Seventh Tenant of the Shinobi Neutrality Pact
The leader of each village under the pact shall meet once a year to discuss the pact. Changes to the pact may be put forth here by any leader or ambassador to the pact. If the pact is accepted by a majority vote by the village leaders, this change may be written to the pact as an Amendment. Conversely, an amendment may be removed from the pact by similar vote. An ambassador is not allowed to vote on pact amendments.
Sakura had remembered reading, back in her time at Konoha, that it was considered standard for someone of jounin rank to have mastery over two elements. So at first, when Kakashi told her that he wanted to start teaching her water jutsu, she'd been immensely flattered. Sakura hadn't even thought herself chuunin level yet, let alone jounin, and yet Kakashi had thought her capable of learning a second element nonetheless. She'd gained a mastery over earth jutsu under Onoki, and now she'd add the versatile water element to her arsenal too!
Then, as the two of them made their way to the Taki lakeside and Kakashi began to tutor her, she realized the exact reason why there weren't very many jounin-level shinobi in the world.
Mastering other elements was hard.
And Kakashi was the sort of tutor that liked to throw his students head on into a difficult task without any buildup. Onoki had taken her to the top step by step. Kakashi was trying to throw her to the top and hope she happened to grab on while she was flailing in the air.
Sakura had no idea how Sasuke had learned the Chidori. But, if anything, that was even more motivation for her to learn this stupid Water Bullet jutsu. If she was going to stand on the same ground as Sasuke and Naruto, be just as strong, know moves just as cool, then she could learn a stupid jutsu this way even if it killed her.
"Try it again. Concentrate. You have the best chakra control of your generation, which means you're more than capable of figuring this out."
Sakura suppressed the urge to throw another quip Kakashi's way. Earth jutsu had come easy. Earth was her type. Converting her chakra to water nature was something like looking two ways at once while trying to shoot a bow and arrow at a target.
Her hands moved through the signs, and Sakura took a deep breath. Water, she told herself, her energy was water. She could feel pressure building in her chest, felt her cheeks swell with energy…
"Oh, it looks like Gaara's back."
Startled, Sakura opened her mouth, and all of the water she'd been building up gushed from her lips like a burst damn all over her front, soaking herself to the bone.
Gaara looked reasonably confused. Kakashi had let out a sound that was suspiciously like a snort.
And after a moment, for the first time since they'd met, Sakura heard Sai laugh.
It started out quiet at first, so quiet she'd almost missed it. But as she turned to see what this strange new noise was, Sakura saw Sai's shoulders shaking, his hand over his mouth...and then it seemed as though he couldn't hold it in anymore, and all the laughter came out at once. It was surprisingly light, and Sakura noticed small little tears forming in the corners of his eyes as he tried in vain to hold back his mirth. And it was so damn heartwarming just to see him capable of laughter that Sakura couldn't help but laugh along too. From there, it wasn't long before Kakashi and Gaara had joined in.
"Are all foreigners so weird?" She heard a Taki shinobi ask nearby.
"I think that's why we're not supposed to let them in." Another replied.
Eventually the laughter settled, and Sakura managed to keep it together enough to ask one of their bodyguards for a towel. While she waited, she sat down next to Sai and gave him a gentle pat on the back.
"Feels good, doesn't it?"
Sai wiped his eyes, and there was a hint of a flush in his pale cheeks.
"...you're really bad at that. You should stick with fisticuffs."
"Maybe I should." Sakura agreed, huffing in frustration. "Kakashi-sensei, are you sure you have the hand signs right?"
"Don't you trust your wonderful teacher, Sakura?"
"I trust that you've made me get absolutely soaked trying this."
Gaara eventually sat down with them, and they couldn't avoid the elephant in the room any longer.
"So? How badly did Shukaku piss Shibuki off?"
"He didn't really." Gaara explained. "He was...very blunt, but I think he made good points. He's...better at speaking to people than I am."
"I think he's got at least a thousand years practice on you."
"Shibuki told me he needs to spend time speaking with his council. For now, we are guests."
"So...we're not getting kicked out, at the very least." Sakura grinned. "I'd say that's a success by you and Shukaku, don't you think?"
"Yeah." Gaara smiled back in turn. "So...water jutsu?"
"Water jutsu." Sakura's grin turned into a frown. "Ugh. I'm taking a break. If I spit out another lackluster water loogie I'll probably just cry."
"Your crying would probably be a more effective use of water, at this point."
"Sai, you learned how to laugh today, and I am not afraid to teach you how to cry too."
"So you're taking a break?"
