Modern Era, Year ??.
Okay, so in my defense, I thought it was a dream. Like, one of those freakishly lucid dreams that occur in the five minutes between waking up and your alarm actually going off. (It’s not. It’s really, really not. And I’m still trying to work out how I feel about it. Because, when it comes down to it, I chose this.)
But I had always been one of those people.
One of those people who were just enough. Just smart enough that school was easy. Just athletic enough to make the team. Just popular enough to be invited to the party. Just charismatic enough to make it look like I had a plan. (Just, just, just.)
But that’s not who I wanted to be.
I wanted to be known for something; to be associated and equaled to. And I wanted it viciously.
I wanted it so much … that well, I already told you. I thought it was just another dream. (I had them a lot - far off places, distant lands, magic.)
I didn’t remember until it was much too late.
(“You think you can do it better?”)
I wanted to be extraordinary.
Written by LadyKale and Blondiej1
Arc: The First: Chapter 1 "Bright Star"
If you knew my story, you’d have a hard time believing me. You’d think I was lying. Joy and sorrow never last. I’ll die trying not to live in the past.
Modern Era, Year 12.
It started, well, just like you would expect a dream to start. You were just there; everyone knew who you were, you knew who they were and you didn’t think to question it. It just was.
I was two, I think, when I first became cognisant of my surroundings. By which I mean, actively dicking around with the so called mechanics of the world.
And it makes sense. Two year olds are self aware, they’re mobile and have long grasped concepts like “action and reaction.” Two year old brains are made to learn, and learn quickly. But my mind, my mind wasn’t two. All the processing/questioning abilities of twenty-something with a toddlers pre-wired brain synapsis? Hello miniature ball of chaos.
Forget questions like why. I wanted to know how
They didn’t think I understood when they told me of chakra. When they showed me how to draw a matrix, or explained basic world laws (think gravity) it was with the air of an adult humoring a child. They weren’t seriously trying to teach me. But I learned it all anyway.
As for my part, I didn’t think it any of it was real. There were gaps - spaces of time that just seemed to vanish and pick up again with no rhyme or reason. I now know these gaps didn’t mean time jumped, but rather that my young self had blocked out everything that wasn’t of immediate interest.
That is to say, it was the perfect formula for an extremely bad situation.
Hindsight is a bitch.
They called me Kaida, Kohaku Kaida.
From what I know, we were part of the Konohagakure Alliance in the Hi no Kuni. But our clan had its own village in the south, along Hangrui Golf. Concentrated and powerful, not scattered about like the Senju and Uchiha strongholds. We hadn’t wanted to leave it - the lush jungles and the bird song - hadn’t wanted anyone to see our secrets. And that was fine, that was cool with the Shodaime Hokage. So long as we agreed to 1) The Trade Sanctions and 2) Provide X number of shinobi to the Hidden Village per year per capita. Or … something.
I wasn’t very interested in politics at the time. But adults never considered that I could understand what they were talking about while I was in the room. I’m sure I learned way more insider information then they ever intended. After all, I was only the ill-gotten daughter of a second rate blacksmith. Kohaku Kaida was never meant to be anything but another mouth to feed.
But me? I had my own plans.
Because, as you all know, when one is dreaming, the sky's the limit. Sometime’s literally.
To me, this “dream” was no different than dreams I’d had in the past. But there was one glaringly obvious difference that made my midget self positively cackle with glee. This world, this dream, this clan had Alchemy, or as they called it Renkinjutsu.
And, as my little brother learned the hard way, (in a ridiculous fantasy game we once played) I was very good at Renkinjutsu (Alchemy).
Renkinjutsu is like chemistry on crack. It can do amazing, magical things - things you never even dreamed of. But it has rules, it has laws and hard limits. You have to work with nature, through its own laws, to your desired outcome. And it is very much not Fuinjutsu.
As the Uzumaki were famous for their Fuinjutsu, the Kohaku’s were famous for their Renkinjutsu. It was our strength, our art, our secret. It was the reason the clan never left our ancestral homelands. We were utterly unwilling to let anyone get ahold of our Renkinjutsu.
If you learn anything about this practice through me, learn this. Renkinjutsu has one, singular, unbreakable law: Equivalent Exchange. And not even chakra, with all its power and will and utter bullshit, can override this law.
To gain something, one must lose another thing of equal or greater value.
This rule governs all of life.
(Sorry, FMA fans. That’s it. That’s the line. There is no stone, no door of truth - no circumventing The Law.)
Which means, in this world at least, Renkinjutsu was very much not a combat art. It took time, even when you knew exactly what you were doing. And, unlike Fuinjutsu, the Matrix couldn’t be slapped on a tag and waited for activation. Completing the circle of the Matrix the activation. (This is all beside the fact that whatever you drew a Matrix on had to be able to withstand the force of activation anyway. Paper would simply turn to ash, transmutation aborted before it begun.)
So … yea, no. We didn’t do combat as a whole. What the Kohaku’s did was mass arms production. (You didn’t think blacksmiths made all those kuni and senbon by hand, did you?) Some of our Masters could make specialty weapons - swords and pole arms of varying sizes, shapes and freakishness - and armor (think “things that had more than one component.”) Our Grandmasters? Well - they were some pretty scary dudes.
There was one that lived across from my father's shop. Kohaku Wataru.
That guy was a freaking legend.
But even legends will stop and listen to a two year old, if said two year old is both smart enough and impetuous enough. (And let me tell you, Midget Me had those two qualities in spades.)
“You look like a ragamuffin.” He said to me after I demonstrated a particularly clever (in my mind) earth transmutation. I had wanted a wall of steel (I had forgotten several variables) that I had “used” on my brother several times to great effect. It was simple, easy, effective and blew up spectacularly. (Didn’t intend for that last part.)
But that was the long as short of it. “You look like a ragamuffin” was apparently old man speak for “that was surprisingly talented for one of your age and motor skills, I shall take you as an apprentice.” Who knew?
That was when things got … we’ll use the word “interesting.” Which, here, means my life took a turn that I did not predict.
