Dozens of tiny new genin stared straight ahead as Sensei Nara (who had taught Sakura's neighboring class) cleared his throat for the third time that minute.
So far, and with significant apparent effort on his part, he had managed to mete out four teams for their senseis to pick up.
Bokuso was already gone. He had been placed under an Uchiha with Eiji Sarutobi (who had originally been intended for Aiko's team before her career path changed) and Kegawa Inuzuka (the twin to Teru, and thankfully significantly less of a cheat); the team was clearly intended to focus on hostage-taking.
The other Ino-Shika-Cho trio had also disappeared; they were already being trained up as a general reinforcement team.
Sakura, Shin, and Juro (despite having been made a team before all of them could walk in a straight line) were still waiting.
Sensei Nara finally gathered up the energy to list the next team: an Uchiha and two kids Sakura didn't recognize.
Then another—a Mitokado, Utatane, and Shimura genin, one of the village's favorite set-ups, led by an Akimichi.
Finally, after a Shimura-Inuzuka-Hyuuga team led by a non-clan member, their own team was listed.
"...and Yamanaka Sakura, led by... Sensei Mitokado Supaku. You are Team 18, and will be meeting at Training Ground 52."
Sakura... didn't know that name.
Not surprising, but still.
Chinmoku filed out.
Training Ground 52 was one of the odder ones. The majority of training grounds, or at least those that didn't have very many restrictions on use, were fairly straightforward: some amount of empty area and, if located near the edge of the walls, many trees to go with. Some were lucky enough to have water, several in the center of the city were completely concrete and included equipment, and those that were the furthest out featured significant ecological changes to try to expose Konoha shinobi to every possible terrain.
Then there were the more unusual ones, thrust wherever there was room.
The 52nd Training Ground was closeted in by the concrete border of the Hyuuga clan on the left and the last of three Mitokado apartment buildings on the right.
More importantly, it was a building.
In truth, it was a set of four concrete walls with a square ingress on every side and a concrete floor and roof, with a small gutter dripping the roof's collection of water slowly down one side.
Chinmoku approached the construct warily.
As they inched forward, Sakura twitched. She glanced at each of her teammates in turn, getting Shin (who acted as their main combatant) to scout ahead while Juro lagged behind. She personally couldn't sense anyone but that didn't mean they weren't going to walk straight into a trap; jonin tests were notoriously difficult to plan ahead for.
Thankfully, it was as trap-less as it seemed, and Sakrua and Juro had no problem following Shin inside.
Instead a pile of scrolls sat dead center. A single card, bent in half and placed precariously on top of the heap, read "Sort."
"Sort how?" Juro asked.
"This is a stupid Jonin test." Shin muttered. Neither moved—they were officially genin now, which meant that they waited for their team leader before making any decisions.
"Shin, you start reading through the scrolls." Sakura directed, deciding it was best if their fastest reader got started in case the test was timed. "Juro and I will check out the rest of the Ground then join you."
After ensuring that everything else was as empty and devoid of traps as the central structure Juro and Sakura quickly retreated to the pile of paper.
"As far as I can tell these are all cases directed for Konoha to take, but beyond that there's no rhyme or reason—the difficulties vary, the mission parameters are all over the place, the dates stretch as far back as the year of Konoha's founding, even whether the mission was even accepted or already completed... it's unclear what context we're supposed to use to sort these with."
"Alright," Sakura said, picking up one to read through herself. "Well, we know all missions are sorted by rank, so we'll do that first—five or six piles to start with. Then we can further order them by the time the missions take, because Sensei Utatane said that was a major factor in Konohagakure's chances of accepting a mission. Then... then let's do the type of mission. After that, if we still have time and if we still have multiple scrolls in each category, then we can see about further dividing them by completion and other aspects."
Chinmoku got to work. It took hours, in the end—there were only 56 scrolls, but their opaqueness varied considerably, and many had to be re-read over and over again before it was clear what rank should even be used in the sorting; any decisions that had been made were blacked out, meaning they could only rely on what was asked for and, occasionally, who was sent out.
They stopped for lunch—Juro had been kind enough to make them bentos—but it wasn't until 14:00 that their scrolls were in any semblance of order.
Then Sakura jerked.
"A good start," a voice behind her said, "and sufficient to pass your final test."
She whipped around, watching out of the corner of her eye as Juro and Shin also jerked to face the new intruder, the latter whipping his shadows out in the other directions as he did to act as an immediate vicinity alert.
The man who could only be Supaku Mitakado towered above them, easily taller than any of their parents. He had a long, rectangular face, and his hair was short and black, as was normal for both his clan and Fire Country as a whole.
He wore the typical garments of a Konoha diplomat, a sort of compromise between the strict formal garments required by nobles and the more mobile style worn by shinobi, and had no visible weapons, but in Konoha that little tidbit was meaningless.
