Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 50 ( Chapter 60 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Okay, a couple people missed something about Sakura's battle with Itachi. She is NOT a better fighter then Naruto... although she is, perhaps, on par with the him of four years before, as she has been apprenticed to Tsunade and learned most of her tricks, learned a bit of genjutsu, and learned under Orochimaru's former apprentice Anko and Jiraiya's former apprentice Naruto. In other words, she has a technique base from all THREE of the legendary sannin, the chakra of the kyuubi (shared with Naruto), and a bloodline which inherently counters Itachi's. Itachi's most important technique, his mangekyou, is rendered useless because of the Haruno bloodline, so Itachi would stand a significantly better chance against Naruto then Sakura -- especially as he seems to favor genjutsu, and no genjutsu would ever work on Sakura by this point (in fact, in my own notes, Itachi is rated above Naruto, still, although Naruto is, by now, one of the five most powerful fighters in the ninja world). To put it another way, Sakura matches up better against him then anyone else in the world, despite not being on par with him in terms of actual combat power. (Another instance of the 'snake-slug-toad' theme... I was considering having Itachi summon a snake -- learned during Orochimaru's time with the Akatsuki -- just to emphasize the point, but no opportunity presented itself for that. Another piece of data like 'the Grass Nin specialize in summoning bears' which may never come up, but which appears in my notes under 'Itachi's technique base.') Itachi does have a bit of a problem, though -- Akatsuki, his organization, has been hunted down and systematically destroyed for several years. He and Zetsu are the only ones left, and their resources are pretty much nil. His only hope of success, it would seem, is to accomplish the goal NOW... and the only tools he has at his disposal are the seven bijuu he holds. So, he uses those resources, gambling on an all-or-nothing shot... and loses, since one of the bijuu is destroyed in the process. But that is why he used the bijuu -- and, as his strike against his own clan shows, it isn't necessarily against his nature to gamble on an all-or-nothing shot. Well... when I made the decision to try and end the volume in this chapter (and yes, this is the final chapter of Volume 3 -- Volume 4 coming up soon), I didn't realize that would force me to make this the longest chapter of the fic so far (by word count, at least), nor that it would be harder and harder to write the further into the chapter I went. In hindsight, I could have posted this as two or even three chapters and gotten all three of them out at my more usual pace for this particular fic, but hindsight is always twenty\twenty. Plus, I wasn't counting on having some of my professional work creep up on me and take about five days of work out of this at one point. This fic earned an R-rating for sex (even in the censored copy) earlier on, but now it earns it for language as well. You have been warned.
Chapter 50
"Team leaders, report in," Konohamaru called through the radio. He, Ino, Pansuke, and Kireme were at an apparent battlefield, having joined Hanabi and her team -- initially set as one of the scouting parties he had sent ahead -- on the scene. There was an odd sword left behind from the battlefield, easily identifiable by reputation as the Samehada -- last seen in the possession of the Akatsuki -- which demanded further investigation, and so he had come up from his position with the main body and surveyed the field. As this whole mission had been on his initiative, he had become the de facto leader of the operation without realizing it. He didn't even think about how everyone responded to his orders without question, he just gave them and expected them to be followed.
"Anko here," came the first voice. "ANBU team is in flanking positions, and has detected no activity." Just where the ANBU had come from was yet to be explained. They were all young -- possibly about Konohamaru's own age, or even slightly younger -- but they seemed competent and efficient, and Anko had assured everyone of their reliability. 'Junior level' ANBU, yes, but still capable of performing any mission usually required of ANBU in Konoha.
"Ebisu here, with main force. Your team says they're ready to fight on your order." Ebisu had been without a team since Udon had passed his Jounin certification, but was acting as the commander of Konohamaru's usual team of genin. Considering Ebisu had been Konohamaru's teacher for more then a decade, it was not a difficult transition for them to make.
"Hana here," came another voice. "With main force, ready to go."
"Udon here. My team is also with the main, ready to go."
There was only one more team present on the mission. Jiraiya had been left in Blossom, to run the village while Kouji, Daichi, Nobori, Aoba, Matsuri, and the teams under thier command stayed with him. His advanced years were catching up with him, he had said, and his days of ninja combat were at an end... but he would make an effective administrator until such time as they could return. However, with those that had reported in all still in touch, Futaba and her team was starting to worry Konohamaru -- he had sent them on ahead quite some time previous, and had yet to hear back from them. He was sincerely hoping they were in communications range by now.
"Futaba here," came a very weak transmission, laced heavily with static. "Erm... we've made contact with Blossom Academy Year One Teams One and Two. I have information which shouldn't be put over the radio to relay."
Konohamaru frowned. So Sakura and Naruto's teams had been found... but what of them? Wouldn't she have mentioned that if she knew where they were? This just left him with more questions then he liked to have. "Acknowledged. You should know where we are -- come find us."
"On our way."
It was only ten minutes before she appeared, accompanied by her dogs, her team, and all six chuunin members of the two teams she had mentioned. Inari looked confident but rather frustrated. "Konohamaru-san," he said, greeting the other boy.
"Inari-san," Konohamaru nodded in acknowledgement. "What's going on? Where are they?"
There was no question who the 'they' was that he was referring to. Inari sighed. "Kakashi-sama, Akane-san, and Butakatsu-san were seen taking Sakura-sensei and Naruto-sensei in the company of an unidentified ninja into the fishing village up the road. Naruto-sensei had been... hurt... in a battle with the missing nin Uchiha Itachi, and whatever hit him also affected Sakura-sensei, and last we saw both were unconscious. We were under orders to observe the battle and not join in, but to follow and get reinforcements if they were captured." The guilt in his face couldn't be missed, even by the most oblivious of observers. "I should have ignored that and gone to help them anyway."
"Against seven bijuu and arguably the most powerful missing nin in all of Konoha's history?" Chikan snorted. "Inari, give it up. I know you're upset, but because we didn't fight we now have an actual chance of saving him."
Inari shook his head as if to clear it. "Anyway, last we saw Sakura-sensei and Naruto-sensei were still alive. Umiko-chan and Chikan-san have employed summoned creatures in order to keep an eye on the situation, but... we're going to need better infiltration then we have to obtain the necessary intelligence before making a plan. We were working on how to get that intelligence when Futaba-san showed up."
Ino shot a glance at Kireme before stepping forward. "What kind of intelligence?"
"We've identified the building we know they were taken to," Inari said. "But... we're still not sure just what is going on, or what kind of force is inside the building. Kakashi-sama was acting wierd, taking orders from a Cloud ninja we couldn't identify, but... well, he's Kakashi-sama, and we weren't even entirely sure that anyone needed rescuing at all."
"Kakashi is a double agent for Konoha," Pansuki explained. "He's been trying to insinuate himself inside of a Cloud organization in order to identify its leadership and facilities for years. Butakatsu-san is also a double agent, as was I until the plans called for me to have a recent 'change of heart.' Akane-san has been truly corrupted by this Cloud organization, however. Chances are, while Kakashi-sensei and Butakatsu-san will be on our side, they are currently with some part of that rebel organization right now. They're also, probably, unable to act at the moment."
"You say you need help gathering some intelligence," Ino said, looking once more at Kireme before turning her attention back on the teenager. "Well... I've got an idea...."
* * * * *
It was a good thing Kireme had known how to change her appearance since long before she even met her first real ninja. It was a highly regarded skill in her field -- often times, people would have fantasies about particular individuals, and so it was good to know how to apply a disguise -- one that wouldn't come off during any 'activity' she might be involved in, even the oh-so-rare underwater or bondage and domination experiences -- that could fool her customers... which would include Akane, who was frequently seen in her brothel. And she didn't need to use any chakra to manage it, either, which meant no-one would peg her as a ninja in disguise like might happen if Ino or Pansuke had attempted this particular operation.
There had been no gate-keepers for this town. This was a plan she had come up with long ago, for use in the village of Cloud when Naruto was believed to have been captured back then... but obviously, there were differences. Hana and Futaba's dogs had gone in first, as originally planned for the Cloud operation, scouting areas and setting themselves up as strays in order to be able to respond to Kireme and protect her should the need arise -- there were a considerable number of considerations made, as she wasn't really skilled in combat despite having learned a few ninja techniques... and despite practicing for an hour or two a day with a kunai. Only a very few people knew of her real combat training -- largely consisting of the shuriken work -- and all but one of them were currently in the building she was attempting to infiltrate. Haruno Sakura, Kakashi, and Naruto had all been quite helpful to her endeavors... and the only other person who knew was her madame at the brothel. Even Ino, her best friend in Blossom, was unfamiliar with her practice sessions -- she only knew that Kireme had qualified as a Ninja Auxilliary, as everyone else in the village knew. And kunai wasn't the only thing she was skilled with... although she would never be able to fight a real ninja in mortal combat. She could, however, easily handle unruly patrons who were fighting drunk... some of whom were, indeed, ninja.
Then Umiko had summoned what birds she could. The young teenager had spent three years building up her chakra to the point that she could use that skill, and now could call out as many as three eagles... albeit small ones. They were of little use in combat, but they could accomplish other things if needed. She already had one out, keeping an eye on the specific building in which the Cloud were held up, and sent two more to act as messengers if Kireme needed them. So, with the animals in place, she was allowed to go on in... and there, the first and most significant difference between the Cloud plan and this one occurred. With Cloud, she was expecting to be challenged at the gate, and had the prepared excuse of plying her trade at the chuunin exam. Here, however, there was no gate to pass... and no chuunin exam to use as an excuse.
