Hello, hello! What is this? A story with a plot?! Terrifying... =3=
I shall tackle it with as much energy as Hashirama, our newly revealed "Original Legendary Sucker"!
Yes, Tsunade, believe it or not, your grandfather was THAT MAN.
In any case, I've finally started Mariko's story. If you like reading OCs in a world that looks little like Naruto until much later, I hope you'll consider this :). Check my deviantART for Mariko's history and pictures of her, if you'd like. (My profile page).
This was originally going to be longer, and it is longer, because I'm still writing, but I figured: Hey, why not get started?
Disclaimers: I don't own Naruto, but Mariko, her siblings/family, the island of Hurricane (except for maybe the random island on the Shinobi World Map I designated as its location) are mine. Mushy, overused love stories are not mine either, but I love them to bits. I also hope this is somewhat unique...(I'm wayyy too into the Graceling series now, and they may have rubbed off on me...)
Enjoy ~ Tell me how it is.
Chapter 1: Hurricane
It was unusually cold today. Also, Ice Harbor had trouble docking boats because of the ice, ironically…Besides that, everyone's mad at me. It's because I don't like the lessons, so I skip them. Is it wrong for me to want to ride to relieve stress? Katrina is the island's strongest horse, and no one else knows, but I think she is a kunoichi at heart…
Winter bit the start of the year's second month viciously, taking the island country of Hurricane by storm within its deadly maw, throwing hail and sleet for days. Ice Harbor, Hurricane's largest transit port, and the one closest to the coast of the Fire Country, was having quite the time shaving ice off the decks of ships and showering salt on the walkways to reduce iciness. The spattering of rare Hurricane shinobi here and there bundled up and did their best to carefully melt the frozen loading docks, and it was not uncommon to see a sailor's feet slip from beneath him and send him sliding down path.
Shipments, however, still made their ways in and out. Ice was not a fearful enemy on the tough little island, even in such extreme cases. Far inland, Esmeralda, capital of Hurricane, fared better than the poor coastline towns. Citizens huddled round fires, warming their hands and preparing the night's dinner, occasionally glancing out their windows to catch a glimpse of one of the glass towers belonging to Emerald Palace, the gleaming castle of the Royal family, shining through even the darkest of weathers.
Tucked away, comforted by the warmth of equine companions and the smell of oats and hay, a little blunette ran a brush over her horse.
"Hurricane's Lament," she said absently, leaning over to pick one of the horse's hooves. The mare obediently lifted her front leg so that the girl could scrape out the dirt embedded within the ivory. "Have you heard it, Katrina?"
The girl didn't expect an answer, though the horse whickered gently, dark mane falling in her eyes.
"It's a sad song," the girl informed the horse. "They play it at funerals."
The dapple-mare eyed her owner with something along the lines of boredom and curiosity as to whether or not any of the pockets on that jacket had treats. The girl rubbed her horse's nose fondly, and fished a bag of carrots she'd snatched from the kitchen when she could. The low crunch of the mare as she lipped the baby carrots up was comforting, and the girl had been about to dig out a few last treats from her pocket when the stable door slammed open, and a gust of freezing wind burst in. The horses, spooked, jostled in their stalls, a few of them nickering nervously.
The figure that slid the door close, more gently this time, was practically frozen, hood dripping and gloved hands wringing furiously.
"Hey, nii-chan." The girl resumed her treat giving, petting the mare on the cheek before letting herself out of the stall. There was silence, save the gentle clink of the gate's lock, but the girl could not help but feel the hairs on the back of her neck prickle with the heat of her older brother's glare.
"Mariko, do you know how pissed Dad is?"
"No, I don't," Mariko replied nonchalantly, pushing Katrina's muzzle away when the equine nudged her for more carrots.
"Seriously, you really need to stop skipping lessons. Sooner or later, he's going to sell that horse because you're so stubborn."
"He can go ahead and try." Mariko spun on her brother then, angrily. She brushed past him and made for the tack room to grab her coat and hat.
