Disclaimer: I do not own anything Inuyasha or Naruto related. The only thing I own is the plot.
Chapter 1: Seed and Desert
'A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.'
- Matthew -
The first time Kagome Higurashi awoke in the new world, her throat was parched dry, her nose burned, and her skin came to the point where they almost crackled under the full weight of the desert sun. From her eyes, still dazed, she saw nothing but endless sand dunes and the white glare of incoming heat mirage. From her ears, she heard nothing but the howling wind playing without pause on the backdrop of an infinite silence, the likes of which she was sure could only be found in the depths of the earth and far into the deep wilderness where no man dared tread.
In the first five seconds of their meeting, face to face, this new nameless world had already shown her how harsh it could be, and how tough it would be, and Kagome—for she was never one to complain nor lament about her usually less than stellar state of affairs—in reply simply got up… no… struggled and crawled because at that point her body was already too dehydrated and she herself had grown too weak to actually sit up, stand, and walk away and out of the desert.
The sand was under her, in the space between her fingers, sprinkled on her browning skin and falling in the folds of her clothes and shoes, hot from the sun and uncomfortable in their countless grains. Eventually, after some fumbling and an infinite amount of struggling, she managed to reach her backpack. Her water bottle was in the side mesh pocket and from it, her strength came back in cool rivulets of water down her throat, inside and out, into her shirt, dampening her skin.
She saw droplets of water on the sand, being sucked into the bottomless desert sea, and with the first of her returning courage, yanked her mouth away from the bottle and stoppered it tight. Her throat burned and cried out for more—water, life, sustenance, relief and escape from this burning hell on earth—but she put her foot down.
She would need to save up the little that remained, sloshing wonderfully inside the clear plastic Camelbak bottle, for the trek ahead. Licking her dry and gradually chapping lips, she fumbled some more with the zippers on the backpack and from them withdrew a jacket, her school baseball cap, and a spare of Sango's facemask. She wet the facemask with a cupped handful of water, then she put them on, shouldered her backpack, and, with great difficulty, crawled slowly away from the clear open space of blasting sun and towards a rock jutting in the distance. In its shade, she found temporary relief from the heat, and there she slept fitfully until the sun set; the heat bleeding out from the sandy ground and the cold of desert night starting to creep along her skin. Then and only then did she fully wake up, eat her first bite of tasteless granola bar in this world, and start to find her way out of the desert.
It was never going to be easy, this she knew. And while she had some preparation from the countless wilderness survival books she had gobbled up for her trek across Feudal Japan, surviving and escaping a desert terrain—whether she had knowledge of it or not—was never a hundred percent guaranteed with success.
She walked during the night and rested in the shade during the day. She forced herself to walk slowly, conserving her strength and her will for the long days ahead. She ate slowly and in little bites, never allowing herself to progress to complete fullness. It took water, a lot of water, for the body to process food. A full stomach meant that her limited water supply would last her nowhere near as long they would if she forced herself to go regularly hungry.
So she ate, but just enough to fuel the body, never enough so that the gnawing of her stomach completely disappeared and took with it precious water that could be used to sustain her for longer. A fine balance game.
Her water bottle lasted for a full two days, after which she started digging solar stills around her shade in the day to harvest the moisture from the earth and from her own piss.
Gross, and not something the old Kagome would do without giving up some grouses and stressing out over hours better spent on surviving, but she wanted to live, and the business of living in a world where creature comforts of modernity could never reach was usually an unsavory business.
In the day, when the sun wasn't frying anything outside of shade or not made of stone, dirt, and sand, she foraged along the path of dried up riverbeds, adding moss and weeds and small burnt leaves to her stock of dried jerkies, cup ramen (which came near the point of being useless here because while she could eat them raw, their high sodium content was a huge waste of water from her body), and granola bars.
She walked North, leaving little stone cairns behind in the dirt and the sand to mark where she had been, because North was where the wind came from and where the streaks left behind by dried up waterbeds pointed to. North, where there probably was still water, somewhere in the height, high in the stone plateaus where the earth hadn't been rendered infertile.
The days were long and the nights longer, and in between surviving, she found her thoughts wandering back to her friends, to the world and family she left behind. There were no tears to shed. She was long past what happened and even in the case that the pain proved too much, tears were a terrible waste of the increasingly shrinking amount of water inside of her and her water bottle. So she trudged on, days, nights.
Her light schoolgirl uniform and added track pants were a terrible match for the terrain and the weather but it was at least durable. She tried to preserve the shoes as best she could, not wanting to have to trek through the scotching by day and freezing by night vast expanse of lifeless sand, dirt and rock on nothing but bare feet, but they probably wouldn't last forever.