She was a prostitute by trade, and could go anywhere looking for work. Without some sort of excuse, however, it would look awfully suspicious for a 'stranger' to show up, even one looking for work. Especially to a village known for having recently decided to launch a morals campaign... an odd place for an unemployed prostitute to decide to go looking for work, to be certain. So, she chose a method of entering the town that might draw a bit more attention to herself then she would have liked, but would give her a good reason for being in town.
It took the help of Chikan and his dolphins. With their help, she was swum out to a place in the water near an active fishing boat. There, she started calling for 'help.' It wasn't long before a 'rescue' was on the way, and she was dragged aboard. Her story of having been hired as the 'entertainment' for a boat and then dumped overboard by the crew so they wouldn't have to pay aroused enough sympathy for the crew to ignore their prejudices against prostitutes, and so she was bundled back into the village and given a helping hand. After a nice warm-up around a fire and a free room at an inn for the night (with the promise that she not use it for 'professional' purposes while she was in the village), she was allowed to make her way around town without harrassment.
She started asking about 'local brothels' at which she could 'earn the money to return home' from some of the... seedier locals, just to maintain her cover, and discovered that while prostitution was viewed with dislike around the village, it had yet to be made illegal, for there was indeed a brothel in that same village. She decided to at least put on the appearance of trying to 'reassemble her life' -- after all, as long as Naruto and Sakura were still in this village, there was no hurry -- and so decided to go and visit it... but only after stopping at a local cafe for breakfast.
She had heard a fuss the day before -- while she was also being fussed over -- about a pleasure craft coming in from Lightning country and certain minor dignitaries leaving the boat. That was a bit disturbing, but unless the boat tried to leave there was no need to sound any sort of alarm. It did complicate matters, however, as she saw several Cloud ninja walking around town, unafraid to show the symbols of their forehead protectors despite the fact they were inside Blossom village's territory -- their presence could be considered an act of war. Except apparently it wasn't, because they were merely escorting whoever this 'minor dignitary' was supposed to be. The exact politics of the situation was, quite frankly, over Kireme's head... but she still knew it wasn't right.
She was on her way to the cafe when, surprisingly, she was approached on a professional level.
"Hello, miss," the man said, smiling at her lecherously. "What are your rates?"
She glanced him up and down. He wasn't bad looking, she supposed, but there was something about him she didn't like. She couldn't refuse him without blowing her cover, however... but perhaps she could make him lose interest.
"I'm off the clock right now," she replied, letting her years of experience put that fawning tone most of her customers liked into her voice. "I'm on my way to breakfast, and I've always been told to never take a customer when I'm hungry. Come find me when I'm done, though, and we'll make a deal."
His grin smoothed out, becoming less lecherous and more... indulgent. "I'm hungry, too. Tell you what -- I'll treat you to breakfast, and we can discuss a deal while we eat?"
Argh! I was expecting him to get a clue, but I suppose that's asking too much from the sort of person who wouldn't go to a liscenced and regulated brothel when one was available, she thought in frustration. This is the kind of guy who carries disease, too... so I'd better make sure he isn't going for my services because he thinks I won't demand medical checks, either. Maybe that'll get him off my hair. She didn't let her doubt show on her face, however. "Certainly, sir," she chirped.
"So, slut," he said, addressing her rudely... but not as rudely as some customers did. She didn't let her distaste show on her face -- instead, appearing as eager as she always did in her professional capacity -- which seemed to encourage him somehow. "What is your name?"
"Ume," she replied, using the name she had decided upon as a disguise, basing it on her real name -- a 'plum' instead of a 'cherry,' but still a small fruit common to the area she was born.
"Heh... interesting. Plum wine for breakfast, it is," he laughed. "And possibly just the plums for dessert, eh?"
She laughed with him, although that didn't stop her from mentally cringing. Wine for breakfast? she thought. How... uncivilized. And who ever heard of dessert after breakfast?
It had been several years since she had to take a customer she didn't approve of. As much of a veteran as she was, she had earned the right to pick her clients, avoiding the part of the job she liked the least... at least, she had at the brothel. Here, however, she was a complete unknown in what appeared to be a desperate situation -- if she really were in the situation she claimed, she would have no choice but to take this man as a client... and she couldn't avoid it if she wanted to keep her cover.
"I like plum wine," she answered truthfully -- although she didn't for breakfast. "But we'll have to talk about 'dessert.'"
"It's just a matter of setting a price, right?" he asked, guiding her into the cafe. "Two, please -- and in a quiet corner. We have business to discuss."
The lone waiter sniffed in disgust, but it wasn't worth the loss of business to refuse him. "Of course," he replied, leading them to a booth.
"Don't bother with a menu -- just send us two of your most filling breakfast dishes. Oh, and a bottle of plum wine."
"Plum wine? At this hour? Are you... um, I mean, certainly, sir," the waiter said, bowing hesitantly. "Right away."
Kireme shook her head. "Now, look -- it really is more then just setting a price," she said. "I would really rather just set myself up in the local brothel instead of trying to freelance my way through this town. At a brothel, they have medical care, access to special products, security, and comfortable rooms outfitted especially for pleasing a man. Now, I can do without some of that, as long as you can -- I don't need the special products or the specially outfitted rooms... but brothels typically provide enough medical care that I can be certain that the customer doesn't have some sort of disease. If you wish to hire me, you are going to need to present me with some sort of assurance that I won't catch any diseases from you... and your word isn't enough. From now on, I don't take anyone's word -- you pay me in advance, you provide a clean bill of health, and we won't be engaging in any sort of bondage sessions."
The man raised an eyebrow. "You have high standards, Ume. The whores where I'm from wouldn't make any such requirements."
Kireme snorted in disgust. "Then the 'whores' where you are from are idiots, or inexperienced lunatics, or masochists. I've learned the hard way not to trust my customers unless there is something to hold over them -- like the security at a brothel, or a payment in advance. And I know better then to risk ruining my career -- and my life -- on someone's word that they are healthy."
"Fair enough," he replied, laughing slightly as he back into my chair. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Yobutsu Ogata, and I just came into town on that ship recently. I would like to hire a few whores to be part of my entourage while I'm in town, and you are the first one I've seen."
Kireme recognized the name -- Pansuke had given out a brief rundown of what she knew on the organization Kakashi had been trying to penetrate, and Ogata was the only name she felt worth mentioning, as he was their leader. This was... not necessarily a good thing if she wanted to play it safe, but if she risked a little and played her cards right might prove to be just what she needed. Still, she couldn't too eager, all of a sudden.
"A whole entourage, just for little old me?" she said with saccarine sweetness. "How many in this entourage, and how soon could you get them medically checked?"
"Oh, a dozen or so. All ninja -- my protection. One of them is a medical ninja, and could do the check-ups in an hour or so."
"Hm, and I'm supposed to trust your 'medical ninja?'" Kireme asked, smiling slightly.
"Unless you have a better solution?" Ogata shot back.
"I think I'll have to adjust my 'price' a bit if I were to trust him. It is a him, right? I don't work with girls," she explained.
Ogata seemed momentarily thrown. "You don't? Hm. Well, that's another matter, but I think we can work around it -- I don't think she's too likely to be interested at this point. No, the particular medical ninja I am considering is a male. There may be one small problem, but I think we can work around them, as well. Ten ninja, then. Plus myself, of course."
Kireme nodded slowly. "Hm, and you expect me to be with you the entire time you are in town?"
"Yes. I should only be about a week at most -- probably much less. We're waiting for a special visitor, who should be here any day now."
Well, that was certainly interesting. Who would this visitor be? Kireme wondered if she should take that visitor in account when she made her report -- if Naruto and Sakura were safe and sound despite their captivity, then maybe it would be better to wait and find out. Then again, she wasn't really a ninja, and this wasn't part of her mission -- her mission was to find out what the situation was in the Cloud safe house, and report on it to the forces waiting outside. She decided to play it by ear, and see what she thought. At any rate, there were a few things she already knew she could report -- that there were probably thirteen guards, and one of them was Ogata. She might also mention the 'special visitor,' but she would have to see how much she could manage to slip into her note.
"Three hundred ryou a day per ninja," she finally said. "And that's only if your name isn't on the blacklist at the local brothel -- I need to go there, anyway, to report the people who tried to kill me in order to stiff me, and you'd better believe I'm going to be checking on you when I do."
"Three thousand ryou a day?" Ogata whistled. "That's a bit more then I'd expect. I'm not sure I've got that much on hand."
Kireme snorted. "It's cheaper then you'd get from the brothel. It just so happens I'm in a bit of a desperate situation, or it would be five hundred a day per person. And the brothel will charge you a thousand."
"Knock the price down a bit, and we'll talk," Ogata said. "Three hundred is too steep."
Kireme paused. She rarely haggled over prices, but this was important. Still....
"Tell you what. I'll go to the brothel and see if you're blacklisted. I don't trust people who haggle with my prices, to be blunt. But if your name hasn't hit the blacklists, then I'll come over wherever it is you're staying and see the people you want me to 'entertain.' If I like what I see, I'll do it for 250 a person. I can't afford to go any lower."
Ogata frowned. "That's still quite a bit of money...."
"Take it or leave it -- I could make more if I just hired myself out at the brothel part-time," Kireme snorted. "You pay my price, I'll fawn all over you and your friends all you want, and I'll do just about anything you want that doesn't involve tying me up, but you have to actually pay me a reasonable rate. Anything less is quite unreasonable. We're talking several days straight of 'performance,' here -- you're asking one girl to do what you really need ten for. Trust me, I'm not ripping you off here -- this is the best price you will find anywhere."