You see, Wataru-Oji was a shinobi as well as a GrandMaster. And he believed that in order to make weapons and armor, one must understand their use in a practical sense. “You cannot make a weapon to kill if you yourself have unstained hands.” He would say.
Which, okay looking back, was not an appropriate thing to be saying to a toddler. But did I pause? Did I stop and think “wait, that doesn’t sound right…”? No, no I did not.
Why? You ask.
Because I am an idiot.
I left my clothes on that cold river rock. My cares and my woes rolled up in my socks.
Modern Era, Year 12.
Life as Kohaku Wataru’s apprentice was … interesting. I was still young enough that large chunks of the monotony blur together. About the next four years of my life proceed in the same manner.
Before breakfast I would practice what I thought were dances. Looking back, it was glaringly obvious that they were Taijutsu kantas. But Midget Me took the “dance” part of their name quite literally.
For example, Tiger’s Dance was fast with explosive, sharp movements. The body was tucked close to the ground, minimizing myself as a target. Perfect for someone of below average height.(I’m not that short, damnit!)
And then there was Willow’s Dance. Which I mentally referred to as “the Dance of lol, nope!” It focuses heavily on flexibility and balance. Also known as not being where the hit would land.
“You do realize that we live in a jungle, yea?” Midget Me once asked. “There isn’t a willow tree around for miles!”
Oji smiled a smile that promised lots of stamina exercises in the very near future. “Your stance is wrong. Start over!”
You see, each kanta had to be completed perfectly a set number of times before I could move onto the next kanta. And every couple of weeks, or when he was feeling particularly cantankerous, the old man tacked on five more sets. Each mistake made resulted in a clean slate - which is to say, no matter how close I was to completing one Dance, if a single hair was out of place I would start over from zero.
When my motor skills sucked and I was generally just uncoordinated, these dances could take all day. I would dance the same two routines from sun up until sun down. (Or when my little body collapsed from exhaustion.) As I got older and my muscles became familiar with the stretch and pull, the Dances were easy and mind numbingly boring.
But Oji watched all the while, ready to correct the tiniest of mistakes. And, when he felt the dances became too easy, to set the bar higher (Namely by going faster, which made me sloppier, which kicked me back to zero.) or introduce a new dance into the routine.
As the years marched on, weights were added to my limbs and torso and obstacles appeared. But I was always required to complete my Dances perfectly before we greeted the new day. (It was a habit I would carry with me the rest of my life.)
After my morning Dances were complete (there were 6 variations in total). We would eat a late breakfast - or an early diner, depending on how many times I had to start over. While we ate Oji would lecture on the basic properties of Renkinjutsu.
“It is not enough to know, Kai-chii.” He would say as a segway into a new topic. “You must understand. And that means you must-”
Nine times out of ten, the next word was “observe”. The remaining one tenth the answer was “Study.” And that, for the absolute longest time, was how my afternoons were spent.
I would be sent out of the village and down to the river that ran along our Eastern Wall. “Watch the water Kai-chii. Watch it until you find its secrets.” (Vague and unhelpful was a very strong theme)
This would lead to hours perched upon a muddy bank, watching the River as it would its way to the Hangrui Golf. I watched as it swelled with rain water; as logs and branches got torn apart in its currents. Banks eroded when it was forceful, silk would be deposited when it was calm. Colonies of various critters came and went, (and bit the ever living shit out of me) circle of life and all that. (The River was Oji’s favorite place to send me. I watched it for a very long time.)
“So, what did you learn?” He would ask when I stumbled back to his house.
Most of the time I was some combination of muddy, sweaty, itchy and grumpy.
Most of the time my twenty-something mind would regurgitate useless facts learned in various science classes. About the ecosystem, about the sediments and what it meant for lands further inland, the types of fish that thrived in our waters verses brackish waters - etcetera ad nauseum.
At those times his busy white brows would bunch together in a sort of frown. He’d nod gravely, like I had given him terrible news, and continue to his meal in silence.
But, every now and again, I would come up with something a bit more deep and philosophical.
“The River is patient,” I would say. “It lies in wait.”
“The River is relentless and nothing can stand it its way.”
“The River takes the path of least resistance while still accomplishing its goals.”
And, one particularly memorable time, after having spent the afternoon outside in a freaking hurricane. “The River always takes its due,” I was drenched and shivering, my throat sore and my skin too tight. “Through coercion, or patiences or force - but it always gets what it wants.”
At those times his bushy brows would raise to reveal silvery/yellow eyes that positively gleamed. “Well said, Kai-chii,” He would rumple like an overgrown cat. “Well said indeed.”
The diners that followed those declarations were lively, full of chatter, stories and song.
But I didn’t always spend my afternoons out of the village. A good twenty five percent of the time he would send to to someplace more populated.
“Tell me, Kai-chii, about human nature.” He would say before sending me to spend the day at the market, or Village Square.
Other times I was sent to the various blacksmiths (“What is the power of fire?”), woodworkers (“Where does life derive its meaning?”), the washer woman and the orphanage … really just about anywhere. But always with a vague philosophical question to mull over.
Every quarter, when the trade caravans were due, there was an increase in production. It was an “all hands on deck” situation as we were Hi no Kuni’s single largest weapons supplier. (Thanks, mostly, to our Renkinjutsu) Hundreds of thousand kunai knives, senbon and shuriken needed to be made, sharpened, oiled and packed neatly into crates. Then there was the armor orders - chest and back plates, forearm and leg bracers - and specialty weapons that had to also be processed, made and stored for transportation to Konoha.
It was utterly fucking ridiculous.
Children too young to handle sharp objects (and could also walk, that was an important factor) drew mud and clay and silt from the River Bank. Older children chopped trees for fire, and still others would wander deep into the Jungle in search of Iron and Steel veins within the earth. (We could make iron and steel - but it was easier for everyone if we already had the ore.)