Sakura looked around, not sure where the new voice had come from, until Fuu dropped down from above. She gave them a wave.
"Hiya, Pinkie. Wanna come take a break with me?"
"Um, sure?" Sakura wasn't sure if being social was what she wanted to do while soaked with water from her own jutsu, but she couldn't exactly say no either. It was an opportunity to bond with a Taki shinobi, a Jinchuuriki at that, which would be nothing but beneficial to her cause and her goals. She stood up, wringing out the bottom of her shirt as she did. Gaara stood as well, but as he did, Fuu suddenly moved forward and grabbed Sakura by the arm.
"No no no! Girls only break, no boys allowed!"
"But...I'm supposed to…" Gaara didn't seem to know how to deal with that statement, but before he could say more, Fuu began dragging Sakura away with an unnatural strength.
"You could use some girl time, couldn't you Sakura? Come on, come on!"
Sakura gave Gaara a sheepish wave as she was dragged away, mouthing that she'd be fine. She was quickly learning that Fuu had a bit of an overbearing nature at times, but…
Well, it had been awhile since she'd spoken with a girl her age. She'd had Kurotsuchi at Iwa, but she'd been so much more mature, more of a teacher than a friend. Fuu, however, had friendliness vibes to the maximum, and there were a few things about the girl that reminded her of Ino, back when she'd followed the Yamanaka around like a shadow. It was a strange, nostalgic comfort.
"Shibuki and the council will probably talk for hours before they even start trying to think about deciding anything with you." Fuu explained. "And I know I get bored when I have to wait, so I thought it would be fun if you came and helped me out with a mission. What do you think? Just the two of us!"
"A mission?" Sakura asked, baffled. "You mean Taki would trust me to help them with a mission?"
"No, probably not." Fuu replied. "But they trust me, and they trust me to watch you because I'm the strongest kunoichi in the whole village. Plus, the mission's just a simple border patrol, and you've already shown you can handle a demon if they show up. Soooooo, that means an easy afternoon, potential for a fun scrap, and we get to hang out!"
Fuu's grin was infectious, and even though she was wet and tired, Sakura couldn't help but smile too.
Fuu led her through the winding cave tunnels, and Sakura realized she was a bit relieved to see the sun and the sky above her head again. Taki was beautiful, but living in a cave was stifling, and Sakura wasn't sure how the Taki shinobi could handle it. She briefly closed her eyes and let the outside breeze brush against her face, enjoying the moment before Fuu tugged on her hand and the two of them were running through the woods at breakneck speed.
Fuu took a playful approach to the running, tagging Sakura on the arm and racing ahead to start a chase. Sakura wasn't used to messing around on missions, but...well, it technically wasn't her mission, and she didn't need to hold her reputation as the mature shinobi in her team when it was just her and one other. And if anyone did see her...well, she was simply practicing channeling chakra to her legs for extra speed. Faster and faster they went, and Sakura tagged Fuu once, twice, thrice, until she was chasing her a fourth time and Fuu then came to a sudden stop.
Sakura, in her second ungraceful moment of the day, went careening past her, and then realized all at once why Fuu had come to a halt.
She was sailing over a cliff.
Time seemed to slow down, and Sakura saw a valley stretched out beyond her for as far as her eyes could see. Leagues upon leagues of forest, dwarfed in her sight by giant skeletons that were bigger than any building she'd ever seen in her life, almost as big as mountains.
The Mountains' Graveyard, she realized. She'd always thought of a graveyard to be like the memorials she'd seen in Konoha and Iwa. Never would she have pictured bones so large they couldn't be buried.
Gravity began to kick in, and Sakura realized that she was hundreds of feet above ground unless she found a way to get back to the cliffside and fast.
She had rope, and she had kunai, but the rope was stored in a scroll for use in climbing cliffs in a non combat situation. Still, she didn't have any better options. Sakura frantically grabbed at the storage scroll at her hip and yanked it open, pulling forth the rope as she felt herself begin to fall. She clenched the scroll between her teeth as she tied the rope to a kunai, and then she just had to throw and hope it stuck.
But she had little to worry about in that front. Her muscles had grown under Onoki's tutelage, and so had her throwing accuracy. Her kunai sailed through the air and buried itself in the cliffside, and from there Sakura held on as she…
Was pulled straight towards the face of the cliff.
It was better than hitting the ground, she figured, but hitting a rock wall at such a speed wasn't pleasant, and it was a miracle she managed to keep hold of her rope with the force of her impact. She bounced against the rock several times before coming to a halt, and with that...she'd made it.
"Nice, Pinkie! I thought I'd have to rescue you!"
