A/N: This is a sort of reimagining of the concept of an earlier story, called Lesson of the Fox. And since the original was a crossover with Inuyasha, so is this one.
Some of the names and such will be recognizable between the two stories, but not all. Inuyasha characters will be making intermittent appearances and cameos throughout the fic.
Also, this story is set slightly before Kakashi Gaiden in Naruto canon, and approximately a thousand years after the end of the Inuyasha series.
And I apologize for any inconsistent Japanese.
In the darkness beyond the mountains, where the land was bare and hard and there was no safety when the weather shifted to a storm harsh enough to strip bark from trees, monsters roamed. In the past, there had been great battles fought among their mysterious kind. Mountains were brought low. The seas boiled. Whole villages vanished into hungry gullets of a thousand cruel beasts. The land ran red with blood.
In time, the world had changed. The youkai of the west had been united under a common banner for the first time in two hundred years, under the command of a powerful dog youkai who had seen the edge of Hell and stormed the gates with nothing but his own power. A youkai who had looked into the abyss with the abyss looking back, and had beaten it down with just one hand and an ancestral sword.
Under his leadership, life returned to the West. The man-eaters were chased down and killed. The humans were allowed to live as long as they obeyed his laws, and the laws of the general's half-brother, who walked among them.
The general issued a proclamation after the last of the enemy was driven to the borders. There was only one request for the human as the times of darkness ended. On the night of the new moon, the youkai of the thirteen great clans and the four cardinal directions were to meet. The general ordered that no human was to stray outside during these nights, on pain of death.
And it would not be a quick death.
In a time closer to the twilight, there was a man. He was considered a powerful shinobi, on par with the greatest of his generation if not surpassing them. But as though the people knew his heart was cold and black, he lost the battle for leadership of his village to his own distant cousin. Consumed by rage and wounded pride, the man brought a powerful nine-tailed fox against his former home, wanting to see it burn to the ground if he could not rule. He failed yet again, and he and his most loyal followers were driven from their lands, hounded by their enraged former friends.
In desperation, he fled to the distant mountains, beyond the sea of trees, and in doing so crossed a border he did not know existed. He had entered a new land, and he and his were almost immediately set upon by monsters of all types. Huge, scaled worms, massive mantises, and lowly, vicious creatures poured from the cracks in the rocks to feed.
Though many of his followers died, the man found that he could fight the monsters—youkai—when he feared for his life. He killed them with fire, water, and whatever other powers he could muster and, without noticing, was drawn further into the new land.
One day, he found shelter in the court of a great fox. The man, who had controlled a fox youkai once before, thought himself very fortunate to find another so quickly. He entertained himself with thoughts of vengeance on his home and his deadly rival, who had driven him out once already. He stayed at the fox's court for three moons, and only after the new moon passed did he make his move.
He approached the fox during a midnight banquet held among all of the great demon lords, where one more person could be safely ignored. He used his eyes, fabled in his homeland, to beguile the fox and persuade him to fight at his side and crush the man's hated homeland.
The fox broke the illusion and the ground quaked with his rage. The dog and fox lords caught the man between them, and their servants dragged the man's followers into the room; bound, senseless, or already dead.
The fox spoke, "This man was the foreigner I gave shelter to, who shows his true nature in trying to charm me away from my home. He meant to use me as a weapon against the humans across the mountains!"
The dog said, "Is this true, human? You dare deceive one of my vassals to use him against your fellow worthless monkeys?"
The man found himself unable to deny it.
The dog youkai grew angry. "You are a worthless upstart, like all your kind. My judgment is this: you and yours will wander the wilds for a hundred years, and you will never find peace, safety, or a kind word. Any who call you master or claim you as kin will die screaming to the last, and if you or any of your progeny ever travel to this side of the mountains as long as a single demon lord still lives, we will kill you."
A nearby bat youkai, grinning horribly, took the first of the man's followers. He struck the man's head from his shoulders, skinned the corpse in one movement, and nailed both body and skin to the eastern wall. The head he kept for himself.
Between the nine lords still in the room, all of the man's followers were likewise maimed and killed.
When it was done, the dog youkai said, "And from you, I will take your precious eyes as your price for trespassing in our world. May you live in perpetual agony."
The man was cast from the lands to the West, dogged by carrion-eaters every step of the way. Once he left the mountains, he fled to his long-abandoned home, where no one would recognize the pitiful wretch he had become. It lasted until the man was taken in by one of his cousins, who did not recognize the former clan leader but was simple and kind enough to shelter a stranger.
The man killed him and stole his eyes.