Adults would be hard at work too. Multiple transmutations really took it out of you, so they worked in shifts. For example, it was easier to make kunai and senbon then it was to make iron from raw materials. So the Third shifters would make the weapons before they completely crashed. (This was a two week, around the clock extravaganza - no one escaped)
Elders, whose hands were gnarled and backs stooped, would take the iron and shave them away until they had blocks the exact size and weight of the ordered kunai. (the shavings were swept up for senbon) And they would also sharpen and oiled the finished product.
As an apprentice, I went where my master told me to go.
“Find the least appealing task, Kai-chii.” He would say gravely. “And you will most likely find the most need. Serve where you are needed until you are no longer needed. Then come and find me.”
I can tell you right now, no one wanted to cart the piles of muddy goop from the River to the Village. No one wanted to carry the fire wood or work the bellows or mind the coals. It sucked.
But Oji was right - these jobs had to get done. So nine times out of ten, I was the one doing them.
When the orders were finally filled and crates stacked neatly in the Town Square (sometimes we made it before the caravanes arrives, sometimes they had to wait on us) the village erupted. Parties and drink everywhere, songs and (actual) dances were held until we actually did collapse from exhaustion. And it was over as quickly as it started, we went back to our ordinary lives and dreaded the arrival of the next caravan.
But there was one thing that the Kohaku’s dreaded even more then the next looming deadline. The tolling of the Square Bell (it wasn’t actually square, but it was in the village square and I am not making this name up, okay?).
When the bell rang, you could hear it for miles. And, when you heard it you fucking stopped whatever it was you were doing.
One Ring: Shinobi Sighted
Two Rings: Allies Approaching
Three Rings: Enemies Approaching
Four Rings: Kohaku’s Returning.
We just … we really would prefer it if the bell never rang. Because it’s terrifying hearing one ring and then nothing.
Two Rings? Well, alright then. No cause for alarm.
Three Rings was meat with variations of “damnit” and “Suna again?”. (It happened more than you would think.)
The fourth toll was the worst because all our active Shinobi were stationed in Konoha. They only ever came back sealed into scrolls as black as the night. They only ever came back if the body was recovered.
If you haven’t ever been to our village, let me lay this scene out for you.
Kohaku’s are loud. They’re brightly (gaudily) dressed. They sing and they dance all the freaking time. There’s always alcohol and good food somewhere that you are welcome to. And absolutely no one has an issue airing their arguments for the entire village to hear.
So when they would stop like that, it was like the world shifted out of alignment. Like the sun just decided not to rise - it was so profoundly wrong that even the birds and beasts of the jungle sat up and took notice.
In quiet, orderly lines the villagers would troop into the Town Square upon the completion of the fourth toll. There they would pack together and settle into seiza to wait more news. (Seiza is a formal way to sit - something we never did, and it was only learned about through osmosis in these terrible occasions.)
Sometimes, we never figured out who it was. And other times - other times this wail would come up from the crowd as someone recognized the body when it was unsealed. Kohaku’s mourned just as loudly and viciously as they lived.
We would sit there, everyone who wasn’t immediately needed, in seiza until the next dawn. And then we would troop down to the River for a proper funeral.
The general rule of thumb was, after the first year in morning, you got one day. Just one single day a year in which you could honor and grieve for your dead. One day for the dead so that you do not forget to live yourself.
And so, on the twenty-third of November, like clockwork, Oji would disappear into the jungle. A bag full of incense and spiced bread over one shoulder, his cane and painted portraits in the other. On the twenty-third of November, Oji mourned his lost kunoichi wife and shinobi son of whom he rarely spoke.
He would come back on the twenty-fourth, quietly pack their portraits into the Square Shrine (Again, it wasn’t exactly a square, it was just in the Square and I am not responsible for these names!) and life would spin back into place. Generally with another lesson or Dance that would drive me insane for the next two or three months.
My father mourned his brothers on the second of June.
It was the only time I saw him.
He was a small man with brown hair and a surprisingly red beard. His arms and neck were thick with muscle, his back hunched from work.
only thing we had in common was the Kohaku Silver eyes. Cat’s Eye, they were called. It was such a ridiculously dominate trait that any child born without them earned a permanent spot in the Village Rumor Mill.
And, you know, to a relatively isolated village the Rumor Mill was life. (read: the only form of entertainment.)
My father and I did not get along - almost entirely my fault, I will admit.
Remember, I thought it was a dream - a ridiculously lively, colorful and detailed dream to be sure. But still only a dream.
So in my mind, I already had a father. One who had taught me to read and ride a bike; one who took me fishing and hiking (and all those other things you couldn’t convince him girls didn’t like).
To my twenty-something ming, Kohaku Itsuo was not my father. And I treated him as such.
He was an angry man with a failing business on the wrong side of town. He had no talent to speak of, his lover had left him with a bastard to raise and his father scorned him. (The list that comprised “Chip on his shoulder” continues.)
I didn’t blame him so much for his feelings as I did for the way he handled them.
Oji, similarly, was unimpressed by his temper and moved me into his own house shortly after my apprenticeship. (Against the will of Itsuo and his father - who generally despised my existence as a rule.)
“It’s okay to be angry Kai-chii.” Oji would council. “It is okay to act upon anger. But it is never okay to blame another for the thing that angers you.”
Which, roughly translated, means that I was to acknowledge anger as my own reaction to a problem and deal with it as such.
He said a lot of things that I hadn’t realized I’d taken to heart. The normal way for me to find out would be after I was already halfway through quoting him to someone else.
Oji taught me many things (except how to read, but more on that later) that I would, in time, come to teach others. But there was one subject matter that I vowed I would never share with another living soul.
Renkinjutsu, outside the elementary basics, is a rather sacred art. Since it works through nature’s own laws, it took many generations to study and observe and compile the effects. (It was in this way that it was unlike fuinjutsu, which uses chakra to impose its own laws and will on the affected area.) And it didn’t help that GrandMasters were (as a rule) stingy old codgers who never wrote anything down and only shared their learnings through Oral Tradition.
OH. They also only focused on one branch of Renkinjutsu (with ridiculously vague and grandiose names attached). So, if I wanted to learn something that fell outside Oji’s scope of Storm Alchemy, I would have to track down another teacher.
