Snap Back To Reality 42
Just as quickly as it came, it ended. The moment of peace I was afforded felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. It was back to work again.
Looking at my naked reﬂection in the mirror right now, no one would think I was a shinobi. Gone were the years of built up scars and unnaturally deﬁned muscle deﬁnition that had no place on a child. In its place was a healthy-looking fatness that came with childish youth. It even covered up the unnatural deep lines of tiredness across my face that had marred so deeply into skin. I looked for all purposes like a normal child.
While I took a moment to admire just how good the medic cosmetic ward were at their job, I was also a little irritated. The scars and deep lines of stress that had marked my body had become a part of me. It showed the years of hard torturous work I was put through, a visual proof of who I was, and to see it all completely wiped away in the matter of a few days, felt like an incredibly unusual loss of identity.
This was an inﬁltration mission. There was no use for such things as individuality. My vibrant green hair now dyed a common dark brown was a reminder of that. I put away my shinobi gear into a discreet scroll hidden among other more mundane objects and scowled as I packed away my contact lenses. Kami I hated those things.
I walked into the dining hall to see Mebuki feeding Tsukiya. She turned to me and gave me a smile and gestured to a dozen or so paper bags by the table. I walked up to them and opened them to see food of all sorts inside of them.
"I know your shinobi ration bars are made to give you all the nutrients you need, but it feels wrong to not have any real food for months on end," she said.
"Thanks Mebuki-san, this was very thoughtful," I said blinking my eyes up at her in surprised appreciation.
She waved away my thanks quickly. Tsukiya swallowed his food comically quickly before turning to me, eager to speak his mind.
"Are you going on a mission?" he asked.
I nodded and he continued on with wide eyed enthusiasm. "Are you going to save a princess?"
"Probably not Tsu-chan, but this time I am going to save some really cool ninjas."
"Oh what kind? Are they like Gaku-san with big dogs?"
"Yup, just like Gaku," I said ruffling his hair.
"Cool! I wanna come with you."
My smile died almost instantly, and I felt my hands stiffen and let go. I shouldn't be encouraging this. What kind of idiot am I? Still, a very big part of me was unable to tell him the harsh truth. Whether it was a fear of his perception of me changing or because I wanted him to stay innocent, I didn't know. What I did know was that I was being selfish by doing so, and I couldn't even bring myself to stop.
Mebuki cleared her throat to catch my attention and I turned around to see her hand going back to her side. She probably went to touch me to catch my attention and pulled back. It's why I liked her so much. She knew I didn't like to be touched and she was always aware enough to keep a safe distance.
"Now, now Tsuki-kun. You have to say goodbye to your nee-chan now ok. She has work to get to."
Taichi opened the door and nodded in agreement with our nanny. "That's right Tsu-chan. Say goodbye now."
Tsukiya looked entirely too pouty when I was leaving. Taichi just had a tired resigned look about him. I couldn't blame him. I could very well never turn up again. Death was always just a doorway down in this job. I gave him a long hug and he lingered for a moment longer than normal. After saying his goodbyes I decided to do one last errand before reporting to my next mission. I pulled out a connection seal and poured some chakra into it and was relatively appeased when the hundreds of signatures around the village pinged their locations to me. I felt a smile twitch against my lips before it died down when Anko jumped in behind me.
"Morning," I greeted.
"Damn," she sighed. "It's such a hassle trying to scare you!"
"You know very well only Orochimaru-sama can do such a thing," I chuckled a little proudly.
She puffed out her cheeks indignantly and it was cute enough for me to want to ruffle her hair. I stopped myself though. Anko had a way with sadistic pranks. You really didn't want to get on her bad side. I did take a moment to look her up and down. She was wearing her normal clothes, although her hair was died the same brown as mine. We were meant to pose as sisters after all.
"This mission is going to be a drag," she grumbled.
"Have you been hanging out with a Nara recently?" I chuckled.
She let out an indignant huff as we walked on towards our mission point. We were out by the Eastern gate when I looked around to see no Orochimaru. Huh, that was odd. He and Rui had a penchant for being extremely early to everything. Rui was waiting around in common clothing and I saw a cart with an unfamiliar old man in front. Then to his right I saw a familiar figure in ROOT style uniform.
