Yagura Karatachi glared at the surface of the water, barely keeping the annoyance he felt under control. He could feel it, the immeasurable power, just beyond the edge of his Chakra. Yet, no matter how hard he tried, he could not draw that alluring Chakra into himself. Waves radiated from Yagura across the lake’s surface as he began to expel more and more Chakra into the atmosphere, his anger getting the better of him.
His rigid posture sagged, and Yagura supported himself against the water’s surface with his hands, his breathing heavy. He had been so close, he could feel it. But, the demon within him refused to give up its power willingly, and every attempt to use it was met with unyielding resistance.
As always, he’d succeeded to a small degree. Looking within himself, Yagura could sense the wisps of the Bijū’s Chakra he’d torn away from it. The energy housed in a small cage within his chest, just above the flames of his own power. It was minor, insignificant, mere scraps in comparison to the true power the Bijū possessed.
Yagura got to his feet, a steady flow of Chakra through the soles of his sandals, preventing him from sinking into the lake. With a thought, Yagura brought the Bijū’s Chakra into his palm. Unlike his own Chakra, this Chakra was visible to regular human sight. It was a deep blue, like the ocean, and equally as mysterious.
Clenching his fist, Yagura drew the power back within himself. It would be useful as an ace in the hole should he be cornered Every day, he tried harder to rip away just a little more from the demon. Maybe one day it would be enough to ensure his victory.
He placed his palms against each other, taking a deep breath as he steadied the flow of his Chakra. With practiced ease, Yagura flew through a dozen hand seals in rapid succession, his hands a mere blur.
“Water Release: Coral Palm!”
Yagura extended a hand toward a large boulder at the edge of the lake. Bright pink florescent coral bloomed from his hand, and just as quickly, it broke free. The coral crashed into the boulder a split second later, cratering it. Yagura refused to stumble, despite his legs desperate attempt to give out. The Jutsu had drawn more of his reserves than he’d expected. While he tried to practice with the Bijū’s Chakra as often as possible, it was still difficult to control.
His exhaustion quickly gave way to frustration. He would win the war if he could just control his Bijū. It would be laughably easy, in fact. The Rebel’s base was not hidden, it was just challenging to invade. Without the Three-Tails’ power, Yagura could not order an attack without sacrificing thousands of his men.
Straightening, Yagura observed the crater. It was larger than normal, more powerful, but it wasn’t enough. He’d infused the Jutsu with traces of the Bijū’s Chakra, and it had strengthened the Jutsu greatly. Still, he couldn’t use it in battle. The exhaustion that came along with using the potent Chakra was too dangerous.
He turned and walked over to the floating staff at the center of the lake, his weapon of choice. It was of an elegant design he’d had custom made, and it had cost hundreds of thousands of yen, paid for by his clan. The handle was carved from a living tree in the Karatachi Clan estate, and upon each end was attached two hooks of different sizes.
Sheathing the weapon on his back, Yagura turned toward the Chakra Signature he’d sensed approaching. While his Bijū had not granted him access to its Chakra, it could not stop him from receiving its gift. Ever since he’d been made the Jinchūriki of the Three-Tails, he’d always been able to sense the signatures of those around him, no matter how hard they tried to shield them. The gift even allowed him to detect signatures a dozen miles away.
Yagura folded his arms as Kushimaru, one of the Legendary Swordsmen of the Hidden Mist and his personal bodyguard, stepped out from the trees. Kushimaru was very thin and tall in stature, which gave the bloodthirsty Shinobi an overall gangling appearance. He had long, shaggy, straw-colored blond hair covering part of the white porcelain mask concealing his face. The mask was adorned with a green-colored triangle on its lower half, and had small slits for eye-holes. Kirigakure’s symbol was etched into the forehead. Kushimaru’s usual attire consisted of a sleeveless black shirt, matching pants, a waist-guard, and Kirigakure’s symbolic striped wrist and leg-guards. Lastly, the Swordsman wore bandages around his neck.