Ogata shook his head, sighing. "Is the three hundred, sight unseen, still on the table? We've got some rough looking people -- I assure you that you'll be perfectly safe, but I'm not sure you'd believe that at first glance."
Kireme hesitated. his 'rough-looking' people were probably the real reason he approached a street girl instead of hiring from a respectable brothel, but it was also a reason many girls would refuse to do the job for so low a price -- she wasn't kidding, she was offering him better rates then he'd get just about anywhere else. It probably wouldn't be good for her cover to accept -- at least, not without adding more provisions. Yet it wouldn't be good for her mission to turn him down. She'd just have to come up with some sort of compromise. Or at least a convincing excuse for accepting after all.
"Tell you what," she said. "Yes, I'll keep the three hundred ryou price as an option -- after all, I was willing to take that without checking, before. After checking those blacklists, I'll see if you guys are as bad as you say." Then, giving him her most seductive smile, she reached across the table and stroked his cheek to let him 'sample' the smoothness of her skin and to smell the sweetness of her perfume -- a sales trick she had been taught her first year in the brothel. "If I think you're exaggerating things, then maybe I'll agree to lower the price after all."
She felt him shudder under her hand. Obviously, it had been a while for him... that, or he was a bit of a pervert. "Deal," he sighed.
She leaned back in her chair, smiling a very satisfied grin -- both for striking a deal, which she would have been pleased about in any circumstance, and for having found a way into thier hideout. "Good. But first... breakast."
With that, she nodded over at the waiter... who had obviously been waiting for their conversation to end before bringing over their meal. She'd have to remember this place if she ever came back here -- obviously, despite any moral misgivings to the contrary, this cafe knew how a girl like her liked to do business.
* * * * *
The council of war leading the encampment around the nameless fishing village gathered together when the first message arrived from Kireme. She had sent it on paper, tied to a leg on one of Umiko's eagles, and the message was a bit hard to read. It appeared that she was in a hurry when she wrote it, but the eagle (which, indeed, was able to talk -- albeit with a thick accent. Umiko had yet to summon any creature which could fluently speak human, although many of her animal train could at least communicate in a rudimentary language that was a mixture of body language and human) attested to the fact that she had not been under any duress. In fact, she had been on the recieving end of a lot of support from the local brothel, which had agreed to help her out once they figured out who she was -- apparently, Kireme Sakura was a name well known to the brothels of Wave country, and any of them would be honored to have her owe them a favor.
There was a considerable amount of brevity in her words, although the message contained a number of data points. "Ogata in town as 'foriegn dignitary.' Admits to having at least thirteen ninja in the village. One of thirteen female, another medical nin, another Ogata. Apparently awaiting 'special visitor' due to arrive in few days -- no more then 1 week. Until visitor arrives, not likely to move. I'm invited into safehouse as 'entertainment.'"
The contents themselves may have been brief in nature, but the debate they sparked most assuredly was not. For the first time since starting his venture, Konohamaru's authority was being challenged... and he had no leg to stand on to reclaim it. After recieving this particular bit of intelligence, he had one plan he wanted to go through... but Inari wanted to push forward with a different plan entirely, and he had been planning this operation for almost a whole day more then Konohamaru himself could possibly have... and, well, Konohamaru found himself wanting to use Inari's plan, but knowing it would be better for them to follow his own.
"Look, Inari... I want to go in and rescue him just as much as you do," he sighed, his voice strained with exhaustion and concern. "But let's face facts, here. Kakashi-sama has spent the past five years working on this plan, and Naruto-kun has been working with him on it for at least the past three. Naruto knew he might be captured, it seems, but went along with it anyway. Do you want to waste all of the years those two have spent on this project, just because you lack the patience to see it through for them? As best as we can tell -- at least until we have information to the contrary -- he's safe and sound. Yes, he's been captured, but they seem to want him alive for some reason, so he'll be okay. If we can intercept this 'special visitor,' then his mission will have been a success. If not... then Kakashi-sensei has just wasted the past five years of his life, and Naruto-kun just fought to the brink for nothing."
"Naruto-sensei ordered us to rescue him if he was captured!" Inari insisted, slamming his fist onto the stone they were using as a table. The stone cracked slightly, but he didn't even notice... although Konohamaru and just about everyone else present did. "The lives of our team members -- or, in this case, our friends and teachers -- is supposed to be the most important thing to us!"
"Don't you think I know that?" Konohamaru finally exploded, losing a temper he had been spending almost an hour of rather heated debate bottling up. "Don't you think I know that Naruto-kun's life is more important than some stupid mission? Hell, I almost left our entire home village of Blossom completely defenseless to rescue him, and if it hadn't been for Shizune-sama showing up and reminding me of the need to protect our friends and family at home, I likely would have! And everyone would have followed me, too, knowing just what we were doing! But right now... right now, we don't lose anything by waiting, and we have everything to gain -- more intelligence, the chance of discovering who this secret visitor is, possibly even the chance to finish Kakashi-sama and Naruto-kun's mission for them. And... and think of it this way: Do you really think Naruto-kun would appreciate it if we saved his life, only to start a war that cannot be won with the Cloud in the process? Because I fear if we play this wrong, we just might start a war -- this Ogata jerk sounds like the sort of person who would claim we were the aggressors, and any proof to the contrary would be 'just an attempt to frame him.' Because, right now, all we have is the hearsay evidence of Kakashi-sensei and Pansuki-chan... which bloody well won't be enough to stop a war, and just might be enough to start one. But, if we wait and catch this guy red-handed, then there's no way he would be able to talk his way out of it, we'll have rescued everyone, and the Raikage will owe us a favor, and not have to launch a war against us. So... as long as Naruto-kun is still safe, captive or not, I'm not going in there."
Ino hesitated. "Konohamaru-kun... I hate to bring this up, because I think you're right about the whole war thing, but I think... I think there's something else you should consider. Or rather, someone else."
"Yeah?" he snapped, unwilling to be reasonable. "Who? Sakura-kun? I know she's in danger, too, but she'll be safe as long as Naruto-kun is."
"No," Ino said, unable to meet his eyes. "Someone... perhaps a bit closer to you. I was listening closely when Inari-kun explained what happened during Naruto-dono's fight. I don't really know what it is that Itachi did to them, but... I think it's a pretty good chance he was actually doing it to kyuubi." She paused. "And there is no way of knowing how that is going to affect Moegi-chan."
The sudden realization felt like a dagger in his gut, but Konohamaru nodded bravely... at first. "I... I hadn't thought about it. But I... oh, hell." For the first time since finding out there was a problem, he was feeling overwhelmed. He collapsed to the ground, unable to hold himself upright, and pulled his legs up in a fetal position. He rested his head on his knees and closed his eyes. "What am I supposed to do? I... my love, my mentor, and my leader are all in danger. I can go in and rescue them, killing anything which gets in our way, and I could save them -- I could save them all! I know it, you know it, everyone else knows it, too. But... but but but but but! There is always a but! Dammit!" He felt tears going down his face, but couldn't even wipe them away. "I want to do what Inari says. I want to go in and rescue them. I want to storm inside that village, deliver the greatest ass whipping of all time, and pull out our friends. And I want Moegi-chan to be safe. But if I do that... will any of them really be safe? We'll start a war, a war we cannot win... unless we involve Konoha, which we still won't win since we'll be trapped in the middle, and Konoha will be left open for our enemies to strike out at. The thing I want to do is go with your plan, Inari-kun." Finally, he looked up, meeting the other boy's now guilt-stricken face. "I really want to go with your plan. But... it isn't the right thing to do. And you know it, too."
Ino hesitated. "You once told Naruto-dono that you wanted to be hokage some day, Konohamaru-kun," she said.
He frowned at her. "Yeah, I did. But how do you know that?"
She grimmaced slightly. "Long story -- basically, I've got a copy of thirteen-year-old Naruto's memories in my head thanks to a mission that had certain unplanned difficulties. But that isn't important. What's important is... as hokage, you will have to make hard decisions like these. Sometimes, those decisions may require you to sacrifice someone you care about in order to protect the lives of everyone else important to you -- your friends, your family, your village. Naruto-dono accepted that it would be a part of his job as hokage to make those decisions a long time ago... but resolved that he would become greater then the hokage by always getting both those important to him and everyone else out safely. I think he hasn't always succeeded -- Sasuke-kun would be one such example -- but he tries. And he tries with such a point of obsession I fear he might break, one day, if he does have to choose. I think he'd die, himself, before he'd make that choice -- in fact, I know he would, because he developed a kinjutsu he intended to use only in such a situation."
"And?" Konohamaru asked harshly, not seeing the point.
"Naruto-dono knows he may have to sacrifice himself, one day, in order to keep those closest to him alive and safe," Ino continued, her voice cracking slightly. "I think he'd be willing to just stay in that village and rot if it meant keeping everyone else safe. But... I don't think he'd risk Sakura-chan's life... or Moegi-chan's. I think he'd expect you to rescue them, and then he will take over and work out how to stop the war. I think... I think if you want to be a hokage as great as he intends to be, you will work your way around that hard choice, just as he would, and that might be to attack now."
Konohamaru paused to consider those words, then sighed. "He might be willing to take the risk... but I fear I'll never be able to match him as 'greater then the hokage.' I'll have to settle for doing what is right, just as the hokage would do... and keep our camp here until the last possible moment." He paused. "Naruto-kun could do it, and I suspect he would get it right. But I am not him. I am not even my grandfather. If I ever become a hokage, I will have to be me... and I can't do the wrong thing just because it might turn out okay."