“Oji, what do you know about fossils?” I asked, looking at the impression a leaf left in the mud.
“Hm. You would first have to find the Avalanche Alchemist before you find the answer to your questions.”
So began the process of hunting down various other Masters and Grandmasters (the Avalanche Alchemist? She was a housewife.) And then convincing them that I was worthy of the knowledge. (The Echo Alchemist was the first to introduce me to Chakra - So that I could hang upside down like a bat).
If said Master already had an apprentice - I would have to prove myself the worthiest. It was obnoxious and tedious and I didn’t always get the answer I was after. But it rarely, if ever, deterred me.
At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking Kaida. You aren’t making sense.
Who are the Kohaku?
Why aren’t they in Konoha?
How can you write this if you can’t even read.
More importantly, if you are intelligent, you’re probably still wondering how I thought it all a dream.
I’m sorry to say, I don’t think you will find the answers satisfying.
Renkinjutsu had its own language. It’s own jargon and symbols (hell, it even had its own counting system!) and syntax. In all of these, I was most fluent. It was the language of my people, our village and our time.
Not to mention … we didn’t get out much.
None of the old Fire Country Clan’s did in those days. Almost all of them, the Inuzuka, the Aburame, the Kurama; at least had their own dialect, if not a different language entirely.
It was only with the rise of Trade and Clanless Villages (and in Konoha itself) that language became centralized. Even then it took several generations and some terrible events before a single language was universally spoken across all of Ho no Kuni. (forget the Elemental Nations, that would be a nightmare for the next Century)
Alchemist worked in Oral Tradition - all of that other language stuff? It was utterly unimportant to anyone who wasn’t part of the Royal Family (we didn’t tend to acknowledge other Royals), a merchant or an active shinobi. Of these, I was none.
As for the dreaming …
Have you ever been entirely convinced of something? So completely sure that you were right that you never bothered to observe evidence to the contrary? No? I didn’t think I was like that either.
The only thing I can say in my defense is this: I didn’t remember my first life ending and my second life beginning. I had no reason or desire to believe otherwise.
Hello and welcome to Chasing Tomorrow. This story is largely inspired by other Naruto SI fics floating around - several of whom you will like better then cannon.
Blondie and I wanted to challenge ourselves by writing a coherent fic in a timeline that is largely ignored in the Naruto Cannon. There are several important - pivotal - things that happen in this era that are not explained, glossed over or simply ignored. We would like to explore these plot points and pick apart the threads of the Naruto Universe to bend them to our will.
We are also taking great pains to avoid some of the more common ideas that float around the emerging SI fics. So be prepared for sharp left turns and world building. We don't like to be predictable.
On another note, I am dyslexic and often too impatient to wait for Blondie to edit. We apologize in advance for any glaring, hideous errors.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: ARC: The First. Chapter 2: Never Enough
SOOooo after that delay:
Kaida stumbles through life as a Kohaku - making absolutely zero attempts to hide or fit in. So she really doesn't have the right to be surprised when it lands her in hot water. Literally.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Written by LadyKale and Blondiej1
Arc: The First, Chapter 2: “Never Enough”
You set off a dream with me.
Getting louder now, can you hear it echoing?
Modern Era, Year 14.
I didn’t have many friends my age (read: any) for a few years. I didn’t feel like I had time for children my age in general. There was too much to learn. And for once I was the shining star.
I made no attempts to hide my intelligence or to fit in with my peers. (What did I care that the average four year old could not debate on the properties and types of gases in the air?) If it wasn’t for the natural clumsiness of childhood I’m fairly positive the Village would have thrown me out as a Changeling. It also helped that, while brilliant at all things Renkinjutsu, I was equally as abhorrent at all things Chakra.
If it wasn’t for the Echo Alchemist (a strange, strange man - even by Midget Me standards) I wouldn’t have had anything to do with it at all.
Well, that’s not exactly true.
I knew there was something that ran through my limbs and that it hurt. But, well, I was always rather sickly. And the pain of developing Chakra coils is oddly similar to nerve pain, of which I was intimately familiar. That was a type of pain I knew how to handle; knew when to smile and keep pressing through, knew when it was better for everyone if I just went back to bed.
No one questioned me on it. So the subject, and my underlying pain was never addressed until I was four or five. (I never actually learned when I was born. Just that it was sometime during the dry season. And most estimations of my age got skewed by Midget Me and our general lack of foresight. More on that later.)
“You are oddly energetic today, Kai-chii.” Wataru-Oji was smiling into his tea as I laughed my way through my morning Dances. “What has gotten into you?”
For the first time ever I was voluntarily doing the Dragon’s Dance. (Which was ridiculously long with far too many aerial stunts, spins and cardio. Fuck that nonsense.) “It doesn’t hurt!” I laughed without thinking. “It’s been ages since the pain was this faint!” There was a vague gesture thrown in there to indicate chakra coils.
I was far too gleeful (a proper hyperactive child for once) to notice the dark look on the old man’s face. But the sharp click of his cup being sat down upon the deck made me pause mid spin. (And then promptly topple to one side - inertia doesn’t stop just because you do. Physics is an unmerciful and unrepentant goddess to whom we are all bound.) “Oji?”
“You didn’t return until well after the sunset,” if he had a beard, he would have been stroking it in aggravated thought. “Did you go to your fathers?”
“No,” I popped back upright. “I was with Seiichi-sama.” At his blank look, I tacked on: “The Echo Alchemist.”
My eyes rolled so hard I’m sure they could be heard rattling all the way to the Royal Compound.
Honestly, GrandMasters knew little of one another outside their ridiculous titles. It was so many different shades of exasperating. “He was teaching me that weird shinobi tree climbing trick.”
“The Chakra exercise?”
“So he claims,” I went back to dancing. “If I master it he will teach me about the compositions in Gravity Renkinjutsu.”
There was a long pause and I had almost forgotten about the conversation entirely. (Dragon’s Dance makes me dizzy, okay?) “Have you never accessed your Chakra before?”
