Snap Back To Reality 44
Kimimaro... the boy who would eventually grow sick and die fighting for Orochimaru. Looking at the little boy, all round and childlike, I found it hard to reconcile with the image of a dead man walking. There were many dead men walking of course, people I know had died already, maybe in some story, or alternate dimension or something. They were alive, but sometimes they were dead.
Then there were the actual dead. I tried not to let this supposed future get to me. My involvement would surely change things. I could maybe count on the big events out of my reach to still happen even with my meddling, but I tried not to let it dictate my life. I only really remembered the bigger events anyway, but I had a feeling that living to adherence of some arbitrary future events was not a life well lived. Change was inevitable, and if I was the catalyst, then it was simply a factor out of my control.
I shot my attention back to Satomi as she continued explaining what all she knew about the guard rotation at the walls, and other possible escape routes.
"Moving out today will be risky considering it would be odd for a merchant to come and go so quickly," I finally said. "So we wait a week, sell the wares and when it seems natural, we go."
"Do you think you will play your role until then?" Satomi asked.
"Don't worry Satomi-chan, I'll make sure nothing goes wrong," Rengoku assured.
"I take this seriously... despite what you may believe," I said, keeping my tone somewhat soft and reassuring.
Satomi's indifferent look softened for a moment and she nodded my way. I nodded back, grateful to come to some form of understanding with the stoic woman. I only let my gaze linger on Kimimaro for a second before I stood up from the shrine and followed Rengoku out.
"The situations not so good," he sighed, cracking his back.
"It's not," I agreed. "Out of all the survivors why did we get stuck with two toddlers."
I noticed the disapproving look on Rengoku's face and I was mildly cowed.
"What?" I asked.
"They are children, which is precisely why you should not have said that. Their lives are valuable."
"I know they are," I said defensively. "I never said they weren't... it's just that they don't have the ability to control their emotions. It could be a liability out there. It could get us killed."
Rengoku's eyes softened when he looked at me, but there was also some growing amusement in them.
"Don't forget you're also a child. And you seem to be controlling those pesky emotions quite well," he said sarcastically as he rolled his eyes.
I huffed indignantly. "I am always professional."
He gave me a pointed look and I glowered back. I wanted to fight him more, defend myself, but it might as well have just proven his point more, so I stewed from behind him and wrung my head for a change in topic.
"The village square—I want to go there tomorrow."
"You heard what Satomi-san said. Her family was crucified there—it's probably not something you should see."
"I want to know what she meant about not being capable of comprehending. Once I see it myself, I will know."
Rengoku didn't move to speak against me, but I could see him looking at me from the corner of his eye as we met back up with Kohachi. The old man hit his walking stick twice on the ground and smiled.
"Let's be on our way then," he said, voice croaking.
I nodded and he led us back to his home. My thoughts were on the mission. My first mission as team lead. This was too big to screw up. Too important to fail.
"Why are you looking at me like that Rui?" I asked, giving my teammate a side-eye.
"You're really leaving me with Anko?"
"Yes, I need to go gather some intel and you two don't have your head in the game. It's too serious to mess up," I explained with a mild frown.
"Team effectiveness is exponentially increased in the event that all parties are of a sound state of mind," he said with a pout.
"And your point is?" I sighed.
"Don't leave me with Anko," he whined.
I turned to Rui and sighed. Not that I wasn't sympathetic to his plight, Anko could after all be very annoying when she was in one of her moods, but did they really have to pick this mission to go rogue on me? Why couldn't Orochimaru be here to deal with their bullshit. I wasn't their sensei.
"—You know I'm a better observer than Kusari. Take me with you and leave him here. Anko won't irritate him. She's too scared of him," Rui reasoned.
"Fine, fine, but just this once. I'm keeping you two together because you work better as a team in a fight. Kusari doesn't know your combo moves, Anko does."
Rui nodded, and I threw him some textiles. He caught it and put it down in the bag. Before we left, I hooked a civilian knife under my kimono. Even civilians carried around weapons. It would be silly of them not to unless they had a guard detail on them. Two children going to find pricing to sell wears in the Village Square wasn't so unusual a sight either. I had no doubt no one would find us suspicious. Not that people paid attention to children unless they were somewhere, they weren't meant to be. Being a child had its perks and disadvantages.
"Where are we going?" Rui asked.
"The Village Square.
