Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 49 ( Chapter 59 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: I considered letting a number of things drag on, but considering the reaction to the last chapter I figured I'd try and clear up what I felt I could right away instead of saving it to the end. Besides, the biggest shockers have pretty much already happened, so there's no point in dragging it on much longer other than to torture the readers... which isn't the point. And there's enough of a cliffhanger at the end without the added stress....
Chapter 49
"Come on, come on, wake up," an anxious voice was saying. It was distorted, as if she was underwater, and there wasn't any way of determining who it was... for that matter, she wasn't sure who she was. She felt a hand slapping her face, but it didn't feel right -- almost like it was happening to someone else, and was just a sympathy pain. "I know I got that drug into you in time -- wake up!"
"Quit shouting," another voice called out. "You're giving me a headache."
"Don't complain," the first voice replied. "You're lucky I had two doses of the drug on me -- she was supposed to be alone. Wake up, Ino-sensei! Wake up!"
"Mmrgh," Ino replied, now knowing who she was but little else.
"That's it, sensei... wake up. Kakashi-sama said this should snap you out of it in just ten minutes, and it's been fifteen. I had a hard time finding you -- Butakatsu-kun did a remarkable job with that genjutsu -- but I know I got the antidote in you before it was too late."
Ino's eyes blinked open tirely, and she could just barely make out a blur in front of her. Her hearing was clearing up, however, and she was now able to identify the speaker. "P...pansuke-san?"
"Yes, sensei," the genin girl said, sighing with relief. "Now, get up -- we don't have much time."
"Muh... what's going on?" Ino asked, shaking her head to try and clear up the fuzziness around everything.
Pansuke sighed. "Okay, you have until I'm done explaining to get back to your senses, but then we have to move. Got it?"
Ino blinked dazedly. "If... if I can."
"I guess that'll huffed do," the younger kunoichi huffed impatiently. "Okay. This all goes back to, oh, about five or six years ago, when Kakashi-sama was on a diplomatic mission to the Cloud. He was approached by a rebel group, who offered to ally the Cloud to Konoha if he would 'help them' in thier plans... to usurp power in Cloud and conquer the new economic powerhouse of Wave Country. As 'proof' of their reliability, they gave up the information that Sinobi Gashir was still alive. Now, what he should have done, considering he had identified several of the people involved as being heavy supporters of the Rock, was to reject them right away... but he didn't. Instead, he said he would consider it, and then secretly informed the Raikage of everything that was going on. The Raikage asked him to play along, giving him a message for the Hokage-sama about establishing some sort of secret communications line to clear things up between our two powers while we worked on this subterfuge.
"Kakashi-sama has since been working to try and bring these Cloud traitors to light -- on behalf of both Konoha and the Cloud -- and much of what's taken place since then has all been part of this. The creation of Blossom was asked for by these traitors, which we actually agreed to do for multiple reasons, but they intended it to only be a way to funnel money into their movement. We did funnel some money into them, but only enough to buy their trust... and then, he arranged for Naruto-sensei to take control of the village and close those funnels... all without letting anyone outside of the hokage know what was going on, and therefore making it appear as if his plans were being countered by outside forces, while advocating that 'Naruto be brought into the plan' with the Cloud. He didn't know about the planned assassination of the Wave Daimyo, but he did make arrangements to ensure that Naruto-sensei would be the 'leader' of the Chuunin Exam in Cloud to prevent things from going wrong. Sinobi Gashir was actually someone who both the traitors and the Raikage done away with, since he was abusing the power he held and had apparently gone insane, and so the Raikage approved of his capture. Kakashi-sama did try to protect Hanabi-sensei, but in the end it was Naruto who saved them there.
"Akane was a known spy from the moment he joined the Academy, so Kakashi-sensei made arrangements to ensure that he would become a 'controlled' leak, feeding him largely accurate information that wouldn't be damaging so that we could possibly use him to give out some false information at one point. That never materialized, but along the way he was supposed to recruit others for the Cloud -- something Butakatsu-kun was the first to report to Kakashi-sama. So, he and I were turned into double-agents, as well, out of necessity. Naruto-sensei was finally brought into the fold, informed of just what the plan was, and he played along by forming that 'shadow government' you all have been using... and it was his job to ensure that the Cloud's plans would be ruined without drawing the traitors' attention to Kakashi-sama. For the past several years, his primary 'source' in the administration has been Kakashi-sama himself. This has all been done with the most secrecy as possible -- Naruto-sensei hasn't even been allowed to let Sakura-sensei know.
"Which brings us to today. Today, while 'the one person who could stop Kakashi-sama' was away -- meaning Naruto-kun -- you were supposed to 'discover' what was going on, thanks to my getting 'cold feet' about some of the recent plans. My reporting this to you, and then you reporting this to others, was supposed to result in the capture of the rebel Cloud agents in the act, which would force the traitors to take Kakashi or, at least, Butakatsu-kun, to the location of their safehouses and other secret facilities. From there, we would be able to act to smash the traitors. You weren't supposed to give yourself away, however, and apparently several other things have gone wrong. I recieved a note at a pre-arranged dead-drop, complete with poison antidotes, saying I would have to revive you and get some of the story from you, and that Naruto-sensei was in serious danger. Now, I've answered what I know about what's going on -- I need to know what you know about what's going on... and fast."
Ino, still fuzzy from all the drugs and poisons, couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I... I... look, how do I know you're telling the truth, here?" she asked.
Pansuke snorted. "Oh, come on, Ino-sensei. What would be the point of making up a story like this? For that matter, I'd think the proof is that you're still alive after Butakatsu-kun used that genjutsu he'd been spending a couple years perfecting to cover you, instead of forcing Kakashi-sensei to put his chidori through your gut."
