Revamped. So reread.
Chapter One - Made it (Sasuke)
The Land of Rice Paddies is a shit hole, if you ever go there.
The border town was paved with dirt-roads, lined with sad, dilapidated shops and houses. Fences were rotting in the moist air, and the few people that were out were huddled together, looking as wan as their buildings. There were no sounds of children playing, even though it was around noon. The girls and women that were out and about walked briskly, holding hands with whomever they were with, their shoulders tense with alertness.
Looking around for somewhere to eat, I noticed a lone girl standing to the left of me. She was rocking back and forth on her heels casually, and then yawned, covering her mouth. She looked up, saw me, and frowned. Pulling out what looked like a playing card, she glanced at it and back at me.
"Ah," she said, stuffing the card back in her pocket. "You're the one I'm meeting. Uchiha Sasuke, right?" She shifted a bag on her shoulder and moved closer, eyeing me curiously. I looked up at her forehead, but saw no headband to mark her as a ninja, although her body said otherwise.
"You're from Sound?" I asked.
She nodded, and looked at a watch on her wrist. "We should go, or we'll miss the next train." She stepped back and turned on her heel, and I followed her down the road. "So the others didn't make it back with you? That's unusual for them."
"No," I answered. "I don't really know what happened to them, actually. They had me in a coffin for the most part."
She nodded. "How's the curse seal?"
I shrugged. "It doesn't hurt right now, but it's been buzzing my shoulder like no tomorrow."
"It'll do that when it's trying to replenish its energy – by taking it from you, of course." She shifted her bag on her shoulder again. "Oh, my name's Katsuragi Rin, by the way. Sorry, I'm not really good with introductions. I get pretty awkward, actually. I seem to expect for everyone to know my name already, even though there isn't any reason they should. I should get famous," she grinned.
"Ah," I said politely. "Well, you know my name already, so I guess we're done with that."
I winced as my stomach growled.
"We'll eat on the train," she answered, looking like she was trying to contain a smile. As I turned to give her a look, we crossed tracks and came upon the train station's wooden platform. Rin dug in her bag and pulled out two tickets that she had already bought, and waved at me to follow her quickly. We darted around the handful of people standing around, and went through the shack that sat on top of the platform, making it to the open air on the other side. The train sitting in front of the platform wasn't more than four cars long, including the graffiti-ed engine. Rin hurried up to the conductor and handed him our tickets. After ripping the stubs, he stepped aside and let us on.
The air on the train was warmer than the air outside. It carried a damp moldy smell to it, and I was guessing that it was coming from the empty seats lined up against the car's wall. No one else was in the car but us. I gave Rin a curious look.
She shrugged. "There's not much travel at the end of summer. Plus it's Monday."
"I see," I said, wrinkling my nose at the smell as I slid into a seat by the window. Rin sat next to me and turned so that she was facing me, but looking out the window behind us. "When will they give us something to eat?" I asked, feeling my stomach get more hallowed as time passed.
Before she could answer, a baby's crying penetrated the air. A haggard-looking woman stepped in the car, jostling what looked like a newborn wrapped in a blue blanket in her arms. A toddler girl clung to her skirt for dear life, as her mother was also struggling under the weight of a large and heavy looking diaper bag. I got to my feet, feeling obligation drive me and excused myself, grabbing the slipping diaper bag from her and shouldering it myself. I wasn't sure what she had in there, but it weighed at least forty pounds.
"Ah, thanks," she said, nervously. Her eyes grew big and wary.
"Sasuke," Rin said, staying in her seat, "just set the bag down next to a seat and leave her alone." She was eyeing the woman's daughter, who had hid her face in her mother's dress. I didn't particularly appreciate being told what to do, but apparently Rin understood the woman's nervousness. I set the bag down in a seat across the car and backed away, sitting down beside Rin again.
"Th-thanks," the woman said again, dragging her little girl to the seats down to the other end of the car, grabbing the bag on her way.
When she was gone, Rin turned back to me. "Yeah, it really freaks people out when you help them in this country. They're used to being pushed around and oppressed and generally abused by everyone else. She probably thought you were going to steal her bag."
That was unusual for me, since the residents of Konoha were generally appreciative of any help offered.
"Not that your heart wasn't in the right place," she offered kindly.
