Terumī Mei wondered what the bullies of her youth thought about her now, as she strutted confidently down the streets of Kirigakure no Sato. She was glad for puberty for once; having not felt the good effects of the phenomenon, she was suddenly hit with a growth spurt. Losing the baby fat that made her look chubby; she filled out in all the right places, and was perfectly deserving of her name. Some of her colleagues likened her incredible transformation to that of the ugly duckling. Others tried dispelling a Henge no Jutsu; they were soon dispelled of that notion.
She had once pondered the notion of seducing her way to meet Yagura, but immediately dropped that idea. As much as she desired to see her friend once more, she didn’t think she had it in her. Furthermore, the Kiri no Shinobigatana Shichinin Shū had members that were probably more asexual than most men she had met. They were more interested in shedding blood than bedding women, and it was an unstated fact that paranoia guarded more than one of the swordsmen from sexual relations with anyone. It was far from surprising; men with power and lusted for more, often feared death to extremes. And while death might find it hard to strike them when they were prepared for it, it was all too easy to murder a vulnerable man while he was in bed.
There were rumours that all of them shared the bed with Ringo Ameyuri, the only female in their group. She was skeptical about that; she reckoned Ameyuri would rather castrate her fellow swordsmen than have sex with them. Kunoichi had their own pride, and powerful women like Ameyuri even more. Skill was something that took hard work to cultivate, and being in that elite group would give Ameyuri a great amount of self-esteem. If Mei were she, she would never demean herself by bedding any of her fellow swordsmen.
Without a solid plan of action to meet Yagura, she decided that she would have a better chance of getting into contact with her good friend by becoming an elite within Kirigakure‘s forces. The Kiri no Shinobigatana Shichinin Shū did most of the interactions for the Mizukage, but sometimes Yagura would call upon specific ninja for classified S-rank missions. That had been her motivation to push for Jōnin, and it all fell in place for her rather quickly, despite her need to hide her kekkei genkai from prying eyes. It wasn’t long before she was recognized as one of the stronger ninjas in Kiri, and was assigned tougher and tougher missions.
She had just been on her fourth consecutive A-rank mission then, and was checking in at the mission office to declare a successful operation complete. Delivering her neatly written report to the administrative gophers at the office, she turned to leave the exceedingly depressing place when she came face to chest with a particularly tall man. Casting her half lidded gaze upwards, she immediately took a step back as the shark-like visage of Hoshigaki Kisame grinned toothily at her. The skull-tipped hilt of Samehada could be seen over his shoulder, adding menace to his hulking frame. His black pupils, tiny pinpricks in the middle of bloodshot sclera, devoured the sight of her body with impunity.
“Hoshigaki-san,” Mei greeted as nonchalantly as she could manage, attempting to calm her jittery heart.
“Terumī Mei, right?” Kisame confirmed, receiving a quick nod from the Jōnin. His smile revealed rows of sharpened teeth that gleamed dangerously. “I see you’ve gotten a lot prettier. It would be such a pity if you got yourself a couple of scars, eh?”
Mei narrowed her eyes, her chakra slowly building in her core. “Is that a threat, Hoshigaki-san?”
Kisame laughed maliciously, his intimidating stare piercing deep into Mei’s emerald orbs. “Oh, no. I was just warning a fellow Kiri-nin to be careful on her missions, lest she gets some nasty wounds that mar her beauty. Isn’t that right, Ameyuri?”
Startled, Mei peered around the bulky figure of Kisame to spot the diminutive shape of Ringo Ameyuri, her twin blades Kiba strapped across her back. She looked completely bored by the banter between her fellow swordsman and Mei, and thus responded Kisame with a flurry of swear words that a bewildered Mei was sure she had never heard of before. Kisame laughed once more, before brushing past the auburn woman to the mission table. “She’s probably jealous of your beauty, Mei. Wouldn’t it be tragic if someone told her about who you really are, hmm?”
Her heart stopped in her chest as Mei stared bug-eyed at the blue-haired fiend of a man. Clenching her fists, she took a quick glance at Ameyuri to judge her reaction. There was no disgust, no loathing in those eyes for her. They merely look annoyed, as if it was Mei’s fault for causing Kisame to take a detour. The hateful glare, Ameyuri reserved for the broad back of Kisame, who had walked ahead of his partner for their mission. Growling, the crimson-haired kunoichi stomped towards Kisame.