"Kusari?" I asked in confusion.
Said boy turned around and did an impression of what was meant to be a smile. It looked entirely too unnatural on him. I waved back in confusion, before Rui and Anko turned to me.
"You know that cutie?" Anko asked.
Cutie? I raised a brow Anko's way but nodded. "Kusari and I had been on a mission together once."
Well that was a lie, but it was standard enough of a lie to easily have Kusari play along. I was more than a little confused though. Kusari was here, but Orochimaru wasn't. Not to mention the kindly looking man with the straw hat and merchant wears was uncounted for in the missions scroll. Not that they gave us much to go off in the scroll this time. Usually that meant a debriefing right before the mission in a secure location. It only ever happened if it was too risky to write down mission parameters directly on a scroll, but we weren't called to a secure location, and Orochimaru was the only one we would normally take such a confidential mission order from.
"Where's Orochimaru-sama?" I asked.
"Lord Orochimaru is not going to be taking part in this mission. He's too recognisable of a figure to take part in such a politically fickle landscape," Kusari explained.
That did make sense. Orochimaru was a well-known Sannin, and the Mist was not taking an active interest in war against Konoha at the moment because of in-fighting. It was probably the only reason Konoha didn't take matters into their own hands and offer asylum to more Kekkai Genkai holders. Not only would Kumo accuse us of trying to amass more power and escalate the war, but Kiri could very well take Kumo and Iwa's side against us. This was to be a discreet mission. If anyone were to spot us, I'd have to make sure to kill them whether they be civilian or shinobi. Any word about Konoha's presence in Kiri would be detrimental to the war effort.
The merchant cut in next before I could barrage him with more questions. "I have been trading with the Mist for the past few years kids. You'll be travelling with me under the guise of my children while I teach you the ways of a merchant."
"And the team leader?" Anko asked.
"That would be Hina-san," Kusari said.
I gaped, and then pointed at my chest in confusion. Me a ten-year-old was going to be the mission lead? Not to mention the fact that all my other teammates were a bunch of 13-year-old Genin. What the actual fuck was going on? I sent Kusari a confused look, and it seemed Anko had the same question as me in regard to his role.
"Then why are you dressed in Shinobi standard gear?" she asked.
"I will be covert back-up," he said, smiling my way.
I had to keep my brows from furrowing in understanding. He was keeping an eye on me. It was a subtle way of threatening me. Kusari, despite being my ROOT issued partner, would ultimately listen to Danzo, and Danzo had a streak of threatening people close to me to keep me in my place. Kusari was a double reminder of the consequence of my failure being the death of people I cared about, while simultaneously reminding me he had an eye on me. His threat did nothing more than make me angry though. I reigned in my bloodlust. There was nothing more in the world I desired every day than to rip out his saggy balls and feed it to him.
"Right," I said dryly before turning to the merchant. "And your name is?"
He smiled widely at the group. Bright yellow, almost orange eyes sparkling with a kind of mad glee. His long white hair was surprisingly thick for his age, tied up behind him in a mess of spikes that went in every direction. It was the sudden sharp glint in his eyes that caught my attention when he studied us all.
"Rengoku Tomijo. Nice to meet you kids!"
The trip was incredibly slow. We were in a caravan consisting of Rengoku-san, another merchant named Komizawa Tenji, and about 4 horses to cart the merchandise. I genuinely loved the idea of riding on a horse, and considering I was team lead on the mission, I did mildly abuse my authority to do just that. I had privately named the horse Tug the III after Will's horse from the Rangers Apprentice. Unfortunately for me, I really had no one here to appreciate all my amazing pop-culture references. I was wasted being reborn into the Elemental Nations of all places.
Besides annoying Anko and Rui with the fact that I was mission leader, and getting acquainted with Tug, I found the trip to be extremely boring. Horses were cute, but they hurt your thighs like crazy after a few hours of riding, and caravans were slow. Not to mention the fact that while Rengoku-san was very definitely a shinobi in his younger years, currently he was an old man with joint problems travelling along with another civilian. This meant three breaks a day, for the horses and for them.