Sakura grunted. A rescue might have been preferable but...well, it might have hurt her ego a little bit.
Wallwalking, at least, was easy, and it wasn't long before she was safely at the top of the cliff again. Sakura let out a sigh of relief as she dangled her legs over the edge.
"A warning would be cool, in the future."
"Yeah, but then I wouldn't have gotten to see you be all cool with the kunai and the rope." Fuu retorted. "Besides, the view's much better from where you were. I like to come fly out here and see if I can figure out what kind of creatures those used to be."
"They're huge." Sakura said breathlessly. "I wish I knew more animal anatomy. I'm sure there's shinobi in every village that would kill to come get a look at these. Do you think they used to be summon animals?"
"Maybe?" Fuu shrugged. "They're certainly big enough, but none of our summons know anything about them. Even Choumei says that they don't know, so it must have been something really old."
They looked out over the valley for a while in silence. Fuu kicked her legs contently and Sakura's eyes darted back and forth, seeing something new every time she scanned over the land. More bones, unique trees, birds she hadn't seen before…
Traveling around was so cool.
"I never would have seen this if I'd stayed in my village."
"Well, yeah." Fuu answered, confused. "Obviously."
"No, I mean...I don't think I would have really traveled much at all other than within Fire Country. The furthest I'd ever gone as Konoha shinobi was to the Land of Waves, and even that...well, it doesn't seem far at all now." Sakura hummed, resting her face in her hands and her elbows on her knees as she sat. "But now I feel like I've gone into a whole other world. This seems like something out of a storybook."
"Never thought of it that way, but I guess I grew up seeing it." Fuu admitted. "A storybook, huh? Konoha always seemed like a storybook to me. You hear about all these clans with all these cool unique jutsus, now that seems like a fairy tale. Reading minds? Controlling the shadows?"
"Really, that seems weird?" Sakura laughed, thinking of her old comrades. "I knew people who could do those things. It never seemed weird to me at all."
"It's so weird! Nobody else can do the shadow control thing, not anywhere! And they're not even the most famous. You guys have the Uchiha."
Sakura's stomach soured all at once. The mention of the name...she thought of Sasuke. If her maps were correct, across this valley was Otogakure. She was close to Sasuke, so much closer than she'd ever been, even back when they'd been on the same team. A part of her wanted to sail from the cliff again to seek him out...a part of her that had been growing steadily smaller with each passing day, but a part that still never quite seemed to leave.
"Yeah." She answered, her voice heavy. "Well, they used to, anyway."
"Oh, right. The massacre." Fuu looked down at her feet, becoming uncharacteristically sullen. "We heard about it, when it happened. The Uchiha clan have a lot of historical significance, you know, so it...it was a real tragedy. They're the most direct descendants of the Sage of Six Paths…"
"What, really?" Sakura blinked as she process this. "I don't even think they knew that...though I wouldn't really know myself what the Uchiha knew."
"It was probably lost. A lot of knowledge doesn't make it outside of Taki. But the Sage of Six Paths had two sons, and through the line of one eventually made the Uchiha clan. That's why their eyes are so strong, you know. The Sage had the Rinnegan, and nobody's had that since, but the Uchiha have the next best thing probably. They can copy any jutsu, perform powerful genjutsu, see chakra…"
"They're...they were very strong." Sakura bit her lip for a brief moment. Fuu didn't know, she realized, didn't know the last member of the Uchiha clan had left Konoha, maybe for good. And it wouldn't be good of her to tell Fuu otherwise. Konoha had its secrets...it was her duty to keep them.
"I wonder what it means, then."
"Wonder what what means?"
"That just one guy was able to kill all of those shinobi, who also had the Sharingan."
Itachi. Sakura had to admit that she wondered, too, what Itachi was like. How he'd gotten so strong. How he'd been driven so mad as to turn against his own clan. He was a member of Akatsuki, which meant the odds were good that she might see him one day, might have to face him, might have to defend Gaara from him.
Sakura shuddered. Even with all of Onoki's words of encouragement, even knowing that the man had fought the most formidable Uchiha of all, Madara...Sakura worried.
"Yeah, I wonder too." Sakura answered. She began to scan the valley below again, wanting some sort of distraction from the heavy talk. Movement caught her eye, but at first she didn't look to it. She'd seen plenty of birds flying down there, this one was probably just…
Two people, wearing black robes with red clouds. Akatsuki.
Quickly, Sakura threw herself backwards, pulling Fuu with her. If they were seen, if they were spotted, she absolutely couldn't hold off two Akatsuki members on her own but if it meant keeping a Jinchuuriki safe...she'd have to. She kept low to the ground, peeking over the side of the cliff...and it looked as though the two hadn't noticed.
