In a nondescript tavern off the edge of a major gambling village in Yu no Kuni had in one of it's corner tables were a woman with a small pig in her arms dismayed at an older woman with blonde hair. The woman, Tsunade Senju, took a shot of sake into their gullet like water before pouring herself another drink. The table had a small assortment of snacks, not enough to feed either woman as it paled in comparison to the dozens of sake bottles littered along the floor, the table, and even the seats.
The alcoholic didn't acknowledge the sudden new member at the table before she spoke gruffly.
"What do you want, Jiraiya?"
Said man was tall and well-built with fair skin. His white hair went down to his waist in a ponytail as the man wore a green short shirt kimono with matching matching pants and a red haori. "Can't an old teammate show up for a couple of drinks?"
"If you're here for the old man. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm not going back to Konoha." Tsunade spoke with a bit of vitriol on the word 'konoha'.
Jiraiya didn't take offense and instead smiled as he waved for the waiter to stop sending more drinks. It earned a frown coming from the woman as he responded.
"Sarutobi-Sensei would like to send his regards but… things aren't looking good back home."
Tsunade scowled at the use of the word. "Speak your peace before I send you back home in pieces."
"Alright, Hime" The woman's uninvited guest answered. "I found some news that might interest you."
"What might that be?"
"I'm not sure how to say this." The smile and a giggle of an inside joke spoke otherwise. "I got some intel from one of my sources at the edge of Tetsu no Kuni and Ta no Kuni. You see, there's rumor about a little girl the age of nine wandering around the snow covered forests at the border, dispatching would be missing nin and ronin. Merchants that travel to and from those two lands would encounter appearances of her, always watching them at night."
Tsunade snorted. "What's so important about that? Just another brat playing some bounty hunting game. Always happens."
"Why does this concern Tsunade-sama?" The other woman in a blueish black kimono asked. "I don't understand why this might be important."
Her master nodded. "We're leaving if gossips all you're talking of."
"I was getting to that." Jiraiya wagged his finger at them before continuing, "See, this peculiar girl never met or spoke to any of the travelers, and she would only intervene if they encountered bandits and the like. Executing them to and fro."
The blonde scoffed, "How Gallant. Get on with it."
The earlier happy teasing ceased immediately as the toad sage straightened his seat with a firm look. His eyes narrowed as the smile turned to a frown.
"Tsunade. The girl carried a sword with a wide cloth tassel instead of a saego. The emblem was too small for anyone to notice but people collaborated and tried to see anything substantial. She had an obi tied to her waist with an embroidered symbol of the Senju Clan."
The sounds of a cup rolling on the table did nothing to enhance the sight of the woman. Tsunade's fingers trembled as she tried to calm herself out of the shock and revelation. She rubbed her brow as thoughts ran in her head.
"That's not possible. The Senju clan should have died off. Enemies of Konoha targeted Senju members during the first and second shinobi world wars specifically to disrupt and weaken the power of the village." Images of a certain pair of precious people flashed before Tsunade's mind.
"There weren't any records of Senju ever leaving the village, and no members had surviving family members or lovers. The only one that wasn't around was Tobirama-Oji, but he never came back alive from the ambush of the Cloud Shinobi." Tsunade swallowed, it was considered a foregone conclusion that her granduncle perished at the beginning of the war. The man never seemed like the type. Always concerned with the village, every ounce of his being was for the sake of his brother's dream. A workaholic through and through.
"Even more, Tobirama Oji-san was never the romantic sort, didn't have a wife or a lover. Never having the time to be social ever since grandfather died. Always thought he was gay, or asexual."
The Senju stared at her former teammate with a look of guarded trepidation. Hope chained behind the despair and expectations of futility. So many people she knew, so many that had died for the village. A village that she no longer wanted to be part of.
Jiraiya leaned forward, "One of the merchants had a chance to get a good look at the girl. Wild, untamed snow white hair with the clearest purple gemstone eyes he'd ever seen. She had the most interesting birthmarks."
The man simply continued as the woman in front of him failed to keep herself together, gesturing to his face with a pointed finger.