They say the cruel man, who once angered the youkai beyond the mountains, is dead. Others say that, on nights when the moon is bright, he still stares at the moon with his stolen eyes open wide, swearing vengeance on the creatures that brought him low.
And in the inner sanctum of the dog youkai, some say that the man's original eyes still wait for their owner's return.
Kusa no Kuni (seventy years later):
The war between Iwa and Konoha had spread over the years. Even as the two bitter enemies fought and were occasionally joined by the smaller villages all around them, neither side was letting up. It had, over time, discouraged any trade between the two countries, and it made the situation for the smaller hidden villages that much worse. It didn't help that Kusagakure in particular was located right between the two angry giants. With no merchandise, traveling merchants became a rare breed and the roads were usually bereft of even wandering bandits, who knew better than to hunt where there was no prey. It didn't help that half the roads through Kusa territory were patrolled by shinobi from both major countries, all of whom had a tendency toward acting first and asking questions to whatever as left.
Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise when Team Sakumo spotted three travelers walking down what was one of the few Konoha-controlled major roads. It seemed simple enough-a woman wearing a broad straw hat, and her two children. The woman was tall and wore her hair in a long black braid down her back, but her children were little black-haired hellions in children's yukatas.
A tiny voice rang out over the grasslands, nearly drowned out by the sound of rushing wind over the fields. "Kaachan, I think we're lost."
"Kaachan, I'm hungry!" said the other. Before long, both children were screaming at their mother, demanding food or rest or any combination thereof. The mother finally dragged the two over to the side of the road and took out a pair of bento boxes, which she handed out without much ceremony. The children cheered and their mother sat on a rock by the side of the road, rubbing her temples. Sakumo winced in sympathy—his Kakashi had never been that bad, but he'd seen other children screaming nearly as much. It was complete and utter hell on shinobi senses.
"They seem normal enough," whispered Kuwa, who was sitting behind a rock slightly to Sakumo's left. The black-haired man frowned. "But they could still be Iwa-nin in disguise."
Kama, their third teammate, nodded. "Seems like a stupid way to avoid detection, though," she commented. "Who'd want to have to listen to their teammates acting like brats for however long it takes to find us?"
Sakumo just sighed under his breath. "We'll keep an eye on them. If they don't turn out to be Iwa-nin under some kind of elaborate disguise, we'll let them go."
They said nothing for several minutes. Kuwa brought his hands together in a Rat seal, closing his eyes. Kama muttered something about stupid teammates and Sakumo tried not to tell her off first. They needed the element of surprise in case of an ambush.
"I'm not detecting any genjutsu over them." Kuwa said after releasing control over his chakra for a moment. He was the group's sensor, similar to how Kama was the waspish ninjutsu specialist despite her gender. "Actually, I'm not even getting any of the standard civilian readings off them."
"Then what do you sense?" Sakumo prompted quietly.
"...It's not chakra." Kuwa answered hesitantly. His frown was deeper than before. "I don't think the three on the road can use ninjutsu or genjutsu at all with the way their energy seems to be flowing. But whatever it is, it replaces chakra. They don't have any whatsoever."
Kama stared. She sputtered, "But everyone has chakra! Even the trees back home do!"
"Well, I'm telling you they don't. So, I'm thinking...construct?" Kuwa suggested.
Sakumo decided to fall back on logic. He was no expert in the exact techniques required to fool a sensor so completely, so he had to reason it out. "I doubt that Iwa has the skill to create three chakra golems while somehow not actually using any. Kuwa-kouhai is the best sensor we have. No one's tricked him before."
"Well, I'm no Hyuuga, but thanks for the compliment." Kuwa said, rubbing his neck.
"Since there are bandits heading down the road right now, I think we're about to see one way or another." Kama said coolly, drawing both men's attention back to the road they were supposed to be watching.
Indeed, there were about seven badly-dressed outlaws on the road, surrounding the tiny family. The mother had shoved both children behind her and was trying to keep all seven enemies in sight. The first one had drawn his sword and was shouting something unintelligible, while the mother looked like she was about to slap him in the face. There was fear in the group, but only among the two children. The bandits and the mother were either confident or enraged.
Kuwa finally spoke up. "Sakumo-senpai, all seven of the bandits are Iwa-nin in disguise."
Shit. Sakumo drew his famous white light chakra saber, black eyes narrowed. It was going to be a messy battle, but the Iwa-nin needed to be taken care of and if they could save a trio of weird civilians, it was just all in a day's work. If they were lucky, at least one of the three might even survive.
The mother punched the nearest bandit in the face and everything went to hell.