“Hoshigaki, you really are a chauvinistic piece of shit,” Ameyuri sneered as she too, shoved her way past Mei without ceremony. “You’re just asking to get your ass kicked when we next spar.”
As the two swordsmen bickered back and forth, Mei wondered if in the bloodthirsty village known as Kirigakure, that it would be considered flirting to throw insults and threaten bodily harm. When Ameyuri drew her Kiba in response to a jibe from Kisame, prompting a brawl in the middle of the office, Mei surmised that in their case, it probably wasn’t.
No one in their village knew how to love anyway. Not anymore.
“Get up,” a voice growled, the words dripping with fear and loathing.
The boy, white of hair and six years of age, crawled out of the small hollow that was his home; even through the narrow gate of those crude bars that kept him locked away from the rest of the clan, it was barely a squeeze for the underfed child. Clothed in rags that had seen better days, he was dirty, hungry, but eager. After all, his clan finally had a use for him, the abomination. A small smile stretching his parched lips, he was shoved towards the entrance of the caves that the clan had made their base of operations. Although ‘operations’ was a rather loose word to use when it came to the Kaguya Ichizoku; they were not very well known for their tactical or strategic minds.
Kimimaro was his name. It was all he had beyond the crumbs that he was fed irregularly. He had no inkling of his parentage; they never told him, and he never asked. He supposed that if he was a monster like the clansmen called him, then his parents had every right to abandon him and allow him to be locked up like a wild beast. He never felt particularly bestial or bloodthirsty. He never sought to kill anyone. But compared to rest of the clan, he was relatively insane. He supposed that must have been one of the reasons for his incarceration.
He knew they feared his strength. He could make his bones grow rapidly, in any form he wished. It was a skill the clansmen were all afraid of, and another reason for his imprisonment. He wondered if he was finally going to be given the opportunity to prove that he was worthy of being one of the clan; to be a true Kaguya. He would kill; he would maim; he would shed blood for the sake of acceptance. He wanted to join the rest of his brethren in battling, in attaining glory in their name. Then, after he had fought enough, after he had kill enough; maybe after all of that, he could find his parents again. He could have a family again.
He longed so hard for acceptance, for family, for love. So as the head of the Kaguya Ichizoku told everyone the haphazard plan to attack Kirigakure and secure glory, little Kimimaro listened carefully. He did not want to deviate from the plans that their great leader had devised. He did not want to disappoint everyone. He wanted to meet everyone’s expectations of him, and even surpass those if he could. He would not fail his clan. He would not fail his parents, likely amongst the horde of bloodthirsty men and women. He would not fail himself.
Kimimaro was pleased when they told him to join the vanguard. It meant he was worthy.
Kimimaro had a dream to pursue.
Kimimaro had purpose.
Alarms rang out all over the village. Citizens deserted the streets in short order, far too used to civil unrest to be caught up by the ensuing violence. Saizōmi perked up from her reading session with Naruto, her trained senses telling her of the large convoy of ninja charging recklessly into the village. Narrowing her eyes, she patted the young boy on the head, smiling kindly as he cast his curious cerulean gaze on her standing form. “I’m sorry, Naruto-kun, but we will have to continue this another day. I need to settle something. Stay in your room, okay?”
“Okay!” the child smiled brightly, having full faith in his motherly matron.
As she shut the door on Naruto’s room, she slipped easily into her Kirigakure persona. As she prowled the orphanage, she could see the rest of her staff ushering noisy, bawling kids to their respective rooms quickly and efficiently. Nodding in approval, she walked to her room briskly. Shutting and locking the door to prevent any nosy children from poking their heads in, she strode to her closet purposefully. Pressing her open palm against the wooden back panel, she channeled her chakra into the locking seal engraved upon the wood. With a soft click, the panel gave way, sliding aside to reveal a rack of ninja equipment.