"I've seen that Zetsu demon wear robes like that, those are the ones!" Fuu whispered as they watched. "But I've never seen others over here before. You said they're a whole big bad group, right?"
"Right." Sakura nodded. "And if they look our way at all, you need to run home as fast as you can, alright? I'll be right behind you."
Fuu looked nervous, and Sakura couldn't blame her. The last two Akatsuki members she'd seen had been as menacing as they came...but as Sakura reached up to touch the talisman around her neck, a habit now, she thought of how Hidan had treated her. Friendly, eager...and he hadn't known Gaara was a Jinchuuriki, so they had stayed safe. If Akatsuki did see them, maybe she'd get lucky. Maybe they wouldn't know Fuu was a Jinchuuriki either.
The two men down below look similarly menacing. One had light blue skin and carried what looked to be a large sword upon his back. It was too far below to make out more details, but from what Sakura remembered, that description meant...Kisame Hoshigaki. Which meant his companion, the one with the dark hair and eyes, had to be…
Sakura's heart pounded in her chest. It was her worst fears come to life, if Itachi so much as looked up...but they were so high up, there was no way he'd catch sight of her on accident, could he?
And then, as quick as she'd seen them, the two had gone further into the woods and out of her sight.
Sakura continued to hold her breath. Just because she'd lost sight, didn't mean they were safe. Stay still, stay calm, don't move…
And why, Sakura had to ask herself, why were the Akatsuki here?
Five minutes passed before Sakura let them move again, and from there it was straight back to Takigakure. Akatsuki was close, and Taki had to be warned, even if they weren't planning on leaving the borders of the Mountains' Graveyard.
Nowhere in any of the notes she'd read in Konoha had a base for Akatsuki been mentioned. Sakura realized, as they ran, that it was possible she may have found it. The Graveyard, so far from human civilization, full to the brim with demons (if Taki was to be believed)...of course only the strongest shinobi could survive there, and that meant fewer people would come to hunt them down.
She needed to tell Taki. She needed to tell Iwa and Konoha that this organization that sought out Bijuu was hiding out here in the untamed forests.
And now, Sakura realized, now she had seen the face of Itachi Uchiha. The man who had torn her team apart with his actions and words, the man who had slaughtered his entire clan, the man who had taken up root in Sasuke's mind and heart…
"That is correct, Sakura Haruno. I am that man."
The world melted around her, and Sakura saw Itachi Uchiha standing before her.
Genjutsu, but how? She hadn't met his eyes, she hadn't even seen him and she'd been caught. She threw her hands together, cutting off her chakra flow in a desperate attempt to free herself, but with every attempt the illusion around her remained the same. A dark red sky, trees of black, and Itachi still there in front of her.
And that meant Fuu was in danger.
Desperate, Sakura pulled a kunai out. Pain, that was the only other way to break genjutsu. Onoki had stabbed his own arm to escape Madara's genjutsu, which mean that she could break free if she just…
A hand grabbed hold of her own, and suddenly Itachi was right next to her.
"Stop." He ordered. "This is the only way you and I can speak without the influence of others, and you have much you need to tell me."
"Fuck you!" Sakura let a second kunai fall to her free hand, and she lashed out at Itachi with gusto. He faded into smoke, but the grip on her hand was gone, and that meant…
The man's voice was so genuine, so pleading, that Sakura froze. She hadn't expected such emotion from a murderer. But she couldn't pause now, it didn't matter what he had to say, what mattered was breaking free…
"I need you to tell me why Sasuke is with Orochimaru."
There was silence, and then Sakura let out a bitter laugh. He couldn't be serious, how could he not know? It was exactly what he'd driven Sasuke to do, filling his heart with such hatred that he had no other option.
Sakura pointed her kunai towards Itachi, no longer scared but angry. "If you really don't know, then you're an idiot as well as a murderer. You killed everyone he loved and you left him alive for whatever sick purpose you concocted in your head. All he can think about is vengeance and getting stronger, so of course he went to the strongest fucking person he knew. And even if it was wrong, I'll tell you right now...if I don't kill you here, he certainly will."
Itachi held up a hand as Sakura threatened him, looking in turn confused, angry, and then sullen.
"It wasn't...what I meant for him. He was supposed to stay with Konoha. They promised."
"...they?" Sakura frowned. Now this was...new. Was Itachi really so deluded as to think someone had condoned his actions?
"They." Itachi repeated. "The Root of Konoha."
Sakura's heart froze in her chest.
Son of a bitch.