"Three claw-like gashes, one on each cheek and the last on her chin."
For a moment, Tsunade forgot to breathe. Her hand went to her face, trailing the ghost images of a possible girl. "You're telling me I might have a family, still living family. A-a grandniece?"
"I don't know. That's why I came to tell you. You want to go see for sure?"
Tsunade schooled her features into something that was crossed between determination and fear, "Shizune, pack our bags."
With the newly revealed information given to her, Tsunade was on pins and needles. Sleep couldn't come to her until the late hours of the night as they traveled across the land. Normally, a trek like this would've taken them over a week, instead it took them two days at their maximum speed with as little as breaks as possible to get to the edge of where Jiraiya's informant spoke of the girl.
It was night, and the cold from Tetsu no Kuni, the land of iron, chilled them to the bone if not for the fire of their campsite and the fur that replaced their clothes. Jiraiya watched the woman pace back and forth, mind wandering.
What if the girl wasn't family? What if she was? What would she say? How would she react? Why wasn't she ever found until now? Was it because of Kaminari no Kuni?
The First Shinobi World War still contained effects that lasted to this day. Many of the higher positioned shinobi fought during that war and grudges still lasted even through the Second World war. The Second Shinobi World war occurred because of how the first war ended!
It was likely the Third Shinobi World War was the nail that hit the coffin. The Nidaime Hokage possibly believed his survival or the continued existence of his line would have sparked a worse reaction with the rest of the other countries.
That was if the girl Jiraiya spoke about was family.
"It'll be fine, Tsunade-hime." The woman ignored the name as she responded.
"How can you be so sure?"
The toad sage shrugged. "I don't. But if the girl really is a Senju, it's likely her family would have informed her about her clan. Her village."
"And that's why she should stay far away from Konoha."
Tsunade shook her head, "No. This isn't about my grievances with Konoha. She's a girl. A woman."
"Sarutobi-sensei would never-" She raised a hand, forcing him to stop speaking. The woman nodded in agreement.
"Konoha doesn't have a Clan Restoration Act. But that doesn't mean there wouldn't be marriage contracts, suitors, and anything else in the works." Jiraiya understood the issue. The Senju clan only had Tsunade left. And as much as many would have wanted it, Tsunade was not the type to simply agree with whatever small pressures for the continuance of her clan anyone spun for her to hear. Her guilt and feelings for her loved ones were still fresh to her.
But not for the possible child they were about to meet. The Senju would have two females. One of them was under the prime age to eventually start a family. But there was something Tsunade didn't account for.
"Then you're gonna have to protect her."
Said woman turned to him in outrage. "Jiraiya!"
"She might be your family. Your niece, or grand niece." The man knew her issues with her birth home. The Sandaime left her alone when she ran out of the village, never to post a bounty to instate the rank of missing-nin. Unlike Orochimaru.
Tsunade furrowed her brow, "We could just leave her alone."
"If I found out about her and it wasn't true. What's to say Iwa Shinobi wouldn't send an assassination unit?" Jiraiya scoffed as his face turned somber, "And if it was true, wouldn't Kumo Shinobi send a capture unit?"
Indecision raced across Tsunade's face. Her pacing stopped but she pulled together with her arms wrapping her waist as Jiraiya watched the woman with concern. Mirroring Shizune who had been quiet the entire time.
When he noticed the woman was silent, he started, "Tsunade, I know you have problems with the village-"
The conversation broke apart as they felt the tell tale signs of chakra out into the forest. The three travelers shared a silent conversation before quickly preparing to intervene.
"Fighting" Shizune noted dumbly.
Tsunade rushed forward with the intent to figure out who she was going to meet and how to figure it all out with anxiety in her heart.
Jiraiya had believed they were going to see a fight between Iwa or Kumo and the girl they were looking for. It wasn't hard to figure out that despite the distance of the countries and where they were located, most of the lands aside from Tetsu no Kuni were loosely allied with each other since the last war.
