There's Hope Yet
Two hours. That was all that was left until this war was declared over, and there would be a ruthless, completely undeserving victory for Chitani. If we were the only ones left, there wasn’t a chance in hell that we would come through this alive, let alone pull the war back into our favour.
I was sitting on a hill just above the campsite, watching the horizon with hopeful eyes, waiting for the eagle that had been sent out in search of allies. It was a nice view, I suppose. Not much to see other than a thick carpet of trees and glowing red sunset, but it was nice.
With Mina lying with her head on my lap, breathing evenly as she slept, I let my mind drift away into the tangerine clouds, back to Ookiimura, to our little apartment. Back to the hospital I had worked the occasional shift at to cover the bills my mother neglected. And in my mind, I took Mina with me. And we were safe. We were free.
Now one hour. Time was moving in deliberate slow motion, and the sky I had been staring at was still painfully bare and eagle free. The once orange and pink hue of the clouds had now faded to a dull grey with a silvery lining as the moon heaved herself up into the fat approaching starless night.
Mina let out a small cough in her sleep, making me flinch, but she didn’t wake up. I was glad really, because I didn’t want her to see the bleakness in my eyes. I couldn’t even be bothered to glare as Sasuke approached and sat down to join in my watch, so things must have been bad.
We remained there in silence, with only the sound of my sister’s soft breathing to remind us we were still on this Earth.
Just half an hour left.
‘…You know what’s funny?’ I mused out loud, not really caring if he bothered to indulge me or not.
‘I don’t even know what this war is about.’
He shot me an incredulous look, one eye brow raised and his mouth set in a thin, disapproving line.
‘Don’t look at me like that. I mean, think about it. Why would I? My village had nothing to do with the affairs between Chitani and Kazekuni. We just had the misfortune of being neighbours with one side and bound by duty and that damn tradition, our people were forced to get involved. So it’s funny that we’re all here, dying for some completely unknown cause.’
The Uchiha pursed his lips as he scanned the horizon once more. ‘That is funny.’ But neither of us laughed. It wasn’t that kind of funny.
After a few minutes of silence, Sasuke turned back to me, looking slightly confused. ‘So you have no idea what this war is about?’
‘All I know is that Chitani’s Leader is a bit of a bully and, now I’m just going on assumptions here, I’m guessing Kazekuni didn’t approve of his plan for world domination.’
‘Well, there’s more detail to it than that, but essentially you’re right.’
‘You really are clueless.’
I gave a half-hearted eye-roll. ‘And you’ll never change.’
I assumed that was all he was going to say on the matter, but apparently, people are more willing to give information when they’ve got nothing left to lose.
‘Their leaders have a history. I heard they used to be strong allies, the West and the East, but something happened several years back that broke them apart.’
The Uchiha pursed his lips as though debating how much he could tell me, but then, we weren’t exactly seconds from victory.
‘Chitani’s leader was deceitful and mistrusting, he believed that Kazekuni were plotting against them after a recent drop in their trade with foreign lands. No one seemed to want their crops anymore, and no one wanted their animals. The real reason was that the quality of care for the animals was just downright appalling and their crops were always harvested too early. He had always been careless and selfish, and other people were started to notice. His name is Madara, by the way, Chitani’s leader.’
‘Madara…’ I pondered the name momentarily, but I had another question. ‘Then why did Chitani blame Kazekuni when they were supposed to be allies?’
Sasuke shrugged. ‘I guess it’s easier to point the finger than to own up to your own mistakes. He’s a very proud but stubborn man, and all he could see was that Kazekuni’s profits were continuing to rise while his were being dragged through the dirt.’
‘So he decided to start a war over pride?’
‘No, he didn’t start the war. If you’d let me finish, I’ll tell you.’
I scowled, but kept my mouth shut. Listening to this was better than sitting in a harrowing silence waiting for an eagle that would never come.
‘It was the actually Leader of Kazekuni who’d finally had enough. Word had got around that Chitani had started to deal in less than honourable trades to make up for their losses, and Hashirama could no longer just stand by and watch innocent lands become bullied into submission and robbed of their achievements.’
‘Kazekuni’s village leader.’
‘Oh. What was Chitani doing that was so wrong it fashioned reason to start a war?’
‘From what I’ve heard, it was mostly their dealings with Akatsuki that sparked the declaration.’
‘The Mercenary Guild?’ I shuddered at the thought. I had heard of them, they were heartless.
‘They’re more like professional hired assassins. They’re lead by a callous, unfeeling bastard who believes himself to be a God, and his worthless bunch of cronies will do just about anything he says, not just for the money, but because they enjoy it.’
There was something almost personal in the way Sasuke spoke of Akatsuki. Something I doubted he was willing to expand on. Still, I tried anyway. ‘You seem to know a lot about them…’ I began slowly.