"The purpose of this exercise was to show you exactly how much goes into processing a single mission. In reality, the Leaf uses a sorting system for missions which includes nine digits and two kanji, as well as an additional two digits and kanji to be used as a unique identifier. The exercise also serves the additional purpose of helping you better understand the theoretical missions in your future as well as the various methods that can be used for determining the importance of a task and how the ideal method will shift with the goal.
Given my sparse instructions and your lack of experience, you did well. Congratulations."
As he spoke, Sakura studied her new sensei carefully.
The Mitokado were an older non-kekkai genkai clan that, like Ino-Shika-Cho, had been part of an alliance prior to the village's founding.
Most clans were, actually—the Hyuuga with Hatake and Kurama (though the latter was nearly extinct), the Uchiha with the Aburame and Hagoromo (who chose not to join the village upon its founding), the Inuzuka, Senju, and Uzumaki, the Lees and Sarutobis...
While Ino-Shika-Cho was the longest lasting alliance by a significant margin, during the warring clan era every clan needed to know that at least one family wasn't out to get them.
The Mitokado had had such a relationship with the Utatane and Shimura, and were best known for their ability to fight on equal ground with kekkai genkai users and live to tell the tale. Beyond that Sakura knew little, as she'd never shared a class with a member of the clan. She did, however, know that they considered the ability to control one's information flow—to not show unintended emotion, to not have 'loose lips', to be capable of withstanding significant torture—to be one of the most important aspects of being shinobi.
Nothing in the man's behavior thus far showed that he was in any way an unusual member of her clan.
She was happy, then, that the second she was alerted to his presence she had wiped the surprise off her face and began actively monitoring every movement she made. Her initial surprise was okay—there was no way to avoid it and it was likely his intended result—but even expressing relief that they passed might not be appreciated, so she remained expressionless as he watched them equally blankly in return.
"We are to be a diplomacy centered team." He said at last. "While I understand that such is none of your respective goals for chunin, I assure you your own career paths will not be held back. You have been chosen as such a team because as your clans are well respected in the Capital you are a reasonable team to represent Konoha as assistants to the Leaf contingent during the spring session of the imperial court. I will be leading that contingent, and over the next half year my primary goal will be to prepare you for your roles there and ensure you will be effective shinobi far into the future."
"We will begin tomorrow, at dawn. Please arrive with a full analysis of yourself and your teammates—to be completed alone—as well as anything you additionally feel you may need."
"May we have additional information on what might be needed?" Sakura asked.
"Pack as if you will not go home for several days." Sensei Mitokado responded.
The team dispersed.
Sakura's mother had not met her sensei before, but she assured Sakura that the Mitokado had a great reputation; in fact, one member was currently sitting as a Village Elder.
Sakura already knew that.
She wanted to know more about this man in particular.
She didn't necessarily mind being forced into a diplomatic role. Few ninja actively sought such a career, and there certainly wasn't enough of them to field a full team of assistants for each season's court session.
Truthfully, Sakura was just wary of the unknown. The Mitokado were one of the largest clans that she had yet to have regular interactions with, and their reputation—though generally good—was generally dwarfed by those of the Utatane (who were far more numerous) and Shimura (who seemed to be more publicly active than the other two combined.)
Comparatively, the Mitokado seemed to fade into the background.
Sakura wondered how much of that impression was simply because she had no Aiko or Ryota to immediately think of.
She went to bed early, wanting as much time in her comfortable bed as possible before whatever Sensei had planned, then met up with Shin and Juro nearly an hour before dawn.
"Mom didn't know anything more than we already do." Sakura whispered.
"Same." Shin said. "My uncle had heard of him being nominated to run the spring delegation, but that's it."
"How does that work, again?" Juro asked.
Shin, who had taken the Diplomacy elective and was therefore undoubtedly the main cause of their immediate future, rubbed his head. "It's... basically there's the Konohaga Emissaries, right? They each stay in the Capital for a year at a time, but most of the time when they're not there they are visiting the courts of other Daimyo or hidden villages.
On top of the emissaries there's the delegation. That one stays for two months at a time, arriving a few weeks before that season's court session begins and leaving a few weeks after it ends. There are four sessions a year, so four delegations, and most of the members are the same ones every time, plus assistants. That's us—we're not expected to speak for Konoha in any way, just do all the little chores the rest of the delegation don't have the time or care to do."
"Okay... so we're only going to do this for two months?"
"Most likely, yeah. It's just really important that we behave right because the delegation as a whole represents Konoha, which relies on the Daimyo for its legitimacy and money and a bunch of other stuff too."
"And that's true for most Daimyo-Kage relationships." Sakura added. "The only ones that are different are Earth, which claims the Daimyo and Kage are on equal levels, and Water, whose Daimyo is completely—unwillingly—subordinate to the Mist."
Juro made a noise.
"Not enough samurai." Sakura explained. "Every other Kage had many more samurai, and therefore much more power."
"Mind you, officially every daimyo outranks their land's kage." Shin tacked on. "Reality is just a bit more—"
Every member of chinmoku, as one, stopped. Every member of chinmoku, as one, stared.
There was a horse on Training Ground 52.