I made another vague gesture that threatened to throw me out of balance. “I’ve meditated on Dragon Veins and played with the leaf spinning thing.” It wasn’t like I didn’t know of Chakra so much as I didn’t really understand it. I said as much, earning me a rumbling chuckle. “Well,” I defended. “It’s always seemed like cheating. And all our the shinobi branches of the Family are in Konoha.”
“Almost all,” he clarified. “Some of us were too old to go.”
“You don’t count.”
He seemed mildly offended at that, if the raised brows and gleaming eyes were anything to go by. “When you are done your Dances, we shall begin to study chakra.” And with that he flicked a nearby rock with such perfect accuracy that it landed under my foot - just as my weight shifted.
I toppled over with all the grace of a newborn elephant drinking water. “Damnit!”
And thus began my foray into Chakra, hand seals and jutsu. Not gonna lie, it was stupid difficult and I was terrible at it.
“How does this even work?” I would rant as chakra beasts, comprised of various elements, tried to munch on me. (Oji had a very … hands on learning method when it came to jutsu and Chakra types. I got singed more times than I care to remember.) “Where is the exchange?” (This rant took place when I was half-way drowned by river water. For the record, water walking? Stupid hard.) “How is equivalency decided?” (Staring at my own clone, 90% positive I had gotten it wrong because I didn’t remember my hair being that bright.)
“It’s a spiritual muscle.” Oji was taking entirely too much pleasure in having found a subject I sucked at. “The more you use it, the stronger it gets.”
“But it’s not, though!” I whined, flopping backwards in the picture of melodramatic student. “Your body has a finite amount of chakra. Overuse can result in death as it drains your life force.”
“Then I suggest you learn the limits of your own chakra capacity.”
I came to hate anything Chakra related. (Hate, hate, hate.) Mostly because it fucked with my newly developed life view (Equivalent Exchange). But also, because it was exhausting in ways I can’t describe.
It wasn’t like exercising, no matter what Oji said. Because everything turned to jelly. Using Chakra affects the whole of your body, mind and soul (of which Chakra is comprised). So not only was I sore, I was brain dead with no particular desire to do anything except for sleeping.
Let me lay this out for you.
Jutsu took chakra to produce - but no one could tell you how much because it was fucking subjective. It depended on the combination of hand seals (Mainstream, half seals, single activation or another variation entirely). It depended on your experiences with the jutsu. (Was it part of your Chakra Nature? Were your coils developed in a fashion that allowed the flow to go smoothly or did you have to fight it?) And what you had available to give.
The more you used a jutsu, the more familiar your chakra was wit it. So, in theory, it could cost less. But that wasn’t a rule. It only happened sometimes.
Likewise, the hand seals could be changed and rearranged to produce the same freaking outcome. You could cut them down, or get rid of them entirely in theory. But all of that depended on if your chakra liked you. (Not really, it’s way more complicated than that. Although, it’s equally convoluted.)
That shit didn’t happen in Renkinjutsu.
It would always take a 2 lb Iron block to make a Kunai. It would always take the same Matrix linked to the same things, drawn in the same order. Once you learned a Matrix, it didn’t change. (I may have been developing some serious control issues.) It couldn’t be shortened or mixed up. The symbols had to be perfect, every centimeter drawn in perfect scale. Perfect balance. It was glorious. (and it didn't tend to burn my fingers)
But still, I would practice what Oji considered “the basics” of Chakra and Chakra control after breakfast. (Making my routine even longer) Only after I was satisfactory exhausted would he let me go of in pursuit of my own goals. (Read: track down and bug the shit out of other Alchemists, who likewise found my struggle with Chakra amusing and endearing)
And then, the Year of Fuck All happened.
The Shodai Hokage, Senju Harashima (the man responsible for dragging the Kohaku into the Konohagakure Alliance) died in the First Shinobi World War. Which was so many different shades of bad.
Because (Technicallynot the Hidden Village.
When his brother, Tobirama, became the Nidaime we breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was acceptable to shift allegiance to Tobirama and call it a Clan Alliance. (Which is fucking hypocritical because, three generations ago, the Kohaku provided arms to the Uchiha Clan in order to wipe out the Senju … but no one likes to bring that up. I can’t imagine why.)
But then the Year of Fuckery got worse.
During peace negotiations with Kumo, the Gold and Silver Twins tried to stage a Coup. They failed, kinda, but managed to both injure our Nidaime and kill their Nidaime Raikage. And, if that wasn’t enough, Tobirama chased after the twins and got himself killed only a few months later.
(Meanwhile the Nidaimes Mizu and Tsichikage killed each other. So many shades of not okay.)
That is how we ended up with the Sandaime Hokage, Sarutobi Hiruzen.
And, are you ready for this? The Sarutobi’s and Kohaku’s were traditional enemies - like as far back as anyone could remember.
No one knew how the Sandaime would act, or what he would demand from us.
It was uh … pretty tense, for a while. If, here, we take “pretty tense” to mean that we openly prepared for war. (Which was stupid, because our shinobi were already in Konoha and whatever war Kohaku-sama was planning was already lost.)
Someone, somewhere, had some sense because before things could progress too far an announcement was made.
A envoy would go to Konoha and hammer out a new peace treaty with the Sandaime. We were, after all, still the largest arms supplier in the Elemental Nations. If the Senju could make peace with the Uchiha, the Kohaku and the Sarutobi could make peace between as well. In theory, anyway. But all things exists in theory so …
Yea, this was going to be fun.
My chakra training was put on hold for more important things. Namely the vicious debates that arose between the GrandMasters. (But also the last caravan before the Rainy Season was due in two weeks. Cue overworked, under caffeinated, sleep deprivation and general grumpiness, stage right.)
It didn’t help that some were reduced to shouting at each other over the Matrix circles. (“You’re a fool!” Oji snarled once at an equally old woman. “Clan Autonomy is the antithesis of a Hidden Village. We will never be free again!” To which the woman responded: “The tree that does not bend will be broken by the storm!”)
