Act 1: The Rats of Tekan

Chapter 1: Some Interesting Little Rats

Tokuma Hyūga sat on top of a roof with his back against the makeshift chimney. The flimsy chimney sprouted out from the building below like an evasive weed. He could smell the coffee that the inhabitants were brewing inside. And by the weak smell, he guessed it was the second time they had used those grinds.

Fuck, he missed home.

Tokuma hated his current post. While his clansmen and former genin squad were all on the front lines or in a desirable post near the leaf village, he was out at the edge of the world in this god-forsaken city. Well, maybe not the edge of the world, but certainly the edge of the Land of Fire.

Tekan City embodied everything that the Leaf Village was not. The Leaf Village, while hectic with ninja operations, was well-organized. It was clean, safe, familiar, and home. Tekan was not. While a bustling city even larger than the Leaf, it was anything but clean, safe, or familiar. The Leaf Village had its clan compounds where honorable ninja lived. Tekan had the nobles' quarter filled with greedy nobles who had either inherited their wealth or had backstabbed their way to the top. The Leaf had its civilian and middle-class population consisting of shop owners and non-clan ninja. Tekan instead had its tradesman quarter filled with merchants, builders, and craftsmen who were just as greedy as the nobles but had an air of desperation about them. They were well off enough to live relatively comfortably and provide for their families but were still under the thumb of the nobles where one wrong move could send them back to the slums.

But by far the worst place was the slums.

When Tokuma first laid eyes on the slums of Tekan, he was disgusted and in disbelief. The slums were a tangled cobweb of poorly paved alleyways, dead ends, and buildings. No, that wasn't the right word…. more like hovels that seemed to drape and lean on each other. When he experienced his first storm rolling in from the Kaizoku sea, he half expected the slums to just be washed away. But no, they persisted, and unfortunately, the storm did nothing to curtail the constant stench that wafted up from the decrepit shit-filled streets below.

But the worst part about his post wasn't the greedy nobles or smelly slums, or even the persistent dampness from the sea fog that crept into every fiber of his clothes. No, it was his job. Tokuma was here for one reason, and that was to find cannon fodder. He still laughed when reminisced with friends on how his jonin commander had worded the assignment. His official orders, of course, didn't say cannon fodder. It had said something along the lines of "finding promising ninja candidates in the younger civilian population and providing them a chance to rise and be great."

What a joke. That was some true word mastery right there.

What his superiors had failed to mention was that with a minimal ninja presence in the city, no family would allow their child to be sent across the country to premature death. A career of a ninja here was an oddity and was not baked into the culture like in the Leaf. Additionally, the Leaf did not have the authority to draft children from Tekan. So that left Tokuma with one option, orphans. Of which there was a plentiful supply. The only problem was they were anything but promising. Dirty, malnourished, uneducated, and undisciplined were the descriptions Tokuma had put in his report when asked why in the four months he'd been there had identified no candidates. Maybe they would release him from his duty due to poor performance. That would be great. But he doubted it. His byakugan was the only way to shift through the countless orphans for the first screening and was the reason he was sent out here in the first place. No way someone could individually review each kid. There were simply too many of them.

So here Tokuma sat, like every day for the past four months, with his byakugan active screening the slums for kids with adequate chakra levels.

Not enough chakra. Nope, too young. Too old.

He was about to give up for the morning when something at the edge of his range caught his attention.

"Hmmm, what do we have here?"

With a couple of quick jumps across the rooftops, Tokuma was now above the topic of interest. Below was a group of kids, no doubt orphans, judging by the ragged clothes and smells that came from them. Two boys around the age of 8 had a small girl around the age of 6 cornered in the alley dead end. "We saw you nab that loaf of bread in the market." Said the one on the left.

"Hand it over now and we won't kick your shins in!" yelled the one on the right.

The girl with black hair and violet eyes backed up against the wall but didn't falter. Tokuma saw her face scrunch up in defiance.

"Eat rocks! Find your own food. I ain't givin you notting!"

Tokuma smirked at the girl's defiance.

However, Tokuma wasn't here for either of the two boys or the girl. No, he was here for the little brat on the ledge one story below him. During the brief conversation below, the boy had slipped in and out of the rooms and windows below to get into the ledge position he was crouched on now. About 15 feet above and slightly behind the two bullies. Tokuma watched as the boy pulled out several smooth stones from his pocket. Probably stones from the shoreline smoothened by the constant onslaught of the sea.

Both of the boys in the alleyway moved forward. "You little shit. This is your last warning. The market's our turf. Hand over the bread now!"

The girl squished herself up against the wall like the couple of inches it bought her were going to make a difference.

"That's it. Kato, let's get her!"

WACK

The boy who had just yelled stopped and look over in confusion.

"Kato?"

Just as the boy in question went limp and crumpled to the floor. A smooth stone clattered to the floor next to his feet.

Takuma watched as the blue-haired boy on the ledge picked up another stone and reared back his arm. With a quick and impressive whip of the arm, another stone was released towards the remaining boy, hitting him in the chest.

"Aackk. What the heck!" the boy squealed right as a second stone hit his lower stomach. The boy toppled over in pain and landed on his hands and knees. The boy scampered away without a second glance at his sleeping friend on the floor.

Once the boy disappeared around the corner, the girl let out a large breath in relief and looked questionably around, searching for her savior.

"Arashi, how do you always know when I'm in trouble?"

A short giggle escaped the boy on the ledge as he stood up, revealing his position to the girl while tossing a stone up and down in his right hand.

With a smug smile on his face, "That's easy. I just assume you're always in trouble, Amaya."

The girl shook her head with a small smile inching its way across her face.

"Well, get down here, and let's get outta here. I don't want to be here when the sleeper wakes up."

The boy, now identified as Arashi, walked over to the drainage pipe next to the ledge and slid his way down to the alley floor.

"Fine fine let's go."

The boy grabbed the girl's hand and scampered off into the bustling streets of the slums. Tokuma's byakugan enhanced gaze followed the two little rats as they ran off into the distance.

"Very interesting indeed."