Okay, I am so sorry for the delay. Fact is, I totally lost momentum on this story for the longest time, and I'm not sure that it's fully back yet. But I finished this chapter and put this up here, just so that it's up. Thank you to every single person who reviewed and followed this, because that was what gave me the inspiration to write this out. I hope that more will be up soon-next we'll get the Kiri part, which should be interesting. After all, there's a revolution there.
I am not Masashi Kishimoto. I think we've established this.
The next day, Hiroki met Kawara Ryouko. It was early in the morning,and he'd stumbled out of bed to head over to the kitchens when he saw a blue-haired girl with an Ame headband walking the other way. She seemed about thirteen or fourteen, but walked down the hall happily, almost skipping.
"Oh, hi, Shinobi-san!" he greeted, and the girl waved back. "You're here to help out? Thank you!"
The girl laughed. "Yep, that's me. I'm Kawara Ryouko, what's your name?"
"Jurin Hiroki-wait, you're Ryuuichi-san's sister, right? He fixed me up when I was found here!" Hiroki grinned, bouncing up and down happily. "He's really great!"
Ryouko laughed a little, shrugging. "Yeah, that's what everyone says. He's always so busy at the hospital, it's good to know that he's helping people. But yeah, I'm here to help, but..." She scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. "I always get lost in this place. Could you point me to the laundry room? I heard it had to be repainted."
"Oh, okay! It's right over there!" He pointed at the the hallway to the center-right. "Follow the teal and green polka-dotted line."
There were moments when he realized exactly how strange the Amegakure Orphanage was, but the entire place was run by an overworked career chuunin and a bunch of kids so maybe it made sense.
Or something like that.
"Thank you!" Ryouko grins and heads off that way, and for the lack of other things to do Hiroki followed her.
"So, you're supposed to be a chuunin soon, right?" Hiroki asked, after a moment. Ryouko laughs.
"Yeah, if I survive the exam. I'm not exactly great at anything, so... we'll see, I guess!" She laughed. "But Kami-sama says the town should have more chuunin, so...I'll try."
"Kami-sama? So you talked to him?" Hiroki picked up.
"Oh no, no way. Wrong blue-haired girl you've got here." Ryouko said. "Only Angel-sama sees him, you know that."
"Right..." Hiroki sighed. "I'm just curious! Why does he stay up in that tall tower all the time? Why doesn't anyone see him?"
Ryouko turned to look at him, her orangish eyes serious. "Kid, don't ask questions like that, okay? Those are the questions that get people into trouble. Kami-sama looks out for us, okay? And he stays up there because he can't come down. It's all good, right?"
"Right..." He said, but he slowed and turned another way. Those are the questions that get people into trouble.
There was something going on here. Whatever Kami-sama was or what he was doing, he was secretive and almost definitely dangerous.
He had to figure this out. What would make a leader do anything to his own people? He was there to help them, after all. Why would he be this secretive and elusive?
Senju Hashirama was many things, but he was not an idiot. Well. Unless you asked Tobirama. Or Madara when they were still friends. Or Mito on a bad day. Or his genin. Or his other advisers. Or the other Kages. Or his parents. Hell, even his brothers probably would have agreed to that, before-
Anyway. The point was, Hiroki knew the signs of something being very wrong somewhere. He also knew that children were expected to push limits, be inquisitive, and make mistakes. He also knew that so far, Angel-sama appeared to have a soft spot for children.
That was enough to piece together the beginnings of a plan. Of course, he would have to wait until he was a little older-perhaps around seven? That was a good age. Young enough to be a child, but old enough to start questioning bigger things. It would be a long wait, but there was the Academy to keep him busy while he waited.
And he was, actually, a patient man. Watched trees didn't grow, after all.
The Academy was interesting. It was obviously different than being taught to a few select strengths and thrown on a battlefield, to figure the rest out yourself, and thank goodness for that. Hiroki had enough war to last him quite a few lifetimes. Some of the other children joined as well-most noticeably, the quiet girl Ryuuzaki from Team Uzune.
She was interesting, Hiroki decided. At the orphanage, she had stayed apart from the crazy antics of her team, watching from a distance. He wondered, often, if anyone had ever asked her to join them, but when he tried she just shook her head.
"It's too much trouble. I'm fine here." Her voice was emotionless, as always. He'd gotten out two full sentences, though, and that was an improvement.
In the Ame Academy, though, it became clear to him that she qualified as a prodigy. He kind of did, as well, but his was more a case of luck-his chakra happened to contain the right parts of Yang, Water, and Earth to create living constructs of wood, something that according to Tobirama had such a small chance of happening that it was unlikely to be replicated independently.
That was the thing-according to Tobirama. Tobirama was the genius when it came to strategy; Hashirama excelled at luck and tactics. Tobirama was the one who used logical reasoning; Hashirama listened to his feelings. It was really good that they got along, actually, because their strengths complemented each other so well.
