Shion floated effortlessly in a still pool of murky water. Her long, light blonde hair splayed across the black surface around her. The air around her was choked with fog, making sight all but impossible.
The sky glowed with an orange-red hue, basking Shion and the water in a warm light. She exhaled slowly, her face peaceful. Somewhere in the mist, a bell rang once, echoing across the pool. Red rays rippled across the water, radiating from her motionless form.
She opened her eyes, revealing pink kaleidoscopes within of incredible complexity. The shapes rotated around her pupils hypnotically, blurring the lines. Ripples of red light darted across the surface of the pool, radiating faster and faster as she took a deep inhalation.
The tension of the water broke, and Shion began to sink into the water. Her eyes glowed with a bright pink light and were all that was visible.
Shion opened her eyes and sat up. A cold wind blew through her hair, whipping it about her face. She stared at rolling hills and lush green forests on ground miles beneath her and sighed.
How many times would she be tortured, subjected to watch the same horrific scene play out again and again. She had long since lost track. The sound of a birds beating wings filled the air as she was carried across the sky. Clouds floated leisurely not far above, arrayed precisely as they always were.
She stood and turned to the two cloaked figures that were accompanying her. Of course, they didn’t know she was here. The strangers each wore white cloaks, a golden eight-point star embroidered on the back. Shion had tried to determine their identities, but the hoods of their cloaks obscured their faces in utter darkness. She wasn’t sure if it was the product of some Jutsu, or perhaps the gods had simply not deemed her fit to know.
The gigantic bird beneath their feet beat its wings mightily, lifting its passengers higher into the crystal blue sky. To call it a bird was perhaps too kind. It was an appalling imitation of something beautiful, made of pale bones and ragged black fabric instead of feathers and living flesh. The monstrosity’s destination was evident, and it hurtled across the sky at a frightening speed.
Far ahead, beyond rivers and mountains, nine giant beasts towered over the landscape. The creatures were known by many names, but most commonly, Bijū. Each of the giants possessed a different number of tails, ranging from one to nine.
The landscape around the beasts was in utter chaos. Tails moved as if agitated, uncaring of the destruction to the surrounding forests and mountains as they reshaped the landscape forever. All nine of the beasts’ heads were looking toward the sky. One by one, their jaws opened wide.
Millions of orbs of bright blue Chakra formed out of the air around the Biju, streaking through the sky to converge before the gaping maw of each beast. Nine black orbs began to form, rapidly absorbing more and more Chakra and growing in size.
Within mere moments, the black balls were bigger than the Biju themselves. The world around them was cast into deep shadow, and Shion couldn’t even see the tops through the clouds. It was an awe-inspiring display of absolute power, but it was nothing compared to what was coming.
She had seen this all before, and right on cue, the nine spheres were ripped away from their Bijū. Condensing at one point in the center of all of the Biju, the spheres became one. Despite the incredible distance, Shion could clearly make out a figure beneath the orb, his open palm facing upward.
It was a young boy, floating miles above the surface of the world. His white robes whipped violently as the sphere compressed, releasing a shockwave that even Shion could feel. Power radiated from him in waves as the orb shrunk, the Chakra condensing further and further.
A bright purple light radiated from his eyes as he enforced his will upon the Chakra within the sphere. It was almost the same size as the boy when it stopped shrinking, and he moved it to the side. Shion once again observed the boy’s eerie features. She had never doubted that he wasn’t human. Although if not for the six brown horns adorning his head, three above each ear, he might have barely passed as an extremely pale human.
His eyes burned with fury as he glared at the clouds above, and Shion could sense his rage. Hidden beneath his anger, she felt fear and despair. He was afraid, afraid of what was to come.
Shion looked away, turning her back on the idyllic scene. She knew what was going to happen, and she refused to be tortured by it anymore. She had sworn on Kami to prevent this tragic destiny. What more did she need to see?
“I refuse!” Shion shouted. She made no attempt to resist the tears flowing down her face. “I don’t want to see it again!”
Whatever god she was pleading to, it didn’t answer.
“Let me go!”
Shion curled into a ball on the back of the winged creature, her eyes clenched shut. She rocked back and forth slowly, her head buried between her knees as she gripped her head.
I want to be free. I want to be free. I want to be free!
A strange pressure, emanating from the center of her head, began to build rapidly. The harder she pushed against the forces holding her here, the greater the pressure became until it was unbearable. Her scream split the air, and as if a twig had snapped, the pain vanished.
Shion accepted the darkness gratefully, all sensation lost. She floated, weightless, in the nothingness as she strived to calm herself. Nightmares had plagued her sleep since the first time she had been shown the future. To be shown over and over was cruel, and she didn’t think she could take it anymore.