Ino shook her head wearily, but then, recalling just what it was she'd learned that had caused her to give away her position, stiffened. "Good point. Okay... you're right, Naruto-dono is in trouble. Serious trouble. We're going to need just about everyone for this one."
Pansuke smiled hesitantly. "Well... that actually might not be a problem."
* * * * *
"Okay," Hanabi, standing in front of the first cluster of ninja Ino saw, was saying. "Now, I realize this is a difficult mission, and that ninja are supposed to remain on an even keel at all times, but this particular mission is personal for me. My boys are both in danger, here, and while we don't quite know what's going on yet, I'm going to see to it that they get out of that danger alive...."
Ino couldn't hear more from that speech as she was hustled on through the milling crowds by Pansuke. There was Anko, with what looked like a trio of ANBU behind her... which wouldn't make sense, since, to the best of her knowledge, there were no ANBU in Blossom. Hana -- and Futaba, who must have just returned from the daimyo's castle -- were organizing ninja and dog alike. Udon, Matsuri, Nobori, Kouji, Daichi, Aoba, and Ebisu were all there, as well, organizing a large number of genin and newer chuunin into teams, coaching them on various aspects of some sort of plan. And, in front of them all, directing everybody, was Konohamaru, in intense discussion with Jiraiya.
"All right," the young man was saying, "The first thing we'll have to do is find Kakashi-sensei. He's the only one who knows where they were going, and he'll be the only one who can tell us how to get there...."
"What's going on?" Ino demanded.
"And make it fast," Kireme, who just barely had been able to keep up with her, added. "We've both had a long day, and it looks like it'll just be getting longer."
Konohamaru glanced at them. "We know Naruto-san's in trouble. We know it's big enough trouble that it's made kyuubi anxious. We don't know where Naruto is, yet, but we'll find out... and then we're going in to rescue him."
"How-- no, never mind, I know how," Ino sighed. She was one of a few people who knew the nature of Moegi's connection to Naruto and Sakura, and so she was quickly able to guess how he knew kyuubi's mood. Apparently, the Akatsuki were making him anxious. "Well, guess what, I do know where Naruto-dono was going."
Konohamaru paused, then grinned. "Well, then... I guess we'd better get a move on, hadn't we? Lead the way, Ino-kun. Lead the way."
* * * * *
Sakura shifted nervously as she felt Naruto join her in their sleeping pallet. They were right outside of the village they were supposed to check out after a remarkably fast passage -- thanks, in part, to having four summoners who were able to summon enough mounts for everyone between them... although the odd procession of moles, horses, slugs, and frogs would have seemed very strange to anyone observing them from the outside. Stealth, thankfully, was not supposed to be a requirement for this mission -- in fact, the more visible they were, the better... supposedly.
Still, she couldn't help but feel that something was bugging her -- like there was something following them just at the edge of their senses, but she couldn't tell what. Naruto had been especially anxious, and now -- as he lay down by her side -- she could tell he wanted to talk about it.
"Are you sensing it, too?" she asked.
"Not sure," Naruto said, shaking his head. "I think there is something after us, but I don't know what it is. Kyuubi's been bothering me all day, but I've been too busy to try and find out what it is he wants."
"Well, I can do that if--"
"No," he interrupted. "I'll do it... but later. There's something else I want to discuss with you, first... something about whoever it is might be following us."
Sakura blinked, not expecting this. "Sure, anything."
He took a deep breath before beginning. "I've been keeping a secret from you for several years... a very dangerous secret."
She almost laughed. "Oh, come on, Naruto-kun! You can't keep a secret from me to save your life! You talk in your sleep too much."
Naruto shook his head. "This one, I'm pretty sure I didn't let slip -- it's been too important. And I'm not sure what you'll think about me keeping it from you all this time."
Sakura hesitated, remembering Anko's secret she had kept all these years... an intensely personal secret, and one she had always felt Naruto deserved to know. "Naruto-kun... I know some secrets you'll probably hate me for keeping from you all these years, too, but I didn't see any other choice. It wasn't my secret to tell."
Naruto nodded. "Yeah, this isn't my secret to tell, either... or it hasn't been. But now I can." He looked her straight in the eyes, his gaze reflecting the seriousness of this situation. "Everything that's happened over the past few years -- at least, all the stuff involving our shadow government and all -- has been... planned. For some time, in fact. By Kakashi-sensei...."
That brought her up short. "Kakashi-sensei?"
"I'm only telling you now because it's too late for anything to change what's been set in motion, now," he continued. "But there's a very good chance that whoever it is who has been following us is involved with the Cloud... or rather, with a rebel faction of the Cloud that Kakashi-sensei has been working against, acting as Konoha's double-agent to entrap for the Raikage in exchange for an alliance. I was warned that I might become a target, but--"
"Wait, wait, wait," Sakura snapped, stopping him. "Double-agent? The Cloud? You need to slow down and back up a bit. What is going on with the Cloud that Kakashi-sensei would need to be a double-agent for them? And why are we helping?"
"I don't know all the details," Naruto said. "I just know he's trying to locate their base of operations before the Raikage moves to strike down this rebellion before it starts. The final part of that operation began this morning, I believe -- after we left the village -- and, if things go well, we're supposed to wrap up this mission very quickly and then return to Konoha and help in the mop-up actions for that operation. Ero-sennin, the closet pervert, Anko-chan, Aoba-san, and the puppy lady are supposed to be able to act if we take too long... but it's possible something could go wrong. If it does... well, then perhaps we've got the Cloud after us for a reason. And these Cloud know all too well how good the kyuubi has made you and me, and has a pretty good idea of our team strength... so, if they're following us with hostile intent, you can bet they brought a powerful force to deal with us."