Iwa would send assassins of Jonin to remove the possibility of a resurgence of the Senju. A can that was considered to be the most powerful clan since the warring states era outside of the Uchiha. They'd have issues with the Kumo Shinobi as they'd likely be a capture squad to obtain the genes of the Senju for future generations. The two sides would certainly duke it out with each other once problems arose.
What he didn't expect was something much, much worse. His hackles rose with the sight of the man and his entourage as they stood at a distance with each other.
The man, the former teammate of Jiraiya and Tsunade looked at them with a smile. Laughing like he usually did.
"When was the last time the sannin met each other?"
"A long time ago teme! You're not here for some stroll close to Samurai country are you?"
"Ohh, but I would have certainly left this place alone if not for some interesting rumors of the place." As the man spoke they were able to get a look at the girl in question. Tsunade sucked in a breath.
She was safe at least, inside an interesting looking barrier jutsu that was smooth and spherical.
"I had hoped with enough time I'd be able to break through the impressive barrier and take what I needed for myself. But this sample will suffice."
"You think we'll just let you walk away?" Orochimaru chuckled, but his team didn't look so well with their injuries.
"I intend to leave. Especially when I know a force from Kumo will reach here within an hour. I doubt any of us would be willing to have a chat with them in the middle of a fight." The trio grit their teeth. Jiraiya was right on the money with his assumptions earlier. They had to make a choice, let them go, or fight a battle that they weren't sure they were going to win let alone the chance of more ninja in the mix. Tsunade kept her focus on her former partner as she asked.
"What did you take?"
The pale man shook a sealed scroll in front of their faces, "You'll find out soon enough."
They didn't ease up for a whole ten minutes as Orochimaru's chakra signature vanished once out of range. They relaxed to get closer to the girl, attempting to look non-aggressive as they got a good look at her.
That informant was right, it nearly got Shizune to gasp at the resemblance. Jiraya whistled lowly as Tsunade couldn't get her eyes away. If any hint of genjutsu or false identity was there, it was quickly dashed away. Not when the corpse of Tobirama Senju laid in a recently dug up grave was at the forefront of their gaze, right next to the girl of about nine or ten years old.
"Family," Tsunade muttered. She turned to look at the rest of the graves, six, six graves. Each one under the Kekkai Ninjutsu that most certainly acted like a fortress to any would be grave diggers. Jiraiya's cursed once he noticed how fresh the grave was.
"Grave digging. Orochimaru might've taken samples of Tobirama's corpse." The slug princess was sick to her stomach. To see and know instead of hearing that her former teammate had fallen so low…. She shook her head. That wasn't what was important right now.
She switched her gaze to the girl. No… by the numbers of graves under the girl's protection and what the date was. This was her grandniece. Tsunade tried to speak with a clear voice, ignoring the crack and wavering of her tone. "Please, put the barrier down. We're not here to fight."
The girl didn't respond but didn't assume any fight or flight response. That was… good, it gave Tsunade a chance to take a good look at her. She muttered.
"You were fed well."
True enough, the girl was exactly what Jiraiya had said. Snow white hair, much like the snow of their surroundings that layered upon layered the top of the girls head, reaching down to her waist wildly with the most clear and piercing purple eyes she'd seen on a living thing. The birthmarks seen on Tobirama intensified over the generations with each mark instead of the size of a small vine, became gash marks that were about the sizes of ink strokes. The girl mostly wore fur from top to bottom from various animal hides with an obi that she easily spotted the Senju Clan's symbol at the tail. A sword was lodged to the ground beside the girl, jagged and cracked while the girl kept her hands in a seal that made a pair of clapped hands. Commonly used for Barriers, Kinjutsu, and monks.
Tsunade took a breath.
"I may not know you. But I think you might know me." She gestured to herself with emphasis. "I'm Tsunade Senju."
That brought a reaction to the girl as she switched her gaze at the woman with a thunderous intent. The girl was quiet, no doubt about that. But that face she made was so reminiscent of Tsunade's granduncle that she had to smile.
"What's your name?"