That wasn't to say that the trip was full of boredom and absolutely nothing to do. It was actually very educational. Rengoku and Komizawa were exceptionally well travelled, and not to mention they were incredibly well-learned men. They had trade knowledge, experience dealing with all sorts of clients, fun and harrowing stories, but most importantly they had intel. All of the kids enjoyed discussing commerce with them. Rui especially considering one of his many, many goals was to establish better trade with wave for more seafood options in Konoha. The kid was obsessed with the ocean.
On the topic of Rui, was his surprisingly budding friendship with Kusari of all people. I didn't expect the two boys to become close… although I should have seen it. The two were incredibly similar in a lot of ways. Kusari more because he was socially stunted from a lack of any good social environment, and Rui—actually I had no idea why Rui was the way he was. Either way, the two socially retarded boys came together to make something wonderfully disastrous.
"So the textile export is our biggest source of revenue huh. Wouldn't have guessed," I said amiably, twisting a bit of reed in my mouth, as I rode by his cart on Tug.
"What did you think it was?" Rengoku chuckled.
"To be honest the only currency I know that pays me well is death and politics," I chuckled awkwardly.
Rengoku snorted in amusement. "All Shinobi know is death and politics. It's a commodity that deals with blood debts, but us merchants deal with more peaceful goods. Textiles, ore, and produce; all necessary things to keep the world turning, or you ninja will be running about killing each other naked and hungry."
I let out a hearty laugh. Rengoku was a riot. Without his humorous quips this trip would have been dull. His jokes weren't without some reason though. The man was adept at imparting lessons without making them boring. He had a hint of danger to him that made me not completely trust him despite my growing fondness of his attitude.
"Are you ever going to come of your literal high horse and help out the rest of your lowly team?" Anko asked in exasperation as she jumped down from a tree.
"Maa, Tug here doesn't want to leave my company, or he'll be depressed. You wouldn't want to make a poor horse sad, would you?" I asked mockingly as I draped my hand across said horse's neck.
Tug whipped his head back and his thick mane hit my face. I held my red cheeks affronted by the blatant betrayal of my horse, and Anko laughed.
"Dammit no loyalty between comrades these days," I bemoaned before I finally got off the horse and decided to do my duty.
"Rui has done his perimeter check, but we both know you're the real sensor here. The tracks from yesterday are gone but I want to be sure," Anko sighed.
"That paranoia is good," I hummed in agreement. "Inform Rui and Kusari about our change in formation. We will take a wedge formation for the next two days."
Anko rose a brow and I grinned in response. She sighed and shook her head.
"You have that look on your face right now—the same one Orochimaru-sensei gets when he's plotting. So I guess I'm going to have to ask you why exactly we're leaving our rear guard exposed." Anko sighed.
I couldn't help the grin that took my face. Someone was following us, and after weeks of mind-numbing travel, it only felt right to have a proper head to head battle. No more of the boring old assassinations and sabotage, just a good old fight to the death. I expected this would be fun considering they had evaded Kusari's watch.
"Are you trying to bait them?" Anko snorted. "You do realise that even if they fall for something like that, we'll be having our backs to them giving them the advantage either way."
"You think I study seals for the fun of it?" I asked Anko with an amused chuckle.
I ruffled through my pack and pulled out a seal. She looked at it in confusion and I pulled her collar down making her squeak.
"What are you doing?!"
"Relax, I put one of these on you before," I said.
I held my sensitive ears and scowled. Damn people needed to stop screaming straight into them.
"When did you put a seal on me?!" Anko demanded.
"Hmm, I forget. Either way, what I was getting at is that I know when people come close to you when we're both within range."
Anko shivered and sent me an even dirtier look. I sighed. This is why I didn't tell her. She wouldn't like it one bit. Sometimes it was better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. If anyone got close enough to attack her, I would know and if it meant her getting a little angry to save her life, I didn't much mind it.
"Ignoring the fact that you're a total creep. What's the range on it?" Anko asked, looking entirely like she was trying to bite down her distaste.
"It pings me a chakra signature at around 300 meters, but only if I'm in the 300-meter radius as well."