And now, will you let me talk? a frustrated kyuubi growled inside both their heads, finally able to flair up and make himself heard as the tension in their bodies had relaxed while they cuddled together. I know who this powerful force is. I've dealt with all of them, before... and, quite frankly, I'm worried. In my perfect state, I could deal with two or even three of them at a time, but there are at least five, probably six or seven of them out there, getting close, and I--
Who? Naruto thought back demandingly. Who is it who is following us?
There was a pause. The other bijuu, kyuubi finally replied. Five, possibly six of them. Maybe even seven -- the only one I don't sense for certain is the Orochi no Yamato, my second in power and stamina. It's a bit fuzzy, so they may be inside jinchuuriki, but they're there.
"The bijuu..." Sakura gasped aloud. "But... weren't they being kept under the control of the Akatsuki? And most of them outside of other jinchuuriki? How...."
"I don't know how," Naruto said, seperating himself from her and rolling out of their bed. They were still fully dressed -- the luxury of being able to sleep in the nude was not available when on a mission, and niether of them kept any real pajamas any more -- but he found himself moving faster then usual as he collected the equipment they had set aside before turning in. "But there's no way our kids will be able to fight off those things. It'll be up to the two of us. If it's Akatsuki, they'll want to capture us, but they're likely to leave our teams alone as long as they don't get in the way. If its something else... well, they won't stand a chance anyway."
Realizing what he just said was true, Sakura nodded. She, too, started pooling together her supplies and equipment, preparing for battle. "What about us. Do we kill or capture them?"
Naruto laughed at her feigned confidence -- his own confidence was pretty rocked, so he was sure she wasn't nearly as certain of victory as she seemed. "Does it matter?"
"Yeah," Sakura replied, keeping up the small talk in order to distract herself from what was coming. "It might. Do you think Gaara-kun wants Shukaku back?"
"Good question," Naruto replied, laughing -- the absurdity of that idea was so amusing whatever tension he was feeling about the upcoming battle left itself in humor. Gathering himself together, he nodded at her. "If it comes to it, I think we should fight as if to kill them, but if an opportunity comes to capture them we take it. In other words, don't put off killing them because you want to take them prisoner instead... assuming they can even die."
They can be killed, like anything else, Kyuubi noted. But other demons will rise to take their place, if we do. It is much better, for the sakes of Our Own, to simply force them into a prolonged regeneration period... which is much like killing them, only you allow their remnants to dissipate instead of destroying them as well. I... can no longer regenerate, since my remnants are gone, and all that is left of me is still inside of you. I could be extracted, and restored if someone could remake my body, but what has long been said is true -- if you die, I will die.
Kyuubi, over the years, had become more civil. Slightly. And he had taken to the understanding that Konoha and its people -- including those of Blossom -- were what Naruto considered 'his own.' It made their agreement of many years past stronger, that realization... and had moved him to divulge things he usually would have kept secret. Such as the tactics needed to destroy another bijuu, if it came to that.
"Inari!" Naruto snapped.
"Chikan!" Sakura called at the same time.
"Yes, sensei," the two chuunin said, jumping from their watch positions to stand at attention in front of their two jounin.
Naruto looked at both of them, nodding his head in appreciation. When they were first genin, niether was exactly the most disciplined of students -- Inari was trying too hard to emulate his sensei's ways (which Naruto was actually pleased with, but had to rein in a bit), including the ones he now regretted, and Chikan... well, the less said about Chikan, the better. Both, however, had matured nicely -- niether of them so disciplined as to become a jerk or a lunatic on the job (like Neji had been and Gai and Lee... probably still were) but disciplined enough that they would follow orders when given. Which he desperately hoped they would in this case.
"An old enemy of ours is coming," Naruto began. "And they are so far beyond you that it would be suicide for you to get involved. We'll fight better, in fact, without you around... but we don't want you to disappear completely. You two will lead your teams to observe our fight. There is a possibility that the goal of these people is to capture us -- if they do, track us but do not attempt a rescue. Get reinforcements first."
Chikan nodded, and moved to get his teammates going, but Inari hesitated.
"Naruto-sensei," he said. "I--"
"Go!" Naruto snapped. "Watch the battle. Get reinforcements. Stay out of their way. Got it?"
"Please, Inari-kun," Sakura pleaded. "It really will be easier for us to fight without you here. We have some... very powerful techniques, which are dangerous to use when we have friends in the way. There is a good chance that we would win if you left, and lost if you stayed."
Finally nodding, Inari said, "Okay. But I reserve the right to be part of the rescue team if you are captured."
Naruto grinned. "Hey, if I need someone to help me other then Sakura-chan, you'd be one of those at the top of my list. But Sakura-chan and I share a pretty special bond with certain techniques, and they wouldn't work as well if we had to look out for you. But I want you to get help before you move in -- if we can't do it, you're going to need more power then just your team to take care of these guys. Your duty, now, is just to survive and report on this battle. Understood?"
"Yes, Naruto-sensei," Inari replied, then darted off to start organizing his team as well.
Naruto took a deep breath and turned to Sakura. "Well... that's taken care of. Are you ready?"
"Not yet," she answered, then pulled him in for a rather deep kiss. It lasted almost until Inari and Chikan had lead their teams clear before she released him. "There. That does it. Now I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
* * * * *
"I was under the impression we were headed to Cloud," Kakashi mused, following the Cloud agent as they quietly passed through the trees.
