Naomi wakes up in a room full of people. The air is cool and smells of rain, which she can also hear pitter pattering on the roof. A strange sweet scent lingers in it as well, noticeable but not quite cloying. Her left eye hurts like crazy, worse than the time she got pinkeye as a child. There's something wrong, she can tell immediately. Her vision in that eye seems to be much sharper and when she sits up she can see the chakra networks of the people sitting there. She's been lying on a rough mat flanked by two pots containing incense sticks. At the other end of the long room sits an old grey haired woman atop an elevated podium on a large pillow. Naomi squints her left eye shut and stares.
Twelve people sit on their knees in two rows facing each other, thereby forming a sort of narrow alley leading to the old woman. They all wear loose white yukata or kimonos. The old woman's presence makes them fade into the background. Her one visible sharp grey eye is almost unbearably intense, while the left one is hidden below a black eyepatch. She's got her hair pulled up into a strict bun and the severe frown lines on her face seem deep as craters in the candlelight given off by two huge wax candles on each side of the podium. She's wearing loose red pants and a white wrap tunic. Both of her wrinkly hands are resting on a gnarled walking cane in front of her.
There's something she's supposed to do in a situation like this. Naomi glances down at her left wrist. There's a small tattoo depicting a line across her wrist with two dots above and below the line. It is a seal tattoo given to her by her father on the day she graduated from the Academy. He said it was a Kusakawa traditional symbol and explained its meaning. A Kusakawa would rather die before they betray the village. It is her holy duty to activate the seal before her captors can interrogate her. Her heart is hammering against her ribs and she bites down on the corner of her lower lip, drawing blood.
"What are you going to do?" The old woman asks.
Her voice is dry as dust and cold like snow. Naomi's eyes flick towards her. That unyielding, merciless eye seems to drill into her very soul. Death before betrayal. Only.. She thinks of Orochimaru. He'd never forgive her. Naomi swallows dryly. She wants to see him again. He's all that matters. Screw the village. Adrenaline shoots into her system. Thirteen people in total. Six of which are not trained for combat. She can take them. She has to if she wants to get out of here alive. Seeing the love of her life again is all that matters. Naomi jumps to her feet, makes a handsign in the same motion and grabs the two shadow clone scalpels that appear from thin air with both hands. She narrows her eyes and gets into position.
The old crone laughs, an unpleasant barking sound. Some of the twelve people look a little uncomfortable and shift on their knees, but they keep their heads bowed. Screw them, then. They're not going to stop her. Naomi eyes the paper walls of the traditional room and inches to the right.
"Ah, I bet Eiichiro would be disappointed."
Naomi stops and gives her an uncertain look. The crone grins sharply.
"What did he tell you, girl? To kill yourself upon capture? So why are you ready to fight?"
Her brows twitch in shock and confusion, but she doesn't lower her weapons. "How do you know my father?"
"Because he's my son," she replies with a huff.
Naomi's jaw drops. "What?!"
"I'm not surprised he never told you. He always was a weakling," she snorts derisively.
What? How is this possible? "You gotta be kidding me."
"I see you're not defending him, so you know it's true. He's weak and blinded by all his romantic fucking bullshit ideals."
"What?" She says again in utter disbelief. "Does that.. does that mean you're my.. grandma?!"
"My contacts claim that you are smart," she says with a dismayed look. "So close your fucking mouth, girl."
Her jaw snaps shut at the harsh reprimand. Contacts? "What the fuck? What contacts? In Konoha?!"
"I have contacts all over the world, so yes," the old lady says condescendingly. "I've had you watched, girl. After all you're going to be my successor."
Naomi blinks, feeling absolutely stunned. "What?"
"Can you say anything other than "What" like some sort of gibbering fucking idiot?" The crone barks, making her flinch.
Naomi's eyes narrow. "Excuse me, but what the fuck kind of drugs are you on, old hag?!"
"That's more like it," the old woman says with a mean little grin. "Aren't you curious about what all this is about?"
"I bet you're gonna tell me anyway."
"Correct. You're in the central shrine of the Kusakawa clan compound. We're old, we're rich and we run things in this town. Get in our way and there's no place on this motherfucking earth where we won't find you."
"Oh believe me, we are. You ever seen that fucking wet sock Hanzo? Without our money he isn't worth shit."
"H-Hanzo the Salamander?!"
"Correct," she says with a wolfish grin. "All the strings connect to us. There's not a single richer clan on the goddamn planet. You know why?"
"It's all in here," she says and points to her eyepatch. "The Night Eye. Our curse and blessing."
"It's a kekkai genkai," she concludes.
"A dojutsu, but not one of the three big ones. It stems from a different source. That doesn't make it any less powerful."
"What can it do?"
"Whatever you want it to. Now put your knives away and let's talk. You're not going anywhere."