That … was the two basic schools of thought. Some, like Oji (mostly GrandMasters and Masters), thought that we should not send any of our alchemists with the envoy. They didn’t want to provide the Sandaime with the option of forcing our people out of the our homelands (like had happened with the Aburabi and Inuzuka Clans).
The other idea was that he would be more inclined to offer fair terms if he could see what we could do himself. (And, conversely, learn that it was not something he could get another Clan to do for him.) This was the idea held by the Royal Family and several Merchant branches who often traveled with the Caravan.
“Enough!” I reached the end of my (arguably short) temper with three days before the Caravan was due to arrive. (And less then a third of the order completed) “If you are going to argue like children then take it outside and let the children do the work in peace.”
Like the true twenty-something I could be, I ignored the sullen hush that fell. “Sahil, take two of the Adepts and start shaving the Iron blocks we have into the appropriate size. Hiran, divide the apprentices between the wood cutting and the mud gathering. Conscript anyone you find in the streets.”
The two boys, 15 and 12 respectively, jumped into action with nary a batt of their lashes. I sent three younger children (around my own age) to scavenge the village for anything iron.
“Anvi,” a young, pretty Adept. “Go to the Big House. Tell them we are behind and that they should prepare to entertain the Merchants for at least two days. Yashvi,” a woman grown and heavily pregnant. “Find the best carvers in the village. We’re setting a Matrix in the Square.”
Most transmutation Matrixes were drawn with chalk, (or in the dirt) and were about as effective as the diameter was long. In the simplest terms, the bigger the circle, the more we could transmute at once. And we needed to transmute a lot in a very short amount of time.
I didn’t stop long enough to consider that people generally didn’t listen to short, scruffy five year olds. And that they really didn’t tend to follow orders from said five year olds.
“Right now,” I said softly to the people still in the room. “It doesn’t matter if we go to Konoha or not. If we don’t complete this order our Clan will be sunk. Get over your egos and get to work.” We lived Caravan to Caravan, money and food were almost always tight. It was hard enough in the Clan Era, before we dealt solely through Konoha. It only got worse as I grew older.
Arable land was scarce this deep in the Jungle. Slash and burn farming took time and even then, most of that went into the Store Houses. We could hunt and pick fruit, sure. But the Rainy Season wasn’t exactly known for being safe.
The Western half of the village was squarely within the River’s flood plain. Houses were built on stilts to accommodate the abundance of water. Walls were made of woven reed mats that could be moved around to accommodate (or block) the wind. The houses were single rooms, strung about with lines and hammocks for storage and sleeping. Our people didn’t have a lot—nothing that wasn’t immediately necessary for survival at any rate.
The rest of the village, while situated uphill, wasn’t much better off. Sure, their houses weren’t in threat of being washed away in the next hurricane, but they were still pretty much living hand to mouth.
No Caravan Leader in their right mind would come through here in the rainy season. That’s why I felt that this order had to go out. There was too much to loose.
We couldn’t afford to drop the ball now.
Oddly enough, no one stood in my way when I forcefully ejected the GrandMasters and took over the Projects. Honestly, I think they were just relieved that someone decided to step up and steer the wreck we had become. (Also - if we failed, it would now be my fault. Never underestimate to power of Blame Shifting.)
I had our Carvers set up the largest Transmutation Matrix to date in the slate rock of the Village Square. It was roughly twenty meters in diameter and took four days to complete in totality. (The Alchemists picked over it with a fine toothed comb several times to make sure every little squiggle was in the exact place in the exact scale.) Which meant the Caravan arrived right before we were done - and pitched a goddamn fit when Kohaku-sama barred their entrance through the gates. (Everyone was simultaneously invested and terrified of the outcome of my complete and total insanity and there was a reason that transmutation matrixes were kept small, damnit!)
At some point while I was too busy running around, hoarding all the iron in the village, supervising the Carvers and a shit ton of other things, the GrandMasters pulled their heads out of their asses. They set up and controlled several, much much smaller matrices that created the iron we lacked. (We were so desperate we started using obscene amounts of shellfish at one point. Do you know how many shellfish are required for a single gram of iron?) As well as shaving the blocks, making the crates and completing the Special Orders.
The only part that I comprehended at the time was that something was getting done and I didn’t have to do it.
And then, then the moment of truth arrived.
You could tell because suddenly everything went quiet. (Not the nice, peaceful type of silence - no. It was heavy and oppressive, full of expectation and uncertainty.)
It was the first time I realized what I had done. (And the first of five very large red flags that would lead to the conclusion of: This is not a dream, you idiot! But we’ll get around to those.)
If you’ve never suddenly found yourself responsible for the welfare of several hundred people, I suggest that you avoid it at all costs. It is not fun.
“Oh, goddess.” I choked out, suddenly feeling every ounce of stress all at once.
A warm hand fell on my shoulder, in what was supposed to be a confident manner. Instead it just made everything ten thousand times worse. “Are you ready, Kai-chii?”
“No. Nope, this was a terrible idea,” I started to walk away. “Forget this ever happened. Nope, nope, nope! Fuck this shit.”
Oji grabbed me by the back of my vest and hauled me into the spotlight. “Your plan, your responsibility.” He scolded while I pouted something fierce.
“I changed my mind.”
“If my smart alec, midget of an apprentice is going to upstage me and fail, then you will go down in a blaze of glory.” He pushed a chisel and hammer into my hands.
We were at the head of the Matrix, standing with Kohaku-sama and the merchants. Everyone was watching us bicker.
“You need to sort out your priorities.” I smartted back, earning several chuckles from the ensemble.
Oji was officially not impressed. “Stop stalling.”
Not going to lie, a solid three quarters of my soul was screaming at me to say something along the lines of “I have not yet begun to stall.” But, as always, Oji was right. The sooner we finished the circle, the sooner we would know if the Matrix worked or if I damned the village to starvation. Hey, go big or go home.
Out of sheer, knee-jerk formality, I offered the chisel and hammer to Kohaku-sama with a bow. (I’m not entirely an uncultured heathen.)
