the standards of this time, samurai, especially those of Nobunaga and Miyamoto's stations generally didn't think much of ninja and their war potential. In the eyes of the elite warriors of this era, shinobi and kunoichi were nothing more than cheap mercenary rabble that small warmongering nations and merchant guilds relied on to do their dirty work. And to be fair, their opinion was not much far from the truth, as the ninja of before the era of Hidden Villages were nothing like the fearsome military forces of Naruto's day. The ninja of this era, with the exception of a few notable clans—including but not limited to the Uchiha, the Senju, and the Uzumaki—were largely small tribes that spent their strength to squabble endlessly among themselves over petty grievances. But this same opinion in turn had created a glaring blind spot in the samurai's intelligence pool. If his estimates were right, Nobunaga and Miyamoto should know nothing of the Uchiha other than their reputation as great warriors and their penchant for fire-based jutsus. And that, from the viewpoint of a war strategist, was an alarming state of affairs.
Nobunaga scowled darkly at him across the room, confirming his expectations without having said a word.
"I suppose you know everything there is to know about the Uchiha then."
"I wouldn't say I know every thing," said Naruto breezely. "But I certainly know where to look for them… and how to make sure they stay dead. I also happen to know all the traps the Uchiha prefer—the ones too dirty for honorable warriors to ever entertain in their spotless minds."
"So you offer help," Tsuki no Miyamoto spoke up, stopping Masud Bar Sauma who looked like he was about to share a piece of his mind with Naruto. "What then, is the price for this help?"
"A front row seat as you raze the Uchiha and the Ame unified tribes to the ground," replied Naruto, completely unabashed. "... and a single live Uchiha capture… to do with as I please… for however long I please." His voice grew cold and heavy with dark anticipation as he named the second part of his price. There was no better opportunity to capture a Uchiha warrior alive out of open war. War was chaos. People could easily go missing in and out of battles. Even with the use of preventative seals that the Hyuuga clan favored, it was still impossible to prevent live prisoners from falling into enemy's hand, and with them, vital intel that the clan wouldn't want anyone else to know. Intel such as the coordinates and passwords of previously secured headquarters and bases and updated statuses of clan-wide affairs. As Naruto told Aki mere days ago, there was simply no better opportunity to go after the Uchiha.
There was a beat of silence once Naruto stated his price. The reigning warlord of Kokkyo looked him in the eye, quiet and contemplative, his gaze searching, as if his famed hawkeye could bore through the bone white Noh mask to get to the face behind it. Then, as if Miyamoto had found whatever he was looking for, it passed.
"Your stated price," he said, quietly but firmly. ".. is acceptable."
To a master samurai, having to team up with a shinobi to win a war was an ignoble choice. But far from looking like a proud warrior after he had been cornered into a choice he didn't like, the Kokkian warlord wore the calm, collected look of one who had seen everything he expected come to pass.
"Miyamoto-sama!" "Tsuki!" Came the twin voices of Nobunaga and Masud Bar Sauma, dismay written on their faces.
"Tsuki-kun, you can't trust the likes of him. He's ninja. They would sell out their own family for coins!"
"Za-kun," replied Miyamoto. "If it were but a few months ago I would agree with you wholeheartedly. But recent events have taught me… that even honorable samurai could sell out their own kin for coin if such coin was big enough."
His quiet statement prompted a hush in the three generals, the betrayal of one of their own still fresh in their minds. Miyamoto however, appeared to have put the traitor Kusuki Masashige behind him in the face of bigger problems.
"Besides," he pressed on, his ringed hawkeyes boring into Naruto's face as he pinned the suddenly irritated ninja with a pointed gaze. "It's not you I trust. What I trust… is your thirst for vengeance. You reek of it. It has become your flesh and blood… but I care not what poison a shadow kind puts into himself as long as he serves to protect my people."
Naruto said nothing to that, simply glared back at Miyamoto. Despite his very real acknowledgement of Miyamoto's prowess and sheer force of will, something about the Kokkian Seii Taishogun annoyed him like nothing ever did. Perhaps it was Miyamoto's ridiculous code of honor, or perhaps it was the holier than thou attitude he had going on. But he didn't need to likes samurai warlords to team up with him and bring the Uchiha to the ground. With luck, this war would be done within the year and he wouldn't have to see Miyamoto's irksome face ever again.
"How dramatic," he drawled. "Now if you're done with your family soap opera, shall we sign ourselves to this accord then?"
"We shall," responded Miyamoto. "But not before you hear my terms."
