Tale of the Setting Sun

Chapter 48: "A Promise That Doesn't Need Words"

It was always a big day when the skies split open and somebody came to the island. And, according to the rumors, it wasn't just one newcomer this time, but two. These rumors came courtesy of their village's biggest self-proclaimed prankster, Sagara, who came running into the overgrown grove that served as their hideout.

"Where are they from? How long are they here for?" demanded Harisa, who always asked the questions nobody else could. She was also the only person their age who could eat a fistful of habaneros without flinching.

Sagara waggled his dark eyebrows. "I'm not sure where they came from, but I think they're ninja. They look strong." It was almost as an afterthought that he turned to the girl who'd been braiding Harisa's long hair. "Oh, and your brother's back, too."

In a flash, Inada shot up to her feet. "Finally!"

A short run to the hilltop revealed a large crowd gathering in the distance at the harbor, confirming Sagara's report. From their hideout, the pathway down into the village was dimly-lit, but they ran sure-footed down to the docks, each bend of the trail as familiar to them as the backs of their hands.

On the horizon, the gate in the sky splintered before fading away, leaving only clouds in its wake. The Hidden Whirlpool's greatest line of defense, the Sealed Gate, was the only way to enter or leave the island, and since the time of its inception, it had never once been breached.

As they drew closer, more details came into view: A transporter that hadn't been there the previous day was now docked beside old man Toyosu's fishing boat, and all the elders had come out to greet the newcomers.

At their forefront was Inada's father, who was droning on in his usual speech to outsiders. Inada had just caught sight of the two strange figures standing in front of the crowd when she sensed someone approach her.

Lips snaking back in a grin, she turned around just as a pair of hands reached out to her. "Yashima! You won't be able to sneak up on me anymore!"

Her older brother grinned back at her. "Who'd ever need to sneak up on a genin like you?" Dodging her retaliatory jab, he added, "How's everyone been?" He seemed about an inch taller than when she'd last seen him, but otherwise he was exactly the same.

"Same as always," she shrugged. "And I hope you didn't bring back any nasty habits again." The last time Yashima had returned to the village, he'd tried to show off by smoking cigarettes like some of the older ninja. Of course, Inada had nipped that in the bud with some choicely placed pinches. Leaning to the side, she peered around her brother. "So who are the newcomers? Are they here for long…?" Inada trailed off as she took a closer look at the two strangers. Despite the warmth of the day, she felt a slight chill nip at the back of her neck, and thought she had never seen anyone so intimidating before.

Yashima tugged her by the hand. "They're some important people from the Hidden Leaf who want to talk to Father about some business. More importantly, I've brought something back from the mainland for you... Wanna guess what it is?"

Tearing her eyes away from the visitors, Inada grimaced. "Not another tantō."

"I'll take it if you don't want it," a teasing voice came from behind them.

Yashima immediately flushed, and Inada whirled around to see another red-haired girl smiling at them. Inada's lips pulled back in an identical grin. "Oh, and what would you do with a tantō? Slice up some fruit for dessert, Kushina?"

Hands on her hips, Kushina stuck out her tongue. "I can fight too, y'know!"

Inada and Yashima looked at each other before breaking out into laughter as their father droned on in the background:

"We welcome our friends from the outside as our honorary guests…"

They weren't sisters, but they might as well have been. Both red-haired and perpetually armed with a mischievous laugh, there was hardly a moment when they weren't together. The longest they'd ever been apart since their birth was the singular month that Inada had been alive longer than Kushina—and she never let her forget it, either.

But, of course, there were some differences.

While they were both Uzumaki, Kushina was an orphan, and Inada was the daughter of the chieftain. Though none of that mattered much to Inada, the rest of the village seemed to care, especially on certain ceremonial days when Inada and her family were seated at the forefront of the village center while Kushina was placed far away in the back by herself.

"Yashima just has to marry you, and then you'll be up here with the rest of us," Inada once said, half-teasing, half-serious. Yashima spluttered in response, but didn't fully refute it.

"I don't mind sitting by myself, y'know," said Kushina. "What if you get in trouble for being back here?"

Ignoring her, Inada pointed at the stage. "Look, look! It's starting!"

A traditional performance of flames and water played out on the distant stage. Dancers and torch-bearers gathered in a circle, and from their midst a massive ball of fire burst up, blotting out the sky. Gasps and a lone scream broke out from the audience—suddenly, the fire went out, leaving in its wake darkness and a stunned silence. The only thing visible was the moon, hanging bright and white in the night sky over the stage.