None of those weapons were in the league of her preferred weapon. But Kubikiribōchō had switched hands, and she just had to make do with regular issue steel. Strapping the weaponry to her body, along with a finely crafted katana to her waist, she felt as ready as she could be. Slipping on an old ANBU mask she had pilfered before she retired, she stepped out of her room. The corridors were clear, and the staff was waiting anxiously for her in the dining room, as per the standard operating procedure she had set years ago.
“Keep the children safe,” she said, a tad unnecessarily. The small crew nodded, before scuttling to their own quarters to hide from the battling that was no doubt brewing within the village. Once everyone but her had cleared out, Saizōmi took a deep breath of the slightly stale, salty air that filtered through her mask. It had been a while since she was so armed. Her body, so conditioned to combat, was already urging her to fight, to tear through her enemies like the demon she was once described as. But as much as her heart sang for battle, she didn’t intend to go anywhere too far from the building. Given the proximity of those chakra signatures and the general response time of Kiri-nin from past experiences, she reckoned the attackers would hit the orphanage before they could be repelled from the village. That meant she probably had to do some work to protect the children adequately.
Shutting her eyes to focus, she kneaded her chakra carefully, before releasing it into the air around her. A thick, blinding mist sprung up out of nowhere, obscuring all vision. The mist crept outwards from the orphanage, completely obscuring the surrounding area. Once the place was fully ensconced in the white fog, her katana slid soundlessly from its sheath, its dull obsidian blade reflecting no light. It was the perfect assassin’s tool. Iga Saizōmi smiled viciously, a smile few would recognize, for those that saw it were usually dead before they knew it.
Now, come to mama!
Uzumaki Naruto paced his room nervously as the sounds of screaming filtered through the paper-thin walls of the orphanage to his room. He was alone in it; the other three kids he initially shared it with had moved out after becoming ninja. As there had been less kids entering than leaving the orphanage, Naruto got to keep the whole room to himself. It wasn’t a very big room by any means; Kirigakure believed in survival of the fittest, and didn’t see the need to provide extra funds to take care of lonely, abandoned children. But it was all his (for the time being, as Saizōmi often emphasized), and he enjoyed the additional space.
Frankly, if one asked him to give up his room for someone else, he would do so in a heartbeat. He didn’t really need that much room; he only cared for his time with the matron. The crimson-haired woman was always exceptionally nice to him, and told him everything she knew about his family. He was rather saddened when she informed him that his parents had died, but he pushed that aside in favour of calling the matron his family. If she couldn’t be his mother, then she could always be his auntie. His heartfelt declaration took the caretaker aback, but she looked genuinely happy and doted on Naruto even more after that. So the little blond child thought he was pretty justified in calling Saizōmi-bachan his family.
She had shared with him many stories, tale of bravery and courage, of good triumphing over evil. She told him of ninjas, of great warriors who fought and bled and died for their country. She told him that his parents were heroic individuals, great ninjas who battled ferociously, sacrificing themselves to protect him. Naruto couldn’t help but feel loved even though he had never met his parents, and will never do so. But all that seemed insignificant in comparison to Saizōmi-bachan’s love for him. While she cared for all the children, she coddled him even more. It made the other kids jealous, but Naruto didn’t care.
He realised what he wanted to be when he grew up. He told Saizōmi-bachan so, and the woman laughed happily, telling him that princes didn’t exist in their world anymore. Pondering a change in his ambitions, he then decided that he would be the best ninja in the world, so he could always protect and love his family, just like they protected and loved him. Saizōmi-bachan cried a little, but Naruto surmised the wide smile she carried was a happy one. Satisfied and glad that he had found something he could do, something she would be proud of, he hugged his Saizōmi-bachan as tightly as a tiny child could manage.
It was then she told him that her real name was Chiyome. She told him that he could tell no one about her real name, and it would be a secret between them. Trusting his Saizōmi-bachan implicitly, he nodded eagerly, and continued to call her Saizōmi-bachan. He felt important, that he was trusted with her real name, the one that no one knew. She allowed him to call her Chiyome-bachan when they were alone together, and Naruto made sure to do it as often as possible, for she always seemed happier when he said it.