I caught the smell a mile away. The stench of rotting corpses wasn't easy to miss and my sensitive nose wasn't helping, but I had become used to keeping my distaste hidden. Rui, not so much. His nose crinkled and his eyes watered as we entered the village square, barely earning but a glance from the people around us. I caught sight of hanging feet and looked up to see dozens of bodies hung up on crosses. Odd thing how something of a religious symbol from my old world held none of that inspirational meaning here. It was simply a torture devise in this world. Nothing less.
"So many," I mumbled in slight awe.
I smelt vomit and I turned around to see Rui puking his guts out on the ground. I put a hand on his shoulder, feeling a rise of worry.
"Are you sick? Poisoned?" I asked, growing increasingly paranoid.
He wiped his lips, looked past me with a gaze of horror and then looked away. I turned back to the sight of the hung bodies and my lips formed an 'O' in realisation. I grimaced at my stupidity.
Should I get him away? No, he needed to see this. See whatever it was Satomi wanted me to see too. There was no use running away from the reality of war when you were in the middle of it. Rui wasn't like Kusari or Anko. Rui was soft, and maybe he just needed to see more and get used to things.
"Look at them Rui. It'll be good for you," I insisted.
"Why?" he asked, sounding every bit like a scared child.
"You need to get used to it. I understand that you don't do well with violence, but it's going to hold you back."
"I know," he snapped at me, before he reeled back and looked down. "I know... but how—how do you look at that and stay the same?"
You don't. Rui jerked out of my grasp and ran away. I cursed for a second, wondering whether he had lost his mind. He knew we didn't leave each other alone on a mission. I made to move for him when I felt a presence besides me.
"That was really mean you know. To do that to your brother."
I turned around to look up at the Kiri Shinobi who came my way. I was surprised by his sudden presence which instantly put me on alert. I was a sensor and anyone who could startle me was someone to look out for.
The man was tall and thin, built wiry with taught muscles. His face was angular and sharp like the rest of him, not quite traditionally handsome, but exuding some kind of beautiful danger. I couldn't help but raise my guard at his presence. This was the chakra of a Shinobi who far outshone me in battle prowess. I could feel it. His feral grin was enough to make me stiffen.
"No need to be afraid," he chuckled.
"A weird stranger is talking to me. I have every right," I countered back.
"I suppose so," he hummed with a grin. "You're an odd little girl aren't you. An undercover Shinobi perhaps?"
I felt my blood run cold, but years of holding in my fear and emotions meant I could snort of his comment like it meant nothing. He seemed to reconsider after that, but his interest in me meant something. I caught the hint of metal and looked down at the oddest blade I had ever seen. He noticed my gaze and patted the hilt proudly.
"Do you like it? It's called Nuibari, and so am I."
The sewing needle
"Your name is Nuibari?" I asked with a spike of horror.
"People tend to forget my name. It's stupidly long. You can call me Needle. That's what my friends call me."
Nuibari—the sewing needle. I looked at it again and found myself paling. Needle caught my look and smirked as if he knew what I had just realised, but instead of decapitating me where I stood, he simply turned back to the corpses hanging on the was Kushimaru Kuriarare the wielder of Nuibari the sewing needle blade.
One of the seven swordsmen of the Mist.
"Don't you just love the smell of rotting flesh. Really brightens the day," he said with a no-nonsense tone that made me wonder if he was even being sarcastic.
I was oddly calm for a walking corpse. I wanted to chuckle at the thought that I'd die today, in an infiltration mission away from home—the first mission I ever led. I knew when I was outclassed in every way, and this man besides me was just that—someone beyond my level of skill to even think of fighting. A part of me however was crooning in anticipation. A fight was a fight, and I knew it was suicidal to feel this itch to test my mettle even when I knew I would be dead.
"There's nothing bright about this. Even the blood has dried darker," I replied carefully.
"Hmm, you're right, it's always a lot more fun when it's freshly gushing out."
"Is there a reason you're talking to me Mr Swordsman?" I asked with a curious look.
He could have easily killed me by now. What did he even want? What did he gain by talking to me? His sharp gaze made my skin prickle and he looked entirely too much like the predator for me to feel safe.
"Why I liked the way you looked at these corpses. Your eyes are like steel. It excites me."
I couldn't help the disgusted look that twisted my face.
"I'm ten," I grumbled out.
"So? Age means nothing when you've got your hands in someone's gut," he laughed.