He was a tall man, and very young. His skin was dark, trim beard and curly hair even darker. Gold and silver glitter from his fingers, toes and ears; heavy gem stones dispersed throughout. Dark khol traced his classical Kohaku eyes, making them shine like stars.
Beside him was his bride - a woman from the Surama Clan on the other side of the Gulf. She was almost twice Kohaku-sama’s age and ill-liked within our village because of it. (That and, despite three years of marriage, she had yet to provide the Clan an Heir. But more on that later.) Her name was Norita.
I handed her the chisel on impulse. “It would be my honor.” I’m honestly not sure who was more surprised by my gesture. Me, her, Kohaku-sama or the rest of the village.
She regarded me as one might regard a jeweled beetle. Pretty, but ultimately not something to touch or get anywhere near if they could help it. (But she did take the chisel and allow me to steady her hand while Kohaku-sama used the hammer. So it’s going in the “win” category.)
All it took was one tap.
And the world exploded into light and song.
There is something to be said about being hailed as a child prodigy.
Standing across from a scowling Norita-Hime in a bathhouse was not one of them.
“Get in the tub,” she commanded me.
I eyed the large wooden frame with all the weariness of the wild child I was. The water inside was crystal clear, and warm to the touch. It was scented with some sort of flower - I could see petals floating on the top if I stood on my toes. To my twenty-something mind, it looked heavenly.
My pint-sized body had another opinion entirely. It took all of my will power to continue standing in that room, instead of turning tail and fleeing.
In this life, I had never actually had a bath. Apparently it was something worthy of getting worked up over. “I'm working on it.” My voice came out strangled and squeaky. “Give me a minute.”
That earned me the Eyebrow Raise of Judgment.
“I’m five.” I whined. “Just because I know it can’t hurt me doesn’t mean that I can convince my subconscious that it can’t hurt me. Children aren’t known for being rational!” I wasn’t entirely sure what my own problem was. It certainly wasn’t the depth of the water or the water itself. (I’d nearly drowned in the River too many times for that.) But there was something that I just couldn’t get past.
Nortia-Hime’s face did not soften in any sort of maternal manner. If anything, she looked even more annoyed. (Which is saying a lot.) “You will not attend my husband looking like a-” she trailed off, eyes roaming my tattered clothes, bare feet and general scruffiness.
“Ragamuffin?” I offered sardonically. My newest form of attack was to inch around the tub and see if I could trick Midget Me into getting in. So far I was only pulling off “edging around the tub in a paranoid fashion.”
The woman scoffed at me. “Hideaki, bathe the urchin.” (I was getting the feeling that Norita-Hime didn’t like me.)
Shimura Hideaki was 250lbs of fuck no, with a mean face to match. He snagged me around the waist before I could so much as squeak and dumped me into the water, clothes and all.
I surfaces shrieking like and angry house cat. (It was beauty, it was grace … I made sure to splash Norita-Hime in the face.)
“Don’t touch me!”
Both adults were unimpressed, as most tended to be when confronted with my slight frame and scraggle appearance. The simply picked up soaps and clothes and began to scrub. And scrub. (All the while I cursed like a sailor.)
Eventually I gave up physically fighting and simple ragdolled, forcing them to carry my weight. (Petty revenge and all that.) Every now and again I was hauled into a clean tub brought in by the ladies maids - who spent more time laughing then actually helping.
Somewhere along the way I lost the remnants of my tattered trousers and chest wrap.
Resistance was utterly futile.
They scrubbed my skin until it was raw and sensitive. (they used the word “clean”)
My nails were torchered. (Read: cut, cleaned and polished)
They even shore my hair until it laid close to my scalp. And, okay so apparently I had lice. Couldn’t actually be that mad because bugs in hair.
I did manage to wriggle free before they broke out the oils and perfumes.
“Are you happy now?” I snarled at the princess. “I look like a boy!”
She smiled at me. A slow, deadly smile that had me edging away in terror. (Only to be caught by Hideaki.) “We can fix that.” She said.
Suffice to say, when I was presented to Kohaku-sama several hours later, I could have been a doll.
A fine silk skirt, dotted with jangles and sparklies, wrapped around my waste. It was highly distracting as it was designed to capture and reflect light when I moved.
My chest wraps were replaced with a softer linen dyed a fantastic shade of purple. And they had draped a sheer scarf (of near abouts the same shade) across my freckled shoulders, neck and head.
The maids, in a rare moment of usefulness, painted my face and lined my eyes and stained my arms and legs in intricate henna designs. It was entirely impractical and their desired effect was ruined by my swearing.
At dinner, I was seated with the other children of the household, ranging in ages from twelve to two. (There were younger children that were attended by their parents or nannies.) Remember when I said Norita-Hime was scorned for not having provided an heir? That mainly has to do with the fact that both the previous ladies of the family had provided at least seven heirs a piece (back three generations). Who themselves started having children at relatively young ages.
In short, the main family was comprised of dozens of silver-eyed Kohaku. The lack of an official heir was very conspicuous.
I would have been overwhelmed if I wasn’t too busy being petulant.
We were in the Jungle Gardens (so named for the variety of, supposedly, tame critters that roamed its grounds and not the actual flora) which was the only sace available that was both nice, clean and could seat everyone. (Everyone, here, is referring to: the entirety of the Royal Family, several Merchants, the Caravan leaders and their shinobi guards.) The adults lounged around the central pond on cushions or swinging chairs. Us children were relegated off to the side and fenced into waste-high shrubbery to keep the debacles to a minimum.
It was a mildly hellish experience.
Not because of the children. They were actually quite nice and some of them were very sweet. (Exceptions exist in all families) But because of the nannies who were guarding them.
If you were to judge by the way the nannies looked at me, I carried some sort of fatal disease. Or worse - encouraged the children to act like children. I was clearly a horrible human being.
A small clay cup was shoved under my nose.