"We will," he replied. "But we're going by boat. If your people in Blossom are on the watch for you, as I fear they will be by now, they'll try and intercept us at the border... but we're going to go the other way, and meet up with our contacts in a little fishing village up north. We'll probably be rendezvousing with the Akatsuki there, by the way -- this is the same village to which your Naruto was being sent."
Kakashi stiffened. "This may not be a good idea. One of the few surviving Akatsuki is a missing nin of Konoha's, and an old enemy of mine as well. I should stay out of sight while you deal with him."
"I expected such," the Cloud ninja laughed. "Ogata-sama said that we were to avoid making direct contact with that Itachi character you know unless absolutely necessary."
Kakashi nodded slowly. Yobutsu Ogata, who he had met several times since the chuunin exams in Cloud at which they managed to subdue and capture Gashir, was the leader of Cloud's rebellion. Until that moment, there was a chance, however, that he was unaware that his rebellion was in negotiations with the Akatsuki, as disunified as it was -- each part of his organization was free to engage in its own activities for the cause, as long as they kept its existence -- and his role -- a secret. Learning that he, indeed, was the one who negotiated with the Akatsuki was enough to confirm the suspicions Kakashi had formed all those years ago -- Ogata and his rebellion were not to be trusted, and should not be given the opportunity to usurp the Raikage's power. It had been a dangerous game to play, these past five years, but he'd managed to prevent just about everyone from knowing his exact intentions -- only the Raikage and Hokage knew everything, and Anko, Jiraiya, Pansuke, Butakatsu, and Naruto knew he was acting as a double-agent for most of those years. He had revealed the remaining details to Pansuke and Naruto only a few weeks before, in preparation for this final push... but the secrecy had been kept that carefully preserved for so long, he wasn't sure just how bad things were any more.
The wierd things was, Ogata had actually been in the running to replace the Raikage, after all -- his retirement was coming up, and he had been considering naming the man as his successor, and promoting him to the Raikage in a training capacity. When news of his intended rebellion reached the top, immediate action had not been taken for many reasons. One of those reasons, however, was that the Raikage still hadn't given up on the man -- if he proved to be a competent leader while organizing this little rebellion, there had still been a chance that his intentions could be ignored and a more peaceful transition would be granted. The first black mark on his record was in allying himself with Gatoh's successors, and the second was in the planned attempt on the life of the daimyo of Wave. In fact, the whole plan to 'conquer Wave,' which the Hokage and Raikage had both ordered Kakashi to prevent (not that he would have permitted, anyway), was the nail in the coffin for Ogata. When the word 'go' was given, the Hokage ordered him to inform Naruto of the plan... although that could have been prompted by the young man had demanding to know from her what she was intending to do about Kakashi's 'dangerous' team design when composing Ino's squadron.
"Stop!" Akane, who had taked the point position due to his eyes -- which he had developed even further since the days of Hanabi's training, and could now morph in a variety of ways. Now, in addition to his 'blinding flash' trick, he could do some basic hypnotism... and could grow what amounted to a living pair of binoculars if needed.
The three others -- the Cloud agent, Kakashi, and Butakatsu -- took one final leap to join him and then stopped. "What is it, Okanemoto-san?" the agent asked.
Akane frowned. "I think, since I'm leaving behind Blossom, I'd like to leave behind that name as well." He shook his head. "Never mind -- ahead, in the clearing... Naruto-sensei and Sakura-sensei are... apparently preparing for battle."
"We caught up with them?" Kakashi replied, incredulously. "They should have been able to travel faster then we could."
"It looks like they'd been forming a camp here. They've probably been here a few hours, at least, judging from the embers of their fire -- bunkered down, probably intending to head into town at dawn instead of right away. There are signs the rest of their team were present, but have since bugged out."
"Is anyone else visible?" the Cloud agent asked.
"No," Akane replied.
Kakashi raised his forehead protector from his eye, engaging the sharingan briefly. He very nearly fell over right away. "Oh... hell. That's not the Akatsuki -- at least, not alone!"
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Akane asked, confused.
"All that chakra... too much..." was all the usually unflappable silver-haired jounin could manage.
"We dispatched a couple teams to join them," the Cloud man suggested. "Perhaps that is what you are sensing?"
"What I am sensing," Kakashi replied. "No, that's not what I'm sensing. Whatever it is... it ain't human. It's several not humans, in fact...."
"Bijuu!" he snapped, realizing what it was. "Or... no, not quite. Jinchuuriki, but not as physically stable I think -- and... and there are seven of them."
"Seven bijuu?" Butakatsu replied, breaking his silence for the first time since the meeting back in Blossom. "Who... what in the world would be able to command seven of them? And for what purpose?"
"I was informed that the Akatsuki were a powerful organization with powerful weapons," the Cloud ninja said in awe. "But... not that they could manage anything like that."
Now, Kakashi saw the first of Naruto's enemies emerge from the forest. "And it doesn't look like that's all of it -- Akane-san, if you'll train your eyes on the dark-haired man who just emerged from the brush, you'll see the most feared missing nin in all of Konoha -- even moreso then Orochimaru, and Orochimaru is known to have killed a hokage and started a major war with us, so that should tell you just how dangerous we feel he is."
"Itachi," Butakatsu gasped. "You mean him? I read about him in Haruno-sensei's history classes. He... he singlehandedly killed off the most powerful clan in the entire ninja world... in one night!"
"And he's insane," Kakashi replied. "Possibly still clear-headed and focused, capable of making decisions, following and giving rational orders, and still a genius in terms of the ability to learn and grow... but obsessed with something to the point of insanity. A genetic flaw the Haruno clan discovered -- and Sakura-chan confirmed recently -- that causes their most powerful members to go insane whenever they obtain a certain level of power in their bloodline abilities... or perhaps, it is the insanity which enables the ability. There is a definite corellation there, regardless."
