Caught in the Whirlpool
It's a good thing that I have a maid service, Minato reflected as he sprawled on the couch in his apartment in the capital of the Land of Fire. Otherwise this place would be full of dust and cobwebs with how little I've been here lately.
He didn't want to keep renting the place; it seemed like a waste of money because he spent even less time living in it than he had originally. But it was good to use as on official address. So long as the public was convinced that he lived there, Kushina's house would remain safe and obscure.
Perhaps I should offer the place to Genma after I get married
A silly grin crept over his face at that thought. They still hadn't found a solid date, but they hoped to get it done before the end of the year. It would be a simple civil ceremonythat much he'd expected from the start since Kushina wasn't big on dresses and elaborate ceremonies. There might be some kind of party afterwards, and Minato really hoped that he could arrange a nice vacation to serve as the honeymoon.
His door buzzer sounded, interrupting his daydreams of the places that he could take her. With a sigh he sat up and ambled over to the intercom to see who it was. Hopefully it would be something important.
"Hey, let me in," Genma's voice crackled over the speaker. "I've got a job for you."
Minato unlocked the door and waited for his assistant and agent to arrive and explain.
"I've got you an exhibition match," Genma half-grinned as he stepped into Minato's apartment with a sheaf of papers tucked under one arm. "The league finally got some gym leader in some piddling little island country called Uzu no Kuni to agree to host a fight."
"The Land of Whirlpools?" Minato repeated, startled.
He'd never been to the northerly nation of islands himself, but his Uncle Jiraiya had visited there twice when he and Kushina had been
estranged. His uncle hadn't found the red head there and gotten a very cold shoulder when he'd started asking around. All the white-haired man had found out was that Kushina had lived there as a girl and hadn't been heard from or seen since she'd abandoned the place to start her pokémon journey.
"Yeah, I've never heard of the place either," Genma shrugged. "But apparently its tiny league is one of the oldest in the area. There are only four gyms, but the one that agreed to the deal is the oldest and the toughest."
sounds interesting," Minato nodded slowly.
"I thought you would," Genma said as he put a fresh toothpick in his mouth. "I got all your travel arrangements squared away so get ready, you need to leave in two hours."
"Thanks," Minato chuckled, took the papers from Genma, and shoved the man towards the door. "I'll go pack."
"You're welcome," Genma grinned. "Hey, are you going to introduce me to your girlfriend anytime soon?"
"Maybe," Minato shrugged and closed his apartment door before Genma could pester him more on the subject.
Speaking of my girlfriend, I should let her know that I'll be out of the country for a little while
He called her house a few times, but only got her answering machine. He ended up leaving a message, but didn't mention exactly where he was going. She was very much against him meeting her family and if she knew that he was going to visit her old country she'd do her damndest to talk him out of it.
I'll tell her all the details when I get back from Whirlpool Country. With that resolved, he went about packing his bags. She'll be pissed, but she'll forgive me.
Inaho slumped in her messy cubicle and folded origami cranes to pass the time. She thought of herself as a serious news writer, but the only solid employment that she'd been able to win was with the Chatot's Chatter, the least credible tabloid in the Land of Fire. Sometimes she was able to sell articles to more respected papers, but "sometimes" didn't pay the bills.
I hate this place sooo much
Real news had been slow lately, which meant they'd been busy inventing stories to sell the masses. They searched the internet for all kinds of conspiracy theories, sightings of mythical pokémon or unknown pokémon species, and ridiculous hoaxes and reported on them as if they were real issues. It was a great exercise in creative writing skills, but it got old for Inaho really fast.
Her computer chirped, indicating that she had a fresh e-mail and she set aside her newest paper crane to see what was up. The message was from one of her carefully cultivated sources and her pulse fluttered faster. This could lead her to a real story instead of another faked picture of a human-pokémon hybrid. As her eyes skimmed the message, she almost cheered out loud.
Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Oh yes!
Minato Namikaze was going to participate in a televised exhibition battle in a foreign gym. Because he was a big celebrity, she could get the Chatter to defray her travel expenses. And whatever she could dig up on him, no matter how small, could be really big if she was the only one to get the scoop.