The hand holding it belonged to Chikako-hime, Kohaku-sama’s twelve year old sister and the heir to the clan. She had the same dark features and startling eyes. Although, it appears she was more apt to smile and laugh then adopt her brother’s signature deer in headlights look.
“Spiced wine,” she told me with a grin.
I took the cup carefully, already weary of the impishness she possessed. “I’m fairly positive one has to achieve at least double digits before being allowed to drink this.”
“Live a little!”
“I lived a lot this past week,” I said dryly, passing the cup to the boy on my right - who promptly drank it down. “Let’s not tempt the goddess anymore.”
There was another distantly related cousin of mine that sat across from our little circle. She was watching me like she was a hawk and I was a particularly tasty vole. “You don’t speak like you are five.”
My answer was prompt and well practiced. “I’m secretly twenty-something.”
The small audience around us laughed in delight. Because, as everyone knows, it is simply not possible to be an adult and a child at the same time.
As the meal progressed, Chikako-hime kept passing me various morsels to try. Most of them were incredibly spicy or incredible sweet. Her impish smile was the only clue I had as to which would make me splutter and gag. Soon enough I learned that, when that particular smile appeared, hooking into one corner of her mouth, it was best to sneak the thing she handed me onto someone elses plate.
“I believe that we shall get along fantastically,” she told me after the third time a particularly nasty cousin got scolded for spitting out something I had slipped on their plates. (In my defense, that Cousin started it by laughing uproariously when I choked on a hot pepper.) And that was how I made my first friend.
I munched on some sweet fruit, trying to soothe my burning taste buds. “You are only interested in using me to join your brothers table.” (Tact, thy name is not Kaida.)
The princess batted her eyelashes, the picture of innocence, but never actually protested my claim.
It amused me more than it should. “Shall I pretend to be ignorant and uncouth?”
“It’s cute that you think you aren’t.”
Later, when I was asked (read: ordered in a very official voice) to join Kohaku-sama for deserts, she took my hand and lead me around the pond.
“Brother,” she greeted formally “Sister.” She gave a little bow to both, squeezing my hand until I copied her. “Honored guests.” I was pulled onto the same cushion as her. “May I present my friend? This is Master Alchemist Kohaku Kaida,” she barreled on without waiting for anyone to respond - least of all me. “Kai-chan, this is-” she proceeded to rattle off the names of the dignitaries and shinobi.
While they offered their own, somewhat more stilted greetings I caught the girl’s silver eyes and rolled my own. She still hadn’t let go of my hand and was pressed up against my side like we were old friends. Or, I guess since I was so young, she looked more like a protective older sister. Whatever she was aiming for, it produced wildly entertaining faces from the Shimura present.
“You are the one responsible for the … light show?” One of the Caravan leaders was trying to make polite conversation, but was clearly sceptical of the claims that had been flying around for the last two days. (He was surprisingly proficient at the local dialect. Actually, he was the only one of the outsiders that I didn’t need Chikako-hime to translate. It turned out that I really did need her there with me.)
My initial response - some variant of “no shit, Sherlock”- was cut off by the nails digging into my palm. “The light show was a side effect of the transcription,” I hedged. “The longer a Matrix sits without completion the … larger the light show.” My nose wrinkled at the phrase.
A shinobi took up the interrogation. He had dark hair, pulled back into a spiky ponytail, and sharp eyes. “Why has no one thought to make such a large circle before?” This question was aimed more at Kohaku-sama then me. “Seems a simple solution to your production problems.” I answered him anyway, once I was updated on what he had said.
“Because it was a stupid idea.” That earned me several shades of dark looks and more nails biting into my hand. “It was!” I shot a glare to the princess at my side. “You saw how the stone cracked! Slate Rock isn’t a good conductor on the best of days. I wouldn’t have chosen it if we had an equal amount of flat ground elsewhere.” My eyes flicked back to the spiky-haired shinobi, who was watching with undisguised interest. “There were a lot of redundancies written into the formula to help the process along. But we still had, at most, a seventy-five percent chance of success.” I wriggled my free hand in a so- so motion. “Thankfully Renkinjutsu rarely blows up or causes catastrophic fall outs. It was worth the risk.”
Now that started a full interrogation that was only mildly disguised as a Q and A session. “What are the limits of Renkinjutsu?” “How long, would you say, does it take an average person to become proficient?” “Is it linked to a kehki-genki?”
For probably the thousandth time that night, I sighed and rubbed the bridge of my nose with my free hand. (I was developing a monster of a headache.) “Proficiency at Renkinjutsu isn’t that different from being a good shinobi.” I was tired of simplifying my answers, of stripping jargon from my speech and - most of all - having Chikako-Hime translate large portions of what I was saying. “Some people are born with a natural talent for it, their rate of learning is greatly increases. Others have to make up for the deficit in sheer stubbornness.” I paused again as the girl next to me rattled off in a dialect I only caught every third word of. “The limit of how far you can go largely depends on your own judgement.”
It was Nortia-Hime who finally put a stop to the questioning. Several hours later.
“I think we will adjourn for the night.” Her voice was unusually soft. “Its late and the children need to rest.”
Well … she wasn’t wrong. I had succumbed to slumping against Chikako-hime, who in turn was struggling (vainly) to hold back her yawns.
I had missed something - a signal or verbal exchange - because the next thing I knew for certain was that I was being hoisted to my feet.
There was some stumbling, some bowing and exchanges of farewells. Then I was in corridors of solid stone and plaster. Next were grated doors and sheer curtains. The last thing I can actually remember was the press of soft pillows and a warm body curled close to mine.
Do I have Blondie's go ahead to post this chapter? Nope.
Is she gonna kill me for it? Probably. But she's got a cold so I might be able to outrun her.
As always, thank you for tuning in to our insane experiments. Please be sure to keep your hands and feet inside the cabin at all times. At the end of the chapter theres this adorable little heart that makes me feel all tingly inside and generally lets me get away with posting things "early".
Also, if your in the mood please drop a comment as I am dyslexic and have been staring at this draft for so long that it no longer looks like english. I honestly don't even want to think of the horrible mistakes left in this.