Huh? Did he find some sort of pleasure in killing people? I didn't know whether that was better or worse than him simply being a paedophile. Still a part of me had to recognise that we were the same brand of weird.
The more pressing issue was that he was somehow able to spot through my disguise without any effort by just looking at my... eyes. Seriously that was stupid. I was about ready to bolt. As much as the idea of battling a swordsman of the mist was a turn on, I also didn't want my team to die. I needed to diffuse this situation and make sure to avoid a no-win conflict.
"Why are you talking to me? What do you want?" I asked, hoping to barter for some way out of this or even better—his silence.
"I want blood, battle, and maybe some fun, but it looks like you're more ready to bolt," he sighs.
"Yeah can you blame me?" I asked. "Look, even if I could fight you, which I can't, do you really expect me—a ten-year-old—to take on one of the seven swordsmen of the mist?"
He hummed as if in thought and then nodded to some conclusion I had no idea of. I felt the sweat trickle down my face. There was no doubt that if we were to fight right now, I'd die.
"You're right. You look like fun, but you'll probably be a lot more fun in a few years. How about this little Shinobi girl—you tell me who you killed to get that steel in your eyes, and I'll let you go, no word on my part."
That didn't sound realistic at all. Why exactly would he let me get away if he knew I was an unsanctioned Shinobi in a hostile nation? What was his game? Either way I didn't want to risk his wrath.
"My parents," I said after a moment. "A knife to the heart and a hand through the chest."
Needle whistled as if impressed. "Patricide huh. That's hardcore. You know who I killed?"
I suspected he wanted me to ask because he was grinning my way silently for a moment. I just nodded my head, unable to hold back the shiver as I met his strikingly clear amber eyes.
"I killed my brother. Oh, he was a tough one. Almost as tough as me, but not tough enough. He ended up just like one of these poor fuckers," he said looking back up at a crucified Kaguya Clan member.
I couldn't help the scowl that came on my face. How could he talk about his own family so flippantly? How could he kill his own brother and look so untethered to drowning guilt?
"You know, I spotted those cold steel eyes of yours from a mile away."
I snorted in disbelief. "Oh really, you got all that from my eyes?"
"Contacts right?" he smirked
Oh... I felt a little stupid now. I thought he was talking about some stupid like the eyes of a killer or something. Those kinds of things were hard to ascertain until you were in a battlefield, surrounded by killing intent, looking straight into the eyes of an opponent. It wasn't like in daily life, many people walked around looking like they were ready for bloody murder… unless you were Orochimaru of course.
"They aren't your real colour. I know. I used to hide mine. Well it's been fun talking to you—"
It was his turn to blink in surprise.
"And you're fine telling me because?"
"I know what you want now," I said calmly.
"And what is that?" he asked, grinning with all teeth.
"You enjoy a good fight. I do too, but you don't feel any loyalty to anyone or any place so you live your life looking for the next high, and there's nothing more exhilarating than a fight to the death," I explained knowingly, catching his gleeful expression and returning it was a nervously excited smile.
"Oh, I knew you were going to be fun. I'll meet you in the future, friend. Then we will fight to the death," he said excitedly before he walked away.
"I look forward to it," I replied, surprising myself with my honesty.
I couldn't help but wave him off, feeling incredibly exhausted mentally after that encounter. My shoulders dropped, and I hadn't even realised they'd been tensed. I had missed a narrow death. If he fought me now, I wouldn't have lasted a second. Still, my blood was pumping hard in my veins and I realised I almost activated Total Concentration Breathing on accident. I clenched my fists and looked back up at the numerous corpses, all bloated and starting the decomposing process. They wouldn't be here for much longer unless the village wanted to risk some sort of disease spreading, so it was good I came by today to get the last glimpse of what it meant to be even two days late to a mission.
This was what we did.
We murdered. Some of us enjoyed it, some of us didn't—but it didn't change the fact that we were all doing the same thing one way or another. The motivation really didn't mean anything in this equation. Maybe there was fundamentally something inherently wrong with all of this. If there was, I couldn't put a finger on it, because when I remembered Rui's reaction of horror, all I could feel was a blinding, painful indifference.
Rui had the decency too look chided. I didn't feel like yelling at him though. As much as it made me irritated that he ran off leaving me alone, it was probably for the best. I had no idea if he would have survived that conversation with Needle. A bloody swordsman of the mist… yeah, we were screwed.