To most, Kushimaru was a terrifying sight, but Yagura had grown accustomed to the feeling of death that haunted the Swordsman’s every footstep.
“What is it?” Yagura demanded, allowing some of the Bijū’s Chakra to merge with the killing intent he released at his bodyguard. Kushimaru didn’t give any indication that he had even noticed.
“The Daimyō has summoned you to his palace,” Kushimaru replied, his raspy voice bordering the edge of insanity.
Yagura growled in annoyance, and his eyes flashed a deep blue. With effort, he forced the Bijū to heel. The demon would take every chance he gave it to take control, and he was weakest against its attacks when he was angry. Still, the demon’s influence had its moments. Kushimaru took a step back.
Once again in control, Yagura gestured for Kushimaru to follow him and activated a Shunshin. Chakra rushed through his body, and the surface of the lake rose up around him, masking his departure as he shot across the treetops faster than he could blink.
The Water Daimyō’s Palace, Kirigakure, Land of Water, EN.
Three violent swirls of water were the guard’s only warning. Hurrying to open the gate, the civilian guards bowed as the Mizukage stormed past, trailed by his two bodyguards. Neither dared to look up, though they couldn’t even if they had tried. The aura radiated by Yagura, and his two Legendary Swordsmen bodyguards was stifling.
Yagura felt his Bijū trying to control him as he approached the Daimyō’s palace, the ever-silent demon sensing his annoyance. He felt justified in his displeasure this time, however. The gall the Daimyō, a mere civilian, had to summon him, the Mizukage, as if he was some sort of dog to be called at a whim.
Looking up, Yagura frowned in annoyance at the mist, obscuring his view of the Daimyō’s Palace, if it even deserved to be called that. His own clan’s estate was far more extravagant. The palace was like most other buildings in Kirigakure, made of the dullest looking stone imaginable, and weathered by thousands of violent storms. Every surface not regularly used was covered in creeping vines that thrived in the wet, soggy atmosphere. The structure had only two unique traits; the giant, once golden-colored Land of Water insignia above the palace doors, and its nigh unbeatable security.
The Karatachi estate wasn’t as secure as the Daimyō’s Palace. Even him, the Mizukage, didn’t know all of its true inner workings. In truth, the structure was more deserving of being called a bunker, than anything else. While the front gate was only guarded by two weak civilians, they were only for show and pleasantries. They would be the first to die in an attack, and nothing would be lost. No, the palace was guarded by a crack team of High Jōnin Shinobi that, to his great annoyance, did not answer to him.
Damn Hashirama, Yagura cursed as he reached the short flight of stairs that led to the palace’s thick metal doors. Had the thrice-cursed Senju Head not instated the rules regarding the Daimyō’s of each country, the Shinobi protecting the spineless man would be answering to him. With their skill, he could have ended the civil war half a year ago.
It was because of the Daimyō’s Guard, not the Daimyō that Yagura had obeyed the summons. He had no respect for the shriveling decrepit man everyone addressed as the Daimyō.
“Yagura Karatachi,” said a Shinobi who had appeared out of the door’s shadows. Like all of the Daimyō’s Guard, the Shinobi was completely unidentifiable besides the insignia on his left shoulder. Otherwise, he looked exactly like any other Kiri Shinobi. Only the Shinobi’s cold brown eyes were visible, the rest of his face covered in bandages.
Yagura kept himself under control, not letting his annoyance at the lack of his title show. He showed the guard a series of hand signs out of Kushimaru and Jinin’s sight, and the Shinobi nodded before rapping his knuckles on the door in an intricate pattern. A series of locks were undone from within, and the doors opened inward to reveal a shadowy and rug covered hallway.