Anko's anger died down mildly at that information. I wondered if I had given her the impression of being a stalker. I paled a little bit at that and grimaced at my inability to properly contextualize what I needed to say. Well... Sometimes it was good to just leave before you dug yourself an even bigger hole.
Either way the seal was rudimentary in nature, like an explosion tag, but its use was very practical. Shinobi used it as a common alert system for their homes. Buying it was expensive and triggered enough times the seal would eventually corrode away, but it was a necessary investment, so I'd learnt to make them easily enough, just like I learnt how to make a basic explosion tag.
It basically acted as an alert system when I was in close proximity to my teammates. It wouldn't work if we were separated, but if I was close by it would allow me to know if anyone was sneaking up on Anko or Rui. Orochimaru, I found out, had used it many times on many people. I had no doubt I had said seal somewhere on my body, and if I really wanted to, I could find it and disable it, but I didn't really see the need. If it helped Orochimaru look out for me then it was worth a little bit of my privacy. Not that I ever hid anything from him.
"Ok I'll take over tracking now."
Then I jumped off into the forest, my nerves strung high, and the familiar taste of battle on my tongue.
As I suspected the Shinobi trailing us did not attack. They kept their distance and suppressed their chakra rather well, but they couldn't hide their scent or their tracks from me. I could tell there were three of them. My nose and ears weren't as good as an Inuzuka's, but it was close, especially after all the training Gaku put my through. They were rather adept at hiding their tracks though and any visual tracker would have had a hard time noticing their trail.
It was when we were unpacking to make camp for the night that they finally came. Well—one did anyway. His chakra pinged my detection seal and I signalled to Kusari. His purple eyes caught mine and he made no move to acknowledge so as to not alert the others. At least for now anyway. They were too inexperienced to stop their chakra from spiking when alerted to danger. If they knew, and panicked, I wouldn't be able to capture our assailant unawares.
"Ah, I really got to pee," I said giving a rather logical excuse.
"You don't need to proclaim it to the wild vege-senpai," Anko grumbled rolling her eyes.
"I for one would like to know your comings and goings for safety purposes," Rui objected.
Of course he would. I couldn't help but chuckle at that, despite half my attention being focused on the enemy chakra signature. I signalled a quick stand-by sign to Kusari before I left. I reached the back of the caravan at breakneck speeds. I wasn't the most silent person, so I preferred quickly dispatching people when it came down to it.
Form 1- Circle Step: Aerial Style Disarming Whirlwind
I wrapped my thighs around the man's neck and threw him to the ground before twisting onto his back. He let out a scream as I cracked the bone in his arm. A veil of dark yellow fluid dropped from his hands. Poison?
"What a pleasant surprise," I grinned. "I was beginning to be bored. Now why don't you call your friends over for a chat?"
I twisted his broken arms and he let out a desperate cry. The sound of oncoming enemy Shinobi had me hoisting up the man and holding a kunai to his throat. I'd rather test the waters before jumping straight into a fight.
"Move an inch and you forfeit your life," I said sharply to the man in my arms before I turned to the forest and smiled. "Not you guys though. Feel free to come out now."
Two men dropped down and I noted the lack of any headband or village signifier. What side were they on? I didn't want to risk killing Konoha Shinobi who might be undercover
"Which village do you belong to?" I asked.
"Dammit, don't even try talking to the brat!" the man in my arms hissed through pained gasps.
I pressed the kunai deeper into his neck and smirked as Kusari, Anko and Rui dropped next to me. They were outnumbered now... not that I personally cared. They seemed a high Genin, low Chunin level. A grin took my face as I trailed the kunai teasingly against the man's neck. His comrades took a step forward itching to take him away.
"They were trying to poison us," Rui noted.
"How quaint," I snorted.
"Look kid, nothing personal ok. We need to eat too," the man with the turban like head-band said placatingly.
To eat? Were they nuke-nin then? A lot of shinobi were prone to defecting during war times, especially when they were beginning to become disillusioned by their governing bodies sending them out to die like meat sacks. Usually they were low-level shinobi, because those tended to die out in the field first and wanted to run away from their impending doom. Unfortunately for them, they were the group most likely to die. No one liked a village traitor. I myself didn't find them distasteful. Not in the slightest. If they wanted to run away from their village then it was their prerogative. At least they would die free men. Telling me this wasn't personal though was absolutely ridiculous and rubbed me the wrong way.