"I'm... not sure Ogata-sama was wise in allying us with him," the Cloud ninja said uncertainly.
"I think you are very wise in realizing that," Kakashi replied, tight-lipped. "I think we had better wait here -- anyone who gets involved in this battle is more likely to die then to live, and our job is not to fight to the death."
* * * * *
"Hm," Itachi said, surveying the two standing before him. "It seems you have split yourself, kyuubi."
"It seems Sasuke didn't manage to catch you yet, Itachi," Naruto taunted.
"It wouldn't matter if he did," the Uchiha man replied tiredly. "He cannot beat me."
"He will," Sakura chimed in. "We'll leave just enough of you intact for him to kill."
"But I am not your opponent in this battle," Itachi pointed out. He made a sweeping gesture to seven men -- all bearing the forehead protectors of the Cloud -- who followed him in. They were all showing aspects of bijuu possession -- one even had Gaara's eyes -- but none of them seemed as in control as even Gaara had been. Some of them held relics of the deceased Akatsuki -- one carried the Samehada, for example -- and they all were surrounded by swirls of chakra as they moved. "They are."
"What are they?" Sakura replied, horrified. "They... they can't be proper jinchuuriki."
"No," Itachi agreed. "They won't be alive by this time, tomorrow. But there is a method of making a person a 'temporary' jinchuuriki of a grown human being. It kills the person into which the demon is sealed, but that is of no consequence to me. They are your enemy, today."
"Afraid to get your hands dirty, huh?" Naruto snarled. "You know, for such an 'all powerful ninja,' you're a bit of a wimp. You run away from Ero-sennin when you outnumber him two to one, you send a sacrificial lamb to take your place when you come to fight me on my way to rescue Gaara, and you've been running from your supposedly weaker younger brother for the past four or five years. Now, you want to kill us... but you still won't fight -- you get a group of Cloud ninja to sacrifice themselves to fight in your stead. You, Itachi, are a bloody coward!"
Sakura hesitated. "Naruto," she whispered. "I don't think we should antagonize him when we've got those other seven to deal with."
"They aren't important," Naruto pointed out, not bothering to hide what he was saying. "They will die, anyway, in time. What is the point in fighting, and not running, if we don't also get the 'reward' of facing him?"
"Interesting," Itachi mused. "And you think you could run from us?"
Naruto grinned. "I think I could destroy all of them... but what would be the point if you weren't here to beat, too?"
Sakura twitched, then whispered to Naruto again. "You could, huh?"
Naruto grinned, but lowered his voice as well. "Hey, I'm going to be hokage one day. What kind of hokage couldn't manage seven to one odds?"
The flippant attitude told Sakura a lot, so she nodded slowly. "But what about him?"
"I dunno," he replied hesitantly. "In a straight fight, easy, but he's got all that genjutsu stuff that comes with his eyes -- I'm not sure I could manage to beat him without looking at him."
Sakura grinned darkly. "Then you take care of those seven. I'll handle him."
* * * * *
Itachi wasn't sure what they were planning, but he was angry. While he refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing it, Naruto's accusation of cowardice hit him hard. He wasn't a coward -- he was a ninja. Ninja were always at their best using tools and not fighting themselves, and these quasi-jinchuuriki were nothing more then tools. That they were once proud ninja of the Cloud, too, was irrelevant -- they were simply tools, and he felt no more cowardly using them then he would using a kunai or an explosive tag. Or a poison. And using the bijuu on the Cloud, who he knew would betray the Akatsuki once they had their way, was little more then a poison that turned them into tools, now, weren't they?
He wasn't a coward -- he had conquered all of his emotions the day he had murdered his best friend to get the mangekyou. To test that, he destroyed his entire clan... and yes, he had conquered his emotions. And he left behind a little experiment -- Sasuke, his younger brother. The question of whether it made one stronger to be more emotional or to be completely emotionless would be answered... or so he had thought. But when he finally found that little brother, he had been so... disappointed (anger would have been an emotion, and Itachi no longer had those). The powerhouse of emotions he was expecting had been... restrained. Where was the hatred? Where was the passion? Where was the fire? All he found was someone who was... afraid. Fear, the weakest of emotions.
The first emotion Itachi had divorced himself from was fear, and all cowardice was based in fear. He had no fear, and therefore could not be a coward. He couldn't!
Still... best to strike at the boy, now, when he was distracted discussing some sort of useless strategy with the girl... and with that in mind, he sent a brace of kunai at the two. He was the best marksman with Kunai in all of history with kunai, and it showed as the weapons slammed into the both of them. Perhaps they weren't a threat, really, if they couldn't even avoid a simple knife attack.
Or perhaps they can, Itachi mused, watching what he had thought were two bijuu-possessed ninja dissolve into puffs of smoke. Kage bushin. I've always heard it was the brat's favorite technique. It surprises me that he can even fool my eyes, however.
He set his sharingan to surveying the field, trying to find the two and not let them escape. However, he was an Uchiha, not a Hyuuga, and therefore didn't have eyes in the back of his head. The explosion coming from his line of jinchuuriki, therefore, was entirely unexpected. "He... he attacked?" He barely managed to keep the... surprise, yes, that was it, just mere surprise -- a simple instinctual reaction to the unexpected and not an emotion, for he had no emotions -- out of his voice.
"Of course he attacked," A feminine voice from Itachi's left flank snorted. He spun to find the pink-haired ninja he wasn't familiar with standing against him. "On our very first C-class mission, he swore to never run away... and he's kept that oath, to the best of my knowledge, ever since."