A guest to the village must have been present, because someone behind them whispered what every child of Whirlpool already knew: "The ceremony of the setting sun. For only in the absence of the sun, can the moon fully shine."

The first few days after the mysterious strangers from the Hidden Leaf arrived in their village, nothing was particularly out of the ordinary. The buzz around their guests had already started to subside, and the humdrum of daily life marched on.

For Inada, that meant another day of being a disappointment to her elders.

"That's enough!" shouted Tagitsu, her jōnin instructor.

Inada's sparring opponent, who'd been holding a kunai to her neck, released her. As Inada ruefully rubbed her chafed skin, Tagitsu shook her head.

"Why is it that you never improve?" she said, eyes flashing in disapproval.

It was the same look Inada's father gave her every time he saw her academy results, and though the sting of it had never truly faded, Inada was able to quickly brush it off as she rushed towards the riverbank.

It was a hot summer's day—a perfect afternon for rowing boats along the river that coursed noisily past their hideout.

While Inada had never had any talent for fighting, when it came to rowing, she was one of the best in the village, and could maneuver her way across even the most sudden of whirlpools. Yashima, on the other hand, could barely navigate his way out of a pond.

"What's the point?" he complained from behind. "I'm not a fisherman; I'm a ninja. I can just walk across the water."

Inada clicked her tongue, already annoyed at having to wait for him. "Not across a whirlpool, you can't."

"Why am I even here?" Yashima continued to complain, his voice carrying across the water. "I know you two don't care, but I should be training right now!"

Before Inada could retort that he was welcome to stop slowing them down, Kushina suddenly chimed in, "Wonder what it's like to be a ninja."

Brows shooting up, Inada stopped rowing and whirled around. "What're you talking about, Kushi…" The look on her friend's face brought her to a halt as she remembered.

As an orphan of a minor branch of the Uzumaki, Kushina had never been sponsored to enter the Shinobi Academy, nor was she allowed to learn any of their clan's signature techniques. Inada's father maintained that it was an iron-clad rule held throughout generations to prevent their clan secrets from ever getting out.

For a while, the only sounds were the creaking of their paddles and the lapping of water.

Eventually, Yashima spoke up: "It's tough being a ninja. The training is grueling and you never know when you'll be fighting for your life…" Trailing off, he looked furtively towards Inada for backup, but she leaned down instead, pretending to remove some detritus from her paddle.

For their every similarity, this was the one difference that always reminded Inada that they weren't the same person, after all:

Kushina actually wanted to be a ninja. Whereas Inada… She thought that she would be quite content spending her days just rowing a boat and fishing.

Suddenly, cold water splashed her in the face. Spluttering, Inada looked up to see Kushina smiling at her.

"Hey, what're you getting all quiet for! I was just saying, y'know."

Inada swallowed. "I'll ask Father to make an exception for you," she said at last. "You definitely have what it takes when it comes to chakra reserves. You have more than me! So there's no reason why you can't try."

"Hmm," mused Kushina. All of a sudden, she picked up her paddle and began to row furiously. "Last one back to the shore has to eat a habanero!"

"What?!" Yashima yelped.

Against her will, Inada's lips twitched, and she picked up her paddle as well. "See you on the other side!"

It was soon after that incident that the reason behind Kushina's seemingly empty words made itself known.

"Inada!" Reiza hissed. "Did you hear the news?"

It took a full minute for Inada to process what she said next, and then another minute of walking back and forth before she finally rushed down to the village.

The chieftain was sitting with the rest of the council—a bunch of boring, rigid old people—when Inada burst into the meeting room. "Father! You can't be serious!"

Steely brows furrowing, he thundered to his feet. "What is the meaning of this?"

While his raised voice would have usually sent Inada backing away, this time she didn't flinch. "Kushina can't go to the Leaf Village. This is her home—you can't force her! Send someone who actually wants to go…!" Suddenly, her head jerked back. Inada's eyes widened and she touched her cheek, already stinging from the blow.

Her father lowered his hand. "You manage to disappoint me in new ways every day," he said coldly. "But it seems like that girl isn't quite as weak. When given the choice to serve the clan, she agreed."

The following days passed in another blur, and then, suddenly, the morning of the strangers' departure had arrived. A crowd was gathered at the harbor once again, and amidst the sea of faces, it was difficult to make out anyone.

Standing at the hilltop, Inada watched from afar, her jaw set.

"Aren't you going to say goodbye?" said Yashima, from beside her. He was a part of the escort taking Kushina to the mainland, but had come looking for Inada before they left.

"What would I say?" she asked, to which he had no response.

