Shikako puttered around the small library, having found nothing she could use to tie to the Jashinists when a small book caught her eye. The Art and Sealing proclaimed the title, and Shikako was struck dumb. The odds of a book about sealing sitting in a library in a tourist town, even a previous Hidden Village, was so small that she didn’t spare it a thought, given that she had looked all over Konoha, an active Hidden Village, and had found diddly squat. Still, she grabbed the book and leafed through to the table of contents and then the foreword.
Despite herself, her eyebrows raised in disbelief. Magic - Wizardry - the Art - seemed so fantastical, like a joke, but hadn’t chakra been the same, once upon a time? Besides, the little of what she saw in the chapter titles was worth a closer look in private. She snapped the book into Hammerspace, and went on her way.
Shikako took a break for lunch, finding a secluded place under a tree. Munching on some yakisoba, she took the time to give the mysterious magic book a closer look. For a joke, it was elaborate. There was a wealth of information that would leave even the most detailed of worldbuilders lost and confused. The chapter named after the title that caught her interest had a page or so of introduction before going into a language of symbols that made her go cross-eyed trying to decipher it. What little she could read however, only sparked her interest further. Augmenting her seals with the Speech sounded fascinating and the similarities between what she had read of spells and seals intrigued her.
She shut the book with one hand and thoughtfully tapped on the cover. If it was a joke, then saying the Oath would mean nothing, and she would walk away with some interesting ideas for future seals. If it wasn’t - then she would have new tools and potentially allies to go after Akatsuki and Madara with. The promised Ordeal was worrying, but she had faced several trying situations already. She was sure she could handle it. Shikako opened the book, and it fell open to the Oath. She looked over it slowly, taking in the words and their meanings. She read it again, pressing her lips together. Shikako was a ninja. She had killed many times and had regretted the situation that had led to her choosing to kill, not the act itself.
Putting the book away, she stood up and stretched, reaching back to rub at her still sore spine. There was still more information to collect.
“Under the power of Jashin, time and space come undone!” The Jashinist shouted, exultant. His face seemed to glow with triumph. He opened his mouth, wide and wider than a human mouth should have ever gone, a gaping maw to swallow the world and something horrible came out.
The Thing That Was Out There reached through him. It spilt into the air. It was an oil slick, if you removed all the ways that oil was natural. It was poison, if you removed the ways poison was unwitting. It was pain without cause. It was suffering without respite. It was death without life.
It was. It knew. It did.
She froze, horror paralyzing her muscles, and building in the back of her throat.
A scream tore her way out of her throat.
Reality bent. She swiped with the lightsaber, threw kunai wrapped with exploding notes. One went off, one didn’t the lighting surged forward a foot and stopped. Unequal, uneven. Unreal.
The world shattered under her footsteps. She jerked backwards, stone crumbling underfoot, reality unmade in fits and starts. Upwards, downwards, a foot, a mile, flat or right angles - it changed, it changed and it was wrong.
She had to get away. Run.
Her hand reached up and grabbed her necklace. Perhaps - maybe - anything would be better than space and time melting around her.
Shadows wrapped around her.
The world shuddered. It pulled itself back together. The song of Gelel hummed in her bones, her blood, her soul. It was this world, made of the natural energy grown of this place and by it.
They were real.
Shikako had a sliver of stone made with a fragment of a god and the last beat of a human heart.
But it wasn’t enough.
She dove across the circle of the Jashinist seal and - It saw her.
It LoOked Upon Her.
She almost fell, shadows dropping away, hollowness echoing within her. If only she could get to the forest, she would be safe.
She was so close.
Three figures emerged out of the woods, darkly dressed. One had Aoba slung over his shoulders.
She threw herself forward.
And everything went dark.
Copper and iron hung in the air, rivers of thick red liquid - of blood ran from hung bodies - chained to walls, lying haphazardly over the floor.
It pooled in a giant symbol etched in the floor of the Temple. A circle with a triangle inside. The Jashinists’ pentagon.
She was dropped in front of an alter at the tip of the triangle and handcuffed - handcuffed!
“He’s a ninja, isn’t he?” The leader asked. “Chain him up. ”
Fear is the mind killer. Her breath shuddered, each exhale shakier than the last. She had to assess the situation. She had to stay calm.
She balled up her fear and shoved it down in the depths of her soul. No mater how important, she couldn’t afford it. Later. Always later.
She had to move.
The strung Aoba up, chains around his ankles and affixed to the ceiling. Exposed, away from walls or weapons, right out in the middle of the room, in the center of the triangle.
Getting to him unnoticed would be impossible.
Metallic copper burned at the back of her throat.
