Disclaimer: Parts of this story will have settings and events taken out from various anime like Get Backers and Jigoku Shoujo, but I do not own any of them, nor do I own Naruto or any characters in this story save for OC characters
Chapter Two: Mutation
It was raining heavily when the boathouse – which all three had decided to name Phoenix – had pulled in at the docks of the town of Hikawa. It was currently night-time, and hardly anyone was around on the streets because of the bad weather.
Neji was the one steering the boathouse – both himself and his cousin having been taught how by Shiki – and he cut the engine of the boathouse off as Shiki stepped out of the shelter of the boathouse before throwing a rope around the anchor point at the dock, fixing the boathouse in place.
Hinata snapped shut the lights of the boathouse before stepping out, all three kids having on raincoats over their clothing, having bought the raincoats, along with a first-aid medical kit in case of emergency, stocking it in the boathouse itself. Hinata had also sensibly gone grocery shopping before a kind cafe owner in the city of Hagako was kind enough to assist them in getting a mini stove, along with cabinets and fixed a mini kitchen in the boathouse for them so that they won't have to worry about starving if they can't get out of the boathouse because of bad weather or something.
Hinata and Neji watched as Shiki locked up the boathouse before leaping onto the docks and leading the way towards the town, Hinata and Neji on either side of her. Shiki looked left and right as they walked down the streets, in search of the cafe-cum-bar that those people whom had tried to help her in Hagako had mentioned.
It wasn't that difficult to find since there's only one shop still opened, with the lights still on, despite the horrible weather that declared all shops closed in this town. An ivory plate hung above the door, with the words 'Cat's Eye' written on it in cursive writing, with the picture of a black cat carved into it.
As Shiki pushed opened the door, a bell tinkled somewhere in the shop, and all three entered the cafe, rainwater dripping from the ends of the raincoats that they were wearing. The shop vendor, a brunette young man who looked to be about sixteen or so, with his hair tied up in a pineapple hairstyle, a scar across his nose looked up in the midst of wiping dry some glasses. He was dressed in a simple polo T-shirt and jeans, and he looked mournfully at the sight of the rainwater dripping all over his nice clean floor before getting out from behind the counter and handed Shiki, Hinata and Neji some towels to towel themselves dry before grabbing a mop standing in a corner and proceeded to clean his floor.
Shiki looked around the cafe only to see the four that she had met nearly a week ago at Hagako sitting at the bar counter, looking at them curiously before their faces lit up in recognition. Two others were sitting with them, a brunette young man and a raven-haired young woman with red eyes.
"You came," said Shizune with a smile as she motioned for the three empty seats beside her which Shiki, Hinata and Neji took. "Iruka, three cups of hot chocolate for them, please."
"Sure," said Iruka before proceeding to make some steaming cups of hot chocolate. The aroma soon reached their nostrils, and Hinata sniffed in the pleasant aroma eagerly, never having smelt such a nice smell for a long time. "You never told me that you knew these kids, Shizune."
"Shizune, who are they?" asked the woman with the red eyes, looking at Shiki, Neji and Hinata curiously. "Do you know them?"
"Yeah. We ran into them nearly a week ago in Hagako," said Yugao, taking a sip from her cup of coffee. "The redhead's the girl that we told you about." She turned towards Shiki, Neji and Hinata. "The lady's Yuuhi Kurenai. And the guy is Sarutobi Asuma."
"Nice to meet you," said Kurenai with a smile, but her eyes betrayed her as she seemed shocked to see such young children out in the streets alone at night.
"What are you doing here?" asked Yugao with curiosity. "Don't get me wrong, we're glad that you're here, but why did you come here?"
Shiki shrugged. "Just seemed like a good place to come to," she said. "We left. Left Hagako, I mean. There are too many memories there. It just seemed like a good idea to leave. And we thought that we would like to travel around for sometime…see the world or something. It's not like there is anywhere for us to go to."