"Well then you'll understand why it's nothing personal if I kill your friend here," I said rolling my eyes before my expression turned serious. "Don't fucking bullshit me. The moment you tried to kill me and my friends without a village sanctioned kill-order, this became personal."
It was one thing to kill for a mission. I never held it against someone for that. It was entirely different to attack my comrades without orders. This was already personal. I wouldn't lose a moment of sleep murdering these fuckers. But I wanted to do it my way. Without Orochimaru here, I didn't have anyone to stop me.
I threw the man in my arms forward and walked towards the confused Shinobi. They were probably wondering why I threw away a bargaining card so easily.
"Dammit Hina now is not the time!" Anko shouted.
"Stand back," I ordered sternly, and my teammates halted in their step. I turned back to the three enemy nin now standing in front of me and cracked my knuckles.
"Anko is right, now is not the time to risk it just to get your fix," Rui added in.
"Oh shut up you two. I wouldn't do this if I didn't think I could handle it. Kusari keep them from interfering."
"Hai," he said disinterestedly.
At least Kusari trusted me enough to know I wouldn't willingly risk their safety. If these men were even slightly more dangerous than I thought them to be, I'd call them in to join me, but the matter of the fact was that, they weren't dangerous. These were three grown men, but they were three grown men who probably were fated to the Genin corps for whatever village they were from.
"Fucking brat, you think you can take on us three at the same time?" the bearded one asked as he spat on the ground in disdain.
"Oh I don't know for sure. Why don't we test it out?" I asked, taking a tiger palm stance.
"Fine, but don't blame us if you die!" turban shouted.
He came swinging at me with his halberd. I jumped out of the way and grinned as he cut my cheek. My heart was speeding up and my blood was singing in my veins. Combat had a way of doing that. I couldn't help the grin that took my face, ignoring how addictive this feeling had become.
"Oh it's been a while since I've felt this good," I grinned.
I wasn't slaughtering some poor ROOT kid or assassinating some unaware shinobi who didn't even get a chance to fight back. I was testing my mettle against people who could give me a challenge. This was the thrill of battle I had come to love. The competitive sucker inside of me lived for these moments.
I got down in my beast imitation stance and licked the blood dripping down my cheek. Turban jumped back, tching in disgust as he looked at me. How rude!
Total Concentration Breathing: Walking in Winds Beast Form!
Turban was pushed back by my sudden burst of speed and chakra. Beardy came at me from behind to grab me but I simply grabbed his arms and threw him over my back and into Turban. The boy I broke the arms of came charging at me in abandon and I scowled. He was ruining a good fight with his mediocre abilities. I tripped him with his own momentum before grabbing the back of his head and slamming it down on a piece of jagged rock. I bit down my distaste as his two friends screamed in distressed anger.
"Sorry, it was nothing personal," I smiled a little vindictively.
"Fuck you! I'm going to have your head bitch!"
"Don't get all testy on me. I'm giving you the privilege of direct combat to the death. Take it with dignity," I huffed.
They hadn't afforded us the same privilege when they tried to poison us. I was being too nice apparently. I spiked my chakra and ducked into Turban's side. Before he could pull his halberd back, I jabbed my fingers into his sides.
Form 1 Tiger Palm: Quick Claw Strike
My curled fingers hit his diaphragm, ribs, and neck in quick succession, and then I ended it by jabbing my clawed palm strike straight into his stomach. His body arched forward, eyes widening in pain as he coughed up blood onto me. I threw myself into a handstand and jumped away when Beardy swiped at me with his kunai. He screamed in rage as he made his way to me, swiping his kunai at me wildly.
"You'll need to be better than that!" I goaded.