"Shunshin no jutsu!" hissed Kama, and then she was already using her favored raiton jutsu to blow through the first Iwa-nin she could reach.
Sakumo, usually the muscle of the group due to his kenjutsu and taijutsu leanings, had kicked one of the Iwa-nin in the head and jammed the white chakra saber through another's eye by the time she got there.
"It's Konoha's White Fang!" screamed one of the shinobi at the rear—he was the one who had grabbed one of the children. The kid was biting him.
And just like that, there were suddenly five more Iwa-nin than they had started with. It was a trap—obviously hiding behind some sort of chakra-dampening technique—and a good one. A three-man cell might have fallen quickly to such a group. But Team Sakumo was skilled, and they had yet to slow down no matter how many enemies there were. They were too skilled to die just because of superior numbers. The enemy needed superior skill, and they sure didn't have it.
Kuwa flew into the fray and suddenly one of the Iwa-nin was headless.
The mother, having been grabbed in an arm lock by the apparent leader, stared in shock. Then, shaking herself, she shouted, "Asuza, Chihiro, change now!"
BAMPH. Suddenly both little girls, who had been dangling from their captors' arms, were replaced by vicious little creatures Sakumo hesitated to identify as foxes. No fox he'd ever seen would bite a man's fingers off to break his grip, then race off into the bushes as if nothing had happened.
The leader held a kunai to the woman's throat, snarling, "What the hell was that supposed to be, bitch?"
She broke his nose with her left fist. "How about, 'what the hell is with jumping a family minding their own damn business,' you stupid fuck?" For a hostage, she seemed determined not to play the part at all. As for why she was being being held hostage in the first place... Iwa had made a point of risking civilian lives when fighting Konoha-nin, if only because Konoha had shown a sort of soft spot for them over the years. It didn't apply in battle, but apparently this Iwa-nin was too stupid to realize it.
Kama actually paused right after blasting one of the enemy shinobi with another raiton technique and making his earthen defensive wall implode. "I like her."
Kuwa rolled his eyes. "You would."
"Back to the enemy, please." Sakumo reminded his team, lashing out with one arm and breaking the nearest Iwa-nin's jaw.
"Get bent, bastard!" the former damsel in distress shouted. "How about I bust your jaw to match your nose?"
"That's it!" the Iwa-nin snarled, forming the Ram, Horse and Dragon seals in rapid succession. "Doton: Doryuudan!"
A gigantic dragon head made of dirt and rock suddenly appeared between the woman and the Iwa-nin she had angered, making her flinch. The dragon opened its mouth, ready to fire, and Sakumo moved. No one on the battlefield saw him grab the woman and yank her out of the way of the technique, but it must have happened. There was no other explanation for their sudden reappearance, unharmed, less than a second after the technique blasted through the area where they should have been standing. After landing fifteen feet away and dropping her so she could recover from the backlash of his Shunshin, he whirled on the spot and charged with his saber leading.
The leading Iwa-nin nearly died on the first strike. He would have, if he hadn't managed to get a kunai up to block in time.
"So this is the strength of the White Fang?" the Iwa-nin gasped, grinning at Sakumo despite how much danger he was in. He didn't get a chance to throw a second taunt, but not for the reason they both thought.
As if from nowhere, the woman appeared next to Sakumo's right elbow. Her hat was gone, her hair was loose, her face about half a meter from his, and it gave him a perfect view of her blood-red eyes and pointed ears. She put a hand against the Iwa-nin's side and there was a flash of brilliant blue-white light. When it faded and he could finally see again without seeing spots first, there wasn't anything left of the enemy other than ash.
For a moment, Sakumo could only stare. This was a civilian?
The woman smiled. "We still have a battle to end."
Konoha's White Fang inclined his head briefly to her and returned to the fight in earnest. The woman went off into the grass, calling for her children.
Later, they would discover that the strange woman was named Souten, and she had been out traveling with her two youngest children in an attempt to teach them the ways of the wild as much as she could, before they grew up into warriors. She identified herself as a raijuu, to general disbelief, and a foreigner to the point that she'd barely understood what shinobi were. Not long after that, she would promise Hatake Sakumo, the man who had saved her from being hurt, assistance when the time came.
Sakumo never lived to see that promise fulfilled.
His son did.
A/N: Here's a bit of random trivia—Sakumo's teammate's names are both agricultural implements. Kuwa means "hoe" and Kama means "scythe." They fit with Sakumo ("crops") and Kakashi ("scarecrow"). You can expect most of the minor shinobi characters to have themed names. :D