Snap Back To Reality 43
The trip on the boat was easy, only in the fact that it was large enough that I was allowed to stay away from the edge. I sat by Tug at the bottom deck by the hay, feeling entirely too nauseous for my liking. I wanted to be back in the trees, jumping at blinding speeds, with land beneath my feet. A day journey to the Bloody Mist was not exactly going to be fun, but I didn't think it would be this bad. Asides from Anko occasionally coming down to make fun of my sea sickness, I had been left alone in the ideal company of Tug—a horse with whom I felt too comfortable with.
Komizawa, the other merchant on our travel with us, eventually came down to get me. I was too out of it to really care about the fact that a bit of puke was still dribbling down my chin. He sent me a worried look and sighed.
"Damn, why would they send a shinobi who gets sea-sick on this mission?" he grumbled, helping me up.
"Ugh— mission assignments," I agreed as my stomach churned uneasily.
"I hope you get over it soon because the moment we step out, we're in Kiri territory, and I don't want to get killed."
"Just get me to some goddamn land and you'll be fine," I insisted.
He helped me up the stairs, and into our private room on the second deck, and I was met with my team grinning up at me way too smugly. They were enjoying my suffering way too much. I grumbled in distaste before pushing past them. Damn brats. They should respect their elders. Fortunately for them, I was too sea-sick to fight back, and I had my first mission briefing to get over with.
"Ok listen up guys. Kusari, keep on point 200 meters to the back at all times. Anko you're with Komizawa. Rui, you're with me and Rengoku-san. We do not engage Kiri-shinobi out on the open no matter what unless it's absolutely necessary, but if you do engage I expect any and all witnesses to be dispatched immediately and a standard perimeter sweep to ensure there aren't any stragglers who might have caught scent. Seal any and all bodies… ugh, what am I forgetting?"
Anko snorted and I grumbled before pulling out my missions debriefing list. I was a fumbling sea-sick mess. Why did I have to be the one to give out mission orders—oh right I was team lead on this for some reason. I tried to push down the apprehension I had at the thought and continued my mandatory mission brief.
"Right—once we get to our client, we will gather intel to proceed. As it turns out we haven't gotten any explicit orders on how to smuggle them out of Kiri. Due to the immediate nature of this mission, intel couldn't infiltrate to gather more information," I continued groggily.
"More like they couldn't risk getting caught," Anko said derisively.
I wanted to agree with her, but she wasn't meant to interrupt a debriefing. That was incredibly unprofessional. Thankfully for her, I was currently very nauseous and not in the mood to be a good mission lead and exact any punishment. Instead I let out a sound of reluctant agreement, before proceeding again.
"—So we'll have to gather intel ourselves. Kusari, you keep on point with me at all times, unless I give you explicit orders myself. Now I know this is my first mission as team-lead, but professionalism guys—I'm looking at you Anko."
"—Hey!" she said indignantly.
"Also since we don't have any weapons on us, I want you Rui, to stick with Anko if you can. Conserve as much chakra as you can at all times. This means no training at all until we're back at Fire Country territory again. No talking to any Kiri shinobi unless absolutely necessary, and it doesn't matter who they are, we are not smuggling a member of Kiri outside of the Kaguya clan members who willingly come."
I let my gaze linger on Rui, who seemed to scowl a little. I loved the little guy despite him being an awkward little shit. He was surprisingly kind-hearted and deeply affected by his compassion. He liked to hide that part of him behind a venire of cold, calculative knowledge that really wasn't fooling anyone. It wasn't an issue as long as he followed orders and made sure to kill his enemies though. Orochimaru made sure to beat that into him—a little too literally for my liking, but I rather he got hurt momentarily if it meant he stayed alive longer from that pain. This was my first mission as team lead, and I didn't want anyone to die on it.
Despite how nervous I was about this I couldn't help but feel immensely relieved when I saw the dock coming closer. Thank kami for land!
The fact that we were children, and old folk, meant that we got through the border security rather easily, although to be fair the border security seemed a little chaotic. From a distance it was easy to get lost in how foreign it looked. The buildings were cylindrical and tall, littered with small windows all around and trees growing on top. It was overshadowed by a very mountain range at the back, shadowed by thick fog. I was unused to such a different kind of mountainous sight. The mountains in Konoha were like the ones I'd seen back in Canada. It was wide and came to a point at the top. The mountains in Kiri were by stark contrast narrow, still coming to a point at the top, but not so notedly. It was like the pictures of mountains I'd seen in China in my old life. Essentially the sight was so foreign, even I had to draw a breath of wonder as we entered close to the main gate.