Kurenai and Asuma exchanged startled looks before looking closely at the three children before Kurenai's eyes softened and Asuma sighed. "I see…" said Asuma. "Nin-users, huh?" Shiki, Neji and Hinata snapped their heads around to Asuma in alarm. "Don't worry. We're not one of those idiots out there. We don't have anything against nin-users. I guess that explains why the three of you are out here alone."
"But what are you going to do now?" asked Hayate in concern. "Don't get me wrong. But how are you going to survive out there? You need to find a way to get money as well as food and water. And not to mention lodgings."
"Don't worry about us," said Shiki. "We managed on our own for years. We usually do odd jobs or requests to get money, and that gives us food and water. As for lodgings…we have our own boathouse which we built. We sleep in there."
Shizune smiled. "Seems like you can take care of yourselves," she said before taking a sip of her coffee. "This cafe-cum-bar is owned by our classmate at school." She gestured towards Iruka who was listening to their conversation with interest. "He's Umino Iruka. His parents died a few years ago during the war, and they left their shop to him. He's been doing a great job running it so far. If you need a place to go to, or just to talk, just come here, okay? I'm sure that Iruka won't mind, would you?" Iruka shook his head, smiling a pleasant smile at Shiki, Hinata and Neji. "We're usually here during the nights as we go to the high school here. This shop is also usually opened in late afternoons."
"T-Thank you…" whispered Hinata, and Kurenai smiled a motherly smile at the blue-haired girl.
Asuma sighed. "I don't know what's wrong with the former ANBU Chief as well," he said, grumbling something below his breath. "My old man and his student are left with a fine mess to clean up. And they've been doing it for years!"
"Asuma's father is the current ANBU Chief," explained Genma, seeing Shiki's curious look. "After the war ended a few years ago, the former ANBU Chief and the ANBU commander were kicked out of office and executed by the High Council. Asuma's father – Sarutobi Hizuren – was appointed the new ANBU Chief, and his student, Senju Tsunade, was appointed the new ANBU commander. But they're left with a fine mess to clean up as their predecessors did a fine job at running the country and the ANBU." He said sarcastically.
ANBU is an organisation that protects the law and order of this country. Japan also has a High Council which rarely takes charge of things, preferring to allow the leaders of the ANBU to run things. The only time when the sixteen members of the High Council take control of things is when they feel that things are escalating out of control, or when they feel that the leaders of the ANBU are corrupted, or when it's wartime. As such, to prevent corruption from taking place within the High Council, the High Council has a strict member rule in which the members of the High Council will be switched every four years, and the former members of the High Council will choose their successors, and a strict screening process and background check will be performed on each member by the Intelligence HQ.
The ANBU commander, on the other hand, takes charge of the ANBU agents, which main headquarters is located at Leaf City, the capital city of Japan, along with the ANBU Academy – a special school used to train potential and aspiring future ANBU agents who were scouted by various ANBU scouts.
The ANBU Chief's office, on the other hand, is located at the Intelligence HQ at Wind City – the High Council and the Japan government's headquarters. ANBU also has a special prison which is mainly used to execute high profile criminals, and said prison is located at Mist Isle, an island used during the last Great War two decades ago to imprison the prisoners-of-war. Now, it's mainly used to imprison high profile criminals or for execution.
"By the way, I've heard some things from my old man," said Asuma seriously, stirring his coffee, and everyone turned towards him. "He said something about Orochimaru acting up again."
All the teens in the shop froze, and Shiki froze. She remembered this name as Jiraiya had mentioned this name to her in passing when she had asked him about the man who did that to her when Jiraiya was taking care of her a few years ago in Hagako.
"Who's Orochimaru?" asked Neji curiously, and all the teens turned towards him.
Shizune exchanged glances with Genma before turning towards Neji. "He's…a monster," said Shizune. "He prided himself on being a scientist and researcher, and conducted various illegal experiments which resulted in several people's deaths. He used to be one of Asuma's father's old students when he was in college. Sarutobi-sama's other two students were Senju Tsunade and Jiraiya—" Shiki gave a soft gasp which went unnoticed. "—Tsunade-sama is now one of the world's greatest medics, and the current ANBU commander, whilst Jiraiya-sama is Japan's greatest spy and espionage expert. Both Tsunade-sama and Orochimaru majored in the medical and research field when they later went to the ANBU Academy after college, and Jiraiya choose to major in the espionage field. We don't know what happened, but what we do know is that Orochimaru went mad, and conducted illegal experiments. He was exiled and was supposedly put on death row, but he somehow managed to escape. After that, we heard from Jiraiya-sama that Orochimaru has several major contacts in the underworld, and he vanished not long after. He's currently Japan's number one criminal."