"Mariko, we're trying to help you. Do you know what lengths Ryo has gone through for you? How much he's trying to convince Dad that you don't need an arranged marriage, like the rest of us?" He looked exasperated, the boy did. He had matching sapphire hair, which was sopping wet at the corners, causing him to shiver as the snow on his hood melted onto his head and shoulders. A boy of twenty years, a birthday just passed, with the burden of the country's men on his shoulders. The younger brother to the royal heir, who shared the same fate as the rest of them.
"I know," Mariko replied softly, tugging her hat on. It was a fuzzy green thing, warm and cozy, a gift that her mother had made herself, with a cute, fluffy bobble at the top. "I know you're trying hard, but I'm trying hard too."
"You're not thinking of anyone but yourself," spat her older brother.
"Shut up, Katsurou!"
Mariko tried pushing past him again, when he barred the stable entrance. After a few moments, a pained expression on his face, he relented and allowed her to pass.
"Don't blame me when Ryo and Sumi complain," he called after her. "It's all because you don't listen!"
The roar of the storm drowned him out.
First Prince Ryouichi of Hurricane, eternally buried in the paperwork he shared with his father. Heir to Hurricane and successor of his father, he never lacked in the skills needed to become a fine leader. He did, however, lack the peace of mind needed to comprehend matters fully. After all, within three weeks of a terrible passing, he had overtaken all of the duties left by his newly deceased mother.
Second Prince Katsurou of Hurricane, most commonly seen as an archer in the hunting fields, astride a powerful black stallion, eyes narrowed in sharp concentration. Nowadays, however, one could find him just as easily beside his older brother, scrambling to understand the politics of the world.
First Princess Sumiko of Hurricane, fiery, independent, and vehemently opposing her upcoming arranged marriage. The Aokami women were notoriously stubborn, but this never stopped their father from ruling his country as he liked. Sumiko, however, was just as firm in her ways, and was not about to marry the portly, pig-like governor of a Hot Springs capital city.
Second Princess Mariko, fourth child to the throne, and by far the youngest. Even so, she held a stubbornness comparable to that of her sister, and was not afraid to silently object her father's rulings. Too shy to speak, too small to stand out, all she ever did was run. She was always running to the stables, where the gentle lull of barn noises calmed her frayed nerves. She claimed, to herself, that it was her way of defying her father, but really, what kind of defiance was that?
It was cowardice.
"Mariko, can you hand me that red book there? Yes, that big leather one, with multiple volumes tied—yep, that one."
At fourteen, Mariko was short for her age. Her siblings were of good height, Sumiko tall and elegant enough to be a model, Ryouichi of a slim, prince-like standard, and Katsurou with the strong, towering build of an athlete and a warrior. Mariko, however, was dwarfed by them all, for she had yet to reach Sumiko's chin.
"Ryo, why are you reading all these?" Mariko asked, unceremoniously plopping herself down beside her brother.
"Ah," he said. He paused then, brushing his blue hair out of his face, pushing his smart-looking glasses up his nose. Mariko had the notion that he'd restrained from mentioning their mother, and instead, diverted the topic. "Father said that this has to do with the current issue regarding…Iwagakure."
"Why do we deal with shinobi nations when we aren't one?"
"Because they're the majority of the world, and valuable allies. Say we allied with Iwagakure — in the case of a sudden, unexpected conflict with nearby Kirigakure, we would have a strong nation to back us up. Plus, our commerce and resources are invaluable to them."
Mariko didn't like it, but she knew he was simplifying the real matters down for her. Ryouichi was not the type to go into specifics, especially not with her.
"What if I told you I wanted to learn about Hurricane and all the shinobi countries?" she asked, out of curiosity. Her brother, a good eight years older than her, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. Mariko always felt as if she was a burden, and that she was constantly tiring him. She hadn't spent any time with him outside this office since she was ten years old. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
Ryouichi spared her a glance, half exasperated, and maybe half sardonic. It was nice to see a smile, even if it was a small, tightlipped one.
"Then, Mari, you'd have to stop skipping your lessons and running to the stables."
All at once, it was a joke and a message, and Mariko heard it in his tone, painfully clear:
You're causing us trouble.
Yesterday was my fifteenth birthday. Dad didn't remember, of course.
While the busy King Hiroto of Hurricane may have forgotten that his fourth daughter turned fifteen that day, all of her siblings remembered. They always remembered one another's birthdays.