He wanted to be able to protect his beloved Saizōmi-bachan, but she had to go do something, and told him to stay in his room. He loathed even the idea of disobeying her orders; it was like a betrayal, and Naruto didn’t think heroes betrayed their family. He had a feeling she went to fight, to protect all of them from bad guys. Naruto knew she was hiding stuff like all adults do, and often fantasized that she was a great ninja that would teach him to be great, so he could then protect her when she got old and grey and wrinkly. He never managed to catch a glimpse of her doing ninja stuff, but didn’t give up on his search. To be ninja meant to persevere; Saizōmi-bachan was the one to teach him that particular lesson.
The sounds of fighting grew closer, and so did the screaming. Naruto hoped fervently Saizōmi-bachan would make it out fine; he couldn’t imagine life without her.
The far wall at the end of his room collapsed inwards with a loud crash.
Kimimaro was not terribly bothered when a thick, white fog rolled through the winding mazes of Kirigakure’s outer districts. He was a prisoner in a small, dark cave for most of his life; the lack of visibility didn’t hamper his ability to kill the Kiri-nin who were practically throwing themselves at him in a bid to regain their lost pride. After all, it wasn’t every day a child of six years old slaughtered entire platoons of ninja with the barest of efforts. Hence, he ignored the comfort the chakra-laced mist seemed to give the defenders, who understood the tactical advantages of proper cover and had far superior experience fighting in low-visibility conditions than most Kaguya.
With the blinding mist in place, it was far easier for the Kiri-nin to start cutting down the uncoordinated Kaguya systematically. The only exception to the rule was Kimimaro, who had little trouble coping with the new battlefield conditions, and continued killing the Kiri-nin with swift strikes to their vital organs. Given the need for a stealthier approach to utilize the mist to its fullest, it made the body count pile even higher for the young Shikotsumyaku user, who no longer had to contend with ninjutsu. While he could weather those with little trouble, he was a close range taijutsu expert, and needed to close the gap in order to kill efficiently. With the use of ninjutsu reduced drastically, this gave Kimimaro an open invitation to brush aside useless weapons and engage his opponents up close and personal.
He was easily tracking the near noiseless movements of the Kiri-nin in the mist as he chased and hunted them down with extreme prejudice. The soft pitter-patter of feet was so simple for him to catch; Kimimaro briefly wondered how they thought the fog would be advantageous to them. Thus, it came as a complete surprise when a sharp implement sliced the skin on the back of his neck, and was about to decapitate him before it was halted in its tracks by his durable spine. The wielder of the blade had gone completely unnoticed, which was a first for Kimimaro in that melee.
The blade, no doubt held by a veteran, was quick to pull back and aim for another, more vulnerable spot. But now Kimimaro was prepared, forewarned by the sneak attack. Willing his bones to grow wildly, they burst forth from his skin like so many stalagmites, catching the katana in the loose network of bones. The katana, matte black and completely non-reflective, slid away from Kimimaro’s defensive array. The noises of battle had dulled some; Kimimaro presumed it was due to the lack of combatants nearby. Both he and his enemy had likely killed everyone else on the opposing side in the area already.
“Shikotsumyaku…now that’s something you don’t see everyday,” a feminine voice rang through the bloodied streets. “Why don’t you join Kirigakure instead? With your talent, your future will be bright.”
“I am Kaguya,” Kimimaro replied earnestly. “And I will earn my place in the clan.”
“Little fanatic, aren’t you?” the woman chuckled ominously. “I haven’t had a challenge like this in a while, even if you’re just a kid.”
Kimimaro had no way to track her projected voice, and so sat tight. Layering a thick shield of bone underneath his skin, he waited patiently for his opponent to make the first move. He was not disappointed when the katana struck him multiple times in quick succession, tearing nothing but skin off his body. Her blows were lightning quick, efficient, and aimed for the most mortal spots. But Kimimaro was no mere mortal, and he took the blows, coming out of the barrage without so much as a scratch on his pale bone armour.