I jumped back again, dodging another one of his swings. Despite being slower than me, I could feel his power. His wild anger turned into a grin and I paused. I felt something sharp behind me and to my sides. When I looked down my eyes widened. Steel wire? His crossed arms pulled together and the metal wires surrounding me shot together in razor sharp focus. I heard Anko scream my name, but I didn't focus on her voice, just on my imminent death. I threw my haori at the man's face and substituted with it. The haori was ripped to shreds behind me as I jumped straight in front of the man and kicked him straight up the jaw, activating the blade in my heel and practically ripping his jaw apart.
Beardy stumbled away in shock and pain, as blood practically dripped down his half-severed chin. He let out a strangled, desperate cry before trying to weave together a last ditch jutsu. That would be much too risky right now. Before he could get past his third hand-sign I threw a shuriken straight at his fingers, severing at least two of them, and then taking advantage of his shock, I used my chakra slide to perform an aerial manoeuvre and I crushed his neck with a chakra enhanced kick. I jumped back gracefully and dusted myself off as he lay there on the ground breathing his last few breaths.
"That was a good fight," I said, taking a moment to pay my respects before I turned to Kusari who had already tied up Turban.
"He's not dead," Kusari informed me.
I nodded and turned to see Rui leave with a frown on his face and Anko sigh in exasperation. I knew Rui didn't particularly like violence, but I didn't know he didn't like it this much. A lot of the missions we did together had me going off to do my own solo thing, while Anko and Rui worked together with other Jounin or did easier tasks. They were still Genin after all while I was incredibly close to being promoted to Jounin. I figured the only reason why I hadn't been given another field promotion was because Jounin commanded forces of shinobi, and no one would take the order of a ten-year-old much seriously at all.
Either way, I hadn't had much experience directly working with Anko and Rui, despite them being my teammates. This was our first real experience in three years doing a mission together where we wouldn't get separated almost immediately after reaching our destination. An actual team mission. I frowned. I had no idea how to handle them or their personalities when it came down to it. Usually Orochimaru handed out the orders and dealt with us.
"Standard Konoha protocol states that we interrogate him on any information about his village he can give us," Kusari reminded me.
I grimaced. Torture. Not exactly something I was exactly fond of in any way. I sighed and knelt down by the unconscious man and turned my head up to Kusari.
"You don't have to be here while I do it you know," I said.
Kusari frowned. "I am qualified and trained to partake in such matters."
"I know you are, but I don't like that you have to do it."
"You're not making any sense," Kusari pointed out.
"I guess I'm not, huh… and what are you still doing around Anko?"
Anko huffed and crossed her arms. "Rui doesn't like violence but I'm not so bad with it. Plus… I've always kind of wanted to witness an interrogation."
I blinked in shock before sending her an odd look. She puffed her cheeks up a little in embarrassment and looked away as if flustered to admit such a thing.
"I don't enjoy people being hurt, ok. I'm just curious," she said defensively.
"Hmm, I didn't say anything about that," I said in amusement.
Anko did go on to be a part of T&I in the future if I remembered correctly. I'd seen her kill a few times without so much as flinching either. She had the instincts of a shinobi and most importantly she enjoyed fighting as much as I did… well maybe not as much, but close enough.
I turned back to our captive and slapped his cheeks a little to wake him up. He groaned before spitting out some more blood and opening his dark grey eyes in confusion. He looked up at me and then to the corpses of his friends and the anger and sadness burnt in his eyes. I swallowed some spit that seemed to be caught in my throat and sighed. I hated this part.
"Y-you killed them," he said in a broken whisper, and then he turned to me with so much hate in his eyes. "I will kill you!"
"I wouldn't be so sure, considering you're the one tied down right now," I pointed out.
Those eyes of hatred—it was a reminder of something I didn't quite like imagining. It made my breath catch in my throat and I had to remind myself to calm down and breathe. It was the same hatred I held for Danzo. I pursed my lips in distaste. To think I was to someone what Danzo was to me. In the end it really was a cycle of hatred that ran this world.
"I won't tell you anything bitch," he said spitting some blood onto my face.
I wiped away the spit and blood on my cheeks and sighed again. I was doing that a lot. Damn, this would have been so much nicer if I could simply just fight people without having to kill them.
"Do you want me to take over?" Kusari asked.
"No, it's fine," I said dismissively before I turned to see Rengoku come up from the caravan. "Oh Rengoku-san, do you happen to have a plier on you?"
