| Burning on the Western Front
||[Jun. 2nd, 2013|04:23 pm]
[Takes place in June of Sandaime Year 29, just over a year before the Kyuubi, when Raidou is eighteen.]
The first time Raidou ripped someone's arm off at the shoulder, he had nightmares for days. That was a long time ago. Now he kicks his screaming target in the face and throws the arm to Gorou, who's out of weapons. A sparking jutsu turns the limb to stone, and Gurou beats another man to death with it, making blood and bone fly. Raidou breaks the amputee's neck.
And that's Tuesday.
The Third Great Ninja War was seven years old before Raidou got into it, a shiny teenage chuunin with ambitions to make himself a hero. He's eighteen now, still a chuunin, and it's the only day job he’s ever had.
Sometimes he suspects it might be screwing him up.
On Wednesday, Gurou dies. It's a quick one. For a moment he's standing at Raidou's side, then he’s a cloud of red mist, wet against the back of Raidou's throat. There aren't even boots left. The rest of the squad rally, chakra and metal unleashing, and they break the line. Gain some ground. Hanako did the math once; every twenty feet costs them one-point-five deaths.
So, like, one dead guy and a torso? Shinju had said, laughing.
Raidou's pretty sure she's dead now, but Konoha's winning, so theoretically it's worth it. Every week they get the update — Konoha's winning, keep going.
After five years, he thinks they might be lying.
Thursday gets him drafted to the medics' tent, playing pack-mule for the evacuating injured, and an extra pair of hands for anyone who needs them. He holds a kunoichi's shredded leg together beneath a medic's green-glowing fingers. Runs half a dozen wide-bore IV lines. Puts his hand inside a man's sucking chest wound to clamp an artery while medics frantically try to resuscitate a gas victim and tell him wait, wait, wait—
Afterwards, he helps drag the corpses outside and burn them. The dogtags get sent home with a messenger-genin.
It's not his watch that night. He gets a little drunk with people who aren't his friends, because most of his friends are missing limbs or faces, and he's not supposed to be drinking, it's against regulations, but screw it. At least he's old enough.
Friday is a long, cold-clouded day of waiting, feeling impatience buzz in his ears and itch under his skin, and it's almost a relief when the first set of explosions blow another squad into unarticulated body parts.
Saturday and Sunday — wash, rinse, repeat.
The bright spot is when Namikaze Minato rips through, a blinding gold blur that leaves fractured corpses in his wake. He routs half a battlefield, and Raidou fails to understand why Konoha doesn't just order him to burn the heartland of Iwa down.
Politics, probably. There's always some treaty attempt busy not working.
Monday comes, and he almost dies.
There's something about war that brings the freaks boiling out of the woodwork. They've seen more rogue bloodlines in the last few years than have been recorded in the last fifty. A lot of them just self-destruct under pressure—last year, one woman's eyes melted right out of her skull. And there was the guy who fell apart at the joints, every tendon snapping like harp strings. But every now and then, something works.
This woman works.
Even his blunted chakra-senses feel her coming, if the screaming wasn't warning enough. (It’s not. There’s lots of screaming.) She falls down on them like the wrath of gods, destroying the front line with an avalanche of burning, melting stone. Tame lava, blisteringly fast. It blackens flesh on bone and buries dozens.
Konoha breaks. Konoha runs.
Raidou's one of the vanguard, working with other earth-movers to blast open trenches and raise walls, anything to slow her down. Water-users move whole rivers to drown the fire out. Steam boils up in immense clouds. They barely slow her down.
Sannin-level, goes the whisper, and now would be a fantastic time to have their own Sannin, but Lady Tsunade is single-handedly keeping the hospital from running into the ground, Jiraya-sama is the last linchpin holding the northeast flank against Grass, and Orochimaru-sama hasn't been to the frontline in months.
The White Fang was their level, but he's been dead for five years.
Splatters of melted stone rain down, burning coin-marks everywhere they fall. Raidou yanks a crest of earth over his head, and turns just in time to see a burst of roaring fire cut him off from the rest of his squad. Fumiko burns alive, screaming.
At his back, the rest of the abandoned trenches are ablaze.
In some small, secret way, it's a relief, but it also pisses him off. He's bone-deep exhausted, but he's not ready.
The war absolutely does not care.
Neither does the woman.
She's beautiful in a terrible, bloody way, with streaming red hair and coldly sane eyes. She's not going to make him suffer, he realizes, she's just going to kill him. Her hands lift and the earth flares up behind her like dragon wings. She's going to kill him and everyone else.
He wrenches on his remaining chakra, dragging it from the depths of his muscles and the red warp of his lurching heartbeat, and throws it into the ground at her feet. He's not the only one; the last members of his squad have three earth-users in the mix, and their chakra joins his. A lot of chakra joins his. Fire explodes in the woman's face. Air blades slice at her. Ropes of water twist around her wrists and her ankles.
Konoha is really bad at running, Raidou thinks, with mad joy.
He rips the earth open, and a dozen people rip it wider, breaking the ground into an insane fractal pattern of destabilizing chaos. The molten wings shiver as the woman stumbles, as she staggers and falls, and hope ignites. But then burning rock sweeps over everything, and she steps onto it, walking directly on the lava. He has no jutsu for that.
He has nothing left to run with.
The wings apex and arch down, dark shadows blotting out the land. Raidou almost closes his eyes, but dammit, if he’s going out, he’s going to watch it—
A burst of blue-fire light blasts the wings apart.
Ricochets spray everywhere. He takes a breath-killing hit that knocks him off his feet, sprawling him flat, but he knows that chakra, and the screaming birdsong that goes with it. Minato's back, with the Hatake boy at his side.
The fight that follows is brutal and land-scarring, and Raidou misses most of it, distracted by the blood choking in his throat. He can’t get a full breath. When he wrestles a hand up, he finds a thick stone spur jutting out of his ribs.
At least it's not on fire.
A medic gets to him just before he passes out, and then she helps him do exactly that. She's young, he thinks muzzily. Pretty brown eyes. Purple tattoos on both hollow cheeks.
He tries to touch her face, but everything breaks black before he can.
When he wakes up in Konoha's hospital, the war is over.
"Oh," says Raidou, when his family cram into the tiny room to cry and hug and tell him the treaty finally went through, he doesn't have to go back.
He's won a commendation.
Thirteen years of war, five years of personal service, and the politicians finished it in the end. It's over.
And that's Tuesday.