Hey everyone on fictionpress! This is my new story – The Unbalanced Soldiers (the name might change in future, but for the moment I'll stick with this). It was inspired, probably obviously, by manga and anime, so that's the kind of thing I was picturing while writing this – (if you want some idea as to how I picture everyone, check out one like Black Butler or Nabari no Ou for the kind of drawing style I was picturing in my head). I know the summary made it sound a bit like a smash-everything-in-big-ninja-fights-all-the-time kind of action story, and there will be a lot of action and fighting in this, trust me, but I'm also trying to make it a bit more than that, trying to make the writing decent as well, and characters that are hopefully more than just random ninjas- because while ninjas are in every way awesome, I want to make this a good story as well. Enjoy! And please remember to read and review – criticism is always welcome! (as long as it's constructive :D )

The sun had disappeared and the sky it left behind was grey and dull, swarming with thick rainclouds that spilled themselves into the path of the swirling winds below. Seasons had changed, for those who still existed to notice it. Spring, summer, winter, autumn – now it was hot, dry, burning like an angry furnace or cold, howling winds that splattered rain as they whirled through the streets and over the landscapes. There were lulls where one ended and the other began, when the weather ceased enough for travelling to become bearable for an ordinary being, but then the clouds would gather and the sun would reappear and the air would fill with fire again.

The last buildings of what had once been one of the world's greatest cities stood like reluctant survivors among the rubble of their fallen friends, who had failed the tests put to them by war and time. The roads had cracked, gaping tears in the tarmac, windows that hadn't been shattered by raging weather or desperate survivors reflected only the faintest pictures through their film of dampened soot and grime and vehicles littered the roads like rubbish, thrown carelessly at strange angles about the street, one door flung open, seats torn, filling with water and debris. Everything was covered by a raging smog of rain, transforming everything to the colour of ashes. No sane human would dare to try and venture out into one of these storms.

Which obviously meant that Carmine wasn't sane. She could imagine exactly Hayato would say if he knew she was out in a storm like this, she could see the look on his face in her mind. He would definitely hit the roof.

"You're the only one of you we've got! When will you stop trying to kill yourself and start training properly? Do you even understand anything I've been trying to tell you for the last month? Don't even try and talk to me, some of us have more important things to worry about than your escapades, Carmine."

And then he would go back to his room and sulk until supper came to cheer him up. For a moment a devilish grin appeared on her face, but disappeared quickly as she slipped sideways in a gust and grabbed for the crooked form of a lamppost to keep her upright. She could deal with this. Rainstorms were fine, and it wasn't like she'd never braved one like this before. She flattened herself against the wall, making herself as small as possible against the wind, and grimaced as the rain tore through her clothes and hair. Her school uniform was the only outfit of clothing she owned so it had to make do; the long white blouse, the enormous black bow tied at her neck, the slim black blazer with piping down the lapels, the knee-length pleats of her black school skirt and her long white socks edged with a tattered strip of lace. The only things she wore which she had acquired since were her boots – sturdy, brown, ankle highs- infinitely more practical for her new lifestyle than shiny mary-janes. Everything was started to show wear; her boots were shabby and scuffed, her clothes dishevelled and beginning to display ragged tears where she hadn't been so careful about avoiding rough and prickly spots in her surroundings. She heaved a deep breath and scraped her soaked blonde hair out of her eyes. This was boring. She was going to make a run for it. She balanced herself lightly on the balls of her feet, readying herself for the run. As soon as she was away from the wall she would sprint, head down into the wind until she reached her next makeshift windbreak. Okay. She was ready. She had done this before.

Like a tiny streak of lightning she tore from the wall and dashed into the rain, grimacing as it lashed her furiously in the face. She barely skidded on her small nimble feet until she saw ahead of her the unmistakable form of a truck, and lunged forward into a shoulder roll until her shoulder blades were pressed against the rusted door. That had been easy. She allowed a small smile of triumph to appear on her lips. Now she just had to do that again. And again. And again and again until she was out of the city. But she was small, she was fast and she was agile – she could manage this. She took a small breath and quickly scanned her surroundings again, out of habit that had been trained into her. It was good practise, Hayato said. Even though she knew that there was nothing new to see here. Or she thought. And she was evidently, unless her eyes were deceiving her, wrong.

The person clearly wasn't looking her way. The way they were slumped against the side of the overturned car, one arm still draped over the top like they had been trying to reach something on the other side. The figure was evidently male, that much was clear despite the waist length hair too sodden with rain and mud to tell its real colour. He had definitely passed childhood, but not by much, and was dressed only in a pair of loose, badly-fitting white trousers that were soaked with dirt. His legs were bent in front of him, away from the car he was propped against, and his torso was twisted away from Carmine with his head hanging down on his bare chest and his other arm hanging beside him. In one quick movement she sprang between the two vehicles so she was next to him. He was limp, out cold, and had clearly been lying like that for a while as the rain bucketed down on top of him. She rolled him onto his back, and felt for his pulse. A faint throbbing beneath her fingertips reassured her, but the beating was still weak and slow. At least he was alive. She shielded her eyes and glanced up towards the grey sky. The rain showed no sign of stopping, and especially with the low rumble of thunder beginning in the distance, it was never a good idea to be out in a storm like this too long.

oOoOo

The thunder of rain was deafening against the roof. As he tried to move, every bone and joint in his body reminded him that they hurt; a heavy, dull ache like they were made of lead. His eyes were too heavy to open, and he was cold. And wet. But at least… at least the rain was falling on the roof, and not on him. Which meant he was inside. And he couldn't remember getting there. He raised a hand to his face – even such a small movement caused his muscles to burn with a deep, angry fire and caused him to groan weakly with the pain. His stomach lurched and he felt like he was going to be sick.