She stopped counting the days. The heat was giving her intense headaches and her lips dried to the point of bleeding at times. One day a sandstorm came without warning, or maybe it did come with warning but she was too blind, deaf, and ignorant to see it coming. She managed to survive, just barely, swimming in the waves of sand with only gulps of air in her lungs, abandoning her heavy backpack to fall into the fathomless depth of the desert. There went the stuffs she so painstakingly took with her but she had made do on less.
She cut her hair till they were up to her ears and just about covered her neck from daylight. They were getting in the way and she was starting to think about the nutritions that went to nurturing them instead of keeping her alive and moving. Maybe that was grasping for straws, but who knew? She was getting to the point where sand bugs made for a scrumptious meal.
Then the demons of the past started haunting the nights. The unbearable loneliness and infinite silence was getting to her she knew. The old Kagome would have withered. The old Kagome would rather go back to her friends even if she had to die to do so. This Kagome wanted to live… not for herself, no, even now she wasn't someone who could truly and fully live just for herself, but simply because she still had something to do. Something that could never be left unfinished.
A promise to keep. She had to live. Live and keep her words.
Then one morning they appeared on the horizon of her increasingly blurring vision, the unclear but definite shapes of man made constructs in the distance.
Crouching there, because she no longer had the strength to stand upright, on the stone ledge and looking at the vague shapes in the distance, that was her first time seeing the Village Hidden by Sand. She cried. Soaring joy and a bone deep sadness welling in her chest. It could have ended there in the heart of this yet nameless desert, but in the end Kagome Higurashi yet lived. The story that started when she was a fifteen years old teen girl at the mouth of a long abandoned well was not yet over. No. Not by a long shot.
In hindsight, it was stepping from one life-threatening desert into another, only they were life threatening in different ways, but then again, what difference did it make?
They threw her out once they were done.
In the story and on TVs, the lost protagonists were always taken in, clothed, fed, and cared for by the good village folks. How many books and Video Games had she played in which her character started out as the wandering bum in some scenic small name villages with people way too charitable to be real? Whoever heard of games or books or movies where it ended right in the first act/episode/tutorial level because the hero starved to death with zero penny in her torn and patched pockets… or thrown into the brigs and left to rot?
Apparently it was so in real life. Apparently it was so if the village in question was by all means a military outpost whose access was limited to only those with the proper papers and passes and its denizens traversed in a world where farfetched espionage schemes were an everyday affair. Apparently it was so if the heroine—in this case—wandered in through the gate looking like a lunatic with zero documentations on her body and did not even speak the local language.
Of course they took her in at first, at the gate where she pathetically crawled to them on all four. Deep in the desert as they were, they had had enough of their own people—children who didn't know better, the elderlies with diminishing senses, or the mentally deficient—getting lost out in the sands only to come wandering back months later to know gentleness and leniency was called for when a little no-name waif wrapped in week-old dirt and grime layers came crawling.
They put her in a closed-off ward in the hospital, cleaned her up and nursed her until she could talk… really talk and not just make unintelligible noises with the back of her tattered throat (the heat destroyed them on the second week, and afterwards, Kagome sometimes screamed to ward off the night demons). They checked her face and her fingerprints, took her blood and hair for testing. Once they were sure she wasn't any of their lost denizens that had gotten back home by sheer feats of tenacity and luck, they threw her into the interrogation chamber where their soldiers strapped her to an iron chair and their interrogators spent countless hours growling foreign threats to her face. And when even that couldn't yield anything new out of this obviously foreign crazy girl...
… they threw her out.
On the streets, in the night. They unlocked her shackles and escorted her through several stairs and way too many gates for her frazzled mind to remember until she was standing on this side of the door leading out to the village street. They gave her a bag, cast pitying looks—usually reserved for the suicidal or the mentally retarded—at her, pushed her out the door, and closed it.
She stood there in the streets, in nothing but her offwhite makeshift detention center garb, freezing in the cold desert night, for maybe a full minute as her mind came to terms.
She was lost, again, not even in time as she had done so years ago but in a completely different world. Lost and alone and tethered to this strange world with nothing but the strength of a promise. She may not be able to understand the language nor the people, but she had seen how different their world was—how different the people. She felt a quiver starting from her heart, spreading out to her limbs, to her throat, to her eyes, threatening to spill and break her already in tatters mind.
It would be very easy to end it all. She reminded herself. But suicide was, beyond anything else, an act of selfishness and barred from her by the strength of a promise. So she heaved the bag to her shoulder and started walking aimlessly into the night.
The next several weeks were… difficult to remember. A blur in her mind. A trance during which she could hardly recalled the details of.