"Good words, young man," a new voice said, coming from the shadow of a nearby tree. An elderly ninja, bearing the mark of the Cloud, stepped out into the sun, squinting slightly as he did. His beard was grey, his hair white, his eyes wrinkled and worn. And he walked with a limp. "I've heard everything. You will be a great hokage some day, I suspect... and so might this Naruto, if he is half as good as you all seem to think he is."
"Who are you?" Inari demanded, suddenly standing between him and Konohamaru, kunai drawn defensively. The remaining five members of Naruto and Sakura's team lined up flanking them, ready to fight to the death. Apparently, whatever differences they had didn't keep him from treating Konohamaru as his leader, either.
The old man laughed. "Well, there are two answers I could give to that. The first is that I am that 'special visitor' that Ogata is expecting... although I don't think he quite realizes it's me, yet. The second thing I could tell you is that I am Kanraku Oyadama, better known as the Third Raikage. Kakashi-dono and apparently this Naruto fellow have been working on my behalf for years... so I would feel modestly obligated to help you all out in saving their lives. Are you willing to let me help?"
Konohamaru stepped forward, walking through the line of people who had decided to defend him. "If you are who you say you are, sir... I don't think I have any choice but to accept."
Oyadama nodded. "Good... now, let's get to work, shall we?"
* * * * *
Kireme knocked on the door of the 'temporary embassy of the Cloud,' as Ogata had called it, fidgetting slightly. As soon as the door started to open, she would put on her usual 'I'm just an empty-headed whore here for your pleasure' face, but until then she reserved the right to be nervous about this. True to her word, she made certain Ogata's name was not on any of the blackball lists that circulated from brothel to brothel. She'd also sent out her report, and verified with the local madame just who she was and why she was there. Any accusations of 'stealing their business' were quickly set aside when it was learned that she was trying to help rescue Naruto and Sakura -- two of the nation of Wave's greatest heroes.
So, she probably knew about as much about these people as anyone in town did, as well as the things that Naruto had been sent to this village to find out in the first place. The origins of the 'moral crusade' against Blossom had, indeed, been started here -- and by people now known to 'associate' with these Cloud ninja. It started to dawn on Kireme that the waiter in the cafe wasn't looking down on her, as much as he was ticked off that he and his village were being used by this man known to be an agent of the Cloud. It helped to explain why she had been treated so nicely by everyone after her 'rescue,' and why she hadn't been snubbed as much as she had been expecting. These people had been used by the Cloud, and now they knew it... and there was a bit of a backlash going on. In fact, those people who knew she had conducted a 'business deal' with Ogata were now looking at her in askance more, now, then they had when she first arrived. If these people thought they could fight against ninja, Kireme mused, they'd probably be rioting against Ogata by now.
It took almost a full minute for the door to open -- during which time she had the uncomfortable sensation of being watched. Obviously, they didn't quite trust her fully -- which was very smart of them -- and wanted to make sure she wasn't bringing in any 'surprises' with her as she came. Finally, Ogata himself appeared at the door.
"Ah, I see your little inquiry about us at the brothel didn't turn up anything too damaging, huh?"
"I still want to see a clean bill of health before I'll let any of you touch me," Kireme warned, wanting at least some control over this situation. "But I need the money too much to pass up this chance, and they didn't have your name in any of their record books."
"Of course, of course," Ogata said, dismissing her concerns with a careless wave of his hand as he lead her inside and closed the door. "Now, let me show you around our little place -- or at least, those areas of it where you will be allowed to enter. Then I will take you to our medic, who will perform whatever tests you want. But I want some company this evening, and I imagine so do several of my men."
Kireme nodded, smiling pleasantly, though inside she was dreading the prospect of actually having to perform her professional duties with these people. It wasn't so much that she didn't want to 'sleep' with the 'enemy' as it was -- that, in and of itself, was an expected hazard in her profession -- it was trying to fulfill the fantasies of ten men in one night. She had done it, before, back when she was just starting out in the business and in very high demand, but one quickly learned ones limits, and ten was quite high. She had heard of girls who managed as many as a hundred men in one night, but those who could handle more then two or three a night on a regular basis were quite rare even in her profession. As a 'special occasion' most girls would be willing to pull as many as four or five, but ten... was hard to manage. And usually required a significant amount of recovery time... time she wouldn't have if this had to go more then one night. She would quite literally be expected to do the work of five women, and she probably wouldn't like any of her clients in the process.
Ogata was shuttling her around, mocking her with false courtesy. For some reason, many men loved to treat 'professional' women like herself with a sort of sarcastic honor -- sneering at her as they addressed her as 'your ladyship' or some other title of fiegned nobility. She never understood it, but -- as her work demanded -- she accepted it and treated the 'kind' words as if they were the most sincere flattery. One of the things she truly loved about working in Blossom was that there were almost no clients who acted that way -- a few did, enough for her to keep in practice keeping her 'flattered' face on, but few enough that she rarely had to deal with them. She had long suspected it had something to do with Blossom being a ninja town, where women -- possibly the ninja's own mother, sisters, or daughters -- could one day be called upon to fulfill a duty much as the one they were hiring her to do. She had thought that would make ninja respect women like her a little better, and so any ninja would treat her well. This man, however, was proving that theory to be not quite as universal as she might have hoped.
A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, so she turned to look at what she thought could be one of her 'clients.' When she did, however, her eyes widened and her mouth fell open in real, genuine shock. This, perhaps, was the one thing which a real prostitute like herself would be astonished to see, whereas a ninja pretending to be a prostitute -- like, say, Pansuke or Ino would have done had they taken her role in this assignment -- would have had to fake shock, if they'd even been aware that this was something to be shocked about seeing. For, while the person stepping out of the room they were next to might be considered a human being by another ninja... he didn't look a thing like any human she had ever seen. Rather, he looked like some sort of plant-based alien creature -- paint-like black on one side of the face, paint-like white on the other, wierd costume all around, and... what looked like a flower bloom or leaves or something like that circling his body.
Ogata looked a bit uncomfortable as well. "Um, ahem, allow me to introduce you to a friend of ours. Zetsu, this is Ume, our entertainment for this evening."
Zetsu glanced her up and down, then let out a hideous laugh. "Our entertainment, huh? And just how is she supposed to be entertaining us?"
The Cloud leader frowned. "The kind all of us can enjoy -- she will not become your 'treat.' In fact, we will be paying her for her service and actually treating her well. She is a professional courtesan, and not a slave. Understood."
The odd-looking being frowned. "But how is that 'entertaining' for me?"
"Your partner has abandoned us, from what we've been told," Ogata growled. "And you have yet to prove yourself as reliable. We will not be making special accomodations for you until you do."
Zetsu's eyes narrowed. "Is that so? Well, then, I suppose I'll just have to 'prove myself,' won't I?" With that, he turned and left.
Kireme watched him leave, horror stricken. Shaking her head to clear it, she said, "If that's a sample of the ninja you hired me to work for this week, I think you can pretty much count on me charging you the full three hundred per person. And maybe a bit more."
Ogata visibly shivvered. "Sorry about that. He is not one of those I hired you to entertain. Involving myself with him and his organization has been a terrible mistake, I fear... especially now that Akatsuki has apparently dissolved with this latest setback of theirs, and so he's just a freelancer."
Kireme shrugged, trying to shake off the disgust she felt at the former Akatsuki member. "Well... we'll see. I'm definitely going to want the money in advance, now, as well as the medical check-up. Three hundred a person per night, payable early enough for me to get it into a bank."
"I'll round up the money for tonight and escort you to the bank, myself," Ogata said, shaking his head. "I didn't think there would be a problem like this, but I'm a bit worried about what Zetsu might try, so you'll be under my protection until we can leave town."
Damn, Kireme thought. So much for any chance of getting more messages out. I'm sure that everyone would want to know about Zetsu, as well.
He finally lead her to a room that was obviously a makeshift hospital. There was a blanket hanging to make one side of the room private, although she caught sight of some feet on a bed -- familiar feet, as it turned out. Apparently, Sakura -- at least -- was being treated here. Possibly Naruto as well, although she couldn't see him. She decided to make her first play to try and confirm that they were there.
"Are those people my clients?" she asked, walking over to peer around the blanket. Indeed, it was Naruto and Sakura, being looked at by someone she didn't recognize wearing a Cloud on a chain around his neck, alongside a metal square embossed with the medical symbol usually worn by paramedics in civilian circles. "They don't look too bad, but I thought I told you I didn't do girls."
The medic looked up sharply, eyes narrowed and alert for action. They softened a bit when they saw Ogata step up behind her, and then he smiled pleasantly when he realized who she was supposed to be. "I'm afraid they aren't going to be doing anything for a while, missy. I'm not quite sure what's wrong with them, but they're apparently in some sort of coma. It's not your concern, though... but I'm told that you do have concerns that involve me. I assure you, missy, that I will make every effort to provide you with accurate medical records. Believe me, if someone is carrying some kind of disease that you could transfer, I'm going to want to know about it myself -- after all, I'm also going to be one of your clients."
Doctors were often odd clients, sometimes wanting to perform wierd medical procedures (which she always made sure were safe) that they couldn't do to normal patients -- things such as taking a gynecological exam past the professional level and the like. The kink was sometimes a pleasant chance, but sometimes quite uncomfortable, and Kireme couldn't get a good read on the man to know which way he'd take it... if, indeed, he would try anything at all. "Well, until I see those results, the most I'm going to be doing for you guys is a little show," she cautioned. "You can look all you want, but no touching until I'm comfortable it's safe."
