Drawn and written for the Nejiten Narutofan AU contest.
Often holding power equal to the tribal chieftain, they were links to the spirit world, mediators between this mortal reality and the immortal plane of existence. They were called upon to summon higher-spirits on another's behalf, to ward their tribe from wayward ghosts, to send down wrath upon their tribe's enemies that could not be stopped except by another one of their kind. Shrouded by mystery and magic, they were both secretive and open in their knowledge, hiding their greatest powers for their appropriate time to teaching openly the young ones of the tribe of their untouchable, unseen mystic world.
They walked the dangerous path of both the mortal and immortal.
They were shaman.
x x x x x
It was tribe against tribe, village against village, clan against clan. There was no end to the warring fractions, pitting both warriors and spirit-ally alike into the fray. Battles were won not only by the strength and ferocity of a tribe's warriors but also by the allies their tribal shaman was able to persuade and the elements they controlled.
Fire. Earth. Air. Water. Lightning. The five elements gave rise to five ruling powers, with various fractions beneath them and smaller alliances. Each with their own strength, each with their own affinity to what summons they called upon. And thus, they strove to attain the power to summon the greatest of their spirit-allies...
x x x x x
"This is dangerous, Tenten."
"Like what we do isn't, Neji?"
Neji sighed as he rinsed his hands with purified water, beginning the second step of purification. "That you would attempt summoning something you merely read in a scroll? Yes."
Tenten took the bowl of water away from Neji and lifted it over his head, murmuring a soft ritualistic chant as she tilted it and poured water down his neck and back. She turned away to set down the bowl on the ground near the cave's entrance. "It was a scroll that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family."
"A scroll that has been lost for five generations." Neji pressed his hands together, still wet, bare skin glistening in the early morning coldness and bowed to the etched out circle carved in stone before them.
"And we got it back, didn't we?" Tenten said archly, bowing herself before stepping into the cave. Cut out to be perfectly spherical, this was the hallowed place where they would attempt to make a contract the greatest of their possible spirit-allies.
The legendary dragon, greatest of Fire, and no small power in the other elements.
That Tenten and Neji would attempt to do so was audacious; no one had been able to make a contract with any of the greater powers in over a century. There were rumors of one such power in the Earth lands, and there were tales of an outcast group that talked of attempting to bind the ancient greater powers instead of making a contract with them, and still other rumors of the greater powers that walked the earth as mortals, either bound to such a state involuntarily or coming to this mortal plane for amusement in the war games the humans played.
And they were only shaman of a minor tribe; though it was more like a tribe of misfits and outcasts than an actual tribe related by ancestry. Cobbled together by sheer chance and meeting, the small tribe was beginning to be known as Kitsune -- the Fox -- for the fox-spirit that appeared every so often in battle to overwhelm their opposition. It seemed to favor the young Naruto, who had been brought into the tribe one year ago.
The Kitsune's goal was to reach the central lands of the country of Fire, where the most powerful and greatest tribes under the element of Fire gathered. Supposedly they were hidden in a valley named Konohagakure, and it was the most protected place in the entire country. It should be -- after all, it was under the guardianship of one of the Sannin. There, the Kitsune would be safe; there they would be recognized as a real tribe, even though they were not bound by blood. There, they would prove that even a band of misfits and outcasts could find a place and worth in these times.
Neji was one such outcast. He was of the clan Hyuuga, but of the secondary branch, and thus branded and sealed by the higher. By the mark on his forehead his magical powers were sealed, bounded to the limits the higher Hyuuga would allow. Thus the Hyuuga caged one of their greatest potential shaman to their own limits. At the sacrifice of his father however, Neji managed to escape, and in his wanderings he had come across a small group, with a very intriguing female shaman.
The woman being Tenten. She took him in, and through her foreign magic found ways to sneak past parts of Neji's seal, to allow Neji to do more than he had ever done before. Even though he still remained sealed, he became one of Kitsune's greatest magical warriors, and their strongest yang shaman, Tenten being their ying. Even now there were tales being circulated of Kitsune's other audacious doings, of taking on odds far beyond rationale and winning, of taking in the last of the Uchiha, of the Fox that followed them -- or was them -- the ferocity and tenaciousness of their warriors, their cunning in battle -- all coming from a band of once-nobodies.
Today, they would hopefully add one more story to the tale.
