Koyaiba immediately decided he liked Takigakure.
The village hidden in the Waterfall was smaller than Konoha, but Koyaiba kind of liked the closeness. It had a comforting effect on him, and once he got over the initial annoyance of the constant sound of falling water, he found the noise to actually be soothing.
His guide led him through the cobbled streets, careful to keep other people away from him. Not that they seemed to need help – most would take one glance at his forehead protector and scurry away, their heads down. Koyaiba guessed Konoha didn't have the best reputation around Waterfall.
He was vaguely offended by that. Without Konoha's support, Taki would've fallen to other, larger ninja villages years ago. They claimed they wanted independence, but Koyaiba doubted they were ready to handle it. The alliance between the two villages benefited both of them – would Waterfall really be much happier of without Konoha?
They seemed to think so. And maybe they were ready for independence. But Koyaiba understood that Waterfall's location and ninja force made it too valuable an asset to risk losing. Even with Konoha's depleted numbers, Hiashi probably wouldn't hesitate to respond with force if Waterfall threatened to abandon them. And no matter what Waterfall thought of their military strength, they were no match for the Leaf. Konoha would crush them quickly, and all that would be achieved would be a weakening of both villages.
He shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind as they approached the prison complex. Easily the tallest building in the village, it was made out intimidating black stone, coursing with hundreds upon hundreds of dimly pulsing seals. Koyaiba took a step back to admire the full effect – though very unornamented, the prison was solid and imposing, a testament to its effectiveness.
"You're struck by it, I see," Koyaiba's guide said with a small smile. "Many foreigners are, when they see it for the first time."
"It looks invincible," Koyaiba said, still slightly breathless.
"It is," his guide said, obviously amused with Koyaiba's amazement. "Its name is Yomi – nobody has ever, or will ever, escape."
Koyaiba walked up to the door, which was heavy oak and seemed to shine in the daylight. The paint was unscratched and un-dirtied, and Koyaiba could barely even see fingerprints on the handle. "I like the door," he said as they walked into the prison. "Looks brand new."
The guide licked his lips. "Yes, ah – appearances are very important to us, of course. Yomi is our crown jewel, and should look the part."
The inside of Yomi was a maze of twisting corridors, with bleak, hard stone pressing in from all sides. Koyaiba was lost after the first few turns, but his guide seemed to know exactly where they were at all times, and his stride never broke or even hesitated.
Finally they reached a small congregation of ninja crowded outside a doorway. "This is where I'm going to have to leave you, Koyaiba-san," his guide said with a polite bow. "I have places to be. The man you're looking for, Joumae-sama, is the one with the silver staff.
"I see him. Thank you for the help," Koyaiba said, bowing back. The guide hurried off down the halls, and Koyaiba approached Yomi's Warden, Joumae Choushi.
Joumae was a tall, broad man, with a face that looked too narrow for the rest of his body. His light red hair was nearly shaven, and a similarly colored five o'clock shadow covered his face. A large chunk of his nose was missing, the skin around it lumpy and scarred. In his left hand was clutched a large silver staff, tipped with two "teeth" not unlike those on a key.
"So you're the representative from Konoha," he said as Koyaiba approached. His voice was slightly hoarse, but booming, and it seemed to echo across the tight corridor. "I expected you to be taller."
Behind him, some of the guards chuckled. One, a thin, pale man with a long cut across one face, winced and clutched one hand to his gut. Another guard, this one a woman, touched him lightly on the shoulder, her face worried – Koyaiba saw a flash of gold on her hand, though Joumae quickly blocked his vision.
Koyaiba looked up at the larger man and managed a small smile. "I'll keep that in mind. May I see him?"
Joumae shrugged. "Do I have a choice? Dunno why you'd want to see the old geezer. All he does is sit around and moan all day." He lifted the staff and banged it twice against the nearest door, the wood slowly sinking into the wall surrounding it. "Go on in. We'll give you two some privacy. Just knock twice when you want to get out."
Koyaiba nodded and stepped in, the door reforming itself behind him. The light was dim, and Koyaiba was forced to blink several times to get used to it, but finally his eyes adjusted enough to see Prisoner number 534.