"Papers," the shinobi standing guard ordered.
Rengoku pulled out his merchants id, while a few Shinobi quickly scoured his wares. They weren't much for talking apparently. They simply got about doing their jobs, looking exactly like I remembered ROOT shinobi doing underground. It made my skin prickle with unease. At least in Konoha, the shinobi didn't look so constantly hardened. They had an edge about them, but not this sort of stoic brutality.
As we entered the dreary interiors of Kiri, I was beginning to notice that a chaotic structure was apparently a recurring theme here. The streets had no specific planning. Konoha was sectioned off into districts and easily navigable streets and structures. Kiri was, on the other end of the spectrum, like a maze. I assumed this was simply a way to confuse any potential enemy shinobi entering. If it was, it was doing a darn good job at it, because I could barely keep a map of where we were going in my head.
While I liked to think of Konoha as what it was—a village under a military dictatorship, sometimes it didn't feel much like one within the walls, at least not on a surface level. Konoha had quite a few more civilians than most villages, it had shops for designer clothing stores, little cafes, and parks for recreational purposes. Kiri however, looked exactly like what one would assume to be a village founded on a military basis. It had a stoic sort of structure to it, with muted colours, tall imposing grey buildings all curving inwards. It looked for all intents and purposes like the people that inhabited it; hard and cold.
"Liking the sights so far?" Rengoku asked.
Rui shook his head. "Konoha's average humidity of 1.6% is my preferred climate," he replied.
"I have no idea how to reply to this kid," Rengoku said turning to me.
"Join the club," I chuckled. "So our contact, you know her?"
Rengoku made a so-so gesture with his hands, his face twisting with an odd smile. "She's a bit of a character, but you probably won't be speaking to her first?"
"That's not standard mission protocol," I said frowning.
Rengoku sighed. "Well she's as paranoid as they come, although you wouldn't really be able to tell at first glance. She may look stoic, but she's quite impatient and emotionally driven."
I turned to Rui and raised a brow. Was this apparently a common personality trait in the Elemental Nations? I turned my thoughts back to the mission soon after.
"Who's the new contact?" I sighed.
"A man named Kohachi," Rengoku replied.
"Is there any reason why he's named something so ridiculous?" I asked amused.
"Coming from a girl who's named after vegetables," Rengoku snorted. "He's rather short and oddly proportioned, not to mention his hair is rather… wild. Surprisingly mild mannered though, although he was known to be deadly in his younger years. A master of Genjutsu."
I narrowed my eyes. Something about that rubbed me the wrong way. I was always wary of Genjutsu. It was one of those fields of practice I wasn't very good at. I had all the chakra control and apparently none of the imagination to pull it off. It required a fine touch, a way to understand reality itself that eluded me. I much preferred the scientifically calculated and easily measured way a seal worked. Genjutsu was complex in a way that was beyond me. Again—there were different kinds of intelligence and I only possessed the technical kind that worked with formulas and numbers. Of course this came with the unfortunate downside where I found it difficult to see through a Genjutsu. I was still working on figuring that out.
"You speak of him like you know him," I said instead.
"We've done business before. Not many vendors exist within Kiri."
I nodded along. Eventually we did come to his home. It was a small out of the way house, old in its structure and just short of falling apart, but it was surprisingly clean. Our caravans stopped outside, and we took the horses in through the wooden fence and into a field. I turned back and Rengoku was already gone, gesturing heartily to a short figure. I turned to Anko and she huffed.
"I thought our contact was a woman," she pointed out.
"Change of plans," I sighed, before turning to my two teammates. "You two stay out here while I get a read on this man. Don't go anywhere—I mean it," I said pointedly to Anko.
She folded her arms and smirked. "We won't. Seesh. Have some faith in us vege-senpai."
"Oh, I have faith in Rui. You, not so much," I said before gesturing to her in the universal 'I'm watching you style'. "Oh and Rui, she's your responsibility while I'm gone."
The boy simply sighed, and rubbed his forehead, almost as if he was anticipating a future headache to which Anko replied with a feral grin. Good, maybe it would make him more sympathetic towards me in the future after he has to deal with her.
I made my way over to Rengoku and Komizawa and noted a smaller figure behind him. This must have been Kohachi. The man was indeed odd. He was short, had the typical downturned body of an elderly man, although he was certainly shaped like his namesake. Like a vase he tapered down at the bottom, and most oddly was his hair, which despite being aged white, was thick and braided up almost like a potted plant. When he turned around, he looked every bit an old man, with his wrinkled face, and spotted face, but there was something sharp in the way he moved—much like a shinobi.