But back to genuises (perhaps everyone was right about how he was liable to go on tangents…), he wasn't really one-he just had large chakra reserves, a good deal of luck, good instincts, and charisma. But he'd seen enough geniuses to know the type, and Kurogane Ryuuzaki fit it to a T. Antisocial, which often happened. Dismissive of the teachers. Mastered anything taught in seconds. She wasn't going above and beyond, and as far as he could tell she didn't have one area of extreme skill, but she was a good all-around prodigy.
There had been moments where he wondered just why, exactly, there were so many prodigies in the Elemental Nations. Perhaps it was something in the water.
In any case, the age of seven approached slowly but surely, and he spent his time watching the other students and studying on his own. There was no way he would get away with having the Mokuton here. Again, the chances of that were so infinitesimally low that it would raise every warning flag in the village, and in this village that seemed like the worst idea.
But, on the other hand, he always did have doton and suiton to fall back on. He would have to be careful not to let instinct take over and automatically use his unusual kekkei genkai, but that could be done.
And anyway, giant constructs made out of earth were much more long-lasting and durable than those made out of water. They made more of an impact and looked cooler, too! (It should be noted that while Senju Hashirama was not an idiot, neither was he a mature adult by anybody's standards.)
Sure enough, the day he had been in the village, to the best of his knowledge, for two years arrived, and with it he could set into motion the plan he had been formulating.
Well, it wasn't really a plan. More of an idea, and an idea he was certain that Tobirama would consider suicidal. It was, actually, a pretty bad idea.
What it was was this: Sneak into the tallest tower of Ame, and see what happens.
Night fell, and the gentle rain of Ame-something he had gotten so used to that he didn't even register the dampness anymore-began to fall slightly harder. Perhaps a storm was coming-Hiroki thanked it in his mind, for helping muffle his footsteps as he padded down the long, winding stairs-
"Where are you going?"
A patch of shadows in the main room moved to show Ryuuzaki, her hair even messier than usual and her dark eyes accusatory.
"Why aren't you asleep?" Hiroki asked, curiosity getting the better of him for a moment. Come to think of it, he'd never really seen her sleep…
"I don't." She confirmed shortly. "You aren't supposed to be down here."
"Well...neither are you." He shot back, childishness getting the better of him. "You look like a panda with those bags under your eyes! You should sleep!"
She scowled. "I do not look like a panda."
A floorboard creaked upstairs, and the two fell silent.
"...let's argue about this outside." Ryuuzaki decided, and Hiroki nodded. Once the two children were outside, she scowled. "Why are you here?"
While Hiroki could, in theory, lie, he really didn't have anything good on the top of his head. He'd always been one for blurting out what he was thinking, in any case. It was a real drawback to being a ninja…
"I was curious!" He stated. Ryuuzaki frowned.
"You're always curious, Hiroki-san. What are you-" Something seemed to click, and she turned to look at the tower. Of course, he would only be sneaking out at night to do something he wasn't allowed to do, but when he wasn't in the academy he wasn't really given many rules...so it would have to be something big, and this was the biggest thing in Ame, literally and figuratively.
"You're joking." Her voice was surprised, for once. He grinned sheepishly, scratching the back of his head with one hand.
"Nope, not really, Ryuu-chan. I'll be back before anyone wakes up-"
"If you're back at all!" She snapped, crossing her arms. "You're such a moron that I bet that you'll get caught in seconds."
Wow, this was more expressive than he'd seen her in-well, in ever. Why?
"Why do you care? The orphanage will be less noisy if you're right!" He tried to pass it off as a joke, but the implications-that the people who went there weren't just demoted or exiled, but actually disappeared-was chilling.
Ryuuzaki frowned, and then looked away. "Rei-sempai will be upset if she loses any of her kids." She admitted. "And Rei-sempai is the only one who lets me in her group."
Oh. It hit Hiroki now-she was one of those brilliant kids who had been isolated and treated like a freak, in all likelihood, and she had latched on to the first real person who had shown her kindness and inclusion. That was-that was actually way too common, now that he thought about it.
Dammit, why did nobody know how to talk people through their issues!
"Well…" He sighed. "If I promise to come back, will that help things?"
"Not a chance." The obstinate girl shook her head. "You're not getting out of this. I'm coming with you."
He literally fell over, landing in a puddle and drenching himself.
"Are you so loud you've deafened yourself? I said I'm coming with, so that there's someone responsible around to drag your butt back to Rei-sempai when you mess up." She scowled. "Let's get moving."
Well, that was an interesting turn of events
… was he really that obnoxiously loud?
"Hiroki-san, if you start doing your curled ball of despair again, we're not even going."
The run to the tower was full of desperate dashes across openings and trying to catch their breath, but Hiroki couldn't help but grin. He loved taking risks. By the time they were in the home stretch, even Ryuuzaki seemed to be smiling, although it could have been a trick of the light.
"How are we going to get in, loudmouth?" The girl scowled at the tower. Hiroki frowned.