"No but I do have a sheer," he said before rummaging through a sack in the back of the caravan and handing me a sheep wool sheer. I took it with a quick thanks before turning to my victim. Here comes the unpleasant part.
"Ok, so for every question you refuse to answer, I'll be cutting off a finger. Seems fair enough right?" I asked.
He paled but grit his teeth and looked away defiantly. I huffed in exasperation. This would have been more pleasant for the both of us if he just listened. As far as torture techniques went this wasn't the most painful—just the one that frightened a lot of shinobi because losing fingers meant losing the ability to string together jutsu. It was a career debilitating move and the threat of it was often enough to get them to talk before the torture even began. I hoped he wouldn't be so frustratingly stubborn.
"Which village did you originally come from?" I asked.
If he was a Konoha shinobi this would mean an immediate execution without any further questioning. If he was an enemy shinobi though, it really depended where he was from. If he was from Kumo or Iwa, I would have to torture him some more for more intel.
"I won't tell you!" he hissed.
I put the sheer on his pinky finger and snapped it right off. The man let out a pained scream before gritting his teeth and sending me look of absolute loathing.
"You know, if you really want to kill me so bad, it would have been better for you to play along. At least then you'd have a way of using ninjutsu. As it is now, you'll still be able to use a few hand-signs. So you want to talk now?"
"Iwa," he hissed.
I sighed. This was going to be a long process, and not to mention extra paperwork when I get back.
"Did you have to kill him?" Anko asked.
"It was part of mission protocol," Kusari informed her tonelessly.
"It was," I agreed as I wiped the blood from my fingers on a rag, "but it's not like I could let him go either way. He would have come for revenge and that would have been troublesome. Hey Kusari, pass me some ninja wire."
Kusari handed me the ninja wire and I looped it around the man's neck and pulled, cutting it cleanly off with a chakra enhanced swipe. I went on to do the same for the other man, but not for the one I had killed first. His brain wouldn't be of use to the Yamanaka considering it took considerable damage. I had no idea if these two would either, but any intel was good intel, even if the Yamanaka could only get a few snippets from a dead head.
After sealing it and having Kusari bury the bodies with a quick doton earth removal jutsu, we decided to be on our way. Anko looked a little put off from what she saw, but I reasoned it was only a healthy reaction to have. Soon she would get used to it, like all shinobi did.
Rengoku gave me an odd look.
"Why did you go for direct combat?"
Oh that was his question. Well thankfully that was an easy answer that people seemed to find so odd for some reason.
"There's no dignity in dying suddenly, caught unawares. I despise assassinations. If you're going to die you ought to have a proper battle to the death."
"You were laughing. It seems to me it's more than just about giving them honourable deaths."
I snorted a little in self-depreciation. "I can't help it. I'm competitive and the thrill does feel good, but I don't enjoy killing. I enjoy a good fight, and in a perfect world it would simply be a spar."
Rengoku's smile seemed to brighten before he laughed.
"What's so funny?" I asked a little miffed.
"No, no, it's just a relief. It's not often you see a shinobi so comfortable with their burdens. It's a good perspective to have."
I shook my head. Honestly, I was no saint, but even I knew I was pathetic. I didn't understand why other people couldn't see it. If I was truly strong, I wouldn't even need to draw a kunai to win a fight. That was an ideal I couldn't live up to. Despite what people believed, I didn't like death. There was nothing glorious about it. It just felt like a waste. People had so much to live for and they spent most of it killing each other.
"Do you think it's the right perspective to have on killing?" I asked curiously.
Rengoku paused for a moment and sighed. "I can't say so. I'm a merchant not a philosopher so who am I to tell others if they're right or wrong. All I can do is stop the things I have the power to stop and the reason to understand."
"That's a rather sound viewpoint," I said appreciatively.
"And you're a rather interesting child. Although that's probably not the case, is it?"
I blinked up in shock and Rengoku chuckled. Did he know? How?
"Don't look at me like that. You don't look old, you just act it. Like an adult stuck in the body of a little girl."