The league champion was one of her favorite celebrity subjects. He was not only talented and extremely handsome, but he was a genuinely nice guy. But he was also incredibly mysterious. Very little was known about him before he'd been thrust into the spotlight after defeating the previous champion, and because of the nomadic lifestyle of pokémon trainers it was difficult to glean much from what could be traced of his movements. Details like who he'd traveled with and what he'd done in-between gym challenges and tournament appearances were much speculated on, but completely unknown.
Inaho had always personally wondered about the romantic angle of his story. Minato had been linked to dozens and dozens of women by all sorts of newspapers and magazines, but all of them had turned out to be nothing. There had even been stories about him with men, but none of those had panned out either.
He's got to be asexual, Inaho thought as she hurriedly put together a proposal for her boss so that she could get her hands on a company credit card. A beautiful man like him should have a gorgeous wife and a stable of adorable children by now. Heck, he should have a handsome boyfriend by now if he's not into women!
She did a quick search on the country where Minato Namikaze would be traveling to and frowned a little when not much came up. It was a nation made up of a handful of islands. It was larger than the tiny Land of Waves, smaller than the multi-island Land of Water, and more northerly than either country. They were big on fish, quarried stone, pottery, and not much else.
And that was it.
Huh, maybe I can find time to write up a travel piece on this Land of Whirlpools while I'm out there to sell on the side
After three days of train rides Kushina had caught the big once-a-day ferry from the mainland to South Uzu Island and was now on the local ferry to Central Uzu Island. Soon the boat would reach Uzu Town's docks and she would be back in her birthplace. And the closer the ferry came to the harbor and the docks, the darker her mood became.
This is a mistake, this is a mistake, this is a mistake
The moment that she'd committed to this trip and set foot on her first train, she started mentally kicking herself. Doubts and nightmarish situations danced through her brain with increasing frequency as she drew nearer to her destination. If she could've backed out of this journey, she would have before even reaching the border of the Land of Fire.
With a weary groan she leaned up against the ferry railing and stared into the murky saltwater. The smattering of islands that formed Uzu no Kuni were surrounded by dangerous strong currents that when mixed with the rocky shorelines and ingoing and outgoing tides formed whirlpools of all sizes. And when the five main islandsWest Uzu, North Uzu, East Uzu, South Uzu, and Central Uzuwere looked at on a map, they sort of formed a spiral shape going out from Central, through North, and all the way around to South. It was really no wonder that the people that first lived here called the place "Whirlpool Country".
"Seasick?" a friendly male voice asked.
Kushina glanced up to see a man about her age standing at the rail beside her. He had bluish-black hair and pale brown eyes and a hint of a tattoo peeked out from under the right sleeve of his brown leather jacket. She was pretty sure that she'd never met this man before, but something about his facial features gave her the feeling that she was familiar with his family.
"No," she replied tersely. "Just gloomy."
"I can't say that I've ever seen you around before," the stranger remarked. "My name is Shun Kurohi."
She swallowed a sigh at this information. The Kurohi clan in general thought that they were the greatest of the ten ancient clans of Uzu by virtue of the fact that they bred and raised dragons. They were the greatest rival to the Uzumaki clan and in the distant past there had even been a blood feud between them.
"Hi," Kushina muttered.
"We don't get many strangers coming to the heart of Uzu," Shun said. "So what brings a beautiful maiden like yourself to this place?"
"Business," she responded tartly. "And I'm engaged."
"Really?" Shun quirked an eyebrow. "I don't see any diamond on your finger."
Kushina flashed her heart scale necklace at him. "This is my engagement present."
Your man has good taste." He glanced around at the ferry deck to either side of them. "Where is he? Are you here all by yourself?"
"I'm a big girl," she said dryly. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
Before he could irritate her any further, she abandoned the rail and returned to her seat inside the warmer, less windy cabin. To her great relief, Shun didn't follow her. But almost as soon as she'd sat down the ferry captain came over the public address system and informed the passengers that they'd reach the dock in ten minutes.
Arashi Uzumaki cursed through clenched teeth as his last pachinko ball bounced its way through the machine and disappeared without earning him any new metal balls to play with. He angrily hopped off his stool and dug around in his pockets for more money. Eventually he came up with a few bills, but hesitated.
No, I should save this. He grimaced and skulked out of the smoky pachinko parlor and onto Uzu Town's gloomy streets. If I come back home broke again, they'll know that I've been gambling again.