"He made you a general?" squeaked Aki hours later in the same day when Naruto finally got home to the frogs and the kids. Once dinner was done and he put the two orphans to sleep, he convened with the Yin Yang twins in the upper room of Tonari no Ryokan and in a few short and to the point sentences, described what had happened in his meeting with the top samurai of Kokkyo. By the end of it, needless to say the twins were gobsmacked by the news.
"As in… a general of the Kokkian army? … As in… one of the four generals answering directly to Miyamoto himself?" repeated Zaki. "Why the hell would he do that? Are they that desperate for your help?"
"Not in the least bit," said Naruto, twirling the badge bearing his new Kokkian army rank on it. It was a pretty thing, made of composite gold, titanium, and a special chakra receptive alloy. If he channeled his chakra, he could feel the answering ting of the seal inlaid in the core of the badge itself. All in all, the Kokkian army general badge was one neat product of metalwork and fuinjutsu… and it was bound specifically to his chakra signature. It was the physical proof of their alliance.
"He made me Kusuki Masashige's replacement. That general of the fourth Kokkian army corp title is mostly just name. I have neither a functioning command under me..." Following the discovery of Masashige's duplicity, the fourth corp had been purged and rendered into tattered groups of shell shocked and disgraced soldiers unfit for battle. Now put under the command of a ninja of all things, it would take a miracle to galvanize them into a proper army corp that could stand with the rest. Likely the surviving remnants of the fourth corp thought this was their punishment for being in the same group as the executed traitors despite their ignorance of the crime committed by their deceased general. "... nor the political or administrative power to back up the general rank."
"Then why the hell did he do that? Is that some sort of secret samurai insult?" Aki grumbled.
"He means to put me under watch," Naruto replied. "Think about it. If he refused my help… or if he kept me on simply as a consultant, it would be difficult to keep an eye on my movements. And having someone of my capabilities moving unchecked in his own city is the last thing Miyamoto wants. So he made me his general…"
"... and effectively put you under the watch of every soldier in the standing army…" gasped Aki, now realizing the intention behind Miyamoto's action.
"And the entire governing machine of Kokkyo too," Zaki added. "I bet right now people are being notified of the new general, aren't they? Nobles and merchants and whatever government officials care to pay attention. And they will… they will watch you because Miyamoto has made you a new player in their politickin game, hasn't he?"
"What a guy huh?" said Naruto. Probably that was what he planned to do since before their second meeting itself. That entire bickering episode against his generals probably was just a way for him to observe Naruto when provoked by the Bar Sauma and Nobunaga.
Jumping on top the general badge in Naruto's palm, Zaki mulled.
"Then this is…" He sent out a tiny pulse of chakra and felt very clearly an answering beat from within the metal construct.
"My personal leash," said Naruto. Without hearing another word of explanation from him, the twins understood. Supportive fuinjutsu was among their specialties. They had both recognized the sign of a fixed target locator seal inside the badge. Wherever Naruto went inside the territory of Kokkyo, Tsuki no Miyamoto would know. The moment he stepped foot inside a forbidden territory or decided to abandon Kokkyo, the warlord would be notified immediately via the corresponding seal that no doubt stood on his office desk right now.
"The district Blackout seal should scramble this one, shouldn't it?" Aki commented as she leaned in to check the detailed workings of the seal array. "It should report your general location in the Western perimeter of the city but not the exact coordinates."
"You would be right," said Naruto. Days after he had taken over Nezumi, he had worked with the twins to widen the scope and power of the seal array protecting Tonari no Ryokan from unwanted eyes until it had enveloped a good part of the Western river junctions where a myriad of micro islands lay. It wasn't enough to throw the locator seal off entirely, but it could confuse it a fair bit so long as Naruto stayed within the boundary of the Blackout.
"But if you step outside the perimeter, he would know where you are immediately. Are you sure this is what you want? Didn't they still chase after you a couple weeks ago?" asked Zaki in concern.
"I'm not comfortable with it," concurred Naruto. "But as it is, right now, this leash is a symbol of trust. If I couldn't trust Miyamoto not to shank me from the back, then why should he trust me to lead his army through treacherous waters to victory?" Which also meant that tampering with the locator seal was also out of the question. The moment Miyamoto detected unsupervised changes to the seal inside the badge, he would assume deceit on Naruto's part and respond in kind. It was one thing to be dodging the mostly inept Kokkian outer perimeter police department (which he had more or less bought out). It was another to be on the run from one furious Seii Taishogun and his army of similarly irate samurai warriors.
"That's still a risky thing to do. What's to say he won't turn on you the moment he thinks he doesn't need you anymore?"