I'm sorry I couldn't send more, but trading wars and pirates are making things tough here. Oh, and my cat tried chewing on it, so you're super lucky I caught that silly animal before all my hard work was ripped to shreds. I know what you're thinking: "What hard work, Katsurou?" I hope you like it, though. Lots of love, Katsurou. Ps. My lovely wife sends her regards. ;)
It was the middle of summer, the seventh day of the seventh month, a stark contrast to the harsh winter six months prior. The sun shone brilliantly, reflecting off the glass of the palace, lighting the gorgeous gardens of the capital. Esmeralda was filled with little waterfalls here and there, beautiful scenery that was treasured among the people. While Hurricane was a major rare stone producer, they cherished their natural landscape greatly, and so any harm done to the little falls and rivers was disapproved.
The greatest waterfall, Blue Horse, thundered lightly behind the palace, a rushing corner of the water visible from Mariko's own room. Sitting at the wide window, the bench before the glass pane warm from the sun, Mariko opened the gift that her brother had sent her. A new saddle blanket, made of the finest Frost Country silk. Was the Frost known for their silk? Mariko couldn't quite remember, even though she'd resumed her unbearably dull lessons.
It was a pretty thing, a baby blue, embroidered saddle pad, lightweight for the summer, with the Aokami clan crest —the image of a cut jewel— sewn onto a corner. And, it was a horse-related item, so it seemed natural that Mariko took an immediate liking to it. Of course, Katsurou had to mention his "lovely wife", a spark of a woman with plain brown hair but a flaming heart for adventure, also the Frost daimyo's upstart daughter. How fortunate the Second Prince had been, to actually fall in love with his arranged marriage, the perfect match between an enthusiastic boy and a bright woman. The words "my lovely wife" and "match made in heaven" were cues at the dinner table to tune out, most of the time when they came to Hurricane for a visit.
Next was a mysterious package from Sumiko, which Mariko pulled open eagerly.
Hey little sis, I don't think you've seen much of Hot Springs culture, so here's a mask! I know, funky, right? Anyway, things here are so yellow! It's super weird. You should come visit, some time! You'll finally set foot on the mainland…bwahaha! By the way, do you know if Ryo's got a boyfriend yet? I heard he does…we'll annoy him about it the next time I come home, okay? Your big sis, Sumi-Sumi. Ps. The mask supposedly wards away bad spirits, is what I'm told.
The mask was bizarre to say the least. It was all red, with dark, pronounced brows and purpled cheeks and sharp, demonic teeth. It's grin was absolutely terrifying, with pronounced cheekbones and a sharp chin elongating the sharp cackle of the beast it represented. After a few minutes of curiously studying the sturdy material, she decided that it would look best outside the harness room door, to ward away burglars or something.
It had hardly been half a year, but in the blink of an eye, Katsurou and Sumiko had submitted to their fates as second and third children to the throne. Well, Katsurou's marriage turned out to be a happy decision, as if Lady Fate was charmed by the roguish sweep of his blue hair and his cocky smile, and had decided to allow him a "match made in heaven".
Sumiko, on the other hand, defied her father's decisions with all her might. She had not, in fact, married the pig-faced Hot Springs governor. Instead, somehow, she'd warped her path of betrothal by running away upon the announcement that she was to be married the next month. Secretly aided by a few certain Frost residents, she'd fled from Hurricane to hide away in plain sight — the Hot Springs Country. And, because Lady Fate was having a grand ball of a time with the Aokami family, Sumiko would run smack into the son of Hot Spring's daimyo, literally. Ironically, he too was trying to skirt an arranged marriage with a rather frightening, slightly obsessive noble girl to the southeast corner of the nation, by the coast. Continuing along this line, Sumiko's "fated love story", another dinnertime storytelling term, could, perhaps, put Katsurou's perfect match to shame. Both often bickered amiably about the luck that accompanied love, among other mushy subjects.
And so, a happy, even more beneficial marriage was decided upon. After the wedding, it had been nearly June, but Sumiko had managed to visit back at least five times. Her only complaint was that every time she came, she had to pass the mansion of that creepy woman her husband was supposed to be betrothed to, and the eyes of jealousy that burned in that woman's head were ferocious.