"You think so?" She growls, angry at being talked down to.
"The Eye has already awakened in you. One of the drawbacks is that you can't leave Amegakure or you'll die."
"No way. That can't be true!" Naomi stammers with wide eyes.
"If you leave the city limits the Eye will drain your chakra to sustain itself until there's nothing left and then you're gone."
"What kind of horseshit is that! This is the stupidest fucking lie I've ever been told! I'm getting out of here."
"I wouldn't recommend it. When a Night Eye dies they die. They can't be brought back. Whether through jutsu or reincarnation. You'll simply be gone."
Naomi stops right in front of the rice paper sliding door with her hand on the handle. No. No way. She never wanted this. Her gut lurches at the thought of never seeing Orochimaru again. There has to be a way around this! She glances at the crone and narrows her eyes.
"Fine. Let's talk."
"I knew you'd see reason," the old hag huffs and gets up.
She's maybe about half her size, so absolutely tiny. Her presence makes her look like a giant, though. She walks through the row of people and joins her at the door.
Naomi slides the door open. Immediately a cold breeze blows into her face and the sound of rain is overwhelmingly loud. It's pouring outside. Beyond the roofed engawa she can see a large compound of dark grey buildings with small, brightly lit windows. There are raised stepping boards above the muddy wet ground. Dark clouds cast the entire place in perpetual gloom, only interspersed by large oil lamps.
"This is where you belong," the hag says and slowly makes her way down the engawa.
Naomi follows her, overwhelmed by the sight of a completely unfamiliar climate.
"I prefer sunny weather," she replies stubbornly.
"Though shit," the old hag snorts. "Better get comfortable with rain, cause it always rains here."
"That's depressing. Is that why you're so mean?"
"No, it's because I'm surrounded by fucking morons all day long."
"Tough," Naomi growls.
The old hag laughs again and shoots her a look. "I like you. The only worthwhile thing my idiot son has ever done was create you."
"Why do you hate my father so much?" Naomi asks, feeling mildly defensive and crosses her arms.
"He's a fool. The Amegakure central bank has been in our hand since the village was founded. By our ancestor! He thought it distasteful to become the next CEO," she sneers. "Said he's rather do something worthwhile, like saving people's lives. Bah. Ever since he was little he's had his head full of ideals. He always romanticised the shinobi lifestyle."
Naomi thinks back to all the times her father said they were a shinobi clan, that they should establish themselves amongst the Konohan clans.
"He never mentioned you."
"No. Because I told him that we're not that. We are bankers, lawyers, loan sharks, politicians and diplomats. If some meathead wants to become a ninja so badly they can, but not if they're main family," she says and points her thumb at herself. "From my line. He's never made a single choice that made sense. Like marrying that woman from a dying, dirt poor clan."
"My mother? She's from a shinobi clan?!" Naomi gapes at her back.
"It fit right into his little fantasy that he built for himself. That woman is as dumb as a box of bricks and has the spirit of a dead horse. You should have seen her quiver when I looked at her. Worthless. I told him not to do it, but he wanted to connect himself to that family of 'noble shinobi'. Nevermind the fact that they were dying out because they're idiot cannon fodder with little skill. The only reason they survived to this day is because they bred like rabbits."
Naomi swallows hard and ducks her head at this barrage of scorn. No wonder her father never mentioned that old hag with a single breath. She's fucking mean.
"Okay so you hate my dad. What does that have to do with me?"
"I recieved a vision, because that is one of the gifts of the Night Eye. In this vision I saw that you were destined to be the Ninth Night Eye and my successor as leader of the clan."
"I told Eiichiro as much and asked him to hand you over so I could train you properly," she replies and shoots her a dismayed look. "Unfortunately he chose that day to finally grow a pair and, in a startlingly infantile act of teenage rebellion, he took his family and fled. To Konoha of all places. If he'd truly wanted to hide he should've chosen bumfuck nowhere in one of the smaller countries, but I imagine he wanted to mingle with actual ninja clans."
"I'm not surprised he left," Naomi retorts dryly.
"Hn," she snorts with amusement. "Did he ever look you in the eye, girl?"
Naomi blinks. "Huh?"
"For longer than a few seconds, I mean."
She bites the inside of her cheek and glances away. The hag nods her head.
"Did he beat you?"
She sucks in a sharp breath and tenses. This is not good. "No. He didn't."
"But those two meathead boys of his did," the hag states confidently and nods again.
"How did you.."
"Because they're idiots, just like him," she cuts in. "Fodder. Weaklings with the nasty temper so prevalent in the males of their mother's clan."
"Is it?" Naomi asks in a small voice.
"So what else? Were you isolated within your family? Made to feel dumb?"
Naomi looks at the ground and nods mutely. Those horrible years of her childhood flash by her inner eye. If it wasn't for Orochimaru...