Soon enough, the train got underway and a lady came through with a cart of ham sandwiches and offered everyone a plate. Rin refused, claiming she had eaten already, eyeing the sandwiches skeptically. I took a plate hungrily and took a huge bite out of the corner of the sandwich. There was entirely too much mayo and not enough ham, but it would do until later. The lady moved on to the woman with children, offering a small bag of animal crackers to the little girl. I heard the mother refuse the sandwiches as well, although she accepted the crackers for the girl.
After a while, Rin asked, "How is it?" raising an eyebrow.
"It's good," I replied. "Are you sure you're not hungry? You could still get a plate."
She shook her head. "No. I don't eat white bread, or processed ham. There're too many simple carbs and nitrates."
I shook my head at her. Girls were always too worried about their figures. "So you're just going to starve?"
"No, I had a bento before you showed up," she grinned. "I do eat a lot, shockingly." She dug in her bag and pulled out a bright blue bento box and opened it. "I think I did leave a rice ball though – yup. See?" She held up a brown rice ball and then frowned. "Was this one the pickled plum?" she asked herself. She bit into it and nodded cheerfully. "Good snack."
So we were on the train for about two hours, and I passed most of the time staring out of the window, watching rice paddies go by. Most looked full and ready to be harvested. As the sun started to set on the other side of the train it threw shadows over the land we passed. I saw workers in the fields packing up their gear as they got ready to go home. "Are they going to harvest the rice soon?" I asked Rin.
She nodded. "They will within the next month at least." She stretched. "Then we'll head to local fields and get some for the compound."
"Why do you call the village a compound?" I asked.
"It's really not big enough. It's just the main house, labs, and some other buildings," she replied. "You'll see it soon enough."
We fell into silence, watching the landscape outside the window. I looked over at Rin while she was staring out of the window in the mild trance that comes with traveling. Her build, I noticed, was like Hyuuga Hinata's - muscular and compact. She was also very pale-skinned, like she wasn't outside much, even though it was the end of summer. Her hair was a vibrant auburn that reminded me of that kid, Gaara's, although hers was chin-length, but still pretty practical for a kunoichi.
"What's your specialty?" I asked, still observing her.
She turned back to me. "Medical ninjutsu. I'm Kabuto-senpai's apprentice. I think you've met him, right?"
I scowled. "Yeah, I've met him."
"Ah," she said, reading my expression. "Seems he gets under your skin too."
She nodded. "This is true," she agreed, matter of factly.
"How did he end up your instructor?" I asked.
"Oh, you know, after your parents cart you off to a psychopath not giving a shit about your welfare, you pretty much do what you can to not be an experiment or a prisoner. Kabuto-senpai ended up taking a liking to me, so that helped a lot." Her jaw set in a line. She blinked as she realized how that sounded. "Well, almost anything you can do, I mean. And senpai is way too old for me – he's twenty-two. I'm only fifteen…sixteen in November. Totally jailbait still."
I snorted in amusement.
Finally, about twenty minutes later, the train began to slow down. As it squeaked to a stop before a small platform, Rin stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. "Let's go," she said.
"Are we close?" I asked as we made our way to the front.
"We'll have to walk from here, but it's not much farther," she replied, stepping out of the car and onto the platform.
The train dropped us off in a very empty area. It was basically a meadow with tracks running through it, and a dirt road going perpendicular to the tracks. There was a little posted sign beside the platform with "Owl Meadow" written on it. I looked back and forth along the dirt road and saw that it cut through the surrounding woods. I looked ahead from the platform to the line of trees.
She turned to me. "Okay, here, we follow this path into the woods and go from there." She nodded to the dirt road under our feet. "It doesn't have a name, this road, but it's a very useful one. It goes through the woods of the hideout and though a bigger city," she pointed her thumb behind her, "back that way. And if you travel on it past these woods," she said, pointing ahead, "it'll take you to the ocean."
"Good to know," I said.
She shrugged. "You'll need to know anyway." She glanced at her watch. "We really need to hurry. Orochimaru's going to be pissed."
I shrugged. "Well, if you're going to get into trouble…"
She inhaled and turned to me and smiled. "Yeah, trouble is a bit of an understatement, so let's go really, really fast, okay?" With that, she suddenly dashed off ahead of me and darted into the woods.