Hayate snorted in disgust. "He doesn't value human lives at all!" he said, nearly crushing his cup in his hand. "Anko nearly died at his hands because of his experiments! She was lucky that we managed to find her in time, or she would have died!"
"Orochimaru…let's just say that he has an unhealthy obsession with nin-users and their abilities," said Yugao, glancing at the three children. "Before he turned rogue and gone mad, it was known that he was obsessed with nin abilities and was trying to figure out how the nin-users got their abilities in the first place. It was not long after that he went mad. Several nin-users died at his hands too…most of them were A-class to B-class nin-users."
Nin-users were also ranked accordingly to exactly how powerful they are. Neji, Shiki and Hinata were all A-class nin-users, though because they are still young, and their powers are still growing, they're bound to reach at least S-class once they reached maturity. Neji's power was the power over barriers. He can cast a defensive barrier, an offensive barrier, and even a time barrier to freeze time. Hinata's power was to control water, and she can heal as long as there's water as well.
Shiki's power was a little complicated. She has the power over runic spells…though whether or not that has to do to the fact that she's part-German, she has yet to know. And she has some power in casting time barriers – freezing or going back in time within the barrier – and she also has some power over the five elements and some mind abilities. Though whether those abilities were originally hers or given to her by the experiments that a certain snake had performed on her was unknown.
"Anyway, my old man was telling me that there were rumours that he had been sighted in this town," said Asuma seriously, and everyone froze. "That's why there were hardly anyone about outside, and why all the shops were closing early recently."
"Now that you mention it…" frowned Iruka. "I hadn't seen Gaara, Temari and Kankuro about for some time now."
Shizune blinked and turned towards her. "The three orphans that you sometimes give free food to?" she questioned.
Iruka nodded. "They were nin-users as well," he added, glancing towards Shiki's direction. "A-class, by the looks of things. Gaara has complete control over sand, able to create and control it as he wish. Temari, his older sister has control over wind in which she can even listen to the messages that the wind tells her. Kankuro's power is a little like Gaara's. But he can only control sand and manipulate the earth of his surroundings. He cannot create it out of nothing like how Gaara and Temari could. Their parents were killed during the last war, and they have no relatives that could take care of them. I found them on the streets about three years ago when Gaara, the youngest among the three, was down with a serious fever, and all three were starving. I took care of them, and I told them that if they couldn't find any food, they're always welcomed here."
Yugao frowned. "When's the last time that you saw them, Iruka?" she asked.
Iruka frowned. "About five days ago, I think," he said slowly, trying to remember.
Asuma froze in mid-stir. "That's around the time when Orochimaru was rumoured to be sighted around here," he nearly whispered in shock, turning as pale as Neji's eyes. "You don't think…?"
"Where was Orochimaru last seen?!" Genma nearly demanded.
"On Fifth Street," said Asuma before fishing out his cellphone. "I'm telephoning my father. He needs to know about this…"
A bell tinkled somewhere in the shop, and all the teens present turned towards the seats where the three children were seated earlier, and all blinked simultaneously as they noticed that their seats were empty, and their raincoats were also gone. A few ryou notes were placed on the counter where they were seating at earlier to pay for their drinks.
Fifth Street; Hagako:
The rain was not letting up anytime soon as Shiki, Hinata and Neji arrived at Fifth Street. Inwardly, Shiki was glad for the rain as it meant that no one will be around to witness what they're about to do. The only lights visible in the street that they're currently standing in are the various street lamps all around the street.
Shiki turned towards Neji. "Do it."