"They said it was my eyes," she whispers. "I'm the only one.. with.."
"Eyes like mine, obviously," the hag says quietly.
She nods again. Feels strangely desolate now that the one good thing she's ever had is out of reach. Suddenly a horrible thought hits her. He'll know! He'll wonder where she is and then he'll hear...
"I remember having a sword stabbed through my skull!" She says and looks up with wide eyes.
It's going to fuck him up. Acute fear and worry begin to gnaw at her insides with acid teeth. He'll do something stupid! She can't stay here, she has to let him know she's alive before he-
"Hm? Why are you getting twitchy?" The hag eyes her curiously.
"I can't stay here," Naomi rushes out tensely. "There's.. I have to let him know I'm alive! I can't stay..."
"You can't leave either," the hag says. "Slow down."
She buries her face in her hand and trembles. "I have a boyfriend. He'll.. If he hears what happened he'll.. Can't I send a message to him?! I have to tell him I'm alive."
"Send a message? To a country we're at war with? That'd be a terrible waste of a courier," the hag replies. "He'll either be killed or thrown into prison. You wouldn't get an answer back either way."
"It's not about getting an answer! He just has to know I'm alive or he'll kill himself!" Naomi yells.
"Ohhh," the hag drawls and raises a brow. "That serious, huh?"
"Yes!" She yells in despair.
"It's a shame, but that is the destiny of a Night Eye. To be tested over and over, to live a life full of misery and sacrifices, all in the name of being hammered into a tougher kind of steel. For only the strong deserve to bear this gift."
"I never asked for this! I can't.. I can't go on if he dies," Naomi says weakly and stares at her in despair.
"You will, don't worry. The Night Eye won't let you die," the hag says and turns away. "Not until you've made a grandchild to pass the torch on to."
"Don't you understand what it means to love someone?!" She yells furiously at her back.
"I do. Now shut up, people are sleeping."
The old hag whips around surprisingly fast and in the space of a blink she suddenly has the tip of her walking cane pointed between her eyes. Naomi freezes and her eyes widen in surprise.
"I will not tolerate disrespect," she says flatly. "From no one, family or not. If you think I'm too old to rip your head off and shit down your neck you got another thing coming."
Naomi swallows hard. She doesn't doubt it. The hag nods and removes her walking cane. The spot where she'd been pressing it smarts. Naomi rubs her forehead and frowns unhappily. There's no way she can let this happen.
"Tell me about this Night Eye."
"It's a long story. Are you sure you have the time?" She drawls sarcastically.
"Please," Naomi says through gritted teeth.
She has to figure out how to get out of here and quickly, after all.
They walk around the shrine to another set of elevated walking plants with a roof over them that lead into a cave in the cliff behind the shrine. Naomi has to watch her feet so as to not misstep and end up falling off. The inside of the cave smells dank. It's dark, but once they walk inside electrical torches on the walls start to light up one by one. At the very back of the cave is a large black cat statue. It looks crude and ancient. There's a mysterious power radiating from it. They walk in front of it and look up. The sitting cat looks rather regal and its left eye is missing. There's just an empty socket in its place. An unpleasant shiver goes down her spine.
"What is this?" She asks quietly.
"Izanami," the old hag murmurs reverently. "An ancient forgotten goddess. It is here where our clan's ancestor, Kusakawa Ieyasu, recieved the Night Eye."
"Ieyasu was a warlord hundreds of years ago. He lived and breathed war. Fighting was his greatest joy. He was a man of great stamina and intellect and it was said he could go on fighting for three days straight if he had to. In his little free time he was a gambler and hustler," she says with a small laugh. "He decided to wrest this land from the Land of Fire's control and claim it for himself. One day he was mortally wounded in battle with a powerful enemy from the Land of Fire. Cursing his luck he retreated and sought shelter in this very cave, where he found this statue. Even back then no one knew Izanami anymore and the shrine laid abandoned. He rested his back against the feet of the statue and tried to patch himself up, but eventually realized that he was dying. Upon realizing it, he began to loudly lament that he could not go on fighting. He regretted it from the bottom of his heart in utmost sincerety. That was when Izanami spoke to him. She offered to save his life if he swore that he would build a shrine in her honor and that he and all his descendants become her loyal worshippers."
Naomi eyes the statue. There's something unsettling about it. She feels like she's being watched.
"As Ieyasu was by his very nature a gambler, he somehow tricked the goddess into giving him her left eye instead of the rock he was told to put there. Izanami was not to be fooled, however. She placed a curse on him that bound him to the land which he coveted so. As he was now unable to leave the Land of Rain, as he called his new home, he instead set to founding a clan and building a village of equally warlike individuals. That was what eventually became Amegakure. They successfully fought off any invaders and permanently solidified their hold on this land."
"I see," Naomi mutters and stares at the statue. "That's an interesting story. Do you think it's true?"