He knew he had a bit of a problem, but it wasn't nearly as serious as his father and brothers made it out to be. Yes, he lost a lot of money, but that was only because he never picked the right time to quit and walk away with his winnings. When he'd lose money he'd be compelled to try and win it all back, and at best that led to him just breaking even.
His father treated him like a useless moron. Aunt Asuka looked at him like he was a leper. Kenshin would always shake his head sadly whenever he heard that Arashi was out of money again. And Ichi-Tora and Ni-Tora got all nervous and awkward when he would talk about pachinko or poker around them. They all judged him and looked down on him like he was some raging alcoholic when most of the time he had it under control and he was so incredibly sick of it.
Kushina was the smart one. She got the hell out of here as soon as she could. He spat on the street and headed towards his favorite vending machine for a snack. I wish that I could do the same.
But to leave Uzu, he'd need some savings and a lot less debt. He'd never been one for much camping out in the wilds and he'd never experienced much wanderlust. Battling pokémon had never been much more than an occasional hobby for him; placing bets had always been the real adrenalin rush for him
Arashi reached his favored vending machine, fed it a few coins, and punched the keys to get a highly caffeinated fizzy drink.
Maybe if I'd left when I was young, I'd be better off right now, he pondered. Kushina's got her own house on the mainland somewhere, or at least an apartmentsomething that gives her a fixed address to send letters from. And she claims that she's getting married, when I can't seem to keep a girlfriend for longer than six months!
His surprise encounter with his long-lost sister in Jungle Country had been a real shock to him. The tomboyish brat had been unrecognizable and her apparently successful life was like a kick to his teeth. He hadn't told Akane about what he'd learned, and when he'd brought his cousin home his father had lectured him about washing some of his travel funds on a few spins of a slot machine so he hadn't felt like sharing his story. But Aunt Asuka had managed to weasel details out of him when he'd tried asking her if she'd ever seen his father sneaking letters out of the daily mail before anyone else could see them.
I guess she must've found the letters with all those long-distance phone calls Dad was complaining about her making, Arashi snorted as he cracked open his drink can and took a big swig. It's too bad he never asked Aunt Asuka who she was calling
A flash of red in the corner of his eye drew his attention to the figure of a red-haired woman with a large bag just as she rounded a corner across the street from him.
Nah, couldn't be. She wouldn't come back here after escaping from this hell hole
It had been over two decades since she'd set foot on Uzu Town's streets, but it hadn't seemed like it as Kushina had passed through on her way to Professor Utatane's lab. A few shops that she remembered from her youth had closed and there was one brand new building, but nothing else seemed to have changed. Uzu Town almost seemed immune to the passage of time and she found herself another reason to be glad that she'd escaped.
The woman professor's lab was equally unchanged from the last time that Kushina had seen it after acquiring Crusher and her pokédex and then running off to catch the next ferry. It was a small group of plain concrete buildings perched on a hill a quarter mile outside of Uzu Town. Kushina shifted her duffel bag strap on her shoulder as she came up to the front door and gathered her nerve to knock
The door swung open before she could raise her fist and the elderly Professor Koharu Utatane squinted out at her. She was visibly older than Kushina remembered with her hair now entirely gray and much deeper lines around her eyes and mouth. She had slightly larger and more elaborate sticks holding her hair in her style of bun and she was wearing new earrings, but her style of dress was the same.
"You're here," the old woman grumbled. "Well, come in."
Kushina swallowed and stepped inside after the professor. The interior was a bit older and less sophisticated than Professor Sarutobi's, but then again the building had been first building by a previous pokémon researcher and upgraded when Koharu had moved in. The old woman brought her to a conference room and waved her towards a chair, then sat down herself.
"So what has Hiruzen told you?" Professor Utatane asked.
"That you needed help because you've temporarily lost your two assistants," Kushina answered.
"Huh, so not much." The old woman tucked her hands into her sleeves and leaned back. "I would've done without Ishida and Yoshi until they could return to work, except that I've stumbled over a mystery. Pokémon that should not be here have turned up lately. Perhaps they were washed in by recent storms, perhaps they've become lost from their migration routes, or maybe some smugglers got sloppy and lost some cargo."
"Smugglers?" Kushina frowned.