"Of course," the doctor said, bowing in acknowledgement. "If you want, I'll even let you watch as I conduct the tests."
"Thank you, I think I will," Kireme replied. It was certainly a good idea -- she would be seeing almost all of the ninja by doing so, and could stick by Naruto and Sakura in the process. Plus, it was something she would have insisted upon even if she wasn't trying to spy on these 'clients' of hers.
"Why don't I start with you, Ogata-sama?" the doctor suggested. "Then you can send in the others."
He agreed, and so the medical ninja started his work. The examinations went along smoothly, and Kireme was able to follow enough of what was going on to feel reassured she wasn't being lied to... which was certainly reassuring, since there was the possibility she would have to actually perform her duties with one or more of these people before the whole adventure was over. The first four were no problem, and the fifth -- who she recognized easily as Okanemoto Akane, the only 'true' traitor of the bunch that Cloud had been known to approach -- was uneventful, even if she felt rather tense during the whole time the examination was going on.
The sixth person, however, was someone else she recognized. Hatake Kakashi, the man whose mission lead to this whole situation, was someone she knew fairly well -- after all, not only was he the leader of Blossom (well, really, he was just a figurehead for the most part -- Naruto had been forced into the role of 'leader from behind the scenes'), he was also an occasional customer of the brothel... one she, herself, had worked with on occassion. She knew all about his sharingan eye... and that eye was open and revealed from the moment he came into the office.
To her, it was fairly obvious he had seen through her disguise from the first moment. While she knew he wouldn't intentionally give anything away, she was worried that one or both of them would accidentally do something to reveal that they knew each other in the past... which would definitely lead to certain awkward questions from the other ninja. Indeed, the medical ninja picked up on it right away.
"Is something wrong, Kakashi-san?" he asked.
Kakashi narrowed his eyes at her. "Hm. Probably not, probably not. I'm just trying to decide whether or not I want to ask you to give her some medical tests or not -- I know that I'm clean, but I'm not so sure about some random girl off of the streets. I still say we should have gone with one of the liscened brothels which require its members to screen their employees constantly."
Kireme's eyes widened in surprise -- this, certainly wasn't a tact she was expecting -- and then narrowed in feigned anger. "Excuse me? I may be displaced, but I am not just a 'random girl off hte streets.' I already have my medical records -- I made sure the local brothel verified them, thank you very much. And why would I be insisting on all this testing from you if I weren't careful myself? Hmph!"
The doctor laughed. "Well, I wish I'd known that sooner. I've been collecting samples from you without letting you know it, because I wasn't sure I trusted you to be clean either. They'll be processed at the same time as everyone elses."
Kireme wasn't worred -- there was nothing revealing in her blood that would show that she was anything but a high-end prostitute, and she was absolutely certain she was as clean, medically, as she could be. Even her dyed hair would reveal nothing -- prostitutes, even high class ones, often colored their hair to whatever was most fashionable or most exotic at the time. Still, she was rather perturbed that he could do such a thing without her realizing it.
"You've been doing what, now?" she growled, turning on the doctor. "If you wanted my blood for tests or the like, you should have just said so, and I would have been more then accomodating. But to take it from me without asking! You... you... you just cost your employer another fifty ryou, mister, whether you hire me or not!"
The doctor flinched. "Um, Ogata-sama ordered me to do the testing, so I--"
"Oh he did, did he?" Kireme snapped, not letting him finish. "Then maybe I need to discuss that with him. Where the hell is he?"
After sending a helpless glance Kakashi's way, the medical ninja sighed. "I think I know where he went. I'll get him for you."
The door closed behind him, and Kireme glanced around the room, focusing her attention on Naruto and Sakura.
"It's safe to talk -- for a moment," Kakashi said. "What are you doing here, Kireme?"
She paused, then sighed and started talking. She was taking a big chance, since it was entirely possible this was someone in disguise as Kakashi, but she really needed to do something in order to get out the information she needed, and it didn't seem like she'd have a chance to reach any of the messengers if she discovered anything... which meant she would have to trust that he would carry the message for her. "Call me Ume -- that's my cover. Konohamaru mustered just about everyone in Blossom to come to the rescue. Shizune-san stopped him from taking them all, but there's a good-sized force of ninja surrounding this town preparing to attack. I sent them my report, and there may be some delay so that we can determine who it is Ogata-san is intending to meet with, but they'll be coming soon. I knew there were supposed to be thirteen ninja, one being a female and another a medical nin, but I didn't know about that... that... creepy Zetsu. Also, I didn't know about Naruto-kun and Sakura-chan's state. There was some discussion about me helping them to escape, but it seems that's not really possible."
"I think I know what's wrong with them," Kakashi sighed. "And they're not going to be waking up on their own. I hope that Shizune-san will be able to, however. But we don't need to worry about the meeting -- I know who it is, and the person is not who Ogata thinks. Ogata thinks he's going to be meeting with a member of the Raikage's security staff who he thinks has turned traitor. In reality, the Raikage himself is coming, together with some of his more trusted combat ninja. Butakatsu-san and I are going to strike on Ogata's forces from the inside while the Raikage attacks from outside, and hopefully we'll take care of them then. Konohamaru can start his attack whenever he wants, however, since it doesn't have to be the Raikage to launch the assault."
"I am probably not going to be able to send out any more messages like I hoped to," Kireme hurriedly explained. "If you could send a report to our people, however, that would probably be best. I was supposed to use Umiko-san's 'pets' to communicate, if you need a way to signal them."
"I can't send any messages, either," Kakashi sighed. "So we'll just have to wing it."
"Well, there might be one way I can get away," Kireme mused. "But I'll have to talk with Ogata first."
"Well, you'll get your chance, soon," Kakashi said, almost looking through the door. "He's on his way now."
The door opened, and the rather amused Ogata strode in. "I heard you had a complaint?"
"Oh, you better believe I've got a complaint, you bastard!" she snarled, turning from her normal pleasant self into a rather furious and aggrieved woman in a matter of seconds. "You think you could do this to me and expect to get away with it? You think I'm even going to work for you if you pay me ten times the amount we had negotiated, after this stunt? Oh, you've done it now, you freak!" She launched into a verbal assault on the Cloud ninja, berating him in detail for what was and was not permissible when it came to working with her. At first, he seemed amused, but as she got more and more vehement, he rapidly descended from amused into flustered, and then into downright panicky. He knew he had tricked her, but why had she taken it so badly? He didn't want her to report this to the brothel, but he wasn't entirely sure what he could do.
He knew it wasn't safe to kill this woman -- she had reported her existence and whereabouts to the local brothel, and one organization you did not want to get on the bad side of was the Brothel's Union. They had offices in almost every village in every nation on the known world, they had money, they had a great deal of influence in every military force -- both ninja villages that tended to operate anywhere in the world and more strictly controlled and regionally located samurai armies -- and in governments -- including every state which sponsored a ninja village -- and in merchant sectors. Killing a liscenced prostitute when it would be pretty obvious who did it was never a good idea, even for a ninja -- if there was any organization on the planet with more power then those of the great ninja villages, it was the Brothel's Union.
Ogata also seemed a bit lost when it came to apologizing. She was talking so fast and furiously that he couldn't get a word in edgewise, and he didn't exactly have any way of making her stop. So, he just stood there, eyes widening, as he took the verbal assault that was coming. He thought she might run out of steam after five minutes, or possibly after ten, but that failed to be the case. About fifty-three minutes into her tirade, however, something happened which let him finally get free of the woman... but it wasn't exactly a pleasant reprieve.
"Ogata-sama!" came the cry as a young woman -- apparently the one female that Kireme had been asked to entertain, since she was wearing a forehead protector identifying her as a ninja -- burst into the room. "We're under attack."
His eyes widened. "Attack? Who the hell would attack us?"
"It looks like the two teams, no leaders," she said, gesturing to the beds where Naruto and Sakura were passed out. "They seem to match the descriptions we heard of their students."
Ogata snorted. "Genin, huh? Not worth my time -- deal with them, yourself."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "You honestly think six genin can't take down one jounin? Didn't your spies in Cloud ever relay to you what Naruto-kun and his Academy class did as a genin?"
"A fluke," Ogata snorted. "Your average genin wouldn't stand a shot against a jounin, even six on one."
"Konoha requires that our genin be able to compete on an even field with an average jounin at three on one odds," Kakashi explained. "Or we send them back to become admin nin. Sand, which must make do with fewer ninja, tries to maintain an even higher standard of two to one to compensate for their lack of numbers. That's a more recent thing, brought about by the daimyo of Wind deciding to cut their budget, but they've done a pretty good job of maintaining it. If Cloud genin fail to make that standard, that could explain why you have such a glut of genin who fail their chuunin exams."
"So we need two jounin out there," Ogata said, shrugging. "Big deal."
"You'd want three to be safe, if those were genin out there," Kakashi pointed out. "But they aren't. They're the two top chuunin teams in Blossom, and I'd bet at least four, probably five of them could match most jounin straight up. The only reason the three from Naruto-kun's team aren't jounin, in fact, is that we haven't had any slots available for jounin-level ninja." Kireme frowned mentally, but kept any expression from altering her face -- the fact that she was still supposed to be angry probably helping that.
"Fine," Ogata growled. "We don't want your involvement known, so we'll be sending Akane and Butakatsu here to the clinic. Kinshou-san!"