"Who are you?" Itachi asked, hoping to distract her into looking in his eyes. "I've seen you a couple times, before, when you tried to rescue that other jinchuuriki five years ago, but I know nothing about you. I wasn't aware that the kyuubi had been split apart... just how did that happen? And who are you?"
She smirked at him. There was something to be said for keeping certain things secret, but she obviously chose the path of intimidation -- a path doomed to fail against Itachi, who could not be intimidated as he had no emotion. Well, he believed there was no way for her to intimidate him. "Well, allow me to introduce myself, then. I am the apprentice of the Fifth, a Slug Master, and a medical ninja of the highest order. I have trained for many years to hunt down another Uchiha with the mangekyou -- your brother, Sasuke, my former teammate. I am Naruto-kun's teammate, lover, sealmate, and fiancee. And my name is Sakura... Haruno Sakura. And I am your opponent."
A Haruno! Of course, the pink hair... and with a bijuu inside, the allegiance of the slugs, and the talents of a medical ninja. This could be bad, Itachi thought. The Haruno were the hunters of my clan, as the only ones who could withstand our greatest technique. Her natural counters to my greater abilities make her more dangerous to me then any other opponent I could draw, whatever her skill level... and if she truly is a slug master and medical ninja of the highest order, and she truly does have the enhancements the kyuubi would allow... she could defeat me.
"I suppose I will have to fight you, then," Itachi replied, his voice cracking for reasons he couldn't determine.
* * * * *
"Inari-san... they're pretty badly outnumbered," Chikan said, glancing from their hiding place behind the bushes of a high overhang to watch the battle. He, Adaha, and Inari were watching the battle while the others were still hiding their equipment. "I know I'm hardly the one to say something like this, but... I think we should help them."
Inari chewed his lip nervously for a moment. "Not... yet. Let's watch and see what happens, first."
"Do you see anything we don't, Adaha-san?" Chikan asked. "Anything new, that is?"
"At this range, your eyes are as good as mine," Adaha sighed. "But I'll look."
The trio looked over the wall of brush to watch the action together. Sakura was facing off against the dark-haired man who was obviously the leader of these attackers, but the more interesting battle was Naruto's seven-on-one duel. He was dashing and dodging between them, leaving red streaks as he moved faster then even his own team had seen him move, before. He was controlling eight rasengen at once, then those would vanish as he split into a dozen shadow clones to converge on one or another enemy, then he would start using the elemental techniques he had learned over the years, and then he start using trickery with wires, explosive tags, shadow clones, kawarimi, kunai, henge, and so forth. He was performing at a level none of them had ever witnessed before, and it was shocking.
The only problem was, as much damage as he was doing and as many times as he'd outwitted each foe... they all continued to stand up, to launch counterattacks of their own, and to fight back. They were berserkers, Inari quickly realized -- beings who would continue fighting no matter how much damage they took. He'd heard of certain techniques which would allow that -- Naruto had spoken of something a ninja named Lee performed, once, called the Lotus technique -- but this... didn't seem even within the realm of how those techniques had been described. Far from fighting mindlessly, they seemed calm -- almost resigned -- and while their strength and durability seemed well beyond what should be humanly possible, they were fighting rationally. If anything, Naruto was the one who occasionally slipped into the desperation of irrational tactics associated with berserkers.
When one of the attackers turned into what could only be described as a lizard of some kind, the trio slunk back behind the bush.
"I don't know about you two," Adaha said. "But I don't like our chances of being anything more effective then a gnat in that battle."
Inari hesitated. "Naruto-sensei... wouldn't quit on us, if we were in that kind of battle."
"No," Adaha agreed. "But Naruto-sensei has the power to back us up. We... if the battle comes this way, we should fight, but... I think we need to respect his orders. At least, until we find some kind of opening, some kind of weakness, that can be exploited."
"Er, I'd like to point something out," Chikan said.
"Yes?" Inari asked, looking over at him curiously.
"Look, I was able to overhear some of what they were saying to each other -- I gather you did, too," Chikan said. "These seven enemies that Naruto-sensei are fighting... they've only got until tomorrow to live, and that was the price of their power now. That guy -- Itachi, I think they said his name was -- is going to be the only one left alive by this time tomorrow. I also remember Naruto-sensei telling us that these people are more likely to want to capture them then to kill them."
"So?" Inari snapped. "There's no way even Naruto-sensei and Sakura-sensei can last against that until tomorrow. They're just too powerful!"
"Yes," Chikan replied. "And if they're too powerful for them, they're too powerful for us. However, two things can happen. Either they fight and win now... or they fight, lose, and are captured. And if they are captured..."
"The seven people we can't stand against will be gone by tomorrow afternoon," Adaha chimed in. "It'll just be this Itachi character. He seems to be a rather dangerous enemy, himself, but we wouldn't need to be able to beat him."
"No, we wouldn't," Inari agreed, catching on. "We scout out the situation -- just like Naruto-sensei suggested. Then we make a plan, go in, and rescue them. We'll try to avoid combat if we can avoid it, but even if we are forced to fight... all we need to do is to keep him busy long enough to escape."
"I think... we have a plan," Chikan shot back, nodding. "And I suggest we start paying more attention to this Itachi guy -- he is the one we may have to fight, after all."
* * * * *
"Give it up, girl," Itachi said -- his voice still calm, despite the crazed look in his eyes. "You may be a Haruno, but all that means is that my mangekyou is not entirely effective against you. So what? My mangekyou wasn't a very effective technique for battle against the rest of my clan, either, but I was able to crush them all in one night."
