Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”
Kage no Naka - “In the Shadows”
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
The pond was familiar. It reminded Naruto of one in the upscale northwestern area of town, relatively close to the Uchiha Ichizoku. A steady but calm breeze gently pressed small waves that undulated across its surface. He looked up at the sky; cerulean blue with perfect, crisp white clouds ambling from left to right.
Didn’t he have to be at the bridge to meet up with Kakashi-sensei, Sakura and Sasuke soon? Surely yesterday was Sunday and he’d have to be there, but something in the air made the day feel so much more like a Saturday.
A lone willow tree dipped its branches into the water and under its dappled shade sat a young woman who stared out at the surface. A large sun hat obscured her face but even from a distance and not seeing her expression, Naruto could tell she was happy.
The feeling was contagious. Without even thinking about it, Naruto gravitated towards her.
“Ano… ‘scuse me, Nee-san? Mind if I join ya?”
She turned her head to look up at him. The large hat framed her round, heart-shaped face. Her eyes were a pale green and her hair even paler blonde. It lilted around her like strands of silk thread in the ever-present breeze. Her skin was alabaster and her limbs were delicate. She seemed a living statue, such was her perfection. So when she spoke, Naruto almost fell over with surprise.
“Sure! It’s great to have company on such a nice day!” A bold, confident voice boomed from her slight frame. She patted the ground with one of her thin, china-like hands and smiled. When she did, her eyes turned into the most adorable crescent shapes. Naruto blushed, falling instantly in love and without hesitation sat down beside her. She faced the pond again, the contended smile hanging on her lips. Naruto stared at her, unable to look away. He wanted to memorize her face. Something about her seemed fleeting, as though if he blinked she would blow away.
She must have felt the intensity of his gaze because she looked back to him, but rather than scold him for staring, she grinned, amusedly. “Do I know you?” she asked.
Naruto shuddered. “N-no! I mean I don’t think so…”
“Really? You sure I don’t know your family?”
“I… don’t have one,” he admitted.
For the first time, her features drooped. “I’m so sorry…”
“No! It’s ok! I mean… It was a long time ago… I never knew them.”
She bit her lip. “That’s horrible. There’ve been so many wars, and so much loss and sadness in this village. Sometimes I wish I had never been born into a shinobi clan.”
“You’re a ninja?” Naruto asked tentatively, unable to imagine her giving or receiving any sort of violence.
“No.” She rubbed her thin hands together. “Because my body’s too weak, I can never be a ninja…” When he didn’t respond she looked up. “I’m sorry! Now I’ve made you upset!”
“Uh? Oh no, no! I just don’t know what I would do if I could never be a ninja…”
She smiled again. “Now I know why I think I know you,” she said and pointed into the distance behind Naruto’s shoulder. “You remind me of him.”
Naruto craned his neck and looked for a person, but all he saw was the mountainside about five miles to the south and the four faces etched upon it. “What, the Hokage?” When he turned around he was blushing even redder. “I’m gonna be up there one day, you’ll see!”
“You will?!” she asked, excitedly.
“You bet! Everyone will know me and look up to me!” he stood and shouted.
“Ah! That’s great!” The young woman used the trunk of the willow to help herself up and got a good look at the 12 year old.
“So, Nee-chan? Which one do I remind you of? Nidaime? Please don’t say Sandaime!”
“No, silly. Isn’t it obvious? Yondaime!”
Naruto’s chest puffed out. “Really?!”
She laughed. “Even your attitude! You sound a bit like him too.”
“Ne, how do you know so much about him?”
“He’s my husband!” she said proudly and beamed at him.
The world seemed to stop. The clouds no longer raced across the sky. The water didn’t glisten. Naruto felt something akin to nausea and fear with a mixture of confusion and sadness sweep over him. “Oh, Nee-chan…”
“He’s so amazing. Have you met him?”
“He only just became Hokage last year but already they have the mountain carved. He’s going to be the best, most famous Hokage, no the most famous kage the world has ever seen! And I don’t have to worry about being a good ninja because I’m going to be the world’s best wife.” She brushed some dirt off of her kimono and walked to the water’s edge. “I want to have children too, tens of them!” She crouched and dipped her fingers in the cool water. She patted her face lightly and took a deep breath.
‘Children…’ Naruto thought. Had Yondaime had any children? How long had he been Hokage before he died? He wished he had studied harder when Iruka-sensei taught his class the history of Konoha. “I was just a baby…” he whispered.
The young woman turned quickly. “What did you say?” she asked.
“Uh, never mind…” Naruto tried to think of something to say to change the subject.
“Do you think…” she started, but the words ran out of breath. The pale green eyes rolled back and her legs gave out.