Unfortunately for the young Kaguya, he didn’t have the reach to snag the offender when she hit him ineffectually. The length of her sword, coupled with her superior arm length, meant Kimimaro was left standing stock still, taking meaningless hits over and over. She couldn’t stop the volley, mainly because she was basically forcing him to halt all activities, and that made him less of a threat to anyone else even if she couldn’t kill him outright. She could stop to pull off a ninjutsu, but she had seen his ability to take those with little trouble, and didn’t think she still had the capacity to do anything damaging while maintaining the mist that held so much superiority for the Kiri-nin. That was not to mention the potential collateral damage. On the other hand, he couldn’t retaliate properly without moving, but was unable to shift due to the weight of his bones. If he dropped that armour to regain mobility, she could easily score a fatal hit. It was essentially a stalemate.
All it took was for someone to slip up. In this instance, however, it was neither of the combatants. A young and reckless Chūnin charged into the fight, heedless of the danger. While his enemy paused in her attack to prevent friendly fire, Kimimaro had no such issues. He speared the Chūnin in the heart with consummate ease, before swinging the warm corpse towards where he estimated his opponent to be. Without waiting for any sounds that might indicate her actual presence in that general direction, he retracted his heavy bone armour, and dashed towards the body he had just sent careening. A long bone emerged from his palm, and he unceremoniously stabbed it through the body.
Kimimaro smiled grimly as a wet gasp escaped the mouth of his opponent.
The ramshackle orphanage was not built to cope with anything beyond the dreary rains of their country. Even then, the roof leaked on a regular basis; the only question was where the water would seep through. Hence, it was no surprise that a body tossed at the flimsy walls would tear it down like paper. Saizōmi wheezed for air, having had most of it driven out of her lungs by the throw. Her body wasn’t responding that well to her brain’s commands however, and her breath remained short. Her chakra sense told her that the Shikotsumyaku user was still approaching, although he seemed quite hesitant. It didn’t matter much more. She was on the verge of death, but she had no intention of leaving for the spiritual plane before saying her last goodbyes.
Good thing I hit the orphanage, huh? She mused bitterly, a trickle of blood escaping from the corner of her pursed lips. Have to make this quick.
“Chiyome-bachan!” came the distressed cry of a boy, a voice she knew so well. Such perfect timing. My little angel.
“N-Naruto,” Saizōmi called out weakly.
The boy was at her side in an instant, his tears flowing down his chubby cheeks unabated. It was a sorry sight that tore at Saizōmi’s heart, but she couldn’t let that overwhelm her now. Not when she had things to say. “Chiyome-bachan, you’re going to be okay, right?”
“N-No,” the woman whispered, most of her strength lost. “Take…my sword…and…the scroll in…my pouch.”
“Bachan, don’t leave me!” Naruto sobbed piteously. “I love you!”
“I love…you too…” Saizōmi coughed, smiling sweetly at the blond child. “Naruto…we…we are Uzumaki. That is…that is our true…”
Iga Saizōmi, known worldwide as Kirigakure Saizōmi, born Uzumaki Chiyome; never finished her words. As Naruto cradled the cooling corpse, bawling his little heart out, Kimimaro stepped out of the hazy mist. The crunch of broken plaster at his feet alerted the younger boy to his presence, and Naruto recoiled as he saw the blood that drenched Kimimaro. The white-haired child peered down at the dead body of the woman who gave him such trouble. Satisfied that she was finally dead, he raised his gaze, only to meet the cerulean stare of Uzumaki Naruto. It was a watery glare filled with intense loathing, though Kimimaro could not fathom the emotions that danced fiercely in the blond’s eyes; not when the only human interactions he had were limited to shadowed men snarling at him through the bars of his prison.
Deeming the child not a threat, and his death pointless in proving his worth to his clan members, Kimimaro slipped back into the gloom of the darkening street outside. Watching the tiny back of the Kaguya disappear into the fading fog, Naruto’s tears ceased. The sadness had been replaced. Hatred took root.
I will kill you!
The Kaguya Ichizoku was known only for their aggression and bloodlust. Shikotsumyaku was a rare, recessive kekkei genkai that only sprung up once every few generations, and while the possessors of the bone-manipulation abilities are often impressive ninja, the rest of the clan was nothing special in comparison. They didn’t even have any hidenjutsu that marked them out as different from any other clan. The only reason for their clan solidarity was their refusal to join up with a hidden village since the system began eighty years ago, which forced them to stay together in order to survive. Given their lack of exposure to education refined by years of warfare, and having only the basic experience of raids on small peasant villages for resources, their defeat was inevitable.
