June, Sandaime Year 29, just over a year before the Kyuubi

happy-endingThe 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 Gorou 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, Gorou 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, Jiraiya-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.

He’s trapped.

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.

3 thoughts on “Burning on the Western Front

  1. || 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. ||
    — This small paragraph all by itself is so powerful, it really paints war the way it is, I may not have been a soldier but I have been on the receiving end of it (It’s been seven or eight years and they tell us they’re winning, it’s almost over, I’m sorry (name) died but we’re winning so theoretically it is worth it). It really is like that, and I love how you delivered it.

    Really it is so heart wrenching, the way he was fighting with Gorou and the next day he wasn’t. Just losing someone in the flicker of a moment, I wonder how our dear ninja deal with that, how they could ever remain steady while knowing they could die any second.

    || 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.||
    — again, this is so simple yet so powerful, it really communicates the restlessness and anxiety Raidou feels. At war quiet doesn’t equal relief, but a calm before the storm and Raidou, having done this for five years knows by now. My heart aches thinking about how jaded he must be, sent to the front lines at 13 and spending all his adolescent years there. Hell, he lived at war his whole life it’s probably all he knows. Out of team 6 he’s the oldest, has probably seen the most, he was what, 6 when the war started? He saw life before and after, probably remembers exactly how war changed everything.

    || The bright spot is when Namikaze Minato rips through, a blinding gold blur that leaves fractured corpses in his wake. ||
    — and here… I think this is why Minato is some people’s favourite Hokage. Many are war heroes but no one turned battles around the way Minato does and to a jaded soldier like Raidou he was probably regarded like the sun itself

    god it’s so heart-wrenching that Raidou is so exhausted that when he gets trapped for a moment he find it a relief. If he dies he doesn’t have to do this anymore.

    Man Raidou is as tough as nails, he’d literally go out with his eyes open. That’s. Damn.

    I wonder if Rin and Kakashi remember saving Raidou.

    My gods this whole chapter made my heart twinge. So well written, damn amazing. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Ah, I adore the formating in this piece; On Tuesday, on Friday, rinse and repeat, etc. It really showcases the monotomy of war, even when adrenaline is surging and you’re in the middle of a battlefield, even when you’re playing runner for others and there’s a hundred things to do. Thank you.

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  3. I am doing a reread of this, and this one still remains by far one of my favourite prologue chapters you guys wrote.

    I love being able to see a glimpse of the war first hand as Raidou fights in it. The war has been over for 5 years (if I am remembering correctly) by the time the main story line comes around, but it feels very important on both personal and world building levels of this story. At least in a background way. Like, this is an event that has shaped their world, their politics, etc. And each of the main characters grew up and fought in it, which in turn shaped who they are.

    I found the writing style so interesting. It’s different, and a little experimental, but in a good way. I love how matter of fact and dry it is, despite the subject matter.

    I sometimes forget that Raidou met (or I guess saw?) Team Minato long before Kakashi ever shows up at the ANBU Trials. Rin literally saved his life. And I find it terribly ironic and fitting that what is presumably the first time Raidou ever sees Kakashi, Kakashi saves his life, but in doing so Raidou gets hurt in the collateral damage of that same attack that just saved his life.

    I LOVE this detail:
    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.

    That’s fascinating in a horrifying way, and it makes so much sense that there would be a lot of evolutionary failures with genetics that mess around with something as dangerous as chakra/jutsu.

    I loooooove the section about the lava lady showing up, and Konoha straight up FLEEING, before their stubborn asses manage to rally again despite fighting a losing battle.

    Liked by 1 person

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