"Ah you must be Hina-girl," he said tapping his cane on the ground before waving his hands as a gesture to come in.
I turned back to Anko and Rui and indicated at the ground with a pointed look. Rui simply sighed, and Anko smirked like the little shit she was. I looked up at the sky and asked the lord for patience with her before I turned to follow Kohachi into his home. Komizawa said he would unload the merchandise while Rengoku followed me into the living room and sat down at the heated kotatsu.
Kohachi, despite his odd hair, seemed much like any other old-man. He was small, his body bent forward in the typical fashion that came with old age, and the skin around his cheeks dropped down slightly giving him the appearance of a rather depressed looking man. The sun-spots on his forehead spoke words for his age. Old age was a rare sight in the Elemental Nations, something to be celebrated, but one look at this man and it felt almost like a curse to live so long. He took a moment to shakily sit down. It looked like everything was a task at such an age.
"You must be the mission lead," he said, looking straight at me.
"Hai, I was told to talk to Kaguya Satomi," I said getting to the point.
"She is currently in hiding," Kohachi informed me.
I rose a brow in question and he simply sat back down, using his cane for balance before sighing.
"I'm not surprised you haven't heard. The Kaguya Clan was slaughtered two days ago. The coup was staged earlier than planned."
I wasn't exactly shocked by the news, but this certainly made the mission a lot harder. The Kaguya Clans betrayal was what initially sparked the bloodline purges. The Mizukage was on his way to be turned into a paranoid mess who would rather see to the genocide of his own people, than the strengthening of his army. Of course these things took time. It would probably be years before he ordered the murder of other bloodline users. As of now they were too valuable to kill off. Once the war was over it would become fair game.
I sighed and sent the old man in front of me a sharp look. It was bad enough that I had to contact someone other than Satomi, but the fact that he could very well be a plant didn't escape my notice. Killing our team would do nothing but implicating us in meddling with Kiri's internal affairs would be a devastating blow to Konoha. This whole scenario was ridiculous. Why send a team of children in for such a politically sensitive mission?
"And why exactly are you helping Satomi-san? From what I can tell you don't possess a kekkai genkai. So why risk your neck for traitors?" I asked, narrowing my eyes at him.
"Hina-chan," Rengoku said in disapproval.
I didn't budge. If my team was going to be in danger, I damn well didn't care if I stepped over some arbitrary social line. To Kohachi's credit, he didn't show any real emotional reaction to my accusation. He simply picked up his cup and sipped his tea.
"It's quite alright Rengoku-boy," Kohachi said amiably, making Rengoku settle back down before he turned to me. "Hina-girl is simply concerned about her comrades. An admirable trait," he continued before sipping his tea more. "You see, I am an old man."
"Does age change the value of your life any less?" I pressed.
He simply smiled as if he knew something I didn't. It was reminiscent of the kind of expression Orochimaru levelled my way often, which really didn't ingratiate this man towards me any less.
"Once you reach a certain age, you realise how much you've lived it out of fear. And then one day you're eighty years old, no wife, no children, a history of blood on your hands, with nothing but regrets," he says, his voice as croaky and drawling as ever, but without any real sadness in it.
"So what you're doing now—it's to make up for your mistakes?" I asked.
He simply laughed at that, as if I told him that the sky was green, and the grass was blue. I didn't really understand the humour behind it.
"Oh Hina-girl, you think what we do is forgivable? For a while there I thought you were old. It seems I was wrong—although that seems to happen often," he continues on slowly, a smile taking his droopy face.
He thought I was old? I had no idea how he would ﬁgure out my real age, but it didn't matter. Maybe this was simply the ramblings of an old man. Either way, something about him felt genuine, and I trusted Rengoku enough. Maybe Kohachi was really doing this for some benign reason.
"My age aside. I don't see a reason for you to betray my or the Kaguya Clan's trust. Sorry for questioning you earlier."
That was a lie. I didn't trust him, but he didn't need to know that. In this kind of mission it was best to stay on the cautious side, although in this case if he was in fact a plant, there would be no way out of this for my team other than to dispatch him and leave before causing an international accident.
"Your apology is unnecessary Hina-girl. Now I will show you to Satomi-girl. She is waiting for you, and she is very impatient despite her demeanour."
I nodded gratefully and both Rengoku and I got up to go. When we exited the old man's house I turned to see Rui looking entirely done with his existence. Anko was… digging the ground? I sent the boy a confused look and he smirked.