Aoba stirred, eyes unfocused.
(They had taken his sunglasses. The nerve.)
Shikako shifted slightly. And she saw.
His horror. His despair. His resignation.
No. No. They need to get out of there! He couldn’t give in. Couldn’t just say that there was nothing they could do. She needed him to —
And then the leader stepped forward and slit his throat.
“No!” She protested, shocked.
They turned. They saw her, heard her. She charged forward, desperate and weak. Blood squelched underfoot.
He thrashed, eyes wide. His neck-
(Could she heal that?
She had to.)
Hands grabbed for her. She snarled, tossing them over her hip, stomping down on their face with all of her strength. Bone crunched.
And the Jashinists cheered, like an audience watching a fight break out at a hockey game.
“Bloodlust! For Jashin-sama! For Jashin-sama!”
“No!” She howled, but she could she it too, how her actions were feeding into the power of ritual, seeing how the Jashinist was already healing, skull popping back into place.
“Touch. Blast.“ She couldn’t feel her chakra, but she had her will. She wouldn’t let them stop her.
It exploded. Her ears rang. Fire licked at her skin. The leader fell back, chest a charred mess and she stumbled into Aoba, hands planting a barrier seal that flickered weakly into existence. It would hold. That was enough.
But her hands failed to summon a healing jutsu. There was nothing when she tried to direct her chakra.
Chakra. Chakra. Please!
It wasn’t working. It wasn’t working.
Panic threatened to consume her. He was gurgling. Not breathing. He was dying by slow inches. And then -
A wizard, using the Speech, can cause death to slow down, or go somewhere else and come back later—just as the Lone Power caused it to come about in the first place.
There was nothing else. There was nothing else.
“In Life’s name and for Life’s sake,” she whispered furiously, clamping her hand around Aoba’s neck in an attempt to staunch the flow, “I say that I will use the Art for nothing but the service of that Life. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends. In the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so—until the Universe’s end.”
Her voice echoed.
She could faintly hear a voice exclaim with fear and rage.
how dare -
Please, she gasped, begging. Stop. Stay inside. Stop bleeding. The words flowed out of her mouth, symbols dropping from her lips. The world stilled to listen. You’re not supposed to die here, she told Aoba. Heal, she insisted, pressing harder against his neck.
you think that can stop me?
She turned her head. Watched the leader rise, charred but whole. He was frowning. He grabbed a staff from another cultist and slammed it once, twice, three times into her barrier.
“To be a priest of Jashin is to know death!” he declared. He spun the staff. She watched it twirl.
(Death is an old friend of mine.)
Gelel thundered in her ears, suddenly and without warning. Its Song crashed around her and through her, as loud as the day she took a sword through her heart.
It was the wind that swept over the desert. It was the water that crashed upon the shore. It was the earth that reached towards the sky. It was the fire that burned in the soul. It was laughter despite tears. It was love despite hate. It was peace despite war.
It was. It knew. It did.
No, they Spoke.
Shikako-and-Gelel looked up, and up, and up, until they could see the face of Jashin, clawing out from a tear in the sky.
This was hatred and bloodlust and spite and pain, all condensed into one being. It was the idea of them, greater than the things themselves, spread between people, saturating the air.
You do not belong here. Be Gone.
They Spoke. The monks were frozen in place bound between the two Powers. The tip of the staff was inches away from her stomach.
The face of Jashin retreated.
you can’t do this - i will destroy you, Jashin raged, thrashing against the Power of Life.
It was no good.
Jashin disappeared beyond the tear.
Never come back, They sent after it. Close, They told the tear.
And the ritual —
Chakra flooded back in, threatening to choke her. Gelel hummed soothingly, and fell away. She felt drained upon drained. She wanted to curl up and ignore the world.
She wasn’t done yet.
Shadow Paralysis Complete.
Her focus was shaking. She had to take out the monks. The leader was furious, straining against her hold, pushing to drive the staff into her. She took out her lightsaber and rested it against his chest. Thrum went the lightsaber and punched a hole through his chest. She cut off his head and chopped it in half for good measure. She had to deal with the other monks before she could check on Aoba. Her focus wasn’t good enough to hold much longer.
(She would have noticed if Aoba had died, right? Felt it.)
She went around and chopped up the other monks. Her jitsu dropped. She staggered over to Aoba. His eyes were closed. She cut the chains with the lightsaber, barely stopping his head from hitting the ground. There was blood all over his neck. It looked like it was drying. She tried to scrape together a healing jitsu. Green light flickered and died.
She laid her head upon his chest, hand resting on his neck. Her eyes closed. Tears slipped out.
He was alive.