Sakura, who had been pushing the limits of even her vast power in order to keep up with him in terms of strength and speed, gasped a few breaths. "So what?" she said. "Four years ago, Naruto-kun took out an entire village of ninja all by himself... and thanks to his training and the kyuubi's strength, I am now stronger then he was then. You aren't going to beat me by bragging, you know."
"Niether are you," Itachi growled. In a quick motion, he struck out with one of his brother's favorite techniques -- and one he had stolen from him with the sharingan -- the chidori. It plunged through her heart, shattering her spine and ribs along the way. "Now, get out of my way."
Sakura gaped, looking down at the wound in shock. "B-but..." she gasped. Itachi turned his attention to the fight involving Naruto... but something was wrong. The kyuubi brat, who shared some kind of link -- both emotional and physical -- with this girl, should have been affected by her state of near death. But he was ignoring it, which meant....
He spun back to face her, his expression darkening. "What--"
The dying figure on his arm spat some blood at him... that turned into tree sap on the way. "Sharingan ain't perfect, is it?" she commented... before transforming into a tree limb in a puff of smoke.
They both can fool my eyes! he thought, gaping in what could no longer be called emotionless surprise. The control he had been holding over himself for all these years was starting to slip as he realized just how prepared these two were to fight him. That shock stopped him cold... long enough for three identical Sakuras, all of whom appeared to be real, descended on him fists flying. He smacked away two of them before the third reached attack range... and attack she did, complete with one of Naruto's trademark rasengan in palm.
The Akatsuki cloak that he still wore was sacrificed as he dodged away from the blow -- annoying, as he couldn't have it replaced, and terrifying, as it was actually a form of armor designed to withstand some rather powerful impacts. It did leave him free and loose, however, which would speed his movements up... fractionally. A finger striking the ground three feet from him caused a fissure to open up beneath his feet, and his newfound speed was the only thing which saved him from loosing his footing entirely. She was moving fast -- not too fast for his eye to pick up, but too fast for him to react after seeing it. Furthermore, there seemed to be an afterimage of red chakra sometimes which would and could strike out with just about as much power as her physical body could. Loathe as he was to admit it... without his mangekyou, he was overmatched against someone of her caliber.
Which meant, of course, he would have to use his mangekyou. But it would be useless against her, so....
He didn't have time to complete the thought in mental words after coming up with the plan, however -- what could only be described as a claw of chakra from the red-eyed Sakura tore through one of his arms. It fell to his side, utterly useless -- the muscles and tendons completely severed. A good medical ninja could repair it -- although it would take a very long treatment -- but for the moment it was out of the action... and that meant he couldn't form seals, nor perform standard techniques.
He took a moment to inventory what he could still do. He could use a kunai, still -- not that it would be very effective against a jinchuuriki. He had all the taijutsu he could manage with just one hand, which was a considerable amount. He had remarkable strength and speed -- not as much strength and speed as the girl, but enough to break bones with one hand if he could just get a good grip as his battle with Sasuke so many years ago proved. He could wield a sword if he had one -- it was not his sword arm that was wounded -- but his last sword had broken several years ago, and he'd never bothered to replace it. And... he could use the sharingan, including the mangekyou and all of its techniques.
"I suppose you think you will win, now," he growled, forcing the pain out of his voice. "But you are very wrong. Your small advantage shall prove to be your lover's downfall, for it forces me into an action I would rather not take."
Sakura's eyes widened. "What--"
He dashed away -- into the crowd of people fighting Naruto. Sakura ran to pursue, but was cut off by one of the jinchuuriki -- this one with visible characteristics resembling that of a badger growing on him as he fought -- and had to take the time to get him out of the way. She chose the most efficient method possible -- she clawed him in half and literally ran right through him, the fiery red kyuubi chakra incinerating the remains as she moved -- but the delay was enough for Itachi to reach his goal. Naruto, distracted by a shark-like ninja who was wielding a sword easily recognizable as the Samehada and a kunoichi who had grown cat-ears, didn't sense him until it was too late.
Itachi used his good arm to grasp him by the shoulder, squeezing hard enough to crack bones. His grip secure, he spun the blond-haired ninja around, and stared into his eyes... deploying the greatest weapons of the mangekyou on him as he did. The tsukiyomi was only one part of those -- over the years of hunting bijuu, he had modified it a number of ways to enhance its effect on their kind. The illusory world into which Naruto disappeared was not like the ones Kakashi and Sasuke had been tortured in -- instead, it was a prison of his own mind. There was no cure, as far as Itachi knew, short of the utter destruction of the jinchuuriki's host... and he had wanted to preserve this particular host's body as a 'present' for his younger brother, who he knew he would be confronting soon. It seemed he lacked the time to do that, however.
A great force crashed into him, snapping the bones in his ribs and knocking him off his feet. Itachi was crippled, and he knew it -- if his technique hadn't worked, he was as good as dead. He glanced over to see a woman standing over the body of the blond ninja he had just felled, flames of chakra seeming to come from her body. So it had failed -- the kyuubi had retreated into her, after all, leaving the boy to die. Or maybe not -- as he watched, the flames flickered and went out... and so did the light in the girl's eyes. And then all other signs of life, as she fell first to her knees, and then landed across the body of her fallen sealmate.
The battle was over, and Itachi had won. It was not without great cost, however, and he knew it would be ages before he could fight again. It would be worth it, however, if he could finally assemble the entire set of the jinchuuriki -- together, they would provide the Akatsuki the power of the gods. He slowly got to his feet -- he would have to be ready to move, for this couple he just defeated had allies in the region, and he was not in a fit state to fight them.