“Nee-chan!” Naruto shouted and caught her in plenty of time. “You ok, Nee-chan?” Her face was so pale, he felt like he was holding a doll the size of a grown woman. Not having any idea what to do for her, Naruto started to panic. “Nee-chan, please…”
As if she heard him, the green eyes fluttered open. He offered to help her up, but she asked him to let her lay her head in his lap till the spell passed. “It’s all right, I just fainted. I stood up too fast.” She laughed a little. “I get so excited when I think about the future. Do you think I’ll make a good mother?”
“Yeah,” Naruto whispered. “The best.”
“I think so too,” she smiled. “I’m a great cook!”
“Mmhm! You should come over for dinner some night and I’ll show you! I’ll make you a nice soup!” she chimed as she slowly sat up.
“Kozue!” a man’s voice called from the distance. “Where are you?” A long coated, spiky haired silhouette was just visible on the horizon.
“Hai-----! Coming!” the young woman answered. “I have to go. You understand, don’t you?”
“I’ll see you later, then!” Naruto shook his head. The sky was almost dark. The clouds seemed to have piled up on each other in the last few tense moments. His shoulders slumped. Naruto opened his mouth to speak, but just didn’t have the heart to tell her. “I’ll see you right there, ne?” He turned and followed her pointing finger once more just as the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the monument to the first four Hokage.
Naruto’s face brightened. “Mm!” He nodded. “I’ll be the best Hokage the world has ever seen! You’ll see.”
The young woman named Kozue bowed and kissed him on the cheek. “I know you will, Sweet Heart. See you!” She waved. Clouds flew past. Water rippled and willow leaves swirled in a never-ending breeze.
Kozue’s pale hand emerged from Naruto’s chest as Yondaime pulled gently. She fell into his arms and hugged him tightly.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“I think it went well,” she said with a smile. “We’ll see if he’s happier when he wakes up.”
Yondaime opened his mouth to congratulate her but his eyes fell on a glowing red dot that appeared in the corner of the dimly lit room. Kozue turned to see what had disturbed him and gasped.
“It’s me!” Yotsuya called back. “Nice to see you too, Lady.”
“Yusaku-san, that’s the man who was trying to take me away!”
“I know,” he said and pulled her close. “Sorry I ditched you, but you weren’t in any hurry to see if I made it out, so I figured you wouldn’t mind if we wandered around for a bit.”
“Nah, not at all,” Yotsuya said, waving the cigarette. “Now messing with the living, that’s another matter.”
The couple exchanged worried glances. “Did we do something wrong?” Yondaime asked.
He dragged on the cigarette. “Yes and no. You contacted the living which is bad. A more experienced individual like myself is able to converse freely with the living because I have the ability to alter the way they remember the experience. You managed to do it in such a way that the subject won’t realize that he saw a ghost. That’s good.”
“So what happens now?” Yondaime asked.
“Good question.” Naruto turned in his sleep and Yotsuya motioned for them to follow him outside. They strolled down the empty streets of Konoha. “Before I saw what you did, I would have taken you both back where you belong: you to your cage and the little woman off to the next world. But I gotta say I’m impressed…”
Kozue relaxed a little and addressed the suit. “So, who are you?”
Yotsuya stopped and bowed slightly. “Shinigami Yotsuya, third in the line of Fire Country Death Gods at your service.”
“Shinigami…” she repeated and lowered her head. “I understand now. I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.”
Yotsuya smiled. “You make it really hard to stay angry at you, Kozue-chan.”
“You still haven’t answered the question, Yotsuya,” Yondaime reminded him. “What’s to become of us?”
“Well, I don’t think you can officially become a Kage till your contract with the Shiki is up, so I have a little business proposition for you.” He twirled a strange-shaped shuriken idly on his pinky as he spoke. “You two are a good team. Yondy, since you were such a good ninja, your chakra made you a powerful spirit and Kozue-chan has become one through years of diligent spooking. You’re both qualified to assist me. You work for me, I won’t pass you on or send you back. You can have some more time together.”
Kozue pouted. “I don’t think you want me to work for you, Yotsuya-san. I’m not strong enough…”
Yotsuya stopped spinning the shuriken and handed it to her. “You’re forgetting you don’t have a body any more. It’s all about the power of your spirit. You were a strong person on the inside when you were alive and now that you’ve had a decade of poltergeist activity on your resume, you’re really something else. I could use your help. Whaddaya say?”
Yondaime raised a brow and smirked proudly at his wife who replied for both of them.
“We’ll take it!”
The next morning, the sun shone bright and warm through the pane just to the left of Naruto’s head. The comforter and sheet were wrapped tightly around him. Despite the warm weather, Naruto had snored comfortably through the night.