Another of the Daimyō’s Guard stood just within the door, and Yagura followed them to the end of the corridor, which stopped at another set of doors. These were not metal, unlike the entrance, as they did not need to weather the elements. Instead, these were made of expensive wood, with carved depictions of Kiri’s symbol on each door.
Two Shinobi, hidden beneath a Genjutsu, opened the doors before him into a large throne room, which was brightly lit, revealing the many stone pillars supporting the ceiling. Tapestries hung from the posts, and ornate vases sat on various tables scattered around the room. A brief glance toward the ceiling confirmed what Yagura already knew. The torches were not strong enough, intentionally casting the roof in obscurity.
“Yagura Karatachi, Mizukage of the Land of Water.”
Unable to avoid it for any longer, Yagura looked at the Daimyō, and instantly his anger returned. The Daimyō was slouched in his throne, a look of boredom and exhaustion on his face. The half-wit wasn’t even looking at Yagura, instead just staring off at seemingly nothing. It had not been the Daimyō who had spoken.
Turning to the Captain of the Daimyō’s Guard, who was standing next to the throne, Yagura grit his teeth. He could feel his Bijū at the back of his mind, ever-present, waiting.
“Yes?” Yagura replied tersely.
“You have been summoned here on the Daimyō’s request to discuss the matter of the civil war within our country.” His duties completed the Captain stepped to the side. Yagura turned to the Daimyō, but the man had not even turned to look at him. Several moments passed in silence. He didn’t dare to speak first.
Despite his power as the Mizukage, the Daimyō could remove him. It would split the country in half, even more than it already was. His men would defend him against the Daimyō’s Shinobi, but it was best to avoid that if possible.
“Is your war close to ending, Yagura?”
Yagura hurried to explain, “I will be moving on Shikoku Island within a fortnight, my lord. From there, I will establish a base of operations and launch an attack on Mitsukejima Island, the location of the rebel base.”
The Daimyō nodded slowly as if disinterested in Yagura’s words.
“Your war is killing thousands of innocent civilians.”
Yagura hated that the Daimyō kept referring to it as “his war.” It was more than that. A rebellion against his rule could not be tolerated. The war wasn’t supposed to have lasted this long, but the Rebel’s leader, Mei, was a bitch. Yagura hid his smile by looking down, pretending to be sorrowful.
“Unfortunate casualties of war, my lord.” Yagura despised groveling. He’d never had to do much of it. Usually, if someone annoyed him, he killed them, but he couldn’t kill the Daimyō. If he tried, the Daimyō’s Guard would neutralize him immediately.
Never in his life had he been “sealed,” but Yagura knew roughly what would happen. All of the guards had a sealing tag on their person, and should that tag come in contact with his skin, the Bijū’s influence over him would be violently locked away. Such a thing would result in him going into a coma as his body adapted to the sudden loss. When he woke up, if he ever did, he would be considerably weaker.
Courtesy of the Uzumaki Clan, of course.
“So you are right,” The Daimyō replied halfheartedly. “However, you should endeavor to reduce those unfortunate casualties, Yagura-san. I fear your men will begin to distrust your leadership.”
“My men are loyal, my lord.” Yagura returned quickly.
The feeble man shrugged and finally met Yagura’s gaze. The Daimyō’s eyes were dark wells of sadness, and the small smile on his face did not reach his eyes.
“Your men have families, Yagura-san. Wives and children.” The Daimyō almost seemed to chuckle. “How long will they endure you murdering their loved ones before they turn on you?”
Yagura was livid.
Completely ignoring Yagura’s killing intent, the Daimyō leaned back in his throne and looked away, resting his head on his hand.
“Go now… sail to Shikoku Island, and end this war, Yagura-san.”
The Daimyō waved his hand, and Yagura turned on his heel, storming past Kushimaru and Jinin. The two, once invisible guards opened the doors of the throne room ahead of him. Yagura noticed the guards move their hands toward their weapons, but he didn’t care. A few moments later, he was outside in the palace courtyard.