All that was left was to secure the village and proceed with cleaning up the aftermath. Momochi Zabuza swung his Dantō casually, flicking the thick rivulets of blood off his gleaming blade. Strapping it to his back once more, he wondered if all the violence was worth it. Sure, the Kaguya were the ones to launch an attack first, and their motives were silly and contrived, but the fact remained. How long would it take before the last bloodline clans to rise and revolt? How long could Kirigakure cling onto its status as one of the great hidden villages, before the civil wars, corruption and power struggles tore the country to bits? There was room for change, and Zabuza was keen on being the catalyst.
Given the lack of enemies to kill, Zabuza decided to drop by the orphanage that his sensei was so pleased to work at, to see if she needed any help. The Kaguya attack did not do that much damage to the sector, although several buildings had plenty of marks from the intense combat. Most of them seemed like the consequence of ninjutsu. Zabuza shook his head. It seemed like the lower ranks needed more lessons in avoiding collateral damage, even if the Kirigakure ninja education omitted that particular aspect.
When he arrived, landing adroitly in the middle of the road beside the orphanage, he was greeted with a large hole in the walls, a dead woman and a silent child. There was much hysteria going on behind them; kids screaming their lungs out, and orphanage staff alternating between trying and failing to calm the little tykes, and borderline hysteria themselves. His grip on Kubikiribōchō tightened considerably; his nails drew blood in his other fist. Biting his lip to prevent his outraged outburst from spewing forth, he stepped forwards. In spite of all his training, the child seemed preternaturally aware as his head snapped up, fixing a burning glare into the eyes of Zabuza. The blond child’s grip on Saizōmi’s cold corpse tightened. Zabuza sighed inwardly; he didn’t become a ninja to comfort little toddlers, damn it. He could barely restrain his own tears.
“I’m a good guy,” Zabuza rumbled, stabbing Kubikiribōchō into the paved road, shattering the hard surface nonchalantly. “She’s my teacher.”
“Why didn’t you help her?” the boy demanded, an angry snarl curling his lips. Zabuza shook his head, raising his hands in what he hoped was a non-threatening gesture. “I was busy elsewhere. I didn’t know she came out to fight. She stopped fighting a long time ago.”
The boy seemed to accept the explanation, but otherwise made no other movements. Zabuza sighed, audibly this time. Before he could do anything else however, the boy spoke up. “You…are a ninja, right?”
“Yes,” the tall man answered, glad for something to do besides perhaps twiddling his thumbs.
“Teach me,” the azure-eyed boy demanded, his eyes brimming with something Zabuza recognized. It was in the eyes of plenty of enemies who were slain by his blade. It was the same look in his eyes, before he was brought under the wing of one Iga Saizōmi. The swordsman sighed, audibly this time, as he considered what Saizōmi would have wanted him to do. The dead woman was lying there, unmoving, yet Zabuza could practically feel her presence at his shoulder, nagging him to do what was right. “Kid. Killing the other person is pointless. You want to grow strong? Fine. You want to be a ninja? Fine. But do it to protect.”
That seemed to have triggered something in the boy, for he immediately cast his gaze aside, as if ashamed to hate. Walking up to the child, and trying hard not to think about his dead sensei’s corpse, he grasped the child’s shoulder as firmly as he felt he could without shattering the boy’s fragile collarbone. “Like how Saizōmi-sensei protected you.”
“Okay,” the soft voice of the child spoke.
Against his overall image of a demon and cold-blooded killer, Zabuza smiled underneath his swath of bandages, tousling Naruto’s spiky hair, before barking for someone in the vicinity to help with the clean up. Feeling his job complete, he turned his back on the scene, hoping to compose himself where no one could question his tears. As he left, he never noticed the sharp gleam in Uzumaki Naruto’s eyes; a hint of his ironclad determination, his burning desire to see justice served, to see an undeserving death avenged.
He no longer had family. He had no one he needed to protect. Which meant he could channel all his energy into seeking revenge. His cunning twist of the meaning of those words meant that while the seed of hatred was going to be buried beneath layers and layers of self-justification and denial in the future, it would slowly grow into an all-consuming need.
And so it began.