Neji nodded before putting up his right hand which glowed blue, then, the street that they're standing in glowed blue as well, and it was like time was running backwards as various images appeared before it finally stopped, and the rain suddenly stopped in the areas where it's glowing blue.
The three children watched as the paperboy rode by on his bike, throwing out newspapers at the front doors of the various shops and houses. One landed by Shiki's foot, and she looked down only to see the words 'The Daily Times' written across the top in thick black cursive writing, and the headline news was 'Orochimaru Sighted!'
A large photograph of the mad scientist was visible on the front page, and Shiki privately thought to himself that he didn't even remotely look human or even sane as there was a crazed look in his eyes. His golden eyes were silted like that of a snake, and Shiki can see where Orochimaru got the name 'snake' from.
Light laughter sounded just then, and Shiki tore her eyes away from the newspaper and saw three children around their age running down the streets. The one at the front was a redhead around her age with pale green eyes, and wearing a simple black shirt and shorts, smiling slightly. A girl who seemed to be about two years older than him was running alongside him, her sandy-blonde hair tied up in four pigtails. A brunette boy with an angry scowl on his face was chasing after them.
"Stop right there, Gaara, Temari!" yelled the brunette boy.
"Your fault that you didn't wake up when we called you, Kankuro!" called the girl who was known as Temari.
Temari and Kankuro stopped running as they saw that their youngest brother had collided into a man wearing a smart suit, and he had fallen on his behind.
"Gaara!" called out Temari before she reached her brother, placing one arm around his shoulders. "Are you alright?"
"I-I'm sorry!" whimpered Gaara, looking at the man that he had bumped into with frightened eyes.
The man merely smirked, and three others exited out of the dark blue van that was parked by the side. "Amachi-sama, are these kids them?" asked one of them.
"A blonde, a brunette and a redhead…" mused Amachi, running an appraising eye over the three children. "Seems to be. It's them alright. Get them!"
"Gaara!" yelped Temari as one of the men grabbed her brother, and she bit down on that offending hand. Hard. "Let go of my brother, you son of a bitch!"
"My, my, what language," sneered Amachi. "Knock them out."
The three men then placed gas masks over their faces, with Amachi putting on one as well before one of them brought out a canister before spraying some unknown substance at the three children who were struggling to get away before they were knocked out almost instantly.
"Got the package," said Amachi, removing the mask. "Orochimaru-sama will be pleased. Back to base! At the old abandoned warehouse at Sixteenth Street!"
Neji let the time barrier fell, and time started flowing normally once more. Hinata and Neji looked at each other before glancing as one at Shiki who had an unreadable expression on her face, but to anyone who knew her, they knew that she's extremely pissed off.
"Let's go," said Shiki before walking down the street.
"Where are we going?" asked Hinata as they struggled to keep up with Shiki's fast strides. The redhead may not look it, but she can be extremely fast when she wants to. "Aren't you going to telephone the ANBU?"
"The day that I call the ANBU for help is the day when the sun rises from the west," spat Shiki. "No. We're going to save those three ourselves. We know where they are. And I doubt that anyone will be in with those three right now…with this horrible weather."
"But how are we going to deal with any attackers if there are any?" asked Neji. "We don't have guns or any weapons!"
Shiki sighed. "You're a nin-user, Neji," she said with exasperation. "Use your powers!"
Only one problem…
…which one is it?
Shiki nearly groaned to herself as the three looked up and down at the several warehouses lining this part of town. In the past, this used to be the factory district during the war, but after the war ended, the warehouses used to produce food and weaponry were abandoned, and this area was thus closed off.
Shiki glanced at Neji. "Neji, can you?"
Neji nodded before his right hand glowed blue once more, and he cast the time barrier, and time started flowing backwards before coming to a stop. Out of nowhere, a dark blue van – the same one that they had seen earlier – screeched to a stop outside the warehouse three warehouses down from where they were currently standing, and Amachi stepped out of the van, entering the warehouse. The three men with him each followed him, an unconscious child under one arm each.
Neji let the time barrier fell, and the three exchanged looks.