The prisoner, or Dayase as Koyaiba was told, was a shriveled old man. He was slouched up against the wall, his white, greasy hair falling nearly to the floor. He was clean-shaven, his chin covered in a mess of scar tissue, and when he smiled Koyaiba saw he was missing several teeth.
"So," he said before Koyaiba could speak. "Konoha finally deigns to speak to me." His voice was scratchy and rough, but carried a thick accent. "I was thinking," (he pronounced it "theenking") "that they had forgotten about me." He chuckled. "Seems I still (steel) have some use, no?"
Koyaiba opened his mouth to respond, and then closed it. His job here was to convince Dayase to help Konoha. He had to choose his words carefully, or the old man might refuse simply out of spite. "Konoha has need of your…unique talents," he finally said.
Dayase chuckled again. "Of course they do. I worked with Orochimaru. Konoha's fallen son." His face darkened. "But he betrayed me. Left me as bait for your ANBU, damn their souls. And now…I am here."
"So…you'll help us?" Koyaiba asked. "We're closer than we've ever been to destroying Orochimaru. We're unraveling his plans, turning them against him. This may be the only chance you have to tear down everything he built."
Dayase laughed. "You think me so simple? What Orochimaru built…I helped built too. And what a glorious building it was." He paused for a moment. "You should be more respectful. I am royalty you know."
"Yes!" Dayase said, grin returning. "In my youth, I lived in the Village Hidden in the Eddies. When war took our country, we scattered to the four corners of the world, but I have kept careful tabs. Our most noble house, Uzumaki, all died…and as second cousin once removed from the Uzumaki family, that makes me heir…royalty."
Koyaiba chuckled. "We've got ourselves an Uzumaki in Konoha," he said. "He could probably give you a run for your title."
This seemed to surprise Dayase – curiosity flashed across his face, and he leaned forward eagerly. "Really now. I thought the Uzumaki in Konoha died several years ago."
"Probably," Koyaiba said with a shrug. "The kid's an orphan. I think he was assigned the clan name as a way to honor the Eddy Village."
Dayase let out a satisfied sigh. "Well. I suppose that's to be expected. And it's about time we discussed the reason you're here."
"You'll help us?" Koyaiba asked.
Dayase flashed him a mostly toothless grin. "I will not leave this cell. Though my mind is strong, my body is but a shadow of its former strength. I can feel death calling to me, and it is coming soon."
Koyaiba staved off a wave of disappointment and frustration. "So you won't help us."
Dayase shrugged. "I believe Konoha's time would be better spent addressing more immediate threats."
"Are you saying Orochimaru isn't an immediate threat?" Koyaiba asked.
Dayase shrugged again and nodded towards the floor next to Koyaiba's foot. "What's that?" He asked.
Koyaiba looked at the spot he had pointed out and bent down, coming up with a small piece of rock. "It's a rock," he said. "So what?"
"So what?" Dayase said. "So everything. Where did it come from?"
"Who knows?" Koyaiba said. "Probably from the…" he paused, a frown creeping over his face, and turned back to the doorway. Instead of approaching the door however, he began to study the wall next to it. "There's a line right here," he said, pointing to a long, thin scratch in the wall. "And this section of the wall," he said, pointing to the left side of the crack, "is discolored." His frown deepened. "This isn't just a rock. It's rubble."
"They replaced the wall," Koyaiba said, running his fingers over the discolored section of the wall. "And recently. It's still smooth and new…just…like the door at the front."
His eyes widened slightly and he turned to Dayase. "What happened?"
Dayase's eyes seemed to glint with a non-existent light. "You tell me."
Koyaiba frowned. "Somebody broke out of Yomi." Then his frowned deepened. "Then they tried to break you out. But you didn't want to go…you didn't want to leave your cell."
"I cannot leave me cell," Dayase corrected. "The chains that bind me to this wall…they pump a special kind of chakra through the body. Within a few weeks, a prisoner becomes addicted…if one was suddenly cut off from the chakra supply after addiction…bad things would happen."