When he woke, he sat up, rubbed his eyes and realized it was Monday. “What happened to Sunday?” he murmured and squinted into the sunlight. Across town, four sets of stone eyes watched over his village. He opened his own eyes wide, grinned, threw off the covers and charged headfirst into the new day.
Anyone who could have seen the curl at the corner of his lips, the sparkle in his cool, blue eyes would have known this boy was Uzumaki Naruto: future Hokage of Konoha.
“You’ll see! I promise!” he shouted to the sky and ran out the door at top speed to beat Sakura and Sasuke to the bridge.
The fact that Naruto was completely unaware of his parents’ presence didn’t seem to bother them. They were happy just to watch him grow. Kozue cheered her son on as he won his third Chuunin Exam match. Her pale purple kimono now bore a patch with the black-and-red flame logo pinned over her left breast. When the match was over, her smile faded as she remembered that she wasn’t just a spectator today. There were sinister doings afoot in Konoha. Soon there would undoubtedly be much work to be done on the Spirit plane. Yotsuya appeared at her side.
“Not bad for a squirt,” he commented with a wink as the next match began.
“Thank you,” she said with a grin. “What’s the status?”
“Nothing yet, but looks like Orochimaru’s gonna make his move soon. We don’t know where he is, but he’s close. There’s gonna be a lotta cleanup for us. You sure you’re up for this?”
Kozue nodded as her husband appeared behind her. He wore the same flame patch on his flack-jacket. His white-and-red overcoat had been forsaken to avoid detection by the First and Second Hokages. If they were to find Yondaime outside of Naruto they would most likely send him back and then send Kozue to the next life. “We’re ready to help however we can,” he said and put a hand on her shoulder.
They didn’t have long to wait. In the middle of the next match between the remaining Uchiha child and a Genin from the Hidden Sand smoke bombs exploded in the Hokage’s skybox. Most of the audience slumped in their seats.
“Oh no!” Kozue cried. “All those people can’t be dead!”
“No, it’s Genjutsu,” Yondaime assured her.
Yotsuya squinted. “It’s begun. There’s fighting on the outskirts. The enemy’s movin’ in.” He turned to his troops. “Ko-chan, you take the eastern gate. There’s som’n’ big happening over there. Be careful not to get too overwhelmed. You must only escort one soul at a time, but try not to leave too many unattended. If you need help call for backup and we’ll come runnin’.”
“I’ll do my best!” she said and saluted him, becoming a vapor and speeding off for the east end of town.
“Yondy, you stay close to me just incase Orochimaru does what I think he might do.”
“What would that be?” he asked, raising a brow.
“You know very well he’s good at that forbidden Kinjutsu shit. Lots of those Jutsu, like the Shiki Fuujin,” he growled, pointing with his cigarette at Yondaime for emphasis, “break the laws of the Spirit World and mess things up real good. That’s why they’re forbidden. I’m sure if he’s gonna fight someone as powerful as the Third he’s going to pull out all the stops.”
Yondaime nodded towards the rooftop. “Looks like that is indeed the case.”
“Let’s get up there,” Yotsuya said, crushing the butt under his foot. A strange sound like radio static coming from his subordinate made him spin around. “What the…?”
“Yostu…!” Yondaime tried to call out. He tried to grab the Shinigami’s lapels but his hands were disintegrating.
“Shit!” Yotsuya vanished and reappeared on the rooftop next to Sandaime. Before him, Orochimaru was performing Kinjutsu and the Third was doing his best to stop him.
“One!” the missing-nin shouted and a coffin marked ‘sho’ burst through the roof. What looked like a blue comet that only Yotsuya could see streaked through the bright, sunny sky and slammed into the coffin.
Yotsuya made hand seals of his own. “Damn it! Edo Tensei!? You sick fuck!”
“Two!” Orochimaru shouted, a coffin marked ‘ni’ arose and another light swooped into it. Sandaime’s hands came together as he tried to think of a jutsu to stop the Edo Tensei with, but even if he could have thought of something, he would have been too late. Yotsuya snarled, grasped his wrist and pointed his outstretched hand in Orochimaru’s direction. “Rei Ami!” he called. “Soul Catcher!”
“Three!” Nothing (that any of the living present could see) happened. A blue streak shot towards Orochimaru, but swerved into Yotsuya’s palm. Sandaime was obviously relieved, but ready for whatever came next.
“You’re lucky as hell, Old Man,” Yotsuya spat and looked at the glowing cue-ball in his hand. “You too, Yondy,” he said and dropped the ball. It cracked open and Yondaime’s soul emerged, unharmed.
“What the hell’s going on?” he asked.