Shiki clenched her hands into fists, and even though Neji would never admit it, even he felt angry at what Orochimaru had ordered on those three. Shiki looked at her two friends. "Let's go," she said before leading the way towards the warehouse that Orochimaru had claimed as his base.
Lightning flashed across the sky, lighting up the pitch black sky for a moment before fading.
The rain was getting heavier by the minute as the pitter-patter of the sounds of the raindrops on the rooftop and the windows of the boathouse could attest to that. Hinata and Neji were currently in one of the four bedrooms of the boathouse, tending to the injuries of the three that they had broken out of the warehouse aka Orochimaru's lab less than two hours ago.
It was surprisingly easy.
Shiki was right; there were only two guards standing guard which was easily taken out by a punch to the gut by one (Neji), and a quick karate chop to the neck by another (Shiki). They had found the three whom they were looking for strapped to operating tables in the lab, and had quickly freed them before Neji, Shiki and Hinata had carried them on their backs all the way to their boathouse.
Shiki had then sent off a message by falcon mail by the falcon that Neji and Hinata always see hanging around Shiki even from the first time that they've met her, muttering something about contacting her godfather.
After that, the three then tended to the injuries that the three whom they had rescued had sustained. Shiki had said that they weren't really injured…in the physical sense, that is. And for the life of them, Neji and Hinata couldn't figure out what Shiki had meant…until now.
Neji and Hinata watched in horror as sand started forming out of nowhere before covering half of that Gaara kid's body, and he gave out an inhumane howl whilst still unconscious, the sand slowly giving his body a monster's appearance, and the eye on the deformed side of his body opened, and Neji's heart nearly stopped as he saw a golden star-shaped eye as the iris.
Neji turned his head towards his cousin only to see what she is looking at in horror. The girl, Temari, she was seemingly floating in mid-air, an inch above the bed, winds were whirling around her, causing cuts into her body, tearing apart the bandages that Hinata had applied onto her before Neji quickly cast a defensive barrier around her body to prevent Temari from hurting herself, though he knew that the barrier won't hold for long.
The brunette boy – Kankuro – sand was slowly starting to gather around his left arm, slowly hardening before it took on the form of a gauntlet.
Throughout these transformations, Hinata and Neji were watching in horror. Just what did Orochimaru did to them for that matter?! What are they going to do to save them?! What is going on here?!
The door to the room which they were in swung opened just then, and Hinata and Neji saw Shiki, looking on grimly at the three.
"I know," interrupted Shiki, not taking her eyes off Gaara, Temari and Kankuro. "I was worried that this might happen." She turned towards Neji. "…Neji. I want you to freeze time temporarily with one of your time barriers. Can you do it?"
Neji nodded. "No problem. And I see that you knew what is going on."
Shiki nodded. "I'll explain later. Freezing time can only give them enough time for their nin-abilities to kick in and start healing themselves whilst I try to reverse the mutation process." Shiki walked over to Temari, ignoring the cuts on her hands as she moved Temari to the bed next to Gaara. "Hinata, help me move Kankuro to the bed next to Gaara!"
Hinata and Neji then watched as Shiki formed a single hand sign – her left hand had the palm turned upwards and her right hand had the base of her wrist resting atop her left palm, her middle and index fingers pointing upwards, the rest of her fingers closed. A red runic circle formed beneath Shiki's feet before the runic circle expanded, slowly forming on the beds that the three were lying on, and a faint red glow covered them.
"Rückwärtszähler. (Reversing Flow)" Shiki spoke in the German tongue, and the glow around the bodies of the three brightened.
"W-What is going on?" asked Hinata, one hand shielding the glare of the glow.
"Mutation Process," said Shiki, her eyes closed, and her hands still in the same sign that she used to form the runic circle. Even now, as they watched, Hinata and Neji could see that whatever is happening to the three were slowly dying now. "It's a taboo experiment done on them…and one of the worse things that can happen to a nin-user."
"Mutation…Process…?" echoed Neji. "What is that?"
"Like what it sounds like. The mutation of a nin-user's abilities," said Shiki before the sand on Gaara and Kankuro's bodies fell and vanished and the wind around Temari's body died away, and the glow faded. Shiki opened her eyes and the runic circle vanished, panting slightly. "Looks like they'll be alright. We barely made it in time to reverse the process."