"Yes, sir, Ogata-sama?" the female ninja chirped, snapping to attention.
"Guard this room. Don't let any of the attackers inside -- we may still have use for these two bodies we've captured, and we don't want anyone to know about Kakashi-san."
"Yes, sir, Ogata-sama, sir!"
Ogata stormed out of the room, and Kinshou moved to take her place outside the door. Once it closed, Kireme turned on Kakashi, glaring at him.
"You gave out a lot of information, there," she said challengingly. "At my brothel back home, we teach that people in my line of work tend to treat secrecy almost as important as ninja do, but after all you just told him I'm not sure if we don't care more for it then you do. That was a considerable bit of important information you gave out, there. I have to wonder -- if he'd asked you their exact strengths and weaknesses, would you have given them to him?"
Kakashi regarded her for a moment before sighing. "Yes, of course I would have. Maybe not all of them -- I'm not even sure I know all of them -- but I'd have given him enough to make him happy."
"Keep your voice down," he ordered, pointing to the door. "Look, we both know there are more people out there then just those six, and I wouldn't have given him any information I didn't already know that someone in his organization already had -- and yes, somewhere out there, Akane submitted a report detailing the strengths and weaknesses of every ninja in Blossom. Including you, by the way. I did it so that he would actually go out and expose himself to combat, where our forces outside can get to him... not to help him. When you possess secret information, there comes a time to use it."
"I don't know if this is one of those times," she said uncertainly. "And as far as reports on me go... why? I'm not a ninja!"
"You aren't?" Kakashi replied, clearly amused. "Hm. Funny thing, but you are actually listed on the payroll at Blossom as a 'instructor -- Ninja Academy -- Advanced Techniques.' You pretty much have to be at least the minimum of what is considered a ninja to be on that payroll. Tell me, Ume-chan... what are the basics behind what makes a ninja qualify as a ninja?"
"I qualify as an auxilliary," she replied a little more assuredly. "As someone with special skills required for the ninja to perform their duties, I am valuable to other ninja. Therefore, I have been given certain ninja skills to keep me safe, but I am not a ninja."
"Indeed," Kakashi agreed. "Right from the book. And the difference between an auxilliary and, say, a reservist -- who is usually either a ninja so far past his or her prime that they are no longer qualified for full-time active service or a failed genin who is not qualified to be an administrative ninja -- is that auxilliaries are never supposed to go out from behind the lines -- you are the cooks who cook our meals, the barbers who cut our hair, our entertainers, sometimes our transportation, sometimes the builders who upgrade fortifications to more permanent developments, and so on. But they never do any true ninja duties -- like, say, breaking into an enemy base in order to gain intelligence. That would be a job for a reservist, or possibly even an active duty ninja."
Kireme hesitated. "There is another difference, though. A real ninja is supposed to be able to fight other ninja...."
"Not much escapes my eyes these days," Kakashi snorted. "Whatever it may seem like. And I've seen you practicing with a kunai, working until you could almost qualify as a shuriken master at genin level. You wouldn't be employed as an active genin in either Sand or Konoha, where the standards are higher then just about anywhere else, but you probably would in most ninja villages. As I said... you are a ninja. And so, you have been reported on as if you were a ninja. You may have been trying to keep those training sessions a secret, but Akane is a good ninja in his own right, and could possibly even spy on more experienced ninja."
"Like, say, you?" a voice said as Akane emerged from a shadowy corner. "Seems I can even get past the sharingan eye."
"No, not really," Kakashi shot back. "I knew you were there. I also know you're irrelevent."
Akane wasn't able to finish his word before he keeled over, dead. Butakatsu stepped out of the shadows as well, bending over to retrieve a bloody kunai from the dead genin's back. "He didn't let out an alarm to the others, sir," the live genin said, wiping the blood off on Akane's clothes. He shook his head. "Arrogant ass never did learn when to call for help."
"Shit," Kireme cursed, eyes wide as she stared down at the body.
Kakashi nodded to the live genin. "Kinshou?"
"Unconscious, not dead," Butakatsu replied. "She's a decent girl loyal to Ogata only because he's got blackmail on her, so I figure she won't be too upset to learn we're stopping him here."
"Fair enough," Kakashi agreed. "Now, let's go. It seems that our call to action is coming sooner then we expected. Kireme-chan, are you okay?"
"Kireme?" Butakatsu exclaimed, taking a good look at the girl. "No, that's not a henge. How the hell--"
"You learn a few things in a brothel," Kireme replied. She was a bit unnerved at the body now pooling blood at her feet -- after all, Akane was a former customer of hers, at one time -- but having lived in a ninja village for several years now she was used to the occasional death -- at least, as much as anyone could get used to it -- and she'd seen a few dead bodies in her time. Plus, pretending to be unphased by just about anything shocking that anyone wanted or did was a large part of her job. "Remind me to tell you about the time someone wanted me to pose underwater as a famous actress who drowned in her bathtub some time. There are certain things you just have to know -- it's a lot more complicated then just having sex all the time. Something I try to get across in my 'courtesan-training' sessions with your kunoichi that I gather isn't taught in Konoha."
"I'll mention the omission to the hokage next change I get," Kakashi sighed. "Now, since all of the obstacles are out of our way... should we go see to my end of the plan?"
* * * * *
"Katon -- Housenka no jutsu!"
Ogata barely recognized the call in time to jump back as a dozen small balls of fire landed at the door as he stepped through. Kunai embedded in the flames, still red-hot from the intensity of the fireballs, stuck in the ground where he had been a split second before. His eyes widened, and he decided that perhaps Kakashi had been right to admonish him after all. He had followed the Konoha jounin's advice, and collected just about everyone except for Kinshou to meet the threat. Well, everyone from his organization -- people like Kakashi, Akane, Butakatsu, and the prostitute he knew as Ume were being kept out of the fight. So was Zetsu, and a few other 'ambassadors' from various groups he had been negotiating with to help consolidate his power. He had the strength, now, to launch the final assault -- even without the Akatsuki's help -- and so he had been making arrangements for his taking power to be seen as 'legitimate' in the crisis which was sure to follow the Raikage's demise at the hands of one of his own guardsmen. The planned meeting with said guardsman was supposed to be the last step in his plan... but this attack was not expected. With himself and the eight other Cloud jounin he had assembled, however (Kinshou, Kakashi, Akane, and Butakatsu being unable to fight in this battle), he should be able to defeat this attack fairly easily. It helped that the building was fortified well enough that there really was only one entrance from which any attack was possible, even for most ninja, but unfortunately the expected meeting took away most of that advantage. He couldn't afford to just defend the building until it was most convenient for him -- he had to clear away the attackers before his guest arrived.
"Alright, men," he snapped. "It looks like they're serious, but we don't have time to waste on children. Counter-attack, now."
The nine Cloud ninja practically flew out the door, intending to use their numbers and the quickness granted by their power and experience to overwhelm what was likely the more natural speed of the fewer, younger, and likely weaker Blossom ninja. It didn't quite work out that way, however. The leader of the Blossom ninja -- the one who, if the quickly read reports Ogata had seen were correct, was named Inari -- pulled out a bowl of steaming hot ramen, of all things. This was incongruous enough with a scene of battle it gave Ogata pause for a moment, and that moment lead to disaster. Threads of ramen noodles darted out at him -- longer strands then should be accounted for in a normal bowl of ramen -- but a quick attempt to dispell any genjutsu proved it was not an illusion. Instead, somehow, the noodles were actually stretching themselves around him and his men, forming a cage.
"It's just ramen!" one of his men cried. "Shouldn't be too hard to break!" With that, the hapless jounin slammed head-first into the noodle cage... knocking himself out in the process, as it seemed the noodles had acquired unheard of strength. They suddenly weren't red hot and steaming, any more, but instead were once again dried and fried. A whirlwind of shuriken started slipping through the bars, forcing everyone to dodge away. Ogata, himself, leapt into the rear wall of the ramen cage, expecting to bounce off of it. When he crashed through unexpectedly, shattering the dry noodles as if they were, well, noodles, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. Several of his men followed suit, and then the Blossom ninja pounced.
A large, furry animal -- a mole, most likely, if the reports were right -- rose out of the ground, a rider on its back, to pull one of his men down underground with it. A series of fireballs sent from a sickly-looking boy pelted two others. Yet another was engaged in furious hand-to-hand combat with someone employing a style similar to the one rumored to belong exclusively to the Hyuuga clan on Konoha -- obviously, that was Adaha. A flock of eagles dove in and picked up yet another. A sixth -- by her distinctive proportions and by the process of elimination, obviously the Munamoto Sousou girl who had been on Haruno Sakura's team that Akane's reports had no data on other then her identity -- was effectively using the shadows to hide from view, emerge to strike a passing Cloud ninja, and then descend back into hiding.
"All right, that's enough!" Ogata cried. Flexing his chakra powerfully, he sent out a varient on several wind element techniques, knocking back friend and enemy alike with a powerful gust of tornado-force winds flying out of his body. He pulled the conscious members of his own organization to their feet and reorganized them as Inari and his five friends tried to pick themselves up. "This ends now."
"Not yet," Inari replied after staring at him for a moment... and then fled, taking his entire team with him.
Ogata gaped after him. They... they were winning. Why did they run? Finally, he collected himself -- at least, to some extent -- and easily decided on a course of action. "What are you fools waiting around for? After them!"
* * * * *
Kakashi lead Butakatsu and Kireme through the hallways, the later two carrying Naruto and Sakura, respectively. They were almost to the door when a horrible cackling emerged from the shadows around them.