"It's sort of funny," Sumiko had mused during her last visit. "I wonder if she'll marry that fat governor now."
Now, Mariko sifted through the small bag to her final package. It was surprisingly heavy, a box the size of a dinner plate. The note was scribbled in Ryouichi's easily identifiable scrawl; anyone would know his handwriting in a heartbeat after simply observing him in office for a day — especially now that he was stuck there all the time.
Dear baby sister, happy birthday! I'm sorry that father didn't think of you at all, and I know this is slightly late, but this was the fastest I could get my hands on it. It is a symbol of good luck and happiness, both of which I wish for you to have. If you'd like, come visit me in the office. I haven't gone riding in more than half a year, and I'm wondering if you have devised any particularly sneaky ways to get out? That's funny coming from me, isn't it? Anyway, happy birthday wishes to you, and may the stars crown you with emeralds. Love, Ryo.
"And let the sea wash upon a herd of sapphire horses," Mariko murmured, smiling at the traditional Hurricane verse. It was said at New Year's and at birthdays, to bring good health and fortune, happiness and love, while warding away all the darkness in the world through the protection of Hurricane's nature.
Peeling the silver wrapping paper open, Mariko found a heavy, black box. She opened it, and gasped, eyes widening.
An old horseshoe, aged but still gleaming, an antique treasure inlaid with emeralds and sapphires all along its length. The petite blunette turned it in her fingers wonderingly, beholding its sparkling glory. The horseshoe glittered like a star, reflecting the sun's rays proudly. A good luck charm, embodying both Hurricane's rare stones and its precious equine symbol.
This one would go on her bedroom door, close to her.
A gentle knock on that very door alighted her attention to another presence outside. She beckoned for them to enter, and that the door was unlocked. To her great surprise, her Aunt Tari stood at the threshold of the doorway, holding a small package to her chest. She was the spitting image of Mariko's late grandmother, and also the older sister of Mariko's mother, Manami.
"Auntie." Mariko smiled as her aunt embraced her gently, wrapping her warm, soft body around Mariko's. The woman smelled of bread and pie and cookies, as she always did, for she was, Mariko claimed, the greatest baker in the entire shinobi world.
"Happy birthday, little Mari." Tari leaned over and presented her niece with the small package, a tiny box that fit comfortably into Mariko's hand. Curious, Mariko opened the box carefully, and saw the glint of a clasp. Holding onto the little chain, she lifted a long, elegant necklace from the creamy fabric embedded into the box. At its end, a single, dazzling emerald, as green as her own eyes, and just as stunning as the horseshoe. Mariko's mouth formed a small "o" shape, open in a silent gasp. She recognized the necklace immediately.
"This was your mother's," Tari told her gently, though she knew full well the glint of recognition that lighted up in her niece's green eyes. "Your father nearly threw it into the palace safe, but I took it as quick as I could."
Before she could turn into a babbling mess of tears, Mariko threw her arms around her aunt and thanked her countless times. Tari patted the girl's back, drawing her into another hug.
"It would've belonged to you, anyway."
Sometimes I wonder if Katrina is really a kunoichi in disguise. Is it possible for an animal to be a ninja, too? What if she could walk on water? I've always wondered what it would be like to be a shinobi, like all those people in the shinobi villages. Why is it that we don't learn ninjutsu? The Aokami are graced with the Hyoton, right? Isn't an Ice Kekkei Genkai a precious ability, a powerful weapon and arsenal for Hurricane?
The only one to ever try mastering ninja techniques was Katsurou. With his natural athletic ability and unsurpassable archery skills, he had a tendency to become interested in the ways of shinobi. After out-shooting the reigning archery champion of Takigakure, Katsurou had taken an interest in learning jutsu. Their father, the king, was adept at many water, wind, and ice style techniques, but he seemed unwilling to keep the pattern going. He had long since deemed that his children would never use jutsu unless in times of emergency. All of them knew how to form water, wind, and ice, but had little idea how to put it to good use, deeming their father's claim pointless.