“How long until we can move on Shikoku Island?” Yagura demanded as he stormed across the stone path leading to the gate.
“Three days,” Kushimaru replied, easily keeping pace with his enraged Mizukage. Jinin was silent as always.
Pausing only long enough to kick the gate doors open, Yagura continued. “We leave tomorrow!”
Ririi Village, Shikoku Island, Land of Water, EN.
In the early morning chill, Jin jogged across the chaotic town square as fast as his ungainly twelve-year-old frame would allow. Rounding a corner at speed, Jin’s eyes widened in surprise as the Elder came into view on the path ahead. The wizened old woman had an expectant look on her face, clearly having known he was coming. Trying to slow down before he ran into her, Jin caught his foot on a charred wooden beam and pitched headfirst toward the Elder.
With speed faster than Jin could comprehend, the Elder appeared in front of him and caught him by his shoulders, easily lifting him to his feet with deceptive ease.
“Thank you,” Jin wheezed, and the Elder meticulously brushed off his shirt sleeves as she waited for him to catch his breath. Once he had gotten his breathing under control, Jin rushed to apologize but was stopped by the Elder’s raised hand.
“I know why you left, Jin.” The Elder sighed, “and I’m not angry with you. However, you must understand that going out in the woods, by yourself, was incredibly dangerous. You could have—”
Jin shook his head, and the Elder paused, having been about to begin a lecture. Finally able to speak, Jin hurried to explain everything that had happened. It took him several minutes, but the Elder’s expression never changed from one of grave concern. To Jin’s surprise, the Elder never questioned his story, despite how unbelievable it sounded, even to him.
“Go and find Imaeda.” The Elder said after a moment of silence, during which Jin had to catch his breath again. “Tell him to meet me at the shack.”
Jin nodded, and the Elder vanished. He blinked, but the old woman was gone. Shaking his head, Jin turned toward the river on the other side of the village. It was just past sunrise so Imaeda would be there, collecting fresh water like he always did. Despite it only being a short jog, Jin couldn’t help but wish he knew how the Elder moved so quickly.
After pushing through a few bushes, he found the river, which rushed by at the bottom of a small bank.
He turned toward the voice to see Imaeda farther down the river on a small beach. A bucket sat on the sand next to him, the other in his hand, half dipped into the water. Hurrying through the trees and down the small bank to the beach, Jin reached Imaeda as the tall man finished filling the first bucket. As usual, the water was perfectly clear, not a leaf or twig to be seen within.
“Good morning, Jin. It’s rather early for you.” Imaeda remarked as he set the bucket down on the sand and picked up the other, empty bucket.
“The Elder wants to talk to you at the shack right away,” Jin said. “It’s important.”
Abandoning his task, Imaeda grabbed the handle of the full bucket of water and hurried over to the rod he’d used to carry the buckets to the river. Setting them down, he quickly adjusted the rod between the handles.
“What’s happening? What’s wrong?” Imaeda asked as he crouched down to situate the wooden rod over his shoulders.
“Shinobi are coming.”
Imaeda dropped everything. Shoving the rod over his head, he sprinted across the beach and up the bank in three rapid bounds. Jin struggled to keep up with the tall man as he disappeared into the forest, making a beeline for the village. Breaking free of the trees, Jin struggled to catch up.
“Where are you going, Imeada-san?”
One of the many survivors of the attack on Ririi village, a young boy and his brother, were playing with a ball. It had been the older brother who’d called out, and Imeada slowed slightly, giving Jin time.
“Nothing to worry about. I’ll talk to you later, Kanemoto!” Imeada shouted over his shoulder, once more increasing speed. Jin tried to smile reassuringly at the young boy’s confused look, but he couldn’t stay either.