"But this person broke out," Koyaiba said. "This person wasn't in withdrawal. He was new. Not addicted yet. And he broke through several feet of solid stone to get to you." He turned back to the stone, running his hand over the slight discoloration. "This is a clean break. No stress marks that I can see. So it wasn't pounded at, it was just…broken." He bent low to the ground. "No scorch marks. And no new paint. I didn't see anything outside either. So it wasn't explosives, it was pure force. Someone punched through the wall to get to you."
"You're getting warmer…" Dayase said, his grin widening.
"There aren't a lot of people," Koyaiba said, "capable of punching through a wall like that."
"No," Dayase said. "There aren't, are there?"
"I know of three," Koyaiba said. "Tsunade could do it. But she's currently living in self imposed exile and has given up the ninja life. And the Fourth Raikage has the raw physical strength too….but the Raikage would never…" he shook his head. "Waterfall would never be able to capture him. And that only leaves one person."
Dayase blinked once, his smile never leaving his face.
"A serial killer," Koyaiba said, "by the name of Fourteen."
Dayase nodded slowly.
"Well," Koyaiba said, running his hand over his head. "That only leaves one question then. What the fuck is Fourteen doing in Yomi?" He sighed and shook his head. "And why did he want to break you out?"
Dayase shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "He broke through the wall and moved towards me, but then guards jumped him and he was forced out of my cell. I never saw him after that, but…"
"But if he broke the door down, he at least got out," Koyaiba said. "And if he broke out of Yomi, there's no way he didn't get past the rest of Waterfall…Look…thanks for this. I have to talk to someone." He turned to go, but before he reached the door, Dayase stopped him.
Koyaiba turned around to face the old man. His head was bowed, grimy hair covering his face, but Koyaiba saw a flash of pain cross his face as he spoke. "The cursed seal…is so much complex than you could ever imagine. A masterpiece the likes of which this world has never seen, the offspring of a twisted but brilliant mind and a young seal master with more ego than common sense." He chuckled slightly. "But know this. A seal, a mere construct, could never do what the cursed seal does. It is too enormous task. There is an intelligence behind it."
Koyaiba frowned. "Is Orochimaru somehow controlling the cursed seal then?"
"No," Dayase spat, his face twisting and contorting in agony. "Gods, such fools…you're thinking about it…so simply." He took a deep breath. "The cursed seal…itself…is…alive."
He went limp, and Koyaiba ran towards him. Smoke began to curl upwards from his slightly open mouth, and he let out a wracking cough.
"You were sealed…" Koyaiba said. "Sealed to stay quiet. By Orochimaru?"
Dayase nodded. "Pushed it too hard. Not as young as I used to be. Oh well. Not as desperate to live as I used to be either."
"But…why?" Koyaiba asked, his tone confused. "Why tell me…all of this? About the jail? And the seal?"
A smile tugged at the edges of Dayase's lips. "Why do we do anything? Perhaps it is as you said, and I am simply trying to get revenge on a man who once betrayed me. Or perhaps I am….simply angry at my jailors, and wish to see them fall, no matter the cost." He coughed again. "Or maybe…maybe I'm doing it for the young Uzumaki boy you mentioned…so that he may bring honor to a name…a name I have brought only shame to. A man is not defined by a word, or a phrase. He is too complicated for that…a man is defined by how he chooses to face that death. And today I have chosen. Today…I die gloriously."
The wooden door crawled back, revealing Joumae and the guards. "What happened in there?" Joumae asked as Koyaiba walked out of the cell and the door began to regrow.
"Dayase's dead," Koyaiba said. "Overloaded a seal. I need to speak to you privately."
"He's dead?" Joumae asked. "How is he dead? What do you mean he-"
"We can talk about that later," Koyaiba said, his voice even. "I need to talk to you privately."
Joumae grunted in disapproval. "Fine. Onbou. Doman, you're with me. Everyone else, back to your posts."
The guards began to disperse, and Koyaiba yet again caught sight of the wounded guard. His was pressing his stomach tenderly, and Koyaiba could see his uniform had recently been stitched together just above the injury.