"What I think doesn't matter. The fact is this, that the Night Eye is the gift that keeps on giving."
"Hnn. Dealing with you youngsters is so tiresome," she grumbles. "It is said that it seeks out those that are worthy. In practice it means that it skips a generation. Each new Night Eye adds something to its abilities. Ieyasu was a gambler. He added to it that Nigh Eyes are more lucky than the average person. The Second Night eye, Goro, was a tough son of a bitch, so he added to it extraordinary stamina. The Third, Fuuka, was a woman of extraordinary willpower. She wanted to test its limits and refused to marry. According to our history tablets she lived for three hundred years before she passed it on. Her addition was the ability to gather large quantities of chakra and store them. Yada yada yada. To make it short, we are lucky, tough, able to store chakra, able to see chakra networks, to impose our will upon weak minds, to catch glimpses of the future, strong and have a good nose for deals. Those are the gifts. You're going to add one of your own eventually."
"That's a lot to take in," Naomi frowns and pinches the bridge of her nose. "Anything else?"
"The Night Eye refuses to die," she says and suddenly flips her eyepatch up.
Her left eye is wholly black, like the space between the stars. No pupils, no scleras, nothing. Naomi tenses in surprise. There are five small white dots arranged in a circle where her pupil would normally be.
"You start off with nine white dots, representing a cat's nine lives. Each time you die, one spot disappears. You don't really die, by the way. It brings you back from death's doorstep."
"What happens when you reach zero?"
"I don't know. No Night Eye has ever been that pathetic," the old woman grunts. "As you can see, I made four unpopular choices in my life."
Naomi can't tell whether she's kidding or not, so she remains quiet.
"You're going to remain young and fertile until your children have a child that is a viable Night Eye."
"What happens if that child dies?"
"Well, I'd assume that you become young again."
Naomi narrows her eyes. "Don't try anything funny, old hag."
"Idiot. That's a sacrilege. A Night Eye is chosen by Izanami. When we die, our souls go to her. That's why we cannot be brought back. Her domain is outside the natural cycle. I can only imagine the tortures she would bestow upon me if I killed you and I don't intend to spend eternity in total anguish."
"Good to know," Naomi mutters.
Her mind is running a mile an hour, trying to parse all this information. Something occurs to her. "Why was I stabbed, by what I assume were your guys, by the way?"
"When a Night Eye candidate dies for the first time, it awakens. Unfortunately neither the explosion nor the fall killed you, so one of my special operatives I had watching the whole thing used Ieyasu's blade. Any old kunai would've done, but it's become somewhat of a tradition to awake Night Eye with it," the hag shrugs and grins wolfishly. "We put a lot of effort into extracting you from Konoha. You were supposed to die one way or another."
"Damn, that's ruthless," Naomi mutters before she looks at her with a pleading expression. "Is there really no way to leave this place?!"
"Hmm," the hag hums thoughtfully. "It is written that old Fuuka managed to leave this country for almost a year."
"By saving up chakra to feed the Night Eye outside of the Land of Rain."
"She lived for three hundred years, girl."
"I have to know!"
"About ten years of saving for one day outside the border."
"Fuck!" Naomi exclaims in despair. "I don't have that kind of time!"
"Tough. By now that lover of yours must have heard the news. He's probably already dead."
"No. I refuse to believe that!"
"You said that he'd kill himself. Is he really that pathetic? You should've chosen a more resilient partner."
"He's not pathetic," she growls and glares her down.
The old hag shrugs slowly with a sardonic grin. Naomi snorts angrily and glares at the statue instead. Fucking old curse bullshit! Her heart aches for Orochimaru. He's going to suffer horribly. Naomi prays with all her heart that he won't kill himself, though.
"He's smart," she says slowly. "Terrifyingly so. And sly. And stubborn. He won't believe I'm dead until he sees my corpse."
"Hm hm," the old hag nods.
"No corpse, no death," she murmurs. "Maybe he won't...."
"Yes, yes, try to rationalize it," the old woman sighs deeply. "You've got a lot more training ahead and we're going to start immediately. I don't have that much time left."
"Huh?" Naomi blinks at her.
The old woman points at her left eye. "I hear Izanami calling me. Before I go, you have to learn all you can if you're going to run this nest of vipers."
Naomi gulps and nods hesitantly. "I really don't have a choice, do I?"
"I hate rhetorical questions," the old woman says as she walks past her out of the cave.
Naomi has a very unpleasant feeling about all of this. She's trapped here with a family she didn't know about, with an old hag of a grandmother, with no way to contact Orochimaru until the war is over. She's going to test if she really can't pass across the border as soon as the hag's back is turned, of course. Naomi just has a really bad feeling that she's not bullshitting her. Please Oro-kun, she thinks desperately as they walk back into the house, please just hold on!