Suddenly a piece of paper was quickly thrown at her. Tsunade caught it easily and as she got a good look at it, lines upon lines of flowing calligraphy were written on the parchment. The girl spoke quickly.
"So, what's your name hime-chan?" The girl took it in stride as Jiraiya tried to open her up.
Tsunade sighed, nothing was going to happen. Sure, the girl got a lot more courteous once the woman proved her words true after Jiraiya had taken a calculating glimpse of the sealing array.
A blood seal, he had said. Something to confirm familial relations. Tsunade had a very hard time doing so with her… issues with blood. But she pulled through, besides, it was only a drop of blood.
No, it wasn't easy at all. Shizune had to do most of the work.
Now they were led deeper into the forest after the girl buried Tobirama-Ojisan again. Jiraiya wanted to recover all of them to send back to Konoha, but acquiesced after an icy glare from the girl, coupled by Tsunade and Shizune's own. They walked up front with the girl behind them as if the girl expected she'd be ambushed.
"It'd be better if we know where we're going hime-chan. No one wants to get lost in the middle of winter." Jiraiya said, eyes roving over the land to mark anything for memory.
Suddenly after a few minutes of walking, the girl told them to stop in her soft childish voice. They watched the would be Senju raise her hand to the bark of a nearby tree.
And it glowed.
"Fuinjutsu," Shizune noted as the others nodded with her words.
The air shimmered, light and shadows distorting to reveal an entrance incredibly similar to an old shrine. Pairs of dark red and black Torii gates with paper talismans and ropes criss-crossing one another untied themselves with each step girl walked.
"Follow. We will speak at home."
Home. This was the girl's home. Puzzles were quickly put into place as the depth of the situation became known. The guests followed the girl into what was essentially a shrine. And everything that came with it. Jiraiya sucked a breath, eliciting a glance from his companions. He pointed at the feet of the girl walking up the stone stairway into the temple what caught his eye, caught theirs.
"Kekkei Genkai" Tsunade murmured as her apprentice gasped.
Ice. Literal ice crystals in the shapes of gemstones, flowers, and snowflakes grew around and from where the girl walked on the stone. Tsunade reached to break one of the pieces of ice to get a feel.
"More than that hime." Jiraiya noted as they followed the girl to the temple above. "This place is housed in an ever blanket of Nature Chakra."
Shizune quickly walked beside her master, her attention on the piece of ice in the woman's hand. "I thought the Nidaime never had the ability of a Bloodline. And if he did, it'd be the Mokuton."
The Senju nodded dumbly; It was real, mist and steam rose from the ice as her hand felt the cold in her palm to the tips of her fingers. The woman closed her hand as they followed. A crack sounded off in their ears as she tested the ice's strength. Her palmed open to reveal what was inside. Jiraiyas whistled lowly.
The girl had two Bloodline Limits. Tsunade closed her eyes before responding.
"We have a lot to talk about then."
The temple house was conservative and traditional in design. They noted how the wood was old but strong and it's ground was incredibly clean, free from wildlife, plants, and the elements.
"Enter," The girl spoke like it was a command as she opened the door and waited for them to walk in.
They did so with a sense of simple respect given to another human being. The pragmatic part of their minds told them being friendly was the best choice as it was the easiest to get the girl to listen to them. Without a doubt the girl was weaker than them despite everything that they learned from the girl's actions and inaction.
But she was family.
Family. Tsunade played with that word in her head a few times as they followed the girl into a corner of the main room. Pairs of small tables sat on the floor as cushions were put in front of them.
They sat in seiza as tradition dictates. The girl left them to another part of the building as they got themselves comfortable.
Family. It had been a long time since anyone was family to Tsunade. Shizune was the sister and daughter she never had. Jiraiya the brother, and Sarutobi the father. She'd never thought she'd have a child so many years younger than her as family.
What was she to do?
Tsunade nearly jumped from the contact of a hand to her shoulder. She shared a silent conversation with Jiraiya as they contemplated their surroundings.
Moments later, the girl walked back in with a tray filled with various snacks and sweets. Another tray filled with various instruments was in another hand as she laid them in their proper positions.