After a minute or two of walking, Joumae led Koyaiba into his office, leaving the two guards they had brought with them outside the door. Joumae took a seat behind his desk, and Koyaiba took the seat across from him, studying the room as he did so.
The office wasn't small, but it wasn't big either. It was empty though – mostly bleak stone, with only a desk, a few chairs, and a large banner bearing Taki's symbol hung on the far wall.
"So," Joumae said, resting his staff on the desk in front of them. "What did you want to talk about?"
Koyaiba did his best to keep his face steady. "Don't play coy with me. I want to know why you didn't immediately inform Konoha that you had captured the killer known as Fourteen."
Joumae was good. Koyaiba had to give him that. There was no reaction other than the briefest widening of the eyes before he replied. "We did inform Konoha."
Koyaiba resisted the urge to smirk. If Joumae had just lied, he would've been stuck – he had no evidence that it had been Fourteen who had broken out, but Joumae had confirmed that when he had switched to a new tactic.
"I don't think you did," Koyaiba said, narrowing his eyes. "Because if you had, I think the Hokage would've sent men to have him taken to Konoha already. And I'm just taking a while stab here, but I think you decided to keep him here so you could study hi-"
Something slammed into the side of his face, and Koyaiba was thrown backwards. An instant later, Joumae was standing above him, the end of his silver staff shoved into Koyaiba's forehead. "Yeah, well you know what I think you little punk?" He asked, pressing the staff painfully into Koyaiba's skin. "I think you've taken advantage of Waterfall's generous hospitality."
Koyaiba opened his mouth to fire back, but Joumae cracked his staff across his cheek again, and flashes of color exploded across his vision. He was dimly aware of being dragged to his feet and cuffed, led down the hall by the two guards on either side of him.
Then he blacked out.
He awoke some time later, his head pounding and the sharp taste of blood in his mouth. He spat, and red flecks covering the floor in front of him, accompanied by a flash of white that Koyaiba could only assume was his tooth.
His voice was hoarse and barely made it to his own ears. He realized he was thirsty – and hungry too – and that pretty much his entire body hurt. Luckily, the pounding in his head was drowning out most of the other pains.
He tried to wipe his mouth with his sleeve, but his arms were chained to the wall behind him, and didn't give him much slack. Finally he was able to sort of ball up (his ankles weren't chained to the ground, just each other) and wipe his mouth that way.
He lay there for a while, working on slowing his breathing and assessing the situation. He had been in tighter spots before. Admittedly, the last time he had been in a spot this bad was way back in the Chunin exams, and if it hadn't been for Rika he would've died.
No Rika this time. But he had been working on this. A vague plan began to form in his mind, and spent the next half hour trying to mentally construct a rough map of the prison based on what he knew.
There was a faint spot of sunlight roughly two feet from his left ankle, coming from a small window located above his head. That meant that he wasn't exactly in the most secure cell, which was good news. By judging the strength of light he deduced that it was either sunrise or sunset – and given the number of crickets he heard, it was most likely the latter. That would mean he had only been out for a few hours, but more importantly it told him his cell was on the west end of the tower.
He was jarred back to reality by the sound of the door opening. A normal door, not the weird kind of crawly door that had held Dayase. The wounded guard from earlier walked through, carrying a plate with a jug of water and a piece of fruit on it.
He set the tray in front of Koyiaba and shot the Konoha Chunin a dark look. Koyaiba's eyes fell to his hands, one of which was decorated by a simple silver ring.
Koyaiba knew what he needed to do.
"I like your ring," he said. His voice was still hoarse, but it was stronger now, and the guard frowned, pausing for a moment before glancing down at his ring. Then he shrugged and began to walk away.
Koyaiba however, wasn't done yet. "Maybe I'll take it from you when Konoha breaks me out of here."
The guard stopped and looked over his shoulder, his upper lip curving into a bit of a sneer.
"Or," Koyaiba said, careful to keep his tone light, "I could have your wife instead."
The guard immediately stiffened – he made a move as if to turn around and come back towards Koyaiba, but shook his head and reached for the door again.