"Hm, how interesting," came the crazed voice attached to the laughter. "I found a truly delicious corpse not too long ago, but I had to wonder who left it out for me. So, I followed the trail, and what do I find? Why, our 'entertainment' in the company of our 'honorable' contacts from Konoha. This is a surprise."
"Zetsu," Kakashi replied calmly. "This is not what it looks like. We were attacked, and after Akane fell we ran. We still don't know what happened to Kinshou-san."
"Of course you did," the voice replied patronizingly, then hardened as Zetsu emerged from the shadows. "We both know that isn't true, and you wouldn't believe me if I pretended it was. Even if it was, though, it wouldn't matter -- I have all the evidence I need to prove you were betraying Ogata... and if I manage to stop you, well, then perhaps I will have 'proved myself' as I was asked to do. It's your tough luck, Kakashi-san."
"Then I suppose there's no way of talking you out of this pointless fight?" Kakashi deadpanned.
"And just how is this fight pointless?" Zetsu crowed. "By killing you, I'll have a feast... and my employer will have reason to treat me right!"
"Assuming, of course, your employer lives through his own fight," Kakashi pointed out. "Which might not happen."
"Well, at least I've have sated my hunger for the moment," Zetsu shot back. "Now... do me a favor and die!"
Kireme had a hard time keeping up with the battle that followed. Kakashi was employing his sharingan eye, but that only allowed him to maintain a solid defense. His offense was fairly sporatic, on the other hand, consisting largely of quick elemental techniques, basic taijutsu attacks, and other things which could be done fairly quickly. Zetsu was pressing him hard, employing all kinds of rather disturbing tactics of his own -- spitting acid, pulling out shuriken made from the bones of the dead he had eaten, digging his limbs into the ground to grow them as plant-like entangling vines, and various other moves which she had never seen before. It was while attempting the last of those that Kakashi finally managed a small break -- thanks to Butakatsu having summoned a warthog which charged in and crashed into the temporarily immobile Akatsuki ninja.
Kakashi tried summoning his pack of dogs to aid Butakatsu's pig and press the attack while he disentangled himself from the vines. However, his slight advantage was ended quickly enough, as Zetsu summoned a large bear that sent them all back where they came from in puffs of ninja smoke with a single swipe of its claws. Butakatsu's warthog was next, not managing the escape of a disspelled summon before the bear speared it on its claws. There was a chance the pig would still live after a recovery period, despite those wounds, but that chance soon went by the wayside as the bear picked it up and swallowed it whole.
All of that happened in less then a minute, and Kireme was too stunned to do anything. What could she do, after all? She wasn't even really a ninja, despite what Kakashi said. She had the simple tricks, yes, but that was it... well, beyond some shuriken training. And she didn't have any shuriken with her, either, so that was a wash. She set Sakura down, as Butakatsu had done with Naruto shortly before summoning his warthog, but knew that if she turned out to be their last line of defense, there wasn't much she could do against someone of Zetsu's level. The thought of ditching them all and running was looking pretty good about then.
Kakashi managed to dispell the bear with a well-placed chidori -- about the only technique he had which would pierce the creatures armored hide -- but a vine to the back of the head knocked him flat. He was obviously stunned, momentarily, and so Butakatsu moved to protect him until he could recover. Zetsu snorted, preparing to swat the young ninja away like a gnat and end the life of Kakashi the Copy Ninja, and take his place as a legend in the making.
Kireme knew why she wasn't running. She knew that what Kakashi had said was true. She may be a prostitute first and foremost, and was actually proud to be one, but she had truly become a ninja as well. After having lived among them, worked with them, taught them, and learned from them for almost four years, she knew -- probably better then most genin on their first real mission, which was what she supposed her circumstance was in that case -- just what it meant to be a ninja. And that included not leaving anyone behind, seeing the mission through until the end even if it meant your own death, and... never giving up, no matter what the odds. With that in mind, she pulled a kunai out of Sakura's equipment pouch, and with all the effort that four years of training had won her, threw it as hard as she could.
In truth, it was little more than a gesture on her part to show that she was not going to run, regardless of her inexperience and relative lack of skills and training. After all, it was just a shuriken. Shuriken might be effective when it came to battling most civilians and some types of lower-ranked samurai, especially in long-range assassination-type missions, but they were practically useless when it came to fights between ninja (though not completely useless -- with traps and special techniques, weapons like kunai and other shuriken could be effective against even the strongest of ninja). If anything, she hoped it would distract Zetsu long enough for Kakashi to recover. Which was why it was such a shock -- not only to her, but to everyone else who could witness it, that her kunai sunk deep into the back of Zetsu.
Zetsu blinked once, and oddly the skin which seemed to be painted black and white faded into the pale flesh tones of a normal human, although the rest of his features remained plant-like. "But... but I was sure you were really just a simple whore."
"I am," Kireme replied, watching the first man she ever killed die in front of her. "But I am also a ninja."
* * * * *
Ogata knew he was being lead into some sort of trap, but he continued on anyway. He really didn't have a choice -- these kids had to be eliminated before his guest arrived, and it didn't seem like he'd have much of a chance to do that unless he followed them. He wasn't too concerned, however -- after all, what kind of trap could these kids manage? He was qualified to be a kage with the number and power of his techniques and he had thirty years of experience as a ninja, plus his men were all elite jounin with at least a decades experience themselves. Their techniques were impressive, and he could see how they might manage to pass the chuunin exam at such young ages, but they were still relatively inexperienced -- they couldn't have been ninja for more then three or four years, at most. In fact, their best chance to win came not from trying to lead them into a trap, but in facing them head-on and relying on their techniques, and they should know that. Unless... unless there were more of them then these six.
"Crap. Pull back!"
Inari turned and grinned. "Too late," he said.
Hands grasped Ogata at his ankles, and he felt himself being pulled down into the ground. He knew the counter to this particular technique involved a lot of water, and he fortunately was very skilled with water element techniques. He was able to pull the water out of the air in order to flood the ground where they were trying to drag him, but several of his followers could not. Konohamaru, Ino, Hana, Futaba, the three ANBU, and Hanabi lead several teams of genin into the fight. The numbers were overwhelming, and Ogata found himself driven away from the others by Inari's original assault force. He kept them in front of him, backing away, hoping to eventually outflank them or to find the time to escape. The battle was lost, but he still had enough power in Cloud to continue his plans... as long as he survived the battle.
The meaty thump of backing into someone else -- someone fairly large and solid, by the feel of it -- told him that he might not make it. He jumped to his right, spinning to take in his latest attacker... and gaped.
"Rrr...raikage-sama?" he said hesitantly. The fighting stopped entirely in that moment, as all of the Cloud ninja turned to see who Ogata had run into.
Kanraku Oyadama, the Raikage of the Cloud, bowed mockingly. "Ogata-san. I have come to meet you... as we discussed last week."
Ogata's eyes narrowed. "You weren't who I said I wanted to meet this week."
"Actually, I am," Oyadama replied. "I am the 'honor guard member' who believed he could assassinate the Raikage for you. And I can -- I do know quite a few techniques which would kill me to use. I've considered long and hard using them on you, Ogata."
"Once upon a time, Ogata, you were my favorite to become my successor. In truth, there was a time I considered actually allowing your little coup to succeed -- I've been Raikage almost fifty years, now, and I'm tired of it. But the poor way you lead your people, the bad alliances you forged, your failure to discover traitors in your midst, your odd desire to include this country of Wave as part of your plan despite its friendly neutrality with us, and finally the way you have created powerful enemies where there was no need to do so by attacking two of these Blossom ninja's most popular leaders, in order to gain the alliance of a force comprising entirely of the most viscious traitors in all of history." Oyadama sighed. "I have made many of those same errors. Konoha is our enemy because of my stupidity in giving in to the faction run by Sinobi Gashir a little over a decade ago -- just as your decision to ally with the Akatsuki was. Blossom is now your enemy because of that."
"Gashir was a nutcase. A powerful ninja, yes, but not powerful enough to risk Cloud over," Ogata growled. "Akatsuki, however, is the most powerful force in history."
"A force which has been systematically destroyed by a single man," another person said. Ogata turned to see Kakashi's arrival. "Akatsuki was, indeed, a powerful force... but it was also an unreliable one. And one which may have just recieved its deathblow -- Zetsu is dead. In the process of attacking Naruto-kun and Sakura-chan, Itachi was crippled and so was the instrument of power they were constructing. And you... are the only person still alive who could be considered their ally. And, by the way, Butakatsu-san and I are the 'traitors in your midst' you failed to discover."
"He won't be alive for much longer, I fear," Oyadama sighed. "Ogata-san... I'm giving you a choice. Try not to make another mistake, because whatever your decision is, it will be the last one you ever make."
Ogata frowned. "A choice? What sort of choice?"
"You have two options," Kakashi said. "Unless something has changed?"
"No," Oyadama replied. "I won't offer him the position of Raikage, after all of this, even if he had tried to make some sort of convincing argument and I felt moved by it. I won't even allow him to make one, now, for there is no way. To have miscalculated the loyalty of these Blossom ninja to this Naruto-kun so badly is too much to forgive, no matter what he says."
Kakashi nodded. "Ogata, you should know that your life is forfiet. However, the manner of your death can be of your own choosing. The Raikage is willing to forgive many of the men you lead in your revolt... but only those who chose to betray him out of loyalty to you, and not those whose decision came out of disloyalty to the Raikage. We know, already, who all of your men are... but what we don't know is their reasons for their betrayal. You, however, do... so, if you are willing to give us that information, we are willing to allow you a painless death by poison."