"Hey!" I shouted after her, running and jumping into the trees. I saw her up ahead, in blurred motion because she was so fast. I activated my sharingan and finally saw her movements clearly. "What do you think will happen if you show up without me?" I demanded.
I saw her twitch, and knew I struck a nerve, but she didn't slow down a bit.
I amped it up, faster than before, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference because she was ridiculously …dodgy. Must be a medic-nin thing. I followed her like this for a couple of kilometers, and then she finally started slowing down. I sped up with an extra burst of energy and landed on the ground beside her.
She turned to me. "Oh, good, you're still here."
"Uh, yeah, thanks by the way for just taking off," I scowled.
"Sorry, but, you know how it is…answering to people that can kill you with their little finger," she said casually, moving through the brush.
I bristled at her remark, but followed her through the brush anyway. We moved into a clearing and I saw a huge tree with what looked like a cellar door at the base. As I moved closer, I felt a strange pressure on me, like a hundred hands laying flat all over me and pushing.
"Don't worry," said Rin. "That feeling is just the barrier protecting this place." She walked over to a nearby tree and put her hand on it. The pressure ceased. "Moving on," she said. "Okay, now when we get to the door, you'll have to put your hand on it the same time I do, since the door doesn't know you yet."
She turned to me, with a glare. "No, not 'whatever'. This is serious. If you don't do it right, you'll die. Painfully." She raised an eyebrow.
I sighed. "Fine."
Seeming satisfied, she turned to the big tree and went down the steps. I followed her, shoving a hand in my pocket irritably. Her hand hovered in front of the door, and she turned and looked back at me. I sighed again and pushed my palm against the door the same time she did.
The door creaked open. Cold air blew forward, along with the smell of damp earth. We stepped inside and closed the door behind us. I heard Rin feel along the wall, and suddenly a fluorescent light came on above us. "Come on," she said. "He'll be waiting in his wing." I followed her down the entrance hall and through a large dining room and then left to another hallway.
A few meters down the hallway, she turned down another smaller hallway, and into a wide, flat room, full of junk. On a large chair, sitting right in the middle was Orochimaru. He smiled at me - in his own creepy way.
"Sasuke-kun, it's nice to see you." Somehow, his voice seemed a little bitter. "It's a shame you weren't able to be here sooner." He got to his feet and looked me over, circling me.
Kabuto shifted by the chair, turning to Rin. "You seemed to take a while, Rin-chan - much longer than necessary." His words seemed heavy too, like they were disappointed about something. Maybe they expected us sooner and we missed something?
"Sasuke didn't show up until a little after three," Rin replied, shifting her weight nervously. "I raced him here, actually."
"Ah," said Orochimaru, eyes seeming to drill a hole through her. "You did make an effort, then. It's too bad that it didn't make a difference." His golden eyes glittered on me. "But I have what I want now, I suppose."
Rin flinched and bowed at the waist, obviously sensing that she was in trouble. "Is everything well with you, Orochimaru-sama?"
Oh, so she calls him "sama" to his face. What a little hypocrite – although, being respectful couldn't hurt. I wasn't exactly sure how much trouble she would be in because of our supposed lateness, but it seemed ridiculous anyway.
"Better than when you left, Rin-chan," he replied, coldly. "My mood seems heavy somehow, in any case."
"I am very sorry, Orochimaru-sama. Perhaps Sasuke would have been here sooner if the others had been with him, but I'm afraid they never showed up," she said, directing his attention to the lack of ninja that were probably supposed to be with me to guide me. "I wonder if they're still alive." She turned to look at me, quizzically. "Do you know what happened to them, Sasuke?"
I shrugged, going along with her, even though we had already been over this. I really didn't think being a little late was worth getting this kind of reception.
"I think we can safely assume they are dead," Kabuto said offhandedly, obviously not caring that much. "Anyway, let's have something to eat. I think we could have a good dinner, if you'll help me in the kitchen, Rin-chan?" he looked at her pointedly.
She nodded, mouth set in a firm line. "Let's grill some cod, senpai."
"Ah, all right then, since you did make the marinade and all." he said, and together they turned and left the room.
Orochimaru turned to me, folding his hands behind his back. "Will you be ready to begin training tomorrow, Sasuke-kun?"
I nodded. "Unless you want to begin tonight?"
"Not tonight, Sasuke-kun." He looked me over, frowning. "You're no good to me tired."
I scowled, irritated that he could tell.
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