"There's power in this," Katsurou always said, often to himself. He would shape the ice into shield and swords, swinging deftly left and right. He would nimbly manipulate water and wind, shooting enemies with gusts and waves. Then, combining the two, he would string a heavy, ice arrow to his bow, and still shoot straighter than Konoha's best bowmen. Children's stories often included the great Prince Katsurou, whose arrow could fly as far as Uzushiogakure, for it sprouted wings and rode the wind like a bird.
Sumiko followed, somewhat, in that she learned to defend herself with the shaping of natural elements. Ryouichi was rather satisfied with his level, though all of his younger siblings knew he was hiding far more ability than he gave away. Finally, Mariko, who hardly ever practiced history, let alone jutsu, had little to no grasp over chakra molding and its use. She could hold a ball of water in her hand, make it float, change it to ice and back, but little more. At sixteen years of age, the most she'd been taught by then was how to shape ice into a menacing dagger and jab everywhere with it.
"Did you know, there are ranks of shinobi?" Katsurou said one day, upon a visit home from Frost.
"Ranks?" echoed Mariko, interest piqued. She paused her inefficient flailing with her ice blade, studying it.
"Yep. Genin are like the elementary kids, chuunin are middle class, teens to young adults, mostly — your age — and then jounin are the super skilled adults, and finally, the kage is the strongest ninja in the land."
"Are you the kage?"
Katsurou snorted at this, amused. "No way," he laughed, patting her leg. "Besides that, only the five shinobi nations have kage. Smaller countries like the Frost have ninjas and ninja ranks, but no officially recognized kage. They have a leader sure, but no Hokages or Raikages or Mizukages…"
"Yep. Each great nation has a name for their own village's kage. The Hokage is the leader of the Hidden Leaf."
"Is he strong?"
"Are you kidding?" Katsurou grinned, a familiar, toothy grin that always tilted up at one side. "He's the god of the shinobi world, the strongest of all time."
"Wow," murmured Mariko, wiping her fingers on her riding trousers, for the ice had melted between her fingers.
"He's of the legendary Senju clan," Katsurou continued. "And his younger brother is the greatest Suiton user in the world," he added, an admiring tone filling his voice. "What I do with forty seals, he can do with a single finger."
"How is that even possible? Don't you have to use seals to mold the chakra into the correct forms?" Mariko, with her very little skill at ninjutsu, needed several seals just to make a blob of water float.
"He's just so skilled like that," exclaimed Katsurou, a boyish delight crawling into his eyes. "And his older brother, the Hokage I mentioned, has the Mokuton."
"He grows trees with his chakra, and compels the earth to move with just his eyes!"
"Okay, now you're just kidding around, that's not possible." Mariko rolled her eyes, and exchanged grins with her older brother.
"Someday, you'll arrive on the mainland and see all the amazing things there, Mari," Katsurou said, smiling. He was happy, and eager to show her a different world, but those words tugged at Mariko's heart slightly. It almost sounded as if his love for the mainland had nearly surpassed his own bonds to Hurricane. To Mariko, it was a bit sad, to see her brother and sister drift away like that.
It was also sad to see that they wanted to take her away, too.
Katrina is probably one of the biggest reasons I don't want to leave Hurricane. How would I bring her across the ocean? She wouldn't fare well on a boat. Besides that, I pray, holding your necklace every day, that I won't be sent away. I don't know if you can really hear me, Momma, or if your eyes in the emerald stars actually see these words, but please, please protect me. Dad is starting to make marriage arrangements, and I don't want to go anywhere. I'm not like Katsurou, I can't leave so easily. And I'm not like Sumi, I can't just waltz off the island in an open revolt. Why can't I stay on Hurricane, like Ryo?
Magic number seventeen. Seventeen, the age Ryouichi was pulled to his first High Court case, to witness the real inner dealings of Hurricane. It was also the day he saw his best friend die, because King Hiroto had deemed him the murderer of a High Court judge. The entire ruling was a blur, and Ryouichi tended not to, or refused to, remember exactly what had occurred that day. It had been exactly his birthday.
Seventeen, the age Ryouichi landed on the mainland, eyes wide and feet sinking into unfamiliar territory. The day he found that their mother had fallen sick again, but he wasn't allowed to return to Hurricane until he'd finished his job. His task, his terrible task; marriage. However, the only happy occurrence was the chance of real love, for a year later, he'd marched hand in hand with his newly betrothed back to Hurricane, to proudly introduce to his bedridden mother.