Blue skies. Sand the color of burnt yellow. The wind, the moaning, howling, sometimes growling wind. Wind that filled in every second of maddening silence inside her head. Hours spent wandering aimlessly along the village labyrinthine paths. The scent of human sweat, sun and dirt, fetid and heady in the ever present heat. The sounds, the sighs, the chirrups of a hundred words in foreign tongue. The cool breath of the night within well-insulated stucco constructs.
On the first morning after being thrown out of the detention center, she stumbled (Was shown? Led to? Did it matter?) the local equivalent of Tokyo Center for the Homeless. The building, sandy in color and sanded by desert wind, stood at the back end of the village, with its back against the mountainside. Somber and burdened by the invisible weight of the combined destitution of all its denizens. Amidst the undulating crowd of unwashed and hungry strangers, she found her first home in this world.
Like its counterparts back in her hometown of Tokyo, this one also took in the lost, the lonely, and the destitute, all of which she fit to a tee. They took her to the back where a thickset madame sat filing enormous piles of documents, took the papers the detention center issued to her and proceeded to - she guessed - legalized her status as a village vagabond.
In the tail end of the building, behind a set of reinforced steel grates, they distributed food once per day to the clawing mass on the other side. No greens and nothing fresh either. Not in this place. Not this deep in the desert. The homeless all feasted upon shapeless morsels of dried … something…
In return for the food and the occasional spare patch of clean floor inside the center's cool confines to sleep upon, they each contributed a little something, whether it be small labors here and there, a helping hand presented to faces new and old, or the odds and ends collected from trash heaps and from the desert plains.
Her scars from weeks spent in the pits of the desert still fresh, Kagome stayed inside the walls of the village. While it had no doubt saved her life, the couple days in the hospital hadn't done a lot of good for her scalded feet and emaciated physics. She was too weak for any heavy labour and too lacking in the know-how to be trusted with any complicated works.
Still, there were things even a frail, foreign girl who spoke not a word of the local language could handle. They put her to the serving station, in the safe side of the grates that stood between the center handlers and the starving mass, in the afternoon, once every day, and when the trails of hungries trickled to an end, it was to the landfill she went.
Wastelands for those who lived in the desert did not strictly follow along the same definition as wastelands elsewhere. Here, where nature was harsh and its bounties in scarce supplies, the mantra to living a good life is waste not want not. It was upon this same principle that the villagers of Sunagakure (she only got to know this name on the third week of her residency in the Center for the Homeless) founded and operated the single landfill of the entire village.
Rather than a place in which people dumped things they no longer wanted nor needed, Suna Central Landfill was more of a… through station. Early in the morning, shipments of trashes, usually from houses of nobility or from nearby well-to-do civilian outposts, would come through the gate in tsunamic waves. They gave it an hour to sit and set and then the trash diggers came through in trickles. She was one of them, working her shift from late afternoon to early evening.
There were a lot of things to be found and used. Broken furnitures. Torn, and in some cases blood stained, garments. Old and rusty weapons, to be boiled down and remade into work tools. Spoiled food. Not safe enough for human consumption but great for other uses. Though food in general was rare, especially so in this land where hardship and the lack of everything, human sustenance included, was so easily found. It didn't take complete understanding of the language for her to see the village had fallen on hard times a long time ago, and there it had stayed, probably for longer than it should have.
The work was tedious in its simplicity. Single-minded repetitions in the thousands, in the hundred thousands. But as she was, Kagome welcomed its tediousness with open arms. It gave her purpose, filled in the empty space in her chest.
She couldn't quite remember how long she spent foraging the ebbs and flows of the trash mountain, but one day a little something changed.
In the cracks between cliffs of trash, she found a seed.
A single, shrivelled, dried up and quite obviously dead germ of lemon verbena.
Lemon Verbena, or lemon beebrush. Versatile plant. It had pretty flowers, can be eaten and its leaves and tops had medicinal uses. Its oil was also cultivated for various purposes. But…
…. what was the seed of a moderate climate shrub tree doing here? In a desert of all places? Not even taking into account the dreadful soil condition of this land, as sensitive to extreme weather conditions as it was, this would be the last place she expected to find a seed of its kind.
Sunagakure was infamous as a land mostly incapable of carrying any life forms, except for humans and their assorted pets, to terms. Water was scarce and the seeds of the rare plant life capable of surviving and bearing fruits, in its various meanings and interpretations, to maturity even rarer. A seed… of anything at all… should not even be here, in the place where discarded things gathered, in the first place. Dead or not.
In the end though, there really was no point in wondering the how, the why, and the if. It was there and she found it. Simple as that.