"Well, I am," said a voice, startling the two of them. They spun around to see Kushina sling back a travel bag half her size. "You need to train more, y'know, if you couldn't hear me coming up." Marching up to them, Kushina quivered—and then, turning to Inada, she let out a quick exhale. "I won't apologize. But… I'll write to you."

"Me, too," Inada replied, all her anger melting away instantly. "We'll write to each other." A lump rising in the back of her throat, she reached out with her hand. "And I'll visit as soon as I can."

Her lips trembling, Kushina immediately stepped forward and took her hand. They stood there in silence for a few moments. They hadn't been apart since the one month that separated their births.

And then Kushina stepped back. "I'll see you on the other side," she said, lips quirking back into a grin.

With that, they left.

At the foot of the hill, Yashima looked back at Inada, but Kushina did not. Back straight and shoulders set, she soon disappeared into the crowd, and not long afterwards, Inada watched the ship leave the harbor.

Down at the docks, the Gate Ceremony had begun. Seal masters stood at different points on a large sigil drawn in the sand. A drum pounded, and the crowd began to chant the song of the sea. It was a song taught to every child in the village, and despite her mood, Inada began to hum along. On the ship, she knew that Kushina would be following along as well, and somehow, the thought gave her some comfort.

Following the rhythm now pulsating in the air, the seal masters moved in an intricate pattern around the seal. In response, with a great screeching sound, the sky split open and formed a small gateway, just large enough for a single ship. Bobbing gently in the distance, the ship slipped through the crack…and then, it was gone.

At last, Inada felt hot tears well up in her eyes. Her mouth opened to call out—


The ground rocked violently below her feet, and she instinctively reached for her tantō before she realized that something in the horizon had exploded. In an instant, large, dark cracks fanned out from the gateway and spidered across the clouds. Inada watched in horror as the blue skies began to churn, bleeding a bright red—and in a thundering shriek, the world shattered. Gigantic shards began to fall down around the village, and in their reflection, she could see a number of dark ships surging onto their shore.

It should have been impossible, but for the first time ever, the Sealed Gate had been breached.

"Kushina!" Inada cried. "Yashima!" Racing down the hill, she headed for the harbor, where mayhem had broken out.

Numerous foreign ninja poured onto the beach, all wearing the forehead protectors of different villages. Cloud, Mist, Sand, Lightning, and more that Inada couldn't even remember. Was the rest of the world attacking their village? But why? And how?

In a flash, she thought of the two strangers from the Hidden Leaf that had just visited their home. One of them, in particular, had stood out to her—

A stern man with bandages wrapped across his face.

Blood ran indistinguishable from water along the shore, and the furious sound of metal on metal nearly drowned out the screaming.

In the thick of it all, Inada saw her father engaged in a fierce fight with a Sand puppeteer. His summons, the great fox Kuzunoha, roared beside him, swatting aside a wave of puppets with its massive tail. But Inada could already tell that they were going to be overrun—there were just too many of them.

A civilian with long red hair was laying face down in the sand. Inada knew it couldn't be Kushina, but with a pounding heart, she raced forward and reached out to turn her over.

"Are you okay…?" she broke off with a start as she realized that the body's face was gone.

"The Leaf has betrayed us," said a low voice behind Inada, who jumped to her feet.

It was a strange man she had occasionally seen at ceremonies and council meetings with her father. He wasn't old or particularly frail, and yet his face had always given her the impression of skin stretched taut over a skull.

"That…that's impossible," she replied in a faltering voice. "They've always been our allies." Even as she spoke, she knew there was no other way the Gate could have been breached. But if the Leaf had betrayed the Whirlpool, that meant that Kushina and Yashima were now in the hands of their enemies, which was a possibility that Inada wouldn't—couldn't accept.

"I'd always told your father that you are too weak to carry this burden after me," the man rasped. "I am sorry, child."

"What are you…?"

But the man had already raced ahead, the metal of his forehead protector flashing darkly. As he approached the beach at an impossible speed, a number of tails suddenly erupted behind him. They were different from that of her father's summons—these were tails made of pure chakra. The man let out a deep, guttural roar that shook the ground once more, and in response, a rallying cry swept across the Whirlpool forces.

Inada clenched a trembling fist tightly around her tantō's handle. This was no time to be scared. She had to help protect the civilians. She had to protect the village. She had to see Kushina and Yashima again.

Suddenly, she felt her tremoring come to a stop, and she knew that she could fight.

How much time had passed?

Caught in the haze of battle, Inada could no longer tell. It could have been several hours or several days. Whenever it looked like they had defeated all the invaders, even more reinforcements flooded in through the broken gate.

How many people had she killed?