I let out a sigh of relief but couldn't help but be a little happy about that. For once I wanted to be treated like my actual age. To constantly be treated like a child was more than a little frustrating at times. Probably the only good to come out of being a shinobi was how much easier it was to demand respect and autonomy.
The month and a half long trip was incredibly slow going, but besides being attacked by those three missing-nin, there wasn't much else of note. Kusari had dispatched a band of thieves on his own and really it was a peaceful road trip... that was until we reached Wave. Kusari quickly merged into the shadows, and out of sight. From now on he would be incognito.
I remembered the town being rather poor in my memories, but right now it looked thriving. Maybe Gato hadn't come through yet. That would mean the people living here wouldn't have had their livelihoods taken from them. I once again turned my thoughts back to Kogyo and the Furukuwa family I had stayed with, in that little mining town. I wondered if Ryosai took my advice to move with Emi and her husband to where I had given them Intel of new work. I hoped they did. I hoped they were alright.
"This place is oddly lively for a port town connected to the bloody Mist," Anko noted.
"That's because it's a vital service to the Kiri Shinobi. They protect the civilians here for trade purposes," Rengoku explained.
As I looked around the lively port town surrounded in a light mist at every corner, I came to realise that it wouldn't stay like this for long. These people would see their children starve in the coming future. For now though, the smell of seafood was wafting in and Rui's attention was certainly caught.
"So where's the boat?" Rui asked, pulling his eyes purposefully away from the food.
I slipped out of the conversation while everyone was busy talking. Admittedly not the smartest thing to do as mission lead, but I had no doubt they could handle themselves for five minutes without me. I made my way to the sushi store and quickly bought a dozen or so rolls before making my way back to the group and handing it to Rui. He blinked in surprise.
"How did you—"
"Not so hard to figure out when you're sending lovey-dovey eyes to the store," I snorted in amusement.
Anko pinched my cheek. "We have trained our senpai well."
I huffed in irritation before hitting her hands away. "I try to be nice—"
I felt my breath hitch. The sound of water hit my ears and I realised just ahead of me was the docks. I stopped in my tracks, wondering why this intense sense of dread had overtaken me. Anko and Rui stopped in their tracks, but I was too late to pull myself together without them noticing.
"Something the matter?" Rengoku asked.
I took in a deep breath and shook my head. The water was scary—yes—but it wasn't going to stop me. I tried to push back the memories of being water boarded. Yeah, now that I thought about it there was a word for this back in my old life. I was no psychologist, but even I knew what it was. Post traumatic stress disorder. It was normal to be afraid of silly things. Hands on my head, water…. touching in general. I felt a little indignant at the thought. The idea of having to deal with something purely reactionary like trauma—something so intrinsically emotional, was not something I wanted to deal with. Just another thing to get in the way.
"Nothing's the matter. Let's continue on. The sooner we get to Kiri, the sooner we can sell our wears," I said dismissively.
No one pressed. No one in this world was ever inclined to press which was more than a little relieving. Having to pour your fears and trauma out to a bunch of insistent people would be draining. Every shinobi had their little ticks—their 'irrational' fears, and their way to cope.
That didn't matter out in the field. The only thing that mattered out there was keeping a level head no matter the cost. No one's emotions mattered when lives were at stake. That was the unfortunate truth of things.
So Hina's first mission leading. It's going to be a very action-packed arc. Hina is going to live up to her morally dubious title from now on! This mission is going to turn out to be super important to Konoha in the future and Hina is only getting like 40% of the actual picture going on here. So if things aren't adding up, like why they're sending a team of mostly Genin, and a Chunin to do something a group of high-ranking Jounin should do, it's because there's more to it than meets the eye. Background politics and the like that I can't explain in fear of giving out spoilers.
After this mission is done… all I can say is that canon is no longer existent. The butterfly effect will turn from a rolling snowball to a giant bolder. Things won't be looking the same. Anyway I'd like to thank everyone who commented and followed/faved! I absolutely love and appreciate you all. I'm thinking of starting up the review responses here again. Let me know if you prefer that to private messaging your reviews, because that's what I've been trying to do recently.
Also did some new art of Hina on my Instagram. Check it out at jaz_hop.