The events that followed mirrored Kagome's discovery of the lemon verbena seed in their simplicity and natural order of escalation. The effects of such events however, were anything but simple.
She came home when the sun went down. Putting her bag of finds of the day in the assigned slot, she made a beeline for the children chamber. When she came in, the children twittered in joy and excitement. They wrapped around her, chirping in the language universal to all the children in all the worlds, undeterred by the scents of garbage, sweat and toil emanating from her hair, her clothes, her body.
She sang along too. Meaningless words that partook in their childish happiness and chased away her own heartache. Then she took out the dead seed and made a wordless gesture of 'Look what I have for you here!'
At once, they gathered around her, eyes wide and open mouth.
The seed of the lemon verbena lay in the palm of her grubby hand, tiny and black and lifeless. Then Kagome reached deep inside her, deeper and deeper until she touched upon the wellspring of strength that had always been with her, even in death. It came to her readily, easily, like a pet welcoming the return of its owner after a long absence. The rush of its power was heady, but she steadied her heart and focused upon the seed.
The most basic of a Miko's power. To heal. Brought to the next level. She can feel the soul of the seed, not dead, never dead, because souls never truly died, but dormant. She reached out, touched it, coaxed it slowly out of its slumber.
Before the wide eyes of the children, the seed stirred. Its coarse, black shell broke and from within the crack, a tiny green sprout appeared. It did not stop there however. The sprout grew, sprang one leaf, two, lengthened and branched off, until all of a sudden it was not a single seed in her hand but a rapidly growing plant.
The children oohed and ahhed but she put her free hand in front of her mouth in a silencing gesture. Then she stood up and led them out to the back door where there was a patch of earth between the door and the barbwire fence. Stepping out on the cold, cracked earth, she lowered herself on one knee.
The plant in her hand had grown a headful of leaves, then buds started springing from the tips of its soft, green branches. She dug a hole in the hard, barren dirt, lower the root of the tree into it, filled up the hole, then she stood up and watched as the last of her power inside the lemon verbena sapling bloomed into beautiful, luminous purple and white flowers.
She allowed herself a moment, savoring the sudden but much treasured moment of beauty. Surely this was a miracle. In a place such as this where new life more often than not was snuffed out before it could truly bloom. Out of all the foragers digging through the vast expanse of garbage in the landfill, it was she that happened upon that single dead seed.
She looked to the children and drank in the expressions of pure wonder that lighted up their faces. The sweetness of their innocence filled her heart. Long ago, before she had landed in this strange, new world, she had made a promise to a certain someone to never use her power for the sake of herself, not even when her life was at stake… especially when her life was at stake.
But here, now, in this village where blood mingled in the sand and the land itself soaked with sorrow, these orphaned children deserved a little miracle to brighten their day.
Of course, this was how they discovered her power. The ninja, their Kazekage, the entire village, and then, eventually, the entire ninja world.
But not all at first of course, and not so quickly. In a land where ordinary humans were capable of feats she had only previously seen in great and powerful demons, a little lemon tree growing over night in the backyard of the State-funded Home for the Poor and the Lost can be easy to overlook.
Gradually though, words started to spread. Children had no concept of secret... and possessed an endless willingness to share their wonder. Before long, she found herself pulled to aside by the Chief of the Center and the single medic unfortunate enough to pick the draw for monthly vagabond duty.
There were a lot of words exchanged, the majority of which flew right over her head, and a lot of wild gestures, pointing at her, then at the sapling they had uprooted and put in a bowl (still green and vibrant with life, even now when it was no longer feeding on her spiritual power, despite the hard, black soil encasing its roots), then right back at her.
"Nan Chakra nai." Said the chief, wagging his finger at her. She understood it a little. It meant 'no'. Out of all the languages in the world, yes and no were always the first two words picked up by all new learners, closely followed by 'hello', 'goodbye', 'I love you', and 'where's the toilet?'. But no what? No chakra? What was chakra? And what did it have to do with her?
The medic shrugged and uttered two words. "Kekkai Genkai." Followed by a string of incomprehensible sounds that, when combined, gave the impression of 'I've seen weirder things. What are you getting your feathers all ruffled for?'
Somewhere in the tail end of their conversation, they turned their gazes on her and she felt a shift… a sudden spike in awareness to the atmosphere. It was as if all of a sudden they were seeing her, really her, Kagome Higurashi of the Shikon no Tama, for the first time and not the frail, foreign, and aimless girl she had been these past weeks.
Warily, the medic growled. "Kazekage-sama…." His voice dropped an octave, growing hard and cold as steel all of a sudden.