"I'm sorry. It was illogical and endangering of both our lives for me to leave—"
"—It's ok Rui," I interrupted. "For now we have a bigger problem. I was accosted out there by the wielder of Nuibari."
"One of the seven swordsmen?" Rui asked in alarm.
I nodded and sent him a serious look. "Kushimaru Kuriarare himself. We will have to hurry up the plan now. No more time to spend waiting around, and I can't exactly kill him either."
"He left you alive. Why?" Rui asked.
"He's not following me if that's what you're concerned about. I think he's a more selfish man than a patriot, but I don't want to risk his interference. We're leaving tonight."
"The additional mission to gather intel?" Rui asked.
"I'll be doing it right after I talk to Satomi. Get to Anko and put her on high alert."
Once we were deep enough into a secluded area, I bit my thumb and summoned a snake I really didn't want to summon. A small thin green snake slithered down my arm and I had to hold back a sigh as it sent me a baleful look. Amaru was one of my few talking summons. She was rather hard to deal with in temperament, but she was useful when you could get her to listen. It helped that despite looking… adorable she was one of the most poisonous snakes in my arsenal. Two doses of her venom and you wouldn't have the time to expel it from your system before you were dead. I had more poisonous snakes in my arsenal too, but those were genetically engineered and mindless. They often died the moment they bit into someone. Amaru was more valuable than that. Both her and Ryunosuke my red-belly black snake, were two of my best summons. Ryunosuke took too much chakra to summon however, and so I often didn't bother, but it was unfortunate that he had the better temperament of the two.
"My mighty summoner has finally called upon me I see," she hissed condescendingly.
"I'll have snacks for you later Amaru," I sighed.
"I want them now," she demanded.
"Later," I emphasised before I handed her to Rui. "Take her with you as back up in case anything goes wrong. Also if she bites you, here's the antidote."
Rui paled a little at that. I handed him the clear liquid bottle from my pouch. He took it and looked nervous for himself.
"We're in a lot of trouble. Can we do this without Orochimaru-sensei?" he asked.
"Need your sensei to wipe your ass for you kids," Amaru cackled.
I ignored the snake. "We can't always expect Orochimaru-sama to help us or run missions with us. We would eventually be expected to take missions on our own, and this is not any different. The question is, do you trust yourself?"
He looked down at that, and I sighed. Maybe that wasn't the right thing to ask. Maybe what he needed was some positive reinforcement. I was admittedly out of my depth. I patted his shoulder consolingly, unsure of what else to say.
"Well if you don't trust yourself then trust your teammates. We were trained for this," I reminded him.
He nodded. Then we went on our way.
This mission was turning out to be a clusterfuck. I couldn't imagine what I'd have to report to Danzo once this was over. Not only would I not be able to lie, but I'd have to admit that I had not just let any witness leave, but one of the seven bloody swordsmen of the mist. I ran my tongue over the roof of my mouth in worry and frowned. I'd have to figure out the last bit of the fuinjutsu seal before I reach Konoha. My plans would inevitably have to be moved forward. There was no way in hell I could mitigate the damage to myself or my family and wait until after the war to do what I needed to do against Danzo now. He would have me killed. There was no way around it now, and I refused to let him have another win. It was time to be proactive.
I snapped my thoughts away from Danzo and onto the present. I couldn't be caught up in things outside of the mission while I was doing it. That was a sure-fire way of getting your ass killed by surprise. So after taking a moment to deliberate my breathing, and calming my jumpy nerves, I made my way into the room where I heard Satomi and Rengoku talking.
"Hina-chan, good to see you back," Rengoku said.
"Did you see what you needed to see?" Satomi asked.
I nodded, and she searched my face, possibly to find whatever emotion I was feeling right now. The downturn of her lips and slight furrowing of her brows might have indicated that she did not see what she wanted or expected. It was neither my concern nor duty to worry about what she thought of me though.
"It's certainly something to see so many dead bodies in one place," I said as evenly as I could.
"What did you think?" she probed.
"It was a waste. Death is wasted potential," I said softly.
I didn't like that her searching eyes somehow seemed to stop suddenly as if she found what she needed. There was nothing simple about people and their beliefs. It was layered with nuances and hypocrisies. I wasn't so ignorant as to believe that everything I assumed about the world didn't have an inkling of some contrary belief attached to it, making me question my own stance on things. It was rare that anyone believed anything a hundred percent. So to see a woman I barely just met seem to assume she understood me and the way I thought was more than a little grating.