"What is that?" asked Hinata.
Shiki sighed. "From what it looks like, Orochimaru had been working on the mutation of the abilities of the nin-users. In other words, he's forcibly trying to strengthen the abilities of the nin-users."
Neji frowned. "Is that a good or a bad thing?"
"Bad," said Shiki with a sigh. "The abilities of nin-users were innate abilities…in-born abilities, in other words, we were born with it. We have to learn how to control our abilities as time goes by. And when our bodies are strong enough, our abilities grow stronger. However, if our abilities are forced to grow stronger, it can and will result in mutation…like what happened to them." Shiki glanced at the sleeping forms of the three. "But if a normal human was experimented on and given nin-abilities…I don't even want to imagine what will happen to them. There is a nine out of ten chance that it will fail and backfire drastically. In the worst case scenario, they will die. And if not, they won't even look human."
Shiki sighed, glancing at Gaara, Temari and Kankuro.
"The same thing happened to me once a long time ago…even before I met you guys," said Shiki, much to Hinata and Neji's horror. "This stays in this room. I don't want anyone else knowing, is that clear?" Hinata and Neji nodded dumbly. "Orochimaru was the one who did that mutation process to me. But it backfired…miserably. I have runic abilities. And runic abilities are the one thing that can reverse the results of a mutation process. But it can't always work. If the mutation is too far gone, not even runic abilities can reverse the process."
"That's horrible…" whispered Hinata, both hands covering her mouth. "How can anyone do that…?"
"That is why mutation process is one of the worse things that can happen to a nin-user," said Shiki grimly, glancing at Hinata and Neji. "If by some sheer miracle, a nin-user manages to survive the mutation process, even then, they're only delaying the inevitable. The mutation will destroy their body from the inside-out. The increasing of the nin-user's abilities forcibly will place a huge burden on their bodies, and in the end…there are only three things that can happen to them."
"And…what are they?" asked Neji carefully.
"The first…is death," said Shiki grimly. "The second…they will turn mad. And the last one…is the worst thing that can happen to a nin-user. They'll turn into abominations. Not human, yet not demon either. Nothing more than monsters. They'll lose their senses and any of their personality. To that end, even death is better than what will happen to them."
"No…way…" whispered Neji, his eyes wide with horror at what might happen to the three that they had just rescued if they had been any later. He can now see why Shiki didn't want to waste any time rescuing them.
Shiki sighed. "That's exactly why the ANBU issued a kill on sight order for Orochimaru," she said. "Because what he did is beyond human reasoning! And anyone who associates themselves with Orochimaru will be executed without a trial, no questions asked. This is the will of the High Council and the ANBU Chief themselves."
A slight groan caused the three to turn around and saw Gaara starting to stir, and Temari and Kankuro followed soon after.
"Are you alright?" asked Hinata with concern, as the three sat up, one hand to their heads, and looking around, blinking in confusion.
"Where is this? Who are you?" asked Gaara in a half croaked voice.
"Calm down. Do you remember what had happened?"
Gaara frowned. "I remember…that Amachi bastard… He took us to some lab…experimenting on us… What happened then?"
"We managed to get you out of that lab," said Shiki. "And barely made it in time to reverse the mutation process done on you." The faces of the three paled in terror. "Don't worry. You're all right."
"Thank you…" said Temari. "Eto…"
"Shiki," said Shiki. "Namikaze Shiki."
"I'm Hyuuga Hinata," said Hinata.
"Nice to meet you," said Temari with a slight bow. "I'm Temari. These two are my brothers. The redhead is Gaara, and the other is Kankuro."
"Nice to meet you," said Shiki. She then sighed and looked at the three. "What are you three going to do now? No doubt that Orochimaru will be on the hunt for you."
"We don't know…"
Shiki exchanged glances with Hinata and Neji who nodded, and she sighed inwardly. No matter what she said otherwise, Fate seems to love playing with her, and sent a few others her way as her friends.
"Would you like to come along?"