‘What are you implying?’ He regarded me with hatred-filled black eyes, and I instantly regretted commenting.
‘No, nothing! I was just curious…’ A tiny memory niggled at the back of my mind, something of my time in the enemy base, though there’d been no mention of Akatsuki as far as I could remember, but had there been something else relevant?
‘Anyway, Hashirama had enough. He tried to reason with Chitani but the leader was having none of it. So here we are. The last resort.’
‘Huh, some last resort we turned out to be…’ I mumbled.
Mina suddenly stirred, her nose scrunching slightly as she lifted a hand to rub the sleep from her eyes.
‘Koko?’ Her little voice was a mere flutter on the breeze, and I couldn’t help but smile as she shifted herself into a sitting position opposite me, her back to the horizon I’d been watching so determinedly.
‘No news yet.’ I answered her before she could ask. She nodded, and turned towards the sky.
‘Actually, Sasuke?’ Mina suddenly piped up, surprising us both by who she addressed.
‘I now this is a little out of place to ask, but it’s been on my mind for a while. I heard something when I was in the enemy’s base. I’m not sure what to think of it, but I wondered if you might?’
‘Think of what, Mina?’ I pressed before the Uchiha could reply himself.
‘One of their warriors mentioned an Uchiha while I was alone with them, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean you…’
Of course! How could I have forgotten that so easily?
I whipped my head round to gauge Sasuke’s reaction, though with the death glare I was receiving I wasn’t sure it was worth risking my life for the answer.
‘What are you glaring at me for?! I didn’t say anything!’ I frowned, immediately on the defence.
His eyes flicked back to my sister. ‘What did you hear us talking about?’
‘Huh? N-nothing…’ Mina stammered, obvious confusion spreading over her face. ‘I just remember hearing the name…’
For a while, none of us spoke, falling into an awkwardly tense silence that could be cut with a butter knife.
I glanced at the warrior beside me. ‘…What?’
He let out a long, slow breath before continuing. ‘Itachi Uchiha is my older brother. He’s part of Akatsuki. That’s how I know so much about them.’
My mouth fell open, eyes widening like saucers as he stared off into space.
‘You’re brother’s part of Akatsuki? Then, are they working for the enemy?’ Mina asked cautiously, careful not to arouse another sharp reaction from the Uchiha we knew.
I nodded slowly, turning to direct my own question at our only source of information. ‘How many other members do you know in the organisation?’
I was almost afraid of the answer, but the look in his eyes as he began to respond confirmed my worst fears. ‘I don’t know them all, but there’s their leader, Pein, who I told you about before. Then there’s a freakishly tall man, with a blue tint to his skin called Kisame, who works closely with my brother. There’s also supposedly some sort of explosions expert, and one other I know of…’
He didn’t even have to say the final name. I knew exactly who he was talking about, and I could tell from the way he paused that he was waiting for me to figure it out.
‘When did you find out?’ I asked, my voice patheticly small.
‘About 24 hours ago, when Mina told me about the ambush. I should have guessed as soon as he was reported MIA. Pretty stupid of me, really.’
I had nothing else to say on the matter. The facts were all pretty clear now, and apparently, the other two felt the same because once again we were engulfed by the silence.
Five minutes left to go.
Honestly? When I saw the faint silhouette of a distant bird on the horizon, I really did think I was seeing things, which is why I was so surprised when Sasuke suddenly leapt to his feet beside me.
‘It’s here…’ His words were murmured in such disbelief that they were almost completely lost to the wind. Then, more loudly he shouted. ‘It’s here!’
Several voices called out in response from the campsite below, daring to believe the words they had just heard.
‘Koko…’ I was vaguely aware of Mina tugging my hand, but I was too busy squinting at the silhouette.
The bird drew in closer, its details becoming clearer as it approached. It swooped down at the last minute, darting into the depths of the camp.
‘What are we waiting for?’ Sasuke demanded, shoving past us and racing down the hill. Mina half shouted and half laughed my name, excitedly pulling me out of my shock and after the Uchiha.
The warriors had already formed a small crowd around the Captain, who was currently skim-reading the reply note with impressive speed. When he finished, his deep brown eyes flashed with relief as he met our expectant stares.
‘Only the two farthest squads from us are left, that’s why the reply took so long to return, but their numbers are high. But not only that…’
I swear, there was a sudden drop in oxegyn as the entire group at that one moment simultaneously sucked in air in suspense.
‘…The Land of Fire has signed a treaty of allegiance to our cause. Which means–’
‘Which means we’ve just gained over two thousand more warriors to fight with us against Chitani!’ Kiba interrupted after reading over Captain Asuma’s shoulder.
A chorus of cheers and laughter broke out through the group, and it was only when I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks that I realised this was the hope we had been waiting for.
The eagle had returned, and we were not alone. We could actually win this.