"What did you do?" I sighed.
"A simple Genjutsu, to keep her distracted," he replied.
"Rui, she's not a dog… although she does kind of look like one right now," I said, giving into amusement before I shook my head. "Professionalism, remember. We're on a job."
He snapped Anko out of her illusion and she looked up and let out an angry laugh.
"Oh-ho-ho, you think you can do that to me an escape my pranks?" she challenged.
"It was against mission protocol to sabotage a client's workspace. I had to stop you before we violated any more mission codes," he replied airily.
"Children, please," I cut in, my exasperation coming through thick. "Get your shit together. We're on a job."
"We're always on a job," Anko huffed, tapping her feet like an impatient child. "When are we not on a job? Might as well make our whole lives a job. I demand workers' rights. A maximum 12-hour workday and a mandatory 2 month leave every year! With dental—don't forget the dental."
I sighed. Anko had a way of mixing her complaining in with humour, which just made her sound more ridiculous than usual. I understood her frustrations, I really did, but complaining in the middle of a job? Seriously? I prayed to kami that she would settle down. Anko was only a kid, and I normally didn't have to handle kids. Orochimaru somehow managed to do it. Maybe it was his scary eyes? I glared at her, narrowing my eyes, and upturning my lips the way he usually did when he was disappointed, but she just seemed to smirk in response. I scratched my throat and sighed resigned.
"Jesus fucking Christ," I swore in English.
"What?" Anko asked.
"Dammit Anko, I don't have time to deal with you right now. Rui put her in another Genjutsu if it helps. I will contact our client and you two will behave or kami-forbid I will pull an Orochimaru on your ass and give you both corporal punishments."
I didn't bother to interact with them more. Maybe I could have them sit out this mission. Keep them playing the look-out, even if it would annoy them. If their heads weren't in the game, I didn't want to risk their help. This was our fifth consecutive long-term mission. I couldn't blame them for throwing a little tantrum, but it certainly wasn't an ideal situation. If Orochimaru were here, there wouldn't even be a problem.
I left them at the house with Komizawa and told the man to keep an eye on them. He sighed but nodded along, twitching the twig in his mouth lazily and looking entirely like a Nara. I left, not to convinced that things would go right on their end, but with no other choice but to move on. Kohachi was surprisingly fast-paced for an old-man and so we followed him into the trail behind the house. I walked beside Rengoku who had been commenting on the beautiful mountain range.
"Something the matter Hina-san?" Rengoku asked.
"Just some trouble with the team," I sighed.
"It's understandable," he chuckled. "You're younger than them and children respond to age as authority. You differed to me right now despite not having to."
"I did not—" I said a little indignantly before I realised, he was right. "Ok fine. Bite me. What am I meant to do with that information anyway? It's not like I can suddenly look older than them."
"You don't have to demand their respect immediately, you simply have to divert it elsewhere, and then when the moment does arrive prove to them that you're the leader."
I nodded along and considered it. Rengoku was right. I could simply get him to relay my orders and keep them in check. When it came down to it though, both Anko and Rui never hesitated to listen to my orders during a combat situation. We were all conditioned to differ to authority in those situations. Often times a shinobi who didn't listen was a dead shinobi. I could do this. I could lead this team.
"Are you sure you want to cajole those two kids?" I asked in amusement.
"If it helps the mission, I'm not so averse," he said amiably.
"Well it's your funeral Rengoku-san. Now why exactly are we going into the mountains?"
Kohachi turned around and grinned.
"Hina-girl, you've never been to a shrine before?"
I had never in fact been to a shrine before. My parents in this life hadn't been religious or spiritual at all. In my old life I had been to Hindu temples with my mother and to Christian churches with my father. I never found the effort to believe in either. Now, I couldn't discount the fact so much of a deity existing. I still found myself uncomfortable at the thought. A higher being, just watching your every move, taking in your actions, judging you from a completely inhuman perspective that came from being in a literally different plane of existence to a mere mortal… well it was more than a little terrifying.
Not to mention my little stint of breaking the rules of nature by reincarnating and keeping my memories.
Yeah, I hoped God didn't exist. In fact, I hoped I would die properly the next time around, because the idea of being ripped from one alien life to the next for all of eternity was an existential dread I found myself choosing to ignore, least I want to spiral into uncontrollable anxiety. The fact that I was inside a shrine right now wasn't helping with these wild thoughts.