"You sound surprised," Koharu chuckled. "You shouldn't be. With how sluggish the local economy's been and for how long it's been that way there's all kinds of smuggling and black market activity going on here. There's a minor island off the shore of East Uzu that now hosts a small population of wild piplups that I've persuaded the police to protect because some smugglers were extremely inept and accidently released a dozen breeding pairs in the area."
just never heard much about the subject around here before," Kushina shrugged uncomfortably. "So, what do you need me to do?"
"Check the coastline for what doesn't belong," the professor snorted. "So far I only have a few confused reports from fishermen on what's gotten loose this time so I'd like your help in acquiring at least one specimen. And keep your eye out for unusual things washing ashore. Just yesterday I found the remains of a crate that had smashed pokémon eggs in it that I haven't had much luck identifying."
"They smashed pokémon eggs?" Kushina hissed through her teeth.
"Surely not on purpose," the old woman said. "Unidentified eggs can go for a fortune on the black market with the right salesman. Some klutz probably dropped the crate during some kind of move, the eggs got damaged, and were thrown away. There was one survivor that I've got in the lab's incubator right now, but I can't determine what species it belongs to either."
"You can't match it to anything in the egg database?" the red-head blinked.
"The egg database is a joke," Koharu scoffed. "It was never comprehensive and completely lacked non-standard shell patterns that resulted from some mixed species matings. And now that new pokémon species are being imported, it's even more out of date. Evolution, pokémon language, fossils, and a dozen other pokémon subjects are more popular research topic than eggshell patterns!"
Kushina mutely nodded in agreement.
"Anyway where was I?" The woman professor rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Ah yes, talk to any fishermen or travelers that you meet to see if they've seen any unfamiliar pokémon in the area, and get your brothers to help you. I've tried to get some townies to help me with my inquiries but they always seem to forget that they agreed to keep me in their gossip loops."
"And I'll be able to keep them on task?" the young woman muttered dubiously.
"Of course you will. You're not an outsider like me
And," she added, "try to visit the Sealed Shrine once a day to feed Kyuumaru."
"Akane doesn't feed him anymore?" Kushina asked in disbelief. "She was in love with him when I left."
"She fell out of love with him when it became clear that she couldn't persuade him to join her performance squad," Koharu replied dryly. "Akane still leaves him meals on occasion, but she's gone more than a third of the year on contest circuits. And most of the other families that used to leave him offerings have fallen out of the habit."
"Alright, I'll make sure to feed Kyuumaru," Kushina nodded.
"Good, you'll start tomorrow; come here bright and early," the professor instructed.
Kushina frowned. "What, I'm not staying here?"
"Of course not!" Koharu cackled. "The living quarters in this lab are barely big enough for me! You have family that you can stay with if you don't want to spend the money for a motel room."
The red-haired woman's shoulders sagged in dismay.
Professor Sarutobi settled in his private office and locked the door. He unlocked one of his desk drawers and pulled out a sheaf of papers. With a grim look on his face he studied them yet again.
Nothing concrete enough to hand over to the police without them demanding my source. The Syndicate surely has some spies in the police force, but Itachi doesn't know who. Perhaps
I should tell Danzou some of what I know.
His old peer was a mysterious fellow. Hiruzen had invited him along on a few risky adventures long ago in their youth, and while he was a prickly sort he was also dependable and protective of his home country. Anything that would insure the security of Hi no Kuni, its resources, and historical treasures he would gladly do. He knew that Danzou was up to something that he felt would keep the Land of Fire's powers out of the wrong hands even now that he was officially retired. And he was also sure that it was
He would never join forces with these criminals, especially if they're out to capture the legendary pokémon that old stories claim to be guardian spirits of the land. In the worst case scenario he'd probably try to
A knock at his door jolted him from his dark musings.
"Professor," Ebisu's voice said through the door. "Naruto Uzumaki is on the video phone for you."
"Transfer it to my office, please," Sarutobi instructed and put the papers back in the locked drawer.
A minute later the video screen on his desktop came alive and his female assistant's son's face looked back at him through it.
"Good evening, Naruto
what happened to your face?" the professor asked, concerned.
"Oh, nothing," the blond boy shrugged and nervously poked at his lower lip, which was swollen, slightly discolored, and bore a fresh-looking scab. "Is my mom still at the lab? I've called home a couple of times and I just got the answering machine and Ebisu didn't want to tell me anything."
"No, Naruto," Professor Sarutobi answered. "Your mother isn't here. I sent her to help a colleague of mine near Uzu Town