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Alone it strode the highway outside of Kirigakure. During the witching hour when all sane men and women were huddled safely away from ghosts and night haunts. It had been human once, though the memories of those days seemed like a dream shrouded in fog. Limbs of flesh and bone were gone and in it's place metal and wood served to carry the entity across the land. Soon it would arrive and do what it must to protect it's own existence. Self preservation was paramount to the being and it would not be threatened by those living or dead.

Every so often when combing a beach one might come across the ever so iconic message in a bottle. Fanciful tales hold that such an item contains the location of a stranded castaway or possibly even a map to buried treasure. More often than not the message is simply something thrown into the waves by a child covered in meaningless scribbles . It could even be a rude message placed by an adult who possesses greater writing ability, but about the same level of maturity as the child.

The particular message in a bottle that Di had found was strange for two reasons. First he wasn't in the ocean at the moment but rather the room he was renting in Kirigakure. Or at least that was what he thought, the sea though seemed to have other ideas. Water had poured in beneath the cracks in his door and as Di rose and pulled the door open the little bottle containing the message bobbed in merrily.

Standing in several inches of water, Di carefully removed the cork of the bottle and slipped out the message. Di's night vision was good due to his draconic blood so with the light of the full moon he could make out the notes contents. It was two lines, the first of these seemed to be detailing an address. The second only contained only two words - help me. No detective worth half his weight in salt could turn down following up something that cryptic.

As Di took to the streets of Kiri it didn't take him very long to see that something was clearly amiss. Aside from the omnipresent water that lapped at his ankles the cities inhabitants seemed to be replaced by all manner of apparitions. Hitodama – the flames that represented unmanifested spirits floated through back alleys , translucent soldiers whose uniform indicated they had died during the seven bells war whispered to each other in hushed tones. Passing the red light district Di even caught sight of several Yokai engaging in what seemed to be a business transaction. A rokurokubi, long neck extended well over three meters, winked at Di, her kimono showing more than a hint of her ample bust.

Not quite blushing, Di composed himself and reviewed the facts of the situation. The architecture here suggested that this was still on some level Kirigakure. The houses, streets and signs were all the same but the ever-present water and ghostly denizens would indicate that Di was currently inhabiting a state tied to the realm of spirits. Di's conclusion – he had been pulled into the bardo by some force or entity. The bardo was the realm between the lands of the living and the realms of the dead, a shadowy reflection of the physical world. Here the dead lingered before passing onto their next state of existence but some souls became trapped or waylaid for various reasons.

Care was needed for other creatures lurked here as well. Oni and yokai were all too often ready to prey upon any unsuspecting mortals who found themselves here. Di was of course not exactly a regular person himself but advertising that he was a young dragon alone without any guards would make things even more dangerous for him. Very few demons would pass up the chance to slay an adolescent dragon before he had come into his adult powers. Best just to keep a low profile.

Finally Di came to the address written on the piece of paper. All in all it looked remarkably normal - just another house in Kiri without any extraordinary features. In the distance there was a slapping sound and Di curiously turned his head to find the source of the noise. A lone gaunt figure was slowly paddling a boat towards him. Garbed in white Di couldn't make out much more of the boatman at this distance. Well it wouldn't be here for a few more minutes yet so he may as well knock on the door and see if anyone was at home in the house.

If the house was occupied would the inhabitant be the one who brought him here? Or would they be someone who was dragged into this transient realm unaware of why their floor was covered in icy water and spooks were darting about the once familiar streets. There was only one way to find out.

Knock Knock.

(831 Words)

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Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden belong to © Masashi Kishimoto.