Unlike other summonings, this had little preparation beforehand, only requiring a marked circle and two shaman of male and female. While the lesser powers could be persuaded by incense, offerings, carved shapes or ritualistic words, or bound by sheer will, the greater would only respond to the words of the soul. It was for this reason that it was called a contract -- for the shaman would have to persuade, plead, and prove that they were worthy of calling upon such power.
They sat on opposite sides of the circle, placing their palms flat against their thighs as they faced each other. They wore nothing but the simplest of garments, to represent their humility; a mere loincloth and a simple sheer white dress in the stalk coldness of the small cave. Tenten felt rather bare, having absolutely nothing except a carved circle and Neji across from her. Neji was right; this was audacious and a bit foolhardy, but this was a chance Tenten would not give up. If they were able to do this...
With equal, paced breaths they relaxed their magical shields and pooled their energies together, and in tandem they spoke the words of the summoning of a greater Power.
"Aleph, en selah, anatára na náro.
"Aleph, en selah. We summon the greater. We summon the higher. We summon the greatest of the five, that which is made of Fire, that which reigns in heaven and earth. We call upon the sky's favored one, the breath of Fire, the flame of Spirit. We call for the one who will not be matched nor bound to no man's will.
"Aleph, en selah. We come in pure of heart and pure in mind. A boon we ask; a request we make. To the greater, we ask for the lesser; to the greater, we ask for the bestowment of the sharing of wills. We come in pure of heart and pure in mind; we come in spirit of truth and spirit of fire.
"Aleph, en selah. Hear our cry; this is our plea, this is ourselves. Let the Powers dispense their will as they see fit. Túla. Ayin. Fiat."
They stopped abruptly at the last three final tones, and waited.
If the Greater Power deigned...
Though their eyes were closed, Neji could still see with his innate Second Sight, the blood-born power granted to him by the Hyuuga birthright. He kept his mind blank, even; stilled his heart even as he wished it to race and flittering thoughts wandered – would the Dragon answer? Would they respond? Was this all for naught, or would they be incinerated for their daring to beseech the greater powers?
'It has been…a very long time.'
Neji's breath caught in his throat. What? He didn't see anything--
'A very, very long time…fire-man.' A cool wisp of air brushed against Neji's cheek, and Neji heard a low, guttural chuckle.
Neji's eyes flew open to meet Tenten's own startled ones, and there, in the center—
—was a translucent, curling form of a dragon. Taking on the form of pale blue-grey smoke, it curled up in the center of the circle, with thin wispy horns and delicate scales that glistened in an otherworldly glow. It opened its mouth, and sharp fangs glinted in amusement.
'Siulaid, lie na náro.'
Greetings, people of fire.
Neji opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.
What do you say to a legendary being?
'You asked.' Another chuckle. 'And your request amused me. And so…' The dragon untwined from its curled position, coming to wrap around the two shaman. 'I answered.'
"It is an honor," Tenten murmured from the other side. Inside her heart was singing, for she had called, and there had been an answer, the legendary Dragon she had heard from myth and tale, once only known in childhood stories and dreams. But it was real, and this was happening, and the Dragon was true; her spirit-dreams of wings and scales and smoky breath had not been a lie.
'Ah, so it is, younger sister of my heart.' The dragon raised its head. 'It has been a very long time since I have heard the words of summoning. A very…long time.'
"And do you now judge us accordingly?" Neji's hands tensed against his thighs.
'You ask in such haste. So much a mortal, and yet—' The dragon chuckled again. 'It will be amusing to walk the earth once more.'
The dragon lifted its head. 'What say you, lesser brothers? Will you bind yourselves to the keeping of mortal men once more?'
A chorus of cries heard from another world, before sweeping into the cave and filling it with scales and smoke. 'We hear, and we will bind, Great One.'
The dragon hissed, and then all Neji and Tenten knew was the resounding echo of the Dragon's voice in their mind and the wrapping of steel around soul. 'So mote it be. Fiat.'
And then a whisper. Welcome to the beings of wing and fire, wing-sibs.
x x x x x
"Who are you?" A challenge.
"We?" The man turned to cover her back, and called up blue-green flame.
"We?" The woman echoed, and raised her left hand.
Sinuous curves formed and curled around them.
"The shaman of the Kitsune, and the Dragon-Favored."