Did I rip of the Elder Scrolls? Yes. I'm taking a million liberties with this story, lol.
"Jiraiya-chan, I know you're upset. We all are. But there's nothing you can do. Choumei-sama is a powerful entity you don't want to anger. We should all be grateful he hasn't decided to take his vengeance any further than he already has."
Shima's words echoed hollowly in his skull, accented by the grinding of his own teeth. She and her husband, Fukasaku, had come to update him on exactly what was happening inside the forest, relaying the death count with low voices and heavy hearts.
"Choumei," he said with an angry sigh. "That's the god the Aburame worship. What does it have to do with anything?"
Fukasaku shook his head admonishingly. "Oh, Jiraiya-chan, you're smarter than this. You're letting your anger stand between you and the answer."
"Pa," his wife interjected. "Humans don't live very long. It's not surprising they've forgotten him. Choumei," she continued, answering the unspoken questions ins Jiraiya's black eyes. "Is the Lacquered Beetle, the God of Luck, himself. Hashirama-chan defiled his temple to steal the sacred treasure housed within and his entire line has been cursed ever since. Haven't you ever wondered why Tsunade-chan always loses her bets, even when all the odds are in her favor? Why the Senju clan has dwindled to extinction, the missions they take always ending in failure? It's because they offended one of the Nine."
"The Nine?" That number was typically associated with bijuu, not gods.
Fukasaku nodded sagely. "The Nine Divines, creatures older than even Mount Myoboku. Legends say they predate the Sage himself, though there is little actual evidence to support this."
"And this Choumei is one of them?"
Both elderly toads nodded. "Indeed," Shima said. "He is one of the strongest in the pantheon. All things related to chance fall under his domain. He is even said to command fate, rewriting the stars to answer the most fervent of prayers."
Jiraiya pulled out his notebook, writing down the details he probably should have asked for before sending hundreds of toads to their deaths. No, not probably. Definitely.
"The Nine," Fukasaku continued, drawing in the earth with a large toe. "Are organized in a loose hierarchy. Three above and six below." His drawing consisted of lines drawn in that order and he circled the three sitting atop six. "Choumei is one of the Greater Three. The others are Kurama, God of Mischief, and Gyuuki, God of Contests."
Luck, mischief, and contests? Those were odd things to venerate so highly. Jiraiya copied down the toad's doodle in his notebook, adding an explanation in messy handwriting.
How had he never heard of any of this? He was a pro researcher! Digging up forgotten facts was his one skill, damn it!
"Humans are so short lived," Shima lamented, as though in answer to his unvoiced frustrations. "The generational turn over is so quick. In only a hundred years, things everyone knew can be forgotten."
"Or twisted," Fukasaku said with another heavy sigh. "There were once shrines to Kurama maintained by the Clan of the same name, but they were all destroyed after a calamity wearing a similar face nearly flattened Konoha."
Oh? There was indeed a Kurama Clan in Konoha, masters of genjutsu the likes of which were found nowhere else in the world. It made sense for a God of Mischief to claim such a skill, and even more sense if the destruction of the shrines could be linked to the Clan's decline and the deadly consequences of their kekkei genkai. Jiraiya leaned in, scribbling frantically in his notebook. "What calamity?"
"The Nine Tailed Fox."
His pencil stopped dead.
That…that would do it.
"I'm surprised no one remembers this," Fukasaku complained. "It wasn't so long ago, at all! Our summoner at the time wasn't a member of any village, but he noted the sudden decrease in shrines dedicated to anything other than the Sage. Surely that would have been recorded somewhere? Humans are a very superstitious bunch!"
"Katsuyu-sama would know more," Shima said, patting her husband on his back. "She is the bride of Saiken, after all. He's one of the Lesser Six."
In all his years beside Tsunade, he'd never heard the slug summons mentions anything about that.
"She's rather private when it comes to her love life," Shima said, cupping her cheeks and blushing like a maiden. "But, sometimes, she'll share one of his poems. A master of haikus, he was. Such a charmer."
Both Fukasaku and Jiraiya glared at her, but for different reasons.
"I can be charming," the old toad insisted as Jiraiya settled in to think.
So, the Choumei he'd dismissed as yet another extremely localized deity was actually someone old enough to give the toads pause. And apparently curse the entire Senju Clan, but that wasn't really something that could be verified. He'd need to find someone else with a summoning contract to see if any more information could be gleaned.
All of this was very interesting, but it was also a convenient distraction from the sad reality he'd unknowingly brought into being.
He bowed his head to the two elderly toads.
"I'm sorry," he said earnestly. "If I had just asked you, I would have known better than to send so many toads out into the forest."