"Quite the hospitality, hime-chan." Jiraiya teased as she and Shizune nodded mutely.
It had been a very long time since any of them were subjected to a tea ceremony. The girl bowed, and the others followed.
What came afterwards elicited a gasp from all three. Nature transformation at its peak.
Fire sparked out of the girl's fingers as they greedily feasted on the wood and charcoal under the stove. Water flowed out of thin air like a whip of the river before landing into the pot as it began to heat up.
They watched as the girl started to lay out the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop and proceeded to clean them in their presence. In a precise order and using prescribed motions, the girl started to prepare the tea. Scoops of matcha powder were immediately used into the bowl as she whisked for koicha.
The bowl was wiped, raised up and handed to Jiraiya's hands and they bowed. Tsunade earned a bow next followed by Shizune before the toad sage drank. He handed the bowl for it to be wiped and the procedure continued until Shizune took her own drink. The ceremony continued once again from the beginning, only this time each of them had their own individual bowl of tea.
This was when the girl brought her hands to her sleeves, relinquishing a book instead of a scroll for Tsunade to take.
"Read this when you have the time." The girl stated, earning a nod from the woman before they started to converse.
"Alright hime. Introductions are in order. Jiraiya the Toad Sage at your service. You already know Tsunade Senju, and the woman to her left is Shizune. Her apprentice."
The girl nodded, "I am Tsubame Senju."
Tsubame. Swallow; a thatched flower, a beautiful camellia. Finally a name that went with the face. Shizune motioned with a question.
"How long have you lived here?"
Tsubame turned to greet the woman in the eyes, nodding. "Since birth."
"Your nature transformation is incredibly advanced. I assume your family trained you?"
A nod was the answer to Jiraiya's question. Tsunade noted how formal the Senju girl was. Bows were to the exact degree, nods and eye contact continued without a hint of shyness. Completely immaculate. A high lady covered in fur living in a temple. The Senju stopped a snort from coming.
"You have the Mokuton." Tsunade said. A statement of truth rather than a question. It was best to get everything out of the way and speak about it truthfully. Based on the girls supposed upbringing, it was without a doubt Tsubame would appreciate the lack of tiptoeing.
"Hyoton and Jinton as well." Tsubame added, nodding to the older Senju. The three sat in silence as they mulled over her admittance. Three Kekkei Genkai! Wood, Ice, Swift. All of them were completely rare. Her importance rose exponentially and the previous thought of leaving her alone or dropping her off in Konoha was smashed with the gentleness of a mountain.
The girl continued, "My birth was difficult. I was required to be in control of my abilities lest I become a danger to myself and my surroundings."
They nodded dumbly as the three shared a look with each other. Tsunade leaned forward as she asked.
"When did Tobirama-Oji die?"
"Great-grandfather died six months ago. Father, Grandfather, Grandmother, and Mother died sometime between one year and three years ago."
Well that explained some of the ancestors. Grandniece. She was Tsunade's grandniece. As they digested the words given to them, the Senju girl gave them some time before asking her own question.
"May I ask why are you here? I had not expected anyone from the Senju or Konoha to be in this area. Did something occur that required you to investigate this location?" Jiraiya nodded, shelving the information for now as he asked his own.
"Do you have guests often?"
"Mifune-san of the Samurai would appear once a year to meet with Great-grandfather at times. That was all."
Mifune. The general of the samurai of the Land of Iron. Tetsu no Kuni. That man had known Tobirama and his part of the Senju's existence for years and yet said nothing of it. The man sighed. Of course the samurai would keep quiet. Tetsu no Kuni had little involvement with the Shinobi world. They were utterly neutral. Many at times Tetsu no Kuni was frequently used as a neutral meeting place for diplomatic discussions. Multiple Kage summits between shinobi villages were hosted there.
"We're here to take you to Konoha." Tsunade's words held steel and her eyes shone with a determination not seen in many years. Jiraiya smirked. Coming here to reveal a truth or rumor was a good idea after all.
Now he had to find the right words for a message back to the Hokage.