"Nan chakra nai." The Center Chief repeated, softly and almost warily this time, and as he spoke, his gaze turned from her to the medic, who, in reply, snapped his attention back to his counterpart and let loose a string of hisses, sharp gaze flying between her and the Chief.
"Nan chakra nai." Repeated the Chief, his hands held in a placating gesture, and more and more his voice grew soft and slow, and then finally he put one hand in his pocket only to withdraw from it a single brown grain.
Rice. She would recognize it anyday. In his hand, the Chief held a single, full-germ rice grain. It was black and brown with disease and, like its predecessor the lemon verbena seed, had rotted to death a long time ago.
Gently, he took her hand, put the grain on her palm, and folded her fingers shut around it.
"Ueru." He commanded. The tension creased the corner of his eyes.
Realization came to Kagome like a lightning bolt. Of course, they wanted to make use of her power, wanted to test her, to see what she can do. The look on their faces was that of children eagerly looking forward to trying out a new toy.
Something rose in her chest. Not bitterness, but an overwhelming melancholy and a hint of trepidation. The power within her should never be used for the selfish gains of others. She had learned this lesson the hard way.
She pushed the Chief's hand back, returning the rice grain to him. Eyeing the medic in defiance, she showed him her bare throat.
"If it is death you wish to inflict upon me." She said in her own language. Only the second time ever that she attempted conversation since entering this world. "Then do to me as you wish. I am not afraid of you."
Her intent must have translated across languages… or at least showed in the tone of her voice and the nuances of her gestures, because right afterwards there was a hush. She saw the medic narrowing his eyes, his hands straying to his belt where rows of steel senbon the length of a full finger hung.
Before the medic made a move however, the Chief of the Homeless Center stopped him cold with one raised hand.
"Nan Chakra Nai." He repeated for a third time to his fellow villager, patient and soft, but unyielding.
For a second time, he forced the dead rice grain into her hand. This time however, he didn't stop here. His hands came to her face, gripped her chin. He steered her towards the open window through which she could see the afternoon sea of hungry vagabonds.
They were filthy, as usual, and hungry. They rose their arms and clamored in front of the steel grates where public welfare staffs handed out dried, tasteless rations in snatches. A veritable sea of clawing hands and faces mad and naked with hunger. In the midst of this sea, she saw the children for whom she made the lemon flower bloom.
There was a sound to her ears. A word uttered with such sincerity she didn't need to know the language to understand what it meant.
"Please." Said the Chief of the Sunagakure Center for the Homeless. She saw then that she had been wrong about him. With her head still faced away from the duo and for the second time since coming to this world, she reached deep inside for that shimmering wellspring within her and withdrew from it a breath, a light.
In her hand, the rice grain grew warmer, and warmer, and in a sudden spurt, bursted forth from within her tightly clenched fist. When she turned back, what she now held in one hand was a single stalk of rice, gold and gleaming with promises in the reflected afternoon sun, its branches laden with new grains.
The medic and the chief eyed her speechlessly as they contemplated the ramification of what they had just witnessed. That was no Mokuton jutsu as they had hypothesized before coming here. No. This was something more than that. A miracle surely. Because in all the history of Sunagakure and all the history of the entire ninja world, not even the most powerful of them could breathe life, true life and not the twisted imitation of it, into things already dead, not unless they paid the price with their own.
Not unless they were the Sage of Six Paths himself.
End Chapter 1
1/ I got sidetracked by yet another plot bunny. I'm not sorry (though you are still welcomed to kick me in the butt for it).
2/ When Kagome wetted her facemask with a handful of water in the beginning of the chapter: this is actually a real life desert survival technique. By wetting her face mask and wearing it, she prevents her body moisture from escaping through her nose and mouth and delay dehydration which is the number one cause of death for people who got lost in the desert.
3/ Not a lot of dialogues in this chapter. This is intentional and is designed to create a sense of mental isolation, mirroring Kagome's state of mind (lost in a strange new world, alone and unable to communicate). This will gradually change in subsequent chapters as Kagome learnt the language bit by bit and the story ventures into the POV of other characters (the 4th Kazekage for example, etc…)
4/ This story is basically my attempt to write a character that is strong without being a fighter, who forces change without the use of violence and who, by surrendering, actually wins the war. I have grown bored with the usual power trip protagonist type and is trying out new things. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won't. In the end, I simply want to have fun and enjoy what I write.
5/ There's going to be a lot of world building for Suna and the ninja world, politics, and characterization (my kink, baby!) in this story. And romance! Can't forget that. But it's not going to be the way most people expect it (my readers who came from Tis Femina should already know my propensity for screwing with my readers. Again, I am not sorry! At all!)