Yotsuya lit a cigarette. “You’re about to meet the Kage.
When the giant, three-headed snake appeared, Kozue stood and stared at it for a moment. Yotsuya had taught her much about the spirit plane, but there were still things in the realm of the living that amazed her. “If only it were a demon!” she said through her gritted teeth. “A demon, I could do something about!” She walked slowly towards it. It wasn’t long before the first nin fell. His soul stood up and looked around. When his eyes fell on the blond woman his shoulders relaxed a little.
“Will everything be all right?” the Leaf-nin asked.
“I have faith in Konoha,” she replied vaguely with a sad smile and stretched out her hand. When the nin took it, he disappeared. She stepped around his body and proceeded to the next.
Atop the arena, Sandaime fought with Orochimaru. On the very top of the roof Yondaime stood and watched the action. Yotsuya sat to his left and chain-smoked.
“Nidaime-sama! Shodaime-sama! Please stop!” Yondaime shouted vainly as they fought against Sandaime. “Yotsuya, why can’t the Kage hear me?”
“They’re technically living right now. Most of the living can’t see or hear the dead.”
“What is that terrible Kinjutsu he used?”
“Kuchiyose Edo Tensei: the summoning of the dead. Nasty jutsu performed in three steps. Step one: kill a guy. Step two, select the soul you want to summon. Step three, use the fresh corpse to hold the soul. This can last as long as the corpse holds out. Trick is to kill the container 24 hours prior to summoning otherwise they start to smell like a son-bitch.”
Yondaime stared at him, unblinking, mouth open.
“What?” Yotsuya asked, lighting his fifth cigarette.
“How do you know all that in such… detail?”
Yotsuya stood and stretched. “I wasn’t always a Shinigami,” he said and took a long drag. Yondaime raised a brow, but didn’t ask him any more questions. “I knew when Orochimaru had two of his Genin killed this morning that something was fishy, but I never woulda guessed this mess. The Kage were so sure that Sandaime was going to act before…” The cigarette between his lips drooped and his eyes widened.
“Before…?” Yondaime asked, but followed his eyes. They watched in horror as the Third Hokage started performing a series of seals.
-Mi - I - Hitsuji -
“Sandaime-sama! NO!!!” Yondaime shouted.
- U - Inu - Ne -
“Oh fuck me…” Yotsuya groaned.
- Tori - Uma - Mi -
Behind Sandaime, the Shiki Fuujin emerged; the old man’s soul already bound in the first half of the contract. Suddenly, Shodaime cast a strong Genjutsu turning the area blacker than night. Yondaime and Yotsuya, still able to see what was going on, watched, helplessly.
Yondaime grabbed Yotsuya by the arm. “Do something!”
“There’s nothing I can do. If we interrupt this jutsu the affects to the Spirit World would be so catastrophic no one would be able to fix them.”
“There’s got to be…”
“Listen, if we step in between the Shiki and his contract, he’ll thirst for souls. He’ll start with the dead which is fine and dandy and makes my job a lot easier, but pretty soon he’ll run out of them and head for the living. There’s virtually no way to stop him without causing a huge rift in the Spiritual order. You’ve got to let it go.”
“To me…” Sandaime said to Orochimaru as he fought the two re-animated Hokage. “Konoha isn’t just an organization…”
Yondaime grit his teeth and listened carefully.
“Every year, many shinobi are born and raised in Konoha. They live and fight to protect this village that is precious to them, to the death. Even if we aren’t blood related, to me, the people of this village are most important, most precious family!”
Kozue had passed dozens of souls already and there were dozens falling all the while. It made no difference to her which side they were on, but a certain relief came when she realized that more and more of them were the enemy. She approached one such Sand-nin’s body and crouched at his side. His soul sat up and looked down at his heavily wounded body. “I’m a mess…”
“Yes, you are,” she said plainly.
“Is my time up?”
Kozue pursed her lips in thought. The nin’s wounds weren’t too great, but the shock had knocked him unconscious, allowing his soul to leave his body. The huge snake was still crushing everything in sight. Kozue opened her mouth to make her decision when an enormous toad appeared out of nowhere. “Oh, no, not another one!” she wailed. Then the toad started attacking the snake. “Ah! Jiyraiya-sama!” she cheered, recognizing the white-haired man on the toad’s back. Kozue turned her attention back to the nin. “If you can hang in there for another hour or so, I think you’ll make it. It’s up to you.”
He blushed at her warm smile. “I… I’d like to live.”
“Then lie down and sit tight,” she advised. He did just that and she stood up to stretch. In the distance, she saw the darkness from Shodaime’s Genjutsu and furrowed her brows. “Something’s not right…” she muttered and flew towards the scene.