"I'm not sure I'll get the chance though," Koyaiba said, his words coming faster now. "She's a pretty one, that wife of yours. Everyone in Konoha is going to want a piece of that."
That got the guard's attention. He turned around to face Koyaiba, his face carefully neutral. His eyes though, were narrowed, and Koyaiba could see his fists were clenched so tightly that they were white.
"Once I finish burning this place to the ground, I'll make sure to find her," Koyaiba continued. "I figure if she's still alive she'll be too exhausted to resist. I doubt she'd even want to. She probably enjoys i-"
For the second time in the span of a few hours, he was cut off by an explosion of pain to his cheek. The guard's foot flew past Koyaiba's field of vision, and he knew he only had a few seconds to act.
He put his feet flat on the floor and pushed them into the air, striking once at the guard's stomach. His foot hit flesh, and the guard let out a curse of pain as he fell to one knee, turning away from Koyaiba and shielding his injured stomach with his arm.
Koyaiba didn't miss a beat. He threw his ankles over the guard's head, successfully wrapping the chains that bound them together around the guard's throat. He yanked his feet towards his chest, and was rewarded with a small choke and the feeling of fingers scrambling around his ankles.
The guard thrashed violently, but he was injured and Koyaiba was desperate. The more the guard kicked and flailed, the tighter he pulled, and though his ankles were bleeding furiously, the guard eventually fell limp.
He kept the choke for about a half a minute more. Better safe than sorry.
Finally he unwound the chain from the guard's throat and used his feet to scoot the dead body closer. The door was still closed, but Koyaiba threw it a fearful glance – this would be the most delicate part of the entire operation. If someone found him now, he would be completely unable to defend himself.
His feet weren't the perfect tools, but they worked well enough. He was able to turn the guard's pockets inside out, finally grabbing the key he had used to unlock the door. Some more scrambling and he was able to get it into one hand, and with some twisting and turning he managed to get his first hand unlocked.
When he unlocked the chain binding his other wrist, he felt a rush of dizziness that almost cause him to pass out. He noticed a faint blue glow coming from the inside of the manacle, and realized with a brief shudder that the manacles had been pumping chakra into him this entire time.
He shrugged it off and unlocked his feet, hurriedly bringing his hands into the henge seal. There was a puff of smoke and he was suddenly an unremarkable guard.
He briefly considered becoming the guard he had just killed, but figured that trying to emulate him perfectly would be too dangerous. As long as he was dressed like a guard and his true skin tone was hidden, he should be able to avoid suspicion.
Of course, he still had to get out of Yomi. The window wasn't big enough to crawl through, and Koyaiba had no explosive tags, so busting through the wall was out. He'd have to keep to the west end and hope there was an exit somewhere.
He crept through the hallways carefully, doing his best to simultaneously stay hidden and also look like he belonged there. Luckily he didn't run into any guards, and after a few minutes he was sure he was going in the right direction.
This had been suspiciously easy. Koyaiba hoped it was just because the guards were still recovering from Fourteen's breakout and not because this was a set up.
Koyaiba froze as a girl's voice rang across the hallway. He turned to face her just as she jogged up next to him, holding an unsheathed katana in one hand. "What are you doing over here?" She asked. "Didn't you hear about the prisoner?"
Koyaiba swallowed. She obviously had no idea he was henged. "What prisoner?" His voice still sounded scratchy and rough. Dammit, he should've had some water, even if it had probably been drugged.
The girl seemed to not notice his voice however – she obviously had other things on her mind. "The new one, from Konoha! He escaped somehow – killed Hiroto. Anzu is going insane…if she finds the kid she might actually kill him." She shook her head. "And Orochimaru broke all of the good stuff when he broke that serial killer out, so we can't track him through any of the normal methods. We're setting up a perimeter."
Koyaiba struggled to keep his face neutral at the casual mention of Orochimaru. Fourteen hadn't broken out on his own after all? Had Dayase lied to him, or had he just been ignorant? And what the fuck did Orochimaru want with Fourteen anyway? But instead of voicing those questions, he simply nodded. "Lead the way."