"Assemble!" he ordered. The psuedo-jinchuuriki he had created were not perfect -- they would start decaying and would die in only a few hours, their accellerated integration with the bijuu eroded their humanity, and they had no minds of their own -- but they did have the advantage of being controllable with zombie-like controls over them. So, they quickly assembled as ordered. Itachi pulled out seven boxes, each containing a spike and a seal on it. He stabbed one box into each of them, one at a time... extracting the bijuu, but killing the man behind it. He was too tired to pay attention to his line-up, so it was only after he ran out of standing bodies, still holding two boxes -- one intended for the kyuubi -- that he realized someone was missing. "What... Kaku! Kaku, come! Kaku, where are you?" he called, hoping the seven-tailed badger demon was just somehow out of hearing and not disobeying.
It took him a moment of surveying the battlefield to see that, indeed, Kaku was well out of hearing... ever. The few surviving remains of the body Sakura had plowed through were still smouldering... but there was no question: The seven-tailed bijuu's jinchuuriki had been destroyed... and, from what he could tell, the bijuu itself had been taken with him.
He glanced down with hatred at the two ninja he had just fought. "You... you have done this! You have ruined decades of work, decades of struggle, plans which have been in the preparation for hundreds of years -- the Akatsuki were formed six hundred years ago in order to carry out this plan, and we have been laying the groundwork with our intellectual descendants ever since -- and now, within a lifetime of its completion... you ruin everything! How... how...." He considered destroying them right then and there, but then decided on a crueler punishment. "Fine. No-one can get you out of your prison now, save for me -- and only if I release you from your bodies. But I won't do that -- I'll leave you here, kyuubi, and you can just rot in those bodies. You will die, as well, and there will be nothing to restore your remains, either...."
And so, with that declaration, he kicked each of them once, knocking them out of his path, and left. His dreams were gone... and now, it seemed, he had to find another goal. But first... he had to heal himself.
* * * * *
"Are... are they dead?" Inari asked, unable to believe his eyes. "Why is he just... leaving like that? I thought he was trying to capture them -- why is he just leaving them behind?"
"I... I don't know," Adaha said, looking out at the field, squinting. "I... they're alive, I can say that much. Look, you can still see the vapor of their breaths in this cold air... but they aren't looking very good."
"Neither is he," Inari growled, turning his eyes on the departing Itachi. "We should... we should stop him, while we can. Avenge them."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Chikan said. "Not if we want to keep Naruto-sensei and Sakura-sensei alive. As soon as he's out of sight, we need to go down there and help them."
Closing his eyes, Inari nodded. "Yes... I suppose that's best." Glaring once more at the missing nin's back, he continued, "But if they die, I'm going to hunt down that bastard and kill him, myself."
"What the-- Kakashi-sama?" Adaha cried softly, startled. That drew the attention of the other two back to the field, where Kakashi and two of the 'perpetual genin,' as they'd come to be known, from Ino's team were standing over the bodies of their two sensei. Checking on the bodies of the former jinchuuriki was an angry-looking Cloud ninja none of them recognized.
"Why's he here... and what is he doing?" Chikan asked, unable to comprehend what he was seeing.
The Cloud ninja barked an order, and to all three observer's surprise, Kakashi and the other two went into action, coming over to pick up two of the bodies of the Cloud nin. "What's going on, here?" Adaha asked. "Kakashi-sama is taking orders from some sort of Cloud guy? That's... something fishy is going on, here."
Picking up the other six bodies (counting Naruto and Sakura), the Cloud ninja and the two genin started making their way back on the road... down to the village their original mission had been leading them towards. Inari grimmaced. "Well... I'm not sure what to make of that," he finally said. "But somehow... I don't think that this is good news for Naruto-sensei and Sakura-sensei."
"So... what are we going to do?" Chikan asked, effectively placing Inari in overall command of their two units.
Inari hesitated. There was a chance that Kakashi was actually going to be taking care of Naruto, and that the village was just the nearest place to get help... but somehow, he doubted it. There were just too many unknowns. Then again... his group was heading in a different direction from Itachi... so that helped the case of Kakashi coming along to help. And if he assumed that, he could go after Itachi with a clear conscience....
"We follow our orders... to a point. Naruto-sensei said that if he was captured, we were to observe where they have him captive and get help for a rescue mission. I say... we start working on a plan, now, and observe the village as a whole. Chikan-san -- I'm told you can summon dolphins?"
"Er, in theory," Chikan replied. "I can do it, but I have yet to summon one. I haven't exactly been operating near seawater, and don't exactly want to summon them just to let them die on dry land. I can summon fair-sized moles, however, so I know I have the chakra to summon a decent dolphin."
"Well, you're going to be putting that theory to the practice," Inari grinned. "We want to keep these guys where we can get at them -- in other words, we want to keep them here, so we need someone in the water around the fishing village docks to make sure they don't try and sneak them out by the water. Umiko-chan can set her eagles out to keep an eye in town and on the roads. And while the dolphins and the eagles are keeping them under observation, the rest of us will start planning a rescue mission...."
* * * * *
Notes: Well... that actually went a bit further then I expected (by a scene or two). Looks like I might be able to finish up the volume, soon. Got all that? With all the mix of double agents and the like, the only real 'traitor' in Blossom is... Okanemoto Akane. Kakashi's a good guy, Tsunade's a good guy, Naruto's a good guy, even Pansuke and Butakatsu are good guys. And no, there will be no triple agents -- meaning Tsunade, Kakashi, Pansuke, and Butakatsu are all GENUINELY good guys. The major twists have all been twisted -- it's time for them to unravel. Next Chapter: The ninja of Blossom arrive to help Inari, and he needs it -- he needs someone to go through the village for him and check out the safehouse Naruto and Sakura have been stashed inside. Thankfully, they have just the person for the job -- Kireme, the prostitute... and ninja auxilliary.