In truth, even without this vital new information, he should have known better. The Aburame barely tolerated his summons, and there was a tacit understanding that no one would get eaten. Taking toads into the forest which was apparently the Aburame ancestral homeland was not his brightest moment.
If only his mistakes didn't have such deadly consequences.
He shook his head to clear it, dispelling the cloud of depression before it could settle over his mind. The toads had already forgiven him, though any respect he'd gained over the years was now gone, so he should focus on moving forward.
He bid farewell to the two Toad Sages and left his tent. The camp was bustling with activity, the Konoha shinobi still on edge from the pulse of chakra which was apparently Benihime counting her bugs. Which, ok? Weird, but ok.
Also an incredible display of power. How old was she? Nine? Ten? How much chakra did she have? Also, the kind of control needed to count each and every insect in the forest was just…
He couldn't even fathom it. Usually, more chakra meant less control, but this kiddo was apparently some kind of exception. Was it because of her relationship with her god? He'd never heard of anything like that. Priests, monks, and other non-secular groups used chakra in interesting ways, but they were documented ways. Then again, given the conversation he just had, maybe her techniques had been documented, once, only to be forgotten over years of disuse or no communication.
His eyes locked onto his target and he crossed the campground. He placed a hand on Fugaku's shoulder, letting him know with a silent nod that he wanted to speak with him when he was finished with his conversation.
The Uchiha stepped up to where he was waiting, a scowl on his face and his arms already crossed defensively.
"What do you want?"
He wasn't very friendly, but, Jiraiya supposed, he didn't need to be.
"I need to speak with one of your summons. There's something I need to confirm."
Fugaku raised one fine eyebrow at him, but that was the only sign of surprise on his face.
"Are yours not enough?"
Jiraiya smothered his upset, letting the need to retaliate roll over him. "They are. That's why I need one of yours. There are cats in the temple, right? That's what Mikoto-chan's report said. I need some insight from an animal native to the region. My toads are too obvious as outsiders."
Fugaku stood there, looking up at him with empty black eyes. Then, he smirked. Jiraiya let him have that sense of triumph. He was above such things. Really. He didn't need to engage in a pissing contest with someone younger than him. He had a cool ninja nickname, Fugaku did not.
A puff of smoke revealed a grey tabby cat with green eyes as emotionless as his summoner's.
"This is Tora." Fugaku bowed to the cat, cupping one hand over a fist in a martial salute. "Tora, this is Jiraiya, one of the Sannin. He needs your help with his reconnaissance."
The cat gave Fugaku a long, slow, blink before turning to Jiraiya.
"Well?" The cat's voice was low and raspy. "Lead the way."
He did. He held his tent flap open for the dignified feline as it entered. It leapt up off the ground and settled on the table where his notes sat in haphazard piles.
Jiraiya took a seat of his own on an empty crate. He pulled his notebook out and pressed the tip of his pencil to the paper.
"Thank you for your time, Tora-san. I would like to ask you about something called the Nine Divines."
The cat's green eyes widened, pupils narrowing to slits. "Oh, I see. Have you encountered one?"
"Yes, the Lacquered Beetle."
The cat nodded, the tip of its tail flickering angrily. "Choumei. I see, I see. You've angered him, haven't you?" The cat shook his head in a surprisingly human gesture. "That's not good. Not good at all. Nya."
"Please," Jiraiya implored him. "Tell me everything you can."
Hiruzen read through his student's report. Jiraiya was his spymaster. An observant man by nature, Jiraiya's reports never spared any detail, no matter how innocuous. Those were the official reports, however. The reports he sent to Hiruzen were much more succinct.
The one in his hands was long and involved, containing interviews from several different summons. He'd never heard of anything called the Nine Divines, but they apparently had more sway over the world than the Sage. The revelation that the Senju line had been cursed for the destruction of the temple in the forest was hard to accept, but it did explain a few things. He'd never tell Tsunade-chan, of course, but it was still interesting to consider. Jiraiya suggested asking the other summons in the village about the Nine and he agreed that it was probably the best course of action, but he wasn't sure he wanted someone other than his student handling that kind of information.
Setting aside the issue of gods and their wrath, he turned his attention to the child. She had directly engaged with Jiraiya and his toads, revealing more of the mischievous nature Sakumo had described. As well as terrifying power. Her sensory range was incredible and would be a great asset to any village. If she really was from Taki, as she claimed, then there was no way they were simply leaving her to her own devices. Odds were Taki was somewhere in that forest. It may be why Iwa suddenly decided to abandon it.
Still, Taki hadn't interfered, yet.
That he knew of.