"It is," agreed Naruto. "But right now it's mostly safe. Miyamoto doesn't have the manpower to dispose of me. With the seals at my disposal, an operation to erase me from Kokkyo would sustain heavy casualty and collateral damages. Miyamoto knows it. He also has bigger problems to take care of… such as the army gathering beyond the border. When he does have the time and resources to… perhaps… deal with me, I too would be ready for him."
Sighing in resignation, Aki said. "Fine. Forget we bothered. So… now that you are a general, how are things going to change? I suppose the plan is not going to be the same?"
"First of all, we are going to need to call in help from Mt. Myobokuzan. As a general, I am expected to accompany the army when it goes to war and I'm not comfortable with leaving only clones here."
"Alright. We are going to prepare a summon gate straight back to the mountain."
"Before you do that however," Naruto stopped the twins before they made to jump off. "We are going to need to do a purge of ourselves… on Nezumi."
End Chapter 11
1. I'm still alive, and not only that, I've spawned a great number of new stories. It can't be helped. I'm a promiscuous writer who is never satisfied with only one imaginary world alone. I do not apologize for being what I am (Deal with it!). That being said though, I probably should devote more attention to my older stories, Tis Femina among those.
2. Next chapter: the purge of Nezumi, and the Kokkian army reacting to a ninja general as war approaches.
3. A reader commented that having a standing army of a 100 000 soldiers in Kokkyo is unrealistic. Well, it is unrealistic by today's standards. Tis Femina military details is based on warring era Asia and some hundred thousand soldiers is not a particularly big number in ancient Asian warfare. For example:
- In 217-218 BC, the Qin dynasty sent an invading army of 500 000 soldiers to pacify ancient Au Lac. This invading army was only a small part of Qin empire standing army. The war lasted 10 years before subsiding for a while.
- Between 129-117 BC, emperor Wu of Han dynasty sent 40 000 cavalrymen to attack the Xiongnu tribe, 30 000 men to north of Yanmen, 100 000 troops into Mongolia, 30 000 troops to raid Dai, Dinxiang and Shang, and 100 000 troops to colonize Ordos. Those numbers do not include the protecting army of Han which stayed behind to fend off attacks by other rivals in the region.
- Before the An Lushan rebellion in 755 AC (Tang Dynasty), general An Lushan was given 164 000 soldiers to garrison Pinglu, Fanyang and Hedong—only a small part of ancient Tang. During the revolution, An Lushan then raised that number to two times as many troops under him though he tended to lose them rather quickly too.
To be fair, the Naruto-verse is an Asian fantasy world with a majority of its cultural aspects that are Japanese in nature. However, the scope of real life Japan (numbers of war, population, etc…), which is a rather small nation with limited population, does not stand up to the size of Naruto verse which includes five big nations and a myriad of smaller nations. The military aspect of Tis Femina, therefore, is based on real life ancient Asian and Eurasian wars in the era before working contraception (big family size, people dying young but spawning 5-10 mini versions of themselves just as quick and most nations tending to have a large standing army to fend off wars,which do happen quite a lot in the Naruto-verse).
With those numbers in mind, the Kokkyo standing army numbering at only 100 000 troops actually is a humble number considering they are responsible for border protection of the entire West Hi no Kuni, which itself is one among the big five nations of Naruto verse.
If you haven't noticed, I'm a history buff, so you will have to try harder than that to nitpick the fine details of Tis Femina (I welcome the criticism though. It's fun to discuss and sometimes argue about obscure details). I rest my case.
4. As one reader has figured out, the one-sided romance element I was talking about last chapter is from Tsuki no Miyamoto (Pun name ahoy! Gift short fic for the first reader to figure out what's the pun in Miyamoto's name. It's super easy.) towards Naruto after he makes the discovery of Naruto's physical gender (Nothing cheesy like walking in while Naruto is showering and stuff. Naruto is too hardcore macho for that. He's a macho man!). After the Kokkyo war arc, there will be a short and somewhat humorous chapter titled 'Ballad of the Rabbit' detailing Miyamoto's attempts at courting a mostly oblivious and somewhat freaked out Naruto (who is convinced he's in some weird, obscure samurai rites) as Naruto prepares to leave Kokkyo and infiltrate the Uchiha clan. You can probably already tell it's not going to end well for Miyamoto. Still, this romance element will have strategic plot importance late late late in the story, in the final battle where the Kokkian samurai rally the samurai of Hi no Kuni to stand beside the unified ninja clans against the last and greatest Big Bad of the story, the Jubi itself.
5. So, what do you think of the generals of Kokkyo? After the Kokkian war arc, they will return in the very last arc of Tis Femina.
6. Now I'm going to work on the next chapter of either Mirror Mirror or From the Garden of Gods. Coin toss to see which one.