The girl turned back around, and Koyaiba immediately grabbed her hair and pulled as hard as he could.
She tried to scream, but Koyaiba's other hand came up and chopped her across the throat, killing the noise before it could properly start. Her head hit the ground with a rough thud, and he brought his boot directly into her teeth with a vicious stomp.
The girl's expression was panicked, and she attempted to jab her sword into Koyaiba's gut. But Koyaiba simply kicked it out of the way and hit her in the throat again.
She convulsed in pain and tried to roll away, but Koyaiba refused to give her a moment's respite. He pulled a kunai from the weapon pouch he had stolen off the first guard – Hiroto, the girl had called him – and pinned one of her arms against the floor. The girl squirmed and clawed at his face with her nails, but he simply elbowed her arm out of the way and plunged the kunai up through her chin.
He didn't wait around to see the lights fade from her eyes or anything. They were looking for him now – not everyone would be as careless as that girl had been, especially when they found her corpse. He had to move.
He broke out into a sprint, and though it hurt his aching muscles, the chance to stretch out his legs invigorated him. He flew down the hallway, avoiding any voices, and finally found himself face to face with the large wooden door that marked the entrance to Yomi.
No seals on it. Apparently they hadn't had time to repair even the simple stuff. Koyaiba smirked. This might be the only time Orochimaru had ever saved his life – he might as well enjoy the irony.
He brought his hands together in a string of familiar seals and took a step back. "Wind release: Four Part Air Cannon jutsu!"
Four bursts of wind hit the door like a battering ram, and while they didn't knock the thing off its hinges they at least shoved it open a little bit. Koyaiba used his fists to pound at the opening, and a moment later received a blast of light to his face for the troubles.
Of course, he wasn't exactly in the clear yet. He was still in the middle of Taki. Which was definitely a problem.
He could hear people coming down the hall, alerted by the noise, and he took off towards the forest in a desperate attempt to lose them. Not for the first time in his life, he wished he knew an Earth Release technique, but he'd have to make due with what he knew.
He made several normal clones, using the cloud of smoke from their creation to substitute himself with a nearby log. Once in the trees, he shed his guard henge and adopted a similar looking one with civilian clothes instead of a guard's uniform.
His clones all took off in different directions, and Koyaiba substituted again before taking off back towards the village.
He hit the roof of a building and rolled into a back alley, breathing heavily. He wasn't out of the woods yet though, and with another simple seal he brought forth a clone that henged into an ordinary looking girl. He grabbed her hand (or made it look like they were holding hands as well as he could) and emerged into the busy street of Taki grinning like an idiot.
An elderly shopkeeper gave him an odd look as he saw him come out of the alley, but immediately upon seeing Koyaiba's clone, got a knowing smile and nodded to him. Koyaiba nodded back, and then sent his clone hurrying around another corner as he took off in the opposite direction.
It was time to get the hell out of Waterfall.
Joumae hit the wall of his office in frustration. Two breakouts in just as many weeks – if it weren't for Orochimaru, none of that brat's escape would've been possible. Not for the first time, Joumae wished both that "Legendary" snake monster and the village that had spawned him had never existed.
A cough came from the shadowy figure in the corner of his office, and Joumae immediately dropped to one knee. "I am…so sorry, sir," he said, his voice shaking. "The boy escaped. Killed two of my guards in the process…Konoha will know what we've been hiding. I've failed you again."
"You have," the shadowy figure said, causing Joumae to clench his fists in frustration. "But it is of little consequence."
"The time has come," the shadowy figure said. "No longer do we hide in the shadows. For too long, the Five Great shinobi villages have abused the smaller ones. We have secured the support of the Snow village…all is ready."
Joumae looked up, and his eyes locked with the man's. For the first time, Joumae saw his eyes…a light purple with ripples coming from the irises. Almost like…
"Do not worry," the figure said. "Soon, Konoha will know pain."
AN: Well, it's over. Except not really. Be sure to keep checking my page for the sequel! Check the livejournal for my thoughts.