"Okay. We vault over the fence, and then we see if we can jimmy open that first-floor window and get in there. It's so small, only kids like us could…"
"You really are serious…" She sighed.
"Well, haven't you been curious?" Hiroki asked. She glared at him, and he thought that that was a yes, yes she had been curious.
"Alright, you go first." She said, gesturing to the open space in front of them. Hiroki nodded, concentrating.
Inside the tower, Nagato looked up. The sensory jutsu he had put up was detecting movement closer to the tower than most rules permitted. That was…worrying. "Konan-"
"I'll see." The blue-haired woman nodded, having noticed the same thing that he had. She left the room quickly, closing the door behind her to protect what was, in all likelihood, one of the largest secrets in Amegakure.
It wasn't often that someone tried to enter the tower, but it had happened. The curiosity seemed to be too much for some people, who let it overwhelm their gratitude. She supposed she could understand, but the safety of their secrets came before all else. If anyone discovered how frail Nagato's real body was…
But no matter. She would deal with this disturbance easily. Closing her eyes, she let her paper butterflies fan out, scanning the area so that she could see where to go…
There. A first-floor window, a small one, being pushed open and someone coming through-and landing rather ungracefully with a thud. She frowned, sending the butterfly in that area in closer. It was a child-followed by another one.
No-not just a child. It was the boy she had found in the rain-Jurin Hiroki. She could remember him clearly-after all, it wasn't every child who had developed a habit of talking to her butterflies out loud when he found them, after all. She supposed that, after all, this wasn't very surprising-half of the sentences in the one-sided conversations he had were questions, after all. He seemed to be an exceptionally inquisitive child...but this was going a bit far.
"This is the worst idea." A second child had come through the window now; it was another child from the orphanage, a quiet girl who tended to stay near the roof. Hiroki shrugged at her.
"You decided to come along, Ryuu-chan, so you can't back out now that we're in-huh." He blinked, looking up at the butterfly. "Hey, there's another one of those…they follow Angel-sama around, usually. And there's another...let's see where this path goes!" He took off down the way, leaving the girl to trail after him, clearly exasperated.
Konan frowned to herself, moving closer. So this was just a case of childish curiosity. Well, she supposed that there was a way to deflect them from any serious secrets-she directed a part of her attention to making paper walls over every important passage, and another to color them identically to the surrounding walls. That should divert them well enough…
This was worrisome, though. Standard policy was that if anyone entered the tower, they did not come back. She shouldn't be making exceptions just because the culprits were children. But…
I am weak, Konan told herself, making sure that the barriers would be impassable.
"What's up with this place?" Hiroko asked, after they ended up turning onto the same hallway again. "It's like a maze! Maybe nobody's supposed to come here because nobody can ever figure out where the hell they're supposed to go…"
Ryuuzaki was frowning, though, looking at the walls. "No...that's not right. When we came in, I don't think this wall was here-we went the other way, but there was a fork." Cautiously, she reached out to tap on the wall. She blinked, looking at it. "It's...hollow."
Hiroki ran over, his footsteps sounding loud against the floor in the empty space. "Let me see!" he felt the wall, too, and his eyes widened.
"It's not only hollow." He confirmed, looking at it. "It's paper. Can't you feel it?"
Suddenly, the room seemed to shake. The wall fell, cascading downwards toward them, and two other apparently solid sections of wall did the same. Hiroki raised a hand, bracing for an impact of some sort, but it never came. Carefully, he opened his eyes.
Where the walls had been now stood many copies of Angel-sama, all wearing the black cloak with red clouds and frowning disapprovingly at the two children, who rapidly started backing up.
"Uh-oh." Hiroki said, and Ryuuzaki spared him a scathing look.
"This is all your fault, idiot!" She hissed, and Hiroki choked down a reminiscent smile. Wow, she did seem a bit like Madara at times...awkward, sarcastic, and with a tendency to call him this was not the time to dwell on the past.
"Standard policy says that any who enter the tower never leave." The ten or so copies of Angel-sama said in unison, their voices reflecting no emotion. "You are young, and you will be warriors of Amegakure. So I will give you this one chance. Leave now. Tell no one of this place. Never come back. I will be watching you." On the last sentence, the room was blasted with pure killing intent, and the hairs on the back of Hiroki's neck stuck up. She was good. Whoever Angel-sama was, she was a terrifyingly talented shinobi.
"Understood!" Hiroki said, trying to push up the window without exposing his back to the blue-haired woman. He did, and then Ryuuzaki bodily pushed him out of the window. He hit the ground with a thud, and moved out of the way before the black-haired girl landed on him. The two looked at each other, and then made a mad dash back to the safety of the town streets.
"We are never following any of your ideas again." Ryuuzaki declared, glaring at him hile panting. Hiroki nodded, but he was looking at the tower.
I'll be back, he thought.
So there that is. Please review if you liked it, or even if you didn't. And to be fair, Konan knows that that would terrify any normal child so much that they'd never come back...but Hiroki there isn't normal.