Eventually, the sense of dread and despair she felt faded away, and Shion concentrated on returning to her physical form. She expected to find herself in her bed, but she was surrounded in all directions by an unfamiliar forest. The trees didn’t look like any in her homeland, and rain poured from the sky incessantly.
She could feel the rain striking her skin, but she wasn’t wet. Her semi-corporeal state gave away that this was another vision, not reality. Kami had decided to show her something new, it seemed.
Shion got to her feet and looked around. There was no clear indication of where to go, so she waited patiently. Whatever it was that she was supposed to see, it would be shown to her. When it finally happened, she almost didn’t catch it. A dark figure dashed through the trees to her right, and she hurried to catch up with them.
It was challenging to keep sight of the shadow in the heavy rain. However, Shion didn’t have to avoid trees and fallen branches. As each obstacle collided with her body, she phased right through them. She wasn’t really here, after all.
From the figure’s sagging shoulders and stumbling run, she could tell they were exhausted. Numerous times, she thought they were going to fall, but they caught themselves at the last moment.
A younger her would have called out to the figure, asking them to slow down and wait. She had learned since then, there was no influencing the visions she was shown. The chase only lasted for a few more moments before she saw what she guessed to be a boy stumble yet again. He failed to catch himself this time and crashed to the forest floor.
Shion fell to her knees beside him a second later. It was a boy, his clothes made of tanned leather and soaked in rain and mud. His dark brown hair had several peculiar white streaks and was horribly matted. Wanting to see the boy’s face, Shion grabbed his arm, unsure whether or not she could influence him.
To her amazement, she could touch him. Reaching under his shoulder, Shion gasped as she felt something warm and sticky touch her fingers, and she hurried to roll him over. The boy had been wounded. Blood soaked the front of his leather tunic. It looked to be a sword wound, starting at his left hip and ending in his right shoulder. Shion felt nauseous as she observed the copious amount of blood.
Shion briefly closed her eyes as she forced the sick feeling in her throat to recede and turned her attention to the boy’s face.
It was him, the one she had been waiting for. A thousand times she had seen his face in her visions, each time slightly different as she watched him grow and struggle. Never before had he looked so lost, so pitiful. He needed her help. This was where she would find him. If she did not interfere, he would die here, and she could not allow that.
She leaned over the boy, lightly caressing his wet face as she brushed his matted hair to the side. “You need us here, I understand.”
There was nothing more to see, nothing more to understand. Shion closed her eyes and demanded to be set free.
Shion sat up sharply, the necessity to breathe overwhelming. She stared across her bedroom with wide eyes. Two pink kaleidoscopes spun. With each passing second, the shapes within her eyes slowed and faded away to a beautiful pale lavender. Shion forced her erratic breathing to slow. She focused, as she had been taught, on the insignia engraved into her bedroom door, using it to ground herself in reality.
“Breathe… just breathe…” Shion muttered. She was safe, buried deep beneath her covers. There was time, she was confident, but there was no way to know how much.
With no time to waste, Shion cast her covers aside and slipped out onto the floor. The vision hadn’t told her the name of the place she was to find the boy, but she knew how to get there. The path was engraved into her mind, and Shion worried it was too far to make it in time.
The sound of bare feet reverberated in her ears as she stepped out into the cold temple halls. Not even the servants were awake this early, and there was no one to stop her as she quickly navigated her home. She reached the High Priestesses room in mere moments and opened the door without knocking. The priestess wasn’t inside, which meant she was most likely in the prayer hall.
Annoyed at even the slight delay, Shion hurried her pace, her feet scuffing painfully on the engraved stone floor. The prayer hall doors had been carved to depict scores of unidentifiable people on their knees within the hall, praying to a god that didn’t exist. Shion shoved the doors open. She was relieved to see the High Priestess inside, speaking with two of her servants.
The hall was crowded with small tatami mats, each facing the raised platform at the far end. A gigantic statue of a serpentine creature with multiple dragon-like heads rested upon the platform. Four heads glared down at the worshipers, morphed in perpetual snarls. Every eye glowed red, and its tongues snaked through the air.
Her mother, the High Priestess of the Land of Demons, turned as she entered. An all too familiar look on her face. It was the expression of one who already knew what she was going to say. Such was the curse of their family. Regardless, it didn’t temper her words.
“I saw him,” Shion said, “I know where we have to go.”
The men standing behind her mother turned toward her, and Shion became painfully aware of the nightgown she wore. Perhaps it would have been wise to put on something more presentable before leaving her room.
“I saw him too, Shion-chan.” Her mother replied in her usual regal tone. Although Shion could hear the slight disappointment at her attire in her mother’s voice.
“We have to leave now,” Shion insisted urgently, ignoring the bemused looks from the two men. “He’s hurt.”