"Just relax, moving's only going to make it worse." A voice from above sounded through the hammering of the rain. With all the effort it took he opened his eyes, wincing as even the dim light around him stung, and saw the hazy shape of a face above him. A young face, big blue eyes, long blond hair, drifting in a fog above his head… his eyes shut again as his head rolled to the side and he murmured something intelligible as he fell away into the darkness again.

Carmine sighed as he slipped away again. He had been doing this for a while; waking long enough to feel just how weak his body was, trying to move and open his eyes, and then falling unconscious again. It had been about an hour and he still hadn't regained consciousness long enough to say something vaguely understandable. She sat down on one of the seats again, tucking her knees up under her chin. It was a good thing she'd already ventured through this city several times before, knew it enough to know that somewhere in the crazy scattering of vehicles was a battered old minibus, with a roof that was intact enough to keep the raging weather off them. She had laid him straight down the aisle between the seats. Evidently, something had been taking its toll on his body; he didn't look as though he'd seen a bed or a proper meal in weeks. He was tall, about as tall as Hayato if not taller, and even though his frame was slim his muscles were prominent and defined, but that couldn't disguise the visible outlines of his ribs against his chest and the hollows beginning to form in his cheeks. He couldn't be much older than eighteen, and his face was feminine, despite the sharp jawline. He was definitely attractive, there was no doubt about that, but he was also mysterious, clearly had been physically fit and capable before hunger and whatever else he had encountered had taken its toll on his body and had been found out in the rain with no obvious explanation, and that made him potentially dangerous. She had taken off her boots and draped her blazer over the back of one of the seats, and for the next few minutes she sat, watching him with a thoughtful curiosity. She didn't think he would hurt her; he didn't look like some kind of warrior sent to kill her and all the rest of their makeshift village – but Hayato had said before, hadn't he, that she was too trusting. Well, she thought defiantly, she was the only one here now with this boy so for the moment she could make the rules, and she had decided that he could be trusted not to spring suddenly from the ground and kill her.

He groaned weakly again, signifying that once more he was awake. She sprang lightly to his side, crouching by his head. This time, he opened his eyes almost immediately. That was a good sign. He frowned, momentarily confused as her face appeared in his vision. He had soft, melancholy grey eyes, rendering his appearance even more ghostly – the long, pale limbs, the waist length strands of silver hair, the soft feminine features, the hypnotic eyes. He propped himself weakly up on his elbows, still aching, but not enough this time to render him immobile. The girl who was watching him with her round, blue eyes was crouching beside him. She was small, and looked young – ten or twelve at the most. He long, rain-soaked blond hair was tied into two flowing pigtails and she was wearing what seemed to be a battered school uniform.

"Who…" was all he managed to say as the world swam sideways again and the girl's arms were suddenly what were keeping him sitting upright.

"I don't know how long you've been out so take it easy, ok?" she said, arching an eyebrow with a knowledgeable expression that looked out of place on a young girl. He tried too nod but his head was spinning with such a thick fog that again he fell forwards and she pulled him back upright with small, strong arms; arms unusually strong for a girl like her.

"Who… are…you?" he managed weakly, looking at her with his gentle mournful eyes and an expression of faint confusion.

"Carmine," she replied, tossing her pigtails back with a habitual shake of her head. "But you can call me Mimi. Everyone does."

"Mimi," he repeated softly, testing her name out to see how it sounded.

"What's your name?" she asked him curiously in return.

He looked distant for a moment, as if he was thinking, as if he couldn't quite remember, then met her eyes again with a faint smile. "Astaire… my name is Astaire."

"Astaire?" she frowned. It wasn't a name she had heard before.

"Astaire..." he blinked, raising a hand to his face. He felt dizzy again, and his mind was still full of fog. He pressed his fingers against his eyes to stop the world from spinning lazily in front of him. "Like Fred… with the… feet…"

He went limp, falling backwards against Carmine's arms and she knew that he had fallen unconscious again. It wasn't unexpected, he had been lying out in that weather for who-knew-how-long until she had found him, and he was in a pretty bad state. At least he was breathing, if he-

Her thoughts were rudely interrupted. The back doors of the minibus crashed open unceremoniously and one was flung off its corroded hinges. Silhouetted in the doorway against the downpour stood a tall, imposing figure, ignoring the rain that pelted against him. His face, still young, scowled furiously from under the black hair that was plastered to his forehead with the rain. He was dressed in the long folds what had been an elaborately decorated kimono, now drenched with water and showing tears of excessive wear.

"Carmine! For God's sake why didn't you come back to the village before the storm began? Even an idiot like you could see the clouds from a mile off! And why the hell- " Hayato recoiled, shocked, as he saw the boy's half-naked figure on the floor for the first time. He prided himself on his awareness but despite everything he taught Carmine, all his training went out the window when he was furious. "Who the hell is that?"

"This is Astaire," replied Carmine helpfully. "He's coming back to the village with us."