After a few short moments, Jin and Imaeda arrived at the shack. The building deserved its title, having been a large tool shack belonging to one of the few businesses in Ririi Village that wasn’t related to fishing. It was one of the only buildings that survived the attack without a scratch and had been refurbished to house the survivors. Jin knew his sister was inside, probably still asleep. He would have to go see her later, she would be concerned about his absence.
A few feet from the shack’s large wooden doors stood the other adult survivors, all whispering with the Elder. Usually, several of the children played in front of the shed, but they had all most likely been told to go inside.
“What’s happened, Nomura-sama?” Imaeda asked as he slowed down. Jin stumbled to a stop next to the tall man, once again out of breath. The Elder gestured for Imaeda to be quiet and follow her.
Jin and the other adults followed the Elder away from the shack until they were out of hearing range of the children. All of the adults were silent, looking at the Elder intently.
“Early this morning, Jin went out on his own hunting.” Nomura began, and Jin wilted under Imaeda’s reproachful look. Several of the other adults also glanced over at him.
Nomura waved the looks aside, “That’s not the problem.”
“Jin told me that Shinobi are coming to the island?” Imaeda offered, which was met by gasps of fear from the two women.
“What do you mean. Explain.” Kuramoto demanded. Seeing the Elder’s look, Jin stepped forward and explained the story for the second time in as many hours. With every passing minute, the horror on the adult’s faces increased.
By the time he’d finished his story, everyone was deathly quiet, and Jin slowly backed up.
“We’re all going to die.” Yabuchi, one of the women, and now widow said flatly.
“Be silent.” Kuramoto snapped, and Yabuchi glared at him.
“There’s nowhere for us to go! We have no boats, all of them were destroyed in the attack!” Yabuchi retorted. Kuramoto stroked his thick beard and looked over at Imaeda, who just hopelessly shook his head.
Jin watched the interaction and understood. Imeada had been working on a boat for the past few weeks from scratch, but it was far from being sea-worthy.
“We could hide on the other side of the island…” Tachibana suggested after a few moments of hopeless silence. There were a few murmured agreements. It was a solution… but only barely.
“This can’t be happening,” Yabuchi muttered, shaking her head, her shoulders dropped.
“We must stay calm for the children’s sake.” Nomura reminded, and Yabuchi glared at her.
“We’re all going to die, you old bat!”
Jin could tell from the look of surprise that the Elder hadn’t expected that response. It didn’t seem like anyone had. However, Jin quickly forgot everything as Yabuchi turned toward him, a crazed look in her eyes.
“You’re lying, you have to be lying! Shinobi can’t be coming, they just can’t!” Yabuchi cried as she reached for Jin.
He backed up, nearly falling in his hurry to get away from the insane woman. It wasn’t his fault that the Loyalists were coming, and panicking wasn’t going to do any good. Thankfully, Imaeda stepped between him and Yabuchi, causing the woman to falter.
The Elder gestured for him to leave, and Jin bowed his head in thanks. Hikari would probably be awake now, and he needed to make sure none of the children overheard the adult’s conversation.
Sliding the shack door open, Jin slipped into cool darkness and closed the door behind him. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but once they had, he spotted Hikari on her sleeping mat on the other side of the room.
She was playing with her friend, Ueno. The two young girls marching their little dolls across a mountain they had created by piling blankets on top of each other. Carefully making his way over, and returning several of the children’s greetings, Jin sat down next to his sister. Relief flooded through him, his aching legs thankful to finally have a chance to rest.
“There you are, Nii-san. Where have you been?” Hikari asked, crawling over to Jin and giving him a hug, which he awkwardly tried to return. It felt like his legs were never going to work again.
“I went out for a walk,” Jin explained. He expected his sister to question his excuse, but she accepted it and returned to playing with her friend.
He watched her go before leaning back against the shack wall and closing his eyes. He was unbelievably tired, but his mind refused to quiet. There had to be something… anything. His mother had entrusted him with protecting his sister. He had to think of something.
His mind was blank.
Jin sagged against the wall. He felt utterly hopeless.