"And my other choice?" Ogata asked.
"You can choose to continue fighting until you die," Oyadama answered. "Which would mean that I would be unable to determine which of your men it was safe to pardon, and therefore... I would have to kill them all."
Ogata's mouth opened and closed several times as his options became clear. He looked over to where his remaining followers were, surrounded and disabled. He looked over at Kakashi, who he knew was his equal in ability, and then to the Raikage, who potentially could be even more powerful. There was obviously no way of getting out of this one. He had no allies left who could fight, and not enough strength to escape. It was over.
"Very well," he sighed. "If all that I have left is the ability to save those who were loyal to me, then I suppose that is what I shall do."
* * * * *
The ninja of Blossom could not wait long enough to ensure that Ogata kept his end of the bargain, as they had greater concerns, but the Raikage assured them he could handle it himself once a few preparations were made. The trio of ANBU and a few of the genin remained behind to help, but most of the forces Konohamaru had mustered returned to the village, carrying Naruto and Sakura with them. Kakashi, his plots now fully revealed and the need for cover now ended, joined them with all forgiven, and allowed his worry to show the entire trip. He had taken a good, long look at the pair with his sharingan eye, and had consulted with the Cloud medical ninja who had accompanied Ogata on his mission. The prognosis was... not good, to say the least. They lived and appeared healthy, but they seemed... trapped inside their own minds. It was like his own exposure to the mangekyou, but worse... and he wasn't sure if it would be repairable damage. He held his tongue, however, because he was unsure how the ninja of Blossom would react to his untrained diagnosis.
They were greeted at the gates, however, by a weary-looking Jiraiya, who revealed that the problem was greater then they feared. "You got them?" he said by way of greeting.
"Yes," Konohamaru said, taking the lead once again. "They're unconscious, but they're whole. Shizune-san will need to take a look at them to see what's wrong."
Jiraiya hesitated. "Shizune-san is... busy, at the moment, Konohamaru-kun. With your wife."
His eyes widened. "M-moegi-chan? What's wrong with her?"
"We don't know. Sometime shortly after you left, her health started failing her," Jiraiya explained. "She seems to have stabilized for the moment, but... she is crippled, and her own blood seems to be betraying her."
"Her blood," Kakashi nodded slowly. "That makes sense, then. Itachi's attack wasn't against Naruto and Sakura, but the kyuubi."
"Shizune doesn't know what to do," Jiraiya explained. "She was hoping Sakura-chan could help, since she has managed to become a better medical ninja than any save Tsunade-sama... but if Sakura-chan is affected as well, we may have a problem."
"Then we have one final thing to try," Kakashi said. "Prepare Moegi-chan for travel, and let's send a message ahead of us. Naruto and Sakura are returning to Konoha, it seems."
Konohamaru grimmaced. "Not alone."
Inari nodded to him, as did most of the others accompanying him. "No, not alone."
* * * * *
Itachi sighed. "How long will this take, again?"
"Your ribs will heal without additional treatment -- they are cracked, but if you don't stress them they will heal naturally," the doctor treating him said. The doctor didn't know who he was, but did know that he had been hurt in a battle with other ninja. That was all he needed to know, after all. "Your arm, on the other hand, is beyond my abilities. I've done what I can, and what I have done will allow you to take your time in getting it treated, but you will need a very highly skilled medical ninja to restore it to functionality."
"It's a shame you won't have that time," another voice called from the door. Itachi and the doctor looked over to see the intruder.
"Brother?" Itachi said, frowning. "What have you done to yourself, brother?"
"What I had to in order to gain the power to destroy you," Sasuke growled. "Although it seems you have let someone do quite a bit of damage to you."
"Your two ex-teammates, Naruto and Sakura, fought me a few days ago," Itachi explained. "I suppose you could say it ended in a draw. They crippled me, and I crippled them."
"It's a shame. I wanted to test my skills against you," Sasuke replied. Then, without any further warning, drove a chidori straight into Itachi's heart. "But I'll settle for your death."
"What--" the doctor cried as he watched the life go out of Itachi's eyes.
"That was easier then I thought." Sasuke said, grinning darkly at the man. "This was... family business, of no concern to you. I'll be going now."
"But... but..."
"And I'll be taking that body with me, as well," he said, picking up the lifeless form of his brother. "I wouldn't want my family's eyes to fall into the... wrong hands."
"Uh... sure," the doctor replied, raising his hands defensively. "Whatever you want."
Uzuki Yuugao met Sasuke at the doorway, seeing the body he carried. "It's done, then?"
"Yes," Sasuke replied. "And now that my mission is over, it is time you give me what we agreed upon when I killed that Sand ninja -- Baki -- for you."
Yuugao grimaced but nodded. "If you desire."
"You weren't exactly my first choice," Sasuke admitted. "You're nine years older then I am, which means you have fewer child-bearing years in you. But beggers cannot be choosers -- the Uchiha clan will rise again, and you shall be its new mother."
"Not exactly what I wanted with my life," she replied. "But when my lover died, there wasn't exactly anything left to build my life around. So, perhaps it this is a goal I can have with my life, now."
"Then let us go, and find a place to do this," Sasuke said. "I only have a short time left before Orochimaru-samal wants me to return. I mean to ensure my clan survives through you, first."
* * * * *
Notes: Names again. According to my Japanese English dictionary, Ume can mean plum, as I put it here. Kinshou-san means 'insignificant' (as her role is, indeed, insignificant, but I found not giving her a name was unavoidable. Maybe I'll use her again, maybe I won't, but if I do it won't be until the sequel). The final new name I introduced, Kanraku Oyadama, translates to 'Cheese Head' or 'Head Cheese,' depending on how you read it. I figure that's appropriate enough... and I'm having problems coming up with names, so hopefully there won't be many more I need to come up with. I'm a bit worried, since I seem to remember having used that name before, but I can't seem to find any notes on who it was or where I used it, so I either used it on such a small character I didn't see any need to write it down, or I didn't use it. (Or I lost that sheet of notes, which is entirely possible but a bit less likely in this case). If anyone else finds an instance where I've reused it, please let me know. I definitely don't want to duplicate names except where necessary (such as with the two Sakuras), and so that is one fix I am certainly willing to make. Sometimes, a villain dies before his chance at redemption, even if he seems to have the character for it as in Ogata's case. RIP, Okanemoto Akane. We barely knew you. RIP, Zetsu. You're too creepy to let live, and the whole corpse-eating thing is something I'd rather avoid in the future, so I could only let you eat the one before I killed you (heh). Incidentally, Zetsu is (in my notes) an ex-Grass GHuND agent (ANBU equivalent, if you're just joining us), which is where his bear summon comes from -- I figured that was why he, or his clan either one, developed the ability to eat corpses, as their mission was in part to dispose of the bodies of dead ninja so that they couldn't be dissected. RIP, Ogata. Ogata, by the way, was initially supposed to be a 'just like Naruto' character, in that he wanted to become Raikage since he first knew what the Raikage was. However, somewhere along the line he took a wrong turn and went too far in trying to achieve that goal, dooming himself in the process. I wanted to have him and Naruto confront each other, and have a whole scene between the two of them about each others desire to be kage. However, I killed that idea a long time ago -- back shortly after introducing Ogata's character -- because the volume was already getting way too long, Ogata would take too much time to develop, and I would have had to sacrifice a number of other elements I wanted to include (like the NaruSaku vs Itachi battle and Kireme trying out the plan she described to Ino back during the chuunin exam). So, there really is a lot more to his character, and I'm a bit sorry I had to kill him off before I could write it all up, but I think it worked out pretty well as is... even if it makes Kakashi's role as a double agent a bit harder to deal with. And it helped me to end the volume much faster, which means I'll FINALLY be able to get around to answering questions like "What about the Anko storyline?" "What about the Hyuuga civil war?" "What about Lee's problems?" and so forth, which have been coming up a lot recently. RIP, Itachi -- you reap what you sow when you turn your little brother into a monster. I seem to be making quite a 'world' of the society of prostitution, here. Honestly, I know nothing about it in real life (save a little historical information, such as the social structure and expectations of the prostitutes of ancient Greece, who were regarded with more respect and political power then the usual Greek man's own wife and family), but I decided I would extrapolate how I thought it MIGHT work in a world such as the one in Naruto, where (from all indications as seen with Jiraiya's few interactions on the road), little stygmatism seems to be placed on being a prostitute... and there don't appear to be any concerns about the health of either the girls or the client (in canon, Jiraiya). Then, I went on and extrapolated 'what are the kinds of things a brothel worker might need to survive in the business,' and started building what Kireme could do from that. Then I added in the few basic ninja techniques I mentioned she was learning way back during the pre-chuunin exam tournament, and came out with her skill set. This is probably the last time I will visit this 'world of prostitution' in this fic -- at least, until the sequel (and there's nothing really planned in the sequel, although there's plenty of space for it) -- so, if you're into that kind of thing (heh), enjoy it while it's here. What was really going on with Jiraiya was supposed to be revealed in this chapter, but in the end there wasn't a good point for it. So, I suppose it'll come out in a future chapter -- there are other opportunities to reveal it coming up shortly. Next Chapter: We return to Konoha, where things have been on the verge of mortal combat for some time. What will the return of Naruto and Sakura -- and Hanabi -- do to the delicate balance that has been keeping the peace? And is Tsunade really able to help them, after all?