Her hands that had been weaving hair only a few days ago were now stained in blood. The only thing that hadn't changed was the bright red color that ran thick across her fingers.

It was strange. All the hesitation she had felt before in her training had disappeared. It was as though every lesson ever drilled into Inada now manifested itself into each move she made. She knew exactly when to dodge, and at what precise angle to thrust out with her tantō. She found that the gap in combat experience between her and the enemy could be bridged with her sheer quantity of chakra, and one after another, her opponents dropped to the ground before her.

But the numbers she faced paled in comparison to the seemingly endless stream of enemies encountered by her father and the strange man. Standing back-to-back, chakra tails and tantō blades spun in a deadly dance. With every roar of the two foxes, the splinter in the sky seemed to grow just a little more faint.

Inada parried a heavy blow from a Mist-nin, who let out a frustrated cry. Suddenly jumping back, he began to sprint towards her father with lightning chakra crackling along his kunai.

Rapidly going through the seals, Inada threw out her hands. "Suiton: Suiben (Water Release: Water Whip)!" Multiple tendrils of water shot out towards the Mist-nin. Wrapping around his ankles, they dragged him back through the air to Inada, and before he could pull free, she plunged her tantō into his neck. He stiffened in shock, and stilled.

And then the battlefield was quiet.

The remaining enemies had retreated, and in the far distance, the last of the splintering in the sky faded away—the Gate had finally been closed.

The last of her strength slipping away, Inada staggered. Her head drooped down, and she was faintly surprised to see a blade protruding out of her stomach. She looked back up to meet her father's astonished expression.

Am I still a disappointment to you, Father?

Unable to even muster the words out loud, Inada crumpled to the ground, and everything faded away.

When Inada woke, it was to a burning agony in her belly. The pain was so intense, her cry caught in her throat, and her eyes rolled back. In that brief moment of silence, she couldn't see anything, but disembodied voices rang out—

"...I will take…"

"There is no time...only she can…"

Every syllable was another stab in the wound, as she managed to croak out, "What's happening…?"

But instead of responding, a white-clothed medic-nin swooped down, and before she could protest, injected something into Inada's arm. The sharp pain burned like liquid fire and her cry finally escaped her, but everything turned dark.

When Inada next woke, the jumble of pain and sensations had largely abated. She was in a private room by herself. There were no windows, and though she couldn't tell the time of day, judging from the dullness of the pain in her stomach, several days must have passed since the battle. Just as Inada staggered to her feet, the door opened to reveal her father.

"Father!" she cried out, relieved. "What in the world…is going…?" She faltered at the look in his eyes.

Their father had been elderly even when Inada and Yashima had been children. However, due to the sheer strength of their bloodline, he had always brimmed with lifeforce and energy. It was only now that, for the first time, she saw the toll of his years reflected in his haggard face.

"Tena is on the verge of death," he said hollowly. "If he passes without passing it on, the Nine-tails will return to the wilderness. The Gate will collapse, and the village will fall to our enemies."

"The Nine-tails…?" Inada didn't understand.

"The Yin and Yang can only be simultaneously held by an Uzumaki," her father continued, ignoring her. In fact, Inada wasn't sure whether her father had even heard her. "With Yashima gone, the only one left… The only choice left…" He took a step towards Inada, who instinctively backed away. She didn't know what he was talking about, but while she was used to his disapproval, his expression right now was different—it was almost…


"…is you."

After a long period of nothingness, Inada suddenly realized she had been given bodily form once more.

She was floating in a pitch black world. There was nothing around her, above her, or below her. But somehow, she was there. She felt weak and tired, and even though she had just awakened, she wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep.

With a jolt, she realized that it was eerily quiet where she was. Hadn't she been fighting for her life on a battlefield? Where was everyone?

Somehow, it simultaneously felt like it had happened mere moments ago, and also decades ago.

"Kushina?" Inada called out softly, taking a step forward. Despite there being nothing there, her foot held in the darkness, so she took another step forward. "Yashima?"

No one responded. No one had ever responded.

And yet…

Inada knew she wasn't alone. Something was approaching her in the darkness—a presence that silently burned, drawing closer to her with a fire as hot as the sun.

"Kushina…?" Inada echoed weakly.

It wasn't her—she could tell that, at least. But, strange as it was, something about it reminded her of Kushina.

It wasn't just Inada who felt that connection. The darkness enshrouding her—something monstrous—stirred at its approach.

Slowly, Inada raised her hand.

A/N: Yeah it's been almost a year. Yeah it's a bunch of OCs and Naruto wasn't even in this chapter. Oops.

Thank you to blueandgold who has never moved on from anything in her life.