There weren't any statues of any deities though, just banners on either ends of the walls, incense wafting through the draft, and the familiar tomoe symbols of the Sharingan in an odd pattern. I had no idea what it meant. We walked a little in and I saw striking white hair. While Kakashi's hair was white, it looked silvery and darker in areas. Satomi's hair was like that of soft snow. When she turned around, I was met with one of the most delicate faces I'd ever seen, pupils unnaturally large, eyes oddly unblinking. She was angelic in an unnerving way. Almost alien.
"This is our shinobi," she said with barely hidden discontent.
I tried not to bristle. I looked like a child. It was very well within her right to question my competence. I would too, but it was becoming a grating repetition.
"Satomi-san, I apologise if I'm not to your standards. Konoha would have spared a more suitable shinobi if we weren't in the middle of a war on two fronts. You understand how politically—delicate this situation is correct."
I couldn't help the condescension that dripped from my tone. Once in a while, I was allowed to play these adult games. Give as much as I took. She didn't seem to show any reaction to my words however, her façade as cold as her hair.
"I am placing the life of my family in your hands shinobi-san. You hold the lives of my children, and our Clan's future. My father, my brother, my cousins have all been killed and hung on crosses in the town square. Did you happen to see them on your way here?"
Crucified? She asked me if I had seen her crucified family as if she was asking if I passed by her favourite bookstore. I faltered at the thought. For someone who had just lost the majority of her family, she was oddly calm. No, not calm. I knew that expression, the expression of someone who showed no weakness, someone who hid their pain and grief inside, and away from the predator's eyes. There was a measure of safety in appearing indifferent. Still, I had no reason to sympathise with her. This certainly changed my plans for the mission, but beyond that I wasn't obligated to care, and I actively didn't want to. The last thing I needed was to be emotionally compromised because of the client.
"It may come as a surprise, but we aren't here to sight-see Satomi-san. We came immediately here, and the village square was not the fastest route."
"Well, then I'm afraid you don't quite understand the gravity of the situation," she continued on.
"There are approximately 70 Kaguya Clan members. How many are alive?" I asked.
"Then I understand. Sixty-seven lives have been lost, and now we have three remaining."
She smirked sardonically, which was the closest thing to any emotion she had ever shown since we spoke.
"I fear you still don't understand the gravity of the situation… but I see it might be irrelevant to you, as this is simply a mission on your end, one that seems Konoha has no vested interest in if they're bringing in a mere child to do it. You will forgive me if I am more concerned about it than you are, so I will not waste our time. It's been two days since the massacre, and me and my two boys are considered missing, although there has been a search party already sent out for us. Kohachi-san is adept in covering our tracks for us so far, but I fear it won't work forever. The security and patrol teams have been doubled and the border tightened, but it is also in disarray. My clan managed to make a sizeable attack on the shinobi populace. They are still recovering."
I listened with apt attention. Finally, noteworthy intel. This could be the start of a plan. Maybe a safer route to smuggle out her and her children, than stuffing them in the back of their cart and hoping for the best. I turned to Rengoku who nodded his head my way in affirmative. He was listening too. This was good. As much as I trusted Anko, and sometimes Rui in a combat situation, I couldn't exactly put my faith in a bunch of 10-year-olds when it came to a plan. Rengoku has his head screwed on right at least.
I turned to the right and saw two children peak out from the underground cellar, looking entirely like mini versions of Satomi. It was more than a little irritating that they interrupted during a crucial part of her debriefing, but I didn't miss the way Satomi's expression softened as the two little children ran into her arms. They looked to be about three-four years old.
"And these cuties are?" Rengoku asked.
Satomi's lips turned up into a motherly smile, the darkness in her eyes clearing a little. "These are my boys, Kota and Kimimaro."
Oof yeah, I did just introduce my boy Kimimaro in his cute 4-year-old stage XD In Naruto canon he was 'found' by Orochimaru after he escaped his prison cell during the Kaguya Clan's massacre. I decided to say a massive fuck you to the canon timeline, because why not?!
┻━┻︵ \(°□°)/ ︵ ┻━┻
Annnnnyyywaaay, check out suu_itosukai on Instagram. They did a really awesome action artwork of Hina, Kakashi and Obito!
Also a side note- this arc is inspired by the movie, Red Sea Diving Resort It's basically about Jews smuggling an Ethiopian-Jewish community from Sudan, because they were being hunted down and killed by the Sudanese government. It's such an intense movie, and if that isn't enough of a recommendation, Chris Evans is in it. That's right, America's ass is in this movie. Now you can't not watch it XD