Seventeen, the age at which marriage negotiations for Sumiko had begun, rather disastrously, actually. Fights and spats, vicious slamming of doors, and hours of quiet sobbing accompanied Sumiko's rage. She visited the royal hospital often, spending entire afternoons beside their mother and Mariko, releasing her feelings to the two females in her company. Seventeen, the age when their mother died of her mysterious, unknown heart disease that stopped her bodily functions and passed her on rather peacefully. It had been a quiet passing, but the wail that rang out from the hospital was beyond heartbreaking. That year had seen a Frost country escort to Hurricane to hurry Sumiko out of the country, to a secluded village in Hot Springs where she mourned on her own until she met her current husband.
And finally, seventeen, seventeen for a girl who was supposed to follow in her sister's footsteps, but not. A girl who was supposed to be an obedient fourth child and nicely get along with her planned betrothed, no matter who it was. Because this time, King Hiroto was not taking "no" for an answer, and any impedance to his plans would be mercilessly crushed. This round was his round, and his youngest daughter was not about to ruin it.
Meek and tightlipped, Mariko could only hold her pride, lower lip trembling, tears threatening to spill over. But she had little pride to hold, for she was always the little princess of Hurricane, everyone's dear child, small and vulnerable. She could do little besides run. She couldn't efficiently deal with important matters, as did Ryouichi every day. She couldn't shoot an arrow to Whirlpool; she wouldn't smack a fly if she was ordered too. Mariko could hardly say "boo" to a mouse. She wasn't graceful or extravagantly beautiful, like Sumiko. Her limbs tangled, and she was none of Sumiko's long, gorgeous grace in both equestrianism and dance. She only found solace in her dapple-gray mare, Katrina, and the fact that her piano playing rivaled that of Ryoichi's violin skill.
During the times when she was banned from the stables, courtesy of a strict father in the beginnings of his plan to rein her in slowly, to be married off beneficially, Mariko was at the music room, fingers flying away from note to note. Ivory keys burned with the speed of her hands, the piano whirling through a furious, angry piece. Whatever her mood happened to be like, the piece would reflect it. On depressed days, when only her mother came to mind, a melancholy tune somewhat similar to Hurricane's Lament would find itself upon the piano's keys, ringing out from its depths. When she found herself rather cheerful, Mariko's fingers played delights after delights, bright pieces that made the sounds shine as bright as the sun. Never missing a beat, the piano was her comfort. When the wind wasn't running through her hair, the pounding of hooves beneath her, and the common speckled birds trilling freely, the piano became her mount, her fingers transforming into energy.
A gentle voice, as gentle as the gliding notes of the piano. A voice that obviously belonged to Ryouichi, because hardly anyone else spoke to Mariko so softly nowadays. But his tone was not one of admiration, the way he spoke when they played duets together, Mariko with a brandishing chord on the piano, and Ryouichi with a light trill on his violin. His voice was heavy, almost pained, and all at once, she knew.
"What's up, Ryo?" she asked lightly, pretending that all was well. He glanced down, soft wisps of blue falling into his face. His always-slipping glasses inevitably slipped down his nose, and he habitually pushed them back up. Dark bags encircled his eyes, and his shoulders sagged from weary nights up. He wondered, Would she know how hard I fought for her this time?
"It's been decided," he replied flatly.
"Didn't I just have like, ten suitors yesterday?! How can it be decided?!" Mariko yelled, slamming her hands down on the piano's top. The instrument vibrated, and her books full of pieces clattered down with horrid clangs against the keys. Her outburst was quite frightening, but Ryouichi showed little reaction besides another heavy sigh.
"I tried, Mariko," he told her weakly. His voice nearly broke, and Mariko went quiet. "I'm sorry, baby sister."
He leaned against the doorframe, looking as if he would collapse.
"I really did," he insisted.
Tears sprang to Mariko's eyes, for she had never been grateful for her brother's work. She had never realized that the burden he'd taken on would steal so much from him. The little blunette strode forward and embraced her older brother, his lanky arms falling tiredly around her.
"I know, Ryo. Thank you."