Her mother nodded knowingly and gestured to the two men. “I have already begun to make arrangements.”
Shion glanced at the men. She hadn’t paid them any mind when she’d entered. To her mother’s left was a Shinobi named Yomi, the Medical Ninja Head in the Land of Demons. To the right was Jo, the Temple Guard’s Captain and a frequent advisor to her mother.
“Now, go and get dressed.”
Shion nodded curtly and took her leave.
Miroku shook her head as her daughter pulled the prayer hall doors closed behind her. She turned back to the two Shinobi, observing their expressions. Yomi had returned to staring at the floor beneath his feet, as if seemingly deep in thought. It was difficult to read the Shinobi through his long black hair.
Jo looked similarly thoughtful, stroking his thick beard as he stared at something far beyond the walls of the hall. She remained silent, content to wait for one of them to speak. Her daughter’s interruption had given the Shinobi a moment to think over her orders.
A minute passed in silence before Jo sighed and turned to face her. “I understand your reasoning, Miroku-sama…”
She saw the indecision in the Shinobi’s eyes and held her tongue as the taciturn Shinobi trailed off.
“However, I cannot in good consciousness agree with your decision to leave the Land of Demons for… just some kid.”
Miroku felt a flare of annoyance at Jo’s resistance.
“He is not some kid, Jo-san.” She said sharply, although her words were like water off a duck’s back. Jo was unmoved. It frustrated her that she was still having this conversation. “We have spoken about this before. I will be leaving today. With or without you.”
The Shinobi Captain gave no visible indication he had even heard her, but Miroku knew she’d hurt his pride. Very little mattered more to Jo than his duty. It had been perhaps a low blow to insinuate that he would not fulfill his oath. Jo had faithfully served her since she had become the High Priestess over a decade ago. But she was running out of time, and would not be delayed, even by him.
Yomi hadn’t spoken since the meeting had begun, simply listening to the conversation. Miroku wasn’t sure if Yomi would choose to contest her orders, but she didn’t need him to obey voluntarily. Regardless, his silence was concerning. She would need Yomi, and it would be best if he came quietly.
When Jo spoke again, Miroku knew she had won from his tone alone.
“You already know what I’m going to say… don’t you?”
Miroku was silent. Jo nodded, more to himself than anyone else, as if reaching a decision. Squaring his shoulders, Jo met Miroku’s gaze, and she saw the infallible loyalty in his eyes that had saved her so many times.
“Very well. I will come with you.” Jo decided, and Miroku bowed her head in thanks. “I will not ignore my responsibilities as the Captain of your Guard, but I am not pleased with your decision.”
It was good enough, and Miroku turned to Yomi. The raven-haired medic-nin looked at Jo incredulously, as if the captain had grown horns out of his head. Jo ignored him, and Yomi turned to Miroku. She resisted the urge to tap her fingers on her arm as she waited for Yomi to get a hold of himself.
While Yomi was one of her advisors as the country’s religious and sole leader, she didn’t need his approval. He would accompany her if she commanded it.
“Miroku-sama… you cannot be serious,” Yomi said, his tone exasperated. She didn’t move, staring at the Medic Nin intently as he looked between her and Jo, as if expecting someone to tell him it was all a joke. Yomi’s demeanor quickly became one of anger, and he pointed toward the far wall of the prayer hall. Beyond which was the expansive temple grounds, and even further the village in which the Demon Temple resided.
“Several of the land’s villages have been attacked by unknown Shinobi, crime is on the rise, and the Chinoike Clan is suspected as being the cause. The country needs your leadership!” Yomi asserted vehemently. She didn’t waver, and Yomi deflated.
“If you refuse to hear me, then I feel I should at least stay here.”
“No,” Miroku said immediately, cutting Yomi off. She ignored his outraged stammers. “You will be coming with me. The boy will require your attention.”
Miroku saw the anger in Yomi’s eyes, even though the Medic Nin endeavored to hide it. His tone was far less than civil. “Who even is this boy, Miroku-sama?”
Jo fixed Yomi with a flat stare as he started to take a step towards Miroku and then thought better of it. She wasn’t afraid of Yomi’s anger, but she had hoped the man would follow her orders.
“Do you even know his name?” Yomi demanded, clearly struggling to control himself. She understood the man’s frustration, but she refused to yield.
“His name is Naruto, and you will obey my orders,” Miroku replied, and Yomi stepped back into a deep bow.
“Very well, I will prepare to leave immediately.”
Miroku waited for Yomi to take his leave before turning to Jo. The Shinobi, who towered over her by a good foot, just laughed and shook his head. He said, “I may not understand your decisions, but you have never been wrong. I will have the teams ready to go by midday.”
She smiled, “Thank you, Jo-san.”