"Never mind that. What do you know of Kushimaru Kuriarare?" I asked, hoping to get back on topic.
Satomi looked up sharply at that name. "The wielder of Nuibari?" she asked.
I nodded and she pressed her lips firmly together in what looked like a disapproving scowl.
"I know quite a lot about him. He was my brother's close friend. He lives to kill and destroy. He finds pleasure in maiming and torturing people he considers weak, but he enjoys a battle to the death with those who he deems worthy."
"His allegiances?" I asked.
"He works solely for his pleasure as did many of my fellow clan members who revelled in killing," she said with distaste.
I sighed and decided to break it to them.
"He spotted me at the village square."
"What?!" Rengoku asked alarmed, finally inserting himself into the conversation where he had been happy before to sit back and watch.
"Considering that you are alive and here with us as of now, it is safe to assume that Kushimaru took a liking to you. What specifically happened?"
"He noted my contacts, seemed to instantly take me as a shinobi, but he didn't jump quickly in to fight or I would be dead. Instead he questioned me about my thoughts on… death, and we came to an agreement to wait a few years for a fight. I doubt it will be a spar, but—friendly—maybe? He seemed to think we were friends anyway, but I assume he makes them to kill them. Is he a threat for now is what's important?"
Satomi and Rengoku were both silent for a minute before the women finally spoke up. "I don't think he will be an issue for now, although you are certainly marked for death."
I sent her a glare. "In a few years I doubt it will be me dying."
Rengoku laughed, breaking up the tense atmosphere. I couldn't even send him a baleful look because his laugh seemed to always brighten up the mood, even if his wide-eyed look was disconcerting as usual.
"Not many people would be nearly as confident as you," he said appreciatively.
"Well if I bent over for fear of death from every powerful shinobi that threatened me, I would have already readied a grave for myself in preparation. There is not enough time in the world to contemplate failure, which is why when I say that I will complete this mission Satomi-san, that I mean it."
Her pale red eyes seemed to spark some sort of trust in me for once and she nodded firmly. Rengoku sent me an odd look but I didn't have the time to question it.
"What is our plan for now?" Rengoku asked.
"I will complete my secondary mission. You two will prepare the escape route with both Anko and Rui. Anko, Kusari and I will take our clients through the mountain pass and meet you at the 3rd extraction point we noted on the way here. Rui will remain with you as backup. If anyone comes by in the meantime, take our clients and go. Leave a visual depiction of a snake somewhere in this room and I will track you down."
They nodded. I worried that I had forgotten any sort of extenuating circumstantial situations that might pop up in my absence. Either way, it was not possible for me to cover any and all unexpected scenarios that may or may not happen. Meeting Needle was just one of the many things in a mission that could go wrong. The fact that it hadn't ended in instant mission failure was a miracle in itself. I spared a glance at Rengoku. When he shifted back to Satomi, he kept his hands innocuously to his thighs. I didn't miss the outline of some weapon underneath his thick cotton outfit. It was good to remind myself that despite what I thought, or what Danzo or any higher ups wanted me to believe, that I knew more than what they wanted me to. No way would they send a group of children in for a mission like this. An inkling of a worrisome thought made it into my head.
Did Danzo set me up to fail?
And for what reason, I did not know, and that's what truly worried me. Anko, Rui and Kusari could easily die if things went south and I had a feeling it would. Rengoku was good at making me drop my guard with his friendly attitude, but I had to watch out for him. In the end he was a Shinobi claiming to be a merchant. It was ironic that possibly the only person I trusted in this group other than my team was the one person the Shinobi handbook always said to keep an eye on—my client—Kaguya Satomi. The woman wanted to keep her children safe, and that was a motive I could understand.
It wasn't long until I took my leave. I had an espionage mission I needed to do solo, and it was set-up for failure. It was with a building anxiety that I pushed myself back out into the field.
I'm curious to know of what everyone thinks of Kushimaru Kuriarare (AKA Needle, AKA one of the seven swordsmen of the mist and wielder of Nuibari.) He's not an OC. He's a minor canon character in Naruto who really enjoys killing and crucifying people. His sword is actually the coolest in my opinion. It's basically a long thing blade (like a needle), that has a razor-sharp thread attached to the back of the hilt. He can throw it through a group of people, while he quickly body flickers around them, and suddenly he's stitching different people's body parts together